I'm not entirely sure what I should feel in the presence of a game like this. I'm not ambivalent about my thoughts on the game. Kick Challenger sucks. It sucks harder than any game I've played in a good while. But what do I make of that? Am I supposed to be glad knowing that for all the mediocre to bad games I've played as of late (Lunar, Hacker, Medal of Honor), things could always get worse? Or should I be mad that a group of business-people convinced some unwitting consumers to pay for digitized suffering?........I'll go with the second one. What the fuck, Vap Inc.?
I mean, where do I even begin? The most notable gameplay mechanic seems a logical place to start: how you move. Rather than simply move forward, you have to move each of your tomato's feet (yes, you play a tomato with feet) individually. That means you move a foot, press A to plant it, move the other foot, press A again, and then repeat for an entire fucking level. Now does that sound like fun? What's that? It sounds needlessly tedious and repetitive? Well, that's because it is. And it's not like you can tune this out, either. You have to deliberately perform these actions all throughout the game, and the game moves at a slow enough pace that you have no choice but to watch this plodding mediocrity unfold before you. There's not even a rhythm to lock yourself into. One minute, you're plowing through a relatively easy section, and the next, you have to slowly calculate each and every step you take. It's inconsistent enough that you'll notice. It's like the game is drawing attention to its own flaws.
OK, so the one thing you're doing most in the game is the exact reason why it's not fun to play. I could probably end the review there, but alas, things get far worse from here. Like the levels. I guess the developers knew that it was a bad idea to base a game's difficulty solely around inconveniencing the player, so they designed the levels to introduce another form of difficulty. Unfortunately, it's not much better. Kick Challenger's a labyrinth game, I guess, in that the challenge derives from finding the right path through a given level. Unfortunately, it's also a labyrinth game where you essentially can't go back. Once the screen has scrolled past a certain point, you're not going back down. Not without an overly convoluted warp back to some previous area, at least. So every level just degrades into a lengthy game of trial, error, and frustration. Why the frustration? Because the level design is so needless convoluted that there's virtually no chance you'll remember which path was the right one! (There are some other problems with this set-up, but we'll get to those in a moment.) The enemies flying at you might make things better, since they're moving targets and that adds a welcome sense of urgency to the game. However, they infinitely (and quickly) respawn, making this chore of a game even more annoying.
But what really makes this game so bad are the graphics. I guess the developers were going for a Marble Madness motif, but it just doesn't work on any level. Most of the time, I have absolutely no idea what I am and am not allowed to step on. That's a pretty big deal in a game based entirely on navigation. If I can't tell what's safe to step on, the game just boils down to hateful trial and error. It certainly doesn't help that the game has no problems flippantly changing its own rules. You see that door in front of you? The door that looks like all the others you could open? Well, you can't open this one. Why? Fuck you, that's why. If you want to get by, you can kick in the wall, even though you could never do that before. Or maybe you can just walk through it, because why not? Why the fuck not? It gets so bad that I'm legitimately surprised the game shipped in such a horrid state of disrepair.
How does this game even exist? Why? Who looked at this game and thought that people would actually want to play it? It's like for every one possibly good idea Kick Challenger has, it finds the one most efficient way to make that idea as unenjoyable as possible. It's as though somebody sucked every last bit of irony out of I Wanna Be The Guy. That's the only way to explain how this game was so poorly assembled........Wait. This all sounds familiar. You know, I seem to remember Princess Tomato eliciting a similar amount of rage from me. This can't be a coincidence. What is it about tomato-based NES games that makes them so offensively horrible? Perhaps I should test this idea further.
Who's the sadistic asshole who thought designing a game around a Zero Punctuation joke would ever be a good idea?
I can't even think of a funny joke or comparison for how bad the level design is. It exists in its own plane of suck.
I'm pretty sure "The Corpse of Jackson Pollock" is credited as the lead graphic designer for the game. And the programmer. And maybe even the composer.
After....that, I need something to remind me that good video games exist. So how about some motherfuckin' metal Fire Emblem?
This was supposed to be Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Unfortunately, something wasn't working with the control scheme, and I don't think I would've been able to get through the game without fixing the problem (IE I couldn't attack). So instead, we're getting Puzzle Boy, released as Kwirk outside Japan. Apparently, there do exist good tomato-based games for the NES, because this is one of them. (Let's just ignore the fact that I played the TurboGrafx version.)
Good to play, but not good to blog about. The game has one idea, and that's it. There's no story to bullshit about, or fancy graphics to gawk at. Puzzle Boy has a startlingly utilitarian focus. I can't really criticize it for that, but I can't really praise it for that, either. Puzzle Boy simple exists. That is all I can say about this game.
OK, maybe some context would help. Puzzle Boy, as you can't tell from the title, is a game about pushing. Push blocks around a level so you can get to the stairs at the end. Some of the blocks rotate on spot, there are holes to worry about, a.....no, that's everything there is to the game. Then again, the game doesn't need much else. It does enough with what it has. Eighty screens of pushing blocks to get to stairs. That may sound like too much for so little, but there's a surprising amount of variety in the puzzles. Combine that with a mildly rewarding sense of challenge and an average running time of about a minute, and you've got a game that's pretty good at burning a couple of minutes. Nothing more.
Wait. Now that I think about it, that's probably the only real complaint I have about the game: it isn't ambitious enough. I know that sounds like projecting, but you're only working with three elements the entire game: blocks, holes, and rotate-y blocks. Maybe the game could've introduced some other stuff in there to test my brain a bit more. Maybe blocks that continue going in the direction you push them, or blocks that aren't a square or a rectangle. That might've livened up the game more, because as it is, there's nothing to get terribly excited about. Not that Puzzle Boy is bad or anything. It's just....average. Really, really average. I can't really tell if that's better or worse than what Kick Challenger put me through. It's better. Duh.
There is absolutely no saving this game. By this, I don't mean that Sequence is a bad game. (In reality, it's sort of OK.) Instead, I mean there's no possible way of fixing this game's problems. Each one is necessary for what the game is trying to accomplish, and it's not as easy as saying Sequence should be something else. There's something worth pursuing in there. But paradoxically, all the things that should make Sequence worth playing are the very reasons why it isn't terribly good. It's like the game's fighting with itself, and what you end up with is a mildly average game.
I mean, it starts off with a good enough idea. DDR-esque rhythm gameplay with an RPG battle system? Why the hell not? Of course, that means you're paying attention to three screens at once (attack, defense, and a third thing), but that's what makes the game so good in the first place. It strikes a decent balance between urgency and moment-to-moment strategy. There's a certain flow to switching between the three screens, and victory depends on working out when to switch between each one. It can be challenging, yes, but finally syncing yourself up with the rhythm and coming out the victor just feels so rewarding. Speaking of rhythm, the music! It's pretty good. Not great, mind you, but it's enough to keep you involved in the battles. At this point, the only egregious flaw would be casting spells. Each spell's linked to a number key, so you have to move your fingers a considerable distance to cast many of your spells. It's awkward, to say the least.
But not as awkward as all the side stuff. What? You thought that this game was all about musical button presses! There's also a meaty crafting system to play around with. I mean, it's not a good system, but it's there. Here's how things work: after each battle, the enemy has a certain chance of dropping an item. Gather enough of these items, and you can create all sorts of doo-dads that will help you in your journey. I say "can" because there's no guarantee that you'll actually get the item you want. Instead, the game flips a coin and decides if you should get the super cool item you've been grinding for. If you're lucky, then you get the item. Half the time, though, you're simply paying the game (you basically have to sacrifice your strength to get a cool item) to laugh in your stupid face.
At this point, everything's reliant on invisible dice rolls you have very little real control over. Just like that, the game's sense of accomplishment has completely evaporated. You know, the very same sense of accomplishment that constitutes Sequence's appeal in the first place? Oh, and it also slows the pacing down to a monotonous grindfest, but that's the least of our worries at this point. Yet even with all these problems, you still can't cut the crafting system out of the game. Mining items off enemies is what lends the game any purpose to begin with. Without it, Sequence would be little more than a series of intricate button prompts. Pretty good as a simple diversion, but as a full fledged game? That simply isn't happening. And good luck working any sort of narrative into that.
