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FGC #603 Dante’s Inferno

Let us address the many sins of Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno. We shall see if absolution is possible.

The Sin of Violence: Dante’s Inferno gets a brutal update

Let's fightLet’s get the big one out of the way first: who sits down to read Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, and thinks, “Damn! This would make a fine beat ‘em up”? This is something that apparently must have happened, as, here we are, living in a world where Dante ventures forth to tear Hell a new one with a magical scythe. The OG Dante was a poet who wrote his self-insert character into a complicated, but generally mellow, fanfic; this Dante is in a continual state of grating the bones of his enemies across his washboard abs. It is a significantly different interpretation of the same character. And, what’s more, OG Dante’s Inferno is amazingly descriptive in its journey from the underworld to the heavens, but it is also clearly meant as something of an allegory or “imaginary tale” right from the start. Dante was having a dream about his own moral standing in the world! Meanwhile, VG Dante is exactly fighting to save his fiancée and rescue a world threatened by Satan and the unrelenting forces of Hell. Nothing allegorical about pressing X to drive a blade into a sinner’s face!

Excuse me. I’m getting ahead of myself. My own prejudices against PS2/PS3-style “mature” games are shining through here, and I apologize for dismissing Dante’s Inferno for being a reimagining that was beholden to (then) modern videogame trends. This is unfair, as Real Dante’s Inferno likely survived to the present day entirely because it was contemporary. It was an epic poem, but it was not written in Latin. It involved historical and fictional celebrities that were bumming around various parts of the afterlife. The main character was the prototypical everyman hanging with a trendy historical figure. Complete with more name-dropping than a Kardashian feature, the Divine Comedy was made from its outset to be a popular piece of media, and it is only through centuries and gradually changing standards that it now seems so stiff and religious. I mean, it was always going to be religious as hell with all those popes running around, but popes were basically the Avengers of 1320.

So, alright, VG Dante’s Inferno can be forgiven for going the “popular” route with its interpretation of OG Dante’s Inferno. History has proven that Dante Alighieri clearly would have forsaken all the indie JRPGs of the era to make his story a 3-D action title if he had the technology. But there is still the problem of…

The Sin of Heresy: Dante must cry

OopsDante’s Inferno was released for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PSP in 2010. Given the marketing blitz that accompanied the game (“Please visit our E3 booth and be tortured by something other than long lines!”) and the years that have passed since, we will likely never get a real answer on exactly what the designers and marketing department responsible for Dante’s Inferno were thinking. In an obvious way, this deadly Dante screams “this isn’t your daddy’s epic poem,” and lurks around the caverns of Hell doing all sorts of things that could not even be imagined by an epic poet from 690 years prior. This is a videogame from the future, old man, get out of the way and start hammering O to earn salvation!

On the other hand, Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno is inexplicably beholden to the original source material. All of the Circles of Hell are followed precisely according to the source material, despite the fact that figuring out an action-game interpretation of “Level 13: Wood of the Suicides” must have been a pain in the branches. The setting is also firmly rooted in its original epoch, and many of the damned souls that appear across the game are not only seven centuries out of fashion, but also punished for a number of sins we wouldn’t even think about today (“Oh, damned to the circle of violence for… being gay? Really?”). It would have been wholly in the spirit of Dante’s Inferno to update Hell for the modern damned (“Do you punish for forgive this prominent ex-president that may or may not have started a hostage crisis to further his political career?”), or at least drop in period-appropriate fictional characters that are more familiar to modern audiences (not like Dante was doing anything but biting on myths about Helen of Troy anyway), but, nope, you get to make measured choices about Emperor Frederick II. You know! Emperor Frederick II! From all those movies!

And then there are all the little “flourishes” to remind you of the original poem. Game over screens drop annotated passages after every death (and there are quite a few before you see a repeat… assuming you don’t die every seven seconds). Virgil makes absolutely no sense as a character, but stops by to offer his (sometimes literally) same advice and narration as in the original work. And, if you need to answer the question of “what is the absolute worst way to experience a piece of literature”, you can read the entirety of this third of the Divine Comedy via a saved file on your Dante’s Inferno disc. Press L1 to scroll the text faster!

But this, too, could be forgiven. It is cynical to interpret all of these choices as some bizarre, aborted attempt at tying a videogame into school curriculums or college literary programs. Maybe the designers just loved the source material, and wanted to expose the unwashed masses to some culture. Maybe all of these attempts to cram more epic poetry into an epic game was wholly altruistic.

Though that would raise questions about tone…

The Sin of Fraud: Is this supposed to be serious?

The baby!So it is God of War, but instead of Greek/Roman mythology, it is Christian mythology (and, to be clear, I am a Christian, and I can tell you that 99% of Dante’s writings do not appear in the Bible, so “mythology” is the best way to designate this imagining of Hell). And the God of War franchise is known for being equally deadly serious about deicide or Icarus tripping down a hole. It is almost funny how Kratos responds to literally everything from enemy warriors to a dude trapped in a box with “this person must die”, but that is just who Kratos (circa 2010) is as a person. He lives in a serious, violent world, and he has serious, violent solutions to problems.

And then there’s Dante. Dante fights babies.

Dante’s Inferno has an amazing, unique bestiary with delightfully grotesque monsters symbolizing the various sins. There are also the unbaptized babies of limbo, which are literally just toddlers with swords for arms. And, since babies are not generally known for their threat level, you often fight many of the little tykes at once, prompting bizarre fights wherein you are viciously reaping widdle cutiepies. It is… a choice, and, while the grim and focused start of Dante’s Inferno tells you that this is supposed to be a tale of serious betrayal and heartbreaking consequences, the fact that you are slaughtering babies shortly thereafter undercuts the narrative. Earning the “bad nanny” achievement for “Kill(ing) 20 Unbaptized Children” is something that leaves an impression, too.

