resident evil

I’ve spent this past weekend getting away from Namco stuff for a bit, and decided that it would be a good idea to play the original Resident Evil. Admittedly, I did so for reference purposes; I’ve mentioned in the past my inability to model humans in Blender, so I thought I would load the game up and see how Capcom did it. What was originally meant to be a five minute look-through turned into me playing, replaying, and unlocking every secret in the game. It wasn’t even out of nostalgia, as RE2 is the game that I know like the back of my hand, not this one. I don’t have much in the way of nostalgia for RE1. Not that I didn’t play it back in the day; of course I did, but I never got very far in it, and by the time I understood how Resident Evil worked as a game, it’s bigger and badder sequel was already out and available to rent at the Hollywood Video around the corner from my house.

Before I had even finished the game for the first time in many years, it had dawned on me: the original Resident Evil is still an absolute classic. Even now, over twenty years later, with numerous sequels, spin-offs, and easily the greatest video game remake ever in the time since, it is still a solid, well-designed game. But, in looking around online, that seems to be a minority opinion? It seems to be that the legacy of the original Resident Evil is simply bad voice acting, that horrible, horrible song in the second Director’s Cut, and little more than that. And that’s a shame. It’s a shame that something as great as this has more or less been reduced to “meme” status. Let me be clear going forward: this post is not a “defense” of Resident Evil 1. This post is a reminder that Resident Evil 1 is a tremendous piece of work.

There’s a term that gets thrown around a lot when talking about old video games: Hasn’t Aged Well. As someone who spends a lot of time writing about retro stuff, I obviously don’t agree with this. I do not believe that graphics, game mechanics, and level design age. Now, if a game has some questionable imagery or narrative regarding women, queers, or people of color, I can get behind saying that something has not aged well. For example, since I’m talking about this series, Resident Evil 5 has not aged well. In terms of actually playing the game, it’s about as solid and refined as any game, at least any of the post-RE4 action focused ones, in the series. However, as far as its depiction of Africa and Black people, though, it sucks. That has not aged well, and you can argue if it even actually aged in the first place. Otherwise, games don’t age, even if advances in technology and understanding of how games work improve upon them, they don’t age. It doesn’t matter if it’s Donkey Kong or Super Mario Odyssey, Mario still runs and jumps as well as he ever has, you know?

Resident Evil 1 is a game frequently labeled as not aging well. One would assume that it’s because of the reasons I mentioned earlier: the acting and the Dual Shock version’s terrible soundtrack, but no, it’s levied against the game’s tank controls and graphics. This is strange, considering that Resident Evil has always had tank controls, up until RE5; just because the games stopped using fixed camera angles does not suddenly mean that they stopped using tank controls too. Tank controls are fine, gamers, get over it. Graphics? Well, I guess that’s up to your personal tastes. I think they look great, especially the prerendered backgrounds. An unfortunate thing, but the days of games with prerendered backgrounds are over, and I’m sure it will never come back.

But there’s more to a game than how it plays. At worst, the mechanics in RE1 are serviceable. No, what really pushes/pushed Resident Evil and made it what it was was its narrative. Now, I get it: I can imagine that you, in 2021, find it laughable that the game that gave us “Jill Sandwich” and “Master of Unlocking” can be compelling from a storytelling standpoint. I mean, Resident Evil was originally not going to even have a story. I mentioned in my RE6 piece that the initial concept was cyborgs vs zombies in a two-player shooter. Then someone at Capcom hastily threw a story at the game, and it somehow managed to work.

found a translated version of that design artwork

This barely put-together story not only managed to compel you to see where things go (even if it was just to laugh at more bad acting), but also managed to make the game somewhat relatable. See, the thing is, while the characters are no longer cyborgs, they are all still highly-skilled super cops. The S.T.A.R.S team are all walking, talking super-heroes. I can’t relate to Chris Redfield as a person; hell, I can’t even relate to the “normal” cast members, like Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield. Now while I can’t relate to the characters, I can relate to the situation that they are in: a major corporation with ties to the government doing shady things that are and will continue to get people killed, all in the name of money. The Umbrella Corporation kidnapped homeless people off the streets, and did cruel, inhumane experiments on them, resulting in the Hunters, Chimeras, and Lickers that you have to fight.

I have said it twice already, but I will repeat it: what makes Resident Evil scary, and therefore also good, is the knowledge that the creatures you are killing were once human. The fast moving, bipedal reptile about to rip your head off was once someone down on their luck, sleeping in an alley somewhere. The freakish insect thing on the ceiling birthing larvae and maggots could have once been someone struggling with a drug problem. I can’t relate to big guys punching boulders, but I can relate to being a person cast off by society. I can relate to Big Business fucking people lives up to line their pockets just a little bit more. It’s not zombie dogs bursting through a window that makes Resident Evil so terrifying, it’s the more mundane aspects of greed and a desire for power at any cost. A bunch of rich shitheads with a love of eugenics used other human beings as test subjects for their biological weapons, and eventually the entire world would feel the effects. Despite being a sci-fi/horror setting, it’s not too far-fetched to believe that a large company could very well end up doing the same in our world; how long until Tesla or SpaceX start working with the military (assuming that they aren’t already), or have their own weapons program? And it’s not like the US government hasn’t experimented on people in the past, what with forced sterilizations of Black and Latino women, testing nuclear weapons on their own soldiers, testing the side effects of drugs and pesticides in low-income neighborhoods, among other things. Only difference between them and Umbrella is that we don’t have a ten foot tall man infected by a giant worm and carrying a rocket launcher around, but the similarities are no less monstrous.

Resident Evil is a game about exploring a large, opulent mansion full of ostentatious decorations, and finding a horrible secret underneath it. The political commentary is as subtle as a drunkards’ punch. It’s about ironically casting you as a cop, while also telling you not to trust authority. Other games would feature government bailouts, corrupt police forces, and exploitation of people and resources. That is what makes the series so good, even when some of the games have been less than stellar. And that’s what makes Resident Evil 1 a timeless classic: it had a point and that point meant something. Yes, it does have a remake, which is also the absolute best remake in the history of video games. But even in the face of that remake, that does not change the fact that the original game is still amazing, and didn’t age a single day since 1996. The fact that it plays well enough, and the exploration and sense of progression make sense doesn’t hurt, either. At the very least, Resident Evil deserves to be recognized as something other than a meme, or Resident Evil 2’s prequel.

the pc-engine is god’s favorite console, part 3

I’ve spent this past week dealing with the aftermath of being bitten by the Namco bug. If I’m not playing an old Namco arcade game, I’m playing an entry in the Namco Museum series, or I’m playing Tekken 7, or I’m playing Ridge Racer 7. Turns out, at risk of sounding like I’m fangirling over a major corporation, I just really like Namco stuff. I like Namco stuff bad enough to spend actual money on the free-to-play Pac-Man 99. Worth it.

Namco also made a bunch of games for the PC-Engine, God’s Favorite Video Game Entertainment System. 25 to be precise. Thought I’d cover a few here.

Genpei Toumaden- Kan no Ni/Samurai Ghost (US Name)

I’ve written about Genpei Toumaden before. Multiple times. It’s a strange, frustrating, tedious, awesome, wonderful, amazing game that pisses me off and also kicks ass. It also got a sequel exclusive to the PC-Engine. Kan no Ni takes place entirely in “Big Mode” from the first game; large, individually animated sprites getting into sword fights with each other. There’s no more platform-based “Small Mode,” or the overhead transitional levels where you could change your progression route. There’s no more worrying about keeping your sword sharp, so you can swing and hit as many rocks and armored enemies as you want. There’s no more dealing with the underworld and Enma-Daioh if you fall down a pit. Money has a significantly reduced use. It’s all action with mild platform navigation. Kan no Ni is a much more focused, straight-forward game as a result.

