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FGC #524 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2

Note: This article will contain spoilers for Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2. And maybe a few for Curse of the Moon 1 while we’re at it. The spoilers will be kind of dry, but there is discussion regarding the final boss, so you have been warned.

Aw, my blood got stainedToday, we’re going to talk about comradery, and wanting to jump in a bottomless pit when your buds aren’t around.

Previously on Gogglebob.com: I played Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (1), and declared it the greatest thing since the invention of the magical whip. It took the basic concept of Castlevania 3, refined it to more modern sensibilities, and created an experience that was at once familiar and entirely new. What initially looked like a simple retread of an 8-bit title quickly blossomed and revealed itself to be so much more. And a significant factor in that bombshell was the general surprise of how all the characters could be utilized in wildly different ways. Miriam could be an expert ally with amazing agility and attack range, or you could sacrifice her on the end of your blade and gain a new attack. Your choice! And the levels were designed for any and all choices, so you could technically tackle the tower with a Zangetsu flush with companions or little more than a piddly sword. Play on Casual Mode if you stick to only the sword! You’ll thank me later!

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 could have repeated the (exemplary) pattern of its progenitor. This could have been another expertly crafted game where you have a choice between joining some pals, going alone, or forfeiting friends for even greater abilities. Maybe throw in an extra boss for some particular “runs”, and call it a day. Zangetsu is a generally aloof protagonist, anyway, so even after his “real story” was released, a tale of Zangy equally joining or rejecting a dog in a mech wouldn’t be seen as a departure for the character/franchise. And the only reason we got B:CotM2 was because B:CotM1 was unbelievably well-liked, so a sequel that is “more of the same” would be wholly acceptable.

But no, Curse of the Moon 2 distinctly sets itself apart from its predecessor. CotM2 is a game about friendship, and relying on others.

Buzz buzzThe first difference here is obvious: you can’t not have a buddy in Curse of the Moon 2. Whether you want her or not, Dominique is going to be joining your quest after the first level. Robert is enlisting after a fight with Princess Toadstool. And Hachi the dog is going to be your constant companion after punching a train. These are your cohorts, and you’re stuck with them for the adventure. And that’s good for the player, ultimately, as the obstacles of CotM2 are built for a full party. It’s not just about Robert’s gun or Dominique’s spear being useful on occasion, it’s about how all the allies can work in concert to reach new and unexpected areas. Dominique uses her pogo jump to reach a high wall, Robert clings to the side for a moment, and then Hachi horizontally hovers to a valuable powerup. We’re all buds working toward a common goal! CotM1 seemed built for different characters to clear different paths, but challenges were generally constructed for allies working separately (give or take some transitive spells). Alfred’s fire shield could get you past a barrage of arrows, but Miriam, Gebel, or Zangetsu would be completely flummoxed by such a barrier, and be effectively useless. The same question in CotM2 could have multiple answers (Robert’s crawl, Hachi’s invincibility), so it seems the designers decided to add additional “challenges” to the same problem. Now you’ll need Hachi’s berserk mode, but then quickly switch to Dominique’s pogo spear to avoid taking a hit from another opponent. Everybody is working together so well!

And that is probably a big influence on why losing a comrade in CotM2 leads to some very… deadly situations.

Watch those tentaclesBoth CotM1 and CotM2 have the same “lives” system. In normal mode (Veteran? We’re calling it that? Am I old?), losing a “life” while playing as a particular character does not mean your precious life counter depletes, it simply means the impacted character is taken off the board. In order to lose an entire life, literally every character has to perish. In many cases, this is an ideal setup, as simply losing a companion means you can respawn somewhere close to your death (rooms aren’t all that big), while an entire lost life means being set back to a candle that resets a full third of the level. And losing a companion isn’t hard! Alfred or Robert both have health meters that would qualify as uninsurable preexisting conditions, and practically every character has issues with knockback. It doesn’t matter if you’re navigating those haunted corridors with perfect precision, if the wrong bird bumps into you at the wrong time, you’re going down in the drink. And that’s it for your chosen buddy!

But, while the systems in both games may be the same, the worlds of CotM1 and CotM2 couldn’t be more different. CotM1 was built for one hero at a time, but CotM2 continually introduces challenges that encourage cycling through your entire repertoire. One hallway is filled with frogs that require stomps from a robo-dog, the next room is lousy with axe knights that could stand to be introduced to a rifle, and then you need the spear of a nun to take out rows of wannabe zombies. You are continually and constantly thrust into situations where you have to use the full party in CotM2. But what happens when you don’t have a full party? Well, it gets dicey. When you need a ranged attack, and all you have is a sword that could barely qualify as a letter opener, you’re going to have a bad time. When you can see a high path overhead, but your bounding beauty is otherwise engaged with Death, you’re stuck knowing you missed out on a We're working togetherbetter route. And then, ultimately, what’s the point? Your favored companion is gone, it is going to be a pain in the ass to make it across these chandeliers as Robert, why not end it all? Just toss yourself in a pit and be done with it. You might lose a little progress, but you’ll be reunited with your friends in death.

And it seems like a terrible moral, but that seems to be the point of Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2.

