Sunday, December 10, 2017

Be Careful With The Shooting Nazis In The Face Thing

We live in a strange time. It has been almost a century since the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, yet we still see people who deny his actions. Many in pop culture creative spaces play Nazi sympathizers as comedy acts or faceless cannon fodder. This is no more an accurate assessment that in video games. Starting with the first Wolfenstein game many moons ago (remember shareware, kids?!) to the myriad of tasty morsels that Bloodrayne consumes without a care in the world through three games, video game developers have always seen real life bogeymen as inspiration for the
fictional ones they depict in pixels. What happens when mainstream media is celebrating men like Richard Spencer for regularly wearing a suit, though? Sure the suit was ill-fitting and the person wearing it is an irredeemable monster, but hey, he's wearing a bow tie and showers so he can't be that bad. The truth is, he's dangerous and playing these very real monsters for laughs is how we ended up in this current sociopolitical climate. Even more so, while some video games may show white supremacists as the monsters they are, some insist on playing them as a joke, and this can be even more dangerous.

A phenomenon in modern gaming has been the rise of online play and with that, interacting with faceless gamers from around the world. This can be an avenue to forge new friendships and rivalries, but in many instances, it's a place where hateful vitriol can flow like water. I have actively avoided playing much online throughout the years because I just don't want to hear it and it isn't even that bad for me. Imagine being a woman, or being gender queer and not being able to hide it if voice or god forbid video chat is enabled in a game. While gamers have found themselves in communities where they can be themselves without fear of violence from those who seek to do them harm, The harsh reality is that gaming runs the risk of becoming even more segregated as the celebration of terrible people in mainstream circles lends to emulation of their behavior in spaces like gaming.

You may ask what all that has to do with the Nazis in Wolfenstein II or the anti-government cult in
the upcoming Far Cry 5. My concern is that as gamers witness events of things like the tragedy in Charlottesville, VA or how systemic racism has ripped Black and Latino communities around the country apart of the span of decades with no real consequences for those responsible will lead to more copycat racists. Folks who would decry their parents or grandparents saying they shouldn't listen to the next big thing in rap music because it's racist yet see no issue dropping the "n-word" at every turn because the word is allegedly ubiquitous because their favorite rapper said it. We have to be careful who deem cool or sympathetic to impressionable members of our society and while there are elected officials in power in America that have a problem saying that Nazis killed six million Jewish people during World War II or news media that gives press coverage to admitted racists, it'll be easy to make Nazis the hero of the next Wolfenstein game.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

And Now A Word About Mega Man 11...

After the departure of Keiji Inafune from Capcom in 2010 and their apparent lack of any caring about what fans wanted thereafter, there was no hope in sight for fans of Mega Man. That was the case until December 4th, when Capcom hit us with a megaton of hype in a single short video. In short...CAPCOM ANNOUNCED MEGA MAN 11 AND BROKE THE COLLECTIVE FANDOM!!! 

I mean, everyone who heard the news was overwhelmed by the warm fuzzy feelings they had. I was excited too, until I saw the game in motion. What I saw took me back to the first footage of that abomination Keiji Inafune announced a little after his departure. Mighty No 9 had all the trappings of a Mega Man game, but something smelled off. As more footage and eventually the finished game got into the hands of gamers, the off smell became a fully rotten egg. Do I think Mega Man 11 will be that bad? Not at all. I can't help but be nervous when I look at the announce trailer, though.

It's pretty obvious whenever Capcom has done too much with the Mega Man franchise, the results aren't that great. Mega Man 7 and 8, which were released on the SNES and PS1, respectively, paled in comparison to what we were used to in the NES games in the franchise. Before you get in an uproar about Mega Man X, Legends, Battle Network, etc Those games did what they were supposed to do on the consoles they originated on, but deviations led to them not being so good. Take for instance Mega Man X7 and X8. Those are easily the worst games with the words Mega and Man on the cover. I'm purposely ignoring that Mega Man Soccer happened, by the way.

