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FGC #247 Gravity Rush

WeeeeeGravity Rush is a game that is… a might confused about its intentions.

Gravity Rush is only available on Playstation Vita (currently owned by six people) and the Playstation 4 (currently only owned by jerks), so I’ll forgive you if you haven’t played it. In short, the gameplay of Gravity Rush is based on the magical skills of Kat and her cat (oh, I just got that), Dusty. Kat has the ability to twist the horizon to her will, so she can, at any given moment, “rotate” gravity so she can run up walls, across sewer ceilings, or just haplessly “fall up”. It’s a simple, easy to control mechanic, and it’s a testament to the designers that an entire city and all the “stages” contained therein work so well with Kat able to spider-crawl all over the city.

Oh, also, it’s fun as hell.

There has always been an unusual amount of debate over “sandbox games” (aka GTA clones) and whether or not it’s even possible to make a modern, city-based sandbox game and still be a good guy. Grand Theft Auto (3) set the standard with its rotating cast of psychopaths, and the likes of Saint’s Row refined the concept with superpowers and aliens (aliens make everything better), but even in games where you’re a “good guy”, you still kind of come off as less Robocop and more Judge Dredd (hi, Crackdown!). And, while it’s always fun to watch someone attempt to play GTA while obeying every traffic signal and only stealing cars when absolutely legally appropriate (huh?), nearly all of those games are based around “the fun is in the mayhem”. Heck, I’d argue that the absolute worst parts of any of those franchises are when you’re forced to follow the rules, and maybe not launch your date into the stratosphere just because she’s taking too damn long to get in the car.

WeeeeeGravity Rush has a very GTA-esque setup with its four main “districts” that comprise one giant city, but you’re a law abiding citizen. And, while you can damage property, kick pedestrians, or “accidentally” gravity-hurl soldiers into the next zip code, there are no rewards for doing so. There’s no penalty, either, so you’re not going to summon a tank because you’re causing too much mischief. It’s just you, Kat, and some gems to collect that are mysteriously hanging upside down off that Space Needle-wannabe. The only “things to do” around town are complete missions, collect gems from weird places, and maybe try to discover a secret or two hidden around the nooks and crannies of the city. That’s it. No stand-offs with the police. No vehicle theft. There isn’t even a single weapon available beyond Kat’s own limbs (and maybe tossing a trash can around). This should get old fast.

Yet, I could “gravity rush” over this city for days.

It’s difficult to even try to put into words, but there is a simple joy in running all over Hekseville. And I do mean “running all over”, as I’m pretty sure I left Kat’s footprints on every last surface in town. From way down in the depths to the tippy top of that clock tower, Kat gets around. And there’s no penalty for being… shall we say… careless. Kat does not experience fall damage, and, presumably because her spine is made of some manner of jelly substance, there’s never a single complaint even when the gravity gauge inopportunely runs out while our heroine is a mile up. You even are safely deposited back on terra firma if you manage to fall off the edge of the world. This is essential to the game, because, if there were a penalty for “improper” gravity rushing, then you might carefully conserve those gravity powers and not, ya know, have fun with it. With very few penalties for falling (okay, it might be a pain to get back to where you were if you plummet particularly badly), you’re always encouraged to gravity rush around, and, yes, it’s a rush.

It’s just a shame the rest of the game doesn’t quite understand that.

BoooThere are two sides to Gravity Rush: the exploration and the combat. This is pretty normal for a video game, because I could describe, say, Super Metroid in exactly the same manner. You’re using a different skill set when you’re getting to Ridley than when you’re fighting Ridley, and, while there is some overlap, they’re very different experiences. Gravity Rush is no different, and, while the exploration of Gravity Rush is new and exciting, the combat is rote and, frankly, archaic. You’ve got a basic melee attack, a dodge roll, a jump kick, and a dash attack. Hm, we’re barely a step above Final Fight here. But you have gravity powers! And you can use ‘em to hover high in the sky, and then deliver a devastating dive kick. And… that’s about it. You have a few other gravity powers, but they’re all extremely limited by a sort of “magic meter” that will refill just in time for the battle to be over. So you’re stuck dive-kicking over and over again, which is fun for like five seconds, but if I wanted to play a game that was dive kicking all the time, I’d just play some dive kick based game like, I don’t know, Street Fighter.

Oh, and did I mention that there are a number of flying and “tall” monsters that absolutely require all dive kick, all the time? Yeah, it gets old.

