10 is the same as 0

Reviewers have always been influenced by the producers of goods and have been enticed with gifts to influence their reviews. Bribed, in other words. It’s an open secret how this happens all the time, though social media and how current reviews, especially with movies and games, are being influenced is laughably transparently covered. For example, back in 2014 when Watchdogs was about to come out, Steve Hogarty admitted how Ubisoft had put up an exclusive preview event for the game in Paris, where they gifted reviewers with Nexus 7 tablets. While this one event got some coverage, it’s far from being a rarity, though a normal consumer who doesn’t have any access or ties to any media houses wouldn’t know. Press kits for game journalists in events like this, and outside, tended to be rather expensive. Kotaku may be one of the worst sites around when it comes to objective news and articles, but a post from twelve years ago about Capcom sending them a three hundred dollar chess kit, while mentioning off-hand how EA offered to give them Porsche driving lessons so they’d get to play more of then upcoming new Need for Speed, shows how much the publishers and developers want to influence the media. It isn’t surprising that for each one who declines, there are at least two who say yes. This is an old topic in itself, and this sort of lack of independency between media and providers is always an issue. Sometimes kicking off consumer revolts. If you look up video game press kits on eBay, you can find journalists selling their gifts away. It should make you question why these kits include statues, backpacks and other goodies. If these bribes didn’t work, they wouldn’t be made.

Social media has changed the game quite a bit, especially with Youtubers. The providers don’t work with just media houses any more, but have tied single content creators around their pinky fingers as well. With Star Wars we saw large amount of media applauding the new movies, but after few years these reviews look suspect when the same writers repeat criticism consumers had with the movies in the first place. You can always argue that the reviewers bought the hype and had more objective lens after some time had passed, though that just means these people are terrible reviewers who let their own feelings and views influence their work. Youtubers often are fans making content. Fans’ love towards something is traditionally strong and can be easily exploited. They feel like they’re doing something right for the community and the brand by promoting it, and more often than not the big hits are hanging off from the companies’ strings. If you’re connected to the provider and manage to get exclusive behind the scene views or clips, the more views you manage to rack up. If you get on their bad side, this lifeline will be cut. These are fans hyping up other fans. That’s their job, in effect, and it’s not even a real one. They’re doing these companies’ PR and advertising, hyping titles up to high heavens, and they don’t even get properly paid for it. There is no self-respect at play here. Let’s not get into how Youtubers, influencers and press often get pre-release review copies, sometimes to own, sometimes with a bunch of the merch. You scratch their back, they scratch yours.

We of course come back to The Last of Us 2 and it being review bombed all the while the gaming media is praising it. Oh there are proper review scores all around for sure. It’s just telling how screwed up the system is when customer reviews are being bombed to the ground with zeroes while similarly the official side is hitting it with perfect tens. An old joke in video game reviews is that it’s really just a three-star system, or the range of score goes from 70 to 100, but that’s sort of the reality of it. The more you find popular Youtubers and press media repeating the same points in almost the same wordings and ways, the more reasons we have to ignore them. The modern review system is bust and completely tied to the providers. Social media might be completely screwed with this, outside the ones that are truly independent, but the Internet also allows us to completely ignore content creators who are just marketing, shilling, products to your face. Give all channels and sources you use a hard look. If they’re championing something that’s transparently false or hyping something overtly, they don’t have your best interests in mind. They might be fanboys hyping, they might’ve lost their independence as content creators, the end result is the same nonetheless.

I have to admit that I did go overboard with the Muv-Luv stuff when the Kickstarter was on, but none of that was from the company’s side. I’ve got only friends in the translation team, no connections to the company proper per se, and it’s highly probably nobody at âge is even aware of this blog.

Nevertheless, the Internet has given us the chance to review everything we want on multiple sites, aggregate or not, and voice our own experiences. The onus is put on the consumer in this, which is why aggregates exist to make going through reviews easier, but as you probably know, that’s not exactly a system without faults. Still, if you look at item reviews on e.g. Amazon and read through them, you notice a pattern of mid-range star reviews usually having the best pros and cons. Top and bottom reviews can often be just one word and be left that. That’s pretty much what all these 0 and full score reviews are, empty hate and hype with no value. Not many want to do the legwork themselves, going through review histories and search up opinions from people who haven’t written reviews, resorting to these Youtubers they like and find likeminded to deliver the condensed version. There’s also something about wanting to enforce your own believes and sticking with the group mentality. It’s either cool to like or hate something, join the mob, despite the mob being driven and created by providers for profits. Nothing is more profitable for providers than zealots and true believers, as dropping something that they agree with can get you nice profits. However, bet on the wrong horse, and you’ll alienate the rest of the consumers. If you bet worse and the horse gets injured behind a bush like Silence Suzuka in 1998 Tenno Sho, it’s not hard to find yourself with diminishing revenues on the long run despite all the influencing and hyping.

As stupid as it sounds, stealth marketing has crept into every area of media we consume. It’s tiresome to take everything as suspect and wage through dozens of options and reviews just to find if something like headphones work for you. The amount of reviews and opinions will ultimately always overwhelm you, and in the end, the only proper way is to educate yourself on the subject to some extent base your decisions on that. A bit hard for video games and movies, but just like with everything else, having experience and foreknowledge about the subject helps you a long way. In the end, intuition is learned through experience. The good ol’ argument of giving something a go before you make a decision or the like doesn’t really apply with games and movies, or any entertainment media, as the provider gets your money even if you didn’t end up liking the product. Movie trailers rarely do any justice to the movies, as they’re made to market it. Game demos on the other hand almost died out completely, because they ended up representing the games a bit too well and impacted sales negatively. Piracy of course is the great controversy, as it’s claimed to negatively impact sales even when in reality people tend to use it as a method to test drive movies and games before committing to a purchase.

Any time you see someone holding a torch to something, giving it higher quarter score, go through it with extreme criticism. Reviews on Disney Star Wars, Marvel movies, The Last of Us 2 or any other high-profile piece, including Star Trek Picard, are under suspect, and through them, every other reviews these content creators have. If their standards and level of criticism yields 10/10 with only minor issues here or there, there’s something amiss. Look for authenticity in the reviews you look for.

Double the Fantasy

An element video and computer games have to them is the necessity for the player to suspend their disbelief twice. The first is, and the one players are most aware of, is within the game’s own setting. We can suspend our disbelief that Mario can jump as high as he can or run endlessly without exerting himself. Take any game and you can find any number of elements that we freely suspend our disbelief about, because they are games. Not many games overall, outside sports, have a need to adhere to the rules of reality. There is no magic, yet there are no issues of understanding and using magic in a given fantasy game. It’s part of the system. However, even before that we have to suspend out disbelief with the technology, on the matters that are not about the game itself. Things like having save slots, passwords to continue or even creating a character are separate entities from the game’s play itself. We expect these things to be part of the whole deal. We expect the games offer a fantasy world we can escape, but we’re still in need to use the tools that the games are built to function on.

While game worlds exhibit elements of different worlds, they’re tied to their social functions. Using somewhat old terminology, the fantasy of these games crosses with the necessity of cyberculture. The player, as part of the cyberculture, often demands elements that do not fit with the fantasy of the world, like Non-Player Characters directly talking to the player rather than to the player’s in-game avatar, like whether or not they would like to save their game. Players’ socialising is also completely apart from the game most of the time, though some players do play their role properly, not breaking their character in-game. The human brain is capable of handling two opposites as true, as players treat the fantasy the game offers as reality just as much as the true reality the game functions in. The fantasy of the world, while contradicting its necessity to be tied to being a software that can only be on a screen we control via input devices as dictated by the game’s rules, is no less is not broken by the necessity of reality.

To use Monster Hunter as an example, we know humans can’t wield the kinds of weapons the game shows. There is no in-game explanation either, it’s part of the deal. The same with monsters themselves and many of the fantastic elements the game has to offer. Controls is an example where the dualistic mindset steps in; we can’t simply do Action X, because the game’s design and code doesn’t allow us. This is part of the rules of the game, despite the games often showing movies how the hunts really look like within the context of the world itself. Items are part of the mechanical elements of the game, where you can carry only this many items in a given number of slots in your inventory, though nothing actually shows on your character that you have them. No backpack or the like on the character.