My point is, I'm reserving judgment on Mega Man 11 because while it's beautiful and just having a new game in the core franchise that isn't a compilation disc meant to cash in on nostalgia is amazing, I just don't know if I trust the Capcom of 2017. I really hope they prove me wrong, because in all honesty, the best Mega Man experience I've had since 2010 was probably a fan made game where the robot masters were replaced by Street Fighter characters.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Word About Konami, Apathy, And Pachinko Machines

Konami doesn't care anymore. The only games they've produced in maybe two years are a single Bomberman game for the Switch, a Pro Evolution Soccer game, and Metal Gear Solid V. Their two most important game makers, Koji Igarashi and Hideo Kojima, abandoned ship after they were seemingly trapped only making the sequels to the same games over and over. The last money I gave Konami was when they released the remastered collection of Hideo Kojima's Zone of the Enders games. I foolishly hoped it would convince the at the time game publisher to push their most celebrated creative mind to produce a third installment to one of his most beloved franchises. Alas, we got no such goodness and instead have been met with shoddy mobile iterations of the companies beloved franchises and Castlevania themed pachinko machines.

I can't speak for anyone else as far as their opinions of video game publishers, but many of the so called AAA publishers are guilty of the "take my ball and go home" garbage Konami has done in recent years. I'm not sure who their current leadership is, but we didn't have these problems with Konami in the 80s, 90s, or even in the last decade. Was every game they released perfect, not in the slightest, but they didn't blame gamers for not buying crappy games and just stop making games altogether. When the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles console title didn't set the world on fire, they borrowed from what worked with the followup. When Castlevania titles felt stale, a creative turn was made and the best titles in the franchise, particularly on the Nintendo DS followed. After a long hiatus of sorts, Treasure was tapped to develop Gradius V. This brought a fresh feel to a tried and true shooter series.

New Konami will give you a Metal Gear zombie game. I don't get it, but it's not my company. I don't make a dime from their decisions, but a lack of quality games released from what was once one of the most heralded publishers in gaming hurts everyone who loves gaming. Konami, Capcom, and other prominent publishers from the late 80s struggle to stay afloat in the age of the also-rans that dominate store shelves. The sad thing is that it's their fault for churning out shovelware much like it's our fault for not supporting good games that get released. Everyone has a role to play in the apathy of Konami, but Konami has to carry that cross. Carry it they will. Right to the trailer for the next Castlevania themed pachinko machine.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Wild Guns Reloaded Has A Fat Female Protagonist And She's Awesome!!

 
Natsume, as a developer, has always been big on rewarding their small yet hardcore fan base throughout the years. While most know them as "The Harvest Moon people", they are so much more. Their legacy "pre-Harvest Moon" catalog includes some of the greats in the annals of retro action gaming history including "Shadow of the Ninja", "Shatterhand" (published by Jaleco but developed by Natsume), and perhaps one of the most obscure action games of the 16-Bit era, "Wild Guns". For the uninitiated, Wild Guns is a 1994 arcade style shooter in the same vein as "Cabal" or Konami's incredible "G.I. Joe" arcade game. "Wild Guns" quickly became a cult classic and in turn became very expensive in the resale market. Because of the price tag, I had given up hope of getting a physical copy of this game in any iteration, but suddenly, Natsume announced a remake of sorts of the title for PS4 and released a series of trailers for the game as well as the two new characters. While Bullet the dog is fun and cute but not shocking, the other new character, Doris is pretty surprising and actually pretty awesome in a world where some gamers take anything different from the norm as an affront. In reality though, Doris is pretty awesome and also quite important.
 
The reason Doris is important as a character is not because she's the "power" character of the four, or because she's a
female character. Both of those things have been tropes in gaming for a while, but it is a big deal that she's a visibly fat woman. She wears a crop top and throws grenades as her primary ranged weapon. If that isn't the definition of bad-ass, I'm not sure what is. In addition to being a pretty cool character design wise, her character also lacks the weird trope of being tied to a love interest that tends to bog down a lot of character backstories in games regardless of gender. She's a soldier first, and the mission is supreme above all. So, she has something in common with legendary male gaming protagonists like Sam Fisher and Solid Snake, also filed under bad-ass.

