wizardry: traveler’s property

You might remember, back in December, when I covered the recently released Wizardry: The Five Ordeals. I had mentioned that the story text in the main game had yet to be translated, outside of a few of the curated fan-made scenarios. Well, the first of the five ordeals got an English translation last week, and I’ve been playing that.

The first ordeal, Traveler’s Property, is a bit of a basic one. The quest for this one is simple: find treasure. That’s it. There’s no big bad guy causing problems or an artifact that’s gone missing. Honestly, kind of refreshing just how simple this particular Wizardry is: Get That Money. Of course, the catch is that’s a ton of powerful monsters hanging around that will kill you before you can even blink if you aren’t careful, in addition to traps and cave-ins to impede your progress

Now, while the plot is simple, the game is anything but. This is a tough fucking game here, and it isn’t all based around the combat this time around. I’ve had a lot of moments where I’ve had to sit back, put my hand on my chin, and carefully think of my next move. Traveler’s Property is one of those scenarios where you are presented with a different situation on each floor, and the game plan is based around solving that situation. Navigating around cave-ins, moving switches in the right order to turn on abandoned machinery, exploring an entire floor covered in an anti-magic field that prevents you from healing or using your map, finding out how to enter a magic mirror, navigating a massive teleporter maze (though I felt a lot less intelligent when I figured out that the answer was to constantly hug the right wall (that’s your Protip for the sixth floor)), and so on. Of course, there’s still the old Wizardry standard of doing all of this while having to fend off large groups of Ninjas with a fondness for one-shotting you, or sorcerers with powerful magic that hits everyone at once, or big fuck off dragons that can turn you to stone, or large insects that can destroy your armor, and many other dangerous things that require commas.

murphy’s ghost even makes an appearance! i will forgive the fact that he is called “major ghost” here.

Traveler’s Property perfectly fits that Wizardry mold: it’s extremely difficult and immensely rewarding. Few games really nail that concept of slowly progressing through an intimidating structure. Solving a difficult puzzle and defeating strong opponents never really gets old. Plus, I’ll take any excuse to explore a black and white wireframe void.

Currently, I am on floor 7 (out of 10). My party has just killed two massive dragons, and I need to find an item to place on a pedestal so as not to trigger a trap that guards the item that I actually need. The 7th floor is also home to demons and giant elemental monsters who can hit the entire party for 30 damage every turn. My characters are all at level 11, and have reached a point where leveling up takes experience points in the hundreds of thousands. In any other game, that sounds extremely tedious, yet there’s this Wizardry uh, wizardry at work that makes this incredibly compelling

i appreciate that, despite being a japanese developed scenario, it still has the american sense of humor of the originals. “holey” armor is not a misspelling, it is actually really shitty armor that has a bunch of holes in it.

Because Traveler’s Property is even less interested in plot progression than any other entry I’ve played, it does that other thing Wizardry does well: the player’s ability to come up with a story and motivations for their characters. I still have not ever played a tabletop game, so this is the closest to roleplaying I get that doesn’t involve me doing sex work (yes, after I threw a big fit about quitting back in December, I made a return to Niteflirt because I wanted to get the money to order Forbidden Door). Why are all these people wanting to risk their lives and explore this mine for money? Why is the kingdom letting groups of ragtag adventurers explore, rather than using its own army and taking all the riches for themselves? What’s the deal with that? Just some blanks for the player to fill as they watch numbers go up. Hell, this game even lets you give characters their own birthdays, something I forget to do in all of these, so I have a bunch of 14 years olds running around that only age when they change classes or come back from the dead.

I’m looking forward to eventually finishing Traveler’s Property, and importing this party into the subsequent Ordeals once those have also been translated. I feel like that’s a bigger priority for the developers than the scenario editor right now, and that’s fine; I can wait. I’ll be here, ready to play and post about every new bit of content this game can give me.

pac-man fever

As someone who has firmly entrenched themselves in Retro TV Games, I love the “Dot Game.” This entire sub-genre of arcade game that I would put forth served as a primordial soup for games as a whole, starting with Sega’s Head-On and the University of Tokyo’s Theoretical Science Group’s Heiankyo Alien, both in 1979, and including games like Rally-X, Raimais, Space Mouse, and arguably games like Bomberman, The Tower of Druaga, and Metal Gear. Of course, this also includes Pac-Man, a great game and an iconic character. A new compilation of Pac-Man games came out recently, called Pac-Man Museum+, and I didn’t have to pay a fucking dime for it (not sure why, since this is the XBox One version I’m writing about). I thought that I would check it out to see if it was any good, or if this was a butchered shit-show designed as a cheap cash-grab (hey Sega, how you doing?).

I’ll spoil the surprise for you all now: Pac-Man Museum+ is actually really fucking good. I thought that the format for this post will be doing a quick rundown of every game on here, then getting into the unique wrapper that ties this whole package together.

 

Pac-Man

It’s Pac-Man. It’s fucking Pac-Man. Is this really something that needs to be reviewed? It does? Okay.

Pac-Man is as good today as it was in 1980. It managed to refine the formula for a nascent sub-genre that was only 2-3 games deep. Still immensely fun to speed around the maze, being chased by and then chasing the ghosts, all while eating dot after dot. I must also mention that the pixel art is wonderful, with the most aesthetically pleasing depiction of fruit in a TV game until the release of Bubble Bobble in 1986. Even after all these years, I still can’t quite explain what it is I love about the old arcade aesthetic; something about bright colors over a black void tickles something in my brain. Maybe it’s because there’s so much character and expression in these abstract 16×16 pixels, as if they have become sentient and are acting in defiance of the limited technology that brought them to life. Pac-Man and the ghosts are not generic stick figures or geometric shapes that would have populated the home consoles of the time, they are full-on characters with personality, and that’s why they’ve become these gaming icons. Anyways, the game rules and it still looks really cool.

 

Super Pac-Man

For all of you out there who asked (none of you), this is actually my mom’s favorite Pac-Man game. Maybe because of that, there’s a subconscious thing at work there to explain why I don’t like this one a whole lot. Like, it’s not terrible, and I hate to be overly critical to something that’s attempting to change up the formula so as not to be repetitive, but I have never been able to get into Super Pac-Man. Dots have been replaced entirely with fruit, but are all locked behind gates that you need keys for. Then you have to unlock the Power Pellets. Then on top of that there’s Super Pellets that make Pac-Man faster, invincible, and able to break down gates without needing a key, so you have all this extra shit that makes the stuff from the last Pac-Man useless. Plus, I don’t like the design of the mazes in this one as much. That being said, the game is not terrible, but I’m still not a big fan, and most of my runs of this game were to get screenshots for this post, so I won’t be coming back to it.

 

Pac & Pal

Pac & Pal is an interesting one. It takes the gate mechanic of Super Pac-Man, but adds the element of randomization to it. You roll over a card, which tells you which items to pick up, and opens the gates blocking said item. The thing about the cards though, is that they’re not always next to the item you need. The card you pick might reveal a banana, but that banana could be in the opposite corner just as often as it will be in the tunnel right next to you. So the whole point of this game is to pick a card and find the item it reveals while avoiding the ghosts and dealing with the Pac Pal, Mil. Mil is this cute little green monster that walks around, picking up the items that you’re attempting to pick up. Mil can’t hurt you, but can hurt your score. See, Mil grabs the fruit you need to complete the level, and takes them back to the ghost house that you can’t enter. Not collecting every fruit or item in a level prevents you from getting a perfect clear bonus, which you want, because these are the kind of games you play for score.

