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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 #601 Psychonauts 2

This article contains spoilers for Psychonauts 2, primarily in regard to a lore twist that is learned approximately halfway through the game. If you have had long conversations with Ford Cruller, you know what I am talking about. Anyway, you have been warned…

THE PSYCHONAUTS!My grandfather was the eldest of seven brothers. As confirmed by those granduncles and practically our entire extended family, my grandfather was always known as a generally kind man who was also very quick to anger. And everyone thought this was wholly justified! He had to “keep in line” his younger, male siblings with very little help from a father growing up, and then he was a navy man just in time for World War II. He spent all day on a boat with a metaphorical collection “brothers” that all had to be disciplined and controlled, and… well… I don’t know if you have ever dealt with a man before, but they can get kind of rowdy. So is it any wonder that his experiences from childhood to young adulthood stayed with him his entire life? You cannot just “turn off” the person you have been for twenty years, and if that means you occasionally must throw your drunken brother-in-law off a balcony to make a point about being civil at dinner parties, so be it (also, in my grandfather’s [legal] defense, it was not a particularly high balcony). My grandfather lived to be older than most, and, even through to the age when he was frequently napping in the living room lounger, his whole family continued to have explanations for any temperamental shouting matches. He’s always been like that. That’s just who he is.

Until it wasn’t who he was.

Today’s game is the venerable/mythical Psychonauts 2. Psychonauts 2 is here! It was released! After 16 years of absolutely no Psychonauts (Gogglebob.com does not recognize the existence of virtual reality), here is Psychonauts all back again. And it is no exaggeration to say that Psychonauts is “back”, either. If your number one complaint about Psychonauts is that it never should have ended, Psychonauts 2 has got you covered with everything from the original, and a host of quality-of-life improvements to round out an “and then some”. Psychonauts 2 starts with a Raz that already knows the essential skills from Psychonauts 1 (sorry, invisibility, I said essential), and escalates from there with confidence that the audience does not need an entire level to understand PSI blasts again. All new abilities are then introduced, challenges are expanded, and, by the end, Raz will be thought-grappling while bossing a clone around with the best of ‘em. It is remarkable all on its own that Psychonauts 2 is simultaneously exactly more of the same, and something wholly new and different. This is the game Super Mario Bros. 2 could have been! If that wasn’t awful!

Connect the thoughtsAnd I would be remiss if I did not note that they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Psychonauts was one in a seemingly endless parade of collectathons that had been going strong for ten years when it was released back in 2005. But now it seems like the idea of searching environments for hard-to-find collectibles has fallen by the wayside, and Psychonauts 2 is an example of a lamented evolutionary dead-end that that did not survive to see 2021. Chasing figments or hooking hidden keys to hidden chests feels simultaneously antiquated and refreshing when the best other titles of this era can manage is a sidequest or two where you must rescue three cats. Three cats!? You lifestream-addled morons! This friggen’ foyer has 17 tickets to find, and five more scavenger hunt items just to add a little flavor. Is this the kind of gameplay that is sustainable for title after title demanding you achieve 101% to see a marginally satisfactory ending? No. Of course not. That’s why so many people in Liberty City had mental breakdowns when photographing graffiti and seeing a “1/5,000 found” notification. But now, as likely the one game this year that is going to ask you to achieve “Rank 102”, it is a much easier pill to swallow.

But a collectathon can only work if there are interesting worlds in which to do your collecting. Mario 64 had portraits that doubled as portals, Banjo Kazooie had entire realms inside its haunted castle (wait… that was just the same as Mario…), and Psychonauts has always been about exploring the mind. And abstract psychological concepts are fertile ground for a dungeon or ten! Psychonauts 1 featured bipolar disorders transformed into theatres and Napoleon complexes transferred to gigantic boardgames. Psychonauts 2 ups the ante (literally) with hospital-casinos, gameshows, and germ-riddled bowling alleys (uh… that is better than it sounds). It is a joy to explore these abstract worlds with concrete platforming abilities, and slingshotting over a gap to find some emotional baggage or sneaking under a bridge to find a bright idea is consistently pleasant. These “mindscapes” are beautifully realized from a conceptual and level-design standpoint, and every opportunity to enter a new level feels like a gift. Look, Ma, now I can jump in this crazy bee lady’s brain! Wonder what I’m gonna find there!