Speaking of the narrative, I probably should've mentioned that by now. In fact, I would have if there as anything worth mentioning about it. All that really happens is a generic guy gets kidnapped (you wouldn't believe me if I told you why) and must fight his way out of a magical tower to earn his freedom. Along the way, he'll meet a wide cast of utterly abrasive characters. Hell, he'll even form contrived relationships with a few of them simply because the plot demands it. Throw in some flat humor that's full of more comments than actual punchlines, voice acting dull enough to give Valis a run for its money, and an overall lack of soul, and you have the narrative thread that ties Sequence together. At least on this aspect of the game, I have a clear opinion: it needs a story, but certainly not this story.
But the rest of the game? Again, I'm rather ambivalent about the whole thing. I really like what the game's trying to accomplish, and there's some degree of success there. Looking at the battles, at least, the game knows what to borrow from dance games and RPGs. Move outside that, though, and things get hairier. Everything we need to get there simply doesn't come together. On paper, the game should work, but somehow, the very things that make the game what it is sabotage any chance it has at success. Maybe it's just a small number of flaws that could easily be tweaked; maybe the game's very concept was doomed from the start. Who can say? I know I can't.
Switching between screens to funk an enemy to death? Awesome!
Grinding for hours on end, only for the game to tell you to piss the hell off? Not awesome!
Joseph Ducreux would not be pleased. (That's my way of saying this game references shitty shit memes.)
Surprisingly, this song ISN'T in Sequence. Way to disappoint.
It was quite a journey getting to this game. I know that sounds a little confusing, so allow me to elaborate. I'd originally intended to tackle Space Channel 5 for this part, since that would be a good match for Sequence's rhythmic charms. Sadly, technical issues shot that down, along with pretty much every Dreamcast game I tried to substitute in. Oh, and Sol Feace, for good measure. Bishi Bashi Special's also out, largely because of how brazen the AI is about its cheating nature. And so that leaves us with Project Horned Owl, an inoffensive rail shooter. It's offensive how inoffensive this game is, really.
Speaking of offensive.....I honestly don't have any sort of transition there. I just want to talk about the story, since that's about half the reason why I like this game. Imagine a buddy cop movie circa 1985. Now stop, because that's exactly what this is. I don't even have to elaborate. It's over the top, enthusiastic, full of energy, and perhaps best of all, completely unaware of any of this. I don't even really know how to put it. I just get the feeling that if this game knew what I thought of it, it wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable. Fortunately, there's no danger of that going on. Instead, the story's just so genuine and innocent that you can't help but enjoy what it's showing you. Yes, what it's showing you doesn't make a lot of sense (all I can remember is something about a stupid sci-fi terrorist person). But who gives a shit? The game wouldn't be nearly as good if it made sense. Project Horned Owl creates a world where people clumsily explode their bodies through walls rather than open a door. What's not to like about that?
This is where I talk about the game. It's a rail shooter/light gun game where you make things explode for about an hour. That's right: you're essentially playing an interactive fireworks show (except not that). I guess the only real difference is in the levels of excitement, because Horned Owl is dull. Well, dull in its presentation, at least. The environments are utterly bereft of life, and the game at least feels like it moves at a slow trickle (even if it doesn't). In short, the game looks boring. (It probably doesn't help that the graphics haven't aged a day past 1996.) There simply isn't enough to keep you engaged, so playing the game feels like you're simply going through the motions, waiting for something better to come along. How did this happen? Previously, the game was doing such a good job about getting me excited! Where's the resplendent energy you were just oozing before?
It's a shame, too, because the game itself is rather cromulent. Not too good and not too bad; just cromulent. The game gives you a regular shooty weapon, a spread shooty weapon that completely wrecks absolutely goddamn everything, a limited supply of grenades that somehow wreck more, a steady stream of enemies to shoot, and not much else. I know that doesn't sound exciting, but it's exciting enough. Despite what your eyes might tell you, you're always doing something in this game. So in that sense, I guess Project; Horned Owl is fun (if you ignore all the rote memorization, at least).......That's not enough to sell you on this game, is it? It was only a short moment ago that I said the graphics quell any sense of excitement the game might have, and the only mitigating factor I can offer is "well, the game plays satisfactorily, sort of"? That's no reason to play a video game! Yes, I enjoyed the story both ironically and unironically, but it's hard to sell a game based on something you could easily YouTube. Not that it's stopped modern video games all that much.
I never thought I'd see the day, but alas, it is here. What am I talking about? Why, the day when I encountered a mediocre Moon game. (Ignoring Dead Moon, of course.) Some of you might be confused, although that may be because nobody's ever heard of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. Apparently. To bring you guys up to speed, it's a remake of one of three reasons to own a Sega CD in the first place (the other two being veryobvious).
Now what's wrong with that? For one, it's a very simple game. I mean, there are some cool ideas in Lunar, but the game never really executes on those ideas. They just sort of exist, like that's enough to make a good game. But alas, it isn't. It is enough for a simple, underdeveloped experience, though.
I imagine the story is a big reason why everything feels that way. It all begins with a youth named Alex. He wants to become a Dragonmaster. What is a Dragonmaster? What does that entail? Why is that position so desirable? Who gives a shit? The story's barely interested in any of those questions. Hell, it's barely interested in its own themes, as it only pays them a cursory glance. For example, freedom versus order. That's the easiest theme to spot in the story, since the bad guy (a nasally bastard named Ghaleon) is trying to revive a god to impose divine rule or whatever on mankind. That may not sound exciting, but seeing Ghaleon slowly arrive at these conclusions is enough to draw you in and generate inte-what's that? Freedom wins, just because?
Maybe that was a bad example. What about adventure itself? It's the main character's motivation, after all, and the game constantly raises the stakes as it figures out what the hell adventure means. It's going to be interesting, seeing how Alex changes as t-Oh, he stays pretty much the same from beginning to end? That seems.....overly easy. You sure you don't want to give that more thought, game? Are you sure you don't want to look at it more, make sure you haven't created any serious problems? No? Really? It's like the game doesn't feel invested in its own story. And that's not even getting into any of the other problems, such as expository dialogue or dumb plot choices (like oceanic fireflies).
Possibly because I want to talk about something that vaguely works: the characters.....sort of. Oh, there are so many characters to encounter in this game. You've got the fat kid with daddy issues, the girl who gets over deep sadness strangely quickly, that fucking thing that greeted you into this blog, and so very much more. Everybody's got a well-defined personality, and they all play off each other very well. So you end up with a bunch of mildly humorous situations that almost mitigate the narrative problems I talked about before. Almost. For you see, when decent characters and mediocre plot come together, the mediocre plot somehow wins out every time. Any sense of character development must be abandoned to meet the demands of a story that isn't very good, anyway. Luna's doubting whether she should even follow Alex on his adventures? Bring her along anyway; we'll figure out a reason later. Or not at all. I mean, that doesn't completely ruin the characters, but it certainly makes me less willing to play the game. It's like the writers don't fully understand what makes Lunar work in the first place.
But perhaps Lunar doesn't need a stellar story to be good. Maybe its mechanics are fun enou-OK, they aren't. There's so much potential here for a fun time, but again, never does the game deliver on any of that potential. Not in the core systems, though; those just suck. Most of the game involves Alex walking through fantasy areas and whacking fantasy creatures, possibly in a way that is fantastical in nature. If that sounds overly reductive, understand that there isn't a lot to reduce in the first place. Each character only has a few attacks at their disposal, all of limited use. In fact, you can usually get through battle by selecting the basic attack option and then checking out for the next ninety seconds.
So you end up with half the battles feeling eerily similar, and the other half being bosses. Who also feel similar. The characters' positions don't help much. Sure, it looks like those characters moving about the field might introduce a strategic element, but since you can't move them around yourself, such strategy is limited. What exactly does that leave? Me filing away through menus to remind the game that I exist. Doesn't sound terribly engaging, does it? It's like the game's filling space between story moments because it doesn't know what else to do.
Normally, I'd talk about some other gameplay mechanic the game has, but there isn't any, really. All you can do outside of battle is simply walk to the next story event or battle. You're essentially ferrying yourself from one mindless event to another mindless event, repeating for as long as it takes to reach the credits. Overall, Lunar's a disappointing game. That's really the best word I can use to describe the game. The story disappoints by introducing all these cool ideas and then doing absolutely nothing with them. The gameplay disappoints by letting its best ideas fall well short of what they could accomplish. Even the presentation is disappointing, what with the mediocre animation paired alongside forgettable music. Put it all together, and you end up with a game that's competent, but not much else. This is no way to honor my Lunar heritage.
