Monthly Archives: October 2016

Television without Piety

It’s Halloween, so let’s talk about the devil, and how he appears on my television once a week.

I’m talking about Lucifer.

Fox’s Lucifer did not immediately catch my interest. It’s another damn police procedural that’s based on a comic book property, and I figured it would be one and done inside of six episodes. I mentally logged it to dig out that first season in a few years, check in with a vocal contingent of nerds that claim it’s the best thing ever, and then never go back to thinking of such a thing ever again. After all, how could a Satan-based television show ever last on the same network that once hosted good, wholesome shows like Married… With Children and Melrose Place?

But here we are with a second season of Lucifer. Here we are with a detective show featuring the devil having to deal with his whacky mother, stern brother, and nymphomaniac therapist. And there’s a will they/won’t they bubbling over between Lucifer and his stalwart cop partner (who is, incidentally, a former porn star). Nix the devil aspect, and this could be practically any police procedural on TV, but, no, we’ve got Satan and his magical ability to suss out people’s innermost desires (an ability he uses… when he remembers it exists). The whole show is simultaneously banal and extraordinary, which is usually how it goes with Ol’ Scratch.

It also happens to summarize exactly where we are in our media history.

SexyThe sympathetic Lord of Lies is something that has been going on since well before the television was even imagined. Many cultures feature a “devil” character that is more mischievous than outright evil, even if the featured trickster stands in direct opposition to a kindly creator god. Raven, Anansi, Puck, and other mischief makers that didn’t appear on Disney’s Gargoyles seem to be a recurring motif throughout history. Even within Christianity, noted Xenosaga prequel Milton’s Paradise Lost told the story of a devil that was “bad”, but mostly because he was sympathetically prideful. “Better to rule in Hell” and all that riot. And that was written in 1667. Even before that, you could claim the Satan of Dante’s Inferno is sympathetic in his punishment: this 14th-century Lucifer is eternally weeping and attempting to escape with six wings that only serve to further solidify his frozen prison. That doesn’t describe a menacing devil that is the root of all evil, that’s a toddler that got stuck in a molasses bucket (it happens).

But what makes Fox’s Lucifer so modern is that it’s based on one specific sympathetic devil: Lucifer Morningstar of DC Comics/Vertigo. For those of you that have never read Gaiman’s Sandman (and, seriously, if you’re reading this blog and haven’t read that epic series, please put the computer down, and go to your local library. This article will still be here when you get back, and my writing will only appear 20% worse), Sandman features a Lucifer that is tired of being blamed for all of humanity’s ills, and decides that, after a few billion years, why not try out a new job? So he locks up Hell, tosses the key to Lord Morpheus, and (after a brief sojourn in Australia) starts a nightclub with his best lady demon by his side. Screw you, God, I’m gonna get my own place. By the finale of Sandman, Lucifer seems oddly content playing the piano at Lux and looking an awful lot like at least one incarnation of David Bowie.

The second oneDC Comics actually successfully identified the potential of the timeless character Gaiman had borrowed from a couple millennia of history, so Mike Carey continued the story of “that” Lucifer in the 75-issue Lucifer comic book series. And, good news, it may have been a very different story from Sandman, but it was every bit as good as the perennial Vertigo launch title. This Lucifer did seem to start out by “solving crimes” from his nightclub base… but shortly thereafter he got a little more mystical, and created his own damn(ed) reality. Then there was no lack of fantastical events, like angels breeding with humans to create lil’ godlings, ghosts, centaurs, witches, forgotten pantheons, and Mona, who stands over hedgehogs. By the end of the Lucifer Vertigo series, the whole of creation has nearly collapsed, but it was saved at the last moment by the devil himself and a British teen. God is also hanging out at some highway rest station outside of the universe. I think He needs a break.

Suffice it to say, I don’t think Fox’s Lucifer is going to dip into the centaur well.

But Fox’s Lucifer is ostensibly based on the comic book character. There’s the Lux nightclub, (facial reconstruction) Mazikeen, and much of the Gaiman flare for “I’m so tired of everybody always blaming me for everything”. This is a series where, somehow, Neil Gaiman gets credit for creating the devil (even if this devil isn’t fit to lick Bowie’s boots). This is, like Gotham, Arrow, and iZombie before it, yet another primetime series based on a comic book franchise.