The weird thing about that is that it is both a better and worse game as a result. Better in that it’s arguably a better game to play, having less bull shit to deal with and worry about before you make it to the end of the game. But it is worse in the sense that Genpei Toumaden’s personality is gone, leaving a game that looks cool and plays fairly well, but it’s not the same. The original game was fucking weird, even by the standards of skee-whoa wacky Japan, and was awesome for it. It was like playing someone’s fucked up dream. What made it, and other Namco of the era by extension, so great was that these were all games that looked simple to play, but were all weird as fuck, and had all this cool hidden shit underneath the surface; Genpei Toumaden had hidden levels where the development team would pop up and leave you a message, for example. Even when you found everything the game had to offer, explored every route and every variation of those routes, is still feels like there is more that players have yet to discover. I love that. I love games that can maintain a sense of mystery despite literally decades of having been blown wide open. Kan no Ni doesn’t have this. It is extremely cut and dry, and again, while it is a good game, it’s not the same experience. It’s too normal. That being said, it’s still worth trying out. I mean, it’s still a pretty good game to play, but not a good one to experience.

Bravoman

Bravoman is a port of an arcade game that really isn’t all that good. It still maintains that sense of Namco Weirdness, with its control set up using six-buttons like a fighting game, dedicated to how far you punch and how high you jump, and generally looking weird and having animation that is way too fluid for its own good. It plays like shit, but it’s maybe worth checking out in MAME for a couple levels.

The PC-Engine port? Whoa, that is its own animal. It’s more or less the same, in terms of level design. No, where Bravoman shines is that it looks, sounds, and plays like it’s a bootleg; as if some pirates took Galaxian hardware (a once-popular arcade board to make bootlegs from) and made an ill-executed attempt at a mascot game. Namco is and was a company with a lot of money. They have some of the best artists in the business under their employ. A number of their games from the 80s and 90s look good today, and it’s funny that Bravoman is as ugly and low-tech as it is. I don’t bring any of this up as a complaint, mind you. I love it! I love how Bravoman looks so incredibly amateurish!

I love Bravoman’s aesthetic because it gives off this chaotic energy that I love about video games. This concept of simply making shit. Does it look like shit? Yes. Does it play even worse? Oh yeah, you better believe it. Does any of this matter, as the game itself is at least an interesting mess? Fuck no! Bravoman is Kusoge to the max. It is dogshit, and it is amazing. Punch a telephone box in stage one, and it talks to you. If you keep punching your ally who delivers health-restoring rice balls, he will get mad and actually stop showing up at the end of stages. It’s the little details. It’s a damn shame Bravoman hasn’t been seen in any games since, at least outside of Namco x Capcom, a game that deserves either a re-release outside of Japan, or a fan translation that isn’t absolutely unreadable bull shit.

Tower of Druaga

Unlike the sequels and ports so far, Tower of Druaga on PC-Engine is a full fledged remake of the original arcade game. Back when the word “remake” meant something other than “95% of 2021’s release calendar.” Here’s the thing: Druaga is one of those games, like Hydlide, that is absolutely beloved in Japan, and thoroughly hated over here. And like Hydlide, I fucking love Tower of Druaga. Yes, the game is obtuse. Yes, the first two floors are an absolutely slow-ass drag. I don’t care, Tower of Druaga is amazing. It’s my favorite game in Namco Museum Volume 3, I love the Game Boy version, it’s my current “theme” in Pac-Man 99, and it’s my favorite game in this post.

Aside from updating the art, Druaga PCE, as I will call it, because I do not want to type out “Tower of Druaga PC-Engine Version” over and over, made a couple quality of life changes. The first one is that the default walking speed has been increased, meaning that you don’t have to find the hidden treasure chest in level 2 to move at a faster speed than a story being told by Grandpa Simpson. The other change is that you get a cryptic hint at the beginning of every level. For those who have not played Tower of Druaga, most levels would have a secret treasure chest. In order to actually finish the game, you needed a specific set of items that could only be acquired through these chests. To actually find said chests, you would have to do any number of things: killing certain enemies, standing still for five seconds, hitting a wall, walking in specific and unmarked parts of the level, taking damage, all sorts of things. Of course, the original game never actually told you that these chests existed, let alone how to find them. This led to communities forming in arcades, as players would try to find the solution to any given level, and share these secrets in notebooks and such. But obviously, because Druaga PCE is a console game pre-internet, you can’t really not be that obtuse to the player. At least not without also being a tremendous dickhead.

Much as I love the original Druaga, it is a pain to have to have notes nearby while I play, because I don’t have the capacity to remember how to find secrets in 60 fucking levels, so Druaga PCE is sometimes the better alternative. Plus it has something the other versions of the game don’t have: HARDCORE NUDITY!!

nanja monja…

I’ve been a bit back-handed about the other two games in this post, but I am telling you right now: Play Fucking Druaga PCE. Definitely among the best Namco games on the system, and one of the better games on the system in general. It was never officially released in English, but there is a good fan translation that you can find pretty easily by clicking here.

That’s it for this one. I’ll come back to the PC-Engine again soon enough. Until then.

resident evil 6: a great game presented badly

Something that may come as a shock to the readers of this site: I enjoy playing video games. After sitting down and putting some thought to it, of the video games I enjoy, I’ve realized that my favorite series is Resident Evil. I love all of them, and even have a soft spot for the bad ones. Resident Evil 6 is widely considered a bad one. It’s even arguably considered to be the worst one. The purpose of this post is to both agree with this assessment, and also wildly disagree with it. This sounds confusing, I know. Do I like Resident Evil 6? Do I hate Resident Evil 6? The answer is yes.

I think I should start by talking about the context in which RE6 was made and exists in. RE6 came about during a weird time in Capcom’s history; actually, a weird time in Japanese game industry history. The “HD” era, with the success of the XBox 360, and the belated success of the PS3. Suddenly, games became bigger, more expensive to make, took longer to make, and in some cases, were harder to make. The old ways of coding a game engine from scratch, then building a game around it was not sustainable, and middleware sources like Unreal didn’t have resources for Japanese developers to use. At the same time, there was this really shitty, uncomfortable time in games “journalism” (ALWAYS TAKING SHOTS AT GAMES JOURNOS FUCK YOU) where you had multiple (white, male) critics putting the Japanese industry on blast. The Japanese were always second place to “The West.” A single level in Gears of War was now considered better than an entire decade of another countries’ output. Final Fantasy XIII was literally the worst game of all time. You had guys like Phil Fish feeling emboldened enough to tell Japanese devs, to their faces, “your games suck.” Basically, there was a time where people were paid cash money to say, “white people are better at making games than the Japanese.” It sucked.

