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FGC #546 Jet Set Radio

Let's skateAre all videogames naturally authoritarian?

To begin, let us consider the concept of authority. Most of us encounter authority first through parents, who are generally adverse to a child’s natural predisposition to licking delicious wall outlets. From there, childhood is a virtual gauntlet of different authority figures. And some of those so-called “authorities” can’t even get their act together long enough to present the same messaging! Which homework am I supposed to focus on for “three hours of studying” a night, teaching staff? You all claimed every subject was the most important I’d ever encounter, and me not even believe that English class could ever be helpful! And coach says I’m supposed to be working on my gluts during that time, anyway! I’m going to just give up and lick some more outlets until mom yells at me again.

But, to be clear, authorities do not stop just because you finally graduate past the school system. In our daily lives as adults, we frequently encounter men and women that have authority over us, whether that authority be real, imagined, or distant. A boss may control whether or not you have a weekend to yourself, and a politician that was elected in Kentucky may for some reason have authority over whether or not you can control the functions of your own body. And, since this is a videogame blog, let’s go ahead and claim some of those “imagined” authorities don’t even know they are authorities. Nintendo says its latest retro release will not be available after March: does that mean they have commanded you to make a purchase now, because you are terrified of missing out? Authority comes in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes from the most unlikely of sources. Or, sometimes, there are super likely sources, like the police.

Run!The police are… a bit of a thing of late. Or maybe they always have been a thing? This is a difficult topic to broach, as this is a very public blog, and I hesitate to make any statements that could be interpreted as overtly political. Ha ha ha. Just kidding. The truth is I hesitate to make any statements that could get me fired, politically ostracized, or outright jailed. Do I think all cops are bastards? I can say, with complete confidence, that I know one retired police officer that I would not describe as a bastard. I also know one not-retired, not-fired police officer who, when my house was robbed, immediately accused my neighbor that was literally across the street because “you know, we get a lot of calls about that mixed family,” despite the fact that actual evidence proved this to be a completely baseless accusation. So, ya know, there are people on both sides (“Aren’t you missing a word in that quote?” “No.”). And, regardless of my feelings on individual police officers, I am all for defunding the police, as even the smallest PD seems to account for enormous chunks of city budgets. I have absolutely no qualms about stating that our teachers should have more funding than our police officers. But maybe this thinking is influenced by my love of videogames? I have only played a handful of games where high school teachers have been villains (and they mostly involved anime teens), but I have played a lot of videogames where the opponents were the police. I wonder why that is…

Today’s featured title, Jet Set Radio, is one such game. Technically, the real, “final” enemy of JSR is a billionaire mogul who thinks that reassembling a magical record is going to kick off a thousand years of Shin Megami Tensei, but, if you’re looking at the street level villains of Jet Set Radio, it’s only rival gangs (that eventually become friendly) and cops (who are never friendly). The plot of Jet Set Radio is (initially) simple: sweet ass magical rollerblades have been invented, sweet ass music has always been invented, and now the kids with their blades and their hip hop are skating around town and spraypainting their logos all over the place. You are one of these kids, and, since you’re actively breaking the law at all times (being this radical is illegal), the police are your constant enemy. Some are anonymous storm troopers, some are very well-defined enemies of Lupin III, and some are using friggin missile-launching helicopters to take down teenagers; but they all work together to stop the kids from having a fun time. I just want to shred and tag, man, don’t be all The Man about it.

RUN AWAY!And, if you’re just following the plot of Jet Set Radio, it is extremely anti-authoritarian. The police are a problem from the first level, but they are, more or less, little more than a nuisance. JSR distinctly portrays the police as incompetent, and, in a game that technically doesn’t have any offensive options (the “bosses” of this game are defeated by spraypainting and then becoming too embarrassed to be a threat), they are easily thwarted by simply skating around. They’ll never catch those wily kids! And, similarly, when the “real” big bad surfaces with a plan that could obliterate the city and potentially all life on the planet, it is eventually revealed that… it wouldn’t have worked. Magical demon summoning isn’t real, silly, and Evil CEO Goji was always going to be just as unsuccessful as Police Captain Onishima. The message here is clear: not only are known authorities ineffective, they’re downright goofy. The hip teenagers were always going to succeed, and these squares never had a damn clue.

