Final Fantasy XII – Costume Analysis

Revenant

Curiosity has done to my free time what it did to the cat, that sadistic, felicidal bastard. After my last round of Final Fantasy XII, playing for the first time the International edition, I began to do what billions of people worldwide do on a daily basis—fantasize about the jobs I didn’t pick, wondering if they were any better than the career paths I had forced upon my characters like a militant tiger mom. Should any of you take interest in my research, leave a comment and we can discuss the best team choices. However, playing through the game twice in close succession has made me notice a few things more closely—namely, how little other work I get done around the house when playing 200 hours worth of one game. But also that the characters in this highly literary political drama on war and the nature of power possess sensibilities straight out of a Monty Python sketch.

See, the entire game takes place in a typical fantasy world. There are castles, remote villages, people who carry swords and bows while fighting monsters. You sneak through dungeons and traverse through temples and shrines. I can only assume, as I always have, that the typical trappings of a medieval world apply: the dysentery, the dirty water, the lack of indoor plumbing that makes the city river waft like a shit-scented candle, not to mention the complete absence of video games. When the typical medical practices involve treating combat wounds with a potion, you have to expect that plague and pestilence make more frequent door-to-door visits than the post office. Personally, as much as I love the fantasy genre, I don’t know if I want to live in a world where acupuncture and reflexology are considered cutting-edge medicine.

But as a player, I just sort of take that for granted. That’s how they things are. At least until I infiltrate the Archadian Empire and see the myriad horrors the land of the enemy has in store: well-maintained cities, tall buildings, and citizens so comfortable in their own physical securities that they spend vast amounts of leisure time chasing after luxuries, or trying to gain social status by being nice to people (Which, as an American, outrages me! The only proper way to raise one’s social status is by demeaning others, either through gossip or racial demoniztion!) Archadia has fucking flying cars! Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for those in real life? (I suppose, though, this is fantasy…) Archadia has strong government funding for the sciences, and an Emperor who truly values the advice of the senate. We don’t even have that in the U.S. anymore.

I get that the idea behind fantasy is that progress is a myth, and that technology shrivels our souls like fruit at the back of the refrigerator, but Ashe, you live in the desert, and there’s a diseased esper living in your water supply. You may just want to take one for the team here and fill out the Archadian membership paperwork. It’s got great benefits.

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Yet another problem I can no longer ignore is the costuming. The characters were designed either by an artist with a vendetta against cosplayers or a fashion designer who was fired for thinking that decorative pockets were too functional. Take stripper boy here. Vaan’s design comes from Square thinking Disney’s Aladdin just wasn’t white enough, and then trying to cross him with Chip ‘n Dale…wait, no sorry…I meant Chippendale. But it’s one thing to take a whiny orphan who compulsively wipes his nose with his finger and stick him in a pose like he should be sitting on top of a Ferrari during June. It’s another thing to dress him in steel-plated greaves and Crocs, the style for the warrior who wants to inspire fear in the hearts of his enemies, but still wants to give them a good laugh. After all, combat is a pretty dismal thing. Why not lighten the mood by showing up with big rubber shoes or at least a tacky tie. However, we can’t credit him with being too concerned about his own safety, as that vest of his couldn’t protect him from sunburn, much less the fangs of a vicious monster. I can only assume that the bands of fabric constantly draped over his shoulders are naught but spare laces, should those that strap his pants and cummerbund together ever snap.

Penelo.pngMoving down the line, we have Penelo, sporting what appears to be a rubber onesie with built in panties—on the outside, in true superhero fashion. Naturally, everyone in the desert wears dark, form-fitting bodysuits because heat stroke is pretty much the only entertainment they have. Her suit is of the high-waisted variety, as it buckles around her collar bone. That might explain the fabric stretching down to her garters. As Mitch Hedberg famously said, “My belt holds my pants up, but the belt loops hold the belt up, so who’s the real hero?” However, it seems she may not need the extra support in light of the sea horses she murdered hollowed out to use as knee socks like an adolescent female Buffalo Bill.

While Vaan’s look in Revenant Wings has changed only enough that he no longer looks like a lumbering eight-year-old with inexplicably well-toned abs, Penelo has shed the body suit for something a little more easy access. Swinging to the opposite extreme from skin-tight body suit that shows more camel toe than an Arabian veterinarian pedicurist (yeah, even I think that one’s a bit of a stretch), she now has wrapped the curtain from a theatre around her legs in vague imitation of parachute pants, however leaving well enough revealed around the waist to earn her a free day from school for grievous dress code violation. Much like the bracers in her original design, her pants seem suspended upon her body with no visible means of support, leading me to the conclusion that if they haven’t been surgically attached to her skin, then every time the camera pans away she has to hike them back up like a disobedient tube top.

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Fran.pngOf all the characters in the game, Fran is likely the most ready for action, as evident by her countless straps, high heels, and corset that if fully tightened would make her look like a botched attempt at a balloon rabbit. Sadly, I think only Balthier might see the kind of action she’s dressed for. I especially love the loin cloth, draping down with all the opaqueness of a freshly Windexed camera lens. That garment is what even lingerie looks at and calls, “skank,” under their breath.