Writing all of this out, I realize that Pac & Pal sounds really unappealing and tedious. I can assure you that this isn’t the case at all: Pac & Pal is actually really fun. It fixed the issues that I had with Super Pac-Man, keeping in line with Pac-Man’s mechanics, while maintaining its own identity. Adding Mil was a really neat idea, and I like the maze design a lot more. Good game.

 

Pac-Land

Pac-Land is amazing. One of the first side-scrolling platformers ever; Super Mario was influenced by this. The PC-Engine port is among one of my favorite games on the system. Pac-Land is a game that tends to get a lot shit, critically speaking, these days. Ah, it’s slow, it’s boring, it’s not Mario!! That shit does not matter to me. I love Pac-Land because it’s this odd thing; this chill platformer where Pac-Man goes on a walk. He goes from left to right, dodging obstacles and avoiding ghosts until he finds a Power Pellet sitting on the ground. Plus there’s a bunch of secrets that are always fun to find.

Luckily, this is the Japanese version of the game, where Pac-Man has his long nose and expressive eyes, rather than the US version, where he looks like a fucking monster. Yes, I understand that the graphics were designed to look like the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, but here’s the thing: that cartoon looked like shit. He can keep his hat and that theme song, but not his weird “trying to look like a chubby human” face.

Now, I must mention that due to some weird legal issue, Ms Pac-Man is not in this collection. Not her game, nor her actual appearance in Pac-Land. So instead, we now have someone named “Pac-Mom,” this Last Season Of Family Matters Harriett Winslow recast. Not a fan of this. Once again, the suits up top do something fucking stupid, and everyone else has to pay for it.

 

Pac-Mania

Boy I really don’t like this one. It’s slow, you can’t even see the whole maze, don’t like the faux 3D graphics or the Lego block aesthetic. I find it boring. So boring, in fact, that I don’t feel like loading up the game again to get better screenshots. Skip it.

 

Pac-Attack

It’s shitty Tetris. I played it once, and never touched it again. A problem with Pac-Attack, aside from it being terrible, is that it’s a game that has to be unlocked. And to unlock the game, you have to play…

 

Pac-In-Time

This is part of the compilation where I question some of the decisions that were made regarding what games were included. Pac-In-Time is a hastily reskinned Amiga game called Fury of the Furries. Now, I need to talk about this, because I’m sure I have some readers with a fond memory for this thing:

There has never, ever, been a good Amiga game.

You may be asking, but what about- no. Hey, this was totally a great- no. But- no. Not even- NO! Never been a good Amiga game! Don’t care if you spent your childhood playing The Antisemitic Adventures Of Angus McScroogle And His Stupid Fucking Egg Friend Named Eggy Because This Is England And Everything Is Word Plus The Letter Y At The End. Never been a good one. At least, because this is the SNES port, you can use an actual D-Pad and not have to click on what direction you want to go in with a mouse. Not like it fucking matters, because this game controls like absolute shit at the best of times anyway. This is a terrible game with bad controls and terrible levels and horrific sound and it can’t even be an original terrible game because it’s a reskin. If Namco wanted more non-Dot Maze Pac-Man games, Pac-Man 2 was right there. Hell, I would even take the SNES version with the horrible sound over this. Fuck Pac-In-Time, a game that, despite the title, does not actually have a time travel gimmick! Unless you count “Woods” and “Forest” as different time periods in history.

 

Pac-Man Arrangement

This one’s pretty cool. It very much feels like an evolution of the base Pac-Man. You got all the regular dot eating going on, but then have additions like warps and new ghosts and spots on the map that can make Pac-Man do an invincible dash attack.

levels actually change after a while, too

Definitely the kind of game for someone who wants more Pac-Man, but not all the things that change the formula too much (Pac & Pal) or completely fucks it up (Super Pac-Man, Pac-Mania). Not much else to say about it, it’s really good and I like it.

 

Pac-Man Arrangement (again)

This is a second Arranged update. Mostly the same as the previous one, mechanically. Now it’s got 3D graphics, conveyor belts, temporary abilities like jumping, and boss battles.

This is another fun one. Now, this originally came out in 2005 as a bonus for another Pac-Man compilation of the PSP, but it really does feel like something that would have been home on the original Playstation (maybe not as high a graphical fidelity, obviously). Really wish it had been a Playstation game; would have preferred that to all those Pac-Man World games I never played because I am only kind of an idiot, not a total one.

 

Pac-Man Championship Edition

God damn, what an amazing game this is. Back in “The Day,” Pac-Man CE was a very good reason to own an XBox 360. Just as good now on XBox One, and still much better than its sequels and upgrades. This is an extremely addicting game where you get as many points as possible in five minutes. Simple, but very effective. The only real downside to playing this on an XBox One is that I can no longer plug my iPod in and stream any five minute songs I had on there. That’s less of a game issue, and more of a sad reminder that actually useful and cool features on consoles have been stripped away to try and get people to pay for a fucking Spotify subscription and iTunes and YouTube Music and some other bull shit, instead of letting us listen to the music that we already own. Man, fuck Capitalism. Anyways, back to covering a nostalgia-driven compilation made by a company that’s part of a major Japanese conglomerate.

protip: david bowie’s “star oddity” is 5:18. there is no better song for pac-man championship edition.

 

Pac Motos

The original Motos is a pretty neat Namco arcade game from 1985. You played as a little car thing, and you had to bump colored balls off a stage, before they could do the same to you. Namco then gave the game a 3D facelift and put Pac-Man in it. You can argue that is another reskin, but unlike Pac-In-Time, Motos isn’t a shitty Amiga game and is actually good and worth playing and wasn’t made on TERF Island.

Anyways, Pac Motos is a fun little game, much like Original Motos being a fun little game. I didn’t play both games side-by-side and see if the levels are exactly the same, but they do share the same power-ups, like hitting things harder or being able to jump and break the floor beneath you. Not a super deep game, so I don’t have as much to say here, but it’s cool.

 

Pac’n Roll Remix

You know, I don’t hate this one. It’s decent enough, even though I don’t see myself ever coming back to this. Pac’n Roll is a game where Pac-Man rolls around like a fucking weirdo, picking up dots to open up gates and get the goal. My big problem with it is that I feel like this is the kind of game that should be played with a trackball, not an analogue stick or, god forbid, a D-Pad. It can be very difficult to control. Even with a dedicated brake button that stops you on a dime, it’s a very wild and chaotic experience that I wasn’t feeling. Not a horrible game, but not for me.

 

Pac-Man Battle Royale

This one was kind of a bummer. It’s like regular Pac-Man, but smaller. It’s smaller because this is a competitive versus game, where picking up Power Pellets lets you eat the other Pac-Men in the maze. You win by eating the other guys, or if they eat shit by touching a ghost. Playing this alone, I couldn’t figure out how to get more than one CPU opponent. I imagine this is a lot more fun in multiplayer, but I’m a lonely fucker who doesn’t have XBox Live (assuming this even has online support), so it’s just whatever.

 

Pac-Man 256

The final game is another pretty cool game. Less of a Pac-Man, and more an endless runner with a basic Pac-Man mechanic. You constantly move forward, eating dots while avoiding the bottom of the screen. You can get temporary power-ups like lasers and bombs, which are neat. I don’t spend too much time with endless runners, admittedly, but I did like the time I spent with Pac-Man 256. It’s neat.

 

Now with every game being reviewed, I will now spend a little time on the overall package.

I like it. There you go.

