February 16, 2017

Angels with Scaly Wings

I’ve been spending my latest bit of free time playing the dragon date game Angels with Scaly Wings. Dragons are slowly but surely becoming my all-encompassing brand, so I had no choice in the matter, but also, I was kind of intrigued. It was clearly a very passionate project. And in the end, having played it, I found it really interesting. I really enjoyed it, but I also think it has enough flaws that I probably wouldn’t recommend it. Still, it’s stuck with me, so I want to talk about it for a bit.

First off, I do want to talk about why the game is poorly constructed. The game is clearly pulling inspiration from the likes of things like Zero Escape and Danganronpa. It wants to create this deadly-feeling conspiracy in a world of dragons. The end result of this, though, is something that feels very disconnected. The dragons that you date are only really minimally connected to this main plot, which makes the characters you spend the most time with and care about almost completely incidental to what happens in the “plot” proper. Endings celebrate this plot, and not your connections with characters, which makes it even worse, honestly. And while the game attempts to create a sense of tension by having characters you could date die throughout the story, it doesn’t actually feel driven by the story proper. When someone dies in a Zero Escape game, it is basically straight up your fault, and you have to try to figure out what you could have done better. If someone dies in a Danganronpa game, it’s an important part of the plot. Here, it is literally just an indication that you did not spend enough time with them, and has no real effect on the route you’re working on. Because of how the conspiracy plot makes you loop, you’d think you might also be motivated by having to set up an exacting chain of events to save everyone, but no. Once you’ve seen a character’s good ending, which honestly only feels “good” in a few instances, you can ignore them. They’ll turn out fine.

Perhaps this would be fine if the suspense thriller detective whatever parts of the game were engaging without this character involvement, but it really isn’t. It feels like an author’s early attempt at writing one of those, and while we all have to start somewhere, because the game is set up so everything hangs on it, it just doesn’t land well. The game isn’t really that long, but it still feels bloated, with more ideas tacked into it than was really necessary to get things going. Perhaps this is a “me” problem though, as I’m very much a character over worldbuilding kind of person. However, even if you’re fine with that, there are still occasional immersion-breaking jokes that just should not be there. This whole world has been set up in a specific way, for better or worse. It makes no sense for your character to say lines like “my body is ready.” It’s not even played for humor, like the narrator is making a joke. It’s just kind of there. There are some good things in the writing too, though. The game does some really smart things to establish why your character is of an indistinct gender, for example. But overall: not great.

All that being said, once you finish the game once, a strange thing happens. Usually, in a visual novel, on future runs you can speed up the text to get through parts where you already know the outcome, but you still have to track decisions and many other things. In this game, once you’ve seen it, you’re just given the option to skip sections making all the right choices. It’s pretty fantastic, actually. And what happens is, all that stuff up there, that I wasn’t really excited about? Suddenly it disappears, and you’re just dating dragons.

The game does right by its five lead characters. Even some of the “side date” characters (which I get the feeling were probably kickstarter campaign rewards. I know this was crowdfunded) are treated well. But it’s leads are well thought out, they’re charming, and they feel, for the most part, fully-realized. The passion that I talked about earlier is very clear in these characters. Someone spent a lot of time thinking about them. I really like them all. Once they’re removed from the context of the “main” story, they really shine. Are they the best dategame people ever? No, probably not, but they’re fun.

I want to zoom in most specifically on Bryce, the police chief. I’m not sure if I’ve dated a character quite like him in a dating game before. He’s a horrible flirt and a huge bro, but he really cares about his job and doing well at it. He doesn’t want to settle for “not being good at things,” but instead wants to improve, even if it’s not by much. He’s nice. But what I found unique about him is that you aren’t really dating? I mean, you are. You go on dates, he is the character you most clearly and without a doubt fuck, but the way he approaches it, and the game lets you approach it, is extremely casual. Going on Bryce’s route is not “I’ve found my soulmate.” It’s “I’ve found a fantastic friend and every so often we’re gonna blow each other before cracking open a beer.” It’s this “friends with benefits” dynamic that feels like something that would actually work, and not involve anyone being mislead or being gross. And that’s so rare, I think. You don’t see that kind of thing a lot. I loved it. Of course, if you want more traditional romances, you’ve got those covered too.

Anyway, as I said, I really don’t know if I can recommend the game. If you’re obsessed with dragons like me, you can totally date some cute dragons here! Which is nice! And I really hope whoever made this makes another game, because I feel like there are so many lessons being learned from this that’s gonna make another dating game from them shine. But as it is, yeah. It’s a thing, and there’s some thoughts on it. If that still sounds good to you, go for it, and let’s talk about it!

January 1, 2017

Here Are The Video Games I Loved in 2016

Hi, everyone!
Oh geez, have I really not posted over here since LAST new years? Oh well. I’ve been posting lots of words over at poetfox.com, so, you know, I think I’m good.
BUT VIDEO GAMES! 2016 had some of them, in theory. Let me talk a bit about what I think about them. BUT FIRST:

Evergreen Games I Cannot Stop Playing
1. Granblue Fantasy – Granblue continues to thrill me with it’s fairly friendly F2P model (it’s still energy-based, but I’ve never felt like I had to spend money, just that it would be a nice bonus), it’s wonderful, cute characters, and it’s well-written storylines that are focused purely on fun. Every month there are new stories to read, new characters to recruit and fall in love with, and more loot to find. This year I recruited two trans characters in the game. Two! And both have been treated with respect! Can you even imagine? I’m at the point of the game where it’s getting really grindy, and I don’t play it constantly like I did when I started. But that’s okay. I come back for every event, and I always love booting the game up. Granblue Fantasy is AMAZING. If you can stand phone game mechanics at all, and love anime and Final Fantasy, you are doing yourself a disservice by not playing Granblue.