There are four chapters in CotM2. Each “chapter” is basically a run through the same levels (give or take a little variability for the final level/boss), and is lengthy enough that it would be considered an entire game back in the olden days. The first chapter sees Zangetsu’s initial assault on demon-kind, and, as the levels progress, he gains new companions and skills. At the end of this initial chapter, one of his new friends is devil-napped, and the remaining group decides to venture through Chapter 2 to perform a rescue. This creates an interesting situation wherein you now have 3/4s of the party from the start, but, since one companion is missing for the entirety of the chapter, said ally’s absence is continually felt as early as the second level. And, depending on if Zangetsu is diligent in using his current allies to find fresh, hidden paths, it is entirely possible Chapter 2 will be a complete failure, and then Zangetsu will be forced to tackle a third chapter with an entirely different host of partners. These new buddies (or old buddies, as they are the cast of CotM1) offer many different options to separate them from their metaphorical descendants… but they’re still not the same companions you’ve been utilizing for the previous two chapters, so situations where “oh, Robert would be great here” quickly erode into a feeling of “Aw, I miss Robert”. Finally, after all that, the final chapter is unlocked, and now you have the option of using the entire party of both games, but you have to pick and choose who you’re going to “rescue” from each level before tackling the final challenge. You miss Hachi? Well, go get ‘em! You could have a full party of everybody, or simply make a beeline to the finale with only your trusty sword to guide you. Hey! For the first time in CotM2, you have a choice! It took a while, but we’re back to the freedom of CotM1!

Except… you don’t have a choice. You never had a choice.

It's too hot todayThere’s something else new in CotM2 that hasn’t been mentioned yet: between every level, there is a brief scene between the current members of Zangetsu’s party. In snippets of life that only take seconds at a time, we initially see reluctant associates begrudgingly tolerating each other between battles. Then, when one is taken from them, the remainder mourns, but resolves to see the situation (and their hearts) mended. When Zangetsu is reunited with the familiar cast of his first adventure, they spend their downtime laughing and jocularly carving ice sculptures (as you do). And, finally, when everyone has convened to build a spaceship to fly up and murder the moon, conversations between the assembled hunters seem fun and lighthearted. Everyone fights evil across multiple dungeons, yes, but they actively become friends during that time. To ignore the bonds that have been formed would be as unbecoming as ignoring how many shortcuts Gebel can use when he transforms into a bat.

But even if you do ignore the obvious fact that Alfred is going to invite this whole gang to his wedding, you can’t escape your companions. Since the option finally becomes available during the final chapter, you may assume that taking Zangetsu alone to the final battle would result in a unique, albeit lonely, ending like CotM1. Unfortunately for all the dedicated loners out there, that does not happen. Zangetsu may approach the finale of CotM2 alone, but his companions will return for the ultimate battle, and they will assist Zangetsu whether he likes it or not. In the end, whether you decide to retrieve the best pup (and the rest of those hangers-on) doesn’t matter: the bonds you’ve formed are going to be there regardless.

This is familiarSo maybe it’s appropriate that losing an ally during a level feels like a setback every time. Maybe diving into instant death to retrieve a buddy is right in a game that puts such an overt emphasis on friendship and comradery. Maybe the fact that you absolutely have to rely on your party, one way or another, is the most distinct way Curse of the Moon 2 chose to distinguish itself from its predecessor. This is your traditional “8-bit sequel” that reuses monsters, characters, and other assets; but it also found a new and interesting way to present its franchise. Curse of the Moon 2 is its own animal with its own moral about the importance of friendship and the necessity of relying on others.

… Or you can just unlock solo mode, and ignore the whole thing…

But still!

FGC #524 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2

  • System: Looks like this one is on the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Steam. Did it make it to the Vita this time? No it did not.
  • Number of players: And just to add to the friendship, this game is two-player simultaneous. I would really like to try that sometime! Apparently it even allows for a Tails-esque “mascot” second player! They got my letters!
  • BiteyFavorite Character: I really want to say Hachi the Dog. He’s awesome, and his hover and nigh-invulnerability is always useful. That said, Robert seems like the most unique member of the cast (more so than the dog riding a robot? Really?), and his crawl, rifle, and wall jump are all extremely…. I guess “interesting” would be the right word. I didn’t use him as much as the rest of the cast, but I wanted to figure out where he would work best, and that means a lot in this well tread genre. He’s new and different, so the Mega Man X character gets second place. … Or maybe I’m just partial to Bobs
  • Favorite Boss: Once again, the official website apparently names most of the bosses. And they’re pretty neat! It seems like the “sub” Bloodstained games put a lot of macabre thought into their monster messes. Titankhamun, the giant mummy, wins my vote here, as he’s responsible for a frantic battle that rewards Robert’s participation. Projectiles can come in handy when your opponent is filling the screen with ‘em!
  • Boss Rush: Speaking of which, unlocking the Boss Rush after clearing the advanced versions of the bosses on parade like four times, and then starting the actual challenge with the “original” bosses is… a little confusing. I literally don’t remember the first chapter at this point! How was that dragon supposed to work again?
  • Begin Again: Is there ever an explanation for why the ever-changing gang has to retreat back to the first stage for every new chapter? I mean, aside from it being an excuse to play through the whole of the game again? It seems like that volcano would be a pretty safe place to rest and regroup…
  • I can hear these blocksGoggle Bob Fact: I wasn’t planning on reviewing this game after the original Curse of the Moon. This is mainly because I feel like I review way too many Castlevania games as it is. … Or… almost Castlevania games. Regardless, the friendship factor was pretty interesting, so congratulations to the Curse of the Moon 2 staff on actually making something new and interesting for the franchise(ish).
  • So, did you beat it? As if you can’t tell from the spoilers-abound, yes, I beat every last route and option within said routes. However, I’m not going to tackle the freshly updated higher difficulty levels, because this game is hard enough on Veteran mode. Zangetsu can barely survive this horrible night to have a curse as it is!
  • Did you know? With current technology, it is impossible for a Welsh Corgi to pilot a robot. I’m sorry.
  • Would I play again: It would be pretty fun to see how Ultimate Zangetsu completely wrecks house through Chapter One. Hmmmm…..