Some games aim to dissolve the distinction of the two layers. Rather than having the player save their game, the game makes the player write a diary entry and does not make references to the player’s own actions. It’s the player avatar writing the entry, keeping the layer of fantasy unbroken. Yet this is rarely done in favour of making clear to the player what function is what within the game’s rules. To use Ultima Online‘s saving as an example, the player could not open a menu and click Save Game, as that breaks the game’s fantasy. First the player must gather the necessary equipment to camp, like a tent and firewood. Then the player must find a fitting spot to camp and initiate camping procedures before he can log off from the server. The player can’t simply cut the connection at any time he wishes, as that gains him a penalty, where the player character is forced to lay still and possibly be mugged by thieves or mauled by wild animals. EverQuest handles this differently by the game announcing camp preparations with a countdown. The fantasy is not broken, instead it has been replaced with a narrative element in both examples. With games like Final Fantasy, there is no consideration for the fantasy itself. The game and its in-game external functions are treated as two different things.

Games like Baldur’s Gate allow breaking the game’s fantasy even further through constant renewing of the player’s party and character, being able to rewrite the backstories as many times as they want and renew pretty much everything about the party as much as they want. In online mode, a player can bring in a character from their single player campaign that might be significantly higher in levels and progression in the single-player campaign. The fantasy of the game requires moulding that sort of character back into proper spot in that online campaign’s progression, otherwise the fantasy of the game world is broken down by the game’s own in-game external functions. Baldur’s Gate treats itself as a hybrid of what it is, thus allowing its fantasy to be very easily broken by the necessities of its Dungeons and Dragons roots. The game doesn’t try to mask majority of its mechanical functions with its fantasy. Incidentally, while the aforementioned Monster Hunter doesn’t go its way out to include any real ways to keep its narrative functions, a lot has been discussed if the monsters’ Life energy and states should be shown to the player. The game’s design relies the player to further themselves into the fantasy and observe the behaviour and actions of the monsters to determine how badly they’re hurt or if they are enraged. While the game’s rules makes these very apparent by drastically changing the monsters’ actions and adding new elements to the monsters, like raised spikes or glowing eyes, it has moved an element of the technical into the fantasy.

The separation of the fantasy and its mechanics have become clear, and the two-layered fantasy is mostly gone. It has become more a meta subject for some of the developers and designed to toy with, with Metal Gear Solid being one of the best examples how a game’s world can intentionally break the fantasy by using the mechanics accessible to the players themselves, like reading contents of the Memory Card to enforce the idea of Psycho Mantis’ psychic powers and necessitating the player to use the second controller port to fight him. That, and using the controller’s vibrating function as a massage device. This kind of meta approach, while breaking the fantasy, also ties the two layers together, making it meta. However, in the same vain other developers have been chasing the cinematic and Hollywood presentation of Metal Gear Solid to the detriment of the medium, fracturing. the game’s fantasy further.

Video and computer games’ main narrative elements comes from the player’s actions. Each play, in themselves, is the story the game has, not the readily made framework the player progresses through the game. The play’s narrative can easily mask the necessities of the game’s rules and mechanics by giving them further narrative elements. While the players themselves will break the fantasy by meta-discussion about the game, the fantasy of the game world itself can be kept wholly cohesive. However, the wants of the players themselves often necessitate breaking the fantasy in order to offer them things like Quick Saves or the like. While we can argue that we’ve advanced in designing games and their interfaces, the modern electronic media and cyberculture is very much different from what it was ten, twenty years ago. Video and computer game designs reflect this, where the player driven narrative and story has been replaced with an emphasize on the pre-determined framework, despite modern technology allowing far more complex game progression to be designed and realised. The paradigm in current game design however wants to fight this, as it has been separated from the technological fantasy of controls, mechanics and rules. Rather than games being presented as a cohesive whole, with the layers being as melded as possible, the current paradigm in design wants to present the games as sectioned as possible. Perhaps it is because different teams are working different sections of the game, where the need to make clear-cut definitions betweens them becomes apparent. However, the consumers at large don’t see to mind this and are capable sidestepping the necessity to suspend their disbelief with fantasy due to simple nature of games running on rules.

A touch of medieval magic

During the last three to four decades the worldwide popular culture has enjoyed large amounts of content that hits itself back to the middle-ages with a touch of fantasy. Dungeons and Dragons is first on the tongue of many who play it and it would be dismissive not to mention the influence of Tolkien’s works played in part. Some of the largest video game franchises stem from these sources when traced back enough, while games like Ultima Online and EverQuest almost directly were inspired by. The influence of the The Lord of the Rings movies as well as Harry Potter, and even Shrek, the modern revisionist fantasy is strongly felt. We can go ever further back from the early 2000’s to the 1980’s as well, where titles like Dragonslayer and Conan the Barbarian were making ways in the genre. They all share the same fantasy tropes of castles, swords, dragons, fairies and magic ties them all together in one massive heap. Not only that, but IT books used to be full of lingo directly related to fantasy, with titles like Dreamwaver 4 Magic or The C Wizard’s Programming Reference. Hell, even when installing a program you might open up something called the Installation Wizard.

All these are tied to old stories about knights and dragons, fables and tales of lords and gods. Stories like King Arthur, Waltharius, Prose Edda and whatever story your countrymen tell as their national epochs all contribute to what we see in modern popular culture, especially in electronic gaming where games across the board freely borrow concepts, names and places from. While you have games like Valkyrie Profile that adapts Ragnarök as its background while exploring humanity and its effects on a divine Valkyrie, other titles simply take the names and drop them into a given setting like how Final Fantasy does with its Summon spells more often than not. While we lean back to these old tales to large extends, the modern world has allowed to continue telling stories in more effective ways. Movies, books, comics, animation and whatnot you have in the popular culture can be often put breast to breast with old epics and make comparisons between the characters and events. Captain America, in his own ways, is the United State’s very own Samson.

Using these names and concepts is an effective way to convey to the customer what are buying into at any given time. The aforementioned Installation Wizard works like magic, with the user not needing to concern themselves with the details in installing a program. It’s like magic, no need to explain how this works. It’s not always the classical terms or works that get referenced. Band names are often an example of this. Names like Shayol Ghul and Lanfear are both references to the Wheel of Time books, where both carry rather sinister and dark connotation. You wouldn’t be surprised the former is a Black Metal band while the latter plays Power Metal. Modern fantasy has played a major role as the inspiration for large amounts of rock and heavy metal. A game example to refer an idea through name alone would fall to Nihon Falcom’s Ys-series, as it is a direct reference to the city of Ys, or Kêr-Is in Breton, which sank in the ocean. Not much else was lifted from the original story other than a vanished city that had to pay for its foolishness.

While fantasy (especially the medieval fantasy that reaches well into the Renaissance) has been rising in popularity slowly but surely, works that could impact the cultural mind have become relatively rare. Not since Harry Potter have we seen a true fantasy work that turned people true believers of sorts. Perhaps the latest fantasy work that left a permanent impact was Dark Souls and its lieu of copycats and a forced genre naming Soulslike, which harkens well back to the day of Doomclone. As a piece of story, Dark Souls may not offer much and heavily leans on its own inspirations, one of which is the fan-favourite Berserk. However, as a game it offers one of the best modern examples of ways people share their own particular stories. The framework of Dark Souls is nothing special in itself, not even its method of leaving the player to tie the background story together through environment and item texts, something even Metroid Prime utilised through its logs. However, it offers one of the best examples where player actions is the bulk of the story. Sharing these stories, how an enemy was faced with a particular weapon, or how they were battling another player, is an essential part of the overall experience. Sometimes its shared through streaming, where the player effectively becomes a theatre performer and the game is his stage. Maybe they’ll just ragequit after Pinwheel kills them, ending that particular tale right there. Here lies the Hero Skarnix, yet another dead. Dark Souls took what was already there and mixed it all together to create something new from the old, though it must be mentioned that FromSoftware had already laid out the framework with Demons’ Souls and King’s Field series of games. However, Dark Souls is the one that truly broke through the cultural wall as a defining work.

Classic sword and sorcery fantasy seems to be a sort of thing that’s easily accessed by anyone. We understand the romance between a hero and the sword, the dream of heroic tasks we could undertake and overcome. Sometimes the twist is macabre and depressing, lacking in any hope, but even that we understand without much explanations. Life’s unfair and only we ourselves are in charge of our own lives. Make the best of it. Perhaps there’s a bit of nostalgia as well in there, as the World Wars tolled so many to the point of needing to invent Dada. Despite fantasy games offering complex mechanics and vast storylines, at the core there is simplicity that modern day doesn’t offer. Some prefer even historical stories prior to Renaissance due to lack of cannons and other similar projectile weapons, when all you had was steel and catapults.