2. Hearthstone – At least once a week I try to clear out my Hearthstone quest queue. I don’t really care about being good at Hearthstone? I make decks I think are neat and then lose with them all the time. But playing the game is very relaxing to me. I just put on a podcast and sling cards without thinking too hard about strategy, and I have a great time. I have problems with the game, mostly just because man, Warcraft’s humor kind of sucks sometimes, huh? But I keep coming back. Hearthstone is really, really good.

Those games would have been at the top of the list just from pure playtime. They’re fantastic! But it felt like I should separate them. So there, I did. I’m sure I’ll keep playing those two forever, too. Fun times.

But now, let’s do a top 10 or something.

10. Stories: Path of Destinies – This is a game where you play a fox swordsman named Reynardo and Batman fight ravens. The combat and gameplay in the game is fine. But what’s been done here is just an impressive amount of storytelling. You have a narrator who is reading you a story, essentially. They do silly voices for all the characters. They crack dad jokes all the time that make you groan, and insert things into the canon that are obviously bad ad-libs, like “They, uh, met at Sword-Fu School”. It’s like you’re reading a story with someone, and the story itself is interesting! There are only like 4 characters, but they are very well fleshed out. As you see all the bad endings, you really get to know them all, and start to root for them (or against them, for the assholes). And Stories has done something no video game has ever done before: had enough joke lines. The game will make a joke when you do things like open a chest. I played this game a lot, and it probably played a joke when I got a chest 50 times at least. I cannot remember one repeated line. It was amazing. This game has an awful title, but it’s actually pretty fun. A good weekend game.

9. Overwatch – Can I nominate a game based on fanart? I probably spent way more time looking at cute Overwatch art than actually playing the game. I’m just not a competitive sort, and when the playerbase started getting good, I started having less fun. But that’s fine. The game is really, really good! And the characters are super good, for the most part! I really love them all, and I had a really fun few weeks with it, for sure.

8. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright – In this game I married a silly kitsune and had two perfect children. I also learned the lesson that if you get really mad, you turn into a dragon. I should be more angry more often, I guess? But yeah, Fates takes what I liked about Awakening and then makes it way more accessible through the Phoenix mode. I really do not care about difficult fights? I just wanna make the animes kiss. It made me happy that it rewarded me with a super casual difficulty so I could enjoy that part. I meant to play the other two versions as well, but I never got back to them, which is fine. I don’t play a lot of games anymore. But I really enjoyed Birthright. It was quite fun.

7. Hustle Cat – I really like Visual Novels and “dating sims” but let’s face it: a lot of them are kind of too long? There’s too much of them. Hustle Cat is short, and sweet, and very very gay. It is a fun delight, and I truly, truly love every single one of the characters. Some more than others, obviously, but they are all wonderful. Usually in a visual novel, I hate at least one of them! What a wonderful surprise. I wrote about Hustle Cat here, if you want to read more about it. But I love it so much.

6. Picross 3D Round 2 – Picross is the best. After the disappointing kind of bad free to play Pokemon Picross, it was refreshing for Nintendo to just randomly dump Round 2 on the states and get to play through the whole dang thing. It is the most relaxing way to spend your time. The only thing I was disappointed about was amiibo support, of all things. It felt like it would be obscenely easy to make a puzzle for every amiibo. But other than that, the game is just a delight. I mean, you know if you like Picross. If you like Picross and haven’t bought this yet, go get it right now.

5. Kirby: Planet Robobot – This is maybe the best Kirby game since Super Star? Maybe? Robobot takes everything that was fun about Triple Deluxe and then just flat-out improves all of it. The Robot riding mechanic is actually super cool, and gives you lots of good new powers to use. It makes you feel way more powerful, but not in a way that makes it less fun to play normal Kirby. The story is just perfect. It loves Kirby’s weird lore so much, and you can just feel it oozing from every bit of it. I loved every moment of Robobot!

4. Pokemon Sun – It was so refreshing to play a Pokemon game that felt like they had a vision for it instead of “just another one of those.” Sun (and Moon, I would assume, but I only played Sun) is Pokemon, of course, but with a fun, light storyline and a sense of playfulness in the very fights you do that pushes you along. The Trials have so much more personality than gyms ever had, and you get to know the Trial Captains as characters and actually like them! This was the first Pokemon story where I was actually really invested in it as well, which was kind of strange. I have always considered Pokemon stories to be “the thing I do to meet more cute Pokemon,” but I really cared about Lillie and Hau in a way that I can’t remember having ever done with a companion in a previous game. Anyway, Sun is delightful.

3. Stardew Valley – I remember when I first played Harvest Moon on an emulator and my mind was blown. Such a relaxing game of controlling your life and constantly improving, I really loved it. Occasionally I will play another Harvest Moon or a spinoff, and it’ll be fine, but they always feel very stuck in the past in some ways, too clunky to fully enjoy. Stardew Valley, though, takes everything I like about those games and brings them into the present day. It has that exact joy that Harvest Moon gives in working on crops and things, but on a massive scale. There are so many people to meet, and you can date most of them, and there are so many different ways you can build your farm, and so many other tasks you can dig into if you want to take a break from farming. Perhaps some people would find all those things to do overwhelming. But I found it as me never lacking for something new to dive into when I got tired. If I wanted a break from tending crops, I’d go dungeon crawling, or work on mastering the fishing minigame. I played so many hours of this game, and never tried to romance a single character! I skipped that whole part! And it was magnificent, all the way through.