No, really, this is actually a really good compilation. There’s no paid DLC, or any DLC at all, for that matter. If there are any issues with the in-game emulation, it’s nothing immediately noticeable.

What I do like about this is the ability to customize the arcade that houses all of these games. We will never get anything like the original Playstation Namco Museum collections ever again, but this is a fine compromise. Buying and unlocking furniture, figurines, wallpapers, it all sounds superfluous and unnecessary, but I am big sucker for trying to recreate my Animal Crossing basement with Pac-Man stuff.

You get your fake in-game currency by playing the games, then you can spend time on things to look at when you aren’t playing the games. It works, I like it, and more retro compilations should give me a digital doll house to mess with.

Pac-Man rules. Outside of a few dodgy game choices and a legal thing that’s out of everyone’s hands (Ms. Pac-Man), this compilation rules too. You should play it.

castlevania bloodlines

Thought I would keep going with this theme of Mega Drive games. Also thought I would get back on the theme of “games I played as a gay little gremlin who hid from the world using the computer.” On top of that, it has been a number of entries since I got to cover anything involving wispy femboys or vampires. So why don’t I take this time to talk about Castlevania Bloodlines? Bloodlines is something I’ve brought up multiple times now, routinely calling it a top three game in the entire Castlevania series. Game owns.

Now, while I admit that is actually one of those games I played a physical copy of a lot as a kid. Of course, I wasn’t particularly all that great at games, being so young, so I never finished it. That didn’t stop me from loving the game, though. Bloodlines was the first Castlevania I really got to dedicate more than a level’s time to (before that, my experience with the series was getting a game over in the second level of Castlevania 3 at my friend’s house), and that’s probably one of the best ways to be introduced to Castlevania. The thing about Bloodlines is that it isn’t just a cool platformer with vampires. Rather, Bloodlines is a game full of really cool setpieces and unique ideas that give each level variety. You got your fairly basic stuff, like a stage with rising and falling water levels. Then you have the Leaning Tower of Pisa actually rocking back and forth as you ascend it. Then you have this absolutely wild effect in the last level that I’m still scratching my head and wondering how the devs were able to pull it off:

The screen splits, but your character still acts in relation to whatever segment they’re on, such as attacking an enemy from further away while your feet are closer to the enemy, so this isn’t just a neat visual thing. No idea how they did it, maybe background layers normally used for that thing every retro Youtuber must see before achieving orgasm: parallax scrolling. In any event, it’s really fucking cool. Bloodlines is this game full of cool gimmicks and setpieces, as well as moving at much quicker pace than previous Castlevanias. In a lot of ways, this feels more like Castlevania as done by Treasure, rather than Castlevania as done by Konami. Like a fresh start for the series.

Then you hit level four. It is no exaggeration that this level changed little kid me’s understanding of games. On paper, it doesn’t sound special. An ironworks plant, essentially a glorified version of the clock tower that has appeared in so many other Castlevanias. No real gimmick to speak of, outside of some pulleys and rotating gears that act as platforms. But that doesn’t matter. It’s the aesthetic: this factory with German skeletons in army helmets (this game is set in World War 1, Nazis hadn’t been invented yet), active machinery, a boss made up of sentient gears. And most important, that fucking song:

It’s pretty safe to say that “Iron Blue Intention” is among my favorite game tracks ever. Me, at seven years old, hearing those opening notes, after fighting my way through three other levels that were no slouches in the audio/visual department either. I had never really given game music much thought up until that point. You know, Super Mario has a catchy tune, right? This is when I bothered to pay attention, and turn up the TV volume from then on. I still sometimes get those chills when I replay the game now. I know that in recent years, Michiru Yamane would probably much rather see a person like me starve to death in a camp somewhere rather than listen to her music, but I still have to admit that it rules and she knocked it out of the park in her first work in the series. Sometimes you have to give the devil his due, or the Q-Anon hers.

Bloodlines has two characters: a burly Texan named John Morris, who is somehow the son of Quincy Morris. Right, Bloodlines is not only canon to Castlevania, but it is also canon to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. John is the traditional whip user, and is honestly the better pick if you’re going to play through this game, as his hitbox is pretty big and he can do a nice chunk of damage per hit. The other character, pictured in every screenshot in this post, is Eric Lecarde, the wispy femboy who carries around a massive spear. While I do prefer playing as John, I had to pick Eric here because it’s Pride Month. He has some cool moves (such as pole vaulting), and has slightly longer attack range, but his hitbox is only the head of his spear, compared to John’s hitbox being the entire length of his whip. That last sentence did not sound nearly as gay in my head.

then i fucked up and realized that i played through the american version, which makes eric look slightly less effeminate.

This was another one of those weekend tradition comfort games that I loaded up in Gens, while listening to the really sick Dracula Perfect Battle albums.. Kid me was wowed by the graphics and music. Teen me was wowed by the level design, the goth aesthetic, and wishing Eric Lecarde was real and balls deep inside my holding my hand. Adult me considers this only half a step below Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night as far as the best game in the series is concerned, and definitely one of the absolute greatest games ever made for the Mega Drive. Outside of my own personal weirdness of playing the game to escape a pretty shitty reality, it’s a game that is incredibly special. If you’ve never played it, and apparently a number of you somehow haven’t, you owe it to yourself to do so.

vixen 357

I’m on yet another business trip for two weeks (this is a very busy Summer, I’ll let you all know now). Because I need ways to pass the time when not working, I thought I would continue on with playing more of my familiar Mega Drive collection. This lead to me replaying Shining Force 2, which is still a great game, even if I’m finding that the map design is a bit barren, leading to some of the battles being tedious. Because it was one of those nights where it’s late and my mind began to wander, I thought about messing around with other SRPGs on the system. There’s one that got fan-translated some years back that I never really got around to: Vixen 357. Not entirely sure why exactly I didn’t immediately latch onto it; it’s by Masaya, the developers of Langrisser, a series that I really like. Technically, Langrisser was developed by another team within Masaya called Career Soft, who seemingly had nothing to do with Vixen 357, but it’s probably easier if I lump the two games together for you, The Reader, to have a frame of reference.

Vixen is pretty darn cool. You control a small squad of mech pilots that, unlike most games in the genre, remain a small squad. As such, the game very much maintains this sense of a rag-tag group fighting a large empire. It’s not like one of those Gundam spin-offs where the protagonists pirouette through an army of Zakus with minimal effort. You are outnumbered in every fight, constantly being ambushed by much bigger forces led by these nearly mythological generals and commanders. Some battles might allow you to join up with another AI controller squad, or have you hold out for a certain number of turns until more CPU backup arrives, but by and large, it’s nine pilots versus the world. You have to scrape and claw your way through every meat grinder of a mission, using cover and terrain to your advantage. On top of all this, as a wise man once said: People Die When They Are Killed. Vixen 357 has permadeath. You lose anybody in that squad, they stay dead. No resurrections, no second chance mid-fight, no one-time use items to bring someone back. Given how hard this game is, and how much harder it becomes over time, you need every last body you can get on that battlefield. It’s hard as fuck, and can be a bit aggravating or sometimes even tedious, but the sense of reward you get for clearing a mission is so good.