While Science fiction had a similar rise as fantasy when we had the great writers, from Doc Smith’s Lensman and Asimov’s Foundation to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Arthur C. Clarke’s A Space Odyssey, modern science fiction hasn’t seen much success either on print, video games, films or television. Whether or not it is because of modern audiences simply being tired of science fiction, or that most modern writers can’t build a story that’s as entertaining and brain racking as the aforementioned authors’ works, the genre’s a passé. Fantasy, on the other hand, is ageless as it creates a false history to build upon. It doesn’t need to make guesses or assumptions what might be in the future or ask What if… Thus even science fiction weapons that have entered the general lexicon as most powerful are based on extensions of cultural history and fantasy, light sabre or laser sword being probably one of the best examples.

In time we’ll see new forms of media popping up and new ways to create content to tell stories of heroes, of might and magic, or wizardry and quests for glory. They’ll still stand on top of what we have now, just as the works we consume are standing on top even larger giants. After all, the culture of telling stories and playing games is ever-evolving.

That one franchise Sony hasn’t screwed up at any point

Everybody’s Golf is not exactly the most exciting game franchise out there. It’s not the most entertaining golf game series either and it doesn’t actually simulate the golf experience all that well. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 is considered the cornerstone of modern video golf simulators, while something like Sid Meier’s SimGolf hits that golf course manager’s wet dream. There’s the good ol’ Mario Golf titles that are surprising hard core when you get to them, and of course the Wii could’ve outshone all of its competition with golf simulation, but you know what happened with that in the end. Still, Wii Sports’ golf is still extremely fun to boot up and play.

For a game series that has seven main entries, two spin-offs and two Tennis entries, there’s very little fuss about the games. The franchise gets decent scores, overall speaking, hit the Sony-fans’ weak spot by adding some iconic characters on PlayStation systems in different times, e.g. Ratchet from Ratchet and Clank as a playable avatar and a Pipo Monkey of Ape Escape as a caddie in Everybody’s Golf 4. The latest game in the series has seen collaboration celebration with Level-5 with addition of character from titles like Dark Cloud and White Knight Chronicles. The games are, without a doubt, entertaining and well made. Golf overall doesn’t appeal to everyone, and the way Everybody’s Golf flies under most consumers’ radars is understandable, especially in the Western markets. On the surface, it seems like a weird franchise for Sony to be constantly publishing and changing developers for now and then. It’s not Metal Gear or any other massive PlayStation associated franchise, Everybody’s Golf titles are often found warming the store shelves on the long run and being dropped into the sales bin. Yet they sell well enough to warrant constant development and publishing, and if we’re completely honest, also one of the most consistent and relaxing games out there.

Golf is a prestige sport and hobby in Japan. Having a membership and participating in golfing is considered to state a higher status in society, and solely considered an adult’s pastime. In Japanese media and popular culture, golf is an easy way emphasize a character or situation by showing them playing golf either on the field, or more probably, in their office room. For example, after its title screen scene, OVA Wicked City dives straight into showing an older, rounded Japanese man playing minigolf in his office, then proceed to discuss clubs in few lines. The clubs continue to be a strong element in that scene, emphasizing that the topic is serious and something that only people in high circles have a handle and knowledge of. Golf is something very expensive, increasingly so in Japan due to very limited area clubs and greens can be constructed on. Video golf is, at best, a cheap alternative to the real thing, even to put set-up in your office. It at least gives a glimpse of what the truly successful and wealthy do in their off hours, or when closing deals on the green.

Sony having their own golf franchise, one that’s doing pretty well all things considered, should by a forgone conclusion. While Sony is no longer a prestige brand, a maker with no faults in their productions or forerunner in quality and R&D, they still are a million dollar company worthy of golf. The first Everybody’s Golf, after all, was on the original PlayStation. The series may put an emphasis on cartoony and unrealistic characters, but the gameplay and the fields themselves are well thought out and extremely compelling, the few points that really matter. The rest is veneer, just there to deliver something to stand out from the crowd, though in years Everybody’s Golf has become the white noise of golf games in terms of visuals. EA’s Rory McIlroy: PGA Tour offers the most realistic approach with some name recognition while The Golf Club 2 is probably the most well-rounded. They’re not Everybody’s Golf though, and the catch is in the name.

Most golf games and simulators can be, and surprisingly often are, absolutely brutal. Even Pangya! or Super Swing Golf series ended up being stupidly difficult despite its cutesy graphics. Golf games are the kind of sports titles that on the surface look easy, and end up being hair tearing. Everybody’s Golf, however, is not. Perhaps because the series is easy to pick up, easy to get into and easy to play with surprisingly challenging content despite veering off from being a simulation, has made Everybody’s Golf a mainstay PlayStation franchise. It certainly doesn’t get the respect and street cred from RPG lovers and deep red ocean customers, though it doesn’t need to. Everybody’s Golf exists in a nice spot in the niches, where it seems to make good sales by offering everyone something special the other games don’t. Again, the franchise won’t explode the audience in cheers and clapping, people won’t mull over it or defend its development staff against supposedly tyrannical corporate overlords nor does it have a recognisable face. Hell, I’m not even sure if there is any kind of fandom that’s properly organised, the wiki has only eleven pages. There is demand enough to warrant the series’ future, even if it’s a bit off to the side. It shouldn’t be a surprise on its own how Sony has handled Everybody’s Golf throughout the years. An entry here, and entry there, on every platform they’ve released since the original PlayStation. The developers have concentrated on the core and strengths of the series, updating mechanics throughout the years and pushed some elements away while adding new ones, changing unlocking better characters to unlocking better clubs and becoming more open ended. Y’know the usual stuff games do to match contemporaries.

Perhaps because Everybody’s Golf does its job fine without any fuss, despite being rather bland, Sony has never had any reason to start messing with it, no reason to delay or change its platforms to serve some nebulous plans that ultimately doom themselves. Those who have run the franchise seem to be on the button what’s good for the series and how to make best use of it, and understand the niche they are occupying. Nothing better for a long-running game series than not trying to blow the lid, and think the series’ long-term goals.

Sony has no strong IP of their own

There’s a rumour going on that Sony would like to purchase Castlevania, Silent Hill and Metal Gear franchises from Konami. I’m sure you already heard about this, but the news sites have been making rounds. These being PlayStation 5 exclusive titles would make sense, as at one point Solid Snake, alongside Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the dragon, were considered Sony-only, unofficial mascots of sorts. The thing is, Sony has a terrible track record at maintaining and running their game franchises. Hell, Sony been butchering their movie franchises just the same, with Spider-Man only becoming success after failed reboot when Marvel stepped in to help. They’ve always been too reliant on third party titles and have taken exclusivity as a kind of self-evident point and understanding that the PC and console game markets are not in direct competition with each other.

Sony has recognised that both Metal Gear and Silent Hill franchises are often associated with the PlayStation. Both of them have their best titles on Sony platforms and made their impact and name on a PlayStation. They are games series that are both nostalgic to fans of Sony’s systems as well as franchises that have significantly driven the sales of PlayStation brand as a whole. If they can get Hideo Kojima involved as much as possible, to replicate the golden days of the Metal Gear franchise (despite Kojima historically saying he’s done with the franchise after the first game and after each subsequent sequel), then Sony would have whatever one-two punch they want to replicate from past. The thing is, as mentioned, Sony really can’t manage their own franchises worth shit and there’s no indication they would do any better with any of these. Kojima’s Death Stranding, despite all the hype, has strongly mixed reception and hasn’t made the impact or sales such hype train should deliver. I’m sure some guy sold his mattress to play Death Stranding, and fanboys will hype it, but data isn’t supporting Death Stranding all that much. Sony has tried to make amends between Konami and Kojima as well as tried to fund development of new titles, but no avail.

Nevertheless, Sony is feeling the absence of their strongest third-party lineup, and Konami not exactly wanting to make these games due to the bad blood associated with them, so buying the rights outright would seem to be the most sensible option. After all, reboots of other classic Sony associated franchises have seen strong sales. Final Fantasy VII Remake is almost guaranteed to sell platinum on its first quarter. Konami not making new entries is hurting Sony’s bottom line and Konami has no reason to sell or develop new titles at this moment. Selling their IPs to Sony is highly unlikely, as they still make money as franchises, be it as pachislot machines, animation, via collections or digital re-releases, toys etc. Konami isn’t just a game developer, their business heavily involves in producing other media content like animation, production of goods like toys and are heavily involved in other kinds of activity centres that are not involved in gaming directly. To them, there’d be no reason to sell IPs that trickle in money from things that aren’t video games despite them originating from there, like with the Castlevania cartoon.

