Kuon – PS2

Kuon0

Hey! Eyes up here, mister!

Any connoisseur of horror might get the impression that the Japanese have as much variety a a nun’s sex life. It seems like everything coming out of Japan involves young girls, hair flipped forward, emaciated and wet like a St. Bernard that just jumped into the bathtub. This is the genre that gives us the Ring, the Grudge, and Silent Hill. Does nothing scare these people save for thought’s of Cousin It’s prepubescent daughter? As it turns out, yes. There’s a sub-genre of Japanese horror called Kwaidan, which as best I can describe is two parts fairy tale, two parts urban legend, and one part Weird Al Yankovic album. Roughly translating to “strange story,” kwaidan deals with the tough subjects that the faint of heart don’t have the guts to tackle, like flying heads that detach from their bodies, monsters who have re-purposed their anuses as eye sockets, and in the case of Kuon, evil incarnations of mulberry trees who use silkworms to practice human sacrifices.

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Forget Cousin It’s daughter. I’ve always had a huge crush on Cthulu’s little sister.

Kuon’s main storyline follows two characters. First, Utsuki is the disappointment child of Doman, a priest so cheerful and approachable that he looks on altar boy rape as being too kind-hearted. Doman gives Utsuki one job: take care of her sister Kureha, who hasn’t been feeling well on account of having died and begun to decompose. But Kureha runs off and, as luck would have it, darts straight into a haunted house like a bomb-sniffing dog navigating a field of land mines to get to a plate of snausages. Meanwhile, Doman sends the second character, Sukuya, into the manor with a team of paranormal investigators, most of whom meet the end we all hope for any time we see a team of paranormal investigators. Sukuya, however, keeps her wits about her and begins to piece together that Doman has taken a page from Albert Wesker’s playbook and sent them in as an unwitting buffet. Both Utsuki and Sukuya periodically run into the Japanese Shining Twins, inexplicably following the commands of these creepy little girls whose hands say, “Go investigate that room,” but whose eyes say, “We’re going to strip the flesh from your bones like a piranha with a tape worm.”

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Jinkies!

Kuon is neither a long game nor a difficult one. However, since each characters’ phase can be played in either order, they feel the need to run me through the tutorial twice. Sukuya’s tutorial was even delivered by one of the other investigators, a 13-year-old Buddhist monk who sounds like he studied in a remote mountaintop temple just outside of Houston. This boy has all the grace and poise we would expect from Feudal Japanese clergy, right down to his comment, “Can’t you just stick it in any old way?” when it comes to solving a puzzle. I presume. But the repetition doesn’t stop at the tutorial. The first have of both scenarios require the player to open the same locked doors, solve the same puzzles, and fight the same monsters. It’s as if taking priority over unique and thrilling game play, Kuon really wanted you to learn something, so it’s like an episode of Dora the Explorer. But with human sacrifice. (“House…underground…ritual chamber. House…underground…ritual chamber!”)

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Gakis be pimpin’

But that isn’t to say it’s a bad game. It does follow the pages of the survival horror playbook rather well, right up to scattering those pages halfway across the bloody country for you to find and assemble. Instead of zombies, you fight gaki. Instead of guns and bullets, you get cards that cast magic spells. And instead of keys you…wipe bloody rags on doors you want to open? I gotta be honest—that seems a little unsanitary. Not a lot of survival horror games culminate in an epic battle against hepatitis. It makes it all the worse by the seals on the doors being named after planets. I’m sorry, but nobody wants to carry around a bloody rag from Uranus, especially considering no one had yet discovered the planet during the story’s era, so the seal has to be either a butt joke or a reference to sailor scouts (none of which had been discovered yet either).

Kuon2

Just casually wandering through the aftermath of a lynching.

