Your honor, I’d like to present Exhibit A: One Panel of Pain!
From the exceedingly Edgeworth-heavy Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney v.2, which could really use more Franziska von Karma. But really, what couldn’t?
Earlier today, it was finally announced that the classic Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is being re-released for XBox Live Arcade and PlayStation Marketplace so that a new generation can experience the watershed 2D fighting game that represents the only time that Cable has ever been useful.
And that means it’s time to celebrate!
Have fun gettin’ that out of your head without a speargun and a shot of grain alcohol, kids.
Long-time ISB readers may recall that my love of comics is only slightly greater than my love of video games. In fact, if I’d chosen a slightly different crappy retail job a few years ago, I might be spending my time making jokes about Flashman or The Many Emotions of Navi (well, two emotions: “Hey!” and “Listen!”) instead of the beloved four-color comedy that I’ve ended up with. Point being, I love video games, and lately a lot of that love has been directed at one in particular:
Now, I’ve always been a fan of light-gun games and rail shooters, going back to a childhood of afternoons spent at Aladdin’s Castle in the mall, pumping quarters into Lethal Enforcers, despite the inevitable, poorly modulated end-of-level demotion back to PATROLMAN. By the way, quick Protip for anyone involved in a bank robbery where guys stand up one-by-one and are cut down by a guy moving robotically through the bank, accompanied by a constant voice telling him to reload: Don’t Stand Up. You’ll save us both a lot of trouble.
Anyway, if you really want to get into it, I guess it started–as all things do–with Duck Hunt, although unlike Lethal Enforcers, that was a game that was just as fun if you turned the console off and just pretended you were shooting Televipers or something. But still, there was just something about the tactile experience of holding a gun rather than just a controller, and over the years, it made me a fan of Lucky & Wild, Area 51 (especially after I found out about the Super-Secret Kron Hunter Mode from, I believe, an actual issue of GamePro), Time Crisis, Virtua Cop, Ninja Assault, Police 911 (which, owing to the motion sensor that actually detects how you’re standing or ducking behind objects, is the only game I’ve actually been sore from playing), and of course, House of the Dead.
The latter appealed to me not just because it was a game about blowing away zombies chunk by glowing green chunk, but also because of its hilarious tendency to take itself way too seriously. I mean really, have you played House of the Dead 2? It is trying so hard to be genuinely scary in a game that involves a fifteen foot-tall knight with a battleaxe and a glowing weak point the size of a Volkswagen that it’s just adorable.
Needless to say, this is not a problem in Overkill, which is the only game for the Wii that includes the line “I’m gonna rip your motherfuckin’ balls off!”
So let’s get this out of the way here: Did you guys see Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse: Planet Terror? Because the guys who made Overkill sure as hell did, and they liked it so much that they decided to just go ahead and make the unlicensed video game adaptation of it. Seriously, they put the “aged film” filter on it, the cutscenes are done up like ’70s shlock horror trailers, there’s even a “Missing Reel” gag. Heck, the whole thing starts out with an actual live action stripping sequence. It is downright shameless.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I’m a sucker for a ’70s style aesthetic, and while Overkill wanders off into being a pastiche of a pastiche, it hits the right notes, and the end result is something that’s actually funny because it’s meant to be, bundled in with a game that’s hours of mindless, ultraviolent fun. Or maybe not entirely mindless: The fact that your hits-in-a-row counter goes away at 30 and gets replaced with a waving American Flag? That’s actually pretty clever. And hilarious.
As for the game itself, well, it’s about as deep as a kiddie pool. I mean, it’s a rail shooter. There is literally nothing more to it than pointing and shooting. There’s a nominal attempt at adding depth by letting you unlock and choose between more powerful weapons as the game progresses–and by adding in features like Extra
Zombies Mutants and a harder, extended (tee hee) “Director’s Cut” mode–but I’m pretty sure those are just there to make sure the game lives up to the “Overkill” tag. I had a friend over and we decided to see what would happen if we both chose the Assault Rifle and just held down the buttons so that we were never not shooting.
But again, that’s part of the fun, just tearing through armies of the undead from the comfort of your own living room. And as something to fill the hours between beating The Lost and Damned and the arrival of Chinatown Wars, it definitely did its job. If you’ve got a Wii, check it out.