If Sony were to purchase the IPs, and to bring in the big name hotshots that were running the franchises almost two decades ago, what’d that yield? The rumour says the first thing would be a remake of Metal Gear, which is currently probably the most obvious choice to many. Silent Hill would see a soft-reboot, again. Castlevania would see a hard reboot to model itself after the Dark Souls and Bloodborne (which would personally throw me into a fit as that’d be retarded. Castlevania was, and should always be, Hammer Horror Action Games.) All these probably would get an entry, and then nothing for some time. Just look how well Sony handled Gravity Rush, their most high profile new franchise that was expected to hit big and hard. It was the game the Vita was sold on, and then nothing until it got ported to PS4, effectively being the moment when Sony killed their handheld. The second game had lacklustre development cycle, had a timid release in the West and there is no word if spin-offs or third title in the series. Gravity Rush is a bust. It has a cult following and has a favourable opinion overall. It’s a franchise Sony could have worked with to improve it and make it a larger hit and build on that to make new IPs to balance the scales further. This isn’t what Sony does, this is what Nintendo would do.

Sony, much like Microsoft, really suck as handling their own, original IPs and pretty much every high quality title that’s mainly associated with has been bought from somewhere else or a third-party product. Sony, to this day, has not created a strong, long-standing franchise of their own that they could proudly stand-by. Their systems’ sales are dependant on these franchises, especially during periods of economic downward spirals, where convincing the customer to put their money into non-essentials like games is stupidly difficult. Sony wants to get all this under their belt to ensure the future of their own platform by name recognition, both in terms of IPs and with the faces of the developers, but that’d be throwing pearls to the pigs. What we’re looking at here is Sony effectively wanting to ‘Disney’ Konami’s franchises, especially Castlevania.

Sony wants to make money and Konami owning these franchises is preventing them from doing so. Their aim wouldn’t be treating these franchises right, or how art would demand, all that matters that is the customers see familiar names and faces alongside somewhat expected games. Sony needs this, and it wouldn’t be too far fetched to say they want to hammer nostalgia with remakes and reboots, especially now that they’ve got nothing of their own to makes those sales.

Unmade money with old games and consoles

Masayuki Uemura was interviewed by Nintendolife recently. He was the main engineer of the Nintendo Family Computer, as well as the guy who lead Super Famicom development. Naturally, he also was behind the workings of their American and Western equivalents. The interview covers decent ground and has some interesting factoids spread around. For example, all the innards of the FC was to cost give thousand yen and then sold for fifteen. Taking inflation into count, that five thousand is about six and half thousand yen, or about fifty five euro. The FC wasn’t exactly cutting edge for its time either, and the initial FC games are a whole another world from what the Western world came to know with the NES. You could even say that the split between the games, sort of, is pre and post Super Mario Bros., as that game was build to be the ultimate cartridge game before the disk system hit the corner. After SMB‘s success, the quality of the games on the system skyrocketed in number and begun yielding classic titles after another. I still maintain that the NES’ US launch line-up was one of the best a console has seen, as Nintendo of America had the chance to hand pick all the most fitting titles from the Japanese releases to fit the American taste. The Wii also had a relatively low-cost innards, which didn’t hamper its success. Nintendo’s lack of support after few years though, and Wii’s sales were still top notch.The Wii’s Virtual Console on the other hand, that sold the system to so many people.

Uemura mentions costs to be one of the driving elements in the design, and this is something the common consumer doesn’t tend to think. Certainly you know that better materials cost more money, but that’s only part of the equation. Shapes and colour add to the cost as well. For example, pink plastic has a higher melting point than blue plastic, requiring more time and energy to melt the plastic into the moulds. The colours themselves are also a factor, as mixing and making different colours cost different sums. Of course, you also have consider what that colour can do to plastic on the long run and if it’s worth it. For example, Beast Wars era Transformers toys have Gold Plastic Syndrome, where the colour and flakes added to the plastic have chemically interacted with each other and brittled the plastic, making it prone to break very easily. Some examples were found on the store shelves during the 1990’s already, and the issues has only become more pressing with time. Let’s not forget the shape. The more complex the shape, the more time and money it takes to develop needed production methods and finding the proper material to work with those shapes. Machining and maintenance are the key factors, and sometimes shapes need to be simplified due to either needing excess amount of parts or corners and loops that simply wouldn’t fill. Uemura mentioning that they went through numerous different variations for the controller is nothing surprising, but something that hasn’t been recorded and archived anywhere. If NES would’ve had the same kind of joystick as the Atari 2600, it would not have been the same success. The choice to try out Game & Watch Directional Pad appears to have been a somewhat desperate attempt to cull costs and prevent breakage if a child steps on the controller, and it worked.

The most interesting, and perhaps even most important section in the interview, is Uemura talking about the Famicom Mini;

Why make it mini? I think they could still develop a regular Famicom and people would still buy it.

Uemura’s hitting the nail with this, and it’s not just Nintendo that this applies to. Unlike what the industry wants to tell you, a console has no true life cycle or end of it. A system lives as long as the parent company decides to support it. However, the practice currently is to support one home console and one handheld at a time, thought the Switch really does both. All these reproduction consoles that are going about are an example how there is a market that’s untapped by the original companies. If Nintendo decided to develop and official GameBoy with a backlit screen, it would sell not only to the collectors, but to all interested parties. Reproducing cartridges nowadays is much simpler and cost effective. I’ve discussed this topic previously in a review. While it would increase the cost of the mini-consoles to add a port where consumers could use their own old cartridges, it is something these companies should have strongly considered. The games and their players have not gone anywhere. These same games are being published time and time again either as individual games or as parts of compilations. The game industry is almost schizophrenic in this. Something is supposed to have a limited lifetime, and yet people pirate ROMs to play these games and purchase compilations. Developers try to push for the new titles and games with high budgets and production values, and it’s the small side-game that’s more true to the older games that sells like hotcakes. We are still playing the same board and card games from hundreds if not thousands of years ago, and the could apply to electronic gaming if the industry wouldn’t treat them as one-time consumables. Yes, old cartridges and consoles will yield to time, to wear and tear, but the question really is why isn’t any of these companies willing to address this? There is a market that Sega, Konami, Sony, Nintendo etc. could go and tap.

Of course, developing a new console that would be planned to run old games would be time off from the more modern and current projects. Where’s the prestige in that? It would take some time and effort to see what made the original systems tick, if we’re to avoid emulation, and then expand what they can do. Using HDMI would be the first step, though if fans have created modifications to add HDMI output to old systems, so can the parent companies themselves. That is, if there is know-how and skill to do yet. Just like in the film industry, where colour and digitalisation effectively killed old skills (nobody knows how to make a true black and white movie anymore or how to properly run a reel, everything’s just a guess) the video game industry is in the process of forgetting how to develop for analogue platforms. Only the enthusiasts and retro-game programmers are keeping these skills alive. Hell, most big developers don’t even develop their engines any more, opting to use pre-existing engines. Capcom is one of the few developers that do their own in-house R&D, and it shows. Perhaps the kind of sameness games nowadays exhibit is partially because of this, and partially because games don’t develop as fast any more. In the 1980’s and early-to-mid 1990’s the industry kept developing fast and weren’t defined to the point of being set to stone. You had separation what kind of game was on what kind of system (PC, console or arcade) yet now more games are more the same. I’m ranting again about this, aren’t I?

There is money to be made with games and consoles, even if the industry perception is that they wouldn’t be much worth. The NES Mini outsold itself twice, the SNES Mini sold itself out about as fast, the Mega Drive Mini has been hailed from left to right as the best Mini system to date with excellent choice in games and the PlayStation Mini is still sitting on the shelves for being shit. There needs to be quality of course, as not even the hardest of the core customers will stand for lack of proper effort and lacklustre products. This market isn’t just for the small percentage of people stuck in the past. Old games, as long as they are available, will sell. A game is an ever-green product you can press again and again and sell it over and over again. They don’t grow old, playing games is an ageless pastime. They are mass consumer entertainment, and if you were to present them in their proper, original form with somewhat updated hardware for the new times, you’d have a new pillar to support your business with. Then again, we’ll always be an impasse, as that’d be looking back into the past and not trying to push the latest newfangled stuff.

I’m gonna take you for a ride

The EVO 2020, the event for fighting game tournaments, lineup was rather surprising in few ways; Under Night In-Birth stayed in with its latest iterations, Guilty Gear was kicked out in favour of Granblue Fantasu Versus (which also has all the telltale signs how ArcSys really wants their fighting games to be, to put it less diplomatically, more retarded), no Mortal Kombat anywhere to be seen and as a surprise to everyone Marvel VS Capcom 2 is in as a special invitation-only tournament.