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Parodius! Is… Is that the franchise, or a particular, never-localized game, ROB? I have to figure something out? Okay, fine. Stupid robot. Guess we’ve got Parodius up next, somehow, gang. Please look forward to it!

Good dog
Third best commute I’ve ever seen

FGC #516 Celeste

Let's climbWhat does it mean when “difficult” equals “fun”?

Today’s game is Celeste, which Google apparently describes as “A game about climbing a mountain”. Big deal! You climb about seventeen mountains across your average 32-bit JRPG, and it’s hard to even recall how often you are forced to dash across mountaintops in your average platformer. Mario was climbing mountains before he was even born (technically)! But what makes Celeste different from any other trip up some rocks is that Celeste is truly about the challenge of climbing inhospitable terrain. On its surface, Celeste is little more than a basic platformer: you run, you jump, you cling, you dash, and that’s all you got. There is combat in only the absolute loosest sense (maybe you can hop on the occasional angry ghost), and the typical “collectibles” are little more than excuses for challenge rooms. Celeste is a very simple game, so its surface-level description as “A game about climbing a mountain” is very apt. This isn’t a complicated experience for a complicated world, this is climbing a mountain, plain and simple.

But don’t let the simple trappings of Celeste fool you into believing this is a retro title bereft of a plot. Celeste is about climbing a mountain, but, more than that, it’s about a woman learning that she can climb a mountain. Madeline is climbing this mountain, and, when her journey begins, her self-loathing and doubt is so palatable, it transforms into a living entity named Badeline. While Madeline and Badeline initially clash, over the course of the adventure, Madeline comes to accept Badeline, as Baddy was never her evil twin, but a part of herself that she tried to ignore. Once Madeline has accepted herself, “bad side” and all, she levels up as a character and a human being, and gains a second air dash. This is life-affirming and hella sweet. Along her way to self-actualization, though, a number of levels also seem to follow a sort of “lesson” framing, with that previously mentioned angry ghost demonstrating the dangers of putting the needs of toxic people over your own, and another level ending with instructions on breathing exercises that can help mitigate depression and panic attacks. Celeste might have an extremely basic plot, but the narrative successfully turns this simple videogame goal into a story about overcoming challenges both mentally and physically. The mountain is a metaphor!

This is funAnd we’ve seen “the mountain is a metaphor” before on this very blog. There’s another game that sticks in this humble blogger’s head that used the exact same story framing: Catherine. Catherine is a game that is mostly remembered for showing its whole ass with some of the worst sexual politics this side of Persona 5 (gee, wonder if there’s a connection there), but it was also a story about comparing the struggles of Vincent and his dream-mountain climbing to real-life decision making and the trials and tribulations of navigating the dangers of reality. And, if you think that metaphor is simply implied, don’t worry, the writers of Catherine assumed you were an idiot, and framed their story with a character breaking the fourth wall to shout “it’s an allegory!” at all the nimrods that bought Catherine because the logo looked like panties. To say the least, Celeste was slightly more subtle with its morals while maintaining the added benefit of 100% less upskirt camera angles; but it still boils down to the same palpable lesson: you can treat the complications of life like a video game. This mountain may initially seem insurmountable, and you may fall again and again, but you will reach the peak. Whether you’re Vincent or Madeline, you can climb.

But when multiple stories present the moral that you can triumph in real life despite hardships, what does it mean when you play these games to face those “hardships” for fun?

Why compare Celeste to Catherine? Well, Catherine might have an odious plot and tone, but its gameplay is almost wholly different from anything else that has come down the pike in the last decade (and, as you may be aware, I’ve played a lot of videogames over the last decade). The combination of puzzle and action in Catherine is a sweet success, and, while it might be fair to say the writers of Catherine should be shipped off to Penlackicus: The Isle Where Pens Are Forbidden, the gameplay of Catherine is something that can be returned to again and again. It’s unique! It’s frenetic! Occasionally sheep are murdered for their insolence! That’s always a good time (assuming you’re not a shepherd). Similarly, Celeste is an amazing platformer designed by people that understand the genre better than most Sonic curators, and solving each environmental conundrum is as delightful as it is precise. Once you have a full grasp of Madeline’s moveset (and its occasional evolutions), you’ll be revisiting each path to collect a pie’s worth of strawberries not because you have to, but because you’ll want to spend more time bounding and dashing around her world. Celeste and Catherine, two games containing obvious lessons about triumphing over impediments even when such a thing seems impossible, are both games that make those impediments… fun.