And, lest you think we are merely focusing on one ill-advised enemy, there are plenty of moments in Dante’s Inferno that turn hell into a circus (though, in case you are wondering, all clowns do go to Hell). The choice of torturing or absolving sinners is a constant struggle throughout this adventure, and, while torturing prompts a quick and gory cutscene, the road to salvation involves an unusual rhythm game that is shockingly reminiscent of Gitaroo Man. Then you have the fact that Hell is apparently littered with enough collectibles to make a bird ‘n bear proud, complete with happy little messages every time you find Tristan’s Desire or complete a challenge or whatever. Oh, and every goddamned person Dante has ever met in his life has apparently been damned to Hell, so get ready for the most family-reunion-based journey into darkness you could ever imagine.

And, individually, any one of these transgressions against sincerity would not impact the narrative. But when they all combine, they form an unstoppable Voltron of silliness that threatens to blazing sword any shred of dignity in Dante’s world to pieces. You can have a story about a disgraced knight fighting his way through Hell to save the world, but you cannot involve this many angry babies in the proceedings and expect it to be taken seriously.

But being silly should not be a sin. A sin should be something like…

The Sin of Sloth: This Hell is Tedious

It's a little chilly hereWriting in a contemporary vernacular is often cited as a prime reason Dante’s Divine Comedy has endured through the ages, but it is likely there is another, more obvious reason people have been reading The Inferno for so long: it is friggen fun. For being a tale of woe and suffering, it is enjoyable to see all the ironic punishments that Dante has imagined for the various sinners of the ages. In an unusual way, when you consider the number of “celebrity” sentences involved in the Inferno, Dante’s Inferno could have and likely did read as a revenge tale in its day. Did not like that one Emperor that overtaxed your grandpa? Well now he’s rutting about in poop for the rest of eternity! That’s what you get, loser! And that kind of thing persists into the modern era, because the concept of your landlord forever being tortured by Lucifer’s freezing wings is everlasting.

Gamer Dante’s Inferno is less everlasting, though. In defense of the game, there is a consistent, intimidating art style, and the monsters you fight across Hell are a lot more unique and diverse than your average beat ‘em up of the same three guys (or an army of the same shadow people). But sometime around when you explode your twelfth super fat puking guy, you realize that there is not much there there. This has a very American McGee’s Alice or McFarlane Toys Reimagining vibe to it, as everything has been reimagined to be broadly edgier… but that’s about all they got. Once you get past Dante’s bizarre fashion choices and slaughtered a baby or two, you realize that the best they will ever be able to do with the final boss is toss a few extra pentagrams into the proceeding. And once you do come to that realization, Hell becomes boring. There is a palpable tedium to seeing “shocking” items over and over, and it really does not help when those same outrageous opponents start looping endlessly during the finale.

And abandon all hope ye who believe the gameplay will save this adventure. That dreariness is locked in practically from the start, with the only real ability enhancements that significantly impact playstyles being reserved for four distinct points across the journey. Beyond that, you simply have relics and upgrade trees that make insignificant changes to the action (“Stop the presses! The combo meter has an extra two seconds of forgiveness!”), and the action is only ever “it’s God of War”. There were already, like, a bunch of God of War games before Dante’s Inferno hit the Playstation, guys! And the PSP does too count!

Look, when your Hell is defined by its monotony, you are committing a mortal sin. But even that sin is nothing before…

The Sin of Lust: Forsaken Beatrice

There is no saving thisThis Dante is not a poet or everyman. This Dante is specifically a knight of the Crusades. This Dante is a man that was deceived by The Church, and was told that his sins would be absolved if he was a good little soldier. When he died, he found he was damned, so he fought back against Death, stole his scythe, and then decided to fight to redeem his myriad sins (though you have to wonder how super damned you would be after literally killing the anthropomorphism of a cosmic rule). Unfortunately, he was dragged to Hell when he returned home and found his father and fiancée were both killed in his absence. Now the soul of said fiancée is in the hands of Lucifer (also his father, but nobody cares about that jerk). Dante dives into the pit to rescue Beatrice, and save us all from Satan along the way.

So before we go any further in this sad tale, let us examine the original Divine Comedy’s Beatrice. To be clear, in reality, Beatrice was not ever Dante’s wife, and was merely a nine year old girl who made a significant impression on ol’ Dante when he was also nine (if this sounds ridiculous, please consider that this whole scenario apparently worked for Darth Vader). Beatrice was a real person first, and never a lover. In the context of the Divine Comedy, Fictional Beatrice basically steals the chronicler role from Virgil when Dante hits Heaven, because Virgil isn’t allowed past purgatory. But don’t worry, Beatrice is more than a replacement Navi, as while Virgil is the eternal symbol of man’s intelligence and reason, Beatrice is meant to represent the divine, and the holiness of the humanities and man’s general impulses towards art. Yes, it is a bit of a cliché that a poet would consider poetry to be sacred, but you must give Dante a break, as you are someone reading these words on a gorram videogame blog. Beyond all that, though, Beatrice is certainly an unattainable beauty to Dante, but she is also literally the most helpful person in Heaven. That says a lot about the measure of the woman that is the celestial Beatrice.

In Dante’s Inferno for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, Beatrice open mouth kisses Satan. For a while.

Big sloppy kisses

That looks vaguely uncomfortable for a woman that avoided the male gaze a few centuries back by simply being described as having fair skin and emerald eyes.