Basch.pngBasch is one of my favorites. The stoic knight, honorable even in disgrace, who speaks with poise and propriety, looks as though he literally ripped his shirt off of the drum major of a marching band. Together with his hair, which looks like he stepped out into a Minnesota winter after a long shower, Basch appears as though he ended up in Final Fantasy XII after getting lost on his way to a Billy Idol concert. While traditionally, knights would ride into tournaments wearing the favor of their courtly loves (like a girlfriend who won’t take her clothes off), this hero seems to be wearing his lady’s entire slip, belted tight around his waist lest it fall to the ground and reveal his knightly nethers. And yet, what’s more, he appears to be wearing his grandma’s favor as well, in the form of a miniature patchwork quilt tucked ever so carefully beside his heart—unless, of course, I am mistaken and he is actually a member of the Ivalice Rubik’s Cube Guild.

Ashe_Alt_RenderAs I breeze by Balthier, who doesn’t merit a picture on account of wearing very little of any note save for an unwound spool of embroidery thread wrapped around him like a shirt, I’ll slide on in to Ashe, an action no doubt made easier by the pink napkin she’s trying to pass off as hot pants. Because, honestly, could we ever take a stern, iron-willed warrior hellbent on power and revenge seriously if we couldn’t also imagine her as a demure sex-kitten ready to fulfill our every desire? Personally, while penetration is definitely on her mind, more likely you’ll wind up impaled upon her blade rather than the other way around, but I guess that’s why they call it final fantasy. Still, the princess here looks as though she assembled her clothing from scraps she salvaged from the floor of the costume shop. Case-in-point: her top appears to be little more than a bikini with a veil and tuxedo tails. Perfect for lounging on the beach with a 120-piece orchestra at your beck-and-call. But one can’t blame a girl rendered completely from computer graphics for being beautiful (despite the fact we can blame the artists for giving her legs so long it looks like she mugged a giraffe for its prosthesis). A real girl might have to worry about her weight and the problems associated with wearing a spare tire around the gut. Ashe, on the other hand, appears to be wearing a literal spare tire around her gut, presumably one she found shredded on the side of the road. That’ll keep you cool in the hot, Dalmascan desert!

And before we close, let’s give a shout out to the judges, who spend about as much time in the court room as Dr. Dre spent in medical school. One can forgive them for that, though, since who would expect anyone to find the courtroom wearing more metal over their eyes than a Jeep Grand Cherokee? I shouldn’t jest too much, though, as Judge Drace looks rather proud of his Armored Admiral Ackbar cosplay. Much more pleased with himself than Bergan, who seems rather upset that he got stuck with the bin where you store the toilet brush as a helmet. Still, he looks more pleased than Zargabaath, who might have longer spikes than Gabranth, but assured the photographer just before the shoot that, “This has never happened before.” I wouldn’t worry too much, were I in his place. His long, flaccid helmet spikes would likely ground him like a lightning rod should the weather take a turn for the worse. Perhaps the fear of storms could explain why Ghis shunned the fashion of his peers in favor of strapping a rug around his waist.

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Family Guy Video Game! – PS2, PSP, XBox

fg-coverIf you’re the type of person who likes to be more aware of your surroundings than your average rutabaga, you may have noticed I’m reviewing the Family Guy video game this week. “Great!” you’re thinking. “Now he’s going to lecture us on the evils of licensed games before telling us how much he likes this one, like some sort of congressman who rails on the importance of family values before being found with a dead Vietnamese transvestite hooker in the trunk of his car. The only thing more formulaic than his entries on licensed games are episodes of Family Guy!”

Family Guy and I have a very special history together. It’s like a supportive grandparent who helped me get through the tough times in life—reliable, always there to make me laugh and make me think, and kind of painful to watch now that its getting older and starting to have trouble putting a coherent thought together. It seems only natural, then, that they’d want to put together something to remember the good times, to recall all those fond interactions. And that’s just what they made. The game, while fun to play, has less the wit and unexpected humor of Seth MacFarlane and more the air of me and my friends mindlessly quoting episodes in lieu of conversation.

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Brian disguised as a lamp. His sections were clever and entertaining, mostly because I didn’t play long enough to remember why I hate stealth games.

We’ve seen that the Family Guy writers, at their peak, couldn’t produce a plot longer than about 17 minutes (a number that’s declined as a function of time) unless George Lucas wrote it for them. As such, Family Guy Video Game! Follows not one, but three storylines. Stewie squares off against Bertram, Peter’s sperm from Emission Impossible, now born to the lesbian gym teacher and reigning supreme over the neighborhood babies (which, I hear, is a common origin story for the world-domination types. Look up baby photos of Genghis Kahn. And Trump? His hair is simply hiding the fact that his head is shaped like a deflated football.). Brian, once more accused of impregnating Seabreeze (from the episode Screwed the Pooch), goes on a stealth mission to discover the real father in a Metal Gear Solid meets Jerry Springer sort of way. And Peter, in the only plotline that doesn’t hearken back to a wad of ejaculated semen from 2001, randomly decides that tv’s Mr. Belvedere has kidnapped his family, and the only way to rescue them is to kick the teeth out of every man woman and child (mostly child) in Quahog, and to knock the dentures out of anyone over the age of 65.

fg-electrocuteGameplay is simple, stemming from the TV show’s method of humor. Rather than reinvent video games, jokes are thrown in as nods to games from the 80s and 90s, such as the Simpsons arcade game or Galaga. Peter and Brian both control naturally and intuitively, and for the most part Stewie does, too, although aiming at enemies is a bit like being strapped to a tilt-a-whirl. Stewie’s levels are partly platforming, though, which has felt like blindfolded beer pong ever since the shift into three dimensions, but one particular section of extended vertical platforming escalates that to feel more like lobbing live chickens into oncoming go-karts…after a rousing match of beer pong.

