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FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising

I'm walking on airKid Icarus was a formative NES action game. Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was the portable sequel that continued with similar, improved mechanics. Twenty years later, Kid Icarus: Uprising was released.

And Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers.

Say what you will about things getting stale, but with Nintendo franchises, you generally know what you’re going to get. Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Bros, two Mario releases separated by decades, might not seem terribly similar to some magical human being that has never seen a videogame before, but, once you start steering Mario around the Mushroom Kingdom/Universe, it’s clear that both games come from the same base run/jump/stomp concepts. This continues through basically the whole Smash Bros cast: The Legend of Zelda is for exploring/swordplay, Donkey Kong is for simple jumping and running, Captain Falcon and F-Zero are for racing, and Metroid is for metroiding. Yes, there are spin-offs and outliers, but Star Fox is always for shootin’, even when your arwing can fold up like origami.

So you’d be forgiven if you were expecting the first Kid Icarus game in ages to be at all similar to the prior two experiences. But it turns out this Pit doesn’t need a jump button. And speaking of which, the control scheme is optimized for this guy…

Gimme some sugar

If you have less than four hands, bad news, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Masahiro Sakurai, creator of Kid Icarus: Uprising, considers his creation to be a shooting game. That is… generally accurate? Half of every level takes place in the sky (or an approximation thereof), with heroic Pit blessed with flight by Goddess Palutena. During these sections, conceptually, you are basically playing Star Fox, and the 3DS adapts well to fight and flight mechanics. Heck, there’s a reason Star Fox 64 3D was one of the first 3DS games: the 3DS seems practically made for 3-D shooting galleries. Pit, with his wings and arrows, adapts well to the role, and you could easily make the argument that this is a “modern” version of Kid Icarus’s iconic final stage. And, let’s be real here, that section probably was the best part of Kid Icarus (or the only part where any kid ever accomplished anything…) . So, yes, okay, let’s make a Kid Icarus shooting game.

Except… eventually Pit lands. Palutena’s blessing can’t last forever, and Pit must explore the second half of most levels planted firmly on the ground. Maybe there’s a tower to scale, maybe there’s a dungeon to explore, but it must be done on foot, and jumping and flying is right out. It’s here that KI:U’s control scheme gets crazy, and… why can’t he just control like a normal Nintendo hero, again?

TANK!The on foot sections of KI:U are probably best described as “experimental”. If you’re breaking this down to its core components, you’re pretty much looking at an innovative way to control a FPS hero… but in a 3rd person perspective. It’s… cumbersome. And it takes a little getting used to. Actually, it takes a lot of getting used to, and I swear the level designers know it. Some of the more demanding sections include honest-to-God walking puzzles. For those that missed the fun, that’s a challenge, usually involving narrow ledges, where you can “fail” because you did not walk correctly. That’s not something that should ever be in a videogame, because walking should be as easy as… walking. If a toddler can master something (if Dirk the Daring can master something) it should not be a remote challenge in any kind of videogame. But it seems like Angel Land has a hero or two with some manner of vertigo, so constricted walkways might be a problem. Maybe Pit had eggplants for brains a few too many times.

And it’s not just the controls that might repel a new player. There is a weapon upgrade system that is… opaque seems a little too gentle. Completely insane? You can buy new weapons by offering hearts (currency) as tribute, but all the good weapons are available via a weapon combining system that… I have no idea what is going on. There are star ratings for various weapons, but there are different types of weapons, and Pit’s shooting style changes dramatically from one weapon to another. Yes, this sword is powerful, but it would mean giving up a pair of orbs that shoot homing missiles. And the sword doesn’t “shoot” at all? But it reflects shots? Well, is that going to be at all useful in the next level that I know nothing about? Can I try before I buy? No? Hey, it’s not like the average level lasts fifteen minutes or so…

WeeeeOh, and determining the “difficulty” for a level before you play it? And it’s a one to ten incremental system? I’m sorry, what’s the difference between this stage being level 4.5 difficult versus 4.7 difficult? I can understand the difference between “Normal” and “Hard”. I’ll even tolerate a “Very Hard” or “Professional” mode. But decimals? Just show me exactly where the bar is for “world is filled with invincible skull heads”, and I’ll choose the next level lower than that. ‘Kay? Thanks.

But all of this insanity is not why Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers. What’s bonkers is how much, despite everything in this game, you will want to play more.

