Tag Archives: transformers

FGC #271 Shinobi (PS2)

Here comes a special ninjaSet foot into my home, and you will realize that I really like putting things on a shelf. The videogames are a given (hi, have you read this blog?), and, of course, that also means a pile of assorted videogame paraphernalia like controllers, Random ROBs, and the ever-expanding amiibo collection (please, Nintendo, please stop). Then we get into the action figures representing various videogame and comic book characters (and at least one Beartato pillow). And, should you escape my basement of ultra-nerdy items, I’ve even got “figures” upstairs that are more mundane and widely accepted. Did you see that bird my grandfather carved? That qualifies as art, right? Yay! Normal people stuff! Oh, uh… that painting over there? That’s…. that’s the Mana Tree… do I need to explain that?

In what passes for interior decorating, I’ve tried to segregate these collections to different rooms. One such segment is my library, which, in addition to the myriad of books that I claim I’m going to read one day, I swear, houses what I consider to be the more “childish” collections. Naturally, this means that I’ve got a room where all the Transformers hang out. And, given I’ve been afflicted with nerdiness roughly since my birth, this means there are Transformers that are fresh acquisitions (like the BIGGEST TRANSFORMER EVER recent release of Fort Max) side by side with Transformers that I first played with when I was but a wee Goggle Bob. Grimlock smash puny contemporary design sense. And, when I look at a toy turned objet d’art that has been following me around for thirty years, I can’t help but think that I used to actually play with that hunk of plastic, likely transforming it from beast to machine and back again over and over for hours; however, now, here it sits, randomly perched on a shelf in front of The Tyranny of Dead Ideas (there’s probably some synergy going on there). Maybe I’ve watched Toy Story far too many times, but I almost feel bad for this emotionless object and how I’ve now forsaken it for “playing” with nearly anything else in the universe. Optimus Prime is untouched on a shelf, never to roll out again.

And then I look back at that room full of videogames, and somehow feel even worse.

OwieIt’s completely random (thanks ROB!) but maybe this is the ideal follow-up to the navel gazing nonsense of Kickle Cubicle. Today’s game is Shinobi, a Playstation 2 release hailing from the bygone age of 2002. Fifteen years? Yeah, that sounds about right. Shinobi was released during a time that many people identified gaming as “too easy”. Whether it was because the Playstation (1) made gaming cool and fresh and fly for a whole new generation of cool kids, or if technology had advanced to the point where such things were possible, one way or another, games had gotten easier in pretty much every conceivable way in the decade or so since the NES. No more did you have to write down finicky passwords to continue your quest, now there were plentiful memory cards. No more did games seem completely insurmountable thanks to one random puzzle, now there was a wealth of knowledge on the internet. And no more did you have to worry about some 2-D platformer that reveled in killing your digital avatar repeatedly, no, the age of 3-D came with life bars and quick respawns (… probably just because it would be a pain to reload a “giant” world after every death), and everything seemed much easier as a result. Prince of Persia on the Apple 2 seemed insoluble, Prince of Persia on the Playstation 2 was going to take a week, the end.

And Shinobi wanted to answer that with a modern, 3-D action game that was also rock hard and throbbing with death. And it succeeded! Hooray!

I can't beat him nowThere are sections of Shinobi that are permanently etched into my brain. An image of tearing across a cityscape while slicing malevolent souls is right at the front my lobes. Defeating one of the later bosses in one go and not having to bang my head against that particular wall again is a cherished memory. And the final boss… I’m moderately sure that’s the longest I’ve ever spent on one individual videogame battle in my life. I was determined to beat this game, and beat it I did… it just took, I believe, two days’ worth of memorization and practice. End of the day, I could say I beat Shinobi, the hardest game of its console generation until the next really hard ninja game came out. Such a glowing accomplishment.

And then I put Shinobi on a shelf, never to play it again. Why? Because I didn’t want to ruin it.

Shinobi was a hard game. Shinobi was known as a hard game. I don’t think there was a single review of Shinobi that didn’t note its high difficulty level. And I beat it. I defeated that game that everyone said was hard. I didn’t A-rank it or replay hard mode, but I beat it. There are people who didn’t beat Shinobi, and I am better than them. And, were I to play Shinobi again, I would likely find my skills had atrophied, and now I’m no better than the scrubs. Dammit! I was an elite ninja warrior! I can’t throw that away! How about I just play another game, and not ever replay Shinobi again? That way, with Shinobi up there on that shelf, I’ll always have the memory of being good at Shinobi, and never suffering a crushing defeat to some errant tank.

And at this point I would like to note that this thinking is A. completely what I believe, and B. bonkers.