And this is very common in media aimed at teenagers. Hell, you could claim that the very concept of a “teenager” is the result of identifying that at a certain point a “child” reaches an age where they object to authority (and maybe we should be able to market directly to that demographic). As such, in many videogames, you continually see teenagers save the world from evil organizations (or occasionally religions) that are run by fussy old men. Videogames don’t really have a “punk” genre, but it does have any number of teens that pathologically battle the very concept of authority. Is there that much of a difference between Beat and friends battling against the authority of a corrupt company and Cloud and friends combating another, slightly different corrupt company (and don’t claim Cloud isn’t a teenager: coma years don’t count). Tifa might not be shredding around on rollerblades (and we’re worse for it), but she’s fighting for personal freedom just as much as Gum.

Anti-wallBut, while many videogames focus on the freedom that their protagonists are fighting for, these heroes, in actuality, have absolutely zero autonomy. Final Fantasy 7 is practically a game all about how there’s no getting off the train your controller is on, but Jet Set Radio is a lot more similar than it cares to admit. Yes, there’s the obvious overarching plot that requires a playthrough, so Beat is always going to go from “new kid” with a new gang to ultimately the savior of the city (and Coin is always going to be nebulously having a bad time). But the more important thing is that, like it or not, you are locked into this game where Jet Set Radio happens to happen. Want to just cruise around on your wicked blades? Well, too bad, there are malevolent cops and/or assassins in every level. Want to escape those cops in new and interesting ways? That’s great, but there are only one or two pre-approved “escape routes” per level. And do you just want to skip a level, maybe because skating around the sewers tagging moving targets 30 times has never been fun? That’s another negative, kiddo, because you absolutely have to progress in JSR linearly. You want to play this game in a manner not prescribed by Sega? Not on my dime, pal.

Jet Set Radio is about being an anti-authority radical teen, but playing Jet Set Radio means submitting wholly to the authority of its directors. Jet Set Radio, in its most popular form, is wholly authoritarian.

But all is not lost! There is still freedom out there for Beat, Gum, and whatever that third guy was named (uh…. Beanie?). While the console versions of JSR must languish in a world without change, mods are available if you’ve decided to start skating on PC. And let us consider how much the gang from JSR has moved past their initial medium, and now frequently appear through fanart, fan videos, and enough cosplay to keep its admirers hating any conventions involving stairs for years. In short, whether it is in the digital world or the real one, the fans have wrested control of Jet Set Radio away from its authorities, and now the humble player has more than a few options on how they want to play around in that anti-authoritarian world. The system works!

Keep on rockin'And what’s the moral there? Well, there is hope. Videogames are, by their nature, authoritarian, because, more than in any other medium, a videogame can be programmed to force the player to either play the game how directed, or walk away. A book or movie is always going to include a fastforward feature, but videogames can allow for so much as a “chapter skip” to be outlawed. However, given enough time and effort, fans can reclaim practically anything, and, before you know it, Tab (that’s his name!) has been replaced by C.J., and authority has been reclaimed. It’s not easy to make such mods, and it’s not necessarily easy for a player to simply install such a thing, but it is possible. It is worth the effort.

Authority can be overthrown. Whether it be in Jet Set Radio or in our real world, things can change. Things will change. We just need to work together.