Unfortunately, for all that Kuon gets right about the genre, it also suffers from the same tropes as every other survival horror game. “Oh no! There’s a corpse blocking my path? If only I could lift my feet up higher than ten centimeters! Between this and the paper screen in the other hallway, how will I ever progress?” Or even, “A silk web stretches across the tunnel? If only I had a tool to get rid of it, but all I have is a magic dagger and a collection of magical fireballs! I guess I have to go back and search!” It almost feels like the developers got lazy and skimped on certain key details. Characters don’t move their mouths to talk, but they still hear each other just fine, apparently communicating like animals in a Garfield strip. That and the inexplicable repetition of certain events but not others pulled me out of the story a bit. They obviously wanted some sort of Resident Evil 2 scenario mash-up, but pulled it off like a sixth grader giving a report on a book he hasn’t read, so he just copies the plot of another book and hope his teacher won’t notice.

The game certainly isn’t winning any awards, except maybe “rarest” and “most overpriced” PS2 game, but it’s worth playing. It’s short enough that the repetition isn’t tedious, the atmosphere perfectly captures the feeling of a kwaidan tale, and the story is unique and eerie. I’ll even give the game bonus points for voicing Doman with the same actor who played Mojo Jojo. I guess that makes you the Feudal Japanese Power Puff Girls.

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Silent Hill – PS1

SH What is it

It’s a Western deity worshipped by over 2 billion people.

One of the unfortunate byproducts of writing humor is that often times, I have a tendency to shout out scathing remarks which your average high school student would follow up with, “What? I’m just telling the truth.” However, there’s a limit for mean, a point where the fruit of ridicule hangs so low that it’s slowly cooked by the geothermal heat of the earth’s crust, the kind of mean-spirited taunting usually reserved for major GOP candidates who feel that those poverty-stricken, unemployed, single teen moms have it too good and ought to be taken down a peg. And such is my problem with Silent Hill. After glancing at my notes and realizing that I’ve just copied lines of dialogue verbatim, I can’t help but feel a bit sleazy for going after the video game version of that girl who wanders around a frat party in various stages of undress loudly repeating “I’m so hammered!” in hopes that someone will take her to bed to fix all her self-esteem and daddy issues. I know the game was popular when it came out, but Silent Hill has aged so poorly that it has a permanent spot in the back of the fridge because you’d rather let its primordial soup run its course than get near it to clean it out. But, damn it! I swear I’m going to keep writing these things until someone gives me a job writing comedy, so…on with the show!

SH Boomstick

Where’s a boomstick when you need one?

Harry Mason is your standard survival horror everyman with a personality slightly less impressive than an avocado. He comes to Silent Hill for vacation-slash-finding-his-missing-daughter, but after getting lost in an alley designed by Pac Man, three sloth monsters try to stab him to death. He wakes up in a cafe with the NRA’s wet dream: a 22-year-old police girl who tosses Harry a gun without so much as a perfunctory “Are you a criminal?” She merely leaves him with the instructions, “Don’t shoot me” (indicating the near certainty that she’ll become a boss fight) and “Know what you’re shooting before you pull the trigger.” Three seconds later, an unidentifiable monster attacks and Harry blasts it without thinking, much less a scientific analysis of its genus and species. And thus begins a long and rambling plot full of unexplained events and vague motivations in which Harry spends more time chasing after a cult than looking for his daughter.

Let me get this out of the way; I liked the game. I enjoyed playing it in that way that you sometimes can’t stop fantasizing about girls your brain tells you are unattractive. And in the end, fun gameplay is what counts. But don’t get me wrong—my brain was telling me this game is very unattractive. Something about a fun game that has a character utter the phrase, “Rather than shifting from reality to nightmare, it feels like reality is becoming the nightmare,” creates a mental friction not unlike receiving a hand job from a belt sander. Half the time the game doesn’t trust players to have any sort of thought process running, forcing Harry to narrate out loud and shout out “What is that?” (or another favorite, “Cheryl?”) at so many obvious objects and events that turning it into a drinking game would prove fatal after thirty minutes of game play. I also noticed that the dialogue often spends copious amounts of time reiterating simple ideas. Here’s a line from the script:

This may sound really off the wall, but listen to me. You’ve got to believe me. I haven’t gone crazy and I’m not fooling around. At first, I thought I was losing my mind. But now I know I’m not. It’s not me.