Kid Icarus, more than any other Nintendo game, is a playable cartoon. And that’s not because of dialogue boxes or “the plot”; it’s about the simple, instant rapport between Pit and Goddess Palutena. From the first moment, they’re chatting over the action while “you” are playing the game. Occasionally, a villain breaks into the narrative to hurl insults. As episodes progress, various other characters join the fray, and, while you’re busy with a grim reaper or two, Pit ‘n Pally are going through their comedy routine. And then, as it inevitably must, Pit gets real in later stages, Palutena is absent, and “lesser” goddesses have to pick up the slack. It’s not the same, and that’s not a bug, but a feature. When, after fifteen stages of having Palutena in your corner, she’s suddenly missing, you notice. You notice, and you notice it sucks. Where’d my goddess go!?

VroomAnd it’s in this manner that Kid Icarus: Uprising worms its way into your heart. Its systems may be dense, its controls may be some manner of hand-torture, but it contains some of the most instantly approachable and sympathetic characters in gaming. Considering Pit didn’t have very much to say in his initial adventures past, “I’m finished!” it’s a rather significant accomplishment that KI:U makes a better case for Kid Icarus: The Animated Series than every other Nintendo mascot. And these are the best mascots gaming has to offer! Pit is standing in the heavens of the gaming hall of fame, and it’s all thanks to one game.

One game that is nothing like its forbearers and is attached to impossibly janky controls. It’s… kind of bonkers.

FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. Given the direction of Nintendo’s “handheld market”, this game might never see another release again. It really is 100% geared toward the 3DS, which is kind of an accomplishment in itself.
  • Number of players: There’s a multiplayer “fight” mode here (as is proper to Sakurai games), and some sort of co-op thing, but I’ve never met anyone else with a copy of KI:U handy, so I can’t really speak to how it all plays. All I know is that it was mysteriously implicated in a number of cases of boneitis back in 2012.
  • Think of the Centurions: Palutena’s army, the noble centurions, are just as fragile as ever. And Palutena notes that they are disposable… but you’ll feel bad if they die. And, dammit, she’s right. Poor lil winged dudes…
  • Metroidian: Despite the presence of space pirates and “metroids”, there is no relation between Kid Icarus and Metroid.
    NONE

    None.
  • Just play the gig man: It’s a good thing Super Smash Bros. 4 got to reuse a lot of this music, as it is phenomenal. Sakurai doesn’t seem to direct games with half-assed soundtracks.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Male deities seem to come in all shapes and sizes, but I’ve noticed a peculiar trend with the goddesses of KI:U.

    Wankery Week never ends

    With the exception of Medusa, it seems like every heavenly being of the female variety could double as Pit’s “playful” older sister. Actually, to put a point on it, Palutena is the older sister, and the rest of the women are her cool friends that jokingly flirt and tease the dweeby Pit. Or maybe it’s just the spirit of fanfic coming upon me again. Could go either way.

  • Did you know? Viridi is the one recurring character that appears in “chat scenes” but is never directly fought. Dark Pit, Hades, Medusa, and even your own allies appear on the opposite side of Pit’s sword-bow at one time or another, but Viridi is always on the sidelines. Guess it helps to have your own army.

  • Would I play again: My hand is a little knotted right now… Maybe after a little healing…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze! Guess we’re on a Nintendo kick again, ROB? Or maybe you’re just looking for a banana smoothie? Whatever the case, it’s time to roll around with some Kongs. Please look forward to it!

DO IT!

Kingdom Hearts FAQ #13.8

The gang's all hereQ. Hey, Goggle Bob, there’s that new Kingdom Hearts 2.8 game out. What’s the deal?

A. Well, uh, “new” might not be the right term here.

Q. Explain Yourself!

A. So we’ve got Kingdom Hearts 2.8, and, basically, it’s a HD remake of a 3DS game from nearly five years ago. Dream Drop Distance was itself a kind of “soft” Kingdom Hearts 3 (Dream Drop Distance = D D D = 3D), or, at the very least, the first true continuation of the Kingdom Hearts plot since Kingdom Hearts 2, a game that was released seven years before 3D. For the record, in the real world time between the release of Kingdom Hearts 2 (2005) and Kingdom Hearts 3 (TBA), there have been 12,000 Hyperdimension Neptunia games released. EDITOR’S NOTE: 12,012 since I started this post.