There’s a plot. I mean, it’s there, it exists, but it’s not super important. You and your crew pilot experimental new mechas (VECTORs), another nation attacks yours, both nations go to war, the manual mentions something about aliens that’s never brought up in-game, whatever. The narrative, what little there is, only serves as flavor text as you move from battle to battle. Kind of a shame that there wasn’t even a half-hearted attempt at a Gundam-esque meditation on war. The most you get is when an enemy commander joins you after witnessing his superior commit a war crime; the rest of the game, the dialogue tends to fall into the “war as a game” borderline lightheartedness. I did do a bit of digging around before I started writing this to see if there was a manga or an an*me that this was adapted from, and maybe I could understand there was more context I needed before playing. This is not an adaptation, this is a full-on original work by Masaya! Just seems weird, considering how much effort was put into the designs of the VECTORs and their human pilots, and a plot outline of interstellar conflict being confined to a single Mega Drive game never released outside of Japan or ported to any other systems.

Another odd thing about Vixen is that there was never an attempt to bring this game stateside, like Masaya did for Langrisser 1. I bring this up for a number of reasons. 1) This game is really hard, and companies had no problem making games harder for Americans back then, so that wouldn’t be an issue. 2) Giant robots are always a hit, and Sega seemed less afraid of showcasing games that might be “too Japanese.”

3) A number of characters in Vixen have some of the most American names I have ever seen. Mack Ryan. Eddie Ray. Ben Basque. Harry Gibson. Carey Goat. Flannel Mouse.

Flannel Fucking Mouse

It’s a shame, really, that we didn’t get this over here. Vixen 357 is really good, despite any plot-based misgivings I may have. Maybe not the kind of game for everyone. Again, this is a really hard, brutal game where you can sometimes fight up to 30 enemies at a time, up to 50 in one specific level. If I didn’t spend two hours playing and having to replay a single map, then it was pretty damn close. Vixen is the kind of game that challenges you, but also makes you feel real smart when you complete the challenge, and challenges you in a way that’s fair and not a bunch of cheap bull shit (minus maybe one segment) that kills you immediately. And hey, there’s nothing more “Mega Drive” aesthetic than a really hard game with an*me and robots in it.

pride 2022

It’s June, you know what that means. Empty gestures of rainbow capitalism from companies who give millions of dollars to politicians that pass bull shit laws that lead to children being arrested while trying to stream Minecraft for the crime of wearing a dress instead of an oversized Korn hoodie like the rest of us had to do back in the day. An entire month of stupid discourse about gay/trans privilege after Woke DSA drones remember that queer people sometimes have sex, and it goes against the brand to make demands that we all be burned alive so we instead have to be given a month-long headache and accusations of being child molestors because a dude didn’t wear three layers in San Fransisco in June, then some dickhead rando condescends to me for describing this shit with such bigoted language as “stupid.” The endless parade of Netflix specials where comedians who haven’t been relevant in twenty years grab the low-hanging fruit of transphobia in an attempt at making a comeback; looking forward to David Spade’s “Triggering The Trannies,” Paula Poundstone’s “SHEMALES!?” and Bill Bellamy’s “That Woman Is Actually A Man Who Should Die.” Continuing to be a never-ending scapegoat for every single problem the world over, whether it be Democrats throwing elections as if they were the Washington Generals, school shootings, or a Guardian writer stubbing her toe this morning. Worst of all, Kidd Bandit got doxxed and harassed to the point that they’re retiring from pro wrestling less than a year into their career

Happy fucking Pride Month, you goddamn animals.

As such, I’m really leaning hard into the whole “retreating to retro shit so I can feel an emotion that isn’t pure blinding hatred” thing. I thought I would do another post on games with gay/homoerotic content, and then I realize that I’ve already done this. I wrote about Final Fight last year, the single gayest game in existence. Nothing before or since has covered the spectrum of homosexuality quite like Capcom’s seminal classic, so there would be no point to doing another article. Instead, because I am in a bad mood, I feel like being self-indulgent today. I’m taking my mind back in time: a time where I was a young queer coming of age on the internet.

I have mentioned on numerous occasions, probably too many, of my online upbringing. Because I had a fucked up home life, I didn’t get to have much of a social life, leading to me spending a lot of time sitting at the computer. If my father kept me indoors because he didn’t want his son to grow up and become an ambiguously gendered weirdo that can suck the chrome off a bumper, then he failed in achieving that goal. The ‘net, back before it sucked, opened up whole new worlds and experiences and let me know that those weird feelings I had for the boys and girls at school were normal. It was totally cool to be a bit girly, but I still had to hide it so as not to get beat up at school or at home. A time of downloading Gackt and Malice Mizer albums and gay porn off Kazaa (both an*me and the real thing). A time of bookmarking fansites dedicated to hot fictional men that I wanted to lick ice cream off the abs of. A time of heavily entrenching myself in weeaboo culture with lots of emulated ROMs and all the an*me that Cartoon Network was willing to air. It was a fun time, except for, you know, all the fucked up abuse and shit that went on that led to me wanting to escape via media with pretty boys and magical girls in it.

The purpose of this post (finally) is me talking some of these games that I played back then. Essentially, this is one big post to cope with the fact that I hate the modern world. Six hundred words in, let’s finally get started.

Yu Yu Hakusho is an an*me that I don’t have too much attachment to. Pretty sure I haven’t seen an episode after Yusuke and the gang took on Byakko during the late night Toonami days. Despite this, there were at least three things that I really loved about YYH.

1) The English theme song, where it seemed like the lyrics were being made up on the spot.

 

2) Then suddenly, seeing this image on the internet:

 

3) Then suddenly, digging around emulation sites and discovering that there was a Japan-only fighting game on the Mega Drive. Up to four players could compete at once, and it was developed by Treasure. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you know exactly who the fuck Treasure are, those geniuses who put together the best games on the system: Alien Soldier, Dynamite Headdy, Light Crusader, and Gunstar Motherfucking Heroes. Of course I wanted to play any game made by them, and it didn’t hurt that it was based on an an*me that I had a slight knowledge of, and featured two pretty boys I saw hugging each other online.

Needless to say, Yu Yu Hakusho is awesome. Just a fun fighting game that looks really cool and has some sick music. There’s battle royales, tag-team matches, tournaments, stuff to keep you occupied for an hour-long session. I would find out much later in life that this game served as a spiritual predecessor to Guardian Heroes on the Saturn. There are multiple (two) planes to fight on, a big emphasis on doing combos, and of course, a bunch of characters on-screen at once. The big difference between YYH and Guardian Heroes is that you only have to deal with 2-3 other characters here, as opposed to about 20 enemies who immediately fly into the screen and kill you like the latter does.

There’s not really much else to say about YYH as a game. It only has those few modes to it, and it’s not like there’s a ranked mode or anything I can log into to prove my Kurama superiority. This was a game I liked to load up on a Saturday night, knowing that I was alone with the glow of my crappy eMachines and the an*me on my TV, and got to feel a little bit safe and comfortable with the fictional gay boys. These days, I only fire up YYH because it’s a fun game; I’m sure that I am way too old to be shipping Kurama and Hiei now compared to when I was 14-15. If I want to ogle hot dudes in a fighting game, The King of Fighters has plenty of explicitly-mentioned adult characters for me.

 

This post is definitely already starting to run a bit long, so I’ll talk about one more game tonight, and maybe come back to this subject during the month (do not hold me to this).

Sailor Moon on the Mega Drive is the best Sailor Moon game that isn’t the ArcSys fighting game (the version with fan-made balance changes), and leagues ahead of the dogshit that came out on Playstation and Saturn. Rather than a 1v1 fighter, this particular game is a Final Fight-style Brawler, only with significantly less mustachioed leather daddies. You can pick from the main five Sailor Scouts, and then you go around a series of increasingly surrealist areas until you beat Queen Beryl to death with your bare hands.