Once again, if you squint, you can almost see how this story was created. Dante is an unrepentantly (okay, not technically true) violent man that is irredeemable (again, the whole point is…) in his many murderous actions, so it is easy to see how he needed something “pure” to fight for to endear himself to the player. So if rescuing a princess worked for Link, let’s apply it to another knight. Unfortunately, that immediately delves into the “women as objects” trope, so someone likely thought it would be a good idea to give Beatrice some of her own agency. So no longer is Beatrice simply being damned by Dante’s actions, now she is a woman that chose to go the evil route with Lucifer as her new groom. Apparently selecting Hell in the stratum of the mortal sin of lust is… well, no two ways about it, you’re gonna turn into a whore. Like, literally, complete with pinup transformation and a whole lot of necking. And then, of course Dante has to rescue his former bride from the clutches of almost certainly kinky sex with the Prince of Darkness, because, dang, wouldn’t Dante feel bad if he went through all of this nonsense, and he didn’t win a sexy lady out of the deal?

And, hell, that’s terrible.

Just like the rest of Dante’s Inferno.

Yeah, let’s go ahead and damn Visceral Games’ Dante’s Inferno for all eternity. Some sins are beyond forgiveness.

FGC #603 Dante’s Inferno

  • I always liked NormanSystem: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PSP. The Playstation 3 version was used for this review, and the PSP is clearly some kind of mad dream of a deranged, damned king.
  • Number of players: Virgil would have been the obvious second player, but no dice there. Just Dante.
  • Pick your poison: In other games, Classic Mode implies the greatest challenge. Here, apparently, “classic” is meant to denote “based on a literary classic that does not involve buttons”, so Classic Mode is 100% easy mode. You can switch at any time, too, so maybe “practically invincible” mode can come in handy once in a while.
  • Eat the baby: Dante’s Inferno was released during that era where every game had to have a superficial morality system (thank you very much, Bioshock). Thus, you continually have the option of punishing or absolving sinners and/or demons. And, much like in many games of the era, absolving appears to always be the proper answer, as you continually gain more “holy bullets” and experience points from showing mercy. I appreciate the moral, but it is yet another example of Dante’s Inferno going about 30% into an interesting idea before immediately giving up.
  • Speaking of Morality: Okay, so the sin that damns Beatrice in the first place is that Dante forsook the vow he made before God to never make love to another woman. And why did he do that? Well, because an “enemy” woman begged for her brother’s life to be spared, and Dante satisfied this request for the nookie. But! The saved soldier was not her brother! He was her husband! And said husband then spent the remainder of his life tracking down Dante’s family, and then killing his father and Beatrice! And what are we supposed to take from that? Mercy leads to more violence? Sinning in the name of kindness leads to more sins? Sex equals homicide? Murderers are always gonna murder? Going to be a while before I unpack that one.
  • Plot Twist: At the finale of the adventure, Lucifer reveals that the gigantic chains Dante/you have randomly severed throughout Hell were actually the only things holding ol’ Scratch back. This would have been a much bigger surprise if you couldn’t hear Satan laugh maniacally every single time you cut a chain. Dude just has zero poker face.
  • What is he thinking?Downloadable Content: There were eventually legitimate expansions to Dante’s Inferno that offer a prelude (based on the poem, and involves werewolves) and an additional playable character (Dante’s guardian angel in the flesh). But right there from launch were purchasable “experience points” to kit out Dante with new moves faster for a few bucks. This is likely why the save file for Dante’s Inferno is locked against copying, because what is player autonomy in the face of potential DLC sales?
  • Watch along: Dante apparently stitched his own cross onto his chest, and that iconic quilt offers animated vignettes about Dante’s various sins. This… is actually kind of cool, even if it does raise more than a few questions about Dante’s apparently enormous embroidery skills. Less cool is that there was an animated tie-in film that corralled some pretty big name creators in the name of Dante’s Inferno: The Anime. Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic seems to maintain the general visuals of its source game, but dodges some pretty important plot beats, like Dante conquering the Grim Reaper and stealing his signature weapon. And given it was Direct-to-DVD, watching it through traditional means may be all but impossible now. Maybe Dante could sew a recap blanket for you.
  • Did you know? They motion-captured an actual toddler to get realistic baby motions for the murder-infants. The designers were so proud of this, they made a featurette about it that only unlocks after completing the game. Learning more about child monsters is your reward for trudging through Hell. That has to be a sin, too, right?
  • Would I play again: I was very happy to see this disc leave my Playstation 3. I played the silly Dante game, Lord, do You want me to suffer again?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance! It just wouldn’t be October without a trip to Castlevania! Please look forward to it!

Eat up!

FGC #542 Splatterhouse (2010)

It goes splatLet’s give some respect to a game that knows exactly what it wants to be, even if it just wants to be disgusting.

Here is a list of games that were released in 2010:

  • God of War 3
  • Red Dead Redemption
  • Dead Rising 2
  • Bioshock 2
  • Dante’s Inferno
  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

And 2010 was also a year some of these games were noted as champions of storytelling within the medium. Red Dead Redemption is a game that deserves to be held in the same exalted pantheon as its western forbearers. Bioshock 2 wasn’t as revolutionary as the game that (mostly) birthed its franchise, but it was still a somber look at greed and decay. Dead Rising 2 has a lot to say about the current state of the medical industry in the United States. Dante’s Inferno is the retelling of an epic poem that now somehow involves a hell of a lot of dismemberment. Actually, come to think of it, literally every one of these games involves a surprising amount of mutilation. And… was that the point? Were these complicated stories of love, betrayal, and a dude that somehow forgot he was Dracula, yarns that just happened to be attached to bloodbaths? Or was it the reverse? Were these violent videogames (utilizing the latest technology of the day to clearly render when you had successfully ejected an opponent’s spinal column) that also, incidentally, included tales that would rival those of Dante? These were all games that enjoyed varying levels of success, and now, ten years later, it’s impossible to discern the intentions of the writers and directors involved.

