Tag Archives: shoot ’em up

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!

FGC #214 Deathsmiles

BEWAREOne of my many failings is that I am a complete sucker for bargains. Excuse me, that’s not quite correct. I am a sucker for a perceived bargain. I might never use that discount deep fryer currently available at Big Lots, but you better believe it’s going to start living in one of my kitchen cabinets because OMG it’s 50% off the MSRP. This thinking, of course, applies to a number of videogames, and accounts for why my inventory plumps up faster than a Crossfit dropout every Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I know it’s a collection of games I already own with the tiniest of extra features added, but it’s only ten bucks! Score!

This thinking, naturally, applies to Limited & Special Editions. I spend a lot of time at videogame stores, and I have a tendency to note exactly when a Limited Edition inevitably drops from its usual $80 price point down to $40, and then again to $20. That’s right about when I leap on the poor, forgotten game like a rabid dog, and I’ve got the Tron Lightcycle and Metal Gear Glowy Arm Thingy to prove it. And I can safely say that there are a number of videogames in my collection that saw less use than their accompanying art books. And here’s a fun fact: it takes me about five minutes to “read” an art book. Hey, at least having something to leave on the coffee table is more than Primal Rage ever gave me.

HELLThis brings us to Deathsmiles, our game of the day. Deathsmiles is an Xbox 360 title that… Let’s be blunt here: I found the game revolting at its release. The Deathsmiles Special Edition lived at the counter of my local videogame shop for what felt like years, and every time I went in the store, there it was, staring back at me. Lolis smiling back at me. Ugh. Pretty much everything about the Deathsmiles packaging was vaguely disturbing. Here are a group of young teenage girls in gothic Lolita fashion, and they’ve got that damn loli expression that is somewhere between “vacuous doll” and “maybe possessed by Satan”. The rear of the box featured, appropriately enough, the cast facing away from the camera in a manner so that the main character miiiiight just be flashing some unmentionables if the angle were just a little lower. And the special edition boasted of a unique Xbox 360 plate, so you could weld these creatures to your home console, and then have their cold, dead eyes staring back at you every time you played Bioshock. Deathsmiles appeared to be the worst kind of pandering to a community for which I have nothing but contempt (I actually kind of like gothic Lolita fashion, but the whole “women as fragile dolls” thing bothers me. And that’s before we get into the vague pedophilia angle…), and ire was good and riled every time I had to see that damn box.

Then it dropped down to $20. So I bought it.

Hey, it’s not like I had to put the loli faceplate on my Xbox.

And you know what? Of all the marked down special editions I’ve bought over the years, I probably regret Deathsmiles the least.

Stupid headDeathsmiles is an arcade style shoot ‘em up. There are seven or so stages, giant bosses, and a parade of bullets to dodge. Deathsmiles differs from the Gradius mold in that there are not a long string of powerups to immediately lose upon death, so, combined with the console concession of “infinite credits”, Deathsmiles is pretty easy. It’s still difficult to achieve that all important high score, but this isn’t an R-Type situation where you’re never getting past the first level. Hell, there are even instant respawns, so I’m pretty sure you could finish this game without actually trying. Stand there and shoot, I’m sure you’ll eventually dust off that evil plant thingamabob.

But you know one thing this game doesn’t feature? Lolis.

Okay, that’s kind of a lie. The Lolis of the Corn from the box are the playable characters of Deathsmiles. And, after every stage, there is this quick flash of multiple images of those characters, complete with what appears to be one (fairly chaste) image of a girl taking a bubble bath. But that’s it! Even though a loli is on the screen at all times (she’s kind of your “ship”), this is not the typical fanservice game that revels in pantyshots or seeing the characters trip into increasingly tentacle-based situations. When you get down to the actual “game” of Deathsmiles you’ve got an experience that is less pander-y than even the Gradius successor.

What’s more, Deathsmiles mostly tosses the “Lolita” and keeps the “Gothic”. The huge bosses (and a healthy amount of the supporting monsters) all possess a creepy, otherworldly vibe. This is a shoot ‘em up, which means it’s in a genre that that hasn’t needed graphics more advanced than its 16-bit brethren, but the processing power of the HD era is used to great effect here to paint some… generally unsettling pictures. A giant head shooting fireballs from the floor is nothing new in the world of videogames, but it DO NOT TOUCHtakes on a different feel when the horrid creature has photorealistic movements juxtaposed against a magical graveyard background. And, let’s be honest, there are a lot of expectations when you name your final boss “Tyrannosatan”, but I think the Deathsmiles art team pulled that one off with aplomb. Frankly, it seems almost crazy to say this, but the Castlevania series could learn a lot about “spooky” environments and monsters from Deathsmiles.