FGC #546 Jet Set Radio

  • System: Originally Sega Dreamcast, and then all over the place as of about the Playstation 3/Xbox 360. It’s currently Xbox One backwards compatible, which I think means it will work with the XboxxobX or whatever the next system is called.
  • Number of players: You’ve got a full gang, but you skate alone.
  • WeeeeeeSo, does this entire article exist because apparently your old Dreamcast VMU crapped out, and you never made any progress in the PS3 version, so, in order to capture gameplay from Jet Set Radio, you had to start completely from scratch despite beating/unlocking everything about twenty years ago? Maybe.
  • Urge to continually call this game “Jet Grind Radio”: High.
  • Favorite GG: Yo-Yo always looks like he is going to start some #$&!, so I see that lime-green hoodie a lot. He also says “yo” a lot, which, as someone who used such a word roughly 40,000,000 times in my school days, seems relatable.
  • Do you hold a grudge against Jet Set Radio because you always blamed it for the continual usage of grinding in Sonic Adventure 2 and later Sonic games, which you have always hated? Yes.
  • For the Future: I’ve never actually played Jet Set Radio Future. This is because… uh… um… I guess because the robot never told me to play it. Is it any good? It’s weird, I just never thought we needed more JSR than OG JSR.
  • Did you know? The logo of Goji and the Rokkaku Group is meant to be a hexagon (which is a pun on “Rokkaku” in Japanese), but it looks an awful lot like the Nintendo Gamecube logo. Granted, this is somehow before the Gamecube even existed, but it still seems rather fascinating.
  • Would I play again: Hell, why not? It would be nice if I could play it in a new, unique way, though…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario Bros. 2! Wait, didn’t we already do that one? I’m sorry? I’m receiving word that there are two Super Mario Bros. 2s. Oh, well that works. Please look forward to that!

Grinding right along
Authority or not, this is pretty fun

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

FGC #534 Limbo

How low will we go?Dreams are awesome. They are a shared part of our collective humanity, but nobody knows how they work. Everybody dreams, and science has proven that dreams are absolutely essential to a person functioning properly. And why is that? Nobody knows! Dreams are vital to our crazy brains, but the exact explanations for why are varied and occasionally ridiculous. Maybe our cognition just needs a break. Maybe it’s a simple “escape hatch” for the brain, a sort of “my head is pooping right now”, and “dreams” as we know them are some kind of side-effect (head farts?). Maybe we need to experience fantasy and nonsense on a nightly basis, or our ability to properly discern reality falls apart. Or maybe there’s a deep, primal need to occasionally imagine a world where Warwick Davis is really interested in your testicles for some reason. Am I the only one that has that dream? No, that has to be universal…

Regardless of the biological origin of dreams, they are a shared experience, and everyone understands the ephemeral nature of dreams. We occasionally discuss “the classics”, like imagining you are caught unprepared for a math test, or have shown up for an important business meeting wearing nothing but your “Are You Up 2 It” official Sonic the Hedgehog 2 shirt; but our conscious minds often ignore how fluid things become when we are unconscious. One minute you’re talking to your great grandmother, the next moment she’s a cat you haven’t seen since childhood, and you’re at the mall for some reason, and grandma-cat ran away, but your second lover from college is here, and they’re making goose noises, and, for some reason, you just won the lottery, so you’re going to buy an assload of transformers, but now the mall is on fire, and you should probably deal with that first, because you’re a firefighter, obviously. And the amazing part of dreams is how quickly your mind adapts to whatever is created by your mind (though, granted, when phrased like that, it does seem fairly obvious). Under normal circumstances, your undead great grandma transforming into a feline would be cause for concern, but in a dream, that is normal, and you roll with it. It’s absurd, but you naturally assume it to be genuine right now.

And that’s exactly how videogames work.

This ends poorlyNow, of course, I can already hear the cacophony of comments telling me I’m wrong about this (… I mean, assuming this website ever had an active comments section. Metalman Master? Are you okay?). Some videogames may work on dream logic, but don’t movies and books work the same way, too? And aren’t there an overwhelming number of realistic videogames wherein family members rarely become animals? And that’s all true, but it ignores how often videogames have to compromise true cohesion for being, ya know, videogames. To put it plainly: a grounded movie like The Godfather may have had some fantastic elements involved in its story that would require a lot of coincidence for such a thing to play out exactly the same in real life (the cost of oranges alone…), but The Godfather doesn’t have to find a way to shoehorn in a sewer level, either. Videogames have requirements, and sometimes that means your all-powerful, god-like hero has to demean himself by participating in a sidequest that involves finding a hundred puppies. Sometimes the guy that can jump 70 feet in the air for a “limit break” can’t find a way to bypass a gnarled root that happens to be blocking an important path. And, as we all know, if your hero is in a heated battle, he can likely soak as many bullets as he has medkits. But put that same hero in front of a gun during a cutscene, and suddenly that insane HP count means nothing. Yes, all fiction works on “dream logic” to a degree, but, more than any other medium, videogames require dream logic to function. Tolkien never had to balance Frodo’s stats so he’d be viable in multiplayer…