Otherwise… Well, Detective Washington may have some choice words for you later.
Some of you may have noticed that while my previous focus during Spooktoberfest has been directed towards more witchity matters, this year’s had a pretty heavy emphasis on vampires. From Hellsing to Tomb of Dracula, from Becky Burdock to the Man From Transilvane, things have been downright Nosferatish around here all month, and believe it or not, there’s a reason for that.
Along with carving the Jack O’Lantern and plotting to get my Christmas tree up as early as is socially acceptable, one of my Halloween traditions is a marathon play-through of the greatest side-scrolling, platform-jumping, vampire-whipping video game saga of all time: Castlevania.
Of course, given that the original NES title spawned something like eight thousand sequels, I don’t play through all of them, but with the classic Symphony of the Night available for PSP and XBox Live and the best generation of Castlevania happening on the current generation of handhelds (largely because they’ve been using SOTN as the blueprint to build on since the GameBoy Advance), there was more than enough to keep me busy in the run-up to this month’s release of the latest title, Order of Ecclesia.
But sadly, like so many things I love, their brief union with the world of comics was… well, not very good.
Released with a resounding thud in 2005, IDW’s Castlevania: The Belmont Legacy came courtesy of Marc Andreyko (of DC’s Manhunter) and E.J. Su (of TechJacket), and I think it’s safe to say that it’s not their best work. Which, when you think about it, is pretty odd.
Admittedly, licensed horror comics based around video games probably aren’t going to be anyone’s ticket to the Eisner Awards, but when you consider just how much there is to work with in Castlevania, owing to its firm roots in Nintendo Logic, it’s surprising that they didn’t just go all out with it. I mean, this is a series that had to have an entire game built around explaining why the main character fights Dracula with a whip (aside from the fact that it was easier to draw a straight line of pixels than anything else, and the kids love Indiana Jones anyway), so trust me, there’s plenty there to explore.
Me, I would’ve gone for Castlevania III in an attempt to explain how a vampire hunter, a pirate and a witch hooked up with Dracula’s kid in the first place, but instead, Andreyko tells the story of Christopher Belmont:
As the protagonist of the GameBoy titles, Christopher’s probably the least-known hero of the series, which makes him a pretty strange choice to build a series around, but that also means that he’s a essentially a blank slate. Plus, he’s got one of the best titles of the series, Belmont’s Revenge, from back when everything had to involve Symphonies and Arias and Harmonies and Rondos and the Cha-Cha of the Damned or whatever. And yes: You do see his sex face. So really, everything should be good to go, except for one glaring problem.
There is no Goddamn castle in this story.
Okay, well, that’s an exaggeration. There is a castle, but Christopher’s only in it for a grand total of three pages, and everything of any importance takes place either in a village or in a cave. Seriously, dude fights Dracula in a fucking cave. Which would be fine, if this were Caveavania, but it’s not.
Look, I might be a bit of a purist here, and I’ll admit that I’m probably a little more emotionally invested in the series than the average guy, but I imagine that the target audience for a tie-in comic is going to be the same way, and there are certain things I expect to see from a Castlevania book. The series is essentially a Haunted House story writ large, and it oughtta reflect that. I want an entrance hall with zombies in it. I want someone to fight their way from the ground up to confront Dracula. I want a damn Clock Tower where you fight Death itself.
In short, I want a Castle, and considering that this thing is called Castlevania, I don’t think that’s too much to ask, now is it?!
Whoa. Sorry about that, guys. I know I get a little carried away sometimes, but c’mon: We’ve all played Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. We know how bad things can get when there’s no Castle involved.
So what do they do in lieu of looking for save points and grinding for swords in the Inverted Library? Well, considering that this thing is a five-issue mini-series, not a whole hell of a lot.
In fact, aside from a graveyard full of zombies that’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds, there’s not a lot of monster-fighting at all. Instead, the first issue is devoted mostly to Senor Belmont’s wedding to future kidnapping victim Illya, which is the source of some consternation to Lord Bartley and his daughter Sona, who will be playing the role of the Buxom Harlot this evening:
Coincidentally, that is exactly what Christopher wants, but that’s beside the point here.