You've got some interesting stuff going on, but nothing ever really comes of it.
At least the characters are kind of good. When the plot leaves them alone, of course.
Walk into battle, bash things, walk into another battle, bash things, repeat for a while.
Is this what Mario was like in middle school? It's simultaneously glorious and horrifying.
Well, this is certainly weird. I'm not talking about the game, but rather, my reaction ot the game. Densetsu no Stafy 3 is probably one of the most average games I've played in a good while, but for whatever reason, I find myself enthused by it. Hell, its averageness is the very reason I'm enthused. How does that.....I don't.....Wh.....I am so very confused by all this.
I can't even begin with an explanation of the game, because there really isn't a lot to explain. You guide a star-shaped creature named Stafy through some aquatic environments, swimming about with the occasional light jumping. Throw in some shitty fetch quests and a rather low level of difficulty, and you've got the Stafy experience. Doesn't sound like there's a lot to this game, is there? That's because there isn't. This isn't a bad thing, though. In fact, it's the main appeal to the game. You never have too much to deal with, so everything's just so calm and relaxing. There's no sense of urgency, or huge monster to threaten you, or overly complex mechanic to wrap your head around. Just a D-pad, two buttons, and a few obstacles here and there to give you some light challenge. This is the perfect game to unwind to.
Even with all the dumb distractions the game throws your way. What? I didn't tell you about them? Turns out there's a lot more to this game than simply doing nothing. You also get to ride a submarine, a horse, a sheep costume thing, and so many other stupid, stupid vehicles. I guess this is to ensure some level of variety in the game, and while I can certainly commend Stafy for that, I must still acknowledge the hit or miss nature of all these side features. Each one has an annoying control quirk to endure (I'm not sure sheep move like boulders), and they're not all that fun to play through. But even at their worst, these games don't change the nature of the game. After all, there still isn't a lot to manage, and there still isn't a lot of risk in what you're doing. So really, what has changed between the normal gameplay and these stupid mini-games? At their worst, they're minor distractions from the overall game. At their best, they're a completely different character with her own way of getting about the world.
It has only now struck me that I haven't even mentioned the basic premise behind this game. What is there to mention? A monster has broken out of his porcelain prison a vase; not a toilet and he's trying to take over Heaven or something. Now it's up to a small starfish creature to dick around for a bit until things just kind of solve themselves. If my detached tone hasn't made it clear, I don't hold the story in too high regard. Sure, it's mildly entertaining, but it isn't that important. Or at least it isn't as important as how the story is presented. Everything's just so squishy and adorable and cute. The presentation really does a lot to put you in the relaxing mood that makes Stafy 3 as good as it is. In fact, now that I think about it, this is probably one of the few games I know of that can coast on charm alone. I mean, what else does the game have going for it? Simple gameplay mechanics? Terrible music? A story I decided to ignore less than halfway through? None of that is enough to make for a quality experience. But then you add a squishy layer of cute charm, and.......I don't even know how to finish that sentence. I am that mellowed out in the presence of Stafy.
Imagine Ecco the Dolphin. Now imagine that it didn't suck total shit. That's Stafy for you.
And then throw in something about riding a horse for no particular reason. Again, that is Stafy for you.
Have you broken out into a fever and painful rashes? That's staphy for you.
Why do we play bad games? Well, in my case, it's usually to ensure that I don't ever have to play them again. Yes, that means I have to do the very thing I wanted to avoid doing, but......hey, you guys ever hear of Hacker Evolution Duality? Because I sure as hell haven't. In fact, I can't even remember how I got this game. What a strange thing to say, and not for the reasons you're thinking. Hacker is barely even a game. It's little more than using brute force and trial & error to figure out how best to complete a bunch of pre-planned steps.
Of course, things don't start out like this. In fact, the premise starts off rather well. I mean, you're some elite hacker (not that kind) turning the world's computers into your own play toys. Sound fun? Well, it isn't. Part of that has to do with the narrative context. The story doesn't do a lot outside its "hack a megacorporation so it doesn't use its super virus" premise, so there's not a lot here to make you feel invested. But a lot more of it simply has to do with how fixed the gameplay feels. Every single level feels like a fucking checklist that you have to go through. You flip this option so you can flip that option so you can flip this other option and.....I know this sounds reductive, but there really is nothing else to Hacker other than that. Hell, you don't even get any meaningful choices to make, unless you interpret "victory or defeat" as a conscious decision. Your actions hold absolutely no meaning; you're just there to fill in the gaps while the game yells at you to hurry things along.
Oh, did I not mention that? Turns out that while you're hacking away and sticking it to the man, a bunch of AI servers will take turns pelting you with satellite attacks until you've lost the level. You're in a constant race against the clock throughout the game. (You can eliminate them, but doing so pretty much nerfs any chance at progressing through the level. What wonderful game design.) Unfortunately, Hacker is (sort of) a strategy game, so the game is essentially asking you to take the time to think things out while also getting things done as fast as you can. It's frustrating, to say the least. Not even difficult or engaging on any real level; just annoying.
And tedious. Have I mentioned tedious? Because this game is really, really tedious. Some of that's because of how you play the game. Hacker gives you all these tools to accomplish your goals, but none of them are any fun to use. They're all simply awful. Let's look at key cracks as an example. They're nothing more than a jumbled screen of numbers that you have to click through in sequential order, because I guess Minesweeper could always use a bit more tedium. (Retina scans are about the same, albeit on a smaller scale.) And that's a tool that actually provides some sort of challenge; the rest simply ask that you match bars to specific values. How riveting. I'd say that the puzzles don't help, but that would be assuming that this game even has puzzles. There are none. Instead, you get the checklist stuff I described before and false choices. By that, I mean you get three choices, one of them's correct, and you have no way of knowing. So you either trial and error your way through a mission or completely break the flow and let the game literally give you the solution. What skill is this situation engaging? What is the game asking me to do? When am I supposed to feel like I've accomplished something? Because all I see is needless busywork masquerading as mechanical depth.
If I had to say one good thing about the game, I'd probably say something about the aesthetic. Everything's crisp and efficient (at least until those key cracks ruin your vision), and the music does a good job of pumping you up throughout. But man, in light of everything else, that is not enough to make this game worth playing. A clean look and electro beats can't mask significant problems like utterly rote gameplay that insults your intelligence while offering nothing in return, or.....no, that's pretty much the major problem with Hacker Evolution Duality. Well, that and the non-committal ending that I can't seem to find anywhere. But mostly that other stuff.
Checklist speedrun. That sound enjoyable? It isn't.
Where it isn't frustrating, it's tedious.
But at least it looks good. I guess.
You know, this would've made just as much sense in my last blog.
These "theme" blogs really are hit and miss, aren't they? Half the time, I end up in a Napple Tale situation, where the games have absolutely nothing to do with each other. And then there are situations like these, where the stars align and my selections are somehow relevant to each other. Remember how Hacker was seven tedious levels too long, and it had a bunch of features that did nothing to make the game enjoyable? (If you can't remember, then that's probably a sign that I write too many words.) Bomberman's the exact opposite of that. Instead, it focuses on a couple of small ideas and develops the hell out of every last one of them.
Or perhaps just one idea: bomb the hell out of your enemies (and blocks that block you from bombing them). Does that sound simple? Well, that's because it is. And isn't. Therein lies the game's greatest strength: it finds the perfect sweet spot between simplicity and depth. On the one hand, bombing foes isn't easy. You have to manage a lot, like enemy behavior, your bomb's behavior, and the level design (and possibly its behavior). Bomberman's a slow game that prizes careful, well considered actions. It's almost predatorial, like a game of cat and mouse if the cat was packing heat.
Yet on the other hand that I've neglected until now, the game doesn't require too much thought. As slow as the game can feel, each level lasts only a couple of minutes, so the investment isn't particularly high. And for as much as you have to manage, the gameplay's still relatively easy to grasp, even when the game starts introducing new elements. Strange, isn't it? Bomberman can introduce all these cool power-ups like multiple bombs and walking through walls, yet it feels essentially the same as it did at the beginning. Let that stand as a testament to the game's quality: it gives you enough neat toys to engage your mental faculties, but not so much to overwhelm you or anything. It's like the game struck that one sweet spot between simplicity and strategy.