It's about the climbAnd dream logic works wonderfully for videogames. The lava level is next to the ice level, that’s just how it is, and you don’t have to spend the rest of the day trying to figure out why the Mushroom Kingdom hasn’t flooded yet. Similarly, dream logic can be applied liberally according to the director’s desires, and that’s why one of gaming’s most popular franchises features three guys who are all the same guy and he’s not to be confused with the guy who is also thirteen other guys. It all makes perfect sense! A game following logic that should only be possible in a certain kind of anti-reality isn’t a bug, it’s a feature of the medium, and every last JRPG or regular-sized robot adventure has prepared us for stories where it’s perfectly natural that the villain has sentient flames for hands or whatever.

And, more than any other game, Limbo uses its dream logic in the best ways possible.

Limbo is a game that defined the indie gaming scene for a solid few years. It is short. It is simple. Your protagonist can walk, jump, and push/pull objects. That’s it, and you can (only) do all this in a world that is literally black and white. There is no dialogue. There are no other playable characters. There are collectibles that do nothing more than unlock achievements for achievement’s sake. You are walking left to right, and are eventually going to reach the end. Or an end. Limbo doesn’t provide anything in the way of goals, but it’s a videogame, so you’re probably doing… something. Save the world? Save the princess? Whatever. It’s somewhere over to the right.

And, yes, if that sounds like dream logic, then you’re ready for the next part: Limbo uses its limited palette magnificently to blend all sorts of realities.

Here he comesI’m pretty sure Limbo starts in some kind of forest. It then proceeds to some manner of village, a city, an industrial site, and the finale takes place in an area one could describe as “Buzz Saws R Us” that coincidentally features some pretty swank future technology. Is it an alien space craft? An anti-gravity testing site? Or maybe just a particularly loaded Chuck E Cheese? Whatever the case, a location featuring the ability to reverse the fundamental laws of nature is a far cry from earlier areas where opponents were equipped with blow darts. And this all happens over the course of a few hours! Why can’t the weirdos from the first area go hang out in the techtopia that is an hour’s walk away? Come on, guys, it can’t be that hard to solve those ladder puzzles on your way to a better life!

And the answer is, obviously, it doesn’t matter. Limbo doesn’t take place in a world, it takes place in a dream. Limbo isn’t a place with real rules governing giant spider monsters, it is an environment to explore, a spot to exist for a few hours. It is a place that might be mortally dangerous for your unnamed protagonist, but it is also somewhere where you, the player, can enjoy yourself. It is a game world. It is a home for your mind to relax, free from the pressures of the real world. It is a dream. It might not make linear sense, it might not have a clear goal or reason for existence, and you could spend the rest of your life trying to understand its every nuance and significance (what are so many bear traps meant to represent?), but none of that matters. It’s there to help your brain, and you don’t have to understand every last where and why about that. This is good for you. You need it. Enjoy it.

I think we're closeLimbo, with its simultaneously limited and diverse world, reminds us what is important about videogames. Sometimes it’s not about a rich mythology, intricate gameplay, or a story that makes you feel some fundamental part of your soul; it’s about the journey, and experiencing everything as it comes. A spider can segue into a neon sign into a mine cart, and that’s all that it needs to do. We don’t know why we need dreams to survive, and, similarly, we don’t need to know why videogames can make our lives better. Sometimes it’s just about enjoying this thing that is happening in front of your eyes, and ours is not to reason why a series of weird, white eggs can be smashed along the way.

Limbo is a game that works on dream logic, and, as such, it becomes a dream of a videogame.

And dreams are still awesome.