So I might be a sucker for a bargain, but sometimes it works out. Don’t judge a game by its cover ‘n all that riot, and learn to stop worrying and tolerate the lolis.

Article over. Enjoy your morals.

FGC #214 Deathsmiles

  • System: Xbox 360, Arcade, and I think there are a few PC versions, too.
  • Number of players: Assuming you can admit to another human being that you own this game, there is a two player mode.
  • Tell me a story: Oh yeah, there is an actual plot to this game. Random teenage girls got teleported to a magical, semi-medieval wonderland where every damn thing is trying to kill them all the time, so they became witches that vaporize bitches. There’s also another witch girl that wound up in the Deathsmiles universe because of a car accident, and her father has decided to go completely insane. He’s apparently responsible for summoning all the monsters because he thinks it’s the way home, but it turns out he’s only summoning Tyrannosatan instead. Dad gets devoured, everyone else gets to become friends. I think that was the plot of a My Little Pony episode.
  • What’s in a name? Evil Dad is named… Jitterbug.
    Dance for me

    Huh.
  • Favorite Character: I don’t know. The red one?
  • Favorite boss: Mary. Mary is a giant cow. She apparently has some kind of magical, telekinetic abilities, but, by and large, she’s just a continually running cow. My mother once tried to become a vegetarian, but grew vengeful when she was bitten by a cow at a petting zoo, so I approve of any time I get to fight back against the bovine menace.
  • Did you know? There are apparently three “drama CDs” available in Japan that expand the story of Deathsmiles. Look, I’m a guy that enjoys fighting game story modes, and even I think that’s a bit excessive for a shoot ‘em up that involves a guy named Jitterbug.
  • Would I play again: Shoot ‘em ups go down easy, so this one is a definite maybe. The only hang-up is that I rarely look to my 360 for a shoot ‘em up experience. Maybe if I install the Steam version on some laptop…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction! Rawr! Hulk is the strongest one there is! Please look forward to Hulk!

MOOOOOOOVE
What a magnificent cow.

FGC #145 Bayonetta

So coolThis old man has a complaint: why does everything have to be cool?

Today’s game is Bayonetta. Do I need to explain Bayonetta at all? Since its release six years ago (and even before), Bayonetta has been the subject of a lot of videogame news coverage. Good news: this isn’t a Time Killers or Hatred situation, Bayonetta is, from an objective perspective, a good game. It’s a Platinum action/beat ‘em up game, which means good things for anyone that enjoys a lot of action. Need to unlock a door? A key is boring, how about throwing the doors wide by dodging a bolt a lightning. It worked for the titular Bayonetta, and it worked for some truck robots a few years later. And it’s not just about squeezing excitement out of a game’s every pore, Platinum games are all about careful, deliberate challenges that start small and scale to extreme levels. Whether you’re summoning a hair monster or revengencing yourself upon your enemies, Platinum generally knows how to show the player a good time.

The bad news, though, is that Bayonetta got a lot of attention for its… let’s say questionable aesthetic. According to the head honcho of Bayonetta’s development, everyone’s favorite pop sucker was designed every step of the way with “sexiness” in mind. Her gun-heels, magic hair, and general personality type were all designed to titillate. Personally, I find this idea fairly ridiculous, as I believe it was Sharkespeare that said “I know sexiness only when it swims up and bites me on the ass.” In other words, sexiness is interpreted by the audience, and Bayonetta fits a very narrow interpretation of seduction. Personally, I didn’t even think about it until the game has these two standing next to each other…

The girls

… And I realized that maybe Bayonetta isn’t even completely shaped like a human. We’re not quite in the realm of Liefieldian anatomy yet, but we’re still hovering somewhere around “what is wrong with that woman?” Sorry, I know it’s a personal hang-up, but I demand my objects of desire actually look like humans. So, yes, pose and preen all you want, witch, I’m still seeing a woman about as desirable as a Gardevoir.

But that’s the thing about this whole debate: Bayonetta is a divisive character because she’s so stylistically unique. Whether you think she is a “sexy” character, an empowering character, or an object to be ogled, she was basically designed to be everything, so your reading is equally valid. Yes, she’s an objectified heroine, but she also kicks a metric ton of ass through brains and brawn, so she’s a fine role-model. … I mean, if you’re into that kind of thing. It’s all up to your interpretation, and if someone disagrees with that, fine, that’s how opinions work.

But there is one thing Bayonetta absolutely is. She may or may not be sexy. She may or may not be objectified. She may or may not even be remotely realistic. All of that is up for debate. But there is one thing I can say with absolute certainty.

Bayonetta is cool.

And, honestly? I’m tired of cool. Videogames shouldn’t overwhelmingly feature cool characters.