And, unfortunately, Gravity Rush’s combat leaves such a sour taste in my mouth that I made this chart describing my time playing the main campaign:

VISUAL AID

It wouldn’t even be so bad if there wasn’t so much of an emphasis on bosses and monster mobs. Or if the bosses/monsters worked as intended, like, at all! I can’t tell you how many times I attempted a dive kick on some random monster, and somehow rammed into their underside, or some random bump on their model, or something, and, whoops, no, Kat is just hovering there doing zero damage for no reason now. There’s even a special “drill kick” homing attack that is really powerful… but half the time I used it I got stuck on a tree or a wing or whatever, and the attack petered out to nothing. That’s always fun! Let’s make the worst parts of this game take even longer!

Tiamat?And it’s a damn shame, because replaying the city “free” bits for this article, I was reminded just how overwhelmingly fun this game can be. Like a good Metroid or Mario game, there’s joy just in playing around, not necessarily working toward the next goal, but shooting around this enormous playground and enjoying your time in this world. And then there are the missions that, overwhelmingly, suck. Or, even if they don’t completely suck, they at least drag down the fun to a monotonous level. And that’s no fun at all.

So, hey, people that made Gravity Rush? You made an amazing, innovative game here… How about you let me play that?

FGC #247 Gravity Rush

  • System: Playstation Vita and Playstation 4. The PS4 version contains all the additional Vita DLC, for the record.
  • Number of players: It’s Kat against the world. Or with the world. Depends on the day.
  • Port-o-Call: I own this game for both systems (yes, I’m a jerk), and, frankly, I don’t think I could go back to the Vita version. Everything feels so… cramped. This game kind of needs the widescreen, movie-theatre treatment, because, seriously, when you’re shifting the horizon, it should be life-sized.
  • Favorite city division: Who decided to put the red light district next to the largest school in the city? A genius, that’s who!
  • Like Mario?Aesthetics Corner: Is there an art book for this game? There should be, because, damn, I could look at Gravity Rush art for at least 200 pages or so. That said, whether it’s deliberate or not, I feel like the first area of this game is its ugliest, which provides a poor first impression. Or maybe I just don’t like yellows…
  • Cats always land on their feet: Oh. Just got that, too.
  • Did you know? This game was the brainchild of Keiichiro Toyama, previously best known for Silent Hill. However, according to interviews, he had the idea for Gravity Rush well before the creation of Silent Hill, and it was partially inspired by the comics of Moebius. If you’re unfamiliar with anything in this bullet point, please check out the output of both of these men immediately.
  • Would I play again: I would play the “completed save” again, but I’m not so sure about the actual game-game. I’m even looking sideways at those side missions…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cruis’n USA for the N64! Let’s see the sights at 90 MPH! Please look forward to it!


Weeeeeeeeeeee!

WW #2 Senran Kagura Bon Appétit!

Due to the subject matter of this entire week, some items may be NSFW. We’ve got some PG-13 screenshots here, but, given everyone has a different threshold, anything potentially offensive will be behind the “Read More” links du jour. Just so you are aware…

Japan is doing just fineI’m a man of extremes. We started with the origins of video game wankery, so now let’s look at something more modern. You’ll forgive me for not plugging “porn video games” into Google, but, with little to no research, I want to say the Senran Kagura series is currently the most popular “perverted” video game franchise on the market. Since Senran Kagura premiered in Japan in 2011, there have been a total of five games released in the last six years, and that’s five more games than we’ve seen starring Captain Falcon. What’s more, these games have transcended platforms (Vita, Playstation 4, and Nintendo 3DS), which is something very few other “niche games” (euphemism) have achieved (see: the entire Vita library). And, of course, all of these games have made it across the Pacific, so it’s not like we can just claim it’s some “weird Japanese thing”. We wouldn’t have seen Senran Kagura 5 (not actual title) if Senran Kagura 1 didn’t succeed on our shores.

Now, as I’ve said before, I consider myself something of a video game historian, and, even if I know I’m not going to relish a videogame, I usually give it a shot when a price drop inevitably arrives. I have no great interest in Halo, for instance, as I rarely enjoy FPS games, but I own the entire franchise because it is indisputably a part of video game history, and I feel like I should at least try to play ‘em to see what all the fuss is about. No, I’m not playing the games to completion or attempting Legendary Mode anytime soon, but I can at least identify where this Cortana creature that invaded my taskbar originated. Similarly, with Senran Kagura making such a shameful splash, I decided I had to give this franchise a shot.

No… that’s a lie.

Alright, the main reason I decided to start playing Senran Kagura was thanks to its creator, Kenichirō Takaki. Mr. Takaki had a brilliant idea, and that idea was simple: “The Nintendo 3DS’s 3-D effects would be really great for displaying breasts.” Thus, Senran Kagura was born of a simple need to look at boobs. The end.