With her affections are sternly rebuked and Illya going off to get hitched, Sona does what so many broken-hearted young girls have done in her situation: She goes to resurrect Dracula, the Ultimate Lord of Evil, who is once again given flesh and then steadfastly refuses to wear clothes at any point for the rest of the series:
Thus, Belmont goes off to kill Dracula, Mrs. Belmont sneaks off to help and is immediately taken hostage by the forces of evil, a couple of supporting characters whose names I didn’t catch get turned into vampires, everybody fights in a cave, and it all somehow works out okay.
Seriously, that’s it. There is even less plot here than in the original game, but it goes on for five issues without even a single Medusa Head.
And yet, it does have this.
The Dracula Fetus.
Why they put a question mark after “The End” there, the world may never know.
So a few weeks ago, I was looking for a new DS game to play because–and I’m being totally honest here–Contra 4 is just too damn hard. Seriously, Easy Mode? No problem, I can bust right through. But once you set that thing on Medium, well… Let’s just say that if I’d been in charge back in the ’80s, we’d all be speaking Red Falcon right now.
In any case, I’d done all I could with it, and since the new Castlevania won’t be out ’til October, I had to find something to fill the gap, and settled on this…
The World Ends With You
RPGs–and especially JRPGs–aren’t really my thing, so I was a little apprehensive. I mean, the last one I played that I gave a crap about that didn’t have the words “Paper” or “Mario” in the title was probably Final Fantasy X, and even those fond memories are somewhat tainted by the fact that, well-endowed goth girl calling down lightning on your enemies aside, your main character was the dream of an ancient civilization whose father was a sea monster or something, which is a job that requires you to wear the stupidest outfit ever.
Beyond that, though, there’s the simple fact that it’s just not my favorite genre. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that, at least when you’re discussing the traditional Square game, they don’t offer the same sense of accomplishment. In other kinds of games, you get better as you play, like in Grand Theft Auto IV. The driving in the game can be awkward at first, but with enough practice, you’ll be drifting around corners and exchanging small arms fire with an entire police precinct in no time.
With RPGs, though, the emphasis is on the characters rather than the player, so it’s impossible to be good at them. You just have to be patient, because anybody with enough time to kill can level their guy up to Supreme Badass and get a Sun Crest or whatever and thoroughly demolish whatever token resistance the game offers up in the guise of a challenge.
Sure, there are games that manage to combine the two pretty well, like the stat system in San Andreas, and as much as I love Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the games modeled after it, there’s enough pointless grinding in them to breed a hundred Golden Chocobos, but they’re not easy to come by.
So needless to say, I was going into it as a skeptic, but it got some dynamite reviews, and with the urging of The Rack’s Benjamin Birdie, I decided to pick it up, even though it’s ten bucks more than any other DS title on the market.
It should be noted at this point that Birdie hadn’t actually played the game and was just really excited about the reviews. That’s just how he rolls.
In any case, he wasn’t entirely wrong, but within a few minutes of starting up, I knew it was either going to be fantastic or just awful, and even now, the only way I can think to describe it is aggressively Japanese.
Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s pretty obvious even before you get to the bat-shit crazy gameplay elements–which I’ll get to in a second–that the game designers are going to do their level best to hit every single RPG cliché that they can.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: You are fifteen year-old Neku Sakubara, and the game opens with you waking up with a ludicrously spiky haircut and a pesky case of amnesia in a world where the maximum age seems to cap out at around 22. Neku, as you might imagine, is a loner who can be heard to say things like, and I’m quoting here, “I’m not opening up to anyone. Ever. Other people just hold me back. I can do things my own way.”
As it so happens, you’re part of a mysterious Game where the object is to survive for seven days, which, coincidentally is also the plot of Ice-T’s landmark 1994 epic, Surviving the Game, but with Tokyo’s Shibuya district substituting for the Pacific Northwest.
Also, instead of being hunted by Gary Busey–which I think we can all agree would be terrifying–you’re given missions and obstacles buy guys in red hoodies called Reapers, which can only be overcome by teaming with a partner, starting with Shiki, who appears to be a Rastafarian child prostitute:
Shiki, in a stunning plot twist that turns the standard RPG love interest role on its ear, is a shrill but devoted harridan who puts up with Neku calling her a stalker and insulting her handmade stuffed animals and–buckle up, because this is wild–totally falls in love with him anyway once he learns a lesson about friendship and the value of other people.
And once she shows up, that’s where the game starts to get strange.