Q. So, is Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD any good?

A. KH3D was a fun little jaunt that featured Sora and Riku working together in a big adventure for the first time. Given Sonic and Shadow were established early in the KH mythos, it’s amazing it took over a decade to get a KH game going where there’s an official team-up. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing Tetsuya Nomura, director of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, loves more than zippers, it’s corrupting the good and true wishes of his loyal audience of children/mouth breathers. So Sora and Riku are working together for this game, but there’s a timer involved, and you can only play as Sora or Riku for a limited time before being forced to switch back to the other hero. I think this was intended as some sort of “hey kids, don’t spend so long staring at a tiny screen” concession for the portable system of the game’s origin, but that doesn’t make much sense in HD land. At least there is a plot excuse for the switching.

Q. What’s the plot this time?

DARKNESS!A. Nomura must have watched a lot of Inception before writing this game, because… well.. it’s exactly that. The conceit of the game is that there are a few worlds that are just resting their eyes before returning to the Kingdom Hearts universe, and, rather than hearing “just five more minutes, mom” from Hunchback of Notre Dame Planet again, Yen Sid decides to send Sora and Riku into the dreams of the sleeping worlds to wake ‘em up. Unfortunately, something goes wrong immediately, so, while Sora is in the sleeping dreams of the worlds, Riku is actually in Sora’s dream (of the sleeping worlds). Or maybe it’s the other way around? Whatever. What’s important is that one character can only operate when the other is asleep, and they can’t actually both be in the same place at the same time, just simulations of the same place and… ugh… Never mind, trying to parse all the little “clues” in this game will give you a headache. What’s important is that Riku and Sora can’t kiss until the ending. Oh, and Ansem is back.

Q. Ansem? Don’t you mean Xehanort?

A. Well, technically, I mean both. Ansem and Xehanort and all the other big bads are back, because you can only die so many times before you come back to life citation needed. At the end of 3D, it is revealed that Ansem/Xehanort’s plan all along, bwa ha ha ha, has been to assemble a council of thirteen versions of him, so that way he can take the most outrageous selfie the universe has ever seen. Included in the new council of Ansems are Heartless Ansem, Nobody Xemnas, Old Man Xehanort, Young Man Xehanort who has control over time for some reason, Xigbar, Lab Coat Xehanort, Lil’ Xehanort with keyblade pacifier action, and Clarabelle Cow. ARGHXehanort (one of ‘em, does it really matter which?) attempted to infect Sora with darkness, so that way he’d have a Xehanort-Sora on the team, but that failed when Riku, Mickey, and Lea saved Sora from almost certain identity crises.

Q. Lea? Who dat?

A. Oh, that’s Axel. Every member of Organization 13 from Kingdom Hearts 2/Chain of Memories appears to be back and alive now. Sora went to all the effort of murdering half of that group, and now they’re all just fine. Boo.

“Lea” is the “uncorrupted” version of Axel. Despite the fact that Axel… let’s see if I can get everything here… betrayed/murdered teammate Vexen, betrayed Organization 13: The New Kids after claiming to betray Organization 13: Original Flavor, betrayed best friend Roxas, kidnapped Kairi, attempted to kill Sora, and then finally betrayed Organization 13 again while dying, he is now a keyblade wielder, and is apparently going to be a permanent fixture of team good guy. Just goes to show, if you’re an absolute heel to everyone and everything you’ve ever encountered, including your best friends, worst enemies, and women you just met, then eventually you’ll be rewarded with the most powerful, coveted weapon in the galaxy. It’s probably because he has cool hair.

Anyway, as you can likely tell, the basic purpose of Dream Drop Distance was to move all the pieces (Sora, Riku, Axel, Ansems) into their proper spots for Kingdom Hearts 3. Given they already used “2.5” for the KH2 rerelease, 2.8 kind of makes sense for a title for this compilation.

Q. Compilation? You just got done saying this was one old game.

A. Oh, right, there’s also Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, an Aqua story in there.

Q. Aqua?

A. Aqua was one of the three stars of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, the designated prequel of the Kingdom Hearts universe. Ten years before Kingdom Hearts 1, Aqua screwed up royally, and her best friends wound up either possessed by unending evil or asleep forever. Aqua herself was sucked into the Realm of Darkness, which is basically Kingdom Hearts Hell.

Q. You mean Anime Expo?

Welcome to HELLA. No. I mean a barren, dark universe where time has no meaning and heartless creatures feed on the discarded remains of lifeless fantasy worlds.