2. Doom – Doom is an acceptable masculinity. It takes all these macho man tropes and then puts them into this ridiculous world where, instead of being horrific or bad, they are hilarious and perfect. I am not an old school Doom fan. I played it, of course, and I recognize how it was revolutionary. But this game transcends nostalgia. It is a game that constantly asks “can we make this more ridiculous? Can we make this more fun?” and then makes it happen. The game makes you feel like a elemental of pure death and then gives you lore files where demons literally describe you that way. It made me care about the story! I want to punch that robot! Oh my goodness, I do. That’s the depth of the story, figuring out who you want to punch, but it’s told so well, that’s just fine. If you have ever enjoyed a gunshoots game, even if you’re tired of them by now like me, you have to, have to play Doom. You will have a blast for like 6 to 8 hours. Trust me.

1. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE – I had to steal a console from my brother to play this game, and I don’t regret it. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is so polished and so smart, and so fun. It’s not serious, but avoids some of the grosser “not serious” anime things. It has a clear theme, and everything in the game is built around that theme. I ranted about all that over on OnTheStick, so take a look if you want? But I really think it is a shame this game is going to be lost to obscurity on the WiiU. It is probably better than Persona 4. I love it to death. If you like jRPGs and you haven’t played it, please, give it a try. Liking Fire Emblem helps, but is not necessary to love this game, so don’t hold back.

And that’s 2016 in games, I guess! Not a bad year at all. In games, I mean. Otherwise, it was a very bad year. But the games? They were pretty good.

December 29, 2015

Here Are Games I Liked in 2015

I played some video games this year, and they were very good! Maybe give some of these a try, if you didn’t? Here are some, badly ranked from 10 to 1.

10. The Niflheim : I finally gave in and downloaded this phone Visual Novel and gave it a try. It’s very silly in its construction. There’s PvP? You’re gathering clothes to be better at PvP? It lets you read little tiny chunks of story? The story isn’t particularly deep and has lots of weird little tangents just to draw it out? It’s all a very odd experience. But there’s something very endearing about it. The people making it clearly believe in it, and thought they want my free to play money, they refuse to demand it from me. The characters in the game make it clear they’re happy to wait for me to get more Story Tickets without paying, but they’re excited for me to come back, so spend money, if I want? I haven’t, but I have been playing it for a couple months now, and I can’t imagine stopping yet.

9. Nintendo Badge Arcade : When Nintendo wants to, it’s real good at Free to Play. I love the pink shopbunny so much. This game is just incredibly adorable, and doesn’t pressure you into paying money. Whenever it asks you for money, and you say no, you’re told that that’s fine, no big deal, I’ll see you soon! And you want to come back, because of the cute conversations with this rabbit you have. Getting a Tom Nook to replace my 3DS Shop Icon was just icing on the cake. It’s a fun 5 minute experience every day I very much enjoy.

8. Code: Realize : A Steampunk adventure smoochy game? What’s not to like! This is a really great story that sticks to its premise, which I appreciate. The game is set up like an adventure novel, and while it is a romance, for sure, you have a series of adventures with your would-be boyfriends in true steampunk style, and you know I’m into that. The protagonist is fairly well realized in most routes, and they do interesting things with the fact that she’s made of poison, and can’t be touched, which I found really fun. I’m not hot on all routes *cough*Van Helsing*cough* but it’s all a lot of fun, and the big ending with the final route is totally worth the journey.

7. Tales from the Borderlands : Who knew I’d ever give a shit about Borderlands? I mean, I played the original because I was in long-distance relationships and it was co-op. It was fine. But this game is everything that truly makes Telltale great. It’s oozing with charm, and swapping between the two protagonists makes the whole scenario interesting. I genuinely like all the characters as well. This really raises the bar from the source material and turns it into a surprisingly inclusive and fun journey. I still need to play the last episode, but the first four were totally worth it.

6. Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls : This game is pure Danganronpa fan service, but I’m not complaining. It’s fun fanservice, and while the gameplay leaves a LOT to the desired, the dialog and everything is just as wonderful as the other games, and it’s totally worth your time. I thought the game did a fantastic job of making Toko into someone actually interesting instead of a weird joke, and I really appreciated that.

5. Read Only Memories : ROM creates a world filled with queer people that never questions why they’re there. They’re just part of the landscape. It’s pretty great like that. It certainly doesn’t hurt that these characters are very easy to like and interact with. Turing, especially, is really well written, and you care about your little robot friend a lot by the end of it, but every bit of the game is enjoyable. It’s a world I would for sure visit again, and a nice story that carries you through it.

4. Amnesia: Memories : Though less romantic than other VNs, this is a game with a great story. Having lost your memory due to a collision with a spirit, you find yourself in the world’s worst relationships, and have to figure out why you’re there and why they’re worthwhile. This game puts you into a murder mystery, a horror game, and just poor relationships. It goes really far with its premise, and it’s fun seeing how things are different and the same in the various alternate universes. I also really like how the game just says “Fine, just pick one,” at the beginning and is then free to tell a more fully-realized story without tracking stats with each guy. Each story is very self-contained and worth it, even the super creepy one with Toma. It’s a great play, especially if you want more depth in your VNs.

3. Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star : I LOVE THESE BIRDS SO MUCH. A collection of vaguely-holiday-themed short stories, Holiday Star is more Hatoful Boyfriend, and that’s a very, very good thing. The game is even more comedic than Hatoful Boyfriend, if you can believe it, since it’s playing with characters you already know, but it’s wonderful for it. It gave me emotions all over again, and I laughed a lot. Play Hatoful Boyfriend, and then for sure play this afterwards. And give Ryouta a hug for me. My poor sweet little birdie…

2. Hearthstone : Fuck, I played a lot of Hearthstone this year. I am the least serious Hearthstone player, though. I put on a podcast, and I play turns in three seconds, and I just clear my head. It’s perfect for that. There’s a lot of depth there I don’t always engage with, but I appreciate it’s there when I want it, as well. Since I got back into it this year, I haven’t spent a cent on it, but I’ve had a lot of fun slowly unlocking cards anyway. It’s just so polished, it’s hard not to like it, and it’s eaten TONS of my time this year.