Ew!Videogames are meant to be played. Books are meant to be read. DVDs are meant to be watched. They’re not meant to sit on a shelf for the rest of eternity, aesthetics be damned. I like putting things on a shelf, but, dammit, I need someone or some “challenge” to prod me out of, “yes, that was a good memory, I’ll never play you again” thinking. ROB does the job for me, but I encourage everyone reading this to take those cherished memories off the shelf, get ‘em going, and start some new memories with your old friends. Entertainment is meant to entertain, not sit in an attic.

And regarding Shinobi? I replayed it for this article. I sucked at it. I think I got my poor ninja stuck in a helicopter rotor. There was a lot of cleanup. But you know what? I enjoyed it. And, more importantly, the videogame police didn’t knock down my door and steal my Shinobi Completion Diploma. I currently suck at Shinobi, and that’s okay. I had fun, and that’s more enjoyable than looking at an unplayed game on a shelf.

FGC #271 Shinobi (PS2)

  • System: Playstation 2! The Xbox will have to get its own super-hard ninja game.
  • Number of players: There is only one Shinobi. Something to do with a limited number of soul-sucking swords.
  • Favorite Boss: Sometimes, late at night when I’m trying to sleep, I’ll close my eyes and see that final boss. I will then not sleep for upwards of a week. Videogame PTSD is a thing, right?
  • Too hot for ninjaOther Shinobi Memories: I want to say this was one of the first PS2 games I owned that contained a memory card holder. As a result, I think Shinobi saw more “use” for its case than its actual game.
  • Any connection to old Shinobi games? Well, this ninja likes watching entire cities burn about as much as the last guy, so that’s some kind of continuity.
  • The story continues: The sequel to Shinobi is Nightshade, which features very similar gameplay and a lady ninja. Unfortunately, the whole “Shinobi 2” thing kind of got buried somewhere along the way, so most people don’t even know a sequel to Shinobi exists.
  • Did you know? Voice acting in the PS2 era was amazing.
  • Would I play again? Okay, truth be told, this is a PS2 action game, and a lot of modern conveniences we take for granted (like a goddamned map for starters) aren’t here. Also, the camera seems to have the damnedest time staying centered on an enemy. But, all that aside, I feel like I now have to replay this one, as, ya know, whole shelf thing. So… probably yes?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Nintendo Land for the WiiU! … Huh, I swear ROB is getting nostalgic about the most recently retired Nintendo hardware, and we’re seeing more WiiU games on the block. Or it’s complete random chance. Whatever. Please look forward to it!

Ugh
This is going to take forever…

The Voltron Delusion

VOLTRON!I would like to speak to you about my Defender of the Universe, Voltron.

Should I start at the beginning? Is that really necessary? I mean, most of the time when I explain some excessively nerdy topic, I basically have my mother in mind (she’s going to find this blog one of these days…), and try to explain the subject of discussion for her baby boomer brain. However, this might be one of the few situations where my mother is well aware of the pop culture nerdery in question. Why? Because I first caught the Voltron bug when I was all of four years old, and, thanks to stupid labor laws, it was very hard for a four year old to earn enough dough to purchase even one super transforming lion robot, left alone an entire pride. My parents were eager to please my little avaricious self, so, at some early point in my life, Voltron, Defender of the Universe was acquired in a myriad of forms. I had little rolly Voltron, oddly spongy Voltron, and, of course, the big cheese himself, Big Damn Voltron. As a point of fact, Big Damn Voltron has been a centerpiece of my home décor for years no matter where I hang my hat.

Hot kitchen action

Wait, where was I? Oh, right, the good news.

Got a little ahead of myself there. See, Voltron was the star of an ancient cartoon (anime?) from the 80’s, and featured five unique space explorers piloting a bunch of robot cats that were capable of combining into the titular Voltron. Despite the fact that Voltron was popular enough to drive its blazing sword into the hearts of a million teeny viewers, attempts to revive the Voltron franchise (The Third Dimension, Voltron Force, Cloverfield) have generally fallen flat. So imagine my jubilation at the announcement of a new Voltron series from the people behind Avatar: The Legend of Korra (a series that, incidentally, I just finished rewatching for the third or fourth time). This is gonna be great, guys!

And it is a stupendous show!

It’s just a lousy Voltron show.

Voltron: Legendary Defender is a serialized Voltron show. It features the old mainstays (Hunk, Pidge, Lance, Keith, Allura) and “newcomer” Takashi “Shiro” Shirogane, who is actually a sort of alternate universe Sven from the original Voltron series (Takashi Shirogane was, incidentally, the original Go-Lion character that became Sven). Sven, in the original series, suffered an early, fatal defeat and was retired to “space hospital” VOLTRON!  AGAIN!to go play with the other absent space explorers and run around a great big yard and have a by and large blissful nonexistence. In V:LD, Shiro is Black Lion’s pilot for at least the entire first season, and has a dark and mysterious past in an alien gladiator ring. Shiro is the possibly corrupted leader of the Voltron Force, and struggles deeply with his feelings of inadequacy and inability to save Pidge’s family.