I always liked playing as Sailor Jupiter, because her movelist was mostly wrestling moves. Sure, I could throw some heavy kicks at Kunzite and Zoicite, or I could do some serious damage with a brainbuster or the giant fucking swing.

Sailor Moon, compared to other games in its genre on the Mega Drive, is a bit lacking. Though, any brawler is going to look dull when you realize this is the same console that’s home to three Streets of Rage games (4 if you have a Base Power Converter and the surprisingly good port of SoR1 on Master System), and Final Fight for all those rich kids with Sega CDs. While the backgrounds are imaginative, the enemy variety begins swapping palettes pretty quickly, and you only get one weapon to use in like two levels. There’s an attempt to spice things up a bit by giving the Scouts a decently sized movelist. Jupiter does her wrestling, Mercury can do Shoryukens, Venus has special command grabs, Moon has anti-airs, and Mars has a big non-Shoryuken uppercut (think along the lines of Joe Higashi’s “Hurricane Upper”). It kind of helps, but ultimately, it’s a game about fighting the same handful of enemies on mostly flat stages. Also, a problem: this is a 1-player only affair. Of course, being a lonely teen, this didn’t matter, but this might have mattered if I were in Japan playing a physical copy.

But these are all minor complaints in the grand scheme of things. I played this as a shy queer because this was a game about girls being cool and kicking ass, also plays about a million times better than Valis or El Viento. Sailor Moon was a show that I had to shamefully pretend I wasn’t watching back in my elementary school days on UPN. That’s a show for girls, you can’t be watching that shit! Hell, even the girls at my school got bullied for watching Sailor Moon. It was pretty fucked up. However, being older, alone in my room playing this game in the Gens emulator, with an Internet Explorer window of someone’s fansite behind it telling me about an*mes I hadn’t seen yet (and in some cases still haven’t seen), and listening to goth dudes sing on a Winamp playlist, nobody could fuck with me here. I could pretend that I was a cool girl who kicked ass too! Shocking that it took until I was almost 30 to realize gender was a fuck in one very specific case (uh, mine).

Sailor Moon and Yu Yu Hakusho (among other games, of course) ended up becoming this weekly tradition. This self-care routine I did to heal from the previous week of really horrific shit that children should never have to deal with. This is probably the nostalgia and the heavy amounts of “Copium” (as the Zoomers like to say) talking, but I feel like today’s generation doesn’t have this. Everything is so loud and combative. I fear that confused, lonely kids of today don’t have the same moments of solitude and reflection that I did. They don’t get to feel that slightly rewarding feeling of searching and finding something new from the comfort of their bedroom chairs. They get an abrasive LISTEN UP YOU CHUCKLEFUCKS THIS IS A MOTHERHECKIN’ THREAD ABOUT HISASHI EGUCHI BEING A LITERAL WAR CRIMINAL FOR WRITING “STOP! HIBARI-KUN” flashing at them from their phones. Now, everything is problematic and you should be constantly be ashamed of yourself. Not that things were a paradise back then either; there were still entire movements dedicated to going after queer people on the internet. Only difference between then and now is that it used to be under the guise of “making fun of furries,” and now it’s under the guise of “being an SJW” or “a games journalist had a mild inconvenience happen to them.” It also feels less extreme. Like, as someone who has had people write entire articles and maintain entire sub-sites dedicated to how much they hate me since the mid-2000s, it sucks. Some days, I actually do get pissed off about it. But nobody was ever calling me up at home, or creating a 50-part YouTube series about me, or spending years of their lives in some Truman Show style bull shit to strike up a friendship solely to reveal my deepest insecurities to a message board full of losers with incredibly unsatisfying lives. I realize that this is a retread of the opening paragraph, but man, it does feel like everything is so much worse now. It all sucks, and I’ve been dealing with exhaustion and stomach problems for the last couple of days, so it all comes out in a 2000-word post where I indulge in my nostalgia like a real Boomer.

Well, now that I’ve ended this with a real downer, go emulate some Mega Drive ROMs. Find something that makes you feel a little less heteronormative.

forza motorsport 7

I got an XBox One recently because I very specifically needed a machine to play my old XBox games. My 360 controllers are old as fuck and have the sticks have drift on them that the JoyCon could only dream of, and since finding a new unfucked 360 pad is impossible, I got a whole new system instead.

Now the thing is, I bought this so I can play my neglected collection of old games. While I have been doing that, I have also been distracted by a couple of games I’ve missed out on in the past hardware generation. I’m talking about Forza Motorsport 7, naturally. This is actually my first time playing any game in the Forza series, actually. My love of Auto Racing came after I had to admit that my I couldn’t really play anything on my 360 anymore. Sure, I could’ve gotten Game Pass or simply bought the game off of Steam, but FM7 is a 70 GB game. That has to compete with my PC’s internal storage, which ain’t really all that big. It has to compete with all my art projects, all the fighting games, a large collection of music and pornography, among many other things. A game console does not have these problems, so it’s easier to simply download it to that and play on a big ass TV. Which I did.

the rain effects are really cool

Before I played this, I tried a little bit of Forza Horizon 4. Seemed like it would be cool: a semi-realistic driving game with a big open world, Burnout Paradise style. Instead I got a bunch of loot box bull shit, a storyline full of characters who look like their names are on the Epstein flight logs, and winning races didn’t unlock cars, but instead unlocked ads for cars that I could buy via microtransactions. Also, the game doesn’t run at 60 FPS. I’m not some asshole stickler for FPS or FOV or PIV or some shit, but if you make a racing game, it should run as fast as possible. The only exception to this rule is Ridge Racer 4, and that’s only because that game was good enough to make up for that weakness in other ways. A racing game on 8th gen hardware should not be having this problem. Anyways. Forza Horizon 4 sucked, and I wasn’t especially looking forward to trying out FM7, but I felt like I still should.

Good news: Forza Motorsport 7 is awesome. It is a game that gives me what I want: being able to drive really fast in cars that you can only afford if you game the stock market or commit a war crime (though I repeat myself) on courses that I’ve seen on TV. That’s it. Get a starter car, win some races, take the points you’ve earned from competing to buy more cars, and race those cars too. No bull shit about being a high-society dickhead or trying to become a movie star or whatever the fuck Horizon was about. No fucking lootboxes, either. Yeah, FM7 has some DLC, but it’s significantly less predatory than its competing spin-off. The whole reason I’ve been focusing on covering retro games is entirely because of shit like this; I remember a time when I would buy a video game, and I would be able to play the entire fucking video game. Not get an ad to let me know that I can purchase additional content on top of my already spent $60 that should have been in the game to begin with, that doesn’t even run at a good frame rate. Am I so out of touch? No, it’s the developers who are wrong.

yeah fuck this and fuck you forza horizon

But enough about bad racing games. I have spent the last two days with FM7, and I have not had this much fun with a racing game since the days of Gran Turismo 6 on my PS3. I drove an Indy Car at Daytona. I drove a Ferrari 340 at Monza. I drove a Nissan Fairlady in this gorgeously rendered Dubai, where bits of sand get caught up in the wind, creating this drifting wave across the road. On courses with rain, the raindrops gather on your windshield, and then your wipers kick on every few seconds to help you maintain visibility. That is, assuming that you’re using the cockpit view, which you should. For as much as I loved GT6, I couldn’t use the cockpit view in a number of cars, because they were so detailed that the frame rate would drop. FM7 does not have this problem, so I’m always looking through the windshield.