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Harry Mason, ca. 1982

I honestly can’t tell what’s more off-putting: when a character gets stuck in a loop and you have to give them a good whack to move on to the next thought, or listening to the voice actors say things like, “Devoured by darkness” and “My daughter is missing” with all the passion of a geometry lecture delivered by a narcoleptic. And the other half of the time, the writers rely on the fact that the player’s brain has a shorter draw distance than the town. Early on, Harry finds a scrap of paper with the words “to school” scrawled in Crayola, and like the junior Scooby Doo detective that he is, assumes that Cheryl has simply ditched him to hang out at the school in a strange town. I like to picture this guy in the same graduating class as Rick Grimes and the guy from Heavy Rain.

No Dog

But Cheryl could be in there. Or Carl. Jason? Janet? Brad? Janet? Dr. Scott? Rocky?

Game play is all right, I guess. Not exactly a stunning endorsement, I know,. But being one of the early balls to explode forth from the canon of survival horror, I can’t really fault them for abiding by things that weren’t tropes yet when the game came out. You wander through an environment full of obstructions, trying to find multiple keys for single doors which the owners have cleverly scattered halfway across town in some drunken fit of reverse-kleptomania. You solve puzzles. You dodge and fight monsters. The control scheme offers the greatest challenge though, as not only was “Push the direction you want to move” as terrifying, foreign and quite obviously much easier to use as the metric system, the tank controls would glitch out every so often, making it impossible for Harry to step around and avoid monsters. The one saving grace is that it was often rather fun to build up a head of steam and then ram Harry into immobile objects for the satisfying “thwack” it would make, even if I did do this accidentally while being chased, leading to several eviscerations.

I’ve always thought Silent Hill puzzles were a bit contrived. My first time playing Silent Hill 2, I had spent a good half hour whacking monsters with a stick with a nail in it, but then I came to a key that was just out of reach beyond a barred doorway. Oh, if only I had some long, hooked tool that might be able to extend my reach! Woe is me! In the original, I picked up an axe halfway through the game, but still needed keys to get through wooden doors for some reason.

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Harry faces down one of the seven deadly sins.

One of the bigger annoyances are the sloth monsters encountered in the school level. Despite the fact that you’ll find more bullets than textbooks, there’s absolutely no reason to use them as the sloths are invincible. Personally, I find that this defeats the main decision that makes survival horror fun to play—do you want to eliminate monsters permanently, or conserve ammo and risk a mad dash around the enemy every time? Silent Hill’s school makes that decision for you. Shooting them incapacitates them briefly, but three bullets to the face don’t affect them any more than the recoil of the gun does to Harry, so while he stands there waiting for his pants to dry, the sloths grab on to your legs like murderous toddlers looking for a ride. Not surprisingly, the monsters are actually supposed to be children, but censors felt that in a game littered with corpses and stocked full of monsters, cultists and blood, the idea of killing a violent hell-spawned creature of evil and darkness crossed a line, so long as said demon was only a meter tall.

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Oh! Thank god it’s not a kid. Otherwise this might have been tragic and gruesome.

But the game is tolerable, if not good. I had originally planned some jokes about Harry breathing like an obscene phone call when he’s wounded, and how the fog filling the town made it seem like the design team based their whole concept on the game having a low draw-distance. However, not having a life meter is one of the things that contributes to the uncertainty of survival horror (challenging when you think your health items are best spent), and upon reading that the design team introduced the fog for exactly that reason, I started thinking of it as a rather clever solution to a problem. Furthermore, Silent Hill moved away from horror based on jump scares and other things that make people like Markiplier scream like a drunken frat boy overstimulated by a football game. Even considering the control issues and the fact that tutorial tips display when loading after a game over—you know, approximately ten seconds after they would have been useful—I thought the challenge was well-balanced.