Frankly, that’s amazing. Why? Well…

FGC #238 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

CowbungaI’ve mentioned before that, as a kid, you kind of take everything in stride. Super Mario Bros. is about a plumber that jumps on turtles and saves mushroom people? Yeah, okay. Oh, wait, now he’s a live action dude on a variety show that features cartoons that include a magical elf every Friday? Yeah, that makes sense. Oh, now Mario can fly because he gained the tail of a raccoon, a creature not traditionally known for its flight capability? Whatever, man, as long as it’s fun. Similarly, when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got their first videogame, I was elated, because, duh, Ninja Turtles and videogames: two tastes that go great together (like whipped cream and pizza). And thus did I play TMNT for hours, and I thought very little about its origins or eccentricities.

But now that I’m playing the game as an adult, I’m shell-shocked at how this might be the weirdest game on the NES.

It’s definitely a Ninja Turtle game

First, for anyone that skipped this magical adventure, I want to be absolutely clear that this is certainly a TMNT game. This is not the case of a bizarre localization where Goku became a random Native American or something. This is a radical turtle adventure that starts with an attract screen that is practically off the back of a TMNT action figure. Watch four mundane turtles mutate into awesome teenage ninja with four distinct weapon types! Look out for the evil Shredder! Bebop and Rocksteady are up to no good!

And it’s not just the intro, the overarching plot of this one could be a week-long arc on the cartoon. April is kidnapped. The Foot are going to destroy a local landmark. Splinter is kidnapped. Splinter is rescued, but it’s time to hunt down the Technodrome once and for all. There’s that nefarious Shredder, and we beat ‘em, but will he be back next week? Throw in Krang and maybe a random mutant or two, and you’ve practically got the entire series in one game. They even managed to wedge that silly blimp into a cutscene or two.

And speaking of cameos…

The Bosses are Amazing

Incoming!Bebop and Rocksteady are up to no good, and you personally get to stop them. And their boss patterns make sense: they’re both animal-people known for charging in headfirst, and here is a pair of jerks that do just that. It’s a shame you don’t get to fight them simultaneously, but there is something appropriate about Rocksteady watching Bebop get defeated and then just wandering off. Foot Mutants totally aren’t bros, yo.

But the later stage bosses are the real gems. Metalhead is not “Mecha Turtle”, dammit, he’s clearly the robo-turtle of the TMNT universe. Then we’ve got Big Mouser that, okay, maybe it doesn’t move much, but it is certainly the granddaddy of all mousers. And there’s a fight with the entire Technodrome. Sure, the scale is way off, but it’s probably the best turtle vs. tank battle you’re ever going to see in this or any other medium. It’s bigger on the inside.

The bosses are pretty damn TMNT, and their accompanying Foot Soldiers fit the flunky bill. But things start to go off the rails when you look at…

The Other Guys

Okay, so the Foot Clan are ninja. That can account for a lot of different variations on a theme. I mean, you’ve got all the crazy ninja weapons, and you could have mutant ninja, and maybe like big ninja to accompany nimble ninja. That all makes perfect sense, and this is a robot army of ninja, so even the occasional jetpack or laser gun would be allowed.

LOOK AT MEBut what we have here… uh… did anyone order a crawling eyeball? Or flying manta ray creatures? And are those Human Torch-esque “fire men”, or did some random Foot go full Thích Quảng Đức and decide to immolate around the place? I can deal with the occasional mutant frog monster, that’s practically canon, but “Chainsaw Maniac”? I think you might be a genre off, dude. And then there’s the… thing… that is just a bunch of spikes with legs creeping along the ceiling. That shouldn’t be a TMNT enemy. I’m not even certain that creature should be haunting anyone other than Lovecraft…

Oh, but these random Boomerang Buttheads (you never forget what you named enemies when you were seven) seem eerily reminiscent of Goriya, which reminds me…

Wow, this game is like The Adventure of Link

Back in 1989, videogames hadn’t quite coalesced into the rigidly defined genres of today. So when TMNT seemed a little bit like The Adventure of Link (a game released, in Japan, two years earlier), nobody thought much of it. Nowadays, we’ve had roughly six total games throughout history that can be described as “like The Adventure of Link”, so it kind of sticks out.