The combat is the game’s strongest point by far; everything’s done with the touch screen in a way that’s a lot like Phantom Hourglass–which was a great interface that was almost broken by the annoyances of the game it was wrapped around–and when you go into combat, you have different Materia–sorry, pins that are activated by different motions with the stylus. It’s intuitive, but thanks to the way you can stack different abilities that are activated with the same motion, it also brings some interesting customization into play.
Once Shiki joins your party, though, the combat system decides that it’s time to flip right out. From that point on, battles are fought like this: On the bottom screen, you’ve got Neku and his materia–sorry, pins, moving around and fighting against multiple enemies in real-time combat. On the top screen, you have your partner, fighting the same enemies with a completely different control system, which in Shiki’s case involves trying to do attacks with the d-pad that match up to ESP cards at the top of the screen in what amounts to playing a game of Memory while you are also playing an actual video game on the bottom screen.
It’s complicated, and it only gets moreso once you get to your second partner, who does the same thing–and I promise I am not making this up–but with math. I’m sure there’s a certain kind of person out there who would be so into that, but I’m not him.
Fortunately, the designers realized this and put an option in there where you can tell the other person to fight their own damn battles while you’re busy doing the majority of the work, but seeing as you and your partner share hit points, it takes a pretty crucial element of the game out of my hands. And even though the game does tend to fight a hell of a lot better than I would anyway, it’s a little disconcerting.
This is what sets the pace for the rest of the game: For everything new and different, there’s something bizarre or counterintuitive to balance it out. There are no Random Encounters and you can fight pretty much whenever you want (which is great), but the story’s so bound to its rails that I got stuck on the first puzzle–THE FIRST PUZZLE–because I couldn’t just go and do what I needed to do. Instead, I had to go to another screen, read someone’s mind, make sure I was reading it while I was standing close to him so that I could then talk to him about what he just told me, and then go do the thing I figured out I needed to do like twenty minutes ago.
And then there’s the trend-following aspect of the game, where in addition to their normal benefits, each piece of equipment has a brand, and certain brands are in and out of fashion in certain neighborhoods. Which means that potentially, on each screen, the same equipment can have benefits or detriments. To which I said “Screw that,” and to which the game replied “Okay, whatever, if you wear the same stuff in an area long enough, that stuff’ll get popular there anyway,” which is a nice touch but would seem to make things needlessly complex when all I want to do is shoot monsters with an ability called “Sexy Beam.”
Plus, I’m not sure if a game that prominently features a character like this has any place to lecture me about fashion:
I might own three t-shirts with Galactus on them, but even I know that a long-sleeve halter top, half-corset, Daisy Dukes, and white Go-Go boots don’t quite go together, even if you tie it all together with a pair of wrought-iron fence wings.
And that’s not even the weirdest part, which is that this is the first game that I’ve ever played that actively encourages you to not play it. Seriously, you can level up your Pins to make your attacks stronger, but in addition to getting points from fighting battles, you get points for the time that you’re not playing the game. Which means that while I’m off doing work or watching TV or reading comics or even playing another game, The World Ends With You is leveling itself up. And the fact that it’s an RPG where I can get experience while I’m playing a mediocre platformer with a ridiculous name like Megaman ZX Advent (BONUS REVIEW: It is not very good) might just make this the best RPG ever.
Of course, the fact that I like an RPG that can essentially play itself half the time probably says a lot more about me than it does about The World Ends With You.
In any case, it wasn’t exactly the eye-opening revelation that sends me running back to RPGs, and its major diversion from the formula seems to amount to having a main character who doesn’t tote around an eight-foot broadsword, but it’s a solid game that does its job well and with a heck of a lot of style.
And also you fight bears. Lots and lots of bears.
In 1989, Lieutenant William “Mad Dog” Rizer was called before the Senate Military Investigations Committee to discuss his statements regarding the effectiveness of military operations in response to the Red Falcon invasion of the previous year. The following is a transcript of his testimony before Congress.
SENATOR JONATHAN PERKINS (R, TX): Please state your name for the record.
LIEUTENANT WILLIAM RIZER: Lieutenant Bill Rizer, United States Marine Corps. Codename “Mad Dog.”