Now, when you are a Japanese game developer, even one as large as Capcom, you still need that international exposure and acclaim, since that also equals money. As such, there were a lot of games that were made specifically so that Americans, especially those who were crying at the ending of fucking Fallout 3 of all things, would like them. I hate to say it, but a lot of these were not very good; I might be a big fan/apologist for From Software, but I’m not going to pretend that Ninja Blade was anything more than a terrible idea. To their credit, Capcom did end up taking this whole situation and making RE6’s prequel, Resident Evil 5. RE5 was huge. It was (still is) impressive on a graphical level. It had online co-op (also forgot: this was during a time where you had professional clown/thin-skinned transphobe Adam Sessler asking, “does it have online co-op?” to literally every developer at E3) It was a loud, explosive shooter staring a buff dude with guns. It was racist as fuck. All the things that could ever appeal to Americans, it did.

look, i fucking love resident evil, but i’m not going to pretend that this was ever okay.

And…it worked! It was Capcom’s highest selling game ever, up until the release of Monster Hunter World. While Capcom was counting their money, there was a subset of fans that wished for Resident Evil to “return to form.” Go back to the days when Resident Evil was only kind of an over-the-top action game, rather than a full-blown Michael Bay movie. Bring back the horror.

Now, this post is already sort of a 600 word aside, but I think I need to take one more: Resident Evil has ALWAYS been an action game. Silent Hill is a horror game. Resident Evil is a series where highly-trained super cops use a rocket launcher to blow up a large, hulking monster. Hell, the original concept for Resident Evil 1 was a two-player co-op shooter where you played as cybernetically-enhanced soldiers shooting at zombies created by a mad scientist. It has always been fucking stupid. This is one of the reasons why I love it.

GELZER

Anyways, enough ranting. People wanted either “horror” or, like me, more emphasis on exploring a large building and having to worry about ammo. Keep in mind, despite RE5’s popularity, the world at large was still very much in “Fuck Japan” mode. The only thing that had changed during the development time of RE6 was that the world went into “Fuck Japan, except for Dark Souls, which is now the only game that has ever existed” mode. Capcom was still aiming for acceptance, like this large company was a bullied, unloved child.

ACTUALLY TALKING ABOUT RESIDENT EVIL 6 NOW

The thing about Resident Evil 6, and why it got so fucking ravaged in reviews, is simple: it wanted to do everything, and accomplished nothing. It wanted the old-school style of looking for keys and emblems to fit into perfectly shaped holes. But it also wanted the frenetic action of RE5. But it also wanted a combination of the two, while you were being chased by a large, invincible monster like in RE2 and RE3. It wanted to be a big fan-servicey thing that brought back old beloved characters. But it also wanted to bring in a whole host of new characters to lead Resident Evil into the next generation.

As a result of this, RE6 is all over the place. There’s no real identity. Leon Kennedy’s story campaign involves methodically searching for keys while shooting a large horde of zombies in-between. Chris Redfield’s campaign is straight up Call of Duty but now with zombies (wait, fuck). Sherry Birkin’s campaign is a combination of the two, but now you have to contend with being stalked by something that looks like a 90s Image Comics character. Even with all these differences, they all meld into bang-bang shooty game by the end. Now, I’m not someone who has an aversion to shooters, or even games that are repetitive, but the thing about RE6 is that it does all these in a really boring way. Levels are not very well designed, and the set pieces are really generic and cliched. Doesn’t help that each campaign is about a million hours long. Right, RE6’s length is fucking ridiculous; in the time it takes to get half-way through a single campaign, you could finish about two actual Resident Evil games. It’s way too long, way too boring, and the story itself sucks so bad.

The thing about Resident Evil is that no matter how ridiculous it got, or how simplistic its delivery is, it was consistent. There really wasn’t a whole lot in the way of plot holes. At its heart, Resident Evil is a commentary on capitalistic greed and the fallout of Unit 731. It’s about a corporation that performs cruel experiments on people, and get away with it because they have friends in high places. Resident Evil 6 says fuck all this. Fuck it, Wesker has an adult son who inherited his super-strength, even though the timeline of events doesn’t match up (his son Jake was born in 1992, and Wesker didn’t inject and then gain his T-Virus abilities until 1998), let alone Wesker actually settling down to have a child with someone in the first place. There are now secret societies that run the world like supervillains, rather than the much more relatable story of “big corporation does shitty thing that kills people.” It’s a lot easier to hate Tesla and Amazon than the Illuminati. Ada Wong has a clone now, solely created because Evil Illuminati Man responsible for everything going to shit in RE6 was horny for her, and she told him no. Yes, really. A viral outbreak occurs in three different parts of the world because an incel couldn’t take rejection. At least the body horror element that Resident Evil is so good at is still very much awesome here. When I complained about the RE2 Remake, I mentioned that killing things that were once human or animal is where the real horror lies.

These new characters are also pretty bad too. You have Jake, the aforementioned son of Wesker, who fills the role of “bald white guy who makes wisecracks” that every fucking game of the era needed. There’s Piers Nivans, the closest thing to a good character, as he was originally created for a Resident Evil manga, and therefore had effort put in to give him a personality and a design that isn’t dogshit. Then there’s Helena Harper. Fuck me, she is bad. Someone at Capcom really needed a character that managed to be both a complete idiot and a complete bitch at once. She spends a good chunk of the game acting untrustworthy, being evasive around Leon, while also lecturing and chastising him for stopping to help people. It’s clear that Helena knows more than a few things about the current viral outbreak, but refuses to straight up tell Leon “hey, some high-ranking dudes in the government are experimenting on people, including my sister,” despite that fact that she knows who Leon is, and therefore knows that he has dealt with the threat of bio-terrorism at least twice already. So she goes this whole time looking guilty as fuck, but then still telling Leon off for pulling a zombie off an elderly woman. It makes no sense.

Really, that’s all there is to it to RE6’s campaign. It’s long, boring, and badly written. An attempt at pleasing everyone that ultimately pleased nobody.

Now, you might be reading this and thinking, “okay Ramona, you said in the title that Resident Evil 6 was good. What the fuck?” This is where the second part of my critique comes in.

You see, Capcom royally fucked up here. They put all this attention and marketing towards this bull shit story that sucks. Understandably, a lot of players and reviewers would have given up during the story or after finishing it. The Resident Evil 6 Campaign is bad, true. But there is a tab on the main menu called “Extra Content.” This is where RE6 shines.

RE6’s Mercenaries mode is not only the best iteration of that mode in the entire series, it easily could have been sold as its own half-priced digital title, and been a great game by itself. What fucking kills me here is that there are entire game mechanics at play here that you can go through the entire campaign never actually using. Running, diving, melee, counter attacking. Every character is different in some way, whether it be loadout or ability. The story is designed to be this shitty third-person cover-based shooter, while Mercenaries is this frenetic, intense arcade game that encourages you to be directly in the face of the enemy, taking the fight to them in order to build that combo meter and raise that high score, all set to this pulse-pounding jam. You could be forgiven for not knowing there was a third melee finisher in the game, because the main game sure as fuck wasn’t going to tell you.

No joke, I dedicated an entire Summer to playing Mercenaries. I would come home from work, load up the PS3, and kill zombies with a rando for a good few hours. It is a very compelling mode. This experience alone made up for the million hour story that I had to suffer through to get a few of the unlockables.