FGC #534 Limbo

  • System: Initially an Xbox 360, but it eventually wound up on the PS3, Vita, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch. Might I recommend playing one of the portable versions in a darkened room?
  • Number of Players: This is one player to the max.
  • So, which version? The later versions of Limbo apparently include extra levels and a bonus stage if you collect all the trinkets about (and, to be clear, it’s not that kind of bonus stage). However, I’m sticking to the Xbox 360 version, as its almost “half finished” nature is appealing to me. I don’t want more content! I want a game that feels like it ends completely randomly!
  • A bad place to stayHey, what’s the story here? Nobody knows! People have been trying to interpret exactly what happens in Limbo for years, and, as a noted Kingdom Heartsologist, I would like to formally state that nothing about Limbo’s story matters. Is he dead? Is she dead? Are we all dead? It doesn’t matter! It’s a videogame! It’s a dream! Go overanalyze a Zelda game!
  • Favorite Puzzle… Thingy? Event? Whatever. It’s the giant spider. I have never felt so much animosity toward a creature I eventually rolled around like a ball.
  • Did you know? To the best of anyone’s knowledge, there is no such thing as a “brain slug” that can attach to someone’s head to make them walk in a particular direction. However! There is Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a kind of fungus that “infects” ants, kills them, but still makes them walk over to leaves for some shade. This process apparently takes days, and, during that time, the host-ant’s head will literally explode from the force of the spores bursting forth. So, just, ya know, it’s rough being an ant.
  • Would I play again: There were many complaints about Limbo being too short back around its release, but sometimes short is a good thing! I could play through Limbo again sometime. Maybe around Halloween? That sounds like a good time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Freshly-Picked Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland for the Nintendo DS! Oh good! It’s everyone’s favorite Zelda character, Tingle! Kooloo Limpah! Please look forward to it!

Good frog
I’m sure this makes perfect sense… somehow.

FGC #533 Tekken Tag Tournament 2

Please note that this article contains spoilers for the whole of the Tekken franchise, including the fairly recently released Tekken 7. You have been warned.

Let's TekkenTekken Tag Tournament 2 boasts a roster of 59 characters, the largest selectable cast ever in a Tekken title. And, while you have a variety of choices between Bob, Slim Bob, and other dudes with less awesome names, the story of Tekken only cares about a handful of established characters. Who, you may ask, are the most important people in the Tekken universe? It’s the Mishima family! They’re the source of all evil in their world, but also the people most likely to save it.

So, since the Mishimas are the only people in Tekken that matter, let’s rank their relative threat-of-global-extinction levels.

Asuka Kazama

HiyaWho is She: Asuka is on this list by a technicality: she’s the cousin of Jin Kazama (basically), and only related to the Mishimas because someone with her last name boinked one of ‘em. She is not invited to family reunions, and it appears she is one of the few relevant characters that doesn’t want to fight for a piece of the Mishima Corp pie. She only joined the tournament in the first place because some thugs roughed up her dad, and she’s only stuck around since then because some French debutant really, really wants to punch her in the face. If the whole “Japanese schoolgirl that doesn’t really impact the plot but has a rich, blonde rival” thing sounds familiar, that’s because it is exactly Sakura of Street Fighter’s plot tracing back to Street Fighter Alpha, and the writers of Tekken should be ashamed of themselves for heisting a plot that has not appeared in every other anime ever. Anywho, Asuka is basically a normie that occasionally has to deal with Mishima hijinks, so there isn’t much to worry about.

Threat Level: Extremely Low. She has vague, angelic powers, but they only manifest when she’s not punching people. Given she lives in a punch-based universe, that’s not going to happen very often. Other than that, unless the world is destroyed by some light incense, she’s a complete lack of a threat.

Lars Alexandersson

He gonna getchaWho is He: The Tekken franchise, right from the beginning, has had no problem with including “goofy” characters. Yoshimitsu is a cyborg ninja robot dude, and Ganryu is a sumo wrestler in pursuit of kisses. There’s a kangaroo with boxing gloves somewhere in there. But Tekken’s real plot was always helmed by serious dudes with serious issues wearing shirts… until Tekken 6. Tekken 6 was the story of an ancient god of death resurfacing, and the only man that could stop him was this sentai looking mofo. He’s got a red cape. He’s got preposterous anime hair. His sidekick is an android girl with dubious clothing options. And you can tell he’s a real Tekken protagonist, because he’s a Mishima. He’s the illegitimate son of Heihachi Mishima, and, after years of working for Tekken Force, he decided to (bloodline) rebel and be whatever counts as a good guy in this universe. Lars is on the side of the angels (metaphorical, not the literal ones in this story), and is now fighting against his former employer/dad.