And that’s kind of amazing.

This is the devil in 21st Century America: another comic book character to be welded to a “cop show”. Lucifer is not scary, Lucifer is here to solve crime and flirt with ladies (and not men, because a gay/bi devil might make people uncomfortable). Lucifer is not a creation of thousands of years of myth, no, Lucifer is a creation of the British comics invasion of the late 80’s. And, don’t worry, kids, Lucifer isn’t going to ask any uncomfortable questions about faith and the nature of good and evil, Lucifer is just going to find a body at the top of the hour, and then send the second interviewed witness to jail every episode.

He’s the Lord of Lies, and he’s advertiser friendly!

SeriouslyTo be clear, I’m not saying that any of this makes Lucifer a bad show. I rather like it, and its… disorderly approach to the Christian mythos. I find Lucifer (the character) charming, and his whacky cast is enough to carry scenes where he’s off doing whatever devils do in their downtime. It’s a good show, if a bit rote with its procedural trappings.

But it’s also a perfect encapsulation of the modern approach to entertainment. Find a popular property in some other medium, rely on the fans to carry it through its inevitably rocky opening salvo, and then establish some mysteries to keep the gears rolling for another seven seasons or so. The devil, a creature blamed for death and suffering for countless years, is now completely domesticated and solving crimes opposite Supergirl.

So happy Halloween, kiddies. There are still monsters out on the streets, and they feed on the ratings of young souls.

And tune in on Wednesday to look at some other devils that feed on approval ratings.

AHHHH

Xenosaga Episode III Part 13: Heaven or Hell, Let’s Gawk

Previously on Xenosaga: Allen confirmed that he’ll be a hidden character in Xenosaga Episode 3: Advance, and Shion got rescued from the clutches of U-TIC/Ormus/her dad. Also, Old Miltia started its descent into a flaming pit, which isn’t very good for…

Virgil and Feb are chilling at church. I feel like Feb’s little jaunt to the Elsa was some kind of non-canon writing shortcut to get the party off its ass. I just don’t see Sister Feb here leaving Virgil alone with the fine china.

“Awww! I was supposed to fight in that! And I’m missing it!”

Virgil admits that, prior to meeting Feb, he was literally indoctrinated against Realians. Remember the Federation saying: “Death is disguised: don’t gamble with Realians.”

I’m just trying to picture MOMO being ordered to kill…

Don’t worry, we won’t come back to the fact that Feb is “half-human”. I guess it’s just further justification for her organ harvesting from earlier.

And Kiddy Shion shows up.

With Friends!

FGC #200 Wayne’s World

Figured we’d do something a little special and marginally related to the featured game for #200. Enjoy!

FGC #200 Wayne’s World

  • System: Super Nintendo, technically, is the version I own and know. We’ve also got a similar Sega Genesis game, a completely different NES game, and a Gameboy version that is based on the NES edition.
  • Number of players: Garth has been kidnapped by a giant purple claw! Only Wayne can save the day.
  • NOT!Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This game is horrible. It’s a lesser B.O.B. (by the same designers), and seems to be only marginally related to the source material. Remember the part of the movie when Wayne gets shrunk down and fights sentient coffee cups with his magical guitar? NOT!
  • So, did you beat it? I consider finishing the first stage of this dreck to be an accomplishment on par with curing polio, so, no, I did not finish the entire game.
  • Favorite Boss: The final boss is the actual gelatinous cube, so… that’s at least related to the movie. However, the second-to-last boss is Elvis. And you strip the flesh from his skull thanks to rad guitar licks. That’s something you remember.
  • Powerup: An “11” powerup turns your guitar up to eleven, and increases its power and size. That’s kinda cool. Less cool, however, is that you can’t avoid some powerups, so when you want to hang on to that homing attack, good luck avoiding the wave modifier that is about as useful as chopping off your own thumbs.
  • Gonna talk about that video at all? Nah.
  • Rock out!Did you know? Alright, fine. The original plan was to only use clips from the last 200 FGC games, but that rapidly descended into anarchy around the guitar solo. At the very least, I think I’ve at least mentioned every game featured in the video. And, for the record, I tried to wedge Portal somewhere in there, but just couldn’t find a place where it would be appropriate.
  • Did you also know? For the record, this site wouldn’t exist without the support of everyone reading this and everyone commenting here and on Twitter and Facebook. I am terrible about replying! I know that! But I love everyone’s input all the same, so thank you to all of you. We’ll see if we can squeeze another 200 out of this thing.
  • Would I play again? What part of “Worse than B.O.B.” didn’t you understand?