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Most cut-away gags are played out as minigames and have about as much bearing on the plot as they do in the TV show. The manatees must have been having an off day.

But playing Family Guy Video Game! For a well-crafted interactive experience is like watching porn for dynamic and intricate characters. What really matters is the humor, and whether or not it matches the quality of the show. In a way, it does…and that way is that they clearly only got Seth MacFarlane and one or two other actors to reprise their roles, so most of the quips and one-liners are lifted verbatim from the TV show. So on one hand, it’s exactly the same as the TV show, and yet it somehow translates about as well as if someone ran it through two dozen different languages on Google Translate. Wait, actually, that could be pretty funny…

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Picture of Joe in the back to remind you how this glitch will cripple you permanently.

So far, this has been a particularly difficult review for me to write. In part it’s because my attention is split between job hunting, a perpetually hungry cat, a polar vortex that’s freezing Duluth to the point where my car won’t start and every time I try the key shatters in the ignition, and the trauma and disbelief over the fact that a few paragraphs ago I used the phrase “Metal Gear Solid meets Jerry Springer.” However, the biggest challenge in reviewing the game is that apparently in Peter’s second level, if you are killed by one of two policemen after the midway checkpoint, they do what policemen do best after shooting a black man (Peter Griffin: Husband, Father…Brother?): they move on with their lives. They don’t come back after you respawn. And since, in true beat-em-up fashion, you can’t move on with the level until you kill all the enemies, so you end up wallowing in an existential crisis between a porta-potty and an ice cream truck, left with nothing to do but kick the shit out of some kids and their moms. After their corpses are dead and rotting, you might amuse yourself by head-butting the truck, but eventually all you are left with is a headache, a pile of useless iron, and a few square meters of Quahog where you can do nothing but wander in circles, contemplating the inevitable need to end it all and wonder if there’s a new game in your future.

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This section looks like fun. Too bad I can’t play it.

So I suggest turning auto-save off right before you go into the porta-potty, or you might be stuck with the constant reminder that the game is shit. Otherwise, it’s not bad.

Google Cardboard

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Ladies and gentlemen, the ultimate in technological gaming.

First entry of the new year! Or for those of you reading this in the year 2045 when mankind has dwindled to a few mutated remnants of its former glory, who have sparked the WordPress server to life using a bicycle generator in attempt to discover the meaning behind the hellish post-apocalyptic wastes slowly strangling you to extinction, 2017 might be a bit of a look back. But in honor of progress and the future and technology and all that shit, I’ve been fooling around with virtual reality lately!

Sadly, I didn’t suddenly fall into a small fortune and get an Occulus Rift, or even get in tight with engineers to try out a prototype AR system like the Microsoft Hololens or even as much as the voyeuristic dream, Google Glass. Actually I’m a big fan of Google. If a company that saves me from a $75 a month phone bill by giving me free service and I will gladly overlook any potential shady business deals, human rights violations, political bribery or attempts to block out the sun. One of their better ideas, Google Cardboard, offers a method of experiencing virtual reality for only $15…and the cost of a high-end smartphone. Literally just a specially cut cardboard box with lenses, Google Cardboard gives you all the thrills of depth perception with all the dignity of a schnauzer licking the hardened cheese out of a pizza box.

google-cardboard

She’s either playing virtual spelunker, or she hasn’t figured out that her phone isn’t on.

The phone—in my case a Samsung Galaxy S3—uses the Google Cardboard app to play other VR apps in stereo like a crappy Pink Floyd music video knock off. You simply scan the QR code on the viewer…and then spend three days trying to calibrate it by hand so you don’t have to sit there with your eyes crossed so fiercely that they can see each other. After finally getting the calibration website working, I found out I had to pass off my 6cm lens separation as 10.5 cm. Then after making peace with the fact that Google now thinks I’m a sentient bobble head, I was ready for some VR.

The first thing I wanted to do was pretend the Middle Ages didn’t suck and that I could use magic and kill monsters without any risk of pain. So I found a game called VR Fantasy. This places you squarely in the middle of a labyrinth (Apparently people who live in fantasy worlds can’t think of any better method of pest control than architecture.). You play the role of an idiot blindly spinning circles in your living room while watching a sword levitate in front of you. All in all, the game was worth a play through, but had some issues to work out. Namely, since everything is controlled by the single button Google Cardboard gives you to vicariously tap your screen—thus taking the one real thing you could do to interact with the game and making it virtual—that means that menu options get a bit rough at times. The interface to look down and pass the cursor dot over the foot icon activates and deactivates with a sensitivity often only seen what Scooby and Shaggy try to run from a monster. And when you do successfully activate the walk-forward option, you move with a punishing lack of urgency. I swear there were 90-year-old rogues and barbarians passing me on their walkers. I don’t know if gout-ridden asthmatics are a unionized force, but they no longer have to worry about being underrepresented in fantasy games. This all culminates in an epic showdown with a hero suffering from ennui and a boss who must be nursing a severe hangover. Next.

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Now you can add to the graphic realism of a game known for having intentionally unrealistic graphics!

