Monthly Archives: January 2017

FGC #235 Metroid: Zero Mission

Lose some weight, tubbyI’ve already named Super Metroid one of the five most important games in gaming. I’ve already gushed over a remake of one of the best Gameboy games ever produced. And, yes, I took time out of my busy day to explain how Samus Aran’s butt is the worst thing to ever happen. Oh, and I played pinball. Look, I know it, you know it, Ridley knows it: I like Metroid games. I love Metroid games. I even love anything that looks remotely like a Metroid game. This is absolutely no secret.

My secret shame, though? I hate Metroid: Zero Mission for the absolute pettiest of reasons.

Why do I love Metroid games? The most obvious answer has something to do with the way a Metroid game is traditionally structured around exploration. I’m not someone that gets hung up on whether or not you can sequence break, or if some renegade AI is telling Samus where to go, or whatever; all I really care about is playing around in giant, planet-esque environments that occasionally contain zoomers. And by “playing around”, I certainly mean shooting everything for absolutely no reason. Seriously, has anyone figured out exactly how many creatures Samus doesn’t have to obliterate to complete her average mission? At this point, I’m committing dessgeega genocide entirely out of spite. And the minute you get that screw attack? Oh man, Samus’s feet never touch the ground again, she’s just a whirling dervish of unending destruction.

Come to think of it, it almost seems like the exploration is secondary. I just… like being Samus Aran.

Moving right alongMost videogames are about the destination. As an easy example, I’m looking forward to Kingdom Hearts 3 (I’ll probably be looking forward to it for a long time), and it’s almost entirely to see “how it ends”. And it’s not even that I care that much about the plot of Kingdom Hearts (this is a lie), I could conceivably live the rest of my life never knowing whether or not Donald Duck gets a happy ending, but… I’m interested. And, while I do actually enjoy the gameplay, magical venues, and general “feel” of your average Kingdom Hearts game, I am absolutely playing that game to get to the all-important ending. See also: Xenosaga, every JRPG ever, and even a healthy percentage of Zelda games. There’s joy in discovery in searching across Hyrule, but I can safely say a few recent adventures of Link were finished only for the sake of finishing. Or, put another way, there’s a reason I’ve (re)completed Wind Waker HD but not Twilight Princess HD.

But I don’t ever feel that way with a good Metroid game. It really is about the journey, and I get more joy out of dodging rising lava or plowing through space pirates than I ever do when I see that Mission Complete screen. I killed all the metroids, I saved one metroid, I got saved by one Metroid being killed, whatever, it’s all immaterial to the sheer joy of poking around Zebes, and gradually getting better at doing it. My first run through Super Metroid, I was stumped by the glass tube/super bomb “puzzle”, and wasn’t able to progress much past acquiring the gravity suit. My clear time on that file was somewhere around ten hours. That means that, basically, I spent an extra seven or so hours exploring Zebes with nowhere new to go, and I never got tired of it. There’s just so much fun in being Samus Aran that I could explore Zebes with nowhere to go for hours in the same way I could spend a few hours at the beach with no real goal. And I’m a guy that has quit random games halfway through their tutorial because I got bored. Being Samus Aran is fun, end of story.

Except… Metroid Zero Mission divorced me of that notion.

They don't fall, thoughMuch of Metroid Zero Mission is fun. As ever, I love exploring Zebes, and the construction of “this” Zebes is a great balance of Metroid (1) and Super Metroid. Things are familiar, but not the same. It’s actually very close to the Igavania template: you know about where the clock tower is supposed to be, there’s sure to be a basement full of monsters, but everything else between is up in the air. You know you’re heading toward an inevitable confrontation with Dracula/Mother Brain, but there are Speed Booster puzzles now? Neat. There is enough “new” here to not get repetitive, but it’s still familiar enough to be indisputably Metroid/Zebes.

And then there’s the new material. Say hello to Zero Suit Samus.

For anyone that loves Metroid but mysteriously skipped Metroid Zero Mission, MZM, plot-wise, plays out almost exactly like the original Metroid. Beat Kraid, beat Ridley, beat metroids, beat Mother Brain, escape an explosion, call it a day. However, MZM adds a “new” story to the finale: while escaping Zebes, Samus Aran loses her powersuit, and must infiltrate Space Pirate HQ to acquire a new one. Samus is naked for this adventure, and is equipped only with a stun gun and her apparently natural ability to somersault twenty feet in the air. This transforms Metroid into a stealth affair, as Samus is vulnerable in her zero suit state, and your average space pirate mook can do about three e-tanks worth of damage with a single shot. And… get ready for a lot crawling. Like a baby. Woo.