Such a fun place!Or we know exactly what they were thinking: hyper-violent action games were all the rage in 2010, and your average player would eat up any story that claimed to have influences more cerebral than a Burger King Kid’s Club flyer (… yeah… people in 2010 were dummies, I’m sure gamers got better in the meanwhile). If you had a game that was primarily shotgun-based, but wanted to score a few reviews that somehow still included the word “elegant”, all you had to do was wrap your story around a few heady concepts, and, before you could say “Kafkaesque”, you’ve got a hit on your hands. And, for better or worse, this would happen over and over again for years. A new game is released, it embraces an unhealthy amount of face punching, but also includes a reference to a philosophical concept or two, and it is graded as some manner of genius event for everyone involved. Then the shine rubs off (usually sometime around when the DLC release schedule winds down), and we’re left with a number of people scratching their head, vainly attempting to figure out why the hell there was such a big hubbub in the first place. Bioshock Infinite cured racism? I’m sure I remember that happening once…

But there was one game released in 2010 that knew exactly what it was and what it was about: Splatterhouse.

Splatterhouse is a 3-D, modern reimagining of the original Splatterhouse franchise. All of the old staples are there: a disastrous visit to an old house in the middle of nowhere, a girlfriend kidnapped, and a haunted mask that propels our protagonist to stalk the halls in a very Voorhees manner. There’s a clear goal (rescue girlfriend), obvious monsters (they’re the dudes with asymmetric tentacles), and an excuse or two for a little blood splatter. Old weapons are scattered about the area (who couldn’t use a 2×4) and even the old bosses are represented in straightforward (there cannot be that many dudes with chainsaws for hands) or figurative ways (a haunted room must evolve into a poltergeist colossus). This Splatterhouse is not a “modern remake” that completely eschews the source material in favor of something new and different, it is completely recognizable as Splatterhouse.

Hey buddyBut there is technically a new plot hoisted on Splatterhouse. What we have here is something that could have been implied by the original, practically narration-less Splatterhouse, but is now made concrete in 2010. “The Mask” is an ancient prisoner of monsters that slipped out, and is now using its magical/deadly powers for revenge. Your ultimate opponent is a Lovecraftian cadre of formless ones that want to enter this universe and transform it into their personal meat grinder. The majority of your foes are literal monsters stitched together by a vengeful, immortal college professor (that, incidentally, kind of looks like Lovecraft). And poor, traditionally mute Rick is now a conflicted student stuck in the middle. Rick wants to save “his girl”, and he certainly doesn’t want to be dead, but does he need to kill so many ostensibly living creatures in order to meet his goals? Mask is all about the violence, but Rick seems to have objections to the kill count that is rapidly mounting at the end of his fists. Does Rick need to be so violent? Is all this carnage really necessary? Can’t we all just get along?

And the answer is: No, Rick, you dumbass, this is a videogame. You’re here to paint the walls red. Everybody knows what this is, Ricky Boy, don’t fight it.

So much splatSplatterhouse may momentarily flirt with a greater calling to make comments on the nature of violence or explore its Cthulhu inspired universe; but, more than that, it is a game that knows exactly what its audience is here for. Like a good 80’s horror film, it assumes the viewers only want two things: blood and tits. To satisfy that bloodlust, practically every enemy can become part of a fatality-esque finisher that offers organs aplenty being splayed about. And if you choose to hold off on those QTEs, all monsters pop like blood ticks, so your Mask’s thirst for the red stuff is always satisfied. And if you’re looking for the other reason for an R (M) rating, Splatterhouse has straight up nudity ready to go from the first level. Jenny is apparently the only human female seen in this universe (granted, technically, there’s only like one 100% human male on screen in this story, and he’s dead before the game starts), and she has been kidnapped, but don’t let that stop you from whipping it out in her honor. Every stage has four fragments of “Jenny’s Pictures” scattered around, and, boy, let me tell you, Jenny was an exhibitionist. The Jenny model is shamelessly used in all sorts of situations, so whether it’s a steamy shower scene or a skimpy Halloween costume that is going to wet your noodle, Splatterhouse has got you covered. Ha! Covered! Totally unlike Jenny!

And is this gross? Absolutely. 90% of the content of the previous paragraph is disgusting. The idea that the player would be “rewarded” with naked pictures of the ostensible heroine of the story is not only narrowly male heteronormative, but also just plain gross. Jenny is not only a damsel in distress, her naked (and thereabouts) pictures are the prime reward for a player exploring these environments. By all accounts, she was created just to be ‘bating bait for the audience, and, plot-wise, all we learn about Jenny is that she likes posing for risqué photographs (on actual film! Is that a character trait?). And once you get past her, the only friendly cast member, the fact that you can only interact with your antagonists through bloodsport isn’t much better. Your opponents are monsters, yes, but it is plainly stated that a number of these “creatures” are humans that have been experimented on and mutated. And how do you deal with these lost souls (some of which are distinctly noted as people Rick once knew)? Your tear their insides out. And when a door is a pulsing eyeball, you tear that out, too! But don’t worry, when a mouth-door is involved, then you have to feed blood to it, so there’s no tearing there. But there’s still violence! In fact, there is nary a single problem in Splatterhouse that can’t be solved by wanton, bloody destruction. And that’s a moral we don’t need! Violence is not the answer, and any “game” that encourages hours of carnage cannot be good for the national psyche.