I do have a couple of complaints about Forza here. One, there’s a stark lack of Toyota representation. Two, and this is more of an XBox problem: I can’t just plug in a USB drive and import my own music to listen to while I drive like I could with GT6. I get that that isn’t super realistic, but who cares; it’s not like I need to hear the engines roaring as some sort of tactical thing. Other than that, I have no real issues. It’s exactly what I want, a racing game.

There’s a real beauty to FM7’s simplicity. All you do is drive, buy some cars, then drive some more. Racing games have worked that way since the 80s, because it works. The formula was perfected right out of the gate, and everything since then has been reinventing the wheel (so to speak). I’m glad I played this after I played Forza Horizon, if only to see just how much one company can fuck up the concept, and then see how a different company gets it right. In any event, I get the hype for Forza now; I’ll put it on par with GT. They’re both great.

dragon marked for death

Inti Creates is a developer with an interesting output. Mega Man Zero was a fun series, albeit hard as fuck. I loved their Mighty Gunvolt 8-bit throwbacks. The mainline Gunvolt was pretty fun, and had some unique stuff I really liked. Mega Man 9 is…it’s a game I have complicated feelings on. Bloodstained would probably be a cool game if my PC’s fan didn’t start sounding like a helicopter taking off if I play the game for more than five minutes (seriously, only Bloodstained and Elden Ring do this. Not Guilty Gear, not Resident Evil 8, not KOF XV, nothing else.). Sweet Fuse is my second favorite dating sim on the PSP. They do tend to have more hits than misses, and only one of those misses wasn’t really their fault (Mighty No. 9).

In addition to all of these games, Inti Creates also made a multiplayer Action-RPG with character classes and loot mechanics. It’s called Dragon Marked For Death, and until I was gifted a copy earlier this week, I had no idea it even existed. That’s a shame, as this game rules.

Most people would compare this sort of game to something like Diablo, Monster Hunter, or Castlevania: Harmony of Despair; games where you get together in a party of other players with an art style best described as “even more gothic Disgaea,” fight a bunch of minions, a big boss at the end, and get a bunch of items, hoping that you got the one particular item with a 3% drop rate that you were looking for, then do it over and over again. A particularly addictive sub-genre, even though it sounds boring as fuck on paper. The thing about Dragon MFD (because I am not typing out the whole title every time) is that even though most missions fall under “kill the big guy,” there is a surprising amount of variety to these missions. There are vastly different locales, ranging from the typical fantasy forest, to Sengoku-era Japan, to large castles, to the inside of a large monster, each with new enemy and boss types within them. They all have different objectives as well, like the dreaded escort mission, finding an item, activating switches and locks, needing to convince ghosts that they are actually dead by showing them their bodies, purifying a poisoned water supply, and lots of other things that involve me using a comma in between them. Every time you think that you’ve seen the extent of Dragon’s variety, there’s always something new.

It also doesn’t hurt that Dragon is also really fun to play. The way characters move gracefully from section to section: dashing on the ground, dashing in the air, double jumping, swinging with a grappling hook, floating, wall jumping. Getting adequately leveled and tearing through low-level enemies like a lawnmower, before you show off your memorization skills and avoid every hit the boss delivers. Cool thing is, unlike certain other Inti Creates games (Gunvolt), bosses don’t have bull shit full-screen attacks that kill you immediately. There is a real sense of style to playing Dragon that rewards you for paying attention. This is a game made by the Mega Man Zero team, and it shows.

Other than being really fun and a game that you can mindlessly spend hours in grinding away to make numbers get bigger, I think that I dig Dragon because it’s like a 32-bit game transplanted into the modern era. This game looks, sounds, plays, and animates like one of those criminally unloved games on the Playstation and Saturn that you could only read about in the back of a gaming magazine. The kind of game that you only ever heard about on message boards from the one guy who could get access to imports we couldn’t play because American executives have completely liquefied brains (taking this parenthetical aside to once again say GO FUCK YOURSELF BERNIE STOLAR).

I wanted to talk about this game, not just because I really enjoyed the week of it that I have played, but because I felt like I needed to raise awareness of Dragon Marked For Death. Here’s the problem: NOBODY IS PLAYING THIS FUCKING GAME ONLINE. Maybe it’s different on the Switch, but here on PC, it’s a ghost town. I was able to get some multiplayer sessions in with some friends who also owned the game, and it was great. A game like this should not be some unknown title with a dead multiplayer element. Dragon is something that is certainly enjoyable solo, but becomes so much better when playing with three friends. Monster Hunter is understandably getting all of the attention, and there’s still a dedicated playerbase for Phantasy Star Online, but there needs to be a bigger spotlight on Dragon MFD.

Even if you’re only going to end up playing with randos, playing Dragon MFD gave me those old warm and fuzzy feelings of Summers playing Metal Gear Peace Walker and Resident Evil 6 with other people. In a better world, this would be similar: the kind of game you throw on when there’s nothing to do, and you don’t feel like going out because it’s a hundred degrees outside, so you set up a quick run of some Dragon MFD levels and maybe meet a couple of cool weirdos along the way.

paris-dakar rally special

A wise philosopher once said: Video Games Can Be About Anything. Think about any game, and how truly out there and strange their settings are. A plumber saving a magical kingdom from a family of evil turtles. A man armed only with a pack of cigarettes taking down a nuclear-equipped terrorist group. A medieval Syrian assassin loaded up on cocaine time-travelling to the 1980s to kill Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan. Games that we as an audience consider to be “normal” are pretty weird in actuality. Of course, there are simulation titles and sports games to keep things grounded a little bit (with some exceptions to be made there, as well).

The Paris-Dakar Rally is (or was) a rally race series that would begin in Paris, France and end in Dakar, Senegal. It was a very popular event, with musicians and actors competing in the race mixed in with all the professional drivers. Making a video game based on it seems like a no-brainer, right? Racing games tend to be fun, and even the worst ones sell decently enough for a company to make at least a small profit. So that is exactly what developer ISCO did, and now we have the Paris-Dakar Rally Special for the Famicom.

ISCO are a unique developer, we’ll say. They’re mostly known for their porting of other companies games, mostly Data East (Two Crude Dudes and Captain America and The Avengers on Sega Genesis being done by them). However, they did do their own original titles. And by “original titles,” I mean absolute fucking dog shit like Seikima II: Akuma no Gyakushu and Transformers Convoy no Nazo. The former is a terrible platformer with confusing level layouts and terrible music, which is an absolute insult given that it’s a game based on a really cool metal band from the 80s. The latter is that game we all played because we looked at a list of NES ROMs and thought that, holy shit, there’s a Transformers Nintendo game!? It has to be good! And then it wasn’t. So ISCO’s output is…something.

 

Okay, so ISCO struck out twice with their games so far. It would be pretty easy to think that Paris-Dakar Rally would suck too. Not only does the game not suck, but it may very well be one of the most, if not the most, imaginative of the 8-bit era.

The thing about this racing game is that the first thing you do is not race. Rather, you have to wander around Tokyo, talking to banks, corporate offices, and racing clubs to get a sponsorship and enough money to buy a car. It’s a nice bit of flavor, given that the real-life rally was a primarily privateer affair (privateer in this case meaning drivers who are not part of an auto manufacturer and must pay their way into a race).

Once all that’s out of the way, you then have to get yourself a navigator to help you with all the terrain on the desert tracks. You get assigned one based on how well you do on a reflex test? Okay, sure.

Now, as someone who has played through this game multiple times, I’ll straight up admit that I have no idea if this entire segment actually effects how the rest of the game is played; I have not noticed any difference in the cars regardless of my sponsor or navigator. But whatever, I appreciate the effort put into making all this.