And then it goes on for about fifty levels. That's really my only complaint about Bomberman: it's too long for its own good. (That, and the bonus stages suck, but mostly the length thing.) You know how much I praised the game for making the most out of only a few features? Well, it still isn't enough to cover fifty levels. After a while, the game becomes a tedious slog, devoid of any variety. Having to search for a door at the end of each level only makes things worse. At times, it's like the game feels as though it has to go on, for reasons unknown, and the quality suffers as a result. Maybe on a portable platform, having this many levels and this little gameplay would make more sense, but.....turns out this game's on the GBA. You know what? Pick up that version. It's how the game was meant to be played.
Man, I've been playing a lot of war games recently, haven't I? Valkyria Chronicles, Medal of Honor, Spec Ops: The Line....and now this. Even more surprising is just how diverse my opinions on these games have been. For instance, I'd probably have been harsher on Valkyria Chronicles and its saccharine ilk if its gameplay wasn't absolutely amazing. Then there's Medal of Honor, which was little more than a dick-waving contest with a poor understanding of dick-waving mechanics. Spec Ops: The Line comes next, and while it certainly has important flaws, it also certainly dedicates a lot of energy toward maintaining its horrifying, pointless world.
.....and now this. Where do I even begin? How about with my conclusion: I like this game. Sure, the "game" is about halfcutscenes, and it's only barely aware of this sad fact. And sure, the story presented in those cutscenes is confusing and self-indulgent. But deep down, there's ultimately something that makes this game worth playing, even if it is only barely. Could that something be the rewarding stealth gameplay? Who the hell knows?
I'd probably start on that stealth gameplay thing, but I did just say that the game is half cutscene. You can't drop a bomb like that without explaining yourself, can you? But I stand by it: half the game is cinematics, and half of that is utterly needless filler. I'd say that the designers forgot this was a game, but they clearly remembered enough to pander. Unfortunately, that's not going to cut it. Load the game with a bunch of cutscenes, and suddenly, you've created distance from the player. Instead of experiencing things for yourself, you're simply sitting on your ass, watching things unfold in front of you. Sometimes, that's appropriate (like if you're literally supposed to be watching something), but most of the time, the story is simply harder to relate to because of all these cutscenes. Granted, the cinematics are damn fine on their own terms. Whoever directed these scenes clearly knows what elements to highlight, and they very clearly know how to work in some meaningful symbolism. If this were a movie, such technique would be admirable. But this isn't a movie. It's a game, and the cutscenes don't integrate themselves well into that game.
But maybe Guns of the Patriots tells such a good story that it can get away with priding cinematics over direct interaction. (Alright, it can't; you can't ignore gameplay when writing a story for a video game, but let's just run with the premise for now.) If we're judging the game on those merits, then it does....well? It at least does better than it did in the last paragraph. The story is essentially a world hopping fist fight between two decrepit, aging men. Liquid Ocelot (which just has to be a perfume name by now) is trying to take control of The Patriots, and Solid Old Snake is there to stop him. Oh, and tackle a ton of heady themes along the way. Stuff like the commodification of war, trying to maintain autonomy in the digital age, and Snake figuring out his place in the world as an outdated relic. And child soldiers and nanomachines and conspiracy theories and.....maybe the complex plot interferes with those heady themes.
Thankfully, it doesn't interfere enough. The story still knows damn well what it's doing. For instance, let's look at what I said about Snake being old. Yes, it really is that big a part of Metal Gear Solid 4. Half the story's dedicated to people calling Snake an old fart, and the other half is him breaking his hip on a mission. You can't help but feel bad for the guy. Yet in spite of all this, he manages to accomplish a helluva lot over the course of the game. More importantly, though, he accomplishes all of this without ever giving the impression that the writers have pulled anything out of their asses. Everything just feels natural, all the more impressive when there are mooing muscle robots romping about the scenery (more on that in a bit). It's really amazing the level of control that the story maintains throughout the game. And that's just one topic. Imagine what the game does with everything else it wants to cover.
And then the Kojimaisms barge onto the scene to fuck things up. By that, I mean any moment when the game devotes a lot of time toward justifying every last detail of its world, only to populate said world with the dumbest shit imaginable. For instance, Metal Gear Moo. When Metal Gear Moo first came onto the scene, I started getting headaches. I didn't know it at the time, but this was my brain warning me not to put up with any more of this bullshit. My brain was right, as the Kojimaisms kept on rolling. An arms dealer who feeds his diaper-wearing-monkey soda; a little girl who cooks eggs to the tune of obsession; a fucking robot samurai (and everything used to explain his existence); Guns of the Patriots features all of this and so much more. For some reason. I really don't see why any of this was included in the game. They're not consistently entertaining; just jarring. All the Kojimaisms accomplish is to take me out of the experience and render the messages less credible. How am I to take the game seriously on its issues when it can't even take itself seriously? Or maybe that's just me. Maybe you're actually supposed to play the game for the action and sense of spectacle. If that's the case, then yea, I can see all this dumb crap fitting into the story.
Normally, I'd opt for a broad explanation of the gameplay mechanics, but this time, I think an example will serve me better. Cut to the third act in the game. Snake's taking a sabbatical in Europe, meaning he's trailing a local resistance group to their hideout. If you want Snake to succeed, you're gonna need to put every last bit of your stealth knowledge to good use. Yes, you can tranquilize every idiot in your path and slurp your way into the shadows, but there's so much more you have to do. You have to observe your mark's movements, make sure he doesn't see you, pit the resistance against the army to your advantage, keep track of your surroundings, and so much more.
Does that sound like a lot of work? Well, that's because it is. Unless you're in a wide open area where you can simply blow through enemies undetected, Guns of the Patriots expects a lot of work from you. And time. Let's just say that you're not the only person who's going to spend most of their time sitting on their ass. But you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. That slowness is precisely why playing through the game feels so good. You've invested so much time and attention into this one minor thing, so it follows that the payoff is going to be even greater. There's almost a predatory aspect to the game; it just feels so empowering, and it all comes together for this great experience. (There might also be something about autonomy and control to tie into the story, but fuck it. Patient gameplay wins out.)
The boss battles, by contrast, damage the experience beyond all belief. They suck. There's no way around it. (The few other bosses are alright, though.) They're too action oriented for the own good. Sure, the game is capable of handling action moments, but it very clearly wasn't meant to. Each boss battle is a clumsy process of finding the Beauty in question and unloading your bullets into her face. Your only hope of finding success is if you stumble across it, not because you're playing as an old man, but more because you're playing through a scenario based on trial and error. And on that note, the bosses don't even have the story to back them up, as they contribute nothing to it. They pop in for a quick boss battle, crawl up and die, have Drebin explain their back-story (all of them pretty much the same), and then fade into irrelevance, never to be heard from again.
I also have some things to say about the weapons systems and the PTSD button and all the bullshit plot twists at the end, but I think I've made my point. In the end, Guns of the Patriots is the kind of game that makes you work for enjoyment. Story-wise, this probably doesn't hold up too well. I can't imagine many people would want to see the game's take on self-determination after learning about the digital conspiracies and psychic computer egg children you have to get through first. Fortunately, this functions better when you're playing the game, largely because the game rewards you this time around. So......great. Another game whose recommendation depends on that whole "game/story" split. Like I haven't played enough of those recently.
Tale as slow as time....Snake far past his prime.....Metal Gear Solid.....
I don't have any strange Disney jokes for the mechanics. All I can say is that they're as good as ever.
You know, for a game called Metal Gear Solid 4, the actual Metal Gears really have very little to do with the plot.
Sadly, I was not able to experience Metal Gear Online. However, I feel like this video captures the potential experience quite well.
And it's not just because my glorious Lunar Kingdom plays a big role in the story......OK, that's a pretty big reason. You play as these two memory doctors, but the real focus is on John Wyles, whose life's wish has always been to go to the Moon. Unfortunately, he's a few days away from death, so he'll have to make due with memory alteration so that he believes he went to the Moon.
Such a subject brings up some very important ethical concerns, but for whatever reason, none of them are societal. I guess we can ignore serious political ramifications (to name one) if we know that downloading music through your memories is illegal. No, it's all personal for To the Moon. For example, is it right to whitewash a person's history to their liking? What if getting rid of the tragic moments requires getting rid of the joyous ones, too? Is there an obligation to get rid of the tragedy wherever possible? And what about what actually happened? Does altering a person's memory negate the reality of what happened, or is that allowed to stand on its own? Each one of these questions is a complex issue, and fortunately, To the Moon treats each one with the depth and respect they warrant. There are no clear answers; only enough material for you to derive your own.