Except… that’s not any different from every other bloody brawler released in 2010. The only variance here is that Splatterhouse is completely honest about its vices, while its contemporaries tried to hide behind a veneer of respectability.

It looks badGod of War 3 ended by claiming the entire franchise was about the relationship between an abusive father and his son (that may have murdered his family), but it was also a trilogy that always took time to include topless women and what could best be described as a “sex minigame”. But don’t worry, kiddies, that happened slightly offscreen! This is a respectable game! Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was a “mature” reimagining of Castlevania that incidentally treated its female cast like disposable props. Any women left standing? There’s Carmilla, a former holy warrior whose desecrated earthly remains became a vampire that is going to flirt with her opponent for about 80% of the fight. So a nun that has become corrupted and is now overtly sexual? Gosh, that couldn’t be an extremely well-trodden fetish or anything. This is a mature game. It’s not like Carmilla is wearing something like a nun’s habit split to reveal her breasts or anything. But that’s the way it goes, right? These are sophisticated games, so there might be a little t(its) to accompany your v(iolence). You know, maybe.

Or that’s the entire point, and so many games in 2010 were simultaneously nakedly chasing the heterosexual, 20-something male demographic and attempting to claim a seat at the table of “mature” media like books or movies (because everyone knows those mediums never pander to anybody). Testosterone-fueled escapes for a man’s Id were the norm (ha, were), but you could get away with it if you attached some tragedy to the proceedings. And not, like, horror movie, you-decided-to-take-the-wrong-turn tragedy, either! Pathos! You need the hero to really feel bad about his dead wife (do you want to review the previously mentioned 2010 games and tally up the number of dead wives involved? It is a concerning number!), so that way the “hero” is at least grimacing when he rips the heart out of the malevolent Tig Biddy. Kratos might be involved in an adventure that could incidentally involve a lot of nudity and violence, but he’s doing it for his family (even if they’re dead). This isn’t an adolescent fantasy, it’s a tale of love and redemption. It’s epic.

Don't touch that guySplatterhouse is just like its contemporaries, except it doesn’t chase that “epic” banner. Splatterhouse is a game that accepts its audience wants some nudity and violence, and, hey, here you go. You don’t have to analyze it. You don’t have to think about it. You just have to press X to explode-a-head. You can just review a gallery of naked pictures. You can be as horny or ferocious as you want, and Splatterhouse isn’t going to judge. It might be gross, but if it’s your thing, it’s not trying to hide your thing. Splatterhouse seems to believe it knows exactly what its audience wants, and it is going to unashamedly drown everyone in it.

Splatterhouse doesn’t try to be what it is not. Splatterhouse is Splatterhouse, and it should be commended for never apologizing for such.

Stay gross, Splatterhouse.

FGC #542 Splatterhouse (2010)

  • System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Splatterhouse is not listed as an Xbox One backwards compatible game, but apparently something called “The Splatters™” is listed, so the search function is working properly.
  • Number of players: Just Rick and Mask, working as one player.
  • QTE fun!Beyond the Gore: Splatterhouse is a pretty typical 3-D action game of the era, but it does have a few tricks up its sleeve. There are some 2-D areas that harken back to the old days, and they’re generally enjoyable (mostly because most of the usually spongey mooks suddenly are all 1-hit kills). There are also a few “jump areas” and “chases” that are predominantly quick time events, and they’re… less fun. It feels like we have gotten away from continual QTEs with our current gaming generation, which almost makes these portions vaguely nostalgic.
  • Favorite Area: The plot finds an excuse for magical portals to beam Rick outside of the titular Splatterhouse, so there are a few interesting venues available. The “ruined future”, “the past”, and slaughterhouse are all fun locations, but you really can’t beat the “Murder Carnival” that is some kind of pastiche of Disney World, a local fair, and an unruly number of giant entrails. And the hall of mirrors offers an excuse for all kinds of fights for Rick, so just enjoy the ride.
  • Are there Murder Clowns? Yep.
  • Say something mean: It’s fun being a murderous psychopath, but the final few areas find excuses to add different kinds of timers. Sometimes it is a collapsing bridge, sometimes it’s an “escort mission”, and sometimes there’s just an outright timer on the screen; but regardless of the reason, anytime your seconds are limited in Splatterhouse, it is pretty lousy. “Aiming” is a pain in the ass, and most combos keep going well after your opponent is finished. The result? You’re punching air for seconds on end while your death ticks closer and closer. Losing control isn’t a good thing when you don’t have time to spare.
  • Favorite Boss: Experiment 765 is a giant, electric ape with a hammer. He beats ol’ chainsaws-for-hands any day of the week.
  • Make clowns go splatDid you know? Whether it was intended as part of the original release or DLC that would never come, there was a lot of cut content in Splatterhouse. There was supposed to be a Nazi ice base (featuring that previously mentioned ape), a “dead island” tropical setting (including a boss that is only seen in a fish tank in the game proper), and even a finale in a collapsing chapel (there is a wedding/human sacrifice happening sometime around then, after all). Splatterhouse was kind of a bomb, so it’s unlikely we’ll ever see what was intended to be “Splatterhouse Complete”, but I have to formally state that any game that includes extra violence against Nazis is a good thing.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. This is fun in the short term (most of the time), but it’s not really my thing. That said, Berserker Mode is a hoot, and, if I have to play a PS3-era beat ‘em up, this ain’t too bad. I’m not stalking the halls again anytime soon, but I could conceive of a world where I might give it a shot. At least there is a New Game+!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mario Tennis for the Virtual Boy! Spooky times are over, but we’re still seeing red. Please look forward to it!