Threat Level: Vaguely Low. Lars is currently fighting the good fight… but he is using his own private army to do so. Like his hair buddy, Goku, this is a dude with a lot of power and a lot of potential to destroy the planet, but he’s firmly established as being on the light side of things, so we’re probably safe from this swede.

Jun Kazama

She seems niceWho is She: Jun Kazama made her debut in Tekken 2… and then died. But before she died, she fell for Kazuya Mishima, and had a son, Jin Kazama. She met her baby daddy while fighting for an organization run by Captain Planet, and she also has some ability to transform into an angel (literally, again) and heal the tormented soul of Kazuya. So she’s a good gal! But, again, she is currently dead, and, unlike nearly every other Tekken character, she seems to be staying dead. When Ogre kills you so the rest of your family can experience man pain, he doesn’t mess around.

Threat Level: Theoretically Low. Jun is dead, but she also slept with a devil, and eventually birthed another. That is just the kind of thing that swirls around a resurrection, so nobody is going to be surprised if she returns to life, and, like, has guns for arms or something. There’s a precedent.

Lee Chaolan

You're turning violet, VioletWho is He: Lee was introduced in Tekken 1 as Kazuya’s rival. The source of their rivalry? Heihachi dropped his son Kazuya off a cliff at a young age (as you do), and adopted a scrappy street urchin as his new, better, more-resistant-to-gravity son. Thus, Lee is not a Mishima by blood, but has been the heir to the kingdom on more than a few occasions. He was technically expelled from the family/company for siding with Kazuya during Tekken 2, but then decided to start his own company in time for Tekken 4. Lee now has his own megacorporation, and bankrolls Lars in his quest to stop the Mishimas. He also built a robot.

Threat Level: Medium-to-Low. You can’t trust anyone in this universe that has their own potentially evil corporation, but Lee is generally a pretty relaxed dude. He could take over the world tomorrow with his army of robots that understand every martial art ever conceived… but he’d rather just dress in all violent and hang around his palatial Bahamas estate. We’re in trouble if he ever gets off his ass, though.

Jinpachi Mishima

Friendly dudeWho is He: The patriarch of the Mishima clan, father of Heihachi, grandfather of Kazuya, and great-grandfather of Jin. Also maybe a demon? He founded the Mishima Zaibatsu during World War 2, made a whole lot of money on a whole lot of death, and then had a Tony Stark-esque turn to the light when he realized he was profiting from needless misery. Jinpachi wanted focused misery, so he dedicated himself and his company to martial arts, so he could more effectively punch individual men square in the balls. That’s satisfying! Heihachi wasn’t a fan, though, so he overtook the company, and left his dad bound in the basement. Jinpachi straight up died of starvation. But! He was revived by a demon of some sort, and became the hardest boss in Tekken history. Jin put an end to that, though, as Jinpachi was purified with a mighty great-grandson punch to his mean bean machine.

Threat Level: Medium. Jinpachi was a good guy, and then a dead guy, but that somehow didn’t stop him from coming back as a friggin’ Ghouls ‘n Ghosts boss. Sure, he’s just a dead old man right now, but Mishimas seem to be pretty indestructible, and we’re only ever one bad eclipse away from an army of malevolent grandpas overrunning the human realm. Keep an eye on that grave, Jin.

Unknown

Who knowsWho is She: Nobody knows! The ostensible boss of both Tekken Tag Tournament titles is a woman covered in goop. She originally seemed to be possessed by some kind of wolf spirit, but, in her most recent appearance, the wolf is gone, but she disguises herself as Jun Kazama. Final bosses being malevolent copies of the protagonist’s mother was a popular trend at the time (see also Soulcalibur). Regardless of her origins, Unknown seems to have power to spare (she spars with Ogre without hesitation) along with her ability to leak oil all over the scenery, so she’s clearly a menace.