What game does everyone want to play on a system designed to make a fantasy world feel real to you? Minecraft, a game that gives you painted Legos that look like they were spit out by a 3D printer stapled to an Atari 2600. So I downloaded Vrcraft. And stood on a diving platform staring down at a lush meadow that I had no way of reaching. I’m not sure which is worse: pretending the world is real but only having one button to send all your controls via Morse code, or realizing that you need a game controller for your phone that you need to operate while pressing a cardboard box to your face. Next.

Jurassic came as two separate apps. One puts you in an enclosed jungle setting, allowing you to observe carnivorous dinosaurs either on foot or riding on the back of one, and the other lets you do what any rational human would do when encountering a fascinating animal that hasn’t walked the earth for 65 million years—kill it, thus ensuring at least another 65 million years before they have another shot at life. The hunting game isn’t bad. All you have to do is spin around, aim, and pull the trigger when you see the dinosaur. The virtual dinosaur tour strives to emulate the tour from Jurassic Park a little too well, as you don’t see anything except a tyrannosaur and a pair of raptors.

Cherry Blossom bills itself as a tool for relaxation. It looks more like a guy dicking around with unity who drew a tree in three dimensions and figured out how to overlay a layer of falling pink petals. That’s it. You stare at a fucking tree. There’s not even a background. I can’t even think of a clever way to describe that because “staring at a fucking tree” is probably the most exaggerated form of boredom anyone has ever come up with.

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In virtual reality, you’ll no longer feel inadequate about your penis!

The next game on the list actually managed to pry open my wallet and extract a handful of coins from my clammy, dead, decomposing hand. Simply called Alone, the game lets you emulate a world with no other humans around, although chances are good that any early adopter of VR technology would consider such an emulation rather redundant. The free demo puts you on a couch, watching TV. Again, this doesn’t quite count as a brilliant and revolutionary implementation of virtual reality technology, but after a few moments of watching flickering scenes of what I can only assume is a bad porno, creepy stuff starts to happen. Granted, if you’ve ever watched a Japanese horror film, you’ll be able to check off every box on your bingo card, but here’s where the VR actually makes a difference. At least until you buy the full version, move on to the second scenario, and quiver in terror as an understudy for Candy Land crawls out of the closet and you feel so bad for it that you feign a scream or two just to boost its confidence.

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…leave him alone. Grandpa Itchy needs some personal time.

So even the best of these games can only keep up the quality through a demo. Can no one come up with a fascinating use of virtual reality that will improve my life as all the science-fiction movies have promised since the Star Wars Holiday Special? Then it struck me. What one thing has pushed forward technology by leaps and bounds since some caveman first learned he could smash a log with a rock? What one thing drove people to disseminate wood block printing, theatrical lighting systems, the television, DVD camera angles and particle accelerators for quantum physics?

Porn. (Give CERN a few more years. I’m sure you won’t be as upset as you think you will about the hole they’re working on.)

Why not? It didn’t take me long to find a set of VR porn games—which all charged money and gave no demos—and a handful of videos. Now, since humanity never gets tired of watching each other have sex, there’s quite a range out there, even with the relatively meager selection for tech geeks. Some of them even consent to put you in the 1st person perspective. However, it sometimes felt a little odd to warp myself onto the bed next to the forty-year-old biker who looks like he’s getting blown for the first time since getting out of prison. Oddly enough, the remedy for this situation comes from the area of the sex industry usually known for writhing tentacles and comically large amounts of viscous fluid: hentai.

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It’s like actually reading a real National Geographic article!

Having grown up with an unnatural predilection for Sailor scouts that bordered on something psychiatrists might discuss at a conference, but which nonetheless usually had more positive results than my interactions with real girls, I always wanted an anime girlfriend. Fortunately, through the magic of virtual reality I…well, I still have no idea what it’s like, but at least I can pretend to have sex with one as long as I don’t expect things like physical stimulation, verbal interaction, or human contact. So basically, it’s exactly like my interaction with real girls. Except naked. But even that comes with a drawback as the phone was so close to my eyes that I could count every pixel on the screen, thus making the finer details blur together as though I was watching her on the news and they wanted to protect her privacy.

And I guess that pretty much embodies my main complaint with Google Cardboard. It’s fun to screw around with and you might as well give it a shot considering the price tag, but they can’t hook up an app to your brain to stimulate your senses. And even if the field of vision wasn’t narrower than a Southern Baptist’s list of acceptable prom dates, if you pay even the slightest bit of attention to your peripheral vision, you won’t so much feel you’ve been immersed in a virtual world as you were diving head first for the last Kleenex and got stuck in the box. So play around with it, but don’t get your hopes up. The term “virtual reality” doesn’t describe Google Cardboard quite as well as “sitting really really close to the screen, slowly disintegrating your optic nerves with blinding radiation.”

Michigan: Report from Hell – PS2 (Europe)

Loved

I loved you, but if you can’t prioritize me over that big gaping hole in your abdomen, I don’t think this relationship is going to work.

In the Firefly episode, The Train Job, they pull out a map of the route the train takes. From west to east, it runs from Hancock to Paradise City. This was a big hit in Northern Michigan, where it takes roughly five hours to drive from Hancock in the west to Paradise in the East. Michigan, you see, has a bit of a geographical identity crisis. Not only can you visit paradise, but its only a ten-minute drive from Florida to Alberta, and if you’d like you can stop at Phoenix on the way. We have a small town, Sault Ste. Marie, that’s named itself after the thriving Canadian city just across the water. It also has Christmas 364 days a year, and nowhere is happier than the Gay Bar…in the town of Gay. And that’s all just in Northern Michigan. Down in the Lower Peninsula, where the people don’t realize we call them trolls (because they live below the Mackinaw Bridge), things aren’t quite as nice, but not only did they christen a town named Hell, but it regularly freezes over. So naturally when I found out about the Europe-exclusive game, Michigan: Report from Hell, I thought it deserved at least an hour of my time. And as luck would have it, it deserved two.