But that's not what makes the game good; at least not entirely. What makes the game really stand out is its emotional side. I forgot to mention this earlier, but our two doctors (whose names I also forgot to mention) need to create a plausible story leading up to the Moon, and that requires incepting Lunar desires into John's earliest memories. But to get to that point, they have to work backwards from his most recent ones. It's an interesting way of relaying this guy's life story, and more importantly, it works really well. The whole "telling the story backwards" thing creates this feeling of helplessness throughout the story, since you know John can never solve the problems he encounters. You want him to overcome his problems, but given the nature of the plot, you know that's not going to happen (at least in the way you'd want it to happen). This only becomes so much worse when you realize this while the characters are first confronting their problems. And then that becomes worse when you realize that you're playing a video game; a medium known for its interaction. It's amazing how this game can be both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Of course, backward story telling alone is not responsible for this. The game has other tricks up its sleeve, like how it uses meaningless objects or how it breeds familiarity. Arguably, though, how the plot moves forward is one of the more important ways the game breeds a sense of pathos.
Of course, that sense of pathos takes a serious blow when you realize how selfish John is. For all the time he spends with River (his autistic wife), you never really feel like he gets to know her on a deeply personal level. He doesn't make any strong efforts to know her beyond what she shows him, even when he's presented with a reasonable opportunity. (Anybody who's played the game knows what I'm referring to.) River only seems to exist as an object to fulfill John's desires. Yes, the game blatantly acknowledges this, but that doesn't make it right. If anything, it makes things worse. On some level, John knows what he's doing is wrong.....but he does it, anyway. Given that the story is only good insofar as you sympathize with John, this hampers the quality in a pretty significant way.
I feel at this point, I should probably mention the gameplay. Let's see....well, you wander around small environments, examining items to gain memory orbs you need to advance. You also need to solve simple puzzles to advance, for some reason. They're mildly entertaining, but......do I really need to mention any of this? All these particular mechanics accomplish (besides complementing what I've already discussed) is creating a sense of discovery that closely mirrors what the two doctors most likely feel. In fact, forget everything I said about the mechanics. Just focus on the closely detailed characterization and the emotional investment and all that stuff. Those are the real reasons you should play this game. You know, ignoring the obvious fact that it has the word "Moon" in the title and does justice to my Lunar glory.
Man, does this game know how to bond with its player.
I just wish the protagonist was less selfish.
Oh, and something about solving simple "flip all these squares" puzzles.
Well, isn't this a stark contrast from my last blog? Not just in the title (in that you could probably guess what I'm going to talk about this week), but also in the games I'm covering. Remember how Valkyria Chronicles and Medal of Honor both treated war with irreverence, and they both suffered because of that? Spec Ops: The Line ain't having any of that shit. This game absolutely knows how to put the medium to use, and in this case, that use is to create some horrifying imagery of war. And damn, does it do a good job.
It all begins when a small group of soldiers get sent into Dubai. Their mission is simple enough: pick up survivors and find out what happened to the 33rd Infantry. This all changes about three chapters in. The once opulent city of Dubai has fallen into a state of utter decay, teetering on the edge of nothingness; the 33rd are revealed to be a bunch of assholes (not that you're much better); and overall, things just become weird. Really, really weird. Thus we arrive at perhaps the game's greatest strength: it's surreal nature. Sometimes, this backfires horribly, like it does with this silly shit. Fortunately, that's only a minor fraction of the experience. The rest of the time, it works beautifully. You'd think blurring the lines between fantasy and reality would make the terrors of war harder to take seriously, but the opposite happens. That otherworldly atmosphere permeating the streets of Dubai only makes the atrocities pop out more. You directly experience the toll that war takes on those experiencing it. Better still, the game never lets up. From beginning to end (whatever those are; they blend together), the game simply becomes more hideous and twisted and repulsive, like a mocking parody of itself.
And then there are the choices. They...are actually where the game starts to fall apart. I get what the game's trying to do, although that may have something to do with its lack of subtlety. Anyway, I get it: I shouldn't try to shirk off responsibility for the things I do. Everybody's constantly pinning the blame on somebody else, or placing their deeds into a better context. That last one might hold validity, but does the first one? Do I have any real ability to avoid the terrible actions in this game? Most of the scenarios presented me with three options: "Horrible Atrocity A", "Horrible Atrocity B", and "Fuck Else". You can say "just walk away" all you like, but it doesn't mean much unless I actually have the ability to walk away. I can remember quite a few situations where I tried simply walking away from something terrible, only for Spec Ops to railroad me into an awful "choice". It's not entirely fair or thought out to blame me for choices I was essentially forced into. But then that ending comes around, and man, does it fix every flaw these themes could possibly have. I know that sounds exceedingly hyperbolic, especially when I'm not going to tell you what the ending's like (spoilers), but you're just gonna have to trust me on this. It really is that good.
The only real flaw I'd see with the game is how it uses cutscenes. If not for them, I'd probably hold the game in higher regard than I already do. At times, it's almost like the game is a movie. I mean, yea, the moments when you're playing are just as important to the story (the most horrifying moments are usually the ones you directly experience), but come cutscene time, and Spec Ops feels like a completely different experience. There's staging, an acute focus on camera work, and all these other things that never happen when you're actually fighting your way through Dubai. Again, it's like a movie, which is the worst possible thing this game could be, given its message. If I feel like I'm simply watching events unfold before me (rather than like I'm actually making these events happen), I'm going to feel some distance from what's happening. Now I can safely abdicate responsibility for what I did in the game, because I didn't do it; I just watched some guy do all these horrible things. Hell, I'm only a special guest in this game. How can themes like "you always had a choice" or "you're not a hero" apply to me under those conditions, game?
Oh, that reminds me: this is a video game we're talking about. It's a shooter, which should mean you shoot bad guys until the game gives you other bad guys to shoot, and for a time, that's true. In fact, the only distinguishing trait early on is just how often you're shooting out windows to let sand rain down on your foes. But this is Spec Ops we're talking about, so of course, it's going to put a scary amount of thought into this one aspect of the game. You want to feel like you're in a hell on Earth? It doesn't matter; Spec Ops is gonna do it, anyway. You're constantly running out of ammo, bullets are so lethal that even hearing them can put you in a comatose state, and you need to issue orders to your allies intelligently if you want to succeed in a firefight. That last one might sound rather tame until you realize that about half the game is spent away from those teammates. So yea, just about every shoot-out is tense, frantic, chaotic, and a bunch of other words you'd use to describe a war zone. Overall, a fitting complement to everything else in the game.
(There are also BioShock-esque intelligence tapes to pick up every now and then. The less said about these jarring little boxes, the better.)
Actually, now that I think about it, that's a weird way to refer to Spec Ops: The Line. After all, you're not coming to this because of the shooting mechanics or anything like that. (Just ignore the multiplayer mode on the title screen. The developers certainly have.) You're coming to this game because it knows how to connect to you. And promptly stomp the ever-loving hell out of your conceptions of the world. You're coming for the haunting imagery and that feeling that things are slowly spiraling out of control, eventually reaching a crescendo of absolute carnage. It is a beautiful madness.
Who knew that the Middle East could be such a horrible experience?
How the game handles choice looks pretty bad at first. Then you hit the credits, and it looks pretty good.
Oh, and you shoot things, I guess. That's in there.
You know, I probably could've just said "Apocalypse Now: The Game", and you'd understand most of the review.
You know, this is an oddly accurate summary of Spec Ops: The Line.
This was supposed to be DEFCON. You know, so I could pair it with Spec Ops thematically. Unfortunately, several factors got in the way of that, like it being a multiplayer game and my absolute lack of skill in it. So instead, we're looking at Tiny and Big, the Turner & Hooch of video games. Probably. If ever there was a poster child for simplicity in game design, Tiny and Big would be it. The game really only has one gameplay element to fuck about with, but does that stop it from being good? Hell no! If anything, that only makes the game better, since the game can now focus on milking the hell out of this one particular mechanic.