Don’t ask me about the weird Animal House style dance video they play after the credits, though. That’s probably the scariest thing about the game.

Haunting Ground – PS2

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Rest of the Herd

Gary Larson cartoons are not easy to come by online.

I don’t understand horror. Don’t get me wrong, I like it well enough, but when a zombie punches through an oak door that would have shattered a karate master’s arm to the elbow and the people watching the movie with me engage in a spontaneous spelunking into the depths of the couch cushions, I don’t really get the panic. Ghost movies, too. They all use the same, cliched haunting tricks. The room is empty, and the chair moves by itself. Terrifying! Based on popular movies—strike that—based on the crap that Netflix posts because every college student with a camera is so desperate for their homemade found footage film to be seen that they practically give away the rights, you’d wonder why ghosts go through all the effort of returning from the dead to wreak bloody revenge and do nothing more than mess up the living’s feng shui. But then, maybe it’s the rest of the herd that’s gone insane. I remember a creative writing assignment in eighth grade that focused on horror. After a dozen stories about ghosts and monsters and people screaming and running, the teacher read my story—narrated in the second person (“You” instead of “I” or “He/She”)–where the readers find themselves jumping at shadows, alone in the woods. When we finally coaxed the other students to come out of their backpacks, I realized maybe I actually did understand horror.

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Breast physics courtesy of CG Animators who have never actually seen a naked girl before.

That issue came up for me again as I tried to justify the $80 price tag of “Haunting Ground.” The game’s pacing ripped along at glacial speeds, the combat is as thrilling as a Gus Van Sant film, and 36-Ds describes both the protagonists breasts and last three years of high school. But at the same time, there’s something unsettling enough about this game about castles, alchemy, cloning, and Frankenstein monsters. I think it’s because it feels like it could really happen.

Breasts

Normally when someone’s scared, they only lift their eyebrows.

Maybe I should explain. The story follows Fiona Belli, a young girl with a heart of gold, the breasts of a goddess, and the brain of a sea cucumber, who wakes up after a car crash to find out she’s inherited a big, gloomy castle with a definite Luigi’s Mansion vibe. While first wandering the castle, Fiona encounters two things. One, a white German shepherd named Hewie, who takes an immediate liking to the girl, follows her around, and obeys her every…fifth or sixth…command. Second, she runs into a man with the body of Hodor and the face of Smeagol, who looks between her and the doll he’s holding, chucks the doll aside, and with an excited look, grabs his crotch. When a grown man reaches for his junk with a childlike gleam in his eye, you know only two things can come next. Either he’s about to vigorously molest and/or rape you, or he’s about to perform “Smooth Criminal”…and then vigorously molest and/or rape you. Much like in the Clock Tower games that came before Haunting Grounds, Fiona has the combat prowess of Winnie the Pooh, and so the true challenge of the game is not to fight and defeat enemies, but to flee and evade them.

Daniella

The maid, Daniella, tries to kill Fiona. Hewie Lewis tries to save her with the Power of Love.

Fiona has several options, most of which give way to “run like hell,” which can take anywhere from a minute or two to a half an hour or more. She can order Hewie to attack, which if successful will buy her a few moments to put distance between her and her pursuer, but will more often simply alert her to the fact that the dog has wandered off and is likely halfway across the castle rolling in something interesting that he smelled. (This gets especially frustrating about halfway through the game when, in a cut scene, Fiona manages to get Hewie to leap up a statue and place a key item in a dragon’s mouth, but the fucking dog still won’t come when you call it.) You can kneel down to all the effect that kneeling would help you escape from a real-life stalker in a parking deck, or if you have a good head start and know where you’re headed, you can dive into one of the castle’s…four or five…hiding spots. Each of which you can only use once. If you’re lucky, you’ll manage to shake your stalker, after which you can go back to whichever puzzle you were trying to solve when you were interrupted (Note to contractors: If you ever get a request to build a room that only appears when you insert a statue into a model, or a door that won’t open without three crests, a diamond key, and the death of your trusty henchman, call the cops. Ain’t no one wants that shit unless its for some evil, H.H. Holmes crap.), at which point you’ll likely get interrupted again before you can figure out the solution.