Threat Level: Theoretically high, practically low. Unknown unfortunately only exists in a non-canon version of the universe, so she has about as much likelihood of destroying the world as Howard the Duck. But the Tekken franchise has never shied away from adopting non-canon people and events as law at a later date (there is an entire convoluted backstory for that fighting raptor and the wooden dummy), so Unknown could make a deadly comeback! She did get to have the time of her soulless life in the Namco x Capcom Universe, after all.

Kazumi Mishima

Say hi, momWho is She: Given Jinpachi spent his autumn years shooting fireballs out of his chest and generally menacing the populace during Tekken 5, it was assumed that Jinpachi was the origin of the “devil gene” that granted super powers to some of his progeny. Sure, Heihachi never had those abilities, but he was kind of a dick, and science has proven that certain genetic traits skip a generation if they feel like it. But it turns out the real origin of the devil gene was Heihachi’s wife/Kazuya’s mom, Kazumi. Kazumi was originally fated to kill Heihachi, but, because he pleased her pet tiger, they wound up married instead. They had a very nice family life, until that pesky devil gene manifested in Kazumi, and, one particularly physical spat later, Kazumi had a neck that was a lot more flexible. Kazumi didn’t want to live as someone possessed by her devil genetics, so Heihachi’s murder of his wife was a noble sacrifice he had to make (thanks again, man pain!), but Kazuya didn’t get the memo on that one, so he’s been more than a little pissed off ever since.

Threat Level: Theoretically high, effectively low. Kazumi is dead, but, like Jinpachi, that didn’t stop her from being a final boss. Kazumi initially embraced her devil side to stop Heihachi because she thought he might turn out to be a bad guy, and, now, after three generations of Mishimas wrecking up the place, Kazumi would be downright righteous in embracing her dark side. Could she cause a cataclysm in an attempt to clean up the place? Probably! If her corpse gets out there again, we’re all gonna fear a spankin’ from mama. Oh! And Akuma of Street Fighter owes her a favor, so that can’t be good.

Jin Kazama

The sonWho is He: Oh, don’t even get me started. Tekken 3 decided to add an extra generation to the central conflict of Tekken, and introduced Jin, son of Jun and Kazuya. At this time, Kazuya had been killed during the climax of T2, and Jun was dead by the hands of T3’s final boss. This meant that Jin was little more than an excuse to include moves from both of his parents, and his easy, simple goal was avenging his mother. Simple protagonist, simple motivations. Unfortunately, things escalated quickly from there, and, yada yada yada, now Jin is the anti-hero at the center of literally every war in the Tekken universe. The whole place is going to hell in a hand basket, and it’s all because Jin has issues with his clone-daddy and grandpa.

Threat Level: Unequivocally high. Jin possesses that devil gene, and has been transforming into a winged monster man since the finale of Tekken 3. This has influenced his behavior a bit of late, being ultimately responsible for an awful lot of hardship during Tekken 6 (when he kinda sorta summoned a god of death), even if said conflict was in pursuit of ridding himself of his devil half. Like, dude, the ends don’t justify the means if you have to figure out the plural of “genocide” to explain your plan. And it didn’t work anyway! Regardless, Jin is technically a good guy, he’s just extremely likely to level a continent in his pursuit of “good”.

Heihachi Mishima

The grandpaWho is He: This Mishima is not a good guy. Heihachi is the most common leader of the Mishima Zaibatsu, and the man who still claims he left his father to starve to death in the basement for benevolent reasons. Do not believe a thing this man says. In the same year he killed his wife and imprisoned his father, he threw his son off a cliff; so, once again, this is not someone who should be trusted with, like, hand soap, left alone King of Iron Fist trophies. Heihachi often asserts that he is on the side of the angels (“I threw you off that mountain for your own good, son”), but there is always a devious angle involved. The best you can say for Heihachi is that he is not distinctly inclined to do evil by some devil gene, so at least he’s not a literal monster like some of his offspring. Or does the fact that he does all of this willingly make him even worse? It is worse, isn’t it?