HELLFirst of all, let me say that setting Michigan: Report from Hell in Chicago borders on dishonest. It’s like opening a bottle of Mountain Dew and tasting Diet Coke. Or flipping open a Pizza Hut box to find a hubcap from a Winnebago. I think we can take legal action against Europe for wasting a title like that. Second, I don’t usually believe that something can be “So bad it’s good,” but if this unique piece of…survival horror was trying to elicit a strong emotional reaction from me, it succeeded beyond any horror game I’ve ever played. If it was trying for fear, though, then it may have better luck selling football equipment at an ICU.

You play as a cameraman for a Chicago news team. You also apparently have no arms and have grafted the camera onto your forehead because you can’t actually interact with anything other than to ram them with the camera, a move that takes more time to charge than a super kamehameha. Instead, you zoom in on objects to examine them or to tell your reporter to do something for you, like opening doors. The goal is allegedly to alert the reporter to the right objects, puzzles and monsters to keep them from stepping into, let’s assume, a portal to Hell. In reality, these reporters are more fragile than a Christian girl’s hymen on prom night. One of the first reporters I had to babysit saw a spider and literally died. I hadn’t even made it to hell.

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He’ll never think to look for us on the other side of that line!

The story opens in a thick fog. Apparently Chicago is known for its warm, sunny climate and perpetually mild weather because the government has ordered an evacuation. The game says this is because they don’t know the cause of the fog. Apparently no one ever told them how water condenses out of humid air as the temperature drops, or that such a thing happens rather frequently along Lake Michigan (Oh, hey! That explains the title!…poorly.) On your first assignment, a bloodied woman staggers out of the mist and into an interview with a reporter who had, in the tutorial only moments before, suggested that you stop and help people if they clearly needed it. (You know, sometimes I truly envy youtubers who can actually show you this shit) The girl decides she’d rather be devoured by a monster, frightening the reporter so much she turns around and high-tails it to safety nearly ten whole meters down an unobstructed road to her news van. Then, naturally, the monster eats her too. Ah, the wonders of natural selection.

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Now let’s re-hash this several times before you bleed to death.

Technically, the first level starts with your next reporter. Standing in a ruined hotel room, she receives a phone call from a panicking girl. “It’s okay,” she tells the girl in a calm, unhurried tone. “Stay where you are. We’re coming to help you. You’ll be safe. I promise. We’re on our way to rescue you.” Because the speediest rescuers often get stuck on one thought like an autistic myna bird. And if responding to her panic like Ferris Bueller’s econ teacher accidentally instilled too much confidence in her, she immediately rushes downstairs to give a ten-minute pep talk to the sound guy, who’s dramatically torn up over the death of the first reporter. Apparently, though, reporter #1 “knew the risks” when she signed on to the job. I’d like to see my local news station’s liability form for “may get devoured by hell spawn.” And then she runs over to a fountain machine, can’t pour herself a Pepsi, sees a spider, and if you don’t squish it on the camera lens, she dies. No health bar, no second chances, thankfully no restarting the level and sitting through the inane, repetitive dialogue. She just dies and the game dispenses the next reporter like the next pinball on your quarter.

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The sound guy turning into Gene Simmons would have been very exciting…if I had actually seen it while playing the game.

And that pretty much sums up my major complaint with the game. The concept is interesting, but when the phone rings and the game feels I need a character to explain, “Hey, that’s the telephone,” I start to think I may find better things to do with my time. After getting a reporter who doesn’t have the survival instinct of a lemming, I got to wander around a nursing home for a bit. That’s when I noticed that while you can use the camera to get the reporter to open doors and search for things, she’ll only open whatever door she’s standing by and will only search for items within her reach. This means the game offers only slightly more challenge than playing I Spy while treading water in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Rendered by someone who clearly has never had sex with a woman before. Aren’t you turned on by women who store cherry popsicles between their legs?

I didn’t stick with the game long. I encountered a woman who I assume is Reporter #4, strapped to a pool table in such a way that I felt like I had interrupted something way more interesting than Report from Hell. She asked Reporter #3 to set her loose, and rather than cutting the straps, we had to comb the area for missing pool balls, then rack them up with no more hints than a supposed poster on the wall darker than Dick Cheney’s soul. That’s about when I had had enough.

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This is either erotic, or a dolphin who swallowed two softballs and then died.

It’s a great concept, I’ll give it that much. You’re sufficiently disempowered to make a great horror protagonist. There are moral choices, and even the option of scoring “erotic” points for filming compromising shots of the reporters. Unfortunately in two hours of gameplay I encountered absolutely none of that. Personally, the only thing this game is good for is an episode of JonTron.

The Monkey King: The Legend Begins – Wii

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The publisher’s choice of box art, traditionally styled depiction, yet dull and unrepresentative of gameplay…

“Five dollars? Eh. Why not?” What better way is there to sum up the national epic for over a billion people, a brilliant, comedic satire mixed with a deep and insightful meditation on Buddhism and other traditional beliefs of China? An afternoon of boredom led me to explore a skeezy pawn shop, where I found “The Monkey King: The Legend Begins,” and figured “Why not try to overcome malaise by seeing what they did to this timeless myth?”