Smeagol

Smeagol, after discovering that Pizza Hut not only delivers, but tastes better than raw fish.

The game is frustrating, time-consuming, and a bit slow paced, but definitely worth playing for the unique and subtle story. I can’t think of another title that doesn’t salt its gameplay with jump scares like it were preparing it for a year-long sea voyage, and none of the villains parade around in viscera like a burlesque dancer from a Saw movie. Haunting Ground relies on a more organic sense of horror generated from tense, creepy situations and semi-realistic villain motives. Your first adversary chases you with an adolescent lust and a poor understanding of personal boundaries. After dealing with him, you find yourself stalked by an older woman who is literally jealous of your womb and feels incomplete because she’s not as young, healthy and fertile as Fiona. Next comes two much older—several hundred years older—men who want to make her pregnant and expect her simply to, well, lie down and take it without putting up any complaint or personal choice in the matter. For one reason or another, every enemy in the game wants you for your womb and doesn’t care what you think. It doesn’t take much in the way of imaginative gymnastics to look at Fiona as the poster child for modern feminism and the pro-choice movement, not for any personal inner-strength she portrays (I’ve seen graham crackers hold together under more pressure than this girl), but for presenting realistic concerns in a way that is understandably scary.

Debilitas

Dog leaps in to save Fiona, who stands there like a confused cheerleader. Meanwhile, Dog comes down with a case of athlete’s tongue.

And it’s all presented subtly. The game gives you a handful of cut scenes, but none of them are as frightening as crawling under a bed and hearing someone walk around the room, only able to glimpse occasional looks at their feet from a limited field of vision. Or hearing sounds off-screen and trying to interpret them—depending on who catches you, the sounds overlaid on the game-over screen can sound like a brutal rape, or an insane woman removing your reproductive system with all the care of a loose tooth tied to a door knob. Items and journals you find, as is common in survival horror, give you some back story, but it doesn’t unnerve you the way that hearing Hewie growl at something in the next room does. Throughout the game you have to keep yourself from losing both stamina and composure, but they’re almost superfluous when the player actually starts to become unhinged while sitting on the safe side of the screen. (Although I did rather enjoy the boss fight where Fiona, Hewie, and the enemy had all lost stamina and spent a good five minutes chasing each other around the room as though they had just been released from the ICU.)

Yes, the game has flaws. No, as far as video games go it’ll probably never rank up with Chrono Trigger, Resident Evil or…I don’t know, what the hell do people like these days? Let’s go with Nintendogs. (Hah. Recycled Family Guy joke.) Fiona is terribly frustrating to control—dear God, woman! Just stomp on his head a few times while he’s pinned to the ground! Or take the maid’s weapon from her! Don’t just stand there wallowing in your own cowardice and likely a few bodily fluids! (Hah. Recycled Futurama joke.) And the dog is even worse, obeying all your commands like an angry teenager just an MIP-scolding away from joining the French Foreign Legion. Probably the most frustrating aspect is the system for crafting items and equipment, in which you essentially have to line up a ten-part slot machine in order to get anything good. (Naturally, the one time I actually crafted a protective necklace, I died and lost the progress)

Cheap Death

Oh yeah! I forgot to mention…sometimes the castle just kills you without warning. Save often.

But for the most part, the game is unlike other video game experiences, and the $80 price might actually reflect the quality of story, rather than just Capcom’s lack of foresight and failure to make enough copies for people who would want it.