With the addition of Bullet and Doris, the playable roster of "Wild Guns Reloaded" is majority woman. That's a rarity in gaming nowadays. Having capable characters in those roles is a great thing in general but having a fat character in one of those slots can do a lot towards filling representation gaps in gaming for big groups of folks who have been long underrepresented in gaming. Now, if we could just get a small update with a playable person of color...

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Koji Igarashi Launches Kickstarter, Nostalgia For 1997 Ensues

When Koji Igarashi left Konami in 2014, fans of his work were left stunned and concerned. I was one such fan who has been worried about the direction of the Castlevania series for some time as it seemed that the games seemed to be pulled in a different direction. I was sure Igarashi would land somewhere, but I wasn't sure where or what he would be doing. Soon, it became clear that the man who married the gothic action adventure gameplay of Castlevania with the seamless, expansive level design of Metroid was about to do something very big.

It was been noted since his departure from Konami that Igarashi was seemingly trapped in a cycle of working on projects that he was nowhere near interested in being a part of. Igarashi wanted to work on more "Metroidvania" titles, but higher ups at his former employer determined that nobody wanted those types of gameplay elements anymore. With that, it was no surprise that Igarashi began work on a "spiritual successor" to his heralded Castlevania titles. This game is titled Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and a Kickstarter campaign was started to fund the initial development of the title.

It's safe to say, if there was any question involving the viability of a game of this type in the current age of gaming it was quelled with the Kickstarter campaign for Bloodstained raising almost $2.7 million more than it's initial goal of $500,000. Does this prove that nostalgia is just as strong among gamers as it's ever been, that we still want games that harken to the days where we clamored for the latest big thing from Japanese developers, or that a title featuring a female protagonist can truly garner this level of grassroots interest from the gaming public? Maybe all three.

The last time I saw a title that was still technically vaporware starring a female character garner this much buzz without seeing any actual gameplay was when a teaser for a possible Beyond Good and Evil sequel popped up on an Ubisoft sizzle reel during E3 a few years ago. Knowing that such a big positive response came from a title like this may not trigger a ripple effect among major publishers who don't seem to get that the ballooning budgets they command for their upcoming titles aren't necessarily vital to big sales numbers. That's quite a sobering thought.

If the last few years have shown us anything it might be that gamers don't always need ridiculously realistic games filled to the brim with tropes that got old when the Atari 800 was cutting edge. Legends in gaming are stepping out of their corporate safe spaces to take chances in the indy realm. Tim Schafer, Keiji Inafune, and now Koji Igarashi are a part of an ever growing list of big names in game development who are essentially doing a new version of what the founders of Activision did in the early 80s. They're making games that they and (as evident by the response to their fund raising efforts illustrate) gamers in general want to play. These games don't get big name voice actors, huge advertisement budgets, and the other trappings that the average "AAA" title enjoy, but they have something those games tend to severely lack. That thing is a soul, and because of that I'm waiting with great anticipation for Bloodstained.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Review: “Attack the Light” The Steven Universe RPG

Guest review by Chris Chinn

This review was funded through a partnership with ArsenalForDemocracy.com

“Attack the Light” is a mobile game on Android & iOS, going for $2.99.  It’s about 4-5 hours of casual RPG gameplay with great production quality.  If you’re a Steven Universe fan, it’s a fun game worth checking out. (For those not familiar, Steven Universe is a Cartoon Network show in its second season.)

First off, the big disclaimer: the in-game story is pretty non-existent.  You get about all the depth of a 10-minute filler episode from Steven Universe stretched over several hours of gameplay.  So if you’re coming to this looking for lore and character development, you’re not going to get it.  If you’re here to see Garnet rocket-punch monsters – and that’s enough for you – you’ll have a great time.