To be fair, a six-hundred year old book loved by the planet’s most populous nation is bound to more pointless adaptations than the entire Marvel and DC universes combined, and by the law of averages, some of them are bound to leave a taste in your mouth like coffee filtered through an old pair of Hanes briefs. So really, if I tried to protest every bad or unfaithful adaptation of Journey to the West, I’d be left with zero free time, a bill for cardboard sign making that rivals my mortgage, and an unreasonable hatred of Dragonball. So why not look at the game on its own merits?

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…versus the alternate art, which is accurate, but more visually assaulting than Where’s Waldo hyped up on Red Bull.

Immediately upon booting up the game, I noticed that the d-pad wouldn’t let me select menu options and the select button was way at the bottom of the Wiimote. Don’t laugh. I’ve never actually encountered a Wii game that wanted me to hold the controller sideways.

Gameplay reminds me of old arcade shooters, like Galaga or Gradius—because when I think of an epic meditation on spirituality and enlightenment, I think “Space Invaders.” The legendary Sun Wukong (or if you so choose, the unique and pointless Mei-mei) flies through China on his cloud, spinning the magical staff that, in the book, can grow or shrink to any size the monkey king wants, but which in the game shoots out a glowing orb. Because you can’t have a space shooter without lasers, right? Even if it isn’t set in space. And depicts events that occurred in the 8th century.

Honestly, there’s not too much I can say about this game. It’s a traditional arcade style. It’s fun, I guess, in the way that Dairy Queen is fun—you like it every time, but there’s never anything new about it, you really wouldn’t want to go there all the time, and whenever I go it plays a bad satellite radio station of all the songs from the 1950s that were so bad, the entire decade tried to set them on fire and bury the ashes so new music would grow, but it just festered in the ground until it sprouted something with the maddening powers of Cthulu. Er, well, you get the point. The music in the game is a little grating.

Monk3

Tilt, and the whole world tilts with you.

The one unique feature involves the system’s motion controls. If you tilt the controller in the direction you’re flying, you start careening through the level like a deer on collision course for a Volkswagen Beetle. If you tilt the other way, you slow down and become a much easier target for the dozens of enemies trying to dye your clothing with their viscera. An interesting idea, even if it does display a fundamental misunderstanding of gravity, as though the core of the earth were swinging back and forth from Los Angeles to Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, it’s a little too tempting to exploit. Every time you die, your next life comes back, blinking invincibly (as trauma patients often do when leaving the ICU). During this time, you can launch into turbo mode and skip through 25% of the level. Sometimes, if you position yourself at the right spot, you can do this even when not invincible and hit the boss in moments.

Monk4

…And a boss fight. There. You’ve seen pretty much everything.

The game is short, but still feels padded. You work through five stages, then a boss rush stage that calls itself “hell,” but hands out power ups like Halloween candy. And then you fly through all five stages again, literally backwards, starting with the bosses and then heading back toward the beginning.

Also, I know there’s a lot of violence in the book, and I know I read an abridged translation, but I don’t seem to recall pigs with rocket launchers in Journey to the West.

Sneak King – XBox, XBox 360

For those of you who don’t remember, back in the early 2000s, Burger King’s marketing department discovered the line between “cleverly funny” and “call-the-cops disturbing” and decided to straddle that line like a 600-pound man balancing on a bicycle seat. They released a series of commercials in which a chibi-headed king approached people in awkward scenarios or appeared in unusual hiding places, only to pull a Burger King menu item out of his robes, after which a voice-over would tell you about said item if not just to distract you from wondering about the amount of Rohypnol the King may have just slipped an innocent bystander. Shortly after this, however, the marketing department decided to double down on this method of selling hamburgers by associating them with a masked stalker, and released the game Sneak King (ah, sneaking! I see what you did there!) for the XBox and XBox 360.

Uhh...I don't know whether I should include a trigger warning in this caption or call the police on my game. Even the commercial campaign looks at this and says, "Dude...a little too far."

Uhh…I don’t know whether I should include a trigger warning in this caption or call the police on my game. Even the commercial campaign looks at this and says, “Dude…a little too far.”

Honestly, I don’t know how to describe this one. It feels like a casual game, except it obviously plays on a console (since mobile phones in 2006 had all the processing power of a ham sandwich). I could almost compare it to a licensed game, as it aims to re-enact the commercials, but I find something almost unclean about the thought of Burger King not only charging me for their advertisements, but also labeling it “some assembly required.” At its core, Sneak King relies on stealth, a bold move considering most games include stealth elements more to give the appearance of variety than as an option they actually expect people to use, much like McDonald’s including a salad on their menu to let them shout out to gainsayers, “look! We have healthy options!” Although considering Burger King’s extensive history of game development and the game’s mechanics themselves, I can only assume they made this decision out of sheer coincidence.

In Sneak King, you take on the role of the King, ostensibly sneaking up on people to deliver food, although the NPCs have almost as much visual prowess as a one-eyed hedgehog with its head stuck in a traffic cone, so as long as you don’t barge through a busy intersection, the game pretty much boils down to how fast you can locate hungry people and get to them before they double over in pain and pass out cold, an activity I generally engage in only after eating Burger King food. This does pose a reasonable challenge, however, as these characters only blip on your radar immediately after their first hunger pangs, and afterward must be located entirely by looking for the people with thought bubbles over their heads dangling burgers just out of reach. From beginning to end, the entire process can take less than thirty seconds, so unless the King includes a shot of insulin with their meal, I doubt that any food hiding in his royal tights can save these people from slipping into a diabetic coma.