1. Undertale : Pretend to be surprised. Undertale is amazing. Undertale made me rethink elements of my life. Undertale made me more emotional than any media experience I can recall. Undertale has created characters that I know will stick with me for a long, long time to come. Undertale made me laugh, but most of all, it made me invest in its world, more than any game I can remember. It asks that of you, and makes it so easy to do, and before you know it, you’re fully lost in it. I have had so many long discussions about Undertale and what it means and how to interpret it this year, something that so rarely happens with video games. Undertale is an experience I want everyone to have. Of course it’s the best game of the year.

October 31, 2015

Horror Game Curse Roundup!

Sorry I haven’t written in awhile, blog. I’ve been writing other things. Novels and such.

I’ve also been writing Horror Game Essays for On the Stick!
You remember how I’ve always done that, right? This year was no exception!

Anyway, I just wanted to put them all here, to have them all in one place, in case you missed some of them. I wrote a lot of nice things, I think!

First off, I wrote about Danganronpa 2, and how the game’s use of gamification in all of its interactions helps to create the proper sense of both closeness and distance for it to really make you care about everyone.

I wrote an article about Ultra Despair Girls, and how it works to turn a fairly one-note character of questionable stereotypes into a well-rounded character you care a whole lot for.

I wrote a very difficult and personal essay about UNDERTALE, specifically Toriel, and why the game reflected so heavily on some of the hardships in my life. This contains spoilers for a lot of the game, though I don’t get into a lot of specifics.

I wrote about the recent Visual Novel Amnesia: Memories, specifically one of the routes, Diamond World, and it’s fairly upsetting portrayal of Big/little, Dom/sub dynamics.

I wrote about Monsterhearts, a tabletop roleplaying game I really, really, really like. It captures that teenager feeling so well, and it plays with themes anyone can pick up, and I tried to explain why.

Finally, I wrote about Hylics, and why a game about face melting and weird creatures is really all about being able to relax.

Phew, that’s a lot of stuff to read, huh? If you go back and take a look at any of it, I hope you like it. It was fun, as always, to pretend to be a games writer for a month! You should also check out everyone else’s videos and essays and whatnot! Tons of cool stuff on there.
Anyway, back to all my usual writing. Short Stories and Novels! Huzzah!
Happy Halloween!

December 28, 2014

Here’s Some Other 2014 Games I Wanted To Talk About.

When I make a top ten list, I feel like it should be things I finished and came out this year or whatever? And it’s hard to make a list.

Anyway, here’s some other games from this year (or that I played this year, anyway) that I felt I needed to say a thing about.

South Park: The Stick of Truth
Can I just say that I don’t like that this is here, really? Like, South Park has done some REALLY GROSS SHIT. The game itself does some things that I don’t appreciate as well. Thanks for bringing up that dolphin episode in a throwaway joke, assholes. Yet at the same time, Kenny gets to be a Princess and everyone just kind of… goes with it? It’s a really confusing thing. I have confusing feelings about the game.
But let’s just be clear: the game is REALLY FUNNY when it isn’t trying to shock you. The combat is a fantastic version of Mario RPG and a lot of fun to play. And also you eventually get to the point where your character (who has to be male for like… absolutely no reason) can crossdress and fire pink heart arrows and nobody cares, and it’s kind of great. It’s great, and it’s awful. I had a really good time with it.

Mario Golf: World Tour
This is a really solid Mario Golf release. I love Mario Golf a lot. But man, the lack of a compelling single player RPG mode just really drains a lot of the fun out of the game, you know? The online tournaments are really welcome, but that just doesn’t do much for me. I’m not one for a lot of competition with others. Solid, but just… thinking of what could be, it’s sort of sad.

Murdered: Soul Suspect
This game is better than it probably should be. It’s charming, and though the hide and run gameplay is often kind of annoying, the mystery and elements like that are top notch and fun. It’s almost a shame there won’t be some sort of sequel, because I bet they’d nail it with another go around. Still, totally worth playing if you like mysteries. Pick it up on a sale.

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F
Originally I was all like “Ha ha, Hatsune Miku, how silly, how can people be obsessed with her and all this stuff!” and then I kept kind of digging into it to try to find the appeal and at some point this kind of spiteful research turned into a respect and a like, and then I got this game for cheap and played it, and OH MAN. It’s honestly a lot of fun playing dressup with the vocaloids and the songs are really charming! It’s really cute! I… quite like Hatsune Miku. Gotta play the second one. It’s on it’s way, actually.

Divinity: Dragon Commander
This isn’t from this year, but OH MAN did I love this game. Like, it would have been very high on my list if it was from this year. There’s some RTS stuff? Just put it on easy, that stuff is pointless. The real fun is that it’s this ruler simulator where you have to make all these political decisions that connect to the world today. It makes you kind of understand why it is not so easy to enact those things you want to enact. I really liked all the characters, and all the diplomacy. It was SO AWESOME. Get this for like 5 bucks.

Marvel Puzzle Quest

I am so addicted to this because the gameplay is so casual and fun and well-put together and I play it EVERY SINGLE DAY since I put it on my phone and I really wish it wasn’t so GROSS with how it treats real money transactions so I could recommend it. Don’t play Marvel Puzzle Quest. But if you do, let me know, because I’ll talk your ear off about it.

Broken Age (Part 1)
REALLY WANT PART 2. Part 1 is really charming and a really fun time and all the quality one would expect from Double Fine in their element. It’s really good stuff. But I mean, I want to see it all pay off, so I hesitate to toot its horn too much. Part 2 could fall apart. I sure hope not, though.