And it’s not just Mercs, either. The other extra modes are well worth the cost of the game. Sucks that they were originally paid DLC. I don’t have any screenshots of them, as trying to find people playing RE6 online in 2021 is uhh, impossible. Onslaught Mode is the best of the non-Merc bunch, as it is Competitive Mercenaries. It’s Resident Evil, with the mechanics of a Puyo Puyo or a Twinkle Star Sprites; shooting shit, and making more shit appear on your opponents’ screen. Versus Mode is…not so great, as I don’t think Resident Evil is designed around PvP. Predator mode is pretty cool: a 5v1 versus mode where the 1 is Ustanak, the super-powered monster that chases Sherry and Jake. Siege mode is fun if you’re the kind of person who liked Left 4 Dead’s Versus mode, as it is more or less literally that: a team of protagonists vs a team of the game’s standard enemies. I used to get up pretty early in the morning and play Siege with Japanese players, before starting my day. That was a great experience, as you got to have fun with a bunch of people that weren’t yelling out racial slurs and (never an “or”) being shit at the game. A middle-aged Japanese woman yelling out encouragement while you’re on the verge of a comeback is an experience and a memory I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

forgot that the campaign literally does the dead space “button to tell you where to go” thing

That’s what’s so fucked about RE6. There is a great game here, but it is hidden behind a massive wall of bull shit. You have this terribly thought-out digital checklist of shit that will appeal to the mainstream that absolutely fails, which will then turn off people from wanting to see what is one of the best meta-games of the last generation lying beneath the surface. It’s sad. I was thinking about playing with players in Japan, and the occasional non-dickhead here in the states, and got sad. A lot of people never got to experience that, and seeing as how the most recent version of RE6 is a garbage port for the Switch, they probably never will. And that’s the biggest tragedy of all.

there is some cool stuff on the internet archive part 2

Much like my Racing Game Round-Up, I think I would like to make a monthly thing where I look for cool shit on the Internet Archive that is worth a look. Just as well, because some things have gone down in the world recently where you might need someone to point out where to find some files. Let’s start with that.

PS3 Games

Turns out that the rumor of Sony shutting down all storefronts for their pre-PS4 hardware is true, with the Playstation Store getting shut down like, today. It’s not too often that a major corporation comes out and straight up tells people to pirate their shit, but hey, their loss is our gain.

The Archive has multiple sources of downloadable PS3 games. I’ve been using this particular collection myself, but again, there are plenty of other places to look on there. It’s mostly a great collection, the downsides being that not every game is on there quite yet (I had to go digging through the cellars of the internet for a copy of Armored Core For Answer), and the Archive’s download speeds are incredibly slow; don’t go in expecting to get every Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto immediately.

Now to actually mod your PS3? Well, you know, I don’t want to be one of those people supporting piracy, and as such, I wouldn’t do something like tell you to click on this link here, link a YouTube video telling you how to install a bunch of legally ambiguous programs, or link another YouTube video that shows you how to transfer the games from your PC to your PS3. I also will not tell you that if you want to transfer a game larger than 4 GBs, you’ll want to use an FTP program like FileZilla, and have it connect to the IP address on your PS3 system itself (found in the PS3’s System Settings), then click and drag your games to the “PS3ISO” folder on the PS3. I won’t be doing that. Figure it out on your own, you filthy pirates!

Atomic TV

Atomic TV is/was a public access show from the late 90s-early 2000s that I’ve been checking a few episodes of. From what I’ve seen, it’s a show that takes clips from 1950’s exploitation films, propaganda, and fucked up PSA’s, interspersed with commentary segments and interviewing random people on the street about the theme of the episode. There have also been some episodes focused on music videos and bootleg concert footage of Japanese musicians like Cornelius and Pizzicato Five, which is honestly a pretty amazing service, given that even now, getting Japanese music into Western mediums is pretty difficult.

Cool stuff. I’ve really been getting into watching public access stuff as of late, mostly because here in Colorado, there isn’t much of a scene for it. The best we’ve gotten were:

  • A one-episode “comedy” variety show starring the cast of a series of commercials for a used car dealership. As an aside, if any other Coloradans remember the weird Rocky’s Autos variety hour, please let me know in the comments, so I stop feeling like maybe I made up the whole thing in my head somehow.
  • An extremely irritating series with what are essentially the mascots for a chain of porn shops. The Pleasures Dudes, two middle-aged men acting like Spicolli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High doing obnoxious interviews with porn stars, doing bad commentary over women’s pro wrestling matches, and generally annoying me.
  • A half-hour…thing…by a b-movie actress named Jennifer Day, where her and a couple of strippers dance around in a hotel room in their underwear. This is to sell you on a series of videos where her and a couple of strippers dance around in a hotel room, only they’re naked now.

Incite Magazine

son of the beach!? holy shit…

Incite was a magazine that I read an awful lot as a teenager. Probably because they were constantly getting to interview pro wrestlers and had lots of photoshoots with models with freaking monster titties. Which, as a teen who didn’t have internet at the time, I appreciated.

jeez, who could ever accuse the games industry of being juvenile?

Reading the first issue for this post, and boy it is something. There’s this energy of a desperate, flailing plea to be taken seriously. For games to be taken seriously. It’s a surprise that the first sentence in the issue isn’t, “Video Games: they’re not, heh, for kids anymore!” Celebrity interviews, the aforementioned big titty models, “gadget” reviews, the Maxim-esque layout. Rather than letting the medium of games speak for themselves, Incite has this put-upon attempt at making games “cultured,” like you’re going to an expensive cocktail bar in your finest Versace to discuss the merits of Crazy Taxi. It’s the worst, most obnoxious kind of “lad magazine” bull shit. The kind of thing that led to The United States Armed Forces Presents: G4 TV, the one-sided feud of Gamers vs Roger Ebert, and the subsequent We Demand To Be Taken Seriously games “journalism” of today.

Games do not need that sort of pretentious, elitist validation. Despite everything in this incredibly shitty, toxic industry, the actual games it produces are more than capable of being appreciated on their own terms. Games are very much an artistic medium that can bring out emotions and feelings that other mediums can’t do, or can’t do the same way. Doesn’t matter if it’s Nier Automata or some Pac-Man bootleg you downloaded in a MAME ROMset, they are both important and appreciable on their own merits. And if you’re going to attach this garbage “Vodka on the rocks” aesthetic to games, at least actually play the fucking things, instead of using the same tired writing cliches of the vapid, flighty reviewers of the past.

shocking news: fighting games take time to be proficient at

do not call your pokemon article “yellow peril.”

At least Incite didn’t dedicate any of its pages to calling a rape victim an unreasonable liar who wanted to take down their downtrodden publication. HA! You didn’t think I would take a potshot at Kotaku and noted SWERF n’ TERF Gita Jackson, but YOU THOUGHT WRONG.

Damn…this was supposed to be a post about cool things on the Archive. I guess my teenage memories didn’t hold up to my nearly 35-year old tastes. Let me see if I can’t salvage this and find something else that’s actually cool.

NG Namco Community Magazine

Namco Community Magazine was a Japan-only publication done by Namco themselves. If you are familiar with the Namco Museum Collection, you’re seen a few of these covers before. Being entirely in Japanese, I can’t exactly do much with these other than look at the pictures, and I imagine that this was similar to a Nintendo Power-like “buy our games because they are cool and the best and girls will suck your dick if you play” glorified advertisement. But fuck it, I’m a sucker for old Namco shit.

PC-ENGINE DRUAGA REMAKE!!

That’s it for now. I’ll be coming back to this subject again in April.

racing game round-up march 2021

Today was the first practice session for the Bahrain Grand Prix. This means that F1 season is starting up again (I mean, I guess racing season itself is too, if you ignore the IMSA Endurance races and the Mazda Cup). With that in mind, I thought it would be the perfect time to bring back that thing I do where I play some racing games and then say if they’re good or not. Maybe even make it a monthly thing. The season being over should also explain why I haven’t been doing this for a while.