Once all of that is out of the way, we fly to Paris and actually begin the race. Let me tell you all right now that this first level is by far the hardest of the bunch. If you’ve ever seen a video from the Japanese Retro side of Youtube, they tend to give up here. It’s simple enough in concept: you drive, trying to make it to the end of the course. You have to dodge other cars, obstacles in the road, and barrels being tossed onto the track. There will be cars that will suddenly speed up from behind you in an attempt to crash into you, and speeding up to maximum acceleration will only make them fly at you faster. At the same time, you can’t take the race slow, as you still want to get a good completion time, and you’ll run out of fuel. You get three hits and a full of tank of gas before you’re fucked, and if you’re fucked, then you get to restart the whole race from the beginning. It’s hard, but it’s definitely doable if you’re willing to put some time into pattern memorization and knowing when to speed up and slow down (kind of like real racing that way).

Then the second half of Paris begins. Now the course is a…maze? Like, a Pac-Man style maze where you need to dodge other cars, who are now very much trying to collide into you. Alright.

The next stop on the rally is leaving Paris and getting to Barcelona. That’s an easy enough race, simply avoid falling boulders, dodge eggs being laid by birds overhead, and if any lizards or sewer rats get in the way, shoot them with your gun!

Yes, okay, so P-DRS is not even remotely a realistic racing game. It’s not even an unrealistic racing game like Rad Racer or Outrun. Like I quoted at the beginning: Video Games Can Be About Anything. This is not the video game version of a realistic race, this is unbridled creativity and/or not giving a fuck. This is a race from Paris to Dakar as envisioned by a madman. Normally, a lesser reviewer who have made some tired crack along the lines of “heh, what were these guys on when they made this game, DRUGS!?” I will not be doing that, because that’s a disservice to this game that we have been given. It takes a special kind of person to take the concept of a racing game, then turn it into a side-scrolling shooter only part of the way through. A shooter where you need to get out of the car and solve some basic switch puzzles, sometimes walking on clouds to do so.

I need to make this clear: I am not being sarcastic, this is not some weird gimmick I’m doing. Paris-Dakar Rally Special rules. This game is really good, despite what its reputation would have you believe. It is an absolute work of art, this complete risk being taken to make something truly original, something I love about the 8-bit era of games where developers made whatever they wanted.

The next leg of the race is Barcelona to Alger. Geography students out there, or I guess anyone who looked at a map on Google, knows that there’s a pretty big body of water that separates these two places. You would think that maybe the race crews would take a ferry across, and continue the race.

Or, you know, just fucking drive through the ocean.

Much like the Mach 5, your Rally car is submersible, as are your guns. You’ll need those guns, because you have to face sharks, octopi, schools of fish, helicopters dropping bombs (as opposed to providing medical aid, something they are meant to do in the real rally), and missiles fired at you from an unknown source.

Emerging from the ocean, we arrive at the desert. The first half is fairly benign, with more shooting at animals the size of your car and sometimes navigating deep rivers. Snakes, camels, moles, stuff like that.

The second half, however, is much different. The organizers of the race didn’t seem to think that it was a bad idea to hold a race in the middle of an active war zone. Now my 4WD is taking out tanks, attack helicopters and fighter jets. I need to reiterate that this game rules.

You think after all of this, the final level in Dakar is going to be completely wild. Just the most off-the-wall shit imaginable. In a way, it kind of is, because it is simply a race on a dirt track in Dakar.

That’s the twist. After all these genre-changing levels, full of weird shit, the final level is an actual racing game. You know, ISCO could have made all of their levels like this. They could have done a regular racing game, and it probably would have been fine. Good, but not great. Instead, they made something that lives up to the name of Special. A wild, extremely memorable experience that I’m sure pissed off a few people expecting a playable version of the actual Paris-Dakar Rally. Like, there wouldn’t be a bait-and-switch in games this good until Solid Snake stopped being the protagonist in Metal Gear.

Look at this cover. Would you have had any idea of what was actually happening in this game?

Creativity like this is a rare unicorn; it’s not often that the whole “average video game concept turned on its ear in increasingly strange ways” actually works. I mean, sure, P-DRS isn’t exactly Mega Man 2 or something in terms of being technically good, but sometimes there’s more to being a game than technically good. Sometimes all a game needs to be good is to make you laugh at an absurd situation while you make an Abrams tank explode with a gun mounted to an brandless race car.

Video games can be about anything.

rediscovering an old game from my youth

In my recent spree of playing and replaying old Castlevanias and listening to all the Goth Metal I cast aside because I mistakenly thought that being a goth kid was “cringe” as soon as I hit adulthood, I had been struggling to try and remember another game I had played as a teen. I remembered downloading it along with a bunch of CV fangames during the early-2000s. Despite me grabbing it with all those fangames, this was very much its own thing; unique graphics, sound, atmosphere. Of course, the passage of time, and the continuous spiral of internet search engines becoming an SEO-driven joke instead of a source of information, have made trying to find this game again really hard. I’ll spare you any more suspense and tell you that I did eventually find it after a couple weeks of searching.

This game is called Vampire. A simple title that did nothing to make my search for it any easier. Vampire is a Windows ’95 game made by the doujin group Sprite. Unfortunately, the game was never finished, and is only a few levels long. It was released in 1997, the version I’m playing here is an updated release from 1999, and while there has been progress made on the game and shown online, it’s all from 2011. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure this is the only Vampire experience we’ll be getting.

Vampire is a game that wears its influences on its sleeve. The main character is a girl with a whip named Millenia, who fights skeletons and bats and various other monsters on her way to fighting, well, a vampire. Playing Vampire is pretty straightforward. You move from left to right (occasionally down to up, or up to down), whipping horror movie monsters in environments that look like an expensive Malice Mizer video. All the while you hear music that, while in MIDI format, definitely has that Goth Rock vibe, with synthesized bells and church organs. Though the game is unfinished, the few levels of action we get are enjoyable enough. I will give some criticisms here and say that the controls can be pretty sluggish; sometimes you may double-tap forward to run so as to get extra distance on a jump, only to slowly walk forward before jumping instead and fall way short of your target. Millenia has an attack where she can whip upwards, but it seems to have a terrible hitbox, as trying to hit things with it is nearly impossible. The last complaint I have is that level 3 has that “enemy that will always get in your way the moment you need to jump onto a platform” bull shit going on. These are complaints that might have been addressed in a future release, if we ever got one.

As it is, Vampire is still a pretty darn good game. But there’s more to a game than mechanics. Something Vampire has that a lot of independent games and even major studio games don’t have is atmosphere. Vampire, if nothing else, is cool. This is a game full of personality, despite the major handicap of not being finished. Each level is dark and oppressive. There are cliffsides full of large monsters. Villages that have been taken over by an army of skeletons and axe-wielding goat demons, displaying their human victims in the streets. Woods populated by harpies and dragons. The pathway to the castle, covered in snow (represented by some great particle effects) and guarded by Zeiram-esque body horror creatures. There is a Gothic aesthetic to Vampire that hasn’t really been matched outside of heavy hitters like Symphony of the Night or Bloodborne, which is all the more impressive given that this a small project made by a handful of people.

(Before anyone mentions anything, yes, I’m aware that at least a few art assets have been lifted from other games, including Symphony of the Night (see the background of that church screenshot). The original art, however, is still fantastic.)