The Fall
GREAT STORYTELLING and a fun little time. It’s short. It’s clearly not complete. But what’s there sure makes one want to keep going. I sure as heck going to buy the sequels and whatnot.

Okay, there, that’s that. I’m sure I’ll copy over my book list sometime near the beginning of the year? So maybe look forward to that. But yeah, overall, 2014 sucked, good riddance, let’s hope 2015 is better, yeah?

December 27, 2014

Can I Make a Top Ten List for 2014? Apparently So.

Hi poor, neglected blog. I thought I’d try to make a top ten games of 2014.
Can I name 10 games that came out this year that I liked and finished? Apparently I can name 16. So let’s try to make a list, I guess. I’ll do it like I used to. I’ll do some runners up tomorrow, and a top ten today. How about that?

Okay, here’s my top 10 games of 2014 then, I guess.

1. Dangan Ronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
The first one was awesome too, but had… problems. Which I’ll talk about later. But man, the whole series is just MADE for me. Seriously. Completely. Dangan Ronpa 2 had some of the best characters I’ve interacted with in a video game in a long time, and I just love the detective gameplay. I really, truly do. The game also does its best to subvert and play with all the expectations you had from playing the first game, and does so masterfully. Just… a game people should play. Yeah.

2. Nidhogg
I didn’t play as much of this as I wanted, but every time I boot it up to fence someone, I’m blown away, again, by how fantastic of a game it is. It’s so well balanced and so well put together. It’s tense, it’s fast-paced, and it honestly isn’t that hard to get the hang of on a basic level. But it has depth, that depth that comes from needing to parry and fake out your opponent, that keeps one coming back again and again. I will play someone in Nidhogg ANY TIME. It is SUPER GREAT.

3. Freedom Planet
Sometimes I back “furry” kickstarters on a whim, because I want to, I dunno, support my sort of animal people? I don’t know. I can’t remember why I backed Freedom Planet, but I remember looking at some of the updates, and asking myself why I did, and feeling embarrassed.
Then it came out, and I couldn’t stop playing it.
Freedom Planet is not perfect, but it nails that sense of speed that Sonic tries for, and often fails at, and unlike Sonic, I always felt like I was in control. The game is just FUN, and I actually attempted a speedrun at it because I wanted an excuse to keep playing. Let me repeat that. I practiced a little at speedrunning this game because I liked it so much. I’m not much for the story, perse, though I appreciate it’s GAY AS HECK, but even if you skip all the story, it oozes charm, and it’s something I feel like you really should play if you have even the vaguest fondness for Sonic, or just want a good platformer.

4. Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

A way better Ace Attorney game than Dual Destinies, it was saddled with a lot of the Layton series’ ridiculousness in a bad way with a twist that kind of undermines a lot. But man, the witch trials are SO MUCH FUN in this. It’s great taking what you know from Phoenix Wright games and suddenly being without common tools, where you have to prove something without basic forensic information like fingerprinting. It wasn’t really more of a challenge, but it felt like it. There is some gender ick in here, but I feel like it’s extremely minor, as unlike a lot of these sorts of situations, the logic the game gives you makes PERFECT sense in the world of the story without being gross. But it would still be better if it weren’t there at all, you know? In any case, I really enjoyed it.

5. Transistor
What a beautiful game, from the gameplay to the story. I feel like I’m in the minority, but I really like the story elements of the game. I like the mystery, and how everyone in the game KNOWS what’s going on, so they don’t pointlessly spew exposition. That made my writer brain happy. I liked that to understand things, I had to connect more with the mechanics. And boy, what mechanics they were. Much like Bastion before it, there are so many ways to fight in Transistor, and you’ll find a combo that feels broken, and be shocked when you move to another combination that feels equally broken. AND THE SOUNDTRACK. Oh man.

6. Shovel Knight

As I’ve already said earlier, the best “retro” or “callback” games feel like it used to, but are actually way better, and smooth the issues your nostalgia forgot about. Shovel Knight does this perfectly. The difficulty is really well balanced, with the items you can use or not, and the checkpoints you can destroy or not, and it just has a lot of charm without being “meme-y” or something of that nature. The enemy knights you fight, like Mega Man bosses, just ooze charm. It’s a really fun time.

7. Jackbox Party Pack
IT’S MORE YOU DON’T KNOW JACK. And more fun games! What is there not to like! This isn’t higher, because I just don’t play this kind of stuff as much as I used to. It’s sad. But this is a REALLY quality release, and something everyone can enjoy. Using the phones is just a genius way to let many, many people play, too. It is very much worth your money.

8. Dangan Ronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
I really do love this game, but a lot of the second class trial just leaves a lot of bad taste in one’s mouth. It’s not SUPER bad? It’s not Dual Destinies bad. But it’s still not handled super well. That said, though, it’s a great game, just like the sequel. It’s so good, and it is worth playing. The characters are still fun (though 2 really tops all of them, I think) and it’s just quite a mystery. Also, it’s really necessary to play 2, and 2 is REALLY GOOD. So.

9. Kirby Triple Deluxe
You know what still fills me with joy? A Kirby game. I never finished Return to Dreamland. I wanted to co-op it, but people get busy, and it didn’t really drag me in. This, as a single player thing, using some of the stuff in Return to Dreamland and cutting what didn’t work, was a joy. Hypernova made for much more fun scenarios and puzzles than anything I saw from the “Supercharged” weapons in Return to Dreamland. It was also fun to see the developers really playing with perspective and stuff, since they could. It’s a Kirby game. You know what you’re getting. I love Kirby. It’s all I wanted.

10. Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once The Fat Lady Sings!”
Look, okay, there is just so much LOVE put into this game. SO MUCH LOVE. It just oozes love, and fun, and happiness, and it makes me very happy to play. Someone set out to make this thing alone, a musical adventure game, and it’s just… it’s really charming. The singing could perhaps use a little coaching. But that’s kind of why it’s so charming to me.

Yeah, so… I guess I played a lot of stuff this year? I didn’t really think I had, but I showed me.

October 13, 2014

Here Is Why Bayonetta, As A Character, Rules.

In order to get it out of my head, I would like to tell you why I love Bayonetta as a character.

In video games, sexualization often exists without a story purpose. It is a marketing tool. It’s designed to draw you in and make you interested in someone who, perhaps, is not a deep enough character to deserve it. It’s a way to put some cheesecake on a game box and drag in just one more lusty teen.

I don’t personally believe that Bayonetta’s design is about that. Most sexualization for it’s own sake dis-empowers. It turns people into objects. But Bayonetta would not be herself without it. And that is why, at least in some ways, Bayonetta makes me jealous. I want to be like her. And in the game, I get to be here, and it feels fantastic.

In society, flaunting your sexuality as a woman is a dangerous move. It draws unwanted attention. There are leers and catcalls and who knows what else. Most female characters who wield their sexuality openly are eventually punished for it. The femme fatale’s wiles fail at an important moment, requiring a rescue. Or, perhaps, the heroine is targeted purely because of their sex appeal, more than anything else. Consider the controversy around the attempted rape in Tomb Raider for example. Lara was obviously a threat. She’d killed tons of people by that point. But no, it was her sexuality that was her weak point. There’s where she got in trouble.

At the same time, it is AWESOME to feel sexy. It’s great. Your self-confidence skyrockets. You can take on the world when you feel like you’re looking fantastic and everyone knows it. We’ve all felt that. We want to feel that regularly. The problem is, in reality, that sometimes comes with drawbacks.

Bayonetta has those drawbacks, but she could not even care. She does not have a love interest. (You could argue Luka, but no. He’s just fun to toy with.) There is no target for her sexuality. She looks hot as hell and she’s doing it because of the confidence that gives her. And as a witch, she can back that confidence up. She can summon demons. She can ice skate pirouette angels into a pile of goo. Every action she takes is full of strength, and power, and no fear. She has no fear. She is feminine and sexy and she has no fears because of it. And that makes me jealous.

An argument could be made that, because the camera shows her off so much, and because she often does things towards the camera, that her sexuality is for the player. She is seducing someone, and that is you, with the controller. I understand that, and you could probably make a good case for it. Personally, I think she’s doing that to make the player uncomfortable.

You see, the male gaze assumes a woman is for the viewer. That’s how male gaze works. But Bayonetta is over the top. She’s constantly losing clothing and poledancing and tying angels up and making them cum until they explode. This is not how someone designed to be lusted after acts, because one moment she’s enticing you, and the next she’s making it clear that you could never, ever be enough for her, and she is not interested. Or if she is, she’s going to destroy you and toss you away after that. Most guys I have talked about this game with, even if they like it, were, at the very least, borderline uncomfortable watching all this. That’s the point. You want sexy? Here’s so much it turns the mirror around on you, and makes you wonder why that’s what you were expecting. That’s what the game says. And by making it clear that Bayonetta does not need your approval or your lust, she breaks through that male gaze, at least for a moment.

The plot of the first game backs this up to some extent, as well. While most of the plot deals with Bayonetta’s past, a lot of it is her trying to learn to accept help, and accepting the idea that she can have friends. She wants to push people away, for the majority of the story. Isn’t how she’s dressing designed to do that?

In any case, there are many readings, of course. But I love Bayonetta as a character. Every new torture move in the first game had me cheering. Hell, I started wearing glasses again, because I say Bayonetta, and I wanted to be like that, a little bit. I love her as a character. I can’t wait to play the second game.

August 1, 2013

13th Age Adventurer Tier: On the Whim of a Coin Flip for 7/25/2013

After a long caravan journey, our heroes finally reach the mage town of Horizon, home of the Archmage and hiding place of Project Baal’s Throne. Glyff thanks them profusely for their hard work, and gives them a little bonus for the lengths they went to to help his caravan. He also says they’re welcome to ride with him any time: in a week he’s heading to the Golden Citadel, if they want in. Our heroes do not commit, for they have work to do.

Their first stop is the hideout of Sylvia Highstack. Using Murdock’s memory of maps of the city, they find the address, but oddly, find nobody home. It’s an empty building. They do find a Wheel of Fortune card on the table, one from Sylvia’s deck, which gives Murdock a little shock when he picks it up. Nimrod looks around the room for signs of the conspiracy, and finds one part of the strange wall that just isn’t normal. Eventually our heroes turn the small slat in the wall, creating a staircase down to Sylvia’s secret lab and war room.

Syliva seems surprised to see them, but tells them of the situation. He and her crack team of two other elvish magic users have narrowed down the location of Baal’s Throne to one of two of the Archmage’s many many secret labs. Heathcliff excuses himself for a moment, and quickly deals with that problem with a quick coin flip, finding the location. Sylvia is very doubtful of Heathcliff’s sudden knowledge, not knowing about the coin, but eventually gives up fighting with it as the party pushes on her that it’s the right choice. The other problem is that each secret lab is surrounded by a magical locking spell that keeps everyone not enchanted by high officials in the Archmage’s organization from getting in. Sylvia and her team are trying to reverse engineer the enchantment to allow access, but it’s been slow going. It may take something like kidnapping an official to really figure it out fast, but that would give away their presence very quickly.

Unsure of what to do, the team decides to scout out the location, deep in the Dire Wood, in the morning, and gets some rest. Before bedding down, though, Murdock goes and buys a large amount of dynamite from a dwarven trader. Can’t have too many explosives when you’re trying to break into a lab and destroy a magical artifact, right?