MvC2 is in due to its twenty year anniversary, and considering it has been a major part of EVO and its predecessor, Battle by the Bay, there’s not really any other game that might have as much historical hype behind. MvC2 in many ways is a historical cornerstone in video game history overall, being a kind of peak of Capcom fighting game history, where the era of classic era ends. Sure there was Capcom VS SNK 2 and some stragglers afterwards, yet none of them managed to reach the same peak in both popularity and in sheer quality. The Marvel series of games for Capcom is significant part of the company’s history, and still stand out as one of the best, if not outright the best games based on Marvel properties. However, licensing each character must be a mess, and with Disney at the helm and priorities being what they are, games like Marvel vs Capcom Infinite gets made. The VS games have always been about the play, never about the story. MvCI sadly tried to explain and explore what wasn’t needed or required, but due to Disney and Marvel limiting the licenses 20th Century Fox had at the time, the game’s cast was gimped and it seemed like a weak vehicle for the Marvel movie characters.

MvC2 is a kind of game that hasn’t aged. Like said in previous post, well made games don’t age. They may show their age, like how Pong constitutes of two white bars and a square for a ball, but the play and design is still perfect. The same can’t be said for most Pong clone consoles and their games, and the same applies to loads of games even up to this day. I’ve talked about how Breakout evolved with time and with new iterations (I do recommend reading that post, it’s one of the few entries I personally like) but the core play never demanded revisions. Tweaks and additions for sure, but the day it came out, it was about as perfect as it could be. Games well up to the Fourth Generation of consoles, Super Nintendo and such, had to balance between what the systems could do and what the game design was. For each game that had great design and realisation there were dozen that were much less in quality. Super Mario Bros. 3 isn’t just a great NES game, it’s overall a great game with excellent design both in play and how the graphics are depicted. While modern systems allow any level of depiction when it comes to graphics, you still have games that use the most mundane look and design. You can have the most high fidelity models and highest possible 8K+ resolution, but in comparison they’ll beat MSB3 if the design is lacking.

Games like Solaris might look crude and maybe even sound terrible, and for 1986 there were serious competition on the NES already, but put into proper context, Solaris is an absolute marvel on the Atari 2600. It wasn’t an arcade port for one, and second it pushed the system to its absolute limits with fast, colourful graphics, relatively complex play for the system that involved both navigation next to its shooting game elements. You of course had older titles like Pitfall! already had explored and expanded what the Atari 2600 could do. These consoles were limited beasts that didn’t offer lots of options for the developers. Limitations are your friend and push creativity and innovation forwards. The same can’t be said of modern systems, where space is wasted, everyone is recycling the same game engines, and you are effectively able to do whatever you want. Similar technical limitations don’t exist any more, polygons don’t limit you to square shape and systems can show more than four colours on screen at a time. Hell, you can use colour. The original Breakout didn’t have a colour screen, but a black and white monitor that had a celluloid overlay that coloured the white graphics on the screen. I’d like to say such analogue practices would be impractical nowadays, but seeing how people are convincing themselves on VR despite it still lingering at the lower echelons of success, I’m not so sure. Sticking a film on your screen for extra graphics sounds about as easy solution as a VR headset.

While it’d be easy to say that a game looks too old to be played, that age has made its visual fall behind, is not exactly the case. Well designed and applied graphics will always stand out from the dredge. MvC2 might be old compared the rest of the games, it might have a weird mix of sprites, some almost a decade old when the game was released, with 3D backgrounds, yet how colourful it is, how expressive the characters and stages are combined with the sheer explosion of colours combined with the furiously fast and almost uncontrollable play made the game not only popular, but also timeless. Yes, it looks like a game from 2000’s, but in the same manner we can say that we’re happy it doesn’t look like a game from 2007 with all the brown and bloom of the time.

This TAS shows how Jill’s sprite is made, how you can discern each kick and punch clearly from each other. You’d think something like this would be sensible, but so many fighting games flub their characters’ moves and animations for whatever reasons

The game’s also a terrific spectator’s game because all the above. Despite it being absolutely insane on what’s happening on the screen at times, it doesn’t blow its load too early and keeps the screen relatively clean. The easy-to-read sprites and timing for characters’ Super moves and such have just a long enough pause to have an effect on both the players and audience that something big is about hit. Modern fighting games have lost the touch to make impactful moves and effects with the whole cinematic supers, where the whole game has to be paused. Fighting games have, effectively, become slower and have more emphasize on elements that make the games slower, wasting players’ time.

While market and PR are the reasons events like EVO mostly run current games and not any of the old classics, there are no proper reasons why any of these events should have one or two classic entries in their lineup. It’s understandable why some companies wouldn’t want their long line-up available for modern systems outside licensing issues, because a lot of the more celebrated games can beat their latest titles. The relationship with Nintendo and VC titles is probably one of the best examples of this. It’s not uncommon to see and hear developers to do something new and forget what’s already done, but you can’t really ignore history, especially if you’ve made some of the games in short history of electronic gaming. Best you can do is ignore it, or if you dare, tackle it head-on and aim to obsolete it.

Games teach to play, not to kill

Looking at the history, the game scare we had during the 1990’s never went away. We had a game scare in the late 1970’s, there was a scare in the 1980’s, people thought it resurfaced in the 00’s and recently during the 10’s, but in reality, there has always been some people in high positions thinking some form of media is responsible for the actions of some. The most recent comment about games teaching us to kill comes from the former vice president of the US, Joe Biden. Neither this blog or me personally really gives a rat’s ass about the US politics, but Biden on The New York Times doesn’t really put me into ease how easily weight is being rolled from individual actions to media. Again.

Biden’s view on the modern media, the Internet 2.0, video games and all that, is very much biased and skewed. The fact that he calls someone, probably a developer, one of the little creeps, says all that. While he admits that not all the people in the tech industry are bad, that doesn’t really fare well against his assumptions what people think and how things are. In Biden’s view, video games teach people how to kill. Whether or not he has strong resentment for this, of because these tech industry people are rich and are making money the way he doesn’t agree with, is an open question. Biden seems to be nonsensical with parts of the interview, which isn’t exactly new for him.

The question is; do video games teach you to kill?

You can answer this in a few way, only of which few are relevant. In actuality, only few games teach you to kill, and those games are usually government and military owned and run simulators. There is a Doom 2 wad that was used to simulate missions. There are numerous other simulators, which work much better nowadays than just a Doom wad, but these are specifically designed games. They are part of military training overall and function as support to the training. Majority of the training how to kill comes elsewhere, warfare simulations are often there to teach combat tactics and such. That, in itself, does not teach how to kill someone.

That’s not what Biden means though, and we can dismiss it as an answer. What he probably means is that the normal everyday person can pick up a game and see physical violence being brought upon another either via melee combat or Modern Warfare kind of games. The assumption has often been that players learn how to move and how to use the weapons. Monkey see, monkey do. However, as I’ve mentioned few times already regarding video games and violence, mental practice can only teach you so far. A video game can’t teach you how to hold a gun or how to pull the trigger, all that has to come from somewhere else. A game can’t prepare you how the gun kicks back in your hands or how to aim down the sight. VR games are the closest thing that can manage this nowadays, but even then there is a separation. Driving simulations that are used in driving schools use full-screen VR nowadays, where car crashes are simulated on physical level, as is rolling and other dangerous events that might happen during driving. There is no headset as such, but big screens that fill the driver’s view. This is probably the best example of supporting already learned skills and knowledge via simulation. Simulation can only carry so far though when it comes to actual driving; the only real way to learn is to get behind the wheel.

What games do is teach you the mechanics and rules of the game you are playing. This is not the same as games teach you to kill. Militaristic shooters and realistic simulations do have ‘killing’ the enemy as a part of the rules and mechanics. However, that is mostly due to lack of any better terms to use. You can’t kill what isn’t living, what really doesn’t exist outside the realm of the game. This if course is the sticking point. The idea that the player is learning to kill within these virtual spaces and artificial characters is tempting. The fact that games are an interactive medium and do require user input to function easily marks it a teaching tool. However, as mentioned with the example of military specific simulators, that’s only part of the picture.