That feature, of course, is cutting shit up. What? You couldn't gather that from the title? Grandpa's Leftovers are ropes, fire, and cutting implements. (Actually, the leftovers are underwear, but is that really any less unsettling?) You're gonna have to use every last one of them to navigate all those acrophobia inducing environments. Now, that may not sound like fun, but that's only because I haven't mentioned the very loose physics on display. This is where things get interesting. When you combine loose physics with tools that let you manipulate your environment, you transform the world into your personal playground. A sense of childlike glee will roll over your face as soon as you realize that the world only exists so that you can utterly destroy it. By that, of course, I mean you're going to feel both very, very powerful, and very, very stupid. Hell, there's even a small sense of rebellion as you defy the game's implicit orders. Yes, there's clearly a right way to get through these levels, but who gives a shit when the wrong way is clearly much more enjoyable?
Eventually, though, you're gonna have to do things the right way. As fun as it is to slice a level into ribbons, it's also a very good way to screw yourself out of any progress. You're gonna have to slow down considerably if you want to make your way through the game. Surprisingly, this only makes the game that much better. Instead of merely giving you some monuments to needlessly cut up, Tiny and Big's now testing a set of skills, and it does so relatively well. Success in the game hinges on paying careful attention to you environment and knowing all the ins and outs of your various tools. Watching it all come together leaves you with a well deserved sense of accomplishment. Hell, I'd go so far as to say that the sense of chaos from before only enhances that feeling of accomplishment. After all, you're gonna feel a lot better for solving something if you know just how badly you screwed things up beforehand. Of course, this set-up isn't entirely perfect. The frequent checkpointing robs you of at least some sense of accomplishment, and the loose physics that were so fun a while ago now introduce an unwanted element of luck into the mix. But despite these issues, the game manages to have its cake and eat it, too. Oh, and there are rocks to collect, too, and maybe a couple of other extras, but the game calls those boring, anyway, so I see no harm in skipping them over completely.
Speaking of things I'd rather ignore: the length. The game's a measly couple of hours long, and I feel like I'm left wanting more. Not because two hours is too short for a game, but because it's too short for this game. For all the game does with the idea of cutting things, I still feel like it could do more. Not much, mind you, but the game still ends just before it's exhausted every last opportunity to slice things apart like a madman. It's like the game is underdelivering on its own potential, even if it's only doing so by a marginal amount. Fortunately, though, that's not really enough to drag down the game's other accomplishments. I mean, it still somehow manages to take an idea that's completely dumb and transform it into something that's thought out. How many games can claim to do that? Without being designed by Hideo Kojima?
This must be what it's like as a five year old.
With the brain of a thirty five year old.
Just keep in mind that it's only a couple hours long.
Wait, I think I just described Akira. So yea, Tiny and Big is exactly like Akira.
This is the first blog of 2014, ladies and gentlemen. Just ignore the fact that I posted this in late June; we're kicking off the new year! And what better way than with my first PS3 game? I have to imagine there are several better ways, because that first PS3 game is Valkyria Chronicles, and I'm.....a little conflicted about this. On the one hand, the story's hot shit. It's too childlike and idyllic, traits you shouldn't include in a game about World War II (and, by extension, the Holocaust). Normally, this would be enough grounds for me to dismiss the game outright, but then that other hand comes into play and punches me in the face with gameplay. So thoughtful, so tactical, such a perfect balance between strategy and action....What the hell do I do with this game?
How about we start with the story, like I always do? It all begins in the happy, peaceful nation of Gallia. One day, while they're singing about brotherly love and peace among men, the big bad Empire sends their metal death monsters in to murder kill all the happy Gallains. But worry not! Lieutenant Welkin Gunther is here to.....are you seeing the problems, here? The story's too saccharine for its own good. Keep in mind that there's a long-lasting, continent-engulfing war going on. You've gotta treat that shit with reverence; put in the time and attention to detail necessary to make sure you've done the complex social and political issues justice. Valkyria Chronicles, unfortunately, does the opposite. In this game, war's fun and happy. There might be some sad moments, but nothing severe. For example, the worst a forced labor camp does to you is leave you a little bummed out. Other than that, war's just a fight between heroes and villains. Nothing more. Also, nothing better. Worse than that, though, is that the game's only very barely aware of these problems. It'll try to add some complexity (like resource scarcity motivating the war (at least until the end)), but only in conciliation. The game's less trying to treat the subject of war with the respect it deserves, and more trying to cover its tracks. And the story's full of moments like these. It's like the story is parodying itself, only with some very worrying implications.
For instance, let's consider the racial themes in this game. There are three races in the world, but only two worth considering: the Darcsen, whose distinguishing trait is that they all have short dark hair, and the Valkyria, who essentially gain superpowers by huffing magic gasoline. The Empire's sending the Darcsens into forced labor camps while simultaneously using the Valkyria to win the war. Our allegiances seem clear: Darcsen are the victims, and the Valkyria are to be maligned. Until we actually see the Valkyria, that is. Then, they're absolute demigods, raining righteous fire down upon their enemies, shining in glory about the battlefield. The game can say they're supernatural and inhuman all they want, but that does little to abate their godly status. You're not supposed to look down on the Valkyria; you're supposed to look up to them. And the Darcsens? Well, at this point, I've completely forgotten about them. Too focused on wanting to be the bad guy, you see. Wonderful.
Maybe the characters can redeem this game, right? Oh, I wish. You can sum up most of them in one, maybe two traits. "Largo's large and likes vegetables", "Rosie sings and is anti-Semitic", "Alicia only exists to bolster Welkin's character, even when it makes no sense", etc. This is a cast that makes you want to look up the official criteria for diagnosing Asperger Syndrome. Especially Welkin. You know what I said about the story being a cheery Disney movie about World War II? Welkin ratchets that attitude up to some very high number. Somehow, even in the worst situation you could possibly imagine, he keeps a calm, upbeat, positive outlook on things. That may sound admirable until you realize it's the result of delusion. There's a reason I made the Asperger joke: Welkin's into bugs and plants. Like, really into them. He can only perceive the world through obscure species of beetle, and to him, this is completely normal. Hell, at one point, he compares Alicia to a bug, thinking it's a compliment. Funny, right? I'm guessing that was the intention, but it just makes the problems I listed before a little worse. It's like he's brushing aside war as nothing serious so he can get back to his precious bugs. Joy.
But even ignoring those problems, he's still not a very interesting character. His motivations are "to pass good things down to the next generation." Those are his words. What weak, utterly bland and meaningless motivations. This makes his status as the focus of the first half of the story all the stranger. Then again, I can't imagine many characters whom I'd especially enjoy the story focusing on more. The only character worth considering happens to work for the enemy, but she's an exception. For all the individuality your own squad mates have, every single enemy is just some generic fuck who can be replaced in a heartbeat. You know, almost like you should follow the Imperial example and regard your enemies as inhuman vermin.
But there's hope yet. Have you perhaps noticed that the entire story takes place largely from one perspective? Or how about that art style? It looks time worn, like the game is a series of old war photos being presented to you. You know, like you're looking back on the game's events rather than playing through them. And then there's the fact that you advance through the story line by line, page by page. My point? This is a fairy tale. I know that sounds redundant, but hear me out. The events of the game did happen, but not exactly like this. Somebody's changing the details (smart money's on Welkin) to present their side in a far better light. Looked at this way, the story's far more salvageable. Yes, the simplicity's still there, but it's something to work against, and the source of the story's quality. Now you're trying to figure out not only what details have been changed and why, but also what actually happened over the course of the war. It's subtle and t-What's that? There are some Empire scenes that Welkin couldn't have possibly known about or guessed at? And the game's fairly clear about what the framing narrative is? OK, nevermind. The story sucks. Go about your business, everyone.
The gameplay, on the other hand, is simply amazing. I don't even know where to begin. I don't even really know how to describe it. Ogre Battle: The Third Person Shooter? You choose which unit to command from a huge military map, and then zoom down to them and take control of them manually. You walk forward, pop a few shots off on a guy, and then retreat to cover. That may sound simple, but there's actually a lot to keep track of. You've got to know where everybody is, where they're facing, what their weaknesses might be, how much ammo some of your units have, and maybe some other stuff I haven't gotten into. You have to think tactically about every move if you want to win. Needless to say, the atmosphere is tense, uncertain, almost like you're fighting in some kind of war.