That's what it looks like

MKK: Guest Kharacters (Part 2)

The Mortal Kombat universe may have crossed over with the DC Universe a couple of times, but once it had a taste for crossovers, it had its own share of guest kombatants. Technically, the first guest character to appear in a “real” Mortal Kombat title was Kratos, the Greek/Sony God of War, in Mortal Kombat 9.

One god down

For anyone unfamiliar with this seething ball of rage, Kratos basically has the same backstory as Scorpion. He just wanted to be a family man that incidentally murdered boatloads of people, but, in a horrible twist of fate, one night, it was Kratos’s own family that was murdered. And, bonus problem, Kratos technically killed his own family! Gasp! Granted, it was on the orders of Ares, God of War, so Kratos decided to avenge himself upon Ares… and then, incidentally, kill every other living creature, god, man, or goat, in Greece. According to MK kanon, somewhere in there, during the events of Nu Mortal Kombat 3/9 (we’ll get to that next week), Shao Kahn summoned “the most bitchin’ fighter of all time”, and Kratos popped through a crossover hole. In the microcontinuity of Kratos winning the tournament, he murders Shao Kahn for this summoning, and becomes bros with noted gods Raiden and Fujin. He returns home, confused at himself for not murdering a pair of gods when they were right there. What has he become!?

Note that this is the first crossover character that doesn’t originate from another dimension, and is just nebulously part of the universe (in this case, “the past”). That’s going to continue with the majority of MK guests.

Oh, and before we move on, let’s note that Kratos came with a few “restrictions” compliments of Sony. For instance, Kratos is never allowed to be afraid in fatalities. This means he often faces his own death… like some kind of annoyed, impatient idiot. Okay, I guess that is kind of par for the course for the dude…

Interestingly, unlike every other fighting game franchise out there, Kratos is currently the only MK guest to originate from a videogame. This is likely because a whole host of other MK guests hail from movies, specifically horror movies. And that all started with Mortal Kombat 9 and its final DLC fighter, Freddy Krueger.

Look out!

Frederick Charles Krueger is the dream monster you know and love from his many films. In this universe, he’s apparently an immortal denizen of the Dream Realm (never mentioned before in MK, but does make a return in Tremor’s backstory in MKX), and Shao Kahn accidentally draws out Freddy during the invasion of MK3/9. This has the side-effect of making Freddy mortal and severely depowered, so he’s forced to forge a second knife hand thingy. To be clear, he has two matching claws because he needs the extra power to defeat Shao Kahn and return to the Dream Realm, and not because it would be a bear to animate a fighter with asymmetrical hands (and they didn’t even try with Hellboy). Unfortunately, Freddy doesn’t make much of an impact on MK9, as he’s almost entirely silent, and a Freddy that isn’t cracking marvelous one-liners every five seconds is no Freddy at all.

Other unfortunate news: Freddy was DLC for MK9. He stayed in MK9, and it wasn’t until Mortal Kombat X that we got Jason Voorhees. No Freddy vs. Jason for you! (Well, this is possible in the mobile version of MKX, but that’s little more than a card game…)

Run!

Jason is still the homicidal mama’s boy of Crystal Lake, and his “signature move” seems to be being completely unkillable. Jason officially exists in the Mortal Kombat universe, and is explained as a sort of “zombie man” that has been killed time and time again, but keeps busting out of Netherrealm to punish teenagers with the improper use of sleeping bags. His official story is that the current ruler of Netherrealm, Liu Kang, decided having an unstoppable killing machine in his army would be a good thing for morale, but, bad news, Jason can’t be caged. Liu Kang is bisected for his hubris, and Jason wanders off to see if anyone needs a new goalie.

Look out!

And rounding out the horror heroes of the MK universe, Leatherface also swung on in for Mortal Kombat X. Jedidiah Sawyer puts the “chainsaw” in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and he also puts a chainsaw in anyone that remotely gets in his way in the MK Universe. Leatherface is a mute cannibal that… well, I don’t think I need to explain exactly what he does with that chainsaw (or the hammer, come to think of it). This Leatherface is distinctly from the pre-reboot continuity (yes, there are multiple Leatherface continuities), and his purpose in Mortal Kombat is to find the tastiest “meat” available for his hungry family. So everybody please watch your various appendages around that guy. Leatherface seems fixated on Cassie Cage (Sonya and Johnny’s daughter), but otherwise doesn’t much care for the overall plot of the franchise. Just as well. I wouldn’t want to be the one to have to sit down and explain the complex relationship between Kitana and Kung Lao to that guy.

Nice dreds

Now we’re getting into borderline horror, but definite sci-fi. The Predator is next up. The Predator (or… uh… “this” predator) enters the fray of Mortal Kombat X for the blisteringly obvious reason of just plain killing everybody. There is prey here, he is the predator, it’s time to kick ass and take pelts. He doesn’t have any particular rivals (even if Jax is looking strangely familiar), and he doesn’t have any distinct goal beyond destruction. He’s going to fit right in with the rest of these dorks. His ending sees him mastering “sorcery”, so now he’s a magical Predator. Great. You can’t win this, Dillon.

(And side note, the Predator’s general… everything obviously inspired the design of Cyrax/Sektor in Mortal Kombat 3. While Predator can fight Triborg, it’s kind of a shame he’s forever separated from the OG cyborg hunting machines of the franchise.)

Chompy

But he might need that magic, because the last Mortal Kombat X guest is Alien. The official word on this monster is that xenomorphs showed up on Outworld ages ago (of course they would go for Outworld, that realm is like 70% acid lake), laid some eggs, and then knocked off to the pub for a cig (and to maybe catch up with Kenshi). These eggs were discovered around the time of MKX by some tarkatans, and a few face huggers later, we’ve got an Alien running around with all the powers of Baraka. And that’s how Baraka kinda-sorta got on the MKX roster! But Alien’s other moves shine through in its other fighting styles, so, don’t worry, it isn’t just limited to knifes for hands and poor dental care. It doesn’t have a particular goal for participating, but if Alien wins Mortal Kombat, it’s going to drag every last fighter back to its nest, and we’re probably going to have to deal with at least one Xenomorph with a flaming skeleton head. Can you kill such a thing with fire? Let’s not find out.