We can agree that games do simulate killing to some extent, from cartoony to realistic. This is specifically within virtual environment against virtual opponents. Despite how we associate non-living and non-human being with our own emotions and reactions, a healthy is able to discern between reality and fiction. For most people who consume computer and video games, the issue isn’t exactly relevant. People who have mental issues to some extent are another thing though, with some unable to what’s real and what’s not. This isn’t exactly just for games either, as some violent acts in history have been executed simply because a person had been convinced of their own imagination. However, that’s playing a bit around the corner; delusions don’t teach to kill. However, they can drive the will and intent for it, something games don’t specifically do.  Killing requires more than just playing according to the rules. You could say humans generally know what hurts us and how. Things like helmets already tell us how weak our heads are. Protective gear shows what are our weak spots. We learn that we only have one heart and where it is located during classes. Life in general teaches what can kill a man and how easily without one needing to be taught how to kill. Knowing that a knife is sharp and cuts through meat while cooking, cuts through your finger when it slips, you know how this goes. People aren’t stupid, and we passively learn these things without trying.

Learning to kill, in cold blood, doesn’t just mean you know how to do it or what tools to use. There need to be a mindset and intent behind it. If one believes that games’ mechanics and rules are the same as in real world’s, then you could see how games teach killing. How a person can in drive over the curb over pedestrians or open fire on some one outside self-defence or warfare. We don’t exactly learn these from games though. Everyone of us have these dark thoughts where we wish to inflict harm and damage for whatever reason. If we allow these to fester, it doesn’t really matter if its games or some other form of media that functions as the trigger point. People were killing each other before video games existed just fine. It would do better if the people who have hard time dealing with these inner demons would find some way to deal with them, either through friends or professional help. However, too often these people are get shunned, worsening their situation. It is easy just to say Games teach to kill and be done with it. For whatever reason, we have the tendency of simplifying issues to something external and only seeing one black and white picture. Biden is putting too much emphasise, perhaps even credit, to an external factor when we’d need to look into the psyche more. Perhaps we don’t really want to believe people normally wouldn’t be prepared to kill for whatever reason, just because we have sense and moralities other animals don’t. As much as games may be technically teaching how to kill that virtual opponent, at the same time that exact same path can function as a release for tension and frustrations. Similar how some people can release their pent up pressure in punching a sack. Shooting an opponent is closer to punching a bag, after all. Games are, after all, games. The rest is up to the individual.

Top 5 games of 2019

I have to admit that I’ve slowed down when it comes to games. I’ve begun to prefer more and more games that don’t waste my time and allow quickly to start the game and quit even faster. Things like like making sure if I want to save after confirming Save. For example, every time I want to quit Earth Defence Force 4.1, the game has to make certain that if I want to quit, and then opens a new message telling me that game is about to quit itself. This is a topic unto itself and I’ll have to get back to it later, as holy shit modern games are huge time wasters in this manner. It’s like with that one Senran Kagura on PSVita few years back, where half of the game was sitting in loading screens and menus. Except, y’know, this is the game telling me to confirm things I’ve already told it to do. Sometimes twice.

Furthermore, this year was rather dry in terms of games of interest. Not many titles peaked my interest even on the retro front, so the list below is rather predictable. This has made me to decide ditching following most new game release news outside limited release titles, and concentrate on picking up some more expensive old games I’ve always wanted to play, but for whatever reason never did. Emulation, of course, is not really an option if you want to have the real thing in your hands.

The usual rules apply; any game from any year is applicable as long I’ve played it for the first time this year in physical form. This means if a game only has a digital release, it automatically gets disqualified. There is no top slot either, because that’s stupid. There is no One Best Game.

Mobile Suit Gundam Seed DESTINY GameBoy Advance, 2004

I feel that this CM has been stretched out of its proportions, it looks like it should be in 4:3 because how fat the Gundams are

The GameBoy Advance doesn’t have many good fighting games. Some Street Fighters, one Tekken, a downgraded port of Guilty Gear XX and few others. Derivatives and sequels of sorts. Mobile Suit Gundam Seed was a new entry to the console, despite being part of the whole long-running Gundam fighting game attempts dating at least to the 1993 Mobile Suit Gundam and 1994 Mobile Fighter G Gundam, both of which are largely trash. New Mobile Report Gundam Wing: Endless Duel from 1996 on the SNES really hit the mark, marrying Gundam with entertaining fighting game. Seed and Seed DESTINY on the GBA follow the example set by Endless Duel while adapting some of its elements for the smaller screen. This shouldn’t be surprise, as Natsume worked as the developer on these three titles. The first Seed game got localised in the US with the subtitle Battle Assault tagged to it in order to tie it to the previous Gundam Battle Assault titles despite having nothing to do with them. The sequel, which is the topic today, stayed in Japan. As a side trivia, Endless Duel uses a modified game engine from a previous Natsume fighting game; Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition,

The game everything you’d want from a fighting game; tight controls, easy-to-learn but hard-to-master mechanics, mechanics that are simple and only handful, yet they do great service to the game. It’s one of the best handheld fighting game experiences you can have because of this, not being bogged down by unnecessary mechanics just to add complexity for the sake of complexity and is simply joy to play.

The game’s a joy to see and listen to. GBA’s sound hardware wasn’t the best, but that shouldn’t really matter when tunes are somewhat catchy and properly hypes the player for needed matches. The game uses pre-rendered sprites, which works pretty damn fine on the system. All the 3D models had simple geometry and lots of smooth surfaces, and anything more would be a waste; it’d make the sprites far too clumsily detailed and be wasted. There are usual sprite trickery here and there you see on the GBA, but the overall package is just so satisfying and well made. Lots of unlockable units, few different modes thrown in and Link Cable VS mode really makes this a must-have title for the system. An absolute joy, and the last good Gundam fighting game we ever got. After this, it would be mediocre 3D action title after another and strategy games.

The game is criminally underrated, and worth checking out if you have a passing interest in Gundam and fighting games.

There are three good things that came out of Gundam Seed Destiny; its soundtrack, this game and Lunamaria Hawke. The show itself is garbage

Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds Overdrive PlayStation 4, 2015, Switch, 2017

There has been loads of sidescrolling beat-em-ups, or belt-scrolling action games recently. Fight’n Rage is perfect example of modern take on this classic genre, which also hits just the right spots in both nostalgia and evolution of the genre with ton of playable characters and movelists. However, Fight’n Rage doesn’t have a physical release, so it can’t get on the list. Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds Overdrive however fills that slot just as well, with high production values.

For a belt-scroller, Phantom Breaker Battlegrounds Overdrive is surprisingly lengthy. Seven stages doesn’t sound a lot, yet these stages are long and split into multiple parts. There is also lots of story bits for people who want that, which is very much tongue on cheek. The game is also longer for completionists, as there is a  decent amount of characters, who also require to be played relatively extensively to unlock all of their Skill tree, not to mention unlockable characters. This goes down much faster after you’ve grabbed few friends and some extra controllers and have gay old time in multiplayer.

What else really needs to be said? It’s a great modern action game, though the pixelart style was already overused at the time of the game’s original release. Would’ve been nice to see smooth, high resolution SD sprites over what the game got, as used in the promotional materials and such, but can’t win always. It’s still a game nice to look at, with high amount of animation frames and stages having scenic changes often enough. Due to the SD-style, some of the attacks and moves feel rather limited in range at times, and there really isn’t much exaggeration to go around. Still, big colourful sprites makes most things clear, the different hit sparks and other effects sometimes obscure the action a bit too much. This has been a thing in multiple games I’ve played in these few years, where for whatever reason you can’t see the action and hits clearly and just have to trust that the enemy and player animations tell the tale that hit has been made. It would have been nice of all of the game was done in sprites, but some of the background elements use low-poly 3D assets that just don’t look too good.

Music’s nothing special per se, but fits the game just as well. Bit music as a throwback to the NES days, with more channels and such, the usual par for the course. Some of the tunes stand out far better than others, but that’s not said much. Optionally, you could get the FM sound pack, which harkens back to PC88 and X68k sound fonts. The two sound versions are like a night and day, and I can see some people outright disliking FM versions.

Advanced Busterhawk Gley Lancer Mega Drive, 1992, 2019, Nintendo Virtual Console, 2008

The fight for a spot to get a shooting game unto this list was harsh; it was either Darius Cozmic Collection or this. I didn’t manage to find time to play Battle Garegga.

Ultimately, despite being deeply flawed, Advanced Busterhawk Gley Lancer is just joy to play. Hard as balls, unforgiving at times, requires some very tight reflexes at times and learning some stage layouts, Gley Lancer is classic shooting gaming at its best. One of Masaya’s more neglected properties on their library of IPs, the re-release Columbus Circle put out this year should still be in circulation if you want to pick it up.

Console shooting games rarely emphasised scoring, though nowadays it feels like that’s all shooting games are for. Gley Lancer balanced things out much better, standing somewhere between R-Type‘s survivalist approach to Gradius‘ laxed pacing. If you’ve ever played Gradius V and are familiar how to lock support satellites in place, this is the game Konami picked it up. The satellites, or Options if you want to call them that, can shoot to different directions from your ship’s movements. With multiple weapon  options, including the usual Auto-Targeting option, it adds slightly different layer to the play, which then requires changing the approach just enough.