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.

Escape

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.

Action

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.

Brisco

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.

Erotic

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.

Softball

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.

Luigi’s Mansion – Game Cube

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I had a teacher once say about procrastination, “If you put something off long enough, eventually something will happen that means you won’t have to do it at all.” He used to work at a mental health clinic, and said that there were some patients where it just didn’t make sense to file the discharge papers. They’d be back. Soon. And if their discharge hadn’t been filed, it would be like they’d never left. Still, I maintain this blog as a way to write on a regular basis and an attempt to have a bit more skill at humor than, say, a dead mackerel, Rush Limbaugh, a Perkins Mammoth Muffin, or Will Ferrell. As such, I sometimes struggle to keep things posted on time, and every game I play (and recently, every book I read) deserves equal attention online if not just for the purpose of buying me time. So even though I played this game months ago, I only got around to writing three paragraphs at the time, and now I really need to sit down and finish it. Bonus points to readers who can guess which three paragraphs I wrote immediately after, and which ones sound old and stale, like a dead Mackerel, Rush Limbaugh, a Perkins Mammoth Muffin, or Will Ferrell.

Luigi2Sometimes I question whether it’s healthy for me to write about every game I play, or whether I’m intentionally turning myself into a sour cynic, hell-bent on juicing every flaw out of a game for lame attempts at comedy. And after attempting a run at Mario Sunshine, I looked at the copy of Luigi’s Mansion I acquired with that same sad look I give the bathroom door at 4:00 in the morning–it’s going to happen, but I don’t have to like the inconvenience. But while it doesn’t happen often, occasionally I get so wrapped up in a game that I forget to think of anything funny to say about it. Which means I’m still in a tough spot, even though I liked the game. So I guess I’ll throw out one of my simplified reviews: It’s like Fatal Frame with a vacuum cleaner.

Luigi1

…he slimed me.

The game opens with Luigi on his way to a mansion that he won in a contest he didn’t enter. Inside he finds a bunch of ghosts and Professor E. Gadd, a goofy little scientist who seems to speak a dialect of Ewok. Gadd is experimenting with the idea of Ghostbusters’ nuclear-powered proton packs: namely, if a common, household vacuum cleaner wouldn’t be a safer, cheaper option. (Spoiler alert: it is.) When he meets Luigi, he recognizes hero potential, and not the kid-gloves and pulled-punches potential of Mario is Missing. But as it turns out, Mario is, indeed, missing, which happens to be the only time Luigi can get any screen time. So rather than leave his brother to rot and run off with the princess himself, Luigi straps a hoover to his back and starts sucking down all the ghosts that got loose in his mansion.

Luigi5

“Jesus fuckin-a-christ! I sure-a hope I don’t get-a my face devoured by-a those skinless-a hell hounds!”

Luigi’s Mansion represents an odd foray by Nintendo into the world of survival horror. Screw you, Wikipedia, for listing it as action-adventure. Let’s run down a checklist, shall we? The character searches for a missing sibling. Check. Luigi wanders through a creepy mansion filled with ghosts, looking for keys that help him get into other areas. Check. When accessing a new area, the game shows a door “loading” screen. Check. Obnoxious footsteps that make you sound like a Dutch clog-dancing tournament. Big Check. For Bowser’s sake, Luigi can’t even jump—but the ghosts can. The game hits every cliché in the survival horror book like it was trying to get an “A” on the test. However, you don’t often see genres mixed into this one. If you play survival horror, you can damn well be certain the game will either try to scare the ammo out of you, ignite a passionate wrath…with awful controls…or lull you into a coma of boredom with horror tropes and jump scares. Luigi’s Mansion turns it into a cartoon, a rather amusing one, at that. The ghosts each have their own personalities (seemingly straight out of Ghostbusters). Luigi himself displays a level of fear that could give a whale a heart attack, which in addition to making him more endearing than Mario ever was, implies either a great bond of love and devotion to his brother, or a pretty severe case of codependency and/or Stockholm Syndrome.