Party time!It’s a shame, too, because this set-up works surprisingly well with the level structure of TMNT. Heck, I’d argue that the overworld overhead perspective and underground “connected dungeons” structure of TMNT NES world works better than in The Adventure of Link. And it’s not just because of the Party Van! Let’s face it, you continue in The Adventure of Link, and the trek back to your favorite palace is more of a slog than anything. That huge, wide-open overworld is great in the beginning, but it’s just another stupid obstacle by about the time you acquire the raft. In TMNT, each level is self-contained and, more importantly, ends. Assuming you’ve got a continue remaining, you don’t ever have to cross the sewers of the first world ever again, and that’s a good thing for anyone that cares about their own time.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little disingenuous. You’re going to see the first level again and again, because, frankly…

This Game is Super Hard

It’s a NES game, so it’s a given that everything is trying to kill you. Also, this was before even the concept of “refill stations” or “save points” existed, so good luck rationing enough pizza to guarantee Donny has a full life meter at all times. And, yes, because Konami (Ultra if you’re nasty) is full of vindictive monsters, there are instant kill traps. If you want to count those Foot Tanks, there are instant kill traps on the first screen. Hope you didn’t pick your favorite turtle to inevitably be squished first!

And the platforming in this game is just plain cruel. See this? See this right here?

ARGH

I still have nightmares about this jump. Here’s your fun fact for the day! If you, like many poor, scrubby children of the 80’s, used a Game Genie to secure infinite life for your dear turtles, and you missed that one damn jump, the game would permanently freeze, and you’d have to start the whole adventure over again. What I’m saying is that even when you cheat, TMNT finds a way to punish your subpar ninja skills.

And I’ll remind you that this was a game essentially aimed at seven year olds. Konami, the “NES Generation” was already good at videogames at this point, but not this good.

Maybe I’m being hyperbolic. I mean, it’s not like there was an entire level that nobody ever got past.

Paddle on, bro

Oh, right, never mind.

So this is Turtle Power?

This all adds up to a very confusing game. It’s super hard, but made for children. It features the heroic Ninja Turtles and their mortal enemies, Robot with a Jet for a Head and Spikey Wall Guy. There’s The Adventure of Link gameplay, but with the water level nobody ever asked for! When I was a kid, I thought this was as normal as butter sandwiches (RECIPE: butter bread, put on top of other piece of bread, eat), but now, as an adult, I see this is a game as strange as spreading animal fat on couple of slabs of wheat and calling it lunch. WhoopsI understand licensed games could be anything back in the day, and Konami probably had all of about two hours of lead time to get this project out the door, but it still came out very… confused. Wolverine is a terrible game, but it’s a predictable terrible game. NES TMNT seems to zig every time you might expect a zag, and then you have to fight a mutant hedgehog for some reason.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the NES is a damn confusing game. It’s also kind of awesome, so, ya know, cowabunga.

FGC #238 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. It was also ported to various home computers of the time. Oh, it was also on the Wii Virtual Console for a hot minute, but it got rescinded due to licensing issues. I wonder how many games have actually left the Virtual Console never to return…
  • Number of Players: Four turtles, but only one player. Quite the let down for Wee Goggle Bob.
  • Favorite Turtle: Donny is best pony. Seriously, is there a reason to use anything other than that enormous bo staff? Donatello can murder Rocksteady without even having to stand up, and that’s to be commended.
  • What are they?Other Influences: The stage leading up to the Technodrome takes place in a series of caves, and there are floating jellyfish monsters. Now, I’m not saying TMNT ripped off Metroid (mainly because TMNT caves look more like “caves” than the caverns of NES Zebes), but it is a damn weird coincidence. Are, like, cave-based jellyfish creatures a thing in Japan? I’ve never been.
  • So, did you beat it? Yes! I even beat it back in the day, but, like Back to the Future, it was one of those deals where I beat the game, saw the very confusing ending (Splinter is human again? Huh?), and then was never able to get back there again (before the advent of savestates). I swear I thought I dreamed that sequence for years…
  • Land of the Rising Fun: In the Japanese version, April is identified as Splinter’s daughter, because why not? It’s not like the turtles would rescue a random woman in a yellow jumpsuit for no reason.
  • Did you know? The DOS port of TMNT contains an impossible jump in the third stage, so it’s technically impossible to beat without cheating/glitching. This is kind of amusing, because the “impossible jump” is not over an instant kill hazard, so it’s very likely that a lot of poor players banged their heads against that particular wall for years. Okay, I at least know my buddy Matt did that, because he talks about it every damn time someone so much as mentions a ninja turtle…
  • Would I play again: This game is weird and confusing, but I kind of love it. I like weird and confusing, evidently. So, yes, I’m probably going to see it back in the NES again before too long.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bobby is Going Home for the Atari! Ah, for the halcyon days of titles giving away the entire plot. Will Bobby make it home? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!

Not that kind of fun