You have turn-based play, with a timing-based setup for attacks and defenses - tap the screen at the right time, you do extra damage or you block most of the damage, respectively.   This is a game mechanic that was first brought to us on the Super Mario RPG back in the days of Super Nintendo and has seen occasional use in other games. It remains a great, if under-utilized, setup for a lot of RPGs – and keeps it fun and engaging.

Unlike the usual JRPG setup where each character gets 1 action, the game instead gives your team a number of Stars every turn, which you spend to use actions from any of the Gems or Steven himself.  This actually sets up some interesting choices: do you do a single big attack, do you do several small ones? Which attacks are best suited to the types of enemies you are fighting?  Should you break the armor of the tough guys first, or clear out the small support monsters?   You can also save some unspent Stars for the next round, allowing you to pull off bigger attacks or waves of heavy hits.

The other fun tactical element is that a Gem has to have a certain amount of health (“Harmony”) to use their big attacks. If they’re too hurt or weak, your special moves will be locked out.  This forces you to pay attention to defense as well as offense; you want to be well healed up between and during fights.  

There’s a few bits of character building: each level you can pick from 3 different options to upgrade the Gem in question – a better special attack, improve stats, and so on.  Each Gem also can equip “badges” – the usual JRPG accessory that gives you stat boosts or special modifiers on your attacks or defenses.

The maps are simple but clean.  There are a few hidden objects that just require you pay attention, and a few combination puzzles which only require that you write down the solution on the map when you run across it.  

The production quality is pretty great.  The simplified character designs fit very well with the Steven Universe art from the show, and the voices and music are high quality as well.  Most of the dialogue is text box, but the characters have many phrases from the show used to highlight certain things like finding secret rooms, or leveling up.  The animation is fun and the controls are pretty great for touchscreen gaming.

All in all, I give this a 3.5 out of 5.  The game is a fun game, and easily worth the cost, but it lacks the usual lore building and character development bits you’d usually get in a Steven Universe TV episode - which is the part that hurts it.  As I played through, I realized you could have slapped any other characters from any other comic, cartoon, or TV series and you’d pretty much only change the labels to a lot of the mechanics in play.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The NES Max Provides A "Powerful" Option For Retro Gamers

Other than their well known roster of characters, Nintendo's gaming experiences have been equally hallmarked by the great controllers they employ. This was especially evident by the number of control options available for the NES. In addition to the standard control pad, Nintendo also sold two more official controllers in the arcade styled NES Advantage and a smaller controller called the NES Max. The NES Advantage, with it's arcade styling, became instantly more popular. The NES Max has however become the go to aftermarket controller for a lot of retro gamers who want a little more bang for their button press. I finally got my hands on one and while it works great with some games, it isn't a perfect fit for others.

The first thing a gamer will notice about the NES Max is the lack of an actual control pad. Instead there is a little red disc that the player slides in different directions to move their character. Ideally, the disc will function much like the standard cross directional controls on a stock NES controller. This didn't seem to be the case with the NES Max that I was given to review, and the controller didn't feel as responsive in side scrolling action games as one would like. It does, however work quite well with vertically scrolling action games, racing games, and to a lesser extent, sports games.

The NES Max's turbo buttons are functional and work just as you'd expect. The rate of fire can't be adjusted like the NES Advantage, and it also lacks the rapidly pausing "slo mo" feature. While this feature was quite popular with gamers when it was new and shiny, in hindsight it was a bit annoying and the lack of "slo mo" in the NES Max isn't a big deal.

All in all, the NES Max is a solid controller that, while not perfect, is a solid choice for the gamer looking for a secondary option for his NES controller needs. There were other controller options for the console, but Nintendo provided two quality choices in the NES Advantage and NES Max. It may not work perfectly for Contra or Mega Man, but for games like 1943, Commando, or Kung Fu Heroes it's a great fit.

*Shout out to the good folks at The Classic Gamer for providing the controller for this review.