Initial Drift Online

Before I begin this, quick shout out to my friend, Miffy The Gaming Goddess, for showing me this game.

Initial Drift Online is an open-world street racing game that is currently in Steam Early Access. The elevator pitch for this would probably be “Burnout Paradise meets Initial D.” You drive around various parts of Japan known for their street racing culture, racing other players or delivering tofu for cash, which you then use to either upgrade or buy a new car. It’s a bit bare-bones at the moment, but what’s there is fun enough. Admittedly, it did take me a while to get used to the car handling. I’m so used to games that emphasize you using the brake and slowing down on corners, rather than games like this, where you just spin to win through them. Also, some of the adjustments you can make to your car might not actually work yet. So there’s a bit of a learning curve to IDO.

Now I will say that earning money can be a bit tedious; driving back and forth down long, long, long winding roads to deliver tofu isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. But it’s worth it when you have a car that can actually hold its own in a race. I am looking forward to seeing Initial Drift’s progress, and come back to this once there’s some more stuff to do. As it is, I kind of have to keep this write-up short, as there isn’t much else to say. Mostly wanted to plug a nice little indie game I played. It’s fun and it’s cheap. So put on your favorite Eurobeat and take some corners.

Ridge Racer 7

After about two years of pulling out my hair, banging my head on the wall, and not getting anything resembling a straight answer from the internet, I finally got my PS3 modded yesterday! I’ll get around to doing a post on that once I get more than two games on there. Anyways. One of those two games was Ridge Racer 7, because you need a Ridge Racer on your Playstation console, even if you get it about 14 years too late.

For a game that came in 2007, early in the PS3’s life, Ridge Racer still looks really good. I shouldn’t be so shocked, since Namco games always have an amazing art style and a timeless look, but it’s still interesting to see a game developed during a tumultuous period for the PS3 not look like hot garbage. It should go without saying that it sounds good too. I mean, duh, Ridge Racer always has great music. It has some sick EDM, as racing games should, but it also features a couple of songs from this nameless genre that seems to exist mostly in Japanese video games. You know the kind, with the somber piano set to unusual techno beats, sometimes suddenly shifting into a different sound altogether. RR7 does it, Phantasy Star Online does it, Opoona does it, Tekken 7 does it, Blue Reflection (fuck) does it. Whatever it is, I fucking love it.

Ridge Racer 7 owns. This is the kind of racing game you play if you’re only in the mood for “car go fast brrr,” and don’t feel like constantly having to make adjustments and do hard things like look at numbers. I don’t mean that as an insult; sometimes you just want to feel the sensation of going fast in a hurry. When you come to grips with how the cars handle, playing well is so goddamn satisfying. Getting that perfect drift that fills up your boost gauge (this game has a boost gauge now), and leaving the other cars in your dust is so good. A term you could use to describe Ridge Racer 7, or any Ridge Racer for matter, is “effortless style.” Playing well takes time, but it looks so easy when you get it.

i’m thinkin’ about dig-dug

If there’s any game you decide to play after reading this post, please make it Ridge Racer.

Cosmic Race

Now we’re going from an early PS3 game, to an early PS1 game.You may not know about this game, as it never left Japan. A pretty good reason as to why it never left Japan is because Cosmic Race is widely considered one of the worst games on the system. And boy, is it ever! Mostly because it controls like absolute shit, is somehow completely nonsensical despite being a racing game, and is said that a good chunk of the game’s graphics are default assets from the Playstation Development Kit. Actually playing the game feels legitimately unfinished. I don’t mean unfinished in the sense that one or two things feel rushed, but there is still a whole product, like most games. No, I mean unfinished as in, if I released a demo of one of the games I’m working on to Itchio.biz right now, it would be as much of a game as Cosmic Race.

This was as far as I got in Gran Prix mode. The rival car (the only one you have to beat, despite there being like a dozen flying cars in front of you at any given time) goes super fast, and I could never get used to the control scheme of strafing with the d-pad and turning with the face buttons. You won’t get used to it, either.

It is extremely not good. Which, of course, also makes it great for all the wrong reasons. The secret to Cosmic Race is to not actually play the racing mode. This sounds weird, I know, but there is another mode to the game that is almost enjoyable. In it, you fly around looking for three markers as quickly as possible. This is pretty much impossible, as the markers will randomly disappear and reappear, and your guide are two arrows pointing you in completely arbitrary directions. You’ll never finish this mode, either. But what I do like about it is simply floating around in this low-poly world where nothing makes sense. It’s almost kind of scary; it’s like playing a dream. But I love it.

I would liken Cosmic Race to the Playstation equivalent of Death Crimson. Depending on what kind of person you are, this is either a huge recommendation, or a huge condemnation. Check it out.

Well then, that’s three games covered. I think I will return to this some time in the next month, turning it into a feature for the rest of the racing season. Look forward to it!

an update on some stuff i’m working on

Hello everyone. I figured that for this post, instead of talking about other people’s media, I would talk about my own. Specifically, how things are going, what I’m doing, and what you should expect to eventually come out during the year. I would normally reserve this my extremely neglected Patreon, but I don’t think anyone actually reads that, so it’s going here.

I’ve been hard at work on a number of things. One of those things is an action-RPG. The name of it is “Knights of Wardinia.” In it, you play as, well uh, a knight, and you fight monsters and explore dungeons and stuff. Good news is that the hard part of the game is done; I spent a good couple of weeks creating and debugging an experience system, so you become stronger and have more health after killing enough things, like in any RPG. Now I’m currently in the process of putting the actual world together, so that exploration makes sense and the difficulty of the combat is reasonable. Look forward to this coming out eventually.



Some of you may know that I’ve also been learning how to make things in the Unreal Engine. Sorry, I meant Unreal Engine 4: the noble and pedigreed middleware from Epic Games. I had been working on a cutesy, brightly-colored platformer that I had titled “Astro Smash.” I’ll go ahead and post some in-progress shots here.

Now, the problem with this game is that 1) learning Unreal is actually really fucking hard, given that I have almost zero programming knowledge to speak of, 2) every Unreal tutorial worth its salt is demanding that I make a shooter instead, and 3) I’m starting to realize that this game’s main gimmick would probably work better on a 2D plane. I’m not dropping or cancelling this game, but for the time being, I may put it on the backburner, or turn it into another 2D game.

Much as I loathe to give in to peer pressure, if I want to learn how this engine works, I may need to say fuck it and make a damn shooter like everyone wants. But I wouldn’t do any regular ass shooter. No, I plan on bringing back a long-forgotten FPS sub-genre: the mecha corridor shooter! I’m a pretty big fan of stuff like Kileak, Space Griffon VF-9, and the most awesomely titled IRON ANGEL OF THE APOCALYPSE. Games where you are in a large robot, moving down cramped, atmospheric environments, and shooting stuff. I want to make a game that still maintains the aesthetic of a PSX game, but without making yet another jump scare horror game. I can’t make humans in 3D to save my fucking life, but I’m at least half-decent at making vehicles and locations. This theoretical project would at least play to my strengths.