Thumbs Up

But if something needs killing, Mortal Kombat 11 did give us The Terminator. This is the first guest in a while that distinctly originates from another dimension, as this T-800 is from a separate “future” timeline. Sektor never could get his cybernetic rebellion off the ground, but Skynet managed to conquer the whole of the world on an Earth that is not wholly karate-based, and it’s from this timeline that The Terminator that is distinctly from Terminator: Dark Fate hails. I’m not going to spoil the opening of Dark Fate, but, suffice to say, this Terminator is really good at his job. Anywho, this Terminator got waylaid on his way back in time, wound up in Mortal Kombat 1990s, aged to the present day of MK11 (robot flesh is still flesh, I’m told), acquired a conscious somewhere along the way, and, in his microcontinuity, defeated the big boss of MK11 in an effort to regain control of time and space. But, thanks to that pesky conscious, he realized that being a robot with omnipotent knowledge and power was maybe a terrible idea, so he drowned himself in a bottomless sea of blood. Literally, to be clear. The Blood Sea. That’s a place in the Mortal Kombat universe. It’s not great for vacations. But before his self-imposed suicide, he hit Kabal with his motorcycle (Kabal deigned to reference Jingle all the Way, he knew the consequences), so it wasn’t a total loss.

(Side note #2: Kano’s cybernetic eye was originally based on the look/coolness of The Terminator. Terminator does get to square off with Kano in MK11, and justice is wrought for this slight against androids.)

Great Al

And, finally, Spawn brings us full circle, back to the world of comic book heroes. For those unfamiliar with the Spawn mythos, Spawn was originally Keith David, mild-mannered actor known worldwide for his involvement with the unfairly maligned and often forgotten Disney hit, The Princess and the Frog. Unfortunately, Keith David was murdered during a secret mission in Botswana for the USSG’s Operation Knightstrike (dude is a very dedicated method actor). Thanks to the unforgivable sin of playing the absolute worst villain on The Flash television series, Keith David was damned to Hell, but made a deal with a being named Malebolgia to become the one and only Hellspawn. Or maybe there’s a lot of them? There was at least the medieval one… Whatever. What’s important is that Spawn (he dropped the “hell” part so he wouldn’t scare the kiddies) travels to the Mortal Kombat universe thanks to some kind of Hell-exchange program. Apparently, MK’s “The Netherrealm” is just one of eight or nine multi-dimensional rings of Hell, and skipping across them is perfectly fine. Miraculously, Spawn actually makes friends with Scorpion and Sub-Zero in the MK universe (I thought for sure he would start a rivalry with that other hellspawn vengeance demon with a penchant for chains), presumably because they’re all (mostly) revived former demons (or however the cosmology works here) at this point in their respective timelines. Together, they battle the forces of Hell(s), and things end poorly for the various Time Goddesses and Violators running around.

Remember kiddies, even when you’re triumphing over your enemies, if you team up with Mortal Kombat, you’re probably going straight to Hell.

Next time: Mortal Kombat 9 Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Reboot

FGC #385 God of War 2

Oh godsSo God of War 2 and Kingdom Hearts 2 are basically the same game.

Venture with me now back to the early days of the Playstation 2. Many forget such an important fact, but the PS2 (and the consoles of its era, but PS2 was first) was the first system that could really “do everything”. And, no, I’m not talking about being a DVD player while hopping online and eventually supporting a hard drive for one game; no, I’m talking about actually displaying “reality” and “cartoons” as easily as network television. The Atari was squares fighting other squares. The NES was a little better, but still relied heavily on a healthy imagination to call that pile of rectangles an elfish warrior. And the Playstation 1 and Nintendo 64 both generally created characters that were more block than man. The 16-bit generation came the closest to making “cartoon graphics” that actually looked like a controllable Disney movie, but it couldn’t render a “real” looking human for all the coins in the Mushroom Kingdom. The Playstation 2 was the first system that could really pull off that kind of rendering, and, if you look at the PS2 launch lineup, it’s obvious that the creators of the era knew that well. Unless you want to claim there’s some other excuse for The Bouncer…

ZapAnd it was in this “anything is possible” era that both God of War and Kingdom Hearts were born. To the credit of everyone involved, you do have to acknowledge that either franchise would have made much less of an impact on earlier systems. In the case of Kingdom Hearts, you absolutely need the voice acting and deliberate mishmash of “animation styles” to really sell the idea of a universe made of random Disney feature films. And over in the God of War corner, Kratos could easily have been another generic videogame action hero, but the raw, visceral rage that permeates his every movement and action could only make its premiere on the Playstation 2. And it was the advantage of the Playstation 2 that no one would confuse these two games for each other. Happy lil’ boy with a keyblade that palled around with Aeris was never going to be mistaken for the Ghost of Sparta that successfully beat Ares to death with some manner of chain blades.

But there is one place where both Kingdom Hearts and God of War were very similar: they were both games with stories that were clearly intended to be finite. Sora saves the universe, Kratos becomes the God of War, let’s all hit the pub.