Q. So you do mean Anime Expo?

A. No, dammit. Look, Aqua is trapped in a universe where she is the lone human among the ruins of scattered forgotten worlds. It actually makes for a really interesting Kingdom Hearts experience, as Aqua is totally alone: there are no shops, friendly moogles, NPCs, crowing villains, nothing. All Aqua has to keep her company are armies of mute heartless, and her keyblade, which she uses to slay those armies of mute heartless. Occasionally, she hallucinates her friends, but even they’re pretty silent, and Aqua seems to be well aware that they’re just illusions. If Kingdom Hearts were at all capable of subtlety, I might say this entire adventure is a metaphor for loneliness and/or depression, but it’s a Nomura game, so the dude can’t help but kill the mood.

Q. How does Kingdom Hearts inevitably kill the tone of A Fragmentary Passage?

Nya?A. Remember how you could play dress up with Lightning in Lightning Returns, and with the monsters in Final Fantasy 13-2? Well, you can accessorize Aqua with pretty items you earn for completing random tasks in AFP. Yes, it’s sad that Aqua is completely alone while fighting unending hordes of evil in a waking hell universe, but she’s wearing cat ears, magical translucent wings, and a kicky dress while doing it. Right around the time that Aqua finds out she’s been trapped in this everlasting limbo for ten years, she also earns a Minnie Mouse hat, so, ya know, kind of hard to maintain the mood.

Q. So A Fragmentary Passage sucks?

A. Quite the opposite, really. It’s short (maybe three hours if you’re not trying to find all the “secrets”), but it feels like a legit test run/demo for Kingdom Hearts 3. All of the worlds are recycled, “sad” versions of locales from Birth by Sleep, but they’re completely new maps with new challenges. While it’s not very large, the first area (a ruined town from Cinderella) is so open and interesting that it gives me hope that there will be more than boring hallways in KH3. Additionally, there’s a rail section toward the end of the third world that, with encroaching heartless all around, actually feels like a Disney Land ride, which, whether intentional or not, proves there may be some innovation in those old Kingdom Hearts bones yet. Aside from the fact that the same boss is reused three nebulously different ways, A Fragmentary Passage actually gives me hope that Kingdom Hearts 3 might not just be a long delayed more of the same.

Q. Hey, come to think of it, Aqua is the first starring woman in a Kingdom Hearts adventure that doesn’t have to share the spotlight with more important male leads. Does this improve Kingdom Hearts’ feminism rating?

A. On one hand, the entire point of this story is that Aqua is a badass that is not going to give up in the face of impossible odds. There’s one amazing scene where Aqua struggles to defeat a Darkside Heartless (a creature that is roughly as tall as a house), wins, and then moves forward to find her next challenge is ten Darkside Heartless. Her response is simply, “Okay then,” and then gets to work. Bad. Ass.

And, incidentally, Willa Holland, Aqua’s voice actress (who is probably best known for her role as the occasionally sword-wielding Speedy/Thea on CW’s Arrow) should probably win an award or something for carrying the entirety of this story on her vaguely-defeated-but-still-trying inflections. It’s really noticeable given she’s the only one talking for, oh, 75% of the game, and it’s quite good.

That said, unfortunately, Aqua is still defined by the men in her life, and she spends roughly the entire game either worrying about “her boys” or then, eventually, sacrificing herself for two other men, one of which has prominent, circular ears. Sorry, even with a female lead, this story does not pass the Bechdel Test, because there aren’t any other women at all. Even when Aqua fights a mirror version of herself, she spends the whole time worrying about what that means in the face of not fighting mirror boy creatures. That’s sad.

Oh well, at least there’s the implied promise that Aqua will return for Kingdom Hearts 3, so maybe we’ll see some actual girl power in that game.

Q. Oh yeah, how does A Fragmentary Passage fit into the Kingdom Hearts mythos?

A. Basically, the whole thing is a prequel to Kingdom Hearts 1, with this story ending at the exact same time as Kingdom Hearts 1’s finale. AFP finally provides an explanation on why Mickey Mouse wasn’t wearing a shirt at the end of KH1. Yes, I’m being completely serious.

Q. So what happens to Aqua, the heroine of this whole story?

A. Oh, she’s still stuck in Hell, but at least now she has DiZ (Ducks Intuiting Zaffer) to keep her company. And, again, there are good odds she’ll be rescued by the real (incidentally male) heroes later.

Q. Anything else on Kingdom Hearts 2.8?

Twilight Sparkle BladeA. There are also HD cutscenes from the browser/cell phone based Kingdom Hearts (Unchained) χ. It’s the story of how a bunch of wannabe furries attempt to save the world from a global war by creating factions that are forbidden from cooperating with each other. It doesn’t work out. I’d get into it more, but I find cell phone games to be repugnant, useless, and they take up my Pokémon Go time, so screw that noise. Even I have limits.