Something you may have noticed in my post about Valis 2 is that I’m bringing Slimegirl back. Slimegirl was already in one game I’ve made, and I had been working on a second, when a couple of things went down and halted development until recently. One, I fell victim to the dreaded “scope creep,” where as I learned new things, I would find a way to include them in the game, meaning that it would take longer and never get done. Two, some musician took the name “Slimegirls” and decided to be a sex creep late last year, which really turned me off from my own character for a time. But fuck that, the people love Slimegirl; it’s probably the most enduring design I’ve ever made. The fact that at least two people have worn Slimegirl t-shirts in public is pretty damn cool. So I think I’ll get back into working on that, but remembering to maintain the KISS style. I don’t mean Knights In Satan’s Service, I mean: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Have a goal, and run straight for it. Scrapping a lot of the cruft, and sticking to a fun platformer where you shoot stuff and the characters say funny and vulgar things.

Outside of games, I would like to get back into making poetry. Girl Zone was surprisingly popular and well received, and I thought it was rewarding to make them. We’ll see; I don’t want to stretch myself too thin, here. I’m working on a bunch of games, trying to make at least one blog post per week, being involved with streams and podcasts, trying to get tournament ready in fighting games, and also having an actual day job and real life obligations. Not to mention continuing to work on my own mental health. February was honestly pretty rough, what with the whole, “transphobic game journos who harassed my friends for years are now publicly comparing a rape victim they all exploited to Peter fucking Thiel, a literal blood sucking white supremacist” thing going on, bringing up a lot of bad memories that I’ve actively tried to get over. And by “get over,” I mean “completely ignore until my brain finally breaks.”

In any case, this was a post to let people know that I’m not just fucking around with old video games and wrestling pay-per-views, and that your support, whether it be moral or monetary, is appreciated. I am actively working on things. And I guess this post is more of a reminder to myself that, oh yeah, making big projects like this takes a little while, especially when you’re flying solo, and I probably should stop stressing that it’s not all done right fucking now.

wwe 2k battlegrounds

A bit of a story here: I was in the middle of writing the rough draft for my Valis post a couple weeks ago, when I got pinged on Discord. A friend had messaged me, asking if I wanted a Steam code for this game. Not one to turn down a free video game, I said yes. I didn’t press the issue as to how exactly he got this game. I hope it was from a bundle, because nobody should be gifting me $60 video games for the hell of it. Well, unless you’re one of my Niteflirt customers, in which case, you fucking paypigs need to get me a Super Cassette Vision and a bunch of its games, specifically Pop and Chips.

Now then, the game itself.

WWE 2k20 was an absolute joke. Even if you don’t care about wrestling, video games, or wrestling video games, you knew what a piece of shit it was. It looked like shit, and it played like shit. 2k20 was mostly infamous for its bugs. The game was very obviously released unfinished. This was mostly due to the series developer Yukes leaving mid-way through production, with the resulting development in the hands of an inexperienced team that had no idea how their engine worked. I guess after nearly twenty years of making the same game over and over, not enjoying it, all while having to deal with a revolving door of unstable publishers and WWE itself breathing down you neck, you finally have enough. And like everyone else who’s sick of Vince McMahon’s shit, Yukes now works for AEW. To say that the game suffered because of this would be an understatement. Ultimately, the only thing 2k20 was good for were the NewLegacy streams that followed.

As a result, it would be announced that WWE would not have a game released in 2020. The time would be spent coming to grips with how the game worked, and make something that didn’t suck.

But then there was a game released in 2020, and that was 2k Battlegrounds.

2k Battlegrounds was meant as an “apology” for how bad 2k20 was. Instead of a boring Sports Entertainment sim, we were getting this over-the-top action-fighting game. Something along the lines of the Stone Cold (heh) classic, Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game, or, fuck, WWE All-Stars. Brief aside: I have never played All-Stars. I head it was really good, but I couldn’t get over the art style, which is one of the few times a games’ art has ever actually offended me. I’m just saying, maybe it’s a bad idea to give your roster exaggerated muscle definition, looking like a bunch of steroid monsters, especially given that about half the characters are actually dead in real life due to substance abuse issues; I don’t want to be reminded how grossly big Eddie Guerrero was prior to his actual death, thank you.

Anyways. 2k Games wanted to apologize for giving us an ugly, badly playing, buggy wrestling game released at full price with a bunch of microtransactions by…giving us an ugly, badly playing, buggy wrestling game released at full price with a bunch of microtransaction.

I hate to focus so much on the graphics of a game, but I have to here. Battlegrounds is fucking hideous. It attempts to use a chibi-fied, super deformed look, and fails miserably. It’s not cute, and everyone looks like they got something wrong with them. You will never get used to how this looks, and I hope that this does not become a trend. Some things were never meant to be, and I think a chibi Bray Wyatt or Hulk Hogan are among them.

this is supposed to be a terrifying murder demon

You pick your ugly little Superstarstm and then you have a match. I played this on the medium difficulty, and either I would finish a match in about thirty seconds because my opponent no resistance whatsoever, or the AI would counter every single move I attempted and draw the match out to a time limit draw. Because of everyone’s stubby little limbs, your attacks have no range to them, and any move that does any real damage takes stamina, stamina that is constantly draining. Every match quickly degenerates to doing big moves, hoping the AI doesn’t have a response to all of them, then either throwing shitty punches that don’t connect, or even better, standing back and doing nothing until you’re recovered. In real wrestling, when the wrestlers are tired, they at least put someone in a headlock first. At least recover in a way that isn’t completely boring! For something that’s supposed to be fast-paced and “arcade-like” (whatever the fuck that means), having guys run out of breath completely kills the pacing.

steam went down literally as soon as i installed this

There’s a story mode. It also sucks. You don’t get to play as any of the wrestlers you see on TV. You instead play as a bunch of OCs that can best be described as: “douchebag,” “another douchebag,” “another douchebag that is probably a racist caricature,” and “I stopped playing this mode because I don’t care anymore.” The cutscenes are presented via comic panels where a badly drawn Steve Austin is looking for new talent for WWE, I guess because the current talent is all going to AEW and Impact. Because, you know, that fits the character of Steve “took wrestling to new heights of popularity by beating the shit out of his boss on TV” Austin.

pretty sure this is racist

You’ll probably have to play this anyway, because it’s how you get enough “Battle Bucks” to unlock hidden characters. In Battlegrounds, “hidden” means “about 90% of the game’s roster.” Oh did you want to play as multiple time world champion Daniel Bryan? Better pay up! You want Becky Lynch? You know, the same Becky Lynch who main evented Wrestlemania a few years ago? Earn those Battle Bucks, bitch! Rob Gronkowski, an NFL player, is available by default, yet just about everyone who made WWE programming tolerable for all these years are hidden from view. How fitting.

I went looking through the roster, to see who was considered the most valuable. The most expensive wrestlers in Battlegrounds are:

  • Hulk Hogan
  • Triple H
  • Ronda Rousey
  • Vince McMahon

So you can save up all that money and buy a racist, a guy who killed the company for about half a decade due to his ego (you can even argue that WWE has still never recovered from his run at the top), a TERF, and a literal supervillain. The fact that McMahon is worth more than most of the talent he hires really is the best unintentional statement, isn’t it?