But there is one important difference between Psychonauts 1 and Psychonauts 2…

FGC #589 DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power

Here come the girls!You have to admire the balls on this girl game.

DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is a Nintendo Switch title that was released this past June to very little fanfare. If we are instantly jumping to conclusions, we may presume that this is because this game is ultimately kind of a niche product that may not be advertised on the usual channels. Does DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power need to be promoted on gaming sites that might hype up the latest Mario release? No. But will it be advertised every other commercial break on Cartoon Network, currently airing the parent show’s second season? Going to go ahead and give that one a yes. And who can blame them! DCSHG:TP is based on a successful cartoon, so why not assume this game for the fans is going to primarily have an audience of those same fans? Nobody is pretending DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is anything but a chance to cash in on a popular show for a very distinct demographic.

And that is something as a shame, as DCSHG:TP could easily be described as “pretty good”. Is this the prestigious Goggle Bob Game of the Year: 2021? I can confidently say it is not. But is it a fun time with fun characters? Absolutely. DCSHG:TP is primarily a frenetic beat ‘em up, but also has significant beats from more exploration-based titles. It also features an interesting cast, a cute little story (at least one Luthor is at it again), and fun gameplay differences between its six different playable characters. In fact, one of the more interesting bits of DCSHG:TP is that the unique designs of the main characters are fully retained from the source material, so the cast has not been transformed into a bunch of “minifigs” that all have the same base body and moves. While they are superficially analogous, lithe Batgirl’s jumps and grappling moves are very different from thick Supergirl’s flight and laser eyes. In fact, complete with the voice acting and the memorable characterization of each “Super Hero Girl” (and villain), this may be one of the most distinctive casts in the gaming, left alone absolutely most distinctive female cast. Hey! DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power could win an award for 2021!

Helping little old ladies cross the streetUnfortunately, even with those distinctive characters, everything else about DCSHG:TP feels so… budget. In fact, maybe it is because of those distinctive characters! There are twelve “main” characters in each faction (heroes and villains, natch), but only three from each group is playable. This gives the impression that certain characters are more or less there simply for window dressing, or to satisfy some kind of behind-the-scenes contract. Giganta or Live Wire make for good boss fights, and you can kind of see how Bumblebee works as the goody’s support Q, but I literally have no idea if Green Lantern does a damned thing over the course of the whole game. I guess she makes nice with Poison Ivy once or twice? Poison Ivy, who, incidentally, does practically nothing herself for the entire game, too? And combine this with the same four enemy types continually reskinned across the same three or four areas (does the Lego building in the sewers count as part of the sewers or not?), and the whole game feels weirdly claustrophobic. You can see Zatanna just outside your selectable characters, or that amusement pier off in the distance, but you can never reach them. They are forever outside of your box, and you are stuck with Wonder Woman fighting the same evil bear in the same evil lair in a game that will never spare a bit of flare for some better fare.

And speaking of limited, there are a whole three named men in this game. To be clear, this is not a Love-Live or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic situation wherein it appears that the majority of men have been stricken with some unseen plague, and must not appear on camera for any reason. There are plenty of random, male NPCs running around doling out side missions and general fluffery. But there are a mere handful of named boys in this story. We’ve got…

  1. Lex Luthor, who needs no introduction, but, for the record, is more or less neutral in this tale.
  2. Toyman, who is one of the villains, and exists primarily to be responsible for the mobs of “toys” you fight across the game.
  3. Hal Jordan, the legendary Green Lantern.

And it is Hal that caught this player’s eye immediately. Hal Jordan! The Green Lantern since 1959! With his magical (not magical) green lantern ring, he has unlimited power on par with Superman. Hal Jordan! The man who has saved the world constantly, and once nearly destroyed all of time and space thanks to a particularly bad dye-job! Hal Jordan! Here he is now! Cowering!

THE GREEN LANTERN

There are seven chapters in DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power, and, while he is mentioned at the top of the game as Carol’s ex-boyfriend, Hal is not seen onscreen until Chapter Six. Given the directors could have continued the pattern of “you just missed him”, it would have been very easy to write around a lack of a Hal Jordan videogame model. But, after nearly 85% of the game is complete, here he is! And, while it would be an obvious turn to have The Green Lantern appear alongside the other Green Lantern that is already hanging around every scene, that does not happen. Hal Jordan does not appear in this game as a Green Lantern at all. Hal Jordan appears as a quivering, shaking mass of dread that is living in abject panic over his ex-girlfriend asking him for a date. This is not a Hal Jordan that appears in any other comic, movie, or videogame. This Hal Jordan, a guy (not that Guy) often billed as “The Man Without Fear”, is a coward.