NOT FUNAnd, on a personal note, Celeste is the game I played most during the Spring Quarantine of 2020. The world was falling apart in drastically unprecedented ways, I personally had no guarantee whether or not I would have any kind of income from day to day (spoilers for anyone concerned: I made out okay), and there was the threat of a deadly virus striking seemingly at all times. Granted, as I write this article, things aren’t much better, but there’s now a certain kind of uncomfortable familiarity with the situation. Yes, leaving the house is still a gauntlet of social distancing not unlike attempting to dash through a hotel filled with malevolent and deadly energy, but at least it no longer feels like the whole of society is going to gradually slide into the nearest ocean (we have to wait for 2038 for that). Back in March, when everything was unknown and something as basic as “wear a mask” was reported with equal claims of it being our one saving grace and a way to instantly obtain a malady known as “fungus nose”, things were a lot more ambiguous. And, thinking back on that time, I can safely say that I was probably about thirty seconds away from a mental breakdown every moment. I won’t exactly say I was tangibly depressed, but it was more like I was… concerned. Perpetually concerned. Perpetually might-have-a-heart-attack concerned. In retrospect, it was a surprisingly gentle time, as most businesses were closed (so there was little reason to go outside and risk my life for a damn haircut), the concept that someone might be financially hurting was universally understood (extra unemployment and money from a government that was pretending to care about its citizens that week), and, give or take some supermarket meltdowns, people seemed unusually empathetic for a month or so (we’re all in this together!). Maybe it was just an illusion brought on by not having to directly deal with (much of) the public for a month or so, but, in retrospect, the general start of this COVID insanity seemed like it was the best part; something approaching a reprieve before we settled into Let's move itthe usual rhythms of watching our leaders toss more and more “essential” workers into the meat grinder. But when that “reprieve” was happening, it seemed like anything but, as I deal with uncertainty about as well as having a swarm of bees in my pants. March and April’s COVID situation brought me seemingly unlimited stress, and I chose to relax by… playing a game that is supposed to be stressful.

And it eventually dawned on me why I was doing such a thing: even when it seems impossible to make progress in Celeste, even when the next obstacle seems completely insurmountable, even if you’re barely trying, if you fail, at least you won’t lose anything.

And, in an uncertain world, that is infinitely comforting.

Celeste is about climbing a mountain, yes, but the climb happens one screen at a time. Madeline might be required to exhibit some arduous acrobatics, but if she fails, she’s immediately returned to the last place she had even footing. There are no continues that have to be conserved, or lives that have to be limited. While you will lose a strawberry bonus for dying halfway through its retrieval, once you have hit solid ground with your bounty, there’s no way to lose that prize, whether through immediately failing on the same screen, or at some later point in the level. Celeste is also extremely forgiving with save locations, so you can pop into a precise third of a stage if you want to clock in some practice in a particular area. Madeline may become frequently frustrated by the various trials she has to face, but the player is given every advantage in attempting the climb. There might be a number quickly approaching infinity next to that death count, but it’s all worth it if you finish the stage. You won’t be locked out of any future content for burying Madeline more often than the X-Men.

And, hell, I don’t know what Madeline has to worry about. I’m pretty sure I’d be happy as a clam if I mortally screwed up over and over, but came back fresh as a daisy five seconds later every time.

This blowsRemember those uncertain COVID times I mentioned earlier? In the Fall of 2019, I finally took the initiative, looked at my rainy day fund that hadn’t been touched for literally years, and cashed in on remodeling my ancient, remembers-the-fall-of-Napoleon bathroom. It was a lot of money, but I sat down with a ledger, looked at the past year’s profits and losses, and determined it would be a passable expense. I also consulted with my fiancée, who informed me she would leave me if she had to deal with a bathroom that involved a crankshaft toilet one more time. Wait, excuse me, she wasn’t my fiancée at the time. That came later, with the other major expense I picked up in February: an engagement ring. In that case, it was money I really didn’t want to spend, but, hey, I’m pretty sure I love the woman I’m buying it for, and she is a material girl ™ , so may as well make the love of my life happy. So those were two huge, once in a lifetime expenses that I decided would be endurable if typical trends continued. And then a worldwide plague tossed the idea of “typical trends” straight out the window. So, right about when I was concerned that my profession wasn’t as Thunderdome-proof as I might have liked, I also had blown my emergency savings on a sink faucet that doesn’t pour out exclusively spiders (I… really needed that bathroom renovation). Once again, to be absolutely clear, I made it out of that initial quarantine with a job and only a modest hit to my income, but did I know that would be the outcome in March? Of course not. I spent my days worrying over decisions I had made during The Before Time, and I wouldn’t stop worrying until there was a more comfortable “end” in sight. What good is an engagement ring when you can’t support the ones you love? What good is a tile shower in the face of a catastrophe? Can I just reset to a save point from a scant few months prior? Can I get a do-over on this apocalypse thing?

WeeeeeAnd, when I think about it, this is why I play “hard games” when things are stressful. No matter how badly I mess up in Celeste, it’s not going to impact my life. No matter how many times I damn Vincent to death in Catherine, it’s not going to make a dent in my bank account. Every setback in Bloodborne might mean I lose some resources, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to lose my home. Calling a videogame hard is all well and good, but the fact that there are no consequences (maybe beyond losing a few useless hours of actual life) is what transforms “difficult” into “fun”. Drop any consequences for failure, and repeated failures are enjoyable.

The climb is long, hard, and treacherous. But when you won’t lose a thing doing it, it’s fun.