Threat Level: At this absolute moment, low, any other moment, incredibly high. Heihachi is a global threat to himself and others (mostly others), and the only thing holding him back is that he’s currently deceased. This has not stopped him before, though, as Heihachi has been “confirmed dead” in pretty much every other Tekken release (sometimes even dying during the intro!). This time, after broadcasting a fight between Akuma and his son and exposing the latter as a devil to the entire world, Kazuya came looking for revenge (oh, also, Heihachi shot him with a space laser), and the two battled in the corona of an active volcano (the… uh… volcano location wasn’t relevant to the story or fight or anything, it was just metal as hell). Kazuya wound up emerging victorious, mainly because he had the devil gene, and he wasn’t a friggen 75 year old man. Heihachi then took a dip in the magma (oh! The volcano was relevant!), and that’s the last anyone saw him outside of a Smash Bros cameo. Will he return? If he does, he’ll probably be an unstoppable lava monster, so he’s still pretty damn high on the threat index.

Kazuya Mishima

The daddy issuesWho is He: The goddamned man of the hour. In Tekken 1, Kazuya was just a street fighter attempting to defeat his abusive dad. He succeeded, took the reins of his father’s business, and then tried to conquer Japan with an army of dinosaur soldiers (see? Canon). This was blamed on his devil gene attempting to take control, but, even after his death and resurrection, Kazuya has been a cuss throughout the rest of the series. You know he killed and conquered the corporation that clone-resurrected him in the first place? It’s what he does! At this point, he’s successfully killed his father and gained full control of his devil powers, so the only thing standing in his way is his flake of a son.

Threat Level: Gigantic. Kazuya always had two goals: 1. Kill dad 2. Take over the world. Now number one is crossed off the list! And we’re talking about a guy that is a trained martial artist, can fly, and shrugged off a laser from space. Do you know what that means? He’s basically Final Fantasy’s Bahamut! He’s a space dragon in the making, and everyone is just going to have to deal with that. Kazuya ZERO is coming.

Kuma II

UnbearableWho is He: Kuma II is the son of Kuma, a bear that died of old age. Kuma II is an animal with the intelligence of a man, and has served as Heihachi’s bodyguard since Tekken 3. Kuma has trained with Heihachi and on his own, and is an expert martial artist/bear. He is currently an officer in the same Tekken Force that once hosted Lars.

Threat Level: Immeasurable. Screw devil genes and ancient ghosts, Kuma II is a bear! A real bear! And his old master/friend/father is dead! Have you ever seen a bear smart enough to become a military officer when he’s pissed off? No! Of course not! That would be silly! Because Kuma II is one of a kind, and now Kazuya is going to be in his sights. Screw space lasers, bears are the true kings of the world, and Kazuya is going to take a lava-dip via vengeful paws. And after that? Kuma II is going to have some time on his hands, and we all better beware…

FGC #533 Tekken Tag Tournament 2

  • System: Arcade, Playstation 3, Xbox 360/One, and WiiU. WiiU? Really? Huh.
  • Number of players: Four fighters controlled by two people equals one good time.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: I like tag-team fighting games. I like Tekken. I like unwieldy rosters. I like… basically everything about Tekken Tag Tournament 2. They even brought back dedicated endings that are completely ridiculous! And I guess the fighting portions of the game are good, too!
  • These dorksFavorite Character: You might expect Kuma, but Doctor Bosconovitch is my first pick whenever he appears. He falls down a lot! But he’s trying! And, like all good Tekken characters, he’s probably been dead for years, and that doesn’t matter one iota.
  • Be the Boss: The fact that you can finally play as Jinpachi in this title is worth the price of admission. He’s so strong! And bad at directions! He might not have a mouth for a stomach anymore (or vice versa?), but he’s a great pick all the same.
  • Bob or Skinny Bob: Regular, overweight Bob seems more honest.
  • Gon? No Gon.
  • Did you know? According to events in the story mode of Tekken 6, Kuma understands both English and German. Given he was raised in Japan by a Japanese man, we can assume Kuma is trilingual.
  • The devil insideWould I play again: Odds are really high on this one. If it weren’t for Tekken 7 including its host of completely ridiculous new characters (Negan versus a giant robot? Sweet), it wouldn’t even be a contest. As it is, TTT2 is just a really good Tekken experience, and I’ll at least play it over the previous six or seven Tekken titles.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Limbo for the Xbox 360! How low can you go? Can you go so low you touch the dark, murky depths of your soul? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!