And, damn, that takes some kind of courage.

It's electricHal Jordan is one of the chief superheroes of the DC Universe, and he is the only male superhero that appears in this game. He also does not help in any way, and he is… Can we use the term “sub-princess”? Like, nobody ever rescues him, because nobody cares to rescue him. He is in a bad situation in his various appearances, and no one does a thing to stop his tormentor. He is “saved” only because his Bowser got distracted and wandered off. And, in case you are wondering, this was not simply “staying true to the source material” of the animated DC Super Hero Girls. While Hal has issues with Carol in that series, the episode that introduces this conflict takes care to portray Green Lantern as a highly capable fighter, he simply has issues with this specific (cheerleader) problem. In later episodes, he appears with the Justice Dudes (or whatever they call themselves), and is a cocky, largely competent superhero. In the videogame adaption, though? You might entirely miss that whole “Green Lantern” thing, and assume Hal is a quivering mass of man jelly (editor’s note: rephrase that).

And this is huge! There was an easy “get excited about this cameo” opportunity here, and the directors of DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power absolutely did not go for it. They could have had a wannabe Superman outshine the cast you had been playing with for six chapters (or at least had a Green Lantern do something in this plot), but, nope, just an excuse to throw in a few jokes at Hal’s expense. In fact, Hal is better than a “joke” here, as he is used to enrich the Carol Ferris character. Star Sapphire is a playable character, so, naturally, they introduce the reason she is a supervillain. She is powered by her love for Hal Jordan, so Hal Jordan had to appear. Hal Jordan must appear as Carol’s beleaguered paramour, otherwise how would you understand Carol?

DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power engaged in the wholesale character assassination of an established superhero to further enrich one of its own featured supervillains.

WeeeeeAnd, in an age of boys’ games, boys’ comics, and boys’ movies, making this girl game about its girls at the expense of the boys is impressive. Each of the three villainesses have an object they covet: Harley Quinn goes gaga over a comic book featuring the Joker, Catwoman races around the city to collect stolen jewels, and Carol Ferris dotes on her favorite man, Hal Jordan. Has this hero been objectified for the benefit of another character? Absolutely. And, while that is not exactly something that should be happening at all, it is an excellent and unexpected turn for the objectifying to be on the other gender for a change. Hal Jordan is arguably less consequential in this plot than a comic book, but this is not Hal’s story. Hal already has the last few decades of stories. He’ll be alright.

DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is not afraid to make its heroines the focus of its story, and make the boys take a backseat for the adventure. DC Super Hero Girls rule.