In and of itself, Vampire is a good enough little game on its own. But there’s something to these smaller games essentially lost to time that I appreciate. I can’t quite figure out what that is, exactly. Maybe the whole idea of making a game for the sake of making the kind of game you want to make, and then doing it. Maybe it’s the fact that, again, this is an unfinished work, and that there has been no update on said work in nearly eleven years adds a bit of mystery to it. We as players only get a small glimpse of what could have been an indie classic. That’s some intriguing shit right there. As it is, Vampire is another relic of a bygone era that I have nostalgia for: that era of clicking around and finding cool stuff.

Now, you can’t really get Vampire anywhere, not even on its official site. So, to make things easier, I’ve gone ahead and uploaded the latest version right here.

4/9/2022

Hello everyone. I’ve taken the week off, as I had a death in my family on Sunday. This was kind of a big one, as this was one of the only people in my family that I didn’t have issues with. Because of that, I felt like it probably wasn’t super appropriate to write another “games are cool” post or go on Twitch and tell jokes. But it’s Saturday now, and I felt the need to write something this week. Admittedly, I sometimes get so wrapped up in the idea of “oh fuck, what am I writing about this week?” that I don’t get around to making posts that are like “hey how’s it going.” So I think I will simply talk about a bunch of thoughts and stuff I’ve been having.

The first thing, assuming you didn’t see me announce it elsewhere, is that I am now doing the “non-binary” thing. Now, unlike pretty much everything else I’ve ever done in my life, this was not an impulsive decision; it’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for about a year, and getting closer to the forefront for the last six months. Just a whole number of factors causing me to rethink things: I don’t mind being called “dude” or “bro.” I still enjoy traditional “guy” shit. I watch sports. I haven’t had a dysphoric episode in about three years. Now, you might be thinking, “well, that’s a lot of gender essentialist bull shit you’ve said.” You would be right! The thing is, it doesn’t matter if you are into all that stuff while having a different pronoun. Then I started thinking, well then, does it matter then if I start using “they” instead of “she?” Plus, my whole thing, especially over the last 2-3 years, is doing what I can to try and live life on my own terms. Doing what I want, existing outside of society’s expectations. A wise man, Daisuke Ishiwatari, once said of a non-binary character he created, “they’ve transcended humanity, just like me.” What a killer fucking line that is. That’s me, doing my own thing, but with a more ambiguous identity.

Another thing about all this, was the thought in my head: am I giving up? I mean, I’ve spent so many years, made so many enemies, got onto so many games industry blacklists, due to my unwillingness to sit back and deal with cis people and their inability to comprehend a world beyond their own limited worldview. Hell, only two posts ago I was ragging on these motherfuckers over them all wanting to buy J.K Rowling’s Jew Basher 2K22, once and for all proving that “support the developers” is a dog whistle. Am I throwing away years of my life, making me a coward? I was “angry tranny bitch” for so long, and now that’s not my gimmick anymore. But then it dawned on me that it doesn’t matter. Gender has never been my problem. Gender has always been everyone else’s problem. I didn’t like being a man, so I changed that. Seven years have gone by, and I’m realizing now that it’s better to be both genders and also neither. I simply changed my mind, and that doesn’t invalidate all things I’ve said and done to support binary trans people. Besides, it’s not I’m joining Buck Angel in a Zoom call with Graham Linehan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Leigh Alexander or anything. I’ve spent all this time curating a space for me to do what I want, and my body is a space, so I should be able to do what I want with that too.

pac-man and ms pac-man, breaking up the text

That’s enough of the important shit. I’ve spent the last week processing a lot of things, and also losing myself in games and wrestling. The big thing in wrestling lately is that bitch coward sell-out Cody Rhodes going back to WWE. The biggest carny of them all, fuck him. You might think that I’m too old to be doing the whole “fandom” thing and getting back into that late-90s Monday Night Wars mentality, but also: FUCK THE WWE OH HELL YEAH

This isn’t a WWE vs AEW thing. Yes, I’m a big AEW fan; I’ve been buying and watching all their shows since last year. But I have also been getting into independent wrestling pretty hard. Stuff like Enjoy, GCW, TJPW, and Deadlock. In my mind, my love of wrestling is Literally Everything vs WWE. That company is the evil empire runs by soulless bigots that have legitimately worked their wrestlers to death, have covered up murders and sexual assaults, straight up killed Owen Hart via criminal negligence and then told his grieving friends to go wrestle in the hole his dead body created, provides propaganda for two shitty governments (America and Saudi Arabia) among a lot of other fucked up shit. AEW has faults, sure, but it’s not “covering up murders and child molestation rings” bad.

Even putting aside the moral issues, WWE is a company that has treated its audience with open contempt for decades. We’re talking about a shitty company run by a complete monster who is so fucking stupid that he didn’t see anything in Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, Keith Lee, Matt Cordona, Kofi Kingston, Big E Langston, Bray Wyatt, Scott Hall, Ricky Steamboat, Sting, among many other names I’m forgetting until circumstances forced their hand to either put them in the main event, or fire them. Hell, they didn’t even see anything in Cody Rhodes! At this point, if you’re working for WWE, you are either only a few years in the business and getting paid to sit in catering for a year will make you more money than getting booked on the indie scene, you are being paid so much money that nobody in your family will have to work another day in their lives until maybe your great-grandchildren are born, or you’re a fucking idiot/bigot who stands firmly in line with Vince McMahon’s bull shit. Cody might have been the worst part of AEW for a good couple years, true, but that doesn’t excuse spending six years creating an “Us vs Them” narrative and telling anyone who would listen that “wrestling is for everyone” before crawling back to a bunch of Trumpers who would rather “everyone” be put before a firing squad. It may seem childish for me to call a man I’ve never met a sell-out for going from one major company owned by a billionaire to another, but let me reiterate: FUCK THE WWE OH HELL YEAH and fuck Cody too.

Plus, the troll in me likes fucking with all the unhinged weirdos who call people like me an assortment of slurs because of the wrestling I watch. The sensible side of me knows that Tony Khan is not my friend; he is simply someone who puts on a show I enjoy, and have given him some walking around money as a result of that. But it is more fun to say that AEW is the greatest thing to ever happen to television since televisions inception, and Tony Khan is the only good billionaire. And FUCK THE WWE OH HELL YEAH!

As far as games go, I’ve been getting back into Monster Hunter real fucking hard. Both Rise and Generations Ultimate. And I must be still processing some grief, because I started a new game in Dark Souls 2 and I am somehow starting to “get” it. Getting it to the point where I’m actually starting to, dare I say it, enjoy the game. Maybe it’s all these recent months of getting into Western RPGs and rediscovering the mindset that one needs to play those. I’ve just finished getting the ring from Drangleic Castle, so I’ve got another 800 areas to get through before I reach the end.

Naturally, I’ve been plugging away at Guilty Gear Strive. Of course, given recent gender things, I’ve been playing as Testament. Testament is a fucking awesome character. Here is a screenshot of me getting a perfect on my friend Hazel. I had to screenshot this, because I don’t get many moments like this, because Hazel is really good and is still much better than me.

Testament’s new theme song is…fine, I guess. Fine in that it’s not as egregious as some of the other music in Strive (shout out to Potemkin). Still not a patch on their theme from GGX2, a game that I would say has the best soundtrack in the entire medium. Listening to that song again and it’s like, fuck dude, it seems so obvious in hindsight that being a moody, genderless thing who loves goth shit is what I was always meant to be.

I was planning on writing some more, but I’m already 1500 words in, so I should probably stop. I’ll be back to doing my usual thing of essays and streams in the coming week, just needed to take a quick break.