What’s next? That’s too many videogames, man. I’m taking a week off from the FGC to talk about other nonsense, and normal coverage will resume with Mega Man Zero 4. In the meanwhile, check back Monday to get my opinion on Satan. Or maybe politics. One of those. Please look forward to it!

Neo maxi zoom

FGC #199 Tetris Blast

Blasting offReason Goggle Bob Feels Ashamed #4,631 (not high school-related count): I like Tetris Blast more than Tetris.

It is literally impossible to measure the cultural impact of Tetris. While it’s entirely possible that Bill Clinton never played Super Mario Bros. or George Bush never touched a Final Fantasy in his life, I completely believe that every sitting president since the invention of the Gameboy has played Tetris in one form or another. It was a national phenomenon for what seemed like a decade, established and solidified Nintendo’s grip on the handheld market, and I’m pretty sure it single-handedly extended the USSR’s existence for a solid year or two. The dates match up, people!

On a personal level, Tetris was always the game that established that I might not be a complete weirdo. It was the adults of my extended family that first caught the Tetris bug, and, like settlers infecting indigenous peoples with well-meaning/diseased blankets, my mother and grandfather shortly thereafter succumbed to Tetris-mania. My father and grandmothers seemed oddly resistant to the strain, but, in no time at all, my grandfather had received a Gameboy as a Christmas gift, and my mother, shining bastion of restraint that she forever will be, would often sneak the device back home, only to be returned when the batteries ran dry. I wasn’t allowed to have a Gameboy of my own (as I’ve mentioned before, it was assumed that allowing me to have an “always available” system would lead to becoming some filthy videogame blogger or something), but the mere fact that the maternal side of my family was so dedicated to playing one single game seemed… empowering? I wasn’t alone in my “childish” hobby. Here are a World War II vet and a historian both playing with the same d-pad as yours truly. DOUBLE!Sure, they still didn’t know the secret hiding place of Dungeon 7, but it’s enough that they now understand why I get upset every time I’m asked to give up on a high score for dinnertime. I just got a long piece, I can’t quit now!

Of course, other than that, I didn’t really like Tetris.

To be clear, this is another case where I “like” Tetris, but I’d rather be playing Mega Man. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t play videogames (this is a lie, I remember the first time I saw Super Mario Bros like most people remember the first time they saw their spouse… er… hmm….), which means that, whether it was because of Nintendo Power ads that convinced me I “need” the latest game, or because I never beat Friday the 13th, I have pretty much always had a backlog. “Would I play again” has always been an important question in my mind, because there’s more out there in the wide world of gaming, and I’m never going to save all those princesses if I spend all day stacking blocks. Tetris is, at its core, a score-based game, and, like its cousins in the sportsball arena, I’d rather be playing something with a clear goal or “plot”. The plot might be completely bonkers, but I get so much more joy out of overanalyzing a vaguely religious space opera than praying for one less square block to fall. Everybody knows that everything about Tetris is random, right? It’s just a waste of time and effort! Soylent Green is made from tetrominoes!

And I say this all as someone who has somehow purchased a copy of Tetris for every system he’s ever owned. Hey, it holds my attention for ten minutes or so.

Dance!But Tetris Blast? Tetris Blast was somehow made for my unique psychological issues.