Despite that (or maybe because of that), Valkyria Chronicles can be pretty rewarding, too. As tense as the scenarios can be, there's something to be said for placing your troops in such a way that the enemy can't advance a foot. Or watching an enemy scout run into one of your shocktroopers (hint: it doesn't end well). It's the feeling of watching all the pieces fall perfectly into place, and seeing everything go exactly as you planned. I'd call it 機能美, but a lot of stupid shit keeps that idea at bay. Of course, I mean stupid in a good way. Like using all your commands to sneak one unit through the Normandy landing to conquer a single base while only killing one, maybe two enemies on the way. No, seriously. How dumb, yet utterly brilliant. And what a perfect demonstration of what makes this game good: planning. Put in the time, and Valkyria Chronicles will reward you well. True, some of your shots can feel like they rely too much on luck to plan for (like missing a blow to the head at point blank range), but that doesn't happen enough to make the game any worse.
The only real downside to the gameplay's in the minutiae. On top of all the exciting battles, you also deal with some not-so-exciting bureaucracy. Things like leveling up soldiers, upgrading/managing their equipment, and taking advice from old guys who hang out in cemeteries. I imagine all these options are supposed to make you feel as though you're becoming more powerful as the campaign ramps up, but that doesn't really happen. Enemies die to about as much firepower at the start of the game as they do at the end, and you almost never get any new abilities from upgrading your guys. Since you can't see what your upgrades are doing, they just become needless busywork. And then there are all those special perks on each soldier to worry about. Great. Actually, that's the wrong tone. None of these ancillary features detract from the game, but they don't necessarily add a lot to it, either.
And that's Valkyria Chronicles. What the hell do I make of it? I just spent the last few paragraphs telling you how the gameplay manages to balance so much and how it puts the "tactical" in tactical RPG. But just before that, I railed against its fairy tale interpretation of severe human suffering and death. How do I reconcile such disparate stances? Simply put: I won't. I'll leave it up to you. You want gameplay? Get this game. You want story? Go play something else; maybe Little Inferno I don't know. I'm talking Valkyria Chronicles, here.
Hey, remember how Path of Radiance handled topics like race and war and genocide and all that other heady shit? Imagine if somebody else did it, but without as much pesky thought put into it.
Hey, remember how Path of Radiance had brilliantly balanced strategic gameplay? So does this game.
It is a glorious madness. It cannot be understood, nor can it be misunderstood. It simply is.
And now we shift toward America's take on World War II: Medal of Honor. No, not the 2010 reboot that nobody remembers (hell, I confused it with Warfighter for the weapon controversy), but the 1999 one made by Dreamworks. Surprisingly, that explains everything that's wrong with this game. I mean, Dreamworks made Shrek shortly after this, which explains why Medal of Honor is so concerned with fantasy and grandeur. Dreamworks also makes movies, which explains why this game fails to deliver on any of that grandeur. Hell, the game doesn't even have decent gameplay to mitigate those problems. It just sucks.
A large part of that suckage comes from just how powerful the game makes you feel. Not on its own, mind you, but that certainly plays a part in why I don't like the game. Every single little aspect of this game is dedicated to making you feel awesome. That stuff about the Nazis and World War II? Just window dressing. (Window dressing that paints the Nazis as gleefully evil scum, but that's probably the least of this game's worries.) You start up the game, and already, somebody's telling you how awesome you are. Holy shit! I barely had to do anything, and already, I feel amazing. No time for that, though. You're on a mission to save the world from utter Nazi annihilation (annazilation?). And then again. And again. And again. That's pretty much what the whole story's like: a bunch of missions of the utmost importance. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Yet. All that weight does a good job getting you to play the game, since all your actions feel significant. Hopefully, the scenarios are challenging and exciting enough to justify the sense of importance the game places on you and all your actions.
They aren't. They aren't even remotely close to challenging or exciting. The game sets the lowest bar it possibly can, robbing your actions of any legitimate importance. For example, the enemies: they're all Nazis incredibly weak. Your character can take quite a bit of punishment, yet he can send Nazis flying back nine feet with a single bullet. Literally; they actually fly backward when you shoot them. They also only come out in very small numbers; usually one or two at a time. Just enough to pick 'em off as they come at you. So instead of anything like urgency or tension, Medal of Honor instead doles out mere targets for you to shoot down. I'd say that's quite some distance from what the more explicit narrative is preaching, but the gameplay's still close enough to tamper with it. I mean, it's kind of hard for the game to make you feel good about yourself when it doesn't offer a formidable opponent, isn't it? True, the game gets better about this later on as it throws more enemies your way. But alas, it isn't enough. The tone has already been set.
The levels themselves don't help matters. If anything, they only make things exactly the same. Much like the enemies, the levels themselves aren't that complicated. You get a few goals to accomplish, and they're all arranged in what is essentially a straight line. Complete them out of order, and there's a good chance you skipped one of them by accident. To be perfectly fair, it is rather convenient that the game telegraphs these things to me. At least under these conditions, I won't spend half my time wandering around in search of that one item I missed. (I mean, I still did that, but I couldn't really pin any of that on the game.) But again, it's these conditions that suck any sense of satisfaction out of the game. There's no challenge. The game's simply spoonfeeding me victory and then telling me I'm a great person because of it. It all creates this weird dissonance between what the game tells me is happening and what's actually happening as I play.
Perfect example: there's this one level where you have to sink an enemy sub from within. That may sound simple, but there are actually several other things to worry about in order to sink the sub. My mission briefing even says I'm on a tight time limit. That may sound complicated, but everything I need to do is clustered into one small area. Plus, the briefing lied: there is no time limit, and even if there was, I doubt it'd be much of a problem when the exit is three feet away. So with enemies who only exist to die and levels that don't leave much to the imagination, I feel like any joy I derive from the game is unearned. What place do my own skills have in this world? Failure was never a viable option. I couldn't even bump up the difficulty in case I wanted feelings of legitimacy. (Or if I could, I never figured out how.) This was all the game was offering me.
If I had to say something positive about the game, I'd have to go with the visual design? As that question mark should indicate, this idea is difficult to explain. The levels feel like real places? I mean not in the act of playing them (again, they're little more than hallways), but in the act of experiencing them. There's a fair amount of detail in these areas. They often feel like living, breathing places, rather than just arenas for Nazi shootin'. That goes for the enemies, too; they feel like actual people. Not because they always respond to your presence with bullets, mind you, but in all the other ways. Despite only being able to survive two bullets, you're still going to see them near death quite a bit. They'll crawl around, stagger on their knees, generally behave like somebody who got shot in the chest. So, if nothing else, at least the game presents a believable world.
But, of course, that's not enough to redeem Medal of Honor. I mean, we still have to deal with the lack of challenge. I know that I've probably beaten this point quite deep into your skulls at this point, but it really is the one linchpin holding the game together (well, not holding it together, in this case). With all its praise of your various escapades, the story needs challenge for any of that praise to make any damn sense. Without that challenge, it feels like the game is selling itself short, telling you how great you are for the most minor of deeds. Maybe there's something worth digging into if you can power through the easier sections, but that's asking a lot out of the average player.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to kick some Nazi ass.
They have large asses, so they shouldn't be that hard to kick.
Also, do some other stuff, if you have the time.
Man, that Mission Impossible reference got weird fast.
And so we're back with the G-Man. How? Why? Who cares? Certainly not Hisao; he just wants to get this over with. In fact, he says as much to the Man's face. The G-Man's taken aback by Babyface's forwardness, but he takes it rather well. He only leaves Hisao with this before sending him on his way:
Anyway, Hanako's route. What road do we take to get to Harlem? Pretty much the same as Lilly's. In fact, almost exactly the same as Lilly's. They're literally a choice apart, which I'll detail when we get to it. In the meantime, a couple of fun facts:
This is the only route in the game where Miki gets a speaking role. A little strange when you realize what little influence she has on the story (and how much more relevant she'd have been in Emi's route), but whatever. You take what you get.
So far, Hanako's route is the first one with three endings, at least in the "good/neutral/bad" sense. If I play my cards right, we'll only see the first two. Of course, I'm going to play them wrong. That's right: I am going for her bad ending first. I warn you now so you know why I feel like such a piece of shit later on. Anyway, let's take it to Harlem.
Maybe a weak way to end the first update, but whatever. It's funny in my head, alright?