Music’s rather solid, if you’re fan of FM music and Mega Drive sound overall. The first stage’s theme is a damn classic by its own rights, and few of the later stages are still awaiting remixes to find them. Graphics overall are nice, especially on the story sequences. Big, clear sprites like this were Masaya’s forte and go-to gimmick. Nine stages makes the game about medium in length, but due to some of the stages being rather empty Gley Lancer ends up draggin itself a bit. Not a whole lot, but just enough you to notice.

In the end, the PV shows what you get; that’s what you get; a solid shooting game. Sure, there are better ones out there, both on PC-Engine and Mega Drive, yet something about Gley Lancer hits the spot in a way most other shooting games don’t. There’s that kind of atmosphere, that kind of sound to the music and an era-specific look to the colourscape and design. Something just clicks the right way in Gley Lancer, and that makes it stand out from the rest of the bunch in a way e.g. later Gradius games just can’t make themselves stand out anymore. Maybe it’s because franchise fatigue or something else, but Gley Lancer has character to it.

Sadly, the player’s ship sprite looks very little anything like the ship on the cover.

The Ninja Warriors Once Again Switch, PlayStation 4, 2019

The thing about these Natsume’s retro remakes is that they’re not exactly needed, but the way they’re done is example how to do them. Sure, the base game is the same as it was on the Super Nintendo, but that’s the starting point. Revamped sprites, wide-screen support, local two-player mode, new game play elements, more playable characters and an extra mode all are welcome additions. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel again, just make it better, faster, stronger. The Ninja Warriors Once Again sets the bar for remakes like this rather high as all the areas the game aims to improve is spot on.

Controls are strict as usual, but there’s some every so slight to make them tight. The only reason you get hit is because you didn’t make a move at a proper time, the game’s design and controls are that accurate. No bullshit hitboxes like in Fromsoftware’s games.

The two new characters are the main attraction to the series veterans. Raiden being a hulking beast is very much to an extreme end from the rest of the cast, especially when the second addition, Yaksha, is small but requires very peculiar approach to her play. It’s a small miracle how different the whole cast of playable characters ends up feeling, with none of them replicating strengths or weaknesses. Despite the core game play staying the same, each of the characters skill sets impact how you approach to pretty much everything in the game, from base mooks to bosses. Well, except the final boss, which has always been a letdown.

This game, despite being a remake, is a standout solid title that does everything it promises on the box. It’s one of those games I’ve been coming back again and again since its release simply to enjoy how a game with limited but purposeful controls like this also allows stupid amount of technical execution.

Funny that, the Asian English release I bought had to be renamed as The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors, probably because Ninjas can’t be warriors in China or Korea. I don’t know, but it’s stupid and renaming the game now implies machines made to assassinate and then nuke themselves are somehow saviours, when the game’s plot clearly implies the new regime that takes over the nation afterward are no better. I guess it’s a cycle, where you always get new robot assassins to kill the new totalitarian regime after another.

 

Alien Crush PC-Engine, 1988, Nintendo Virtual Console, 2006, PSN, 2010

While Peach Ball Senran Kagura is a very entertaining and fun pinball game, the lack of fields really brings it down. There’s not much to do in the game as it is, but that’s mostly because there has been genre defining pinball games in the Crush series. Alien Crush is the first in the series, succeeded and surpassed by Devil’s Crush, but still stands very well in direct comparison to modern video pinball as its field design and music is top notch. Despite technically having only one man field, the setup and moving back and forth its low and upper parts. It takes a while to get the groove on, but the moment the game’s pace clicks, you can easily rack up points in no time to finish the game. The ball physics are not perfect, but for 1989, Alien Crush nailed it the best. While there’s just one main table to play on, there are numerous one-screen sized secret tables that pose specific challenges. All of them are a welcome break from the main table and shake up the play a bit. While the later games would have more secrets to access, Alien Crush arguably has better balance, not elongating the main table beyond two screens and allows more focused scoring.

The Gieger-esque design is bit on the nose, and the game overall wouldn’t be too far off from easily being made into an Alien licensed pinball game. The little details make it live, pulsating and looking organic. Alien Crush takes advantage of it being a video game and doesn’t lock itself into what shouldn’t be possible on a real table. While music is sparse, both main tracks sound for the part. Though you can’t change tracks mid-game, they do get a bit grating after a while.

That said, it is a niche title, well forgotten at this point, but still available via some online services like PSN and used to be Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Goddamn the Virtual Console was a great thing, and Ninty just killed it. The Crush series pinball games are still top notch, and a very high bar to beat in terms of sheer distilled video pinball quality.

 

Honourable Mentions for those who didn’t make the cut

 

Darius Cozmic Collection Nintendo Switch, 2019

The definitive way to get into Darius as a franchise, though it lacks G Darius. The collection didn’t get into the Top 5 because A) there’s a retarded amount of different variations of this collection for no real reason outside sheer stupidity and B) the games themselves aren’t in the end up there. Some standard editions have less games, some other editions have more games, it’s all stupid. That said, the games run pretty much perfectly, but Darius is a franchise that rode on multiple screens gimmick and didn’t actually get all the competent until Darius Gaiden. All the previous games, while nice and all, don’t have the same impact on the small screen as they did in the arcades, and without a similar multi-screen setup where you could replicate that experience, playing these games on a console or PC is a waste. It’s nice to have stupidly rare games like Darius Alpha on the collection, but that doesn’t add much to the game itself. The collection and packaging itself, in the end, are more impressive than majority of the games on the collection. The aforementioned lack of G Darius makes this collection very much incomplete in terms of classic Darius, before the Burst era begun. Maybe they’ve lost the source code or can’t make a proper PlayStation emulator, who knows.

Peach Ball Senran Kagura Switch, 2018, Steam, 2019

There’s exactly one reason why Peach Ball Senran Kagura didn’t take Alien Crush’s spot; lack of fields. I can understand and get why a pinball game from 1988 only have one main stage, but the lack of multiple stages in Peach Ball is a hard drop. Instead, you get three different daytime variations on two stages, which is really just an insult. Rather than basing the fields on something that would be familiar to the series’ fans, the two stages are a generic circus-carnival type of thing and Japanese themed field. While this makes both fields pretty solid, in their own terms, there’s surprisingly little to do, and despite the ball physics being pretty damn fine tuned, there’s just something little bit off that makes it all feel just tiny bit lacklustre. The emphasize of course is on unlockable clothes and balls, which all really amount to nothing. It would have been fun to see different balls having different physics, like a rubber ball being more bouncy compared to a metal ball. They don’t even make a different sound, it’s just a visual difference. I can appreciate the naughty bits just fine, with the whole flipping life and hometown up and down being a thing, but the lack of recognisable fields and cramming the two full of visual clutter ultimately made this a disappointment. I wish the game would’ve included a mode, where you could’ve turned the Switch on its side, but the stages are not even designed for that. There’s potential, so much of it, but it just can’t get there. The game lives and dies through short sessions, which in it serves perfectly.

Capcom Belt Action Collection Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam, 2018

What should I say about this collection? It’s good, it has great titles, it has Armored Warriors and Battle Circuit, two games that two games that were never ported home before, but Capcom should’ve thrown just a bit more cash at this collection in order to include Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, The Punisher and the eponymous Alien VS Predator. Where’s titles like Mighty Final Fight or the SNES sequels to the original Final Fight? No Tenchi wo Kurau/Dynasty Wars or any of the Capcom Dungeons and Dragons games either. What’s on the disc is great, but Capcom’s beat-em-up history is so much more. This collection comes out as halfassed and janky, not even having any of the home console games they released in the past. Apparently, it sold decently well, but I hope Capcom will put far more effort and resources in future compilations.

Why the Japanese title? Because that’s the label on my copy.

Wonder Momo Arcade, 1987, PC-Engine 1989

Wonder Momo is a class example of pure core design of a game and never deviating from it. Almost every other official attempt to revive the franchise has failed, mostly because they were lacklustre and didn’t get that simplicity doesn’t mean simple in play and design. Wonder Momo straddles on the line of being just simple enough and being too simple with its stage setting and enemies, strict and limited controls. It’s very much like playing old Castelvania or that new The Ninja Warriors, where the game is fair but hard. It’s a damn classic, and it’s sad that official revivals never understood it enough to expand on it.  However, this is where Toushiryoku Kenkyujo’s Wonder Pink doujinshi games come in. Sumomo Theater is effectively an upgraded version of Wonder Momo in every way and manner, with the two other expanding the system to multi-level side scrollers. Sumomo Theatre is a perfect example how integral it is to understand and acknowledge the core of the game you’re remaking.