FGC #516 Celeste

  • System: This is another “whaddya got” situation: Steam, Linux, MacOS, Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and certain garage door openers. This one is probably going to get around in future generations, too.
  • Number of players: Maddy rarely enjoys company, as she is a bit of a loner.
  • ScaryFavorite Level: The hotel stage is my uncontested favorite. It has a decent moral, a quasi-boss battle, and I love me some little black ghosty things that don’t allow you to re-traverse certain edges. It all works together beautifully, and seems to encapsulate what’s great about Celeste.
  • So, did you beat it: I’m sorry to say I don’t have every last strawberry, but I’m good with everything else that is going on. Celeste is damn good stuff, and it’s worth triumphing over tribulations to grieve over grandmas. Or… something.
  • Missing Pieces: I completely missed Theo’s explanation of the mountain and its ruined city during my initial playthrough, so I’m pretty sure I assumed the whole of the game was little more than magical realism on my first go. Mind you, that’s still kind of accurate, but Mt. Celeste is apparently supposed to be a “real” location in videogame Canada, not a complete hallucination like my initial impression.
  • Speaking of Dreams: This is the best animation of 2018.

    YUMMY

    Slurp!

  • Black Lives Matter: Celeste was my go-to “relax during quarantine” game, but it also publically resurfaced recently as part of the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. I will literally never get through the 1,741 bits of software that were included in that bundle, but I enjoy being reminded that that amazing set of games was so successful in raising $8,154,644.19 for a worthy cause. Way to go, Itch.
  • Did you know? M. Thorson made a full thread on Twitter about all the ways Celeste is designed to “feel right” for the player. I’m just going to go ahead and link to it rather than recount the full details, so just be aware that there is an inordinate amount of care involved in the creation of a good platformer. Also, “coyote time” is something that should be applied to every platformer ever. Looking at you, Castlevania.
  • Would I play again: Celeste is platforming comfort food for me. And I feel we could all use a little more comfort right now.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Retro Game Challenge for the Nintendo DS! Speaking of challenges and retro games, here’s… uh… both. I guess. Anyway, please look forward to it!

HUGS

FGC #507 Kill la Kill –IF

Kill itWorking hypothesis: in the 21st century, for anyone that is privileged enough to be in a position where their creative output is capable of being excessively monetized, the scariest moments in their life were in high school.

And to the rest of the population, that’s horrifying.

Let’s state something plainly: high school sucks. It seems there was some golden age of high school that inspired Bruce Springsteen and more than a few musicals, but, as long as I have been alive, I haven’t encountered a single human being that considered high school to be the best years of their life. Scratch that, I have met people that “miss” high school, but they are, by and large, currently working at a location commonly referred to as “the sheep grindery”, and they’re generally addressed as “Crazy ol’ Gus who smells like a sheep grindery”. Modern high school is, by and large, less an educational institution for teenagers, and more of a daycare for proto-adults. The average high school student is old enough to be trusted with vehicles, voting, and vices, but they’re not trusted enough to acknowledge that the concept of “home room” is a daily waste of a precious 20 minutes of life. Study after study shows that teenagers need more freedom and more stimulating methods of learning during adolescence… so, of course, high school is little more than a graduated elementary school, only marginally different from the instructive environment that greeted these students when they were five. College at least offers the benefits of some manner of quad!

Get 'emBut it’s not the failures of the educational system that make an impact on most people. High school is often remembered as a fiercely competitive gladiatorial arena where only the strong survive… so much as “the strong” is defined as “has the right haircut”. Pop quizzes and alike may inspire a lifetime of impromptu nightmares about not being prepared, but the real horrors of high school are all social. Does Becky like me? Should I ask her out? If I ask her out, and she says no, will I be ostracized for the rest of my days? Everything in high school is magnified by having to deal with a social circle of hundreds that isn’t going anywhere for four years, so you damn well know that if you accidentally splash water on your jeans the first day, you’re going to be “Pissy Tammy” until college. And your name isn’t even Tammy! Who started calling you that!? What’s more, Tammy, is that high school seems almost designed to make you hate yourself and the things you enjoy. Like playing a music instrument? Ha ha, band geek, good luck having a social life. Loving the gymnastics of cheerleading? Well you better start loving some football players, too, because everyone is going to assume you’re sleeping with them anyway. Sci-fi club? Noxious nerd. Basketball team? Dumb jock. You literally cannot win, and even the most beloved of the quarterbacks spends his nights wondering why so many people are mean to him. Oh, did you just reflexively think, “well, yeah, people are mean to him because he shoves smaller kids into lockers”? Well then, yes, we can see why the very nature of high school leads to stereotypes and a virtual melting pot where it seems like 75% of the student body is against literally 100% of that same student body at all times.

And, yes, that can leave a mental impression.

The botsToday’s game is Kill la Kill –IF. As one might expect, this is a videogame based on the anime Kill la Kill. By and large, the game follows a truncated version of the original Kill la Kill plot, as we’re dealing with a fighting game, and we don’t have all day to wait around and figure out special moves for a cadre of incidental characters. Kill la Kill the 26 episode animated series is reduced to about ten characters and an hour or two of “story mode” so its audience can just have some fun tossing fists back and forth. And what is Kill la Kill boiled down to its most essential story beats? It’s the story of the student body president fighting random, occasionally possessed students, and eventually leading to a final confrontation with her mother. Or, you can choose the other path, where you’re the “outsider” student, and you’ve got to battle all those students and the previously featured president of the class. And that’s it for the plot of Kill la Kill –IF. It’s a fighting game based on being a high school student, and it transforms the usual “high school is a struggle between students, other students, and adults” into a literal struggle that involves weapons and sentient uniforms that may or may not represent conformity. High school is Hell, at least you have a sword.

