Tag Archives: story

FGC #263.1 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a marvelous game, and, unlike so many recent games, it is amazing almost exclusively for its gameplay. There’s no third act swerve, no meta commentary on gaming, and no “we’re secretly all Bokoblins” twist awaiting the player; the magic of Breath of the Wild is simply in everything Link can do, and this amazing world he gets to explore. There are surprises (“Did… did I just tame a bear?”), but it’s not a surprise-based game. In other words, for once, it really is all about the game, and not the plot.

So, naturally, I’m going to talk about the plot.

… What? It’s surprisingly interesting!

Link is indisputably the hero of Breath of the Wild. Link must venture across Hyrule, unearth mystical shrines, free friendly ghosts, and eventually confront (Calamity) Ganon, the dark smoke piggy. Even if the player doesn’t get to name our hero, Link really is a “link” for the player inhabiting Hyrule, and, save a crushing princess or two, Link is almost entirely a blank slate. He doesn’t even have a buddy on this adventure! Kinda. You, player, are Link’s buddy, and you’re the one saying, “hey listen” when you want your elven friend to sneak around an enemy encampment instead of slaughtering the whole lot of ‘em with a stick. It’s Link against the world, and you’re his only reliable ally.

But the story of Breath of the Wild is undeniably the legend of Zelda.

If you’re worried about spoilers, don’t click here.

FGC #258 Vigilante 8

Ready to fireFighting games are the closest experiences we have to “standard” cinematic experiences. Your average “action”-based affair features a hero, hero’s best friend, and hero’s inevitable love interest versus the forces of bad guy and bad guy’s second. Toss in a couple of comic relief characters (works for either side), an inescapably doomed mentor, and maybe the romantic lead’s chubby friend, and, basically, you’ve got the full cast of a movie, dramatic television show, or fighting game. Walter and Jessie versus Gus and Mike, or Ryu and Ken versus M Bison and Sagat? It doesn’t matter from a basic story structure perspective. What does matter is how many videogames necessitate… a slightly larger cast. The blockbuster, genre-defining Super Mario Bros. movie involved King Koopa and his army of two (2) goombas. Super Mario Bros. for the NES included more goombas in its first ten seconds, and never mind the sheer number of surprisingly lethal turtles wandering around. JRPGs are all about defeating Big Bad and his four malevolent lieutenants… and the 17,000 random monsters between here and the next town. Remember that beloved scene in Back to the Future when Marty is walking back and forth between Doc’s Mansion and Hill Valley, and he has to slaughter twenty random wolves and Big Boss Wolf? Yeah, me neither. In short, a number of videogame genres are forced into a sort of endless loop of adding more and more “nobodies” to the plot to validate gameplay conventions, while Fighting Games have to put in no such effort. Liu Kang hates Shao Kahn, and, after fighting six guys, they’re gonna settle this thing. Who would want to play a game that complicates that story?

So it’s always kind of surprised me that more games don’t borrow (re: steal) the basic layout of a fighting game. I’d argue that Smash Bros. does this with aplomb while still being more of a “platform/action” game without carrying all the baggage of a typical fighter (and I suppose that statement thus includes every game that ever copied Smash Bros). And, in a way, most sports games follow the same template, as you don’t have to battle, say, the Dallas Cowboys Color Guard before tackling the real Cowboy opponents in the latest Madden. But I guess that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? In film, a tight cast is a standard bit of storytelling, while, in a videogame, you’re only going to see such a thing in a sports/competitive environment. Otherwise, without a bunch of random nobodies to kill, what are you going to do? We all love that Street Fighter 2 bonus stage, but you can only beat up a car so many times before it gets old.

Or maybe cars can beat up… each other?

Look out!Today we’re looking at a game from the Playstation/N64 days. Most people remember the mid to late 90’s as the age of the JRPG boom brought on by Final Fantasy 7; however, this was also the epoch of the rise of “cool people games”. After a decade of videogames being synonymous with furry mascots and stabby elves, the big guys all seemed anxious to push a mandate of more “mature” gaming. And by “mature”, I mean “appeals to teenagers that so desperately want to drive a car and maybe touch a boob”. This led to the premiere of many “realistic” heroes, like Gordon Freeman and Lara Croft, who fought real-life problems, like aliens and t-rexes. Okay, the games might not have been any more realistic than what came before, but at least they were less cartoony, and that was good enough for a generation that was, finally, ready to play it loud.