Even the shops are cool!Now, to be clear, this isn’t some old nerd ranting about the days when he used to get transformed into an eggplant and like it, dammit; no, this is about how videogames work. Have you played Bayonetta? When you first started, were you any good at it? Did you score an S rank on every battle, or were you limping along with a sliver of health? Bayonetta’s gameplay is all about dodging, so how good were you at dodging angel monsters and giants (and giant monsters) you had never seen before? Yes, you might be an S-class angel slayer now, but I’m going to guess you weren’t when you first picked up the controller. You got better at Bayonetta, and, technically, Bayonetta herself got better with you.

Except… from level one (even before that if we’re including cutscenes and prologues) Bayonetta was already cool. She was already harvesting the hosts of Heaven and dropping pithy one-liners with or without your help. If anything, you playing as Bayonetta made her less cool. Way to go, poindexter.

I maintain that Mega Man X is the ur-videogame, because the titular X grows exactly in pace with the player. X gains abilities as “you” find upgrades (and learn to explore the stages), defeat bosses (and learn their patterns/weaknesses), and maybe even acquire a hadouken Totally rad(and learn to read Nintendo Power). This is perfectly mirrored in the plot, as old, “outdated” X must be rescued by cool Zero during the opening stages (when you’re absolutely more likely to be running low on health while getting acquainted with the controls anyway), but is able to avenge and triumph where Zero fails much later during the final siege. Mega Man X doesn’t start cool, but he gets there, and eventually surpasses the game’s own definition of cool (who, in retrospect, I guess is kind of a zero).

But modern (predominantly Western) videogame character design wants to skip to the end from the first moment. Bayonetta is never not cool. Nathan Drake is never not cool. Kratos, God of War, is never not cool. And, in cases like Kratos, sometimes the “cool” character is rewarded time and time again for simply being an asshole. Kratos ushers in the apocalypse on more than one occasion, and the narrative seems to be unironically shouting, “Are you not entertained!?” Kratos killed everyone in Ancient Greece (literally), and because of his unimpeachable coolness, you’re supposed to celebrate his victory.

This, really, is my issue with the character that must always be cool. It creates the dual problems of “there’s nowhere to go but up” (which is antithetical to how videogame skills work) and “they’re cool, so they must be right”. Bayonetta, let’s face it, is kind of a jerk to everyone in her immediate area. Her abilities on the battlefield are empowering and unrivaled, but she also treats nearly every other character in the cast like a clown. But it’s okay! Because she’s cool! It’s all in good fun, what’s to worry about? Well, how about the fact that she’s yet another hero in yet another game that acts like everyone that isn’t the protagonist is disposable? In a medium that has an unfortunate stereotype about attracting a number of antisocial loners, maybe we shouldn’t be elevating the concept of “I’m the hero, I’m the only person in the world.”

GulpBut, hey, ya know, it’s cool. Cool heroes and heroines sell videogames, nobody wants to play as some tubby guy in overalls or some kind of anonymous goat herder. We want to be the coolest right now, and damn character or skill development. Who cares about empathy for the less privileged when you’ve got snarky comebacks?

Bayonetta is yet another too cool heroine fighting against a world of squares. She’s the only thing in her world that matters, and I feel like that should matter more.

FGC #145 Bayonetta

  • System: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and, in a late entry, the WiiU.
  • Number of players: There can be only one “coolest”.
  • So your ideal videogame heroine is…: Tina Belcher. Obviously.
  • Hail to the Sega: Space Harrier and Hang-On, classic Sega arcade games, both get dedicated levels. I barely noticed the Hang-On stage, but, despite my general shooter prowess, I got hung-up on the Space Harrier stage for what seemed like ages. I want to say it was because its checkpoint distribution may not have been all that great, but it also might be because I have never been good at Space Harrier.
  • Admit it, you’re not very good at this game: I’m not! I’ve completed Bayonetta, but I simply don’t have the reflexes to finish everything with S rank or gain enough coin to buy out that shop. It’s really what got me thinking about this, because Bayonetta is always like, “Oh, I am simply the best,” while I’m looking at a health gauge hovering around zero and a rank that nets me a statue of a fat guy falling down.
  • NOW!Quick Times: Oh, and all quick time events should be thrown into a fire. All of them.
  • Favorite Angel: It comes early, but Beloved gets my vote. Nothing like a giant baby-faced golem towing around an axe the size of a small house.
  • Did you know? I’m still disappointed that the announcer for Super Smash Bros. 4 doesn’t faux-whisper, “Bayonetta” whenever the character is
    selected.
  • Would I play again? I keep meaning to play the WiiU version… but Bayonetta 2 is right there (even in the same case!), and I feel like that game is an improvement in every way. Well, it’s still overly cool…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… X-Kaliber 2097 for the SNES! This… this isn’t an X-Men game, is it? Just very 90’s? Alright. Well, please look forward to it!