And the whole “high school is Hell” concept isn’t unique to Kill la Kill by any means. In fact, that very phrase was the pitch for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a television series from two decades ago that combined high school tropes with actual monsters every week. This week: Buffy has to care for an egg as part of that one child-rearing class that only seems to exist in fiction, and maybe the egg is set to hatch an Ancient One in the basement! It’s spooky and relatable! And, whether it was simply because Buffy was popular or writers latched onto the trope almost instinctively, the “high school is Hell” concept has been repeated across practically all media, from books to movies to videogames to whatever the hell Todd and the Book of Pure Evil was supposed to be (Jason Mewes, know that you are appreciated). And, to be clear, the “seriousness” of high school doesn’t just exist in these “hell” versions, either. Whether you’re watching an outright drama or a fluffy situation comedy, the crushing weight of the possibility of being socially embarrassed is often plumbed for pathos. Even something as silly as Sabrina the Teenage Witch (the OG, TGIF version, not the current Netflix iteration that literally involves Hell) frequently derives its 20-minutes of drama from the possibility that the titular Sabrina will be outed as an “other”. The message is clear: high school is deathly serious and vaguely traumatizing. It can and should be compared to eternal torture.

And, honestly, if high school is your idea of Hell, you’re living a pretty good life.

It's roughDoes high school suck? Yes. But you know what sucks more? Not seeing your family on a holiday because your boss explains he “needs coverage”. Getting exposed to a fatal disease because “the economy has to keep rolling”. Being strangled because you bought your groceries with the wrong bill. People are suffering in horrible ways on a daily basis. When you consider that some people live their lives under constant threat of literal death, it seems disingenuous to worry about a situation where “the prom” is the biggest problem one can encounter. The idea of issues in high school being life threatening is a fun metaphor, but for so many people, high school and beyond being death-defying is not a metaphor in the least.

But if real life is so dangerous for so many people, why has the high school cow been milked so often it is pumping out powdered dairy substitute? The answer seems obvious: if you’re privileged enough to be in a position where your story is being told to the masses, then it is likely high school really was the worst time in your life. Why? Because high school really does suck for everybody.

And that’s a good thing.

You can’t win high school. We frequently revisit the trope of “the queen bee” or “the rich kid” because it presents the comforting lie that someone was the top of the high school food chain, but, in reality, those “winners” often spent most of their time wondering why they were losers. And, while this might be an untenable situation for those of us with some combination of OCD and an unfathomable drive to be liked by all, it does mean that no one student can be the “boss” of high school. You might be first in the class, but you’re not the quarterback. You might be the star of the track team, but you’re still going to sweat more asking out your prom date. No matter how much power you have in high school, you literally will never have enough, because there is always another aspect of the experience that will be outside of your grasp. And, since humanity has something of an issue with letting things go, you’re always going to remember that feeling of powerlessness. You’re always going to remember that hell.

It sucks hereAnd when you grow into power, when you grow up, get that degree, become the boss, and become the person that has the power to have their own stories told, that’s when you’ll look back at when you were powerless. High school was the one time when power was impossible, so that was the worst time in your life. You’re in power now. You’re the man, man, but remember when you were little more than a scrappy underdog? Remember when it was you against the world? Remember when you didn’t have the power to fail repeatedly yet still succeed? That was terrible! Never mind that there are people today that will never feel that same level of excessive privilege, you have to tell your story about how Debbie always went for that cool jock, and you could do nothing. No one can deny you your prizes now, but at least you can romanticize the times you had to struggle.

And everybody else has to struggle with real life being Hell.

The wonderful thing about high school is that eventually it inevitably ends. Maybe the same thing should happen with privileged men telling stories about high school.