FGC #589 DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power

  • System: Nintendo Switch. There is nothing really Switch-y about this one, so it may migrate around eventually in a Wonderful 101-way.
  • Number of players: Three superheroes, three supervillains, and one player at a time. A shame they couldn’t get some Secret of Mana-esque business going here.
  • Favorite Supervillain: Star Sapphire by a country mile. For some reason, the game introduces a character that is extremely different from every established gameplay style about 75% of the way through the proceedings. And, bam, the minute she shows up, you can play this like a friggen’ Mega Man game. Shoot! Air dash! Be a mean cheerleader! It all works!
  • SMAAAAASHHeard it before: I swear the “advance dialogue” sound is from The Legend of Zelda. Probably Wind Waker specifically, but I am not going to search down some sound effect files to confirm.
  • Build-a-town: There is a “town building” mini game. On one hand, it is rather cool to see your city grow from rubble, and then jump across rooftops that you helped construct. On the other hand, the actual logistics of it is barely a step up from Breath of Fire 2’s “which shop would you like here” city construction, and it works as little more than an excuse to blow cash from side missions on something other than clothes. Still, you can install statues of all the villains, so you can go delightfully off script…
  • Let’s talk about the show: This game worked its magic and made me check out the source show. It is… hard to describe, exactly, but I feel like an apt description is that it is a mix of Teen Titans Go, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and Samurai Jack. The action scenes are really great, with frenetic fun all around. And there are some genuine, meaningful character moments between the main characters, with morals that are a little more mature than “friendship is good!”. I, an old man watching a children’s cartoon, very much appreciate this. That said, it is also super irreverent of DC Comics and superheroes in general, and, like in Venture Brothers, that is a deep well of humor. In one episode, Supergirl “dies”, pretends to be “Powergirl” to improve her image, and comes up with the concept of “I’m from… uh… Earth… erm… 2?” to which Superman immediately agrees and is like “Oh yeah… uh… Earth 2! Totally been there!” Then they go into language jokes the whole episode with Powergirl repeatedly noting they say things like “irregardless” on Earth 2. Love it. Five stars.
  • WeeeeeeWhat’s in a plot: For the record, this game appears to be a “microcontinuity” where the pilot/first episode is recreated as the game’s overall plot, but with the superhero girls and supervillains already established and palling around. That is kind of neat… but it does mean you know who the final boss is if you watched literally one episode of the source material. No plot twists for you!
  • An end: There was no way this game was going to end with anything but a giant robot fight followed by a noncommittal “life goes on as normal” finale. It’s a tie-in to a still running animated show! This ain’t Young Justice.
  • Did you know? This is somehow the second game in a row covered on this blog where the main heroine is a redhead that saves the world and occasionally works at a taco shack. Oh, and I guess Nicole Sullivan voices both Shego in Kim Possible and Supergirl in DC Superheroes. But the taco thing is more relevant.
  • Would I play again: The gameplay/enemies/locations get kind of rote a little too quickly, so I don’t really see sitting down and playing DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power on some marathon session to score a platinum trophy (or its spiritual equivalent). That said, I could see doing a sidequest here or there when I have a spare moment, so I am technically going to play the game again… just not an awful lot. I will see that Batgirl saves the day, but on my own time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fight: Streewise for the Playstation 2! Let’s watch Cody’s brother save the world while Cody does drugs! Sound like fun? Please look forward to it!

Morning yoga?
We can work it out

FGC #588 Kim Possible: What’s the Switch?

What's the sitch?Steven Universe is an animated series that originally premiered on Cartoon Network in 2013. It ran through 2019, and wound up with five seasons and 160 episodes. It also birthed three complete JRPG-style videogames, and two “quickie” mobile titles.

Star vs. the Forces of Evil is an animated series that originally premiered on Disney XD in 2015. It ran through 2019, and wound up with four seasons and 140 episodes. It also birthed… zero videogames.

And can you guess which franchise starred a female lead?

Look, there are a lot of excuses that could be bandied about here. Cartoon Network and Disney have very different needs for merchandising! Disney Channel doesn’t care about videogames! That’s why we’ve got a Gravity Falls game sitting over on the 3DS! No… wait… how about Steven Universe was more of a hit! I mean, it’s not like Star vs. the Forces of Evil was the biggest premiere Disney XD ever had! Oh, it was? Award winning, too? Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation? Okay, guess it was popular and award winning. Steven Universe was more action-based? No, I’m pretty sure there are more episodes of Steven eating donuts around Beach City than there are of Star blasting regenerating lizard monsters with magic. And don’t even attempt to claim that somehow the curators of Star Butterfly aren’t as “into videogames” as the staff behind Steven Universe. Steven might live near an arcade, but Star has frequented an arcade dimension. Star vs. The Forces of Evil was a success in every way, and a direct contemporary of Steven Universe. But only one franchise got an “Apple arcade exclusive” title…

Let's goIt is hard not to see this as an issue with the fact that one game very clearly has a male lead, and the other is “stuck” with a woman in the title. And even that is bullshit! Steven Universe lives in a world that is wall-to-wall ladies, with the literal strongest beings in the (Steven) universe standing tall as gigantic women. And, while Star vs. the Forces of Evil certainly stars Star, her constant companion, Marco Diaz, is the obvious mundane audience surrogate. She is a fantastic magical girl from another dimension, he is a normal kid that likes karate. Guess which one is supposed to be more relatable to today’s tweens? If you are getting all gender binary here, you could easily argue that Steven Universe lives in a world already conquered by women, and Star Butterfly lives in a world that is constantly being overrun (in benevolent and malevolent ways) by men. But marketing is marketing, and Steven Universe’s pink shield is apparently assumed to be powered by testosterone, while Star vs. the Forces of Evil is wall-to-wall puppies and unicorns (I mean, not going to lie, there are a lot of unicorns. But they’re the kind of unicorns that gore people [in Disney appropriate ways]). Star is a show for girls, girls don’t play videogames, so games for girls are pointless.