Luigi3

Am I interrupting something?

Tank controls have been a staple of the genre since Resident Evil. “We’ll have them fight zombies, but conserve ammo!” “But the zombies move more slowly than social progress in Alabama!” “Well, lets just kick the controls in the head. By the time they figure out how to run away, their brains will be Cap’n Crunch for zombies.” However, Luigi’s vacuum cleaner controls feel both challenging and meaningful. I absolutely despise fishing (constantly being told not to talk or I’d scare the fish…which I later found out was just a bullshit excuse to shut me up), and refuse to do it even in Zelda games. But I imagine the satisfaction of reeling in a ghost is a lot like what people who enjoy fishing must feel when they finally bring in that barracuda they’ve been stalking.

Luigi4

The Flowers are Still Standing!

One last thing to say about this game, the music is catchy. So catchy in fact that every so often Luigi himself starts humming nervously along with it. It’s a nice little ditty, and if you decide to play the game I certainly hope you like it too…since it’s the only song they give you for the entire game. “Sorry, Luigi. Even Nintendo doesn’t want to waste time on you, so here’s something I plunked out on my piano this morning!” By the time you finish the game, that song remains the only truly horrifying thing left to face.

Parasite Eve 2 – Playstation

Note: Gamersgate supporters would like to see less of this.

Note: Gamersgate supporters would like to see less of this.

Back in the late nineties when Squaresoft could do no wrong, they made a bold move by backing away from Nintendo in favor of Sony. This meant two things for me. One, I had just blown my entire finances on an N64 and they had just rendered that purchase useless. Two, they now had virtually limitless room for bigger and better games. So when I finally gathered enough pop cans out of local garbages and exchanged the sticky, tobacco-ridden gold for a Playstation, I had to resort to begging for games for Christmas presents. When I popped that disc in the little gray box and hit power on Christmas morning (fuck baby Jesus! I’ll go to church when he’s earned enough EXP to unlock his parasite powers!), I met Parasite Eve, and thus began a lifelong relationship with a game that would inspire me to piss off my high school teachers with endless questions about the motives and abilities of mitochondria and at least one major research paper on spontaneous human combustion.

"Full Frontal" must not translate well from Japanese.

“Full Frontal” must not translate well from Japanese.

So when Square announced not only a sequel, but a sequel with a full-frontal shower scene (some people may have exaggerated certain reports), naturally I…had no cash and put off buying the game indefinitely. I really do wonder why I put off the game this long. But I finally got my hands on the working game, and now for your special Halloween article, I present “Parasite Eve II, or Resident Evil, Symphony of the Night.” The rumors I heard involve an all-out, knock-down, out-for-blood difference of creative opinion, with the director of the first game wanting an RPG detective story with the development team wanting to do something more like Resident Evil (I will update if I can find a source confirming). While the director seemingly won the first game (one imagines with a level-68 meteor spell while under a protect charm to ward off 9mm bullets), the development team apparently zombified him for the sequel, as the game reads so closely from Resident Evil’s play book that you can practically see the scribble marks over “T-Virus” right beside every mention of the word “mitochondria.” A rip-off this blatant could even garner plagiarism accusations from Terry Brooks.

Apparently, Mitochondria can write flame throwers into your DNA.

Apparently, Mitochondria can write flame throwers into your DNA.

The story follows Aya Brea, the most drop-dead gorgeous survival horror protagonist I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, three years after saving all of humanity from rogue microscopic organelles with murderous intentions and ambitions of world-domination. Despite the fact that the first game wrapped up all loose ends nice and tight, mitochondria still occasionally alters the DNA of people and animals because if they didn’t, well, the sequel wouldn’t make sense, would it? Aya has pulled a Leon Kennedy, leaving