WW #5 Ladies’ Night

This is Wankery Week, and, while masturbation in general has something of a male-connotation, let’s not forget that women have needs, too. Sexy needs. I want to be clear that I’m not talking about shoes or showers or other things that the fairer sex seems to believe are essential. Ladies, I’ve got a good musk going here, I don’t need some random water shooter to relieve me of this funk.

Errr, anyway, in the interest of fair and balanced wankery reporting, I decided to speak to a few real life, no-exploding-clothes women. In particular, I decided to speak to a handful of people that had been playing videogames since childhood, and, of course, puberty. It’s one thing to talk to someone that has gotten into gaming as an adult, but it’s quite another to dig someone out that may have been attracted to 8-bit graphics when they were contemporary. And besides, it’s only fair as, as previously mentioned, I may have had a crush or two on Playstation heroines.

So, while I’m not going to get into names and specific fetishes (ATTENTION PEOPLE THAT ACTUALLY KNOW ME: Ruth has a thing for centaurs. Thank you), a number of women responded with fairly expected answers. Nobody seemed to go for the obviously half naked men (sorry, Mayor Haggar), and, sorry, albino Grecian war gods don’t do anything for the local ladies. What seemed to stick to the memories of these women was predominantly a number of JRPG heroes. King Edgar Figaro might not be the ladies’ man he claims, as Final Fantasy contemporary fugging Squall was named as a crush. Similarly, I’m fascinated that someone named a character from Final Fantasy Tactics (she actually asked me to not even name the character, even if she is anonymous in the article, because, thinking about it as an adult, she was that embarrassed by it), because those guys are barely more than poorly translated chess pieces. And Wild Arms’ Rudy was named, which actually reminded me of my own crush, and I can basically see where this is all coming from.

GET IT!?I mentioned at the start of the week that I had a crush on Princess Cecilia of Wild Arms. See, I was fourteen, and I want to say that I didn’t acknowledge that women were actual people until around when I was sixteen. Before I had my first “real” girlfriend, I pretty much interpreted women as unknowable, ascended creatures that had this whole sex thing figured out and were the eternal gatekeepers of me ever getting to see real, live nudity. In short, I hadn’t yet discovered that everybody poops. And, really, video games didn’t do much to divorce me of this notion, as “developed” video game women were magic warriors (Terra/Celes, FF6), manic pixie dream girls (Marle, Chrono Trigger), or cats (Kat, Breath of Fire 2). Cecilia, literally from her introduction, is a magical princess, yes, but she also falls asleep in class and is known as the gluttonous “burger queen” by her classmates. In other words, in a weird way, she’s “one of the guys”, and… well, I’m just saying if we ever hung out, I’m pretty sure she’d be in to me.

And it’s fascinating to think about that line of thinking from the other side of the sexual seesaw. Videogame women were generally warrior queens or male accessories, but the men in these stories were supposed to be player-inserts. Revisiting Rudy Roughknight of Wild Arms, we’re talking about a guy that literally has maybe three lines of dialogue. He’s almost an entirely mute protagonist in his starring adventure, and, spoilers, he’s not even a damn human. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’s well developed enough to have a general personality and life, but you’re allowed to fill in the blanks on the finer points. For boys, this means that you too can imagine yourself as a heroic adventurer, and for girls, you too can imagine Rudy as your ideal boyfriend. What? You want to be an adventurer, too, girl? No, we already have a woman filling that blank. Please move along.

SexyI’m going to give the designers of any number of JRPGs the benefit of the doubt on this one, because it (theoretically) wasn’t misogyny that made Rudy the ideal boy, it was simply a need to appeal to a boy-based market. JRPGs often follow the same tropes as shonen manga because they’re both trying to garner that same audience, and half the tropes there go back thousands of years as “boy stories”. In modern times, we may have gotten past “Princess Peach needs rescuing” but it’s still hard to ignore the glut of fictional women that appear to exist exclusively to entertain the male protagonist. But since those male protagonists are supposed to be audience inserts, it’s easy for the audience to ascribe any traits they’d like to Male Hero #3,214. Rudy would totally hang out with you and talk about One Direction all night long. He’s a huge fan!

That is something I, a heterosexual male, understand. What I don’t understand is how this kid popped up in a number of responses…