That’s really all there is to 2k Battlegrounds. It sucks, but it sucks in a boring, ugly way. At least with the mainline games, you can at least laugh at how buggy they are. Battlegrounds is just…there. It doesn’t succeed, but it also doesn’t fail in any spectacular way. I played it for about a week, then I put it away, realizing that I had seen all there was to offer. Games like this are built around having lots of replay value, and this doesn’t. Really, all I can say is that 2k Battlegrounds is the video game equivalent of modern day WWE: throwing bad ideas at a wall to see what will stick; what will bring back a deflated audience and a low public opinion. At risk of sounding like a fangirl, I would say to stick it out and wait for the AEW game. I can at least say that when AEW fucks up, I still have fun.

valis 2

There exists, mostly in the 16-bit era (though one could extend that all the way to the PS2 days), this particular aesthetic. It’s a look that’s a bit hard to explain, but I will try my best. I’ve referred to it as a “late-night” aesthetic. Dark graphics, music that goes ridiculously hard, some cool body horror shit, nice amounts of blood, at least a moderate amount of jank, that sort of thing. Like the video game equivalent of an exploitation film, or an angry queer zine. The Sega Mega Drive and the NEC PC-Engine were the absolute best at this (honorable mention to “Psycho Dream” on the Super Famicom), with lots of games that perfectly fit this mold of dirty, violent games that you play on a Saturday night, right before the midnight an*me block airs on TV. For some better examples, check out my post on pre-Sonic Genesis games.

Valis 2 is a game that almost matches this description perfectly. I’ll explain that “almost” later. This grungy looking action game starring a girl in a chainmail bikini, shooting and stabbing large monsters in this weird looking hellscape. It is extremely cool.

That’s pretty much it to Valis, really. At worst, it’s a competently made shooter. But that’s not what’s important; sometimes, there’s more to a game than solid mechanics and design. It’s style. It’s attitude. Valis 2 is loaded with these things. This has never been an especially deep series, mostly relying on its cutscenes and sex appeal to turn some heads.

I guess I should probably give some context here for the younger readers: Valis 2 was released in 1989. I did an extremely brief amount of research to see what else came out around this time. This game was released two months before the Sega Mega Drive, and around the same time as NES games like Duck Tales and Castlevania 3. At the very least, Valis should be recognized for being ahead of its time. I mean, this was a CD game released at a time when most PCs didn’t even have a CD drive. Animated sequences and music with actual instrumentation (or at least a really good synthesizer) long before it was the norm. Granted, these cutscenes were not full-screen, and were surrounded by this ugly green border, but they are animated, which is something games weren’t really doing at the time.

Even now, I’m still kind of blown away by the presentation. The first level throws you right into things: fighting a bunch of monsters in the middle of the city at night, while this extremely awesome, pumping tune plays in the background. Then after you defeat the first boss, you do a Magical Girl transformation into your battle bikini and continue to kick ass. It’s almost very cool.

Valis 2 is a great representation of this strange transitory time of the late 80s into the early 90s. This time where technological limitations eased up a little bit, allowing directors and artists to go hog wild with their ideas, putting all the blood and tits and swear words they want into these games. A time when developers wanted to aim for an older audience, or at least aim towards endlessly immature and easily entertained idiots like myself. Give me some cool, murky visuals and pumping music to kill things to.

I’ve been putting off the elephant in the room this whole time, so let me go off on this right now: I keep stressing the word almost. This is almost a great game. This is almost a great aesthetic. What keeps Valis 2, and the Valis series as a whole, from being as awesome as it could be is the sexualization of its women. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not some prude whose face will melt like a nazi from Indiana Jones if I so much as see half a boob; the fact that I have written multiple posts about pornography will attest to that. Normally, some hot girls in skimpy outfits killing things is right up my alley. You find a way to convert this concept into a liquid form and inject it into my veins, and it would be a stronger drug than heroin.

No, the problem with the sex appeal of Valis is that Yuko, the main character, is only sixteen years old. That’s fucking gross. I had assumed that she was at least eighteen, which isn’t much better (I don’t fuck with anyone under 21), but it’s also not much worse. According to the Valis fan wiki (because goddamn everything has a fan wiki these days), Yuko is sixteen throughout all of the games, except for Valis 4, the one game where she’s not a playable character. This means that not only is she sixteen in this game, running around in a battle bikini, but she’s sixteen in the PC-Engine remake of Valis 1, where you see her underwear every time she jumps. This also means that she was sixteen in Valis X, the fucking actual straight up porn game. The appeal of Valis is that the main character wears little clothing, but also the main character is a child. This might sound appealing if you’re a Libertarian or if you’re Hideki Naganuma, but not so much for the rest of us. Either have your j/o material be an adult, or go in the opposite direction with a non-sexual Magical Girl set up. You absolutely cannot have it both ways on this.

With that massive disappointment out of the way, it’s a fucking shame. It’s a shame because other than that, Valis 2 is really good! The worst you can say about it is that maybe the levels are a little too flat and monotonous. Luckily, this version of the game keeps the titillation to a minimum, so it’s a bit easier to put it out of your mind. I’m told that the computer versions of the game are significantly more risque in that regard. I say “I’m told” because I can’t get the X68000 version of the game to actually fucking work, so I’ll take that claim at face value. As it is, I do hate that Valis has that shadow over it that a lot of other games in this sub-genre I just made up manage to avoid. I wish I could like this game more.

I’m also taking the time to talk about the Sega Genesis port of the game. Somehow, someway, I played this as a child. I saw the cover at the video store, and knew that this was the game I wanted to rent for the weekend.

Valis SD, or Syd of Valis as it’s known over here, because the localizers didn’t give a fuck, is a cutesy reinterpretation of Valis 2. It also sucks really bad. It controls like shit, taking a single hit will cause you to fly all over the screen like a ping-pong ball, hit detection is a joke, and it does the Ninja Gaiden bull shit of having an enemy immediately meet you as soon as you make a precarious jump. Not a fun game by any stretch.

Of course, I was a kid, and didn’t know any better. I still liked it a lot, to the point of renting it multiple times. And I’m pretty sure I never made it past level 3 in any of my attempts. These days, I can finish it with almost no problem, but I’m not really enjoying myself when I do it. It is bad. The exact opposite to how fun the PC-Engine game is. At least the art style discourages the whole “please masturbate to these children” thing.

I really just want to shit-talk the localization, or lack thereof, because I can only say “this game is really fucking bad” so many times. I had mentioned being attracted to the game’s cover for whatever reason my child brain liked about it. As an adult, I’m only just now finding out that I was attracted to the cover of a completely different game.

This is actually the cover to a PC-Engine game called Sugoroku ’92 Nari Tore Nariagari Trendy. Yuko is now “Syd,” because nobody knew that “SD” meant “Super Deformed,” as in the art style the game used. Fun fact: because I was a stupid child, I didn’t know that “Syd” was an actual name, so I pronounced the title “Side” of Valis. In addition, a bunch of dialogue was left in Japanese. Whoever at Renovation, or Telenet, or whatever one of the six hundred different sub-labels that company had was in charge of translating this game gave up and went to bed pretty early on.

To its credit, Syd of Valis at least has the multiple costume/weapons inventory that the computer games allegedly have, giving it an iota of depth. And it has this fucking great looking turtle:

love this turtle, man

I guess in the end, Valis 2/Valis Syd SD are games I wish I liked more, but can’t. That’s either due to being gross, or being absolute dog shit to play, respectively. Valis 2 on the PC-Engine is still an important game, but maybe scrub your hands with soap and water after you’re done playing.

gonbee no i’m sorry

The wonderful thing about emulation and games preservation is that it allows us to discover a new treasure every day. In the nearly infinitely large library of video games, you are never at a loss for something to check out. There’s always some new discovery to make, a new favorite to add to your list.

And then also really weird fucking shit like this.