For what it’s worth, this section of Zero Mission is probably as good as it could be. The stealth seems fair (space pirates are not omniscient in their Samus-detecting), the layouts are conducive to careful sneaking, and, yes, the moment you finally reclaim the powersuit and transform the space pirates into a fine paste is superb. In fact, for years I actually defended the zero suit section of Zero Mission, because it’s one of the few instances of stealth (particularly in a 2-D game) that I can tolerate. I’m pretty sure I had wholly good memories of Zero Mission through the Gameboy Advance’s lifespan, and even somewhere into the DS’s era.

BooooBut then I got in the habit of playing Metroid games recreationally. Like, oh, it’s a boring Saturday, maybe I’ll take some time and play through Super Metroid. Oh, I played through Super Metroid last week? How about Zero Mission this time? And every time I played Metroid Zero Mission “casually”, I quit after Mother Brain, and ignored the zero suit segment. Every. Time. Why? Because Samus sans suit leads to “levels”: a strict, linear challenge that can only be successfully solved one way. And I’m not playing Metroid to play an adventure game, I’m playing Metroid to rip through rippers and explore a planet. Metroid Zero Mission’s zero suit segment isn’t Metroid to me, and, at that point, why am I even playing?

And what’s more, it makes Samus Aran worse. I said earlier that I enjoyed “being” Samus Aran, but that’s apparently not true. I like being Samus Aran… only while in a powersuit. The heroine isn’t the heroine, she’s just a delivery device for the real star of the show: an anonymous piece of tech. That’s not good! Sure, Iron Man or any of the many “mechanical knight” superheroes have a similar problem, but they’re not the only prominent heroine in Nintendo’s pantheon. Mario can stomp goombas without his hat, Link can slash Moblins while in a bathrobe, but Samus Aran needs her powersuit for a fun experience. It also probably didn’t help when Zero Suit Samus was basically a penalty for using a smash ball in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, or when “naked” Samus was a recurring threat of “oh no, she’s vulnerable now” during Metroid: Other M cutscenes. The message has been clear since Metroid: Zero Mission: Samus is a strong woman, but without her powersuit, she’s prey.

It’s… demoralizing.

JerkSo, despite liking 90% of the game, I hate Metroid: Zero Mission. I hate that it made one of my favorite heroines appear weak. I hate that that stupid stealth section kills my playthrough every time. I hate that I have a save file from right after that section, so I can just copy that file and play through the post game infinitely. I hate that “Justin Bailey” Samus used to be a reward, not a punishment. I hate that one stupid blunder completely kills this whole experience for me.

I hate you, Metroid: Zero Mission, and the zero suit you rode in on.

FGC #235 Metroid: Zero Mission

  • System: Gameboy Advance and WiiU Virtual Console. Unlike Metroid Fusion, this game was not part of the GBA/3DS Ambassador Program. More’s the pity.
  • Number of players: The one and only Samus Aran.
  • Favorite Boss: You ever notice how there are a lot of giant bugs in this game? Like, there are two different kinds of worms, and then there’s that cocoon/moth thing… or are they all supposed to be related? I have no idea. Anyway, aside from the old standbys, I like giant moth thingy, because there’s nothing like chasing down an enormous insect and pumping missiles into its ovipositor. Apparently it’s called “Imago”.
  • Favorite Remake Addition: Every Metroid game should include the Speed Booster. Every. Single. One.
  • He’s Too Big: The Ridley fight in Zero Mission feels like a nice balance of “hectic” and “you’re still going to win”. That’s good! The Mecha Ridley fight, meanwhile, always seems to be completely impossible or really, really easy, but never anything in between. That’s bad! So… zero sum Ridleys.
  • Did you know? Crocomire of Super Metroid was apparently intended to be in this game, but he got scrapped somewhere along the way. What’s interesting is that his sprite is pretty smooth and tan, so it’s possible there would have been a story (likely involving beam weapons) explaining why he is red and lumpy in time for Super Metroid. Or maybe he was just cancelled because making him lumpy would be too expensive. Who knows.
  • Would I play again: Gladly! Just, ya know, only about 90% of it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Guilty Gear Isuka! I think there’s a puppy in that one! Please look forward to it!