While sleeping, Zardy has a vision, thanks to his cursed sword. The Blue speaks to him, and gives him a task: retrieve the Silver Key, a magical item lost long ago by his clan, to help some machination of The Yellow. The key, Zardy is told, can open any lock, magical or mundane. Zardy wakes up with a magical item to find the key, a ring called The Eye of the Blue, which lets him see the magical threads around him and will somehow help him find the beast in the Dire Wood that has a piece of the key in its stomach. The other half of the key is apparently the contents of the Falconcats chest Zardy already has. He doesn’t have much knowledge of magic, though, so he’s unsure of how to use the ring effectively.

The next day, the party goes into the woods and scouts. They attempt to disguise themselves as apprentice wizards on a training exercise, to some effect. They find the lab, a strange shack guarded by a bored wizard, but cannot get near. Unsure what else to do, Zardy tells the party the short version of his task from the Blue, hoping the key could help them get inside. Still, though, he’s unable to make sense of what the Eye lets him see, and they decide to head back, and talk to the Elvish woman back at the war room that Heathcliff had been seducing, Elena Collins. Elena can’t get the ring to work for her, as it’s bonded to Zardy, but through conversations with her, a plan is finally hit upon: look at the chest where Zardy’s piece of key is, and follow the strands from it to its partner.

Using this new plan, they soon stumble upon the lair of the horrific disfigured chimera beast that has the other piece of the key. The party creates a distraction while Murdock climbs atop the cave and drops dynamite right onto the beast’s head, weakening it as the battle starts. The party fights hard, even through the many tough attacks the chimera’s three heads dish out. Heathcliff has some serious problems hitting the beast, being more likely to hit his friends with his Deadly Hellchord. Still, when the beast is weakened, Heathcliff still manages, somehow, to deal the killing blow. Can nothing stop The Wonderheart?

After the battle, Zardy cuts into the beast and pulls out the other piece of the key. When brought near the Falconcats chest, it pops open, and the key is restored. With this, our party should be able to get into the secret lab! But what awaits them within? And what is The Yellow planning to do with the key when he comes to get it? Questions abound, but our brave party prepares to go onward!

July 25, 2013

13th Age Adventurer Tier: On the Whim of a Coin Flip for 7/18/2013

Gathering their power, our heroes crush some butterflies and naked butterfly ladies. The Ballad of the Wonderheart is sung proudly over the fight, and everyone does their part to easily dispatch their opponents, using their new Level 2 abilities. After the job is done, the townspeople are extremely grateful, and celebrate by throwing a feast with plenty of caterpillar meat for everyone!

During the feast, the party is approached by a strange man selling questionable magical runes. Looking at one another, the party decides not to partake. The man shrugs, and says they know where to find him if they change their mind.

As Glyff gets the horses fixed, Nimrod spends his time preaching to the people, who never really had a religious figure talk at them before, about the wonders and flatness of Slyce. Murdock holes up in the town hall and reads some boring town records and farmer’s almanacs to add to his memory banks. Zardy sleeps off his drunk of butterfly ale. Heathcliff, however, remembers the request from his beloved, and talks to the mayor to try to find information to stop these attacks once and for all. The mayor is a simple man, like his simple town, and doesn’t really know much, but he shares some rumors, which Heathcliff gathers the team to follow up on. He first checks on Don Frumple, the town dick. Frumple is not cooperative to an interview, locking himself in his shack and screaming at the party. Heathcliff uses his Magical Seduction to get to the bottom of the situation. It seems that Frumple was the first hit by the angels, and became extremely paranoid. He offers little information other than a neighbor doing some sort of construction at night. He’s not the culprit.

Not about to be discouraged, Heathcliff then heads out to the house of Francis Maraquette, a relatively wealthy farmer who has not been hit yet by the angels. There are rumors that he used to be a cleric. However, he greets the party happily, and lets them search his house. Nimrod and Murdock do manage to find some robes of Kyte hidden among the belongings in his attic, though! Francis gets quite scared at this, and doesn’t know what to do. Murdock calms him down as a fellow man of god, and has a private word with him, where he learns that Francis was holding the robes for his girlfriend, Lily Veilscythe, so she wouldn’t get in any trouble. Murdock thanks him for his honesty, and the party heads to Lily’s house.

When they get there, nobody is home. They look through her house, but find nothing out of the ordinary. They decide to stake out the house, and when things get dark, lights appear in the house, though nobody has entered it. Knocking on the door, Lily is now there. Murdock pulls her aside, and, though she is extremely nervous, tells her that he agrees with her fight against the Demontouched and the Diabloist, but asks that she wait a few days to resume her attacks, until they’re out of town. He promises no harm will come to her if she does so. Shivering with fear, Lily agrees. Murdock comes out of the house and says that he’s negotiated peacefully, and Lily will no longer attack the townspeople. Everyone seems satisfied with this, except Heathcliff, who writes a letter to the mayor, giving it to him in secret and telling him only to open it if the attacks resume. The letter names the culprit, so that the town may do something about it.

With the trouble in Tilltram dealt with (for now) our heroes reboard the caravan with its newly healed horses, and head out towards Horizon once more.

July 23, 2013

Here Is One Of Probably Millions Of Rants About What Bothers Me About The Castle Doctrine.

Jason Rohrer is a guy who I’m glad exists, overall. He’s just one of those insane visionary types, and you can’t help but respect his single vision and urge to create art. Many of those attempts work (Passage is pretty good, and I’ve heard great things about Diamond Trust of London, though I have not played it). Some of them don’t, really (Remember Sleep is Death? Oh man). With The Castle Doctrine, he’s kind of on his way to another failure.