They actually can see him...they just pretend they can't. If you avoid eye contact, you don't have to talk to him.

They actually can see him…they just pretend they can’t. If you avoid eye contact, you don’t have to talk to him.

The challenge of racking up higher and higher scores provides the primary appeal of the game. Certain factors can multiply your score, such as how often people have spotted you, how close you get to the target before giving them food, and how much flourish you use to bestow the royal meat unto your subjects. However, you can increase your score fivefold by crawling into a barrel, dumpster, toilet stall, or any other hiding place before your hungry victim strolls by. This, sadly, doesn’t work very well. Despite having plenty of hiding places in each level, the NPCs all move on a programmed circuit, and most of them don’t get close enough to the hiding places for this to work. Furthermore, the ones that do either don’t get hungry at the right times, or they’ll spot the King slowly easing himself into his hidey-hole like an old man into a hot bath, a swimmer into Lake Superior in June, or a Carolinian politician into the thought of taking down the Confederate flag. Each of the four levels has twenty different missions, and those that require you deliver from hiding places usually end up with me finding one well-trafficked dumpster, then squatting in it for upwards of fifteen minutes while I wait for enough people to come by to get their hot, delicious burger and its distinctive aftertaste of rotting vegetables and soiled diapers.

Hello yon construction worker. Care you to partake in mine portable toilet burger? Sadly, it possesseth not the used-condom bouquet of my trash burgers, but you'll find the accompanying buzzing of flies a synaesthetic delight of flavor!

Hello yon construction worker. Care you to partake in mine portable toilet burger? Sadly, it possesseth not the used-condom bouquet of my trash burgers, but you’ll find the accompanying buzzing of flies a synaesthetic delight of flavor!

The King can also increase his score by presenting food with flourish, which involves hitting a button at the right time to stop a meter. Again, given Burger King’s inexperience with games, I think we can understand how they’d include an option that makes the game look fancier without actually making it more fun. Not that we have to forgive them for it. The King has three levels of flourish (which vary from stage to stage), and no matter how many times you’ve seen it before, you still have to sit through every second of his stupid white-boy dance.

I imagine the Jaws theme playing here.

I imagine the Jaws theme playing here.

Adding even more unnecessary time onto the game, each of the four stages has twenty different missions. The developers tried their best to introduce variety into these challenges, but when playing a stealth game and getting the mission, “Let five people see you,” one tends to get the impression that the designers have checked out and just want to get paid their $3.99 (with the purchase of an extra value meal…later reduced to $0.99, for understandable reasons).

Sadly, the game really kept me amused for a few hours. Mostly, however, I attribute this to the novelty of the situation. It also felt somehow unique, and I liked the initial aspect of increasing scores, while it provided a rare example of a game without competitive aspects. (When researchers study violent games to “pro-social” games, I wonder if they use Sneak King as “pro-social.”) Still, about halfway through, the difficulty spiked by about a thousand times, which comes off more as poor design and testing than an intentional challenge curve, and by then the game had gotten repetitive enough, the flaws noticeable enough, and my constant battles with the camera obnoxious enough, that while I liked playing it for a little while, I would rather finish a large fries pulled from the King’s tights out of a garbage can than Sneak King.

But the creepy first-person mode, if nothing else, merits this game a spot in my WTF category.

M*A*S*H – Atari 2600

When you plan on selling your game with the blurb "Two Whole Players!" ask yourself why you couldn't think of anything more exciting to say.

When you plan on selling your game with the blurb “Two Whole Players!” ask yourself why you couldn’t think of anything more exciting to say.

As a kid born in the early 1980s, I remember…well, not much. But how could I forget such wonderful programming for kids, such as Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, Duck Tales, Garfield and Friends, Thunder Cats, Smurfs and Gummi Bears. Of course, I didn’t get my first game console until the early nineties, so the kids five to ten years older than me–those playing Atari 2600 as their first console–must have had a different taste in television than I did. And if video game adaptations give any indication, then I can assume that 10-year-olds watched M*A*S*H. After all, what third-grade student wouldn’t appreciate dark comedy and biting satire about Vietnam, cleverly disguised as the Korean War, which itself bears a striking resemblance to the hills of southern California?

I find it amazing how a country eleven time zones away bears such a striking resemblence to Southern California! We have so much in common!

I find it amazing how a country eleven time zones away bears such a striking resemblence to Southern California! We have so much in common!

Actually, I love M*A*S*H. My parents have a picture of me in 1984 in my infant carrier, staring down Colonel Flagg. I played Trapper John in my high school’s theatrical production. I’m the only person I know who has watched every episode while actually in Korea. M*A*S*H presents us with an idealistic fantasy world, where bad things might happen, but the antisocial nutjobs always get a pile of garbage dumped on them in the end, the villains act like spoiled children / Tea Party patriots for easy identification, and hero doctors always grow a foot taller than common enlisted men. Why wouldn’t the youth of the eighties (or maybe Fox meant “youth in their eighties?) want to put themselves in the role of the legendary wise-cracking meatball surgeon?