That's right: I'm jumping ahead two episodes in the chronology. This has everything to do with this episode being the only free one. Not that my previous experience with the series should really matter, as we'll soon find out. While the first two were adventure games (a genre known for using items in very specific scenarios), this third installment is an RPG (a genre known for using items in very specific scenarios. Also, hitting.), and the change seems to have paid off. I mean, it's hard to say that without any context on the previous games, but this game in particular seems alright. It has a decent sense of humor, and the battle system is intuitive, fast-paced, and a lot of fun. Why does this soundfamiliar?
I guess that's why, to separate Penny Arcade from their previous outings, Zeboyd made sure this game's story wasn't very good. The story begins with me making the characters girls because I am never to be trusted. Normally, I'd begin with a brief synopsis of what the story's like, but, well, I don't understand what the hell the story's about. There's this guy trying to assemble a book, possibly of evil origin. Also, something about paintings and Tycho wants to end all existence or something? I've got no idea. The story introduces a lot of elements without explaining them or making them feel natural to the world, so you never have a good idea about what's going on. It's confusing, to say the least.
It's poorly paced, to say some amount greater than the least. The second half of the story isn't necessary; it simply drags the game on longer than it should go. The characters have a simple goal (that I can't remember for reasons already explained), but they spend a lot of time pursuing minor diversions that don't contribute anything valuable. An alternate dimension here, a Star Trek parody there, etc. This doesn't add anything to the plot; it just needlessly bloats the game. In short, don't play On the Rain-Sli.....Don't play this game for the plot.
Instead, play the game for its sense of humor. If you're the right kind of person, that is, because the humor here isn't for everybody. A lot of it relies on just how random things can get, usually by combining two things that you don't normally find together and then drawing attention to how funny that is. It's a very fine line to walk, and I have to admit that the game falters from time to time. Many of the game's jokes come off as annoying and obvious, the shoehorned cultural references especially so. But for as many times as it blunders its way to a punchline, it's absolutely amazing just as many times. It's like the writing is detached from what it depicts; like it's completely aware of how stupid it can be, and it has no problems pointing out this stupidity. That approach doesn't always work, mind you, but there's enough thought and attention to most of the humor that in the end, I came to like it.
That not doing it for you, huh? Fine. How about we talk about the gameplay, for once? Like every other Zeboyd game in existence, Game With Obscenely Long Title is an RPG mocking old school RPGs. For some reason, though, it never mocks the fact that you have no choice but to walk down bottlenecked corridors and actively engage people in conflict until you've beaten them to death. I'm assuming that's because the game's relying on the strength of its battle system, which, yea, I'll give it points for. Battles unfold a la Final Fantasy X: everybody's turn is queued up in a little line at the top of the screen, and winning each battle rests largely on you understanding and getting on top of who acts when. It's actually a lot easier to understand than I make it appear, but there's still a level of skill involved in it. Each battle has their own rhythm and flow as you figure out the right moves for each situation, and since each battle lasts about a minute, tops, you don't have to invest a lot into the game to get something out of it.
The real fun, though, lies in the class system. It allows you to mix and match all kinds of abilities and skills for all sorts of intricate strategies. Let's consider three classes as an example: Dinosorcerer, Diva, and literally anything else. The Dinosorcerer can transform into any dinosaur they damn well please. That should be enough to sell you on the game, but humor me. The Diva's only real purpose is to mess up your allies. That may sound like a bad thing, but one of the Diva's moves lets you drain MP, and a dinosaur'd ally can't really use that MP. This is where the classes begin to interlock. Dinosorcerer becomes a dinosaur, steamrolls some enemies, and the Diva sucks up the useless MP to use for their literally anything else. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Presumably. Unfortunately, I was far too lazy to mess around with a lot of the classes (or at least take note of the ones I did mess around with), so this could be the only good part of the game's class system. I'm pretty sure it isn't, though.
I'd say that's enough for me to recommend the game, but on second thought, I'm a tad more trepidatious around such a recommendation. On the one hand, you have a visceral battle system and a class system that encourages experimenting and strategy. On the other hand, you have randumb humor and a story that more concerned with shiny distractions than it is with actually making sense. So where's I'm Never Typing the Full Title land in terms of quality? Personally, I'll settle on it being a good game if you play it in short bursts. Those are the best conditions for the quick battles and the apropos-of-nothing sense of humor. I mean, what's the alternative? Play it for longer, more concentrated sessions? If you do that, then you're subjecting yourself to a dreary and monotonous experience, and you don't need to suffer through that. Besides, the game isn't terribly long, so you'd better play it in short bursts if you hope to get the most out of the nothing you might have spent.
I can haz cohesive storee? (Is probably one of the jokes in this game.)
To give the game credit, hoboism is pretty damn funny.
And inflicting it on some hapless foe is just as fun.
Just what I wanted out of SpongeBob: for Mario to burst in and kill everything about it.
That's right: I'm jumping ahead two games in the chronology. Unlike last time, though, this jump's simply because I forgot about the other two games. But can you blame me? I doubt the other two games are anything special, at least if this one's anything to go by. This game is just so completely and utterly average. It doesn't do anything wrong, but it doesn't do anything right, either. It simply plays things safe, only offering you the most basic of concepts to deal with. I don't know if I should feel elation or dread.
Probably nothing, because that's exactly how the story makes me feel. Like the rest of the game, it starts off inoffensively enough. One kid shows a rare dinosaur bone to his friends, but then another kid accidentally breaks it. How can we continue our lives in light of such a horrible tragedy? Worry not, for Doraemon's here to save the day. He's the cat with a wand of forgetting, a watch that can change a person's mood, a doll that can assume another person's identity, a time travel object of some kind, and everything else a budding rapist needs. He's going to use one of those tools to fetch a duplicate bone and make everything all better. So far, so good. (Ignoring the rape.) Somehow, this ends with Doraemon trying to stop The Joker (actually The Tick) from taking over all of history. How sudden and strange.
Except not at all. In spite of the mafia's time crimes, the stakes remain rather low throughout the story. I mean, for at least half the story, the bad guy doesn't take any real steps to annihilate you, or if he does, you don't feel that he does. To call it "relaxing" would be inaccurate. "Doldrum" would be more accurate, and Doraemon's sense of humor only supports this notion. Nowhere will you find anything as raunchy as my earlier rapist joke. At best, you'll get whatever the hell this is supposed to be. Other than that, prepare for funnish comedy. Not funny, but funnish. All the humor's relatively clean, the scenarios are non-threatening, and the story leaves little if any lasting impact.
Playing the game, on the other hand, leaves about the same level of lasting impact. A large....actually, that's entirely because of how simple the game is. For example: the levels. You get an elevated piece of land to jump on, some baddies to beat up, maybe a boss with easily predicted patterns, and nothing else. Oh, and maybe a trip to the city every now and again, but given how much those suck (it's mainly a framing issue), I think it's best that we just ignore them. That way, we're left with nothing but safe, elementary level design. Nothing to challenge you; nothing to engage you; nothing to motivate you to play through the game for something that resembles enjoyment. Just nondescript gameplay to occupy your time. That's it, really.
Really, the game's only noteworthy aspect is the character switching mechanic. Throughout your time-hopping escapades, you'll encounter some new playable characters from time to time. Of course, there' s Doraemon himself to fuck about with, but you also get a fat guy who murders things with the power of song, a small child who murders things with what I have to assume are burps, and a couple of other characters who murder things. Maybe they use sound, too. Who the hell knows? That's what makes the game so fun. Everybody has their own little quirk about them, like the way they move or how high they can jump or what their attacks do. Finding out how each character behaves and how you should adapt your play style to them is part of why Doraemon's as enjoyable as it The only character I didn't like was Nobita. He's the one with the glasses and the snot. He's also the one with the slowest speed, shortest attack range, and least useful ability in the game. Other than him, though, the character switching mechanic gets the job done.
Man, if there's a better way to describe this game than "gets the job done", then there probably is. It feels like Doraemon sets a low bar for the player. It doesn't want to do anything that might scare players away, so it highlights everything the player needs to know about and only gives them so much to work with at any given time. It's patronizing, in a way. Yes, I realize this is a kid's game, but that's no excuse. You can make a good game for a wide audience and still engage them in worthwhile and exciting ways. Hell, I imagine people would kill for such an experience. But such an experience Doraemon is not. Instead, it's flat, unassuming, and average. In summation, I knew I should've done Yatterman.
It's like Peabody and Sherman if anybody had any clue what the hell I was talking about.