Tetris Blast came stateside as a (Super) Gameboy game, but it saw more systems and wider release in Japan as Bombliss. You will note that “Bombliss” does not include the title “Tetris”, but, hey, if you’ve got the license to use the name of one of the most well-known videogames in history, may as well slap that thing on everything from explosion simulators to Yoshi block puzzles. Tetris Blast is pretty damn Tetris, though. Your goal is to line up blocks, but, unlike in OG Tetris, lines do not naturally disappear when properly assembled. You must also include at least one “bomb block”, and, if that bomb is in a complete line, then it will explode the nearby blocks. A single line causes an explosion that is a single line’s height (though not necessarily width, so a bomb at the far edge might not eliminate an entire line), but if more than one line is amassed simultaneously, the blast will be larger. Line up four rows and then that single bomb block that would be piddling on a single line completion becomes celebratory fireworks. Couple this with the ability to combine four little bomb blocks into one giant bomb block, and you’ve suddenly gained the ability to blast the entire screen with one well-placed block. Granted, that takes a lot of planning (or luck), but it’s phenomenally satisfying when you pull it off.

WOOOOOTetris Blast shines brightest with its “modes”. There’s two player head-to-head, so, right off the bat, it has a leg up over NES Tetris. Then we have Training, your Mode A, and Contest, Mode B. Contest deserves some major kudos for designing a series of interesting, escalating “puzzles” that teach the basics on early levels (big bomb = good), and slowly ramps up to “this is a weird collection of blocks, but I think you can figure it out”. It’s also features breakdancing Pac-Man rejects every five stages, and I can’t say that’s a bad thing.

But what always seems to hold my attention is Fight. Fight is Tetris Blast, but a small “monster” is skulking around the stage. There are eight different creatures, and each has a different ability, like making your pieces fall faster, or eating your meticulously placed bombs. Your goal is to blast these critters with your bombs until their hit points are exhausted, or you clear the stage of every last block, which I suppose causes the monsters to commit seppuku in failure. These beings are completely “there”, too, which means you can squish them with properly placed blocks, or attempt to “box ‘em in” to curtail their dangerous habits. It’s not unlike playing Tetris, but having a lil’ Mario or koopa troopa scampering around on your growing tower. It’s simultaneously dumb and surprisingly endearing.

And I love it.

DAMMIT!It appears the secret to holding my attention is slapping a pair of googly eyes on a random shape and calling it my enemy. Squidly, Dug Grub, and Creepa are all rivals to my Tetris Blast happiness, and they must be stopped. I must defeat this charmingly named menace by any means necessary, else the previously blissful land of Bombliss will forever fester beneath the rule of B. Boy. God help me, the minute the Tetris world gained a rival faction, I was interested again, and wound up playing this nonsense for hours on end.

Hi, my name is Goggle Bob, and I prefer a cheap knock-off to a timeless classic because it features a monster named Gloop. Thanks for reading my blog.

FGC #199 Tetris Blast

  • System: Gameboy and Super Gameboy. The Super Gameboy factor is the only reason I owned this game when it was current.
  • Number of players: Usually one, but with that link cable? Oh boy, good times ahead!
  • Favorite Monster: Dug Grub seems to inspire the most strategy. He will eat our precious giant bombs, but he only does so from the top, and not that quickly, either. This means you often have the opportunity to squish him before he gobbles up your hard work… but then there will be an errant block on top of your giant bomb, possibly causing more issues down the line. In closing, Tetris Blast is a land of contrasts.
  • New Game Plus: There is a “second round” of even harder monsters after the first group. They can be unlocked by completing the game once, or entering a secret code you found in Nintendo Power. The most significant change for this challenge mode is that clearing all the blocks will not end the level, meaning some jerks, like Squidly, the beast that just chills and refills his own health, will take forever.
  • Number of times I resisted making an “explosive” pun during this article: 1,205.
  • Did you know? Tetris Blast seems to have inspired Super Puzzle Fighter and Lumines in various design decisions. It’s not like Tetris Blast invented the “puzzle game where things explode” genre, but there is certainly some shared DNA there.
  • Would I play again: Probably not, as the Gameboy and its library rarely sees replay in my home outside of an elf’s adventure to wake a fish. That said, if this thing gets a rerelease or redux, I am totally there.

What’s next? Random ROB… Listen to me, robot. This is entry #200 coming up, and I don’t want you to blow it like last time. So pick something good, ROB.

And the winner is… Wayne’s World for Super Nintendo!

Dammit, ROB!

How am I going to get something memorable out of that? Bah, I’m sure I’ll think of something. Please look forward to it!

That's that