FGC #507 Kill la Kill –IF

  • System: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. Essentially, all the big platforms that host anime nonsense.
  • Number of players: This is a high school of two.
  • Mega Get 'emMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: It’s a fighting game that, like Dragon Ball FighterZ, is here to let an excited audience “play the cartoon”. That said, the roster is extremely limited (two angry leads, the four generals, two boss ladies, and two DLC whackjobs), and the gameplay is extremely basic. Or maybe it’s complicated? I have a hard time distinguishing how complicated fighting games are, as, if there’s a dedicated “special” button, I kind of assume it’s more simple than King of Fighters. Regardless, despite some gorgeous visuals, this game feels more like a budget release than something that will enjoy three seasons worth of DLC.
  • That old chestnut: Oh, excuse me, there are an additional two fighters on the roster: the two mains, but now they’re both dual-wielding. That’s, like, totally a different character. They play slightly differently!
  • Small Favors: Also, considering the source material, it is a minor miracle this game doesn’t employ Senran Kagura-esque clothes-plosions. Everybody stays just as half naked as normal throughout every bout. Hooray?
  • Say something nice: This is a pretty basic fighting game, but the story mode does include a few interesting fights against multiple opponents that seem… seamless? No, that isn’t quite right, but the “targeting” for quashing multiple objectives does at least feel vaguely natural. It would be cool to see this system adapted to a game that has more interesting mooks… Or at least some saibamen.
  • What’s in a name: Kill la Kill is basically a pun in Japanese, and it boils down to “dressed to kill”. In English, however, it just sounds like someone learned, like, one Spanish word, and then gave up. Localization now!
  • Let's go!Story Time: This game’s plot isn’t merely an excuse to truncate KLK to something a little more fighting game-centric, it’s a dedicated “imaginary story” about student council president Satsuki Kiryuin’s chilling daydreams about destroying the high school hierarchy and her mother. This allows the game a chance to be “canon” (within Satsuki’s mind), but still change the plot and perspective as much as can be allowed by a judgmental fandom. That said, for highlighting a completely invented playground with theoretically no limits on storytelling potential, this tale still boils down to little more than an abbreviated version of the original, so what was the point?
  • Favorite Fighter: Nonon Jakuzu is the uber-band geek drum major that attacks with classical music, so it’s kind of hard for me to say no to that. Her official biography says she’s also responsible for the gardening club, so, ya know, good for her.
  • Did you know? Erica Mendez is the voice actress for main heroine Ryuko Matoi. Laura Bailey famously played Kaine in NieR. However, hearing Mendez shout at the Kill la Kill cast for being “a bunch of dumbasses” really evokes Bailey’s opening dialogue from the boot of NieR, and, to my gentle ears, it’s difficult to tell the two women apart. I guess there are only so many ways you can shout at anime dumbasses…
  • Would I play again: No thank you. This is a fun game for two hours, but feels very slight. I won’t be revisiting this anime high school anytime soon.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Chocobo Racing for the Playstation! Let us race monsters with birds that are known for outracing monsters! Please look forward to it!

Seriously

FGC #496 Puyo Puyo Tetris

BLOCKS!My fiancée will tell you quite loudly and clearly that she does not play videogames. My fiancée is also a liar. She plays videogames. She just doesn’t play “videogames” as she thinks the world defines them. She plays Candy Crush. She plays some other game that looks exactly the same, but involves farm animals. I think there’s another one with soda. She plays these games constantly, whether we’re sitting watching a movie or traveling to the wilds of Canada. And Pokémon Go! When it’s raining, she will get in the car, and drive around the neighborhood for hours looking to find a shiny or conquer a local gym. If this were a MMORPG, she’d be sitting at a computer for hours, but since her chosen raids are partially based in the real world, she’s not really playing a videogame, you understand. I proposed to her with a friggen’ Pokéball, for crying out loud!

Sparkles

But, no, she doesn’t play videogames. Yes, I completely understand that compared to my gaming habits, she doesn’t “play videogames” (she doesn’t even have a videogame blog! Can you imagine?), but to claim that she doesn’t play videogames at all seems… disingenuous. She doesn’t play the same kind of videogames that are traditionally covered on this blog, but she absolutely plays videogames. And, what’s more, these are not simple, even-your-grandma-can-play games. She routinely plays games that involve experience points, rationed continues, and complex resource management. There’s no judgment against supposed “casuals” here, videogames are videogames, and whether or not a Pikachu or some manner of sentient fruit is involved is inconsequential.

Blocks!One videogame my fiancée plays is Tetris. According to her own words, it is her favorite videogame (which, reminder, is something she doesn’t play). She’s been playing it for years, and notes that during some of the less hectic times in her life, she played quite a lot of it. She’s good at it. I can say with firsthand knowledge that she kicks ass at Tetris, and I have the recorded play sessions from Tetris Effect to prove it.

And, given I believe this is the first I’ve ever mentioned my fiancée on this blog, I feel I should note something else: she’s a bit of a… let’s say… completionist. She pathologically cannot deal with leaving tasks unfinished, and her Type A personality compels her to complete goals to the best of her ability, earn an A on that math test, and then win the big football game because she spiked the final 3-pointer (she tells me she also understands sports better than I do). She deals poorly with losing for any reason in any way, and, officer, I assure you this black eye of mine is from walking into a doorknob, and certainly not because the dear love of my life threw a chair at me when I caught a rare Pokémon before her. As a result of this personality quirk that she honestly and wholly admits is an issue, we don’t often play competitive games together. Even if I win, I lose, so let’s play some games where we either cooperate or work in parallel. It’s better for our collective mental health.

So I really should have known better than to suggest we play Puyo Puyo Tetris for crossover week (“week”). I should have used my good eye to foresee the inevitable.

WeeeeeFor those of you unfamiliar with the title, Puyo Puyo Tetris is exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a puzzle game that combines Puyo Puyo and Tetris. For those of you unfamiliar with Puyo Puyo, it’s a color-block matching game that has visited America in various disguises over the years. For those of you unfamiliar with Tetris, welcome to Earth, and I hope you enjoy your stay on our humble planet. In both cases, we’re dealing with games where objects fall infinitely from the sky, and you must carefully manage these bits and pieces so they “clear” and your play area is not filled with so much useless junk. And this version of these respective games is predominantly based on the concept of multiplayer, so you also have to deal with offensive “junk blocks” that are generated by your opponent doing well. It’s not enough to play the game with skill, you also have to be wary of your rival playing the game with that same skill, but faster.