In other words, Shiro got issues.

And everyone has issues! Hunk is homesick, Pidge has a missing family and trust issues, Keith appears to have become improbably feral, and Lance has been separated from whatever store sells those cool flight jackets (and I guess he almost died, too). Princess Allura is apparently the last of her people, and is so cripplingly lonely that she’s talking to vermin. Even Coran, the most clearly comic relief character in the cast, has some sort of malaise going on with entire planets getting sucked into Hell by the evil empire that incidentally obliterated his people. Oh, and that evil empire? There’s more throne gamery going on there than Westeros, with secret plans for planet juice being passed around and… ugh, it gets complicated.

And Voltron: Defender of the Universe, the original series? That Voltron ain’t complicated.

That Voltron is stupid.

Here’s the plot for an 80’s episode of Voltron: Purple Bad Guys have a plan. After much shouting and gnashing of teeth, So many headsPurple Bad Guys implement the plan. Everything goes great for Purple Bad Guys for 15 minutes (not counting commercials for [Voltron] products). At minute 16, the Voltron Squad assembles Voltron. At minute 17, Blazing Sword is formed. The Purple Bad Guy Plan that, for some reason, ultimately relied on a skyscraper sized Robeast, goes right down the toilet as Voltron cleaves previously mentioned Robeast in twain. Purple Bad Guys shake their fists angrily, and Pidge learns a valuable lesson about recycling or something. Roll credits.

With a scant few exceptions, that’s every single episode.

And for little kids, it’s glorious, because every episode has the same moral: Voltron is going to make everything okay. When you’re four? That’s the most important lesson of all.

Look, I’m assuming you didn’t stumble onto this site during naptime. You’re an adult (or something much like it), and you know life is complicated. I’m sure there are a million problems swirling around your head right now, all bumping into each other and causing stress from their mere mention. Maybe it’s something all-consuming, like providing food and shelter for your family, or maybe it’s something comparatively simple, like an ex-lover haunting your favorite noodle place; regardless, you’ve got problems, and they’re important. Maybe there are solutions to these problems, maybe the answers are far out of grasp. Maybe there are no resolutions, and this is something you’re just going to have to live with until the day you die.

But wouldn’t it be nice to just form Blazing Sword and be done with it? Wouldn’t it be nice to Voltron your problems away?

Voltron: Defender of the Universe is all about that. A lot of 80’s anime has a similar flow, too. Take a look at Sailor Moon. Whatever is going wrong with Usagi this week (whether it be her low economic standing, poor dietary habits, or general incompetence) that problem is going to be solved in about twenty minutes when she decides to transform into a superhero, spend a minute or two futzing around in her knee-high boots, and then banish evil forever (or at least to another day) with her Moon Tiara or HEROES!literal magic wand. Sure, her talking cat or obviously envious brunette buddy might make a few quips before the credits roll, but I heard that theme music, I know that the problem du jour has been solved. Heck, isn’t the endpoint of the Sailor Moon franchise a millennia of serenity? That sounds pretty alright!

Ultimately, this is why modern incarnations of Voltron or Sailor Moon do not match their previous versions. To my knowledge (with the exception of programs literally written for babies), we no longer produce TV shows with that simple, black and white morality. And that’s probably a good thing! In our modern age of streaming and absorbing hours upon hours of entertainment like oversized sponges, sucking up 25 hours of “everything is going to be okay” would likely turn the populace into a flock of waddling sheeple straight out of a bad reddit post. Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, and Steven Universe are all excellent children’s programs that also engage all age groups thanks to their gray morals and universes where a “villain” may just be a misunderstood older fellow (or rock). These are shows that would dramatically lose something if their “bad guys” were cackling maniacs destined for the pointy end of magical weapon.

But there’s a reason 80’s nostalgia works so effectively on an entire generation. Optimus Prime, Sailor Moon, and Voltron aren’t just heroes, they’re The Answer. There’s no problem that won’t be solved by the end of that theme song. Galactic Peace is just a dead Robeast away, and then everything will be perfect for another day. Watch that same canned animation of the lions combining, or Sailor Moon transforming, or Optimus rolling out, and know, just know, that everything will be okay.

Voltron: Legendary Defender is a great show about an eclectic cast of characters working their way through saving the universe.

Voltron: Defender of the Universe is universal peace through repetition.

It’s kind of hard to beat that.

Ugh