I’m Sorry is the biographical tale of Kakuei Tanaka, the former Prime Minister of Japan, and later a member of its House of Representatives, who fell from grace after he got caught taking somewhere between $1.8 million to $3 million in bribes from Lockheed-Martin in exchange for better negotiations for new fighter planes. This game features a lot of moments of this time in his life, such as: punching Japanese comedians with a fist nearly as large as his head, running from a statue of himself that somehow came to life, picking up lots of gold bars and bringing them back to the House of Representatives, and jumping over a rolling barrel. Surprisingly realistic for 1985.

I’m Sorry is like Pac-Man meets Dateline. It’s a maze game where you have to avoid an ever-threatening group of enemies, while collecting as much as gold as you can carry back to the home base. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that. It does however, get really fucking hard really quick. I would be lying if I acted like this game was a new discovery for me; I played the shit out of this as a teenager. Or at least, as much as one could play the shit out of an arcade game that never ends. Finding this ROM hanging around on the internet and wondering what exactly the fuck an “I’m Sorry” is led me to this wonderful game. And I’m Sorry is a good game. It’s difficult, yes, but also a lot of fun. Probably more fun than it has any right to be, but still fun nonetheless.

Something that I’m Sorry shines in is its use of pop culture. Tanaka’s enemies in this game are far worse than public opinion or any oversight committee. No, he has to deal with movie stars and musicians!

The first enemy you encounter (aside from the ever present and murderous Barrel) is famous Japanese comedian Tamori. When I played this as a teen, I had assumed that he was like a yakuza member, or whatever Japan’s equivalent to a tax agent is (probably a tax agent). Tamori is an early-game preliminary enemy who vanishes after the fourth level. He doesn’t really do much, other than run around and try to catch you.

But when he does catch you? You are treated to what is easily the single greatest death animation in the history of video games. Here it is:

The medium of games peaked in 1985, and nobody knew about it.

This next enemy, the internet informs me, is supposed to be legendary pro wrestler Shohei “Giant” Baba. Bull shit. This is obviously a buff Bill Cosby. I mean, this was the 80’s, a time when we all believed Cosby to be America’s Dadtm, and not a craven sex criminal. Anyways, Bill Cosby takes about a million punches to kill, so you’re better off trying to jump over him. What a fucking sentence.

Here’s a cool picture of Giant Baba (the REAL Giant Baba) smoking a cigar:

Here it is, everyone: Michael Jackson’s first appearance in a Sega game. Other than Moonwalking everywhere, he’s more or less a replacement for Tamori. He at least turns into a zombie and bites you, sticking to the canonical ending of Thriller.

I have no idea who this is. He’s some dude who jumps around all over the level. Judging from the attire and the hair, I’m going to assume that it’s a time traveling Kurt Angle, making a video game appearance 11 years before he won the Olympic gold with a Broken Freakin’ Neck.

And then there’s Madonna. She’s there. She blows long range kisses that can kill you. I’m not much of a Madonna fan, sorry to say.

Despite the game relying entirely on knowledge of contemporary Japanese politics to understand it, I’m Sorry managed to, somehow, get a release in the US. I can’t imagine that it was a big release or anything; never saw it at any arcade I ever went to, but that’s definitely the strangest and most baffling thing about this game. Maybe Sega and Coreland thought that it would succeed on the strength of it’s unofficial celebrity endorsements and kids at school telling their friends about this game “that’s kinda like Pac-Man, but with like, more stuff to do.” Games have thrived on less.

Something about I’m Sorry that I really appreciate is that I kind of miss this era of games. A time where you could make whatever weird ass shit you wanted and release it into the mass market. You can only do that on an independent level now, to a much smaller, more focused audience. It’s a real shame.

Now then, M2, where is our I’m Sorry Switch port?

GOTY 2021 CRUELTY SQUAD

It’s only March, but I’ve already decided what 2021’s best game is. The title already gave it away, it’s fucking Cruelty Squad.

There’s this meme that’s been going for around the last year or so: i want shorter games with worse graphics made by people who are paid more to work less and i’m not kidding.It has since become something of a rallying cry against the suffocating culture surrounding “prestige” AAA video games, and the White Boy Indie Games that want to be just like them. I’m not here to regurgitate the tired “AAA vs Indie” argument that’s been done to death for about fifteen years. Not every AAA game is bad; Tekken, Resident Evil, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater all count as AAA games. Likewise, not every Indie game is this profound work of art, mostly the ones made by people who post threats in my comments section or hang around with TERFs.

I bring this up because this line is what Cruelty Squad best represents. I have to be careful here, because I need to find the right term to describe this game, but without making it sound disparaging. “Trash.” “Garbage.” “Ugly.” These are terms I’ve seen used to describe Cruelty Squad. Most of the people who say this are not necessarily wrong, mind you, it’s just that to anyone who isn’t a fucked up, problematic, twice-cancelled artist, these sound like insults rather than terms of endearment. I will instead say “aggressively unpolished.” A sardonic shitpost of a vid con with biting commentary that is delivered in a gruesome, extremely violent way. The kind of “messy” art that usually ends with you getting called a brownshirt by a cis woman who’s mad she wasn’t the center of attention for five minutes. It’s brutal. It’s hard as fuck. It’s funny; actually funny, not Borderlands-style “does anyone here like MEMES” bull shit. And the most important thing is the game is actually good. Not ironically good. Good good. This distinction needs to be made here.

So what exactly is Cruelty Squad? For starters, it’s a first person shooter. To be reductive, I would say to imagine what would happen if Hotline Miami was actually good. Fast, objective-based combat with multiple guns to kill people with. You can take different routes, or use an alternate play style, in each level. You can go loud with big guns and mow down everything that moves, or you can take the silent route by sneaking around with silenced guns or by kicking things so hard they explode into a shower of gore. It’s fucking cool as fuck.

Everything takes place in these big, non-linear (at least until the last level) landscapes. There’s no railroaded “Press F To Pay Respects” here. Because you often times have to assassinate more than one person, you can use these environments to pick your spot, so to speak. So you don’t just plan out how you’re going to kill something, with your weapons and your equipment, but where and how. It’s the little things that make this a game worth coming back to. Also, the game is really fucking hard, so you’ll be replaying levels because you keep dying. But that’s fine, hard games are good.

The whole of Cruelty Squad feels like a fucked up dream. One of those dreams where everything makes sense, until you wake up and think about what you saw and did and realize that it was absolute nonsense. The world looks weird. The people look weird. You just sort of teleport around as things just sort of happen. You walk through a wall and have to fight weird looking monsters. You unquestioningly go out of your way to murder an elected official at the mall, a mall with a store simply called “PUNISHMENT” that only sells Funko Pops. The only thing it’s missing is a level where you stock shelves at your old job with your 7th grade math teacher, and a level where you’re back in high school with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, only to realize that you graduated over a decade ago and can leave whenever you want. Few games can pull off the feeling of a lucid dream, even a game about literal dreams. Cruelty Squad does it in terrifying detail. A unique, scary experience.

Cruelty Squad is the game of 2021 because it is an important piece of art. A surrealist commentary on depression, social media, corporations parasocially trying to be your friend, the co-opting of leftist language for sinister means, pretty much anything you can hate about the world in these Roaring Twenties. The gaming equivalent of a mentally broken person, covered in blood, screaming incoherently at the sky. Raw and vulnerable, the final form of art. Despite the garish colors and angular models, Cruelty Squad is the most beautiful game I’ve played in years.