There it is

Xenosaga Episode III Special 1: The Xenosaga FAQ

Why isn’t Shion a gnosis?

The question that became so irrelevant, even the LP forgot about it.

In Episode 1, it was established that everyone who is touched by a gnosis becomes a gnosis. Also, we got to see Cherenkov, ya know, become a gnosis. Logically, it must only be a matter of time before Shion herself becomes a gnosis, as she was nearly saltified back on the Woglinde before KOS-MOS’s rescue.

And then… it’s never mentioned again.

… Or is it?

FGC #234 House of the Dead Overkill

BangThere are two genres that I feel, for better or worse, never made it out of the arcade. There’s the beat ‘em up, which was responsible for sucking down more quarters than a laundromat back in the halcyon days when Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, and The X-Men were popular (What? They’re all still popular? You sure?). That genre, in a way, became the God of War-alike of today, but the simple left-to-right, beat up the same four dudes gameplay seems to be gone forever (or at least a “forever” that excuses the occasional River City Ransom remake). And, similarly, there is the “shooting gallery” game, which seemed to come earlier and last longer than its beat ‘em up contemporaries (I still remember you, Police 911 cabinet), but is currently woefully underrepresented on the home consoles. We might see the occasional Duck Hunt rerelease or crossbow training, but, by and large, the only time you see a decent shooting game is when a system is trying to demo some random peripheral, or, God help us all, during a console launch. Despite being one of those genres that practically defined gaming for some years (see Back to the Future for shooting through the generations), the noble shooting gallery game is now resigned to the ever-shrinking arcade scene and a tech demo or two.

And it’s easy to guess why that happened. There’s something visceral about holding a plastic gun in your hands and capping some ducks/criminals/zombies that is difficult to replicate on the home consoles. It’s fun an’ all to pretend, but you just don’t get that same heft from the Playstation Lollipop as you do when holding a proper Deer Hunter rifle. And then… what’s the point? It’s a point and click adventure. I’m using a mouse right now, and it’s not exactly thrilling to edit this article and click on my more overt mistakes. Ugh, I’m probably goint go give up from the boredom. I… guess I could pretend my typos are encroaching Cobra soldiers, but… meh. “Point and aim” needs that essential gun component to feel right, and, without it, the fun is gone.

So House of the Dead Overkill figured, hey, if we can’t get that authentic arcade gun experience, could we maybe find the fun somewhere else?

Get 'emHouse of the Dead Overkill is a House of the Dead game: your character is fairly anonymous during the gameplay, and “you” are basically a disembodied gun exploring various zombie-infested locales. Some House of the Dead games stick exclusively to the titular house, but other adventures eventually see other locations, like “generic swamp” or “generic building”. But that’s not important! What’s important is that zombies are bearing down on you at all times, and you’ve got to turn those zombies into a fine, bloody mist before they throw a seemingly unlimited number of axes into your face. By and large, this is very simple gameplay, with only the occasional boss to interrupt “keep shooting at everything”. And, for the record, those bosses are still the same “keep shooting at everything”, but now you aim exclusively at the head and a collection of random flying objects. It’s totally worth all your quarters to see the end of that one screeching mutant thingy!

And the challenge in House of the Dead is that, yes, it’s a shooting game. It’s not just about surviving, or gunning down the right zombies to guarantee a potential victim’s escape, or carefully pegging that one powerup on the bookshelf over there; no, it’s about the all-important score, and proving that you’re some kind of zombie sniper savant. What’s your accuracy percentage? How many headshots did you rack up? How long did it take you to complete each mission? It’s all about the score, baby, and if you’re just lumbering through the stages, well then, what’s the point? Gather up the points for that combo meter, and show off your fabulous goregasm tally with trophies of all sizes. Be the best zombie slayer you can be!

Except… well, I can’t be the only person that doesn’t really care about the score. For a number of action games, I’m kind of a “beat it” player, and I’m not in this to get the most achievements or points or whatever. I play videogames to relax, not to practice like a sport. Ugh, sports. Can I just be rewarded for, ya know, playing the game at my skill level?

House of the Dead Overkill answers this with, “Yeah. Sure.”