I’m sure I’m not the only person writing about this. People were already complaining the moment he announced it. But I recently read an interview with him about the game on Rock Paper Shotgun, and I am just overwhelmed at how much he himself is not seeing what he’s doing and how ineffective, at best, and offensive, at worst, it is. I’ll let others ramble on about how he’s creating a world where all women are literally objects worth money, a treasure that must be protected with no free will, because that’s certainly there. There is so much he has said about this game that is just offensive. I just want to talk about how it certainly sounds like he’s not even accomplishing what he’s trying to do.

If you read the Rock Paper Shotgun interview, you’ll see him repeating one thing over and over. He wants you to care. He wants you to care about your house, your family, he wants you to care. He wants you to invest emotion into his game. He wants you to care about it! It doesn’t work without that!

I think it’s very possible to care about his game. I think the themes he is going for, of being scared, of wanting to feel secure, and of never knowing if you are or not, are very universal themes that could speak volumes and be really reflected in a game of the general sort he’s putting forward. I think I could really get into that. But the game is created to make it as hard to care as possible.

In the game, you are male, and you have a family that consists of a wife, a son, and a daughter. These characters are randomly generated and randomly named. You have no control over them. You have to protect them by building traps. If your wife dies, you lose half your money, so you best keep her alive, but there’s no gameplay reason to keep the kids alive, so, you know. Do what you will with them. Maybe they can be bait. You can also buy dogs to protect your house. They’ll probably be shot, then just you can just buy another, why not?

I’m not a male. My family does not consist of a wife, a son, and a daughter. The number of potential players who fit that description are relatively low. Even if you’re the male part of a married straight couple with two kids, one girl and one boy, the characters in the game are not going to resemble your family in any way. They’re just virtual doodads. They’re bragging rights. “My kids aren’t dead in the game yet, I’m good at this game.” That’s all it is. Rohrer sees this, and his solution was to make the wife simply be a method of keeping some of your money. So now you care about her as a person even less, since she’s simply your cash personified. Awesome.

Anyone who has played a game like the recent XCOM: Enemy Unknown knows the value of assigning people in your life to people in the game. It means more when that soldier you named after your best friend bites it, because you aren’t getting him back. Perhaps it’s not a TON of investment, but it is way more than if he was just a random dude with a random name, since that investment is probably 0, maybe a little more if he’s leveled up a few times. There’s extra agony to it, losing this monument to a relationship you find important, you know?

If Rohrer wants me to care about this virtual family, I should be able to make it like my real family, which consists of an awesome male partner and a puppy dog. I should be able to customize them to make them, and myself, look close to our real counterparts, at least as far as the graphics allow. Then I care a bit more. Then coming home and seeing the dead pixel body of my dog, Mr. Q, on the ground from where he tried to protect my house means something. Fuck, I got a pang of sadness just picturing that just now. NOW it’s important to protect the house. Now I’m invested. Roll me up a random family, and they are just stats to show my skill, and nothing more.

Rohrer claims that making the game work this way would ruin his artistic vision. He compares it to movies. Let me quote what he said.

Well yeah, but then it wouldn’t be my personal art. It would just be this pandering product. This is a game that’s from my perspective, just like in Passage the main character is me. So you don’t get to play as the girl, because I’m not a girl. Just like if you go to see the movie Memento, no-one walks out of that saying ‘why isn’t there a version of this where there’s a girl with memory problems?’ It’s the personal statement of the director who is making this and telling the story, and you don’t even question it, but for some reason in games we question it, because we’re so much stuck into the role of this character.

This is such a nonsense defense I don’t know where to begin.

In Passage, you’re playing through a linear narrative. You can change the outcome, unlike a movie, but like a movie, you’re telling a linear story. You’re telling one person’s story. As such, it’s cool to be in someone else’s shoes, and see someone else’s story. You’re on a train track to the end. It’s expected. What’s more, in a movie especially, this main character is, well, a character. It’s not a player avatar. It’s a complete person with hopes, dreams, and goals, and we see that throughout scripted scenes. Someone has crafted a person for us to engage our minds with. Even in Passage, it’s clear this character is not you. I mean, I don’t have any desire to open treasure boxes. Most people don’t. He’s a particular person. He’s a character, even if not a deeply fleshed out one.

In The Castle Doctrine, there is no character. It’s a massively multiplayer game. Everyone is making their own houses, their own way, by Rohrer’s own design. There is not a set arc. It does not reflect Rohrer’s actual reality in any way, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that the dude I am in this game is a particular person, since every player in this multiplayer game is him, any more than when I pick the Marcus Fenix skin in Gears of War, I don’t truly believe I’m playing the one and only Marcus, and nobody else is him, since tons of other people are playing as him online at that exact moment. The only character that exists in The Castle Doctrine is the character I put into it, and I’m not going to invest in those avatars without reason. Rohrer is actively discouraging me from investing with his game design. There is a reason I name every character in every game I play that lets me enter a name Alexis (or Alex if I can’t be a lady for some reason). It’s because then I’m more invested. I build that character up with skills I would want. I make them my own. I invest in them, and try to shape them into me, or a much cooler version of me who can throw fireballs.

Rohrer is right. He can make any game he wants, any way he wants. He doesn’t have to have a female playable character. He doesn’t have to let the player be gay or whatever they might want. He has that power as designer of the game. But by making these decisions, he’s not protecting himself from pandering. He’s protecting himself from success at his goal: conveying those feelings of being scared for his family and wanting to protect them. Without investment in what is going on besides being the best at the game, those feelings are not going to be felt by the player. If art can’t transfer those feelings, the type that can’t be explained in text and can’t be spoken, then it’s not very good art. Rohrer is not making very good art with The Castle Doctrine. It’s a shame, and maybe the end result will prove me wrong. But from what he’s saying, I kind of doubt it.