But just because both games are involved, don’t think they don’t completely interact. Back in the Super Nintendo days, we had Tetris & Dr. Mario, but that title was little more than an excuse to tape two Gameboy games together and sell the package for $70. Tetris and Dr. Mario intermingled about as much as Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3 in Super Mario All-Stars. Puyo Puyo Tetris is another story. You can play head-to-head Puyo Puyo or head-to-head Tetris, but you can also play Puyo Puyo while your opponent picks up a game of Tetris. And it’s not simply “parallel play”, a properly completed Tetris can send junk sailing over to your Puyopponent. And it doesn’t stop there! There are other “versus” modes available that involve both games, like a puzzle speed run mode (called Big Bang Mode because “puzzle mode” sounds like a punishment), or another option where the game rapidly alternates between Puyo Puyo and Tetris boards. There’s even a mode that combines Tetris and Puyo Puyo into one focused game that adopts blocks and puyos from both franchises.

I think it was that mode in particular that caused my fiancée to start shouting expletives I cannot repeat on this blog.

I have no ideaLook, Tetris and Puyo Puyo being played in a sort of parallel is one thing, but outright combining the gameplay of both into one complete board is borderline crazy. The benefit of both of these games is that, individually, there isn’t much that has to be learned or understood to get going. Yes, there are complicated techniques involving starting combos or focused spinning or whatever in both games, but they’re both superficially very straightforward. Match the colors, line up the blocks. Empty spaces bad, alternating colors bad. The end. The best puzzle games are instantly understandable, and both Tetris and Puyo Puyo fit that bill. This is literally the reason your grandpa wanted a Gameboy. But Tetris + Puyo Puyo is confusing. Clearing a line requires using Tetris blocks, while popping puyos require puyo bubbles, and you don’t always have access to either kind of block. What’s worse, there are some moves that don’t seem to have obvious consequences, like how squishing some puyo bubbles with tetris blocks looks like you’re clearing out the clutter, but the bubbles will respawn and fall shortly thereafter. It’s something that happens every time, but it’s not immediate or often enough for a player to quickly distinguish whether these “junk blocks” are the result of something done by the player or their opponent. It creates a sort of “stress” that is not the traditional “things are getting heated because the board is filling up” stress, but more of an “I have no idea why things are happening or how I can make it better” stress. And it occurred to me that this stress could be very traumatic for some people right around when I won a match and my dear fiancée hit me with a folding chair. She is normally so respectful of the furniture!

And this might just be the pain meds talking, but there’s a certain… beauty in this crossover chaos.

What?Tetris x Puyo Puyo loses something. It loses its simplicity, and, with that, it loses its immediate and obvious accessibility. It loses an “easiness” that has been comfortable for decades. But it gains something in exchange. It is more complicated, but that complication adds nuance and techniques that would otherwise be completely absent from the experience. It adds a whole new dimension that was never there before, and would be completely impossible to so much as touch in the normal, base games. I have played a lot of Tetris games over the years, but they’ve always been constrained by being… Tetris. Adding Puyo Puyo to Tetris creates a whole new world of possibilities, and, while it does take some time to learn, it is an actual new experience. Tetris Effect, you’re great, but this is a genuinely, wholly fresh experience, and it’s satisfying to shift over to such a change once in a lifetime.

Tetris loses a little bit of itself. Puyo Puyo loses a little bit of itself. But what is gained, the final gestalt of the merging of these two things, that is greater than the two original items. Sometimes it’s hard to learn the ins and outs of this new…. thing, but it’s worth it. Both games are better for having crossed over.

Oh, anyway, did I mention I’m engaged?

She sparkles

I did? Yeah, there might be a metaphor here.

I love you, honey, and I’m looking forward to our crossover continuing.

Now… uh… could you put down that tire iron? I promise I was only kidding about playing Mario Kart…

FGC #496 Puyo Puyo Tetris

  • System: My understanding is that this is available on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Steam. However, there are also versions available in Japan (from 2014!) for Xbox One, 3DS, Wii U, Playstation Vita, and Playstation 3. This game is more traveled than I thought!
  • Number of players: Four player split screen action! Online modes available, too! It’s all very crazy and/or fun!
  • Favorite Mode: It’s the Puyo Puyo x Tetris mode. Did you get that from the article? I like new things right now. That may change in the near future.
  • But seriously folks: My dear fiancée is not physically violent. If you are in a relationship with someone that abuses you, physically or mentally, and you don’t have any options, please seek help. There are many highly trained counselors and nonprofit organizations out there that can help you, even in our current, nebulous existence. And I am not saying this because someone is holding a frying pan to my head.
  • Let's go!How about that Story Mode: Is this what it’s like for other people playing Kingdom Hearts? There are just all these weird anime characters with silly hair running around and shouting at each other for level after level, and, eventually, it is revealed this is all because “god” is angry and lonely and might need a hug. Or to play Tetris. And then the universe is saved thanks to a robot that sounds like a Pokémon.
  • Did you know? This is the first American release of a straight Puyo Puyo title since Puyo Pop Fever in 2004. Everybody counts the years between Metroid releases as some sign as to whether or not the franchise is dead, but nobody gives a damn about when Puyos haven’t been seen for a decade….
  • Would I play again: Just as soon as the swelling goes down, I think we could try playing this one again. I am going to have to find some manner of anchor to confirm the Switch isn’t tossed across the room, though.

What’s next? Enough with the mushy stuff! Our final crossover title is going to be the best crossover game released in the last decade. Please look forward to it!

WINNER