And, yes, if you are reading this blog, Gogglebob.com recognizes that you likely do not agree. There are plenty of games “for girls”, whether they be titles that are distinctly aimed at the demographic (DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power has “girls” right there in the title), or games with situations that generally happen to have more feminine interests (Style Savvy, Vocaloid singalongs, anything involving a tanuki-based economy). Not everything has to be Barbie Horse Adventures or Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen stalking the malls. But, by the same token, there are any number of books, television shows, and movies aimed squarely at the pink demographic. And some of ‘em ain’t bad! My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was a show/comic book that was one fluorescent horse away from being the girl demographic ideal, but it also wound up having universal appeal with fun, likeable characters. Just because an idea is distinctly young woman-coded does not mean it cannot be universal.

Too shinyAnd that brings us to today’s game. Kim Possible: What’s the Switch? Brothers and sisters? This game couldn’t be more “for girls” if it friggen came with [REMAINDER OF THIS PARAGRAPH DELETED FOR RAMPANT SEXISM].

If you did not watch Disney Channel back in the early 21st Century, here’s the sitch: Kim Possible is a teenage cheerleader by day, and a James Bond-esque super spy by night. Her parents approve of her globe-trotting adventures (though there are concerns about flying to South America on a school night), and her problems are usually solved through a combination of cool gadgets and expert gymnastics. As is often the case with superheroes, though, her villains are a significant draw here. Señor Senior, Senior is a rich, generally pleasant old man that is currently spending his vast fortune on seeing that his spoiled son, Señor Senior, Junior becomes a capable supervillain. Frugal Lucre is attempting to commit super crimes on an extremely limited budget. DNAmy is creating chimera monsters thanks to her love of ersatz beanie babies. And the biggest, baddest villain of all in Kim’s rogue’s gallery is Dr. Drakken, the diabolical mad scientist that is responsible for about 70% of all trouble that comes Kim’s way.

Dr. Drakken also spends most of this game on the couch.

The plot of Kim Possible: What’s the Switch? is a pretty typical television trope. While on a normal mission, Dr. Drakken and Ron Stoppable, Kim Possible’s sidekick, both attempt to grab a magical monkey idol. Unfortunately, the idol switches the “brains” of Drakken and Ron, so both are stuck inhabiting each other’s bodies. SlappyDoes this lead to wacky hijinks? Kinda! But it mostly means that the two male leads of the franchise spend most of the game appearing in loading screens committing shenanigans appropriate to two cantankerous roommates. Villain Drakken and Hero Ron are both sidelined for this whole story, and it is the motivating factor in getting their female counterparts to work towards the same goal. Kim Possible has to save her sidekick/boyfriend (please see continuity footnotes in the bullet point section, true believers), and Shego, Dr. Drakken’s green and black-clad muscle, has to save her boss. Bitter rivals have to unite to save their men!

Did you catch that reversal? This is a videogame that starts from the premise of transforming its two most prominent males into damsels in distress that must be rescued by the female heroes. And it was more subtle than in Super Princess Peach!

But more important than the clear example of girl power™ on display is that Kim Possible: What’s the Switch? is a pretty damn fun game. It is a 2-D platformer / beat ‘em up! On a console! In the Playstation 2 era! That hardly ever happened! And, while there is definitely some Playstation 2 “jank” going on here, it is a pretty visually impressive game. And that’s great, because the gameplay nailed the general concept of flying around as a pair of extremely lethal gymnasts. You run. You jump. You rebound off walls, swing from flagpoles, and utilize a grappling hook when things get dicey. Is it perfect? No, because 2-D-in-3-D platforming has some issues, and this is a game that really needs some “coyote time” so Kimmy stops falling off ledges. But is it fun? Does it work? Yes and yes. Through multiple exciting venues (karate temple, British city streets, Tokyo city streets, zeppelin, snow base, giant monkey robot), Kim and Shego gracefully leap through lasers, wrecking balls, and a surprisingly high number of traffic jams. And the combat ain’t half bad, either! It is not Viewtiful Joe (about the only similar game I can think of from this era), PEW PEWbut it is also more interesting than your typical arcade beat ‘em up. And your heroines have gadgets and acrobatic moves that are beyond the usual “punch” and “jump kick” that are your customary, limited options. And, regardless of whether you can piledrive your opponents, it still feels enjoyable and kinetic, so you never lose that feeling of “running” through a level in pursuit of the latest villain.