SCENE MISSING

House of the Dead Overkill eschews the tone of the previous House of the Dead games to be… funny. As ever with humor, it’s objective, and the game straight-up lampshades this during the finale (when it’s noted that this adventure has more hyper, toxic masculinity than a friggin’ Trump rally), but the majority of HoD:O is built to be, at least, amusing. G and Isaac Washington are hard-traveling heroes that can’t get along to save their lives (well, sorta), and their diametrically opposed hijinks fuel the adventure. Then there’s a villain that appears to be a version of Burt Reynolds that is unusually obsessed with Chinese food, a hooker with a heart of gold (and a motorcycle), and the fiendish mastermind that has an Oedipus complex that is literally suicidal. And the bosses, the crown of each level, are a delightful mix of grotesque and goofy, so right about when Kuato shows up to menace the protagonists at the circus, you won’t bat an eye. Oh, and I’m pretty sure I gunned down that woman from The Ring, too.

HA HAAnd, while I’d love to say that I played this game to improve my wiimote firearm abilities, this “funny” plot is absolutely the only reason I played past the first level. From the eponymous House of the Dead to a nightmare hospital to a hell carnival, this game grabbed me right from the get-go. It’s not about the score, it’s not about the shooting, it’s about seeing what crazy thing comes next, and what ridiculous, possibly exploitative creature is going to cap the next stage. Giant malevolent mantis? Yes! Bulbous, pulsating swamp creature? Why not! And then it’s all capped off with the mother of all monsters that literally births mutants for your rail gunning pleasure. It’s an appropriate ending for an outrageous game.

And here’s the moral for other videogames: learn from House of the Dead Overkill. Yes, humor is objective, and, yes, the “exploitation flick” motif of the game isn’t for everybody, but when you’re dealing with a genre that is already very limited in popularity, why not give people another reason to play your game? High score is fun, but how about something for us nerds that can ream thousands of words out of some space robot plot? Give your audience more, not less, and suddenly your generic shooter is something some nerd on the internet is fawning over almost a decade later.

Videogames can be more than their genre, and it only makes those games better.

FGC #234 House of the Dead Overkill

  • System: Nintendo Wii initially, and then eventually Playstation 3 (via the Move), and iphone/android (via your finger). Also, there’s the Windows version for…
  • Port-o-Call: Typing of the Dead returns! A “typing” version of House of the Dead Overkill exists for Windows platforms, so if you’re not so much for the aiming, go for the keyboard. Also, apparently the mobile version of this game was extremely limited and withdrawn from mobile stores due to massive suckage.
  • Number of players: The other reason to play a shooting game is to have fun with your friends, so two players. On the other hand, I can name like six other local multiplayer uses for my Wii.
  • YowchLevel Up: My one major complaint about this game is the whole upgrade system/extra guns. Conceptually, I like the idea of upgrading, and, practically, I enjoy purchasing the rail gun and basically turning the difficulty off… but isn’t that a problem? It seems like your firearm options are either way too overpowered or “will get you killed during every reload” weak. And I want to say the later stages are not balanced for the standard pistol at all. In other words, despite how much I love bringing an AK to a shambling fight, I’d rather the whole game be built around one kind of gun with set parameters, and not continually being Goldilocked into too hot or too cold.
  • Favorite stage: It made murder clowns a persistent problem, so I’m going to say that the third stage, Carny, gets my vote. It also has the best zombie set pieces, with a football field, (literal) shooting gallery, arcade (with After Burner!), and a ride through a funhouse. Which reminds me…
  • Skeleton Corner: This is one of the few games that earns the “skeletons” tag, but does not feature skeletons that are actively attacking the player. They’re just… hanging around. NOTE: I am aware that most people/monsters/zombies have skeletons, but that doesn’t count.
  • They’re not Zombies: Oh, right, they’re mutants. Thank you, G.
  • Dang bonesDid you know? Varla Guns and Candi Stryper, a new character, are both available as playable characters in their own adventure on the Playstation 3 version. They fight mutant zombie strippers and a lady minotaur named Meat Katie. On a side note, I’m not completely certain there can be a lady minotaur. Cowotaur?
  • Would I play again: I just might, particularly considering I’m not certain what I’m going to do with my (backwards compatible) WiiU in a few months. Might be fun to play through all the “good” Wii/WiiU games before they get locked away in the “oldies” bin.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metroid Zero Mission for the Gameboy Advance. Good pick, ROB! Always happy to play a Metroid game. And this one has unexplained stripping! Please look forward to it!