Rumble Roses PlayStation 2, 2004

For numerous years now I’ve been trying to look for a wrestling game that would not suck. The few pro wrestling games that I’ve played have been absolute trash, while some others are more like fighting games in a ring, like Capcom’s Ring of Destruction: Slam Masters 2. Nothing wrong in that, I’d be down for a new Slam Masters game if Capcom were ever to make one, but somehow almost all 3D wrestling games end up playing janky and feel as smooth as trying force spaghetti through a motor. I really wanted to love this game, I really did. Joshiprowres is something I’ve always loved on the side, but it’s never been my main interest. Blizzard Yuki’s a personal favourite, dunno why. Maybe it’s the comic. Playing Rumble Roses ultimately ended up feeling like so many other wrestling games; unfulfilling. The way these 3D wrestling games are designed and realised needs a total paradigm shift, something would move towards making the games play like silk rather than feeling like you’re scraping against the asphalt. Still, there’s a lot to like about the game, from somewhat nonsensical storylines to alternative versions of each character to nice designs overall. I’ll just have to keep looking for that one wrestling game that might sate this craving.

Something new and the countering culture

For some time now, I’ve criticised companies for rehashing the same old IP and the same old stories for a new product. Ever since we got The Force Awakens‘ first trailer really, when I had a post how they’re effectively recycling concepts from the cutting floor. 2016’s Ghostbusters is an extreme example of this in many ways, where it was beat for beat remake of the original. Well, so was Force Awakens and that’s the problem really. At some point all these big franchises that we’re now getting remakes and sequels of and to were something new, something ground breaking even.

Star Wars was born from New Hollywood. It was counter culture, much like how American Graffiti was before it. It something new, something that wasn’t done at the time. The 1970’s America was rather drab places, marred with controversies about war and politics. New Hollywood wanted to move away from what the establishment was doing, and as it tends to be with counter culture, it won and became the new establishment down the line. Goerge Lucas might’ve hated Hollywood and wanted to do this own thing, but during the production of Empire Strikes Back, he became a Hollywood producer himself in practice, and ultimately Return of the Jedi was more of the same, just like The Force Awakens. You have the Vietnam War parallels even stronger, you have the Wookies in form of Ewoks in the movie Lucas wanted in the first movie, but couldn’t have, you have another Death Star and a daring run into it to blow it up. The Force Awakens might “rhyme” with A New Hope, but it’s the second movie to do so in the franchise. It might be what people expected more, at first, but it’s also the deathknell of a franchise. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. Franchises that keep revisiting and recycling are stale, and the revenues will diminish as more of their audience will turn away.

Star Wars as a franchise is the primary example of this, because it has revisited its stories so many times already. Rogue One was about getting the plans for the Death Star, something people who read the comics, books and played the games already had seen three times already, and it is something that had bled into the popular culture through osmosis. There is a trilogy of books of Han Solo’s childhood and backstory, a series of books that’s superior in every respect what the Solo movie was, despite it lifting elements from said books. In principle Disney made the right decision to purge the old Expanded Universe, as much as that made people disappointed, but what they proceeded to do was nothing new. They began to re-introduce old characters into the new canon, like Thrawn, rather than taking this chance and completely recreate something new. Disney, in effect, took the most popular pieces and simply made marketable works out of them. The short term revenues will be there, but will damage the brand and the franchise on the long run, just like The Force Awakens and the movies following it have done to Star Wars overall. You either have to be new to popular culture to consider The Force Awakens something new, or be a child who has no experience with culture at large yet.

That is an argument with some, that recycling stories for children is nothing new and older people should already grow up or move along. That’s a weak argument. Children more often than not will be entertained by something their parents are heavily invested in, that’s normal generational behaviour. New children’s franchises are successful and popular because they’re new a tailor made for that generation, be it either through tools or paradigms governing a given era. Repeated creation of the same ol’ thing without adding anything new to it will not create new content. It might be good business, especially if you have lots of IPs under your belt that you can reuse and recycle years on end, yet you will come to a point where that’s all the business will be. A competitor that innovates and puts out something new, creating paradigm shifts and shaking the industry standards, that’s where the money is in the long run.

The game business is not exactly analogous with Hollwyood. In Hollywood, things like Ghostbusters 2016 might fly in theory, and in practice fail simply because Hollywood can’t think anything new by itself. Hollwyood has a problem of thinking one-way and nothing else can enter its sphere. Hollwyood as a problem in diversity of thought, if we’re completely honest. You often see big movies like The Last Jedi including something about how capitalism is bad and evil, despite being the most capitalist engines on the planet with lots of gravy of nepotism. Woes is the world and its poor nations when big titles have larger budgets than some nation’s GDP. Hollywood has no touch with the general public or the world at large, it’s an insulated bubble that’s sold on one thing at a time and it shows in the movies. It’s no wonder China has become the main stage, when they’re making movies the general audiences don’t really care for. Certainly one-time event movies will make big bucks, like Avengers: End Game and The Force Awakens, but that works only once or twice. After that you have to introduce something new, something of high quality, something that shows We can do better, we can deliver superior produce. All big movie franchises have failed in this. More often than not, when things fail, the fans are called to be at fault, that their expectations and voices ruin movies and TV-shows, despite these people only hearing everything after the fact.

Look at Star Trek for another example. The nuTrek, the branch-off J.J. Abrams put out, are not Star Trek in its core element. However, because they effectively failed to captivate the audience and the fourth movie is on the chopping block, seeing nobody wants to fund the fourth movie, you got Discovery. If Star Trek Discovery had been affected by the fan reactions and backlash from the Abrams’ movies, it would have been very different show, more akin to The Next Generation if nothing else. Rather, the powers that be decided to make whatever the hell they wanted, and only after the reactions from the audience you began getting all those news pieces how toxic a fandom is and the like. Hollywood doesn’t care whether or not they make films and shows that are faithful to the franchise, or even well written. There are only few people who want to make movies for the sake of making movies, and people who want to produce something of actual worth. These people are going against the Hollywood grain.

Video games are a bit different as they are not just something you consume passively. You can drop an hour or two into a movie or a TV-show, watch something part of your streaming service or once in a whole buy a ticket or a disc from the store. There’s not much investment into a movie, it doesn’t take much of your attention or time. A game does, and a game requires something from the player in regards of skill and participation. Sequels and remakes to games are expected to expand on the play of the game more than on the story. Games that don’t do this languish and die out. Look at the New Super Mario Bros. series of games as an example. Massive first success with the DS title, the first 2D Mario game in years, and after that the series does nothing with it. Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3 are great examples of game sequels that expanded everything about the predecessors. The Japanese SMB2 didn’t and it’s best left as Lost Levels, as it really is a great example of a lacking sequel.

Games like Resident Evil 2 Remake and Final Fantasy VII Remake are hitting the nostalgia boner people have. Nostalgia is extremely easy way to make money, especially with IP and franchises that are still running and popular. They’re safe for busainess due existing fanbase, there’s not much PR that company has to do to be a hit. At least that first few times. REmake2 and 3 only work this one time, and Capcom can’t go on remaking titles like this down the line. At a point customers, even new ones, will ask if this is all.

Popular culture, and culture overall, thrives when something of new worth is added to it. Star Wars originally was an amalgamation of ideas that Lucas had met before that point. Star Wars wasn’t a ripoff or copy of something, but an amalgamation of multiple aspects into one new whole. We haven’t seen this happening for some time now. Rather than having something new on the table, existing concepts are reused and recycled. Marvel movies, Disney Star Wars, 2016 Ghostbusters, that new Charlie’s Angels, New Super Mario Bros., Resident Evil remakes, Final Fantasy VIII Remake, four last Terminator films and so on are all creatively and conceptually bankrupt. None of them have added to the cultural scape what their predecessors did. They are hollow cases, filled with content that will taste sweet for a moment and rot away fast.

Something like original Resident Evil or Star Wars doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It needs someone to say I want to create something of my own and do it. Creativity doesn’t just happen, you have to work for it. You make your own environ and the sources of inspirations. You can’t make a great Star Wars movie if you only grew up with the media and culture surrounding it. You have to read into the world mythos and philosophy, watch old movie serials and films from different cultures, understand core concepts of human psychology if you are to make something that would be like the first Star Wars. If you only understand a story, be it a film, a game, a visual novel, comic or anything else, on its own, you don’t truly understand it all.