This, coupled with the advances in graphics and scaling technology, led to a lot of racing games. A lot. Like, there was a time when you could walk into an Electronics Boutique, and there was just a wall of random cool looking cars staring back at you. “Realistic” racing games were meant to be system sellers, and, perhaps as some kind of residual aftereffect of Blast Processing, speed was king. One of these days I’m going to review that Playstation “future” racing game that involves the half-pipe and moving at super-speed… but I’m not going to name it right now, because I can’t remember if it’s that game I’m thinking of, or that other game with the exact same premise. Or maybe it was that other one? Meh, I’ll figure out later. Point is that there were a lot of racing games at the time.

Racing games naturally fall into that “competition” category like fighting and sports games. That means that your average “car game” could easily copy the fighting game template, and do the whole “unique character/unique story/unique ending” thing. That’s good! That creates memorable characters, that, in a sea of “red car vs. blue car” could make your new unique IP standout. People are always going to remember Scorpion, you could transform your racing competition game into something perennial with the right merchandising. Let’s make a car fighting game, and be legends forever!

And that car fighting game became… Twisted Metal. Who doesn’t love Sweet Tooth!? He was in Playstation All-Stars!

Fear of a yellow busThree years later, there was Vigilante 8. Vigilante 8 does not feature any characters that resurfaced for Playstation All-Stars… or… anything else, so I guess there’s something to be said for being first to the finish line. However, Vigilante 8 attempted to do something rather unique with its car combat simulator: it copied everything about fighting games. Not content to just copy the (good) basic plot structure of a fighting game, Vigilante 8 went the extra mile by copying the worst part of fighting games: the distinctive, often esoteric motions for special moves. And it married that concept to a “fight” where you basically only have one reliable offensive option (shoot), so a new player will have something of an distinct disadvantage when battling a veteran player (or, ya know, the entire single player campaign). There are even car “fatalities” available, and the game constantly prompts the player to “total” incapacitated enemies… but… how am I supposed to do that again? Come on, Activision, you always knew this game was a rental at best, why do you think anyone would read the instruction manual?

Vigilante 8 isn’t a terrible game; it can actually be quite fun if everyone involved knows what they’re doing (and you have a TV large enough to accommodate blurry 64-bit split screens), and you’re not just skidding around each other desperately trying to clip your opponent with a Stay on target, jerkdinky machine gun (only in Videogame Land may a machine gun be effectively useless). But what could easily have been a memorable game with interesting characters (interesting by late 90’s videogame standards, mind you) is severely marred by a bizarre insistence on copying everything about fighting games, good and bad. Mortal Kombat with cars could be a great game, but only if you leave the silly input motions on the cutting room floor.

Pull that off, and maybe then we’ll get some decent memories out of a bunch of fighting cars.

FGC #258 Vigilante 8

  • System: Playstation, N64, and… Gameboy Color. Suffice it to say, the GBC version is a tweeeeak different, and looks more like R.C. Pro-AM. There’s also a modern HD version that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anyone ever mention.
  • Number of players: I believe we’re limited to the standard two on Playstation, but the N64 version takes full advantage of those multiple controller ports, and allows for up to four. The Gameboy port has never been simultaneously played by two people on Earth, so who knows about that one.
  • Get 'em, paPort-o-Call: The N64 version was released a solid nine months after the Playstation release, and seemed to gain a few bells and whistles to overcompensate for the delay. The most important changes seem to be that the secret character (an Area 51 alien) gets his own story mode, and story mode itself can be played with 2 player co-op. More wannabe fighting games need co-op story modes.
  • Favorite character: Beezwax is a bee keeper with bee-based special moves and a battle-camper. I can’t say no to that kind of insanity.
  • Did you know? Molo’s “battle school bus” featured heavily in advertising and the game’s box art. Then Columbine happened. Then, for some reason, the advertising campaign for Vigilante 8 went the way of the dodo. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: For a kid that wanted to claim that the N64 was somehow better than Playstation and its Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8 at least could start an argument. Now, however, it’s little more than a curiosity. I doubt I’ll ever revisit this title.

What’s next? Random ROB is back up and working again, and we’ve got… Strider 2 for the Playstation! Yay! Ninja times are here again! Please look forward to 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!