SEN. PERKINS: Thank you, Lieutenant. And before we get started, I’d like to commend you for your actions during the conflict. Purple Heart, Medal of Honor… Says here you received the citation for valor almost thirty times, is that correct?
LT. RIZER: Yes sir.
SEN. PERKINS: Well I thank you, and your country thanks you for your service, Lieutenant.
LT. RIZER: It was an honor to serve, sir. I just wish things could’ve gone a little differently.
SENATOR ELIZABETH VAN HOUSEN (D, MA): Yes, about that. Would you care to outline your opinions for us?
LT. RIZER: To put it bluntly, Senator, we were simply not prepared for what we encountered over the course of the Red Falcon conflict.
SEN. VAN HOUSEN: And by “we,” you mean…?
LT. RIZER: Me and Lance–that is, Sgt. Bean.
SENATOR ARTHUR WEATHERTON (R, NM): With all due respect, Lieutenant, I fail to see how the failure to equip two Marines necessitates a Congressional investigation. Why haven’t we heard from the rest of the soldiers involved in the operation?
LT. RIZER: Because Lance and I were the total forces committed to the Red Falcon conflict, Senator.
SEN. WEATHERTON: … Oh. Carry on.
LT. RIZER: Right. Now, I know that at the time of our deployment, resources were already committed to providing support for the Bionic Commando project, but sending two men to fight an entire army of technologically advanced aliens… I can’t imagine that America needed to close the grapple-arm gap that badly. And our equipment was… well, it was sub-par.
SEN. VAN HOUSEN: It says in our files that you were not issued body armor, is that correct?
LT. RIZER: No ma’am, that’s a misprint.
SEN. VAN HOUSEN: So you were issued body armor?
LT. RIZER: No ma’am. We weren’t even issued shirts. But that wouldn’t have been such an issue if we hadn’t been given substandard weaponry.
SEN. WEATHERTON: Oh not this again. Wily Robotics is a perfectly fine arms man–
LT. RIZER: Senator, I’m sorry to interrupt, but that’s not the issue here. I’ve heard the stories of Wily Robotics being offered a no-bid contract for defense manufacturing just like everyone else, but it’s your job to determine the truth of that matter. It’s my job to present the facts as I see them, and I’ll tell your right now that the WR-88 was not suited to a combat action of this nature. It’s a single shot rifle, Senator. I’m not sure if you’ve ever served, but if you have, I’d be interested in hearing you explain to me how one man with a single-shot rifle is supposed to assault a fortress like this.
SEN. PERKINS: We were assured that advanced weapons were provided for you at various points.
LT. RIZER: Yeah, well, I don’t know who came up with the idea of loading guns into giant metal footballs and firing them out of a cannon on a Destroyer anchored a mile offshore, but it actually works out pretty poorly in practice. And even if it had worked, the guns themselves were… Well, they were no good. The assault rifle should’ve been standard equipment, and the laser…
[Lt. Rizer picks up a Wily Robotics LG-88 and pulls the trigger, causing a laser beam to inch out of the barrel for less than two feet.]
LT. RIZER: Senator, I was trained on a MARS Corporation Model 21, and the fact that this is the weapon that replaced it… It’s criminal. Simply criminal.
SEN. VAN HOUSEN: You say you also have issues with your training?
LT. RIZER: Yes ma’am.
SEN. VAN HOUSEN: How so?
LT. RIZER: I don’t place the blame for any failure in this area on the men who trained me. They are good soldiers to a man, and their training is the only reason I’m sitting here today. It’s a failure of intelligence on the part of brass if it’s anything. I was trained to face infantrymen, non-traditional enemy combatants… I was even taught how to take out an APC if the situation came up. But the things I saw in that jungle… Nobody ever told me how to fight stuff like that.
SEN. WEATHERTON: Can you be more specific?
SEN. VAN HOUSEN: Ground Vaginas?
LT. RIZER: Yes ma’am. Ground Vaginas.
LT. RIZER: With teeth. That’s… that’s how they got Lance. I tried to hold them off, but…
SEN. PERKINS: I think we’ve heard enough. We’ll break here. Thank you, Lieutenant.
LT. RIZER: Thank you, Senator.
Following Lt. Rizer’s testimony, Sgt. Lance “Scorpion” Bean was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Legislation was later passed ensuring that in any future conflicts, soldiers would at least be issued shoulder pads.