In short, KP:WtS? is a game that really feels like inhabiting the title character. This is not some ridiculous adaptation wherein a sitcom has to be transformed into your funny dad fighting dinosaurs, or something completely out of left field wherein a beloved childhood icon is gathering eggs. This is Kim Possible, and you are controlling all the most action-y aspects of her adventures. And you get to play as the fan favorite villain, too! And, give or take a naked mole rat, you are only playing as women, and those women are the people driving the plot. In a property made for “girls”, the “girls” are center stage in every way, and there are zero concessions made to the “boy demographic” that is assumed to be the source of all videogame revenue. There is no unlockable bikini costume or super-powered male alternative character. This is a game about girls for girls. It is a girl game. And this boy enjoys it, too, because it is a great videogame.

tick tickAnd nobody has ever played it, because it was assumed to be just a random licensed game in 2006. There is no dedicated, marginally unhinged fandom online calling for a sequel. This title is forsaken to be forgotten in a year where the top games were Dead Rising, Bully, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Boy games. One of those games literally has two women in the title, but undisputedly stars a boy having a boy adventure with kidnapped childhood girlfriends and evil wizards. That is what is remembered. That is what today’s games are based on. And our modern Kim Possible properties aren’t even granted the chance to have a game.

Steven Universe gets a trilogy. Star Butterfly can’t even swing a gacha title.

We need more girl games. It is Possible.

FGC #588 Kim Possible: What’s the Switch?

  • System: Playstation 2. Look, Buena Vista Games had no idea Nintendo would eventually name one of their consoles after this game.
  • Number of players: There are multiplayer shenanigans available, but there does not appear to be a Kim/Shego continuous co-op mode. Boo!
  • Cat PossibleWhat’s in a name: Oh yeah, the title is a pun. “What’s the sitch(uation)” is Kim’s usual catch phrase, and the brains of Drakken and Ron got “switched”, so, “What’s the switch?” Or maybe it is about switching between Kim and Shego? Whatever! There are layers!
  • Voice Acting: The whole of this game features the actual stars of Kim Possible reprising all of their usual roles. So Drakken’s voice actor, John Di Maggio, is appearing in his seventeenth videogame of the Playstation 2 era. This might be a first for Patton Oswalt, though…
  • Continuity Corner: Alright, Kim Possible nerds, let’s all agree that Ron Stoppable and Kim Possible are officially dating during the events of this game. Yes, this adventure could be taking place at any point in the timeline according to dialogue, but Kim uses the EMP “toy” gun here, and she recognizes this weapon of choice. Said gun is introduced during the same adventure in the television series wherein Kim and Ron started dating, so, logically, this whole game has to take place after Kim Possible: So the Drama. Sidenote: I enjoy watching Kim Possible.
  • Favorite Stage: There are a few levels that go full hog on the whole “this is a videogame” thing. There’s an inexplicable clocktower in the middle of England! … Wait… is that supposed to be Big Ben? Does Kim Possible break a national landmark so she can get through a door? Bah! What’s important is that the final stage involves climbing a Godzilla-sized mechanical monkey, and that has more gears and platforms than anyone could ever need. Gimme some of dat.
  • Favorite Costume: You can earn costumes by collecting doodads throughout the various levels. The obvious best choice for both heroines is to have them switch outfits, but second place could go to Kim Possible’s fast food uniform. It looks very… normal for a character that is battling ninja monkeys.
  • Did you know? Speaking of fast food, the hangout spot in Kim Possible is a Taco Bell-esque chain Mexican restaurant by the name of Bueno Nacho. It is a pretty typical, deliberately campy parody of “tex-mex” American restaurants, and the “original location” is seen during the Kim Possible Movie…

    This is Bueno Nacho

    Look familiar? This is clearly a mashup of an old school McDonalds and another piece of “fake Mexican” Americana…

    This is South of the Border

    See? I’m not the only one that has been there!

  • Would I play again: Really fun, but really unlikely to play again. There are collectibles in every stage, and the actual gameplay of the levels/bonus levels are enjoyable. But after you’ve done everything? You’ve done everything. And if I am looking for a game that really has “joy of movement” down, Mario is right over there…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power for Nintendo Switch! Yes! Let’s put our money (words?) where our mouth is (where words come from) and look at a modern videogame “for girls”. Please look forward to it!

I'm just asking