Now, to be clear, this is not to imply that both games were never intended to start franchises. Quite the contrary, as both titles end with trailers for multiple potential sequels. Kingdom Hearts has not only its dangling thread of Sora and Kairi being separated, but also a teaser that included the coolest keyblade fight in the franchise’s history. And God of War managed to squeeze three separate teasers into its bonus features, with a glimpse of not only Kratos’s future, but also a potential adventure wherein modern archeologists come upon an ancient dungeon on the back of a humongous skeleton. Pretty much any videogame made… ever has expected a cavalcade of sequels, and it’s kind of naïve that two titles that helped start the AAA trend would ever ignore such an obvious payday.

URGHBut don’t tell that to the writers of both of those original hits. In both cases, our protagonists are dealing with antagonists with clear goals and origins. Ansem is a mad scientist/king that went a little too mad, and wound up becoming more Kefka than Galuf. Ares is the God of War that has been using Kratos as a pawn for decades, and he’s bound to get what’s coming to him. In both cases, the big bad gets too full of himself, and winds up vaporized by his opponent. But don’t forget about the journey! Both Kratos and Sora go from nobody to somebody, and learn a thing or two about not plunging into sorrow along the way. Sora saves the universe and gains his own private Excalibur, and Kratos becomes a literal god. Nowhere to go but up from there, folks.

And then we got the inevitable sequels. And… they maybe didn’t come together all that great.

From a story perspective, Kratos gets to make a little more sense, but just barely. Now, instead of being spurned by one dick god (er, to be clear, that’s a god that is a dick, not Penilicus, God of Dicks), he must defend himself against… one dick god. But he happens to be his dad! Oh, wait, sorry, was that a twist? Did I just ruin the complex mythology of every Greek tragedy ever? So Kratos winds up battling against Zeus through the exact same arc as the first title, just in a slightly different order: stripped of powers, killed by god, go to Hell, go to a magical dungeon land, murder a few mythological figures, and then fight Zeus in a final battle that… can’t go anywhere. Sorry! Turns out that this story is now firmly entrenched in trilogy land, so you’ll have to wait for God of War 3 to see the thrilling end of Zeus and his brand new band of surly gods. At least Kratos made a new friend along the way!

Keep your eye on the prizeKingdom Hearts 2 meanwhile… does the exact same thing. The title retreads much of the adventure of the first quest, introduces a villain that is somehow bigger and badder, but still exactly the same, and, in the finale, ends with Sora scoring some new allies, but failing to banish the big bad from the universe. In Kingdom Hearts 2’s case, it seems a little more definitive than Kratos’s lack of a victory, but, come on, half the game was laying the very bread crumbs that would lead to a certain someone’s complete resurrection. And it’s not like that franchise could ever suffer a different villain anyway.

But it’s not just about the plot! Both games started with slightly upgraded beat ‘em up gameplay, and gussied up “press attack a lot and dodge roll all the time” with a leveling system that superficially added JRPG elements to very basic gameplay. But both Kingdom Hearts 1 and God of War 1 built levels around their dopey (but fun!) combat. In some cases (like GoW’s Hell or KH’s Oogie Tower) these levels didn’t work, but they were certainly a break from the monotony, and Kratos or Sora coud showcase their acrobatic prowess to maybe find some treasures. Well, the world(s) got a lot flatter in an effort to please the fans, as God of War 2 and Kingdom Hearts 2 both vastly cut down on exploration potential in favor of hammering that attack button over and over again. Hey, sometimes there’s a block to push, or a switch to pull. That’s kind of like variety, right?

And don’t get me started on how both franchises decided to treat quick time events and canned dialogue like they were the best thing since sliced Spartans.

Doomed!God of War 2 and Kingdom Hearts 2 are different games. One has a dude beating up random monsters from the myths of Greece, and the other already burned through its hydra in the first game. But, once you get into the details, it’s easy to see how both titles come from much the same place, and amount to a pair of parallel products.

GOW2 and KH2 are two games cut from the same cloth.

… And then Kratos killed Clotho. Dude does not take criticism well.

FGC #385 God of War 2

  • System: Playstation 2, Playstation 3, and Vita, though the PS2 version is obviously the source of all this mess.
  • Number of players: This former god of war works alone.
  • Other similarities: Oh yeah, then both franchises went on to crank out a prequel on the PSP, and follow that up with a third “concluding chapter” on a totally different system. Well, I have to assume the latter on the part of Kingdom Hearts, as I’m pretty sure Kingdom Hearts 3 won’t be a PS2 release.
  • Favorite Relic: Remember when time manipulation was all the rage during that console generation? Prince of Persia and… uh… Blinx? Well, it happened again here, and Kratos can slow time with the Amulet of the Fates, because… why not? I mean, if you’ve got dominion over time, may as well use it to beat some random undead soldiers to death.
  • Whip it goodFavorite Game Moment: This is the God of War title wherein the entirety of the Spartan army is wiped out by Zeus (because, again, giant dick), but one lone Spartan warrior survives! Then Kratos kills him. By accident. Because the sun was in his eyes. Look, I’m no stranger to accidental murder, but I feel like Kratos should maybe look where he’s swinging those blades.
  • Did you know? Like God of War (1), there was a novel released based on God of War 2. It was written by Robert E. Vardeman, who was also responsible for a number of Star Trek and Magic: The Gathering tie-in novels I have never read this God of War 2 work, however, because I have to assume half the text is just some variation on the phrase “angry growling”.
  • Would I play again: Nah. Unlike Kingdom Hearts 2, I have a hard time with Kratos’s whole… thing. He’s so irritated all the time! And murderous! I find it off putting. I want my murderous heroes to at least make a quip every once in a while. Is that too much to ask?

What’s next? Looks like it’s Valentine’s Day next week, and you know what that means! Love and harmony Wankery Week! Come back on Monday for a look at one of the best most passable examples of sheer wankery of 2017.

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