MASH Atari Mode 1Coming from the studio that once tried to turn Family Guy into an MMORPG, I think Fox has long had a problem understanding humor, specifically in how they can translate it into video game format, or in Fox’s terms, milking it for profit. See, the M*A*S*H tv show depended on witty responses to situations, satire on right-wing politics and war, and Catch-22-style double talk. The M*A*S*H Atari game did make me laugh, but more so at the premise that I need to catch Colonel Potter’s skydiving medics because they developed a fondness for leaping from their plane without parachutes. I like to point out the absurdity in games whenever I can, but sometimes they make it difficult, and I just don’t know if I can out-mock a game that asks me to accept that a platoon of soldiers devoted to saving lives has less survival instinct than the entire series of Lemmings games. At that point, the game mocks itself.

M*A*S*H offers four types of gameplay, with one- and two-player modes for each. In Modes 1 and 2, the player controls a helicopter, supposedly piloted by Hawkeye, picks up wounded soldiers, while flying low to avoid the lone North Korean tank. Thank you Fox! As embodied by your news network, you strive to offer us as many unintentional jokes as possible! For instance, “Putting a surgeon to work piloting a helicopter instead of a hospital shows that Fox objected to poor people receiving healthcare long before Obama.” Nah, even I didn’t like that one. How about “Military powerhouse North Korea sends one tank after enemy”? No, that didn’t work either. I know! I enjoy the wisdom of piloting a helicopter below the tree line to avoid enemy fire. At least, the idea of a chopper coming at me through the woods, hacking off branches and the heads of small animals sounds like solid, life-saving logic to me.

Excuse me, but if you have nothing more than a flap of arm pit skin connecting your upper torso to the rest of your body, I think the doctors should probably move on to someone a little less wounded.

Excuse me, but if you have nothing more than a flap of arm pit skin connecting your upper torso to the rest of your body, I think the doctors should probably move on to someone a little less wounded.

Periodically, the game stops to consider that doctors might serve their purpose better in the operating room, and so the scene shifts abruptly to the operating room. Wait, sorry, strike that…the scene shifts abruptly to the Milton Bradley “Operation” game. Surgery consists of removing a small dot–shrapnel, I assume–from a soldier with a physique to suggest that the army put him on the battlefield for the sole purpose of shielding others from bullets using his weeble-shaped hips (although with a body like that, how they got him to lay down on the table without immediately popping upright blows my mind). The player has a fondue fork, with which he must navigate the shrapnel through the soldiers’ bodies without touching the sides of hollow, maze-like tunnels whose presence, I would think, should cause slightly more concern than the dots within them. The player has about fifteen seconds to operate on as many patients as possible, unless you hit the sides, which prompts the game to call you “Ferret Face,” which wins an award for the only thing in the game actually referring to the TV show, despite targeting the wrong character, and sends you right back out to wreak havoc on the trees of South Korea.

In mere seconds, the bodies of trained medics will rain from the sky. Some may even impale themselves on those trees. Others, hacked by chopper blades. Too bad none will survive to tend to the wounded.

In mere seconds, the bodies of trained medics will rain from the sky. Some may even impale themselves on those trees. Others, hacked by chopper blades. Too bad none will survive to tend to the wounded.

Modes 3 and 4 pits Hawkeye’s helicopter against Colonel Potter’s madness (General Steele, anyone?). Bodies pour out of a plane like a fire hose and you get more points for picking them up just before they hit the ground than if you catch them right out of the plane. Apparently the army gets by on “thrilling climactic rescues” rather than “intelligent strategies.” Modes 5 and 6 work like easy versions of Modes 1 and 2, giving you a smaller helicopter–to shred denser forests, obviously–and a visual cue as to when you’ve loaded the maximum number of wounded on your ship. Modes 7 and 8 put you in the operating room for the entire game, sticking fondue forks into strings of pear-shaped personnel with no daring-yet-suicidal piloting skills required.

The player wins the game by reaching 1000 points before their opponent. The score counter only goes up to 999, though, so this may function less as an objective and more as a game-ending technical limitation. But as we learned from Fox News, the multi-conglomerate right-wing organization often views pushing a system until it breaks as synonymous with success, so I guess that makes sense. Presumably, the game pits one player against either the computer AI, presumably Frank Burns, or another player, B.J. Hunnicut or Trapper John. The game ends when one player reaches 1000 points. And it doesn’t take long. “I’ll play the game while watching my M*A*S*H DVDs!” I thought. “I’ll enjoy it!” The resonance of M*A*S*H will combine into an olive drab wave of comedy! Well, as it turns out, not only can you beat all four different game modes within the length of a single episode of the TV show, you can master the game before the second commercial break.

These Atari games really work like flash games or iPhone games, just with scaled-down graphics. They can still offer hours of fun game play, but they kind of have to follow the simple-to-learn-but-difficult-to-master philosophy. Unfortunately, this game disappointed all those bright-eyed kids waking up on Christmas morning 1983, hoping for a return to the glorious return to the days before their favorite prime-time program ended, earlier that year. Alas, the game couldn’t reproduce that feeling, and they’d have to suffer through AfterMash, Trapper John MD, and the pilot episode of W*A*L*T*E*R, a show even more obnoxious to type than M*A*S*H. My suggestion? Watch the TV show with a Nintendo DS and a copy of Trauma Center: Under the Knife. No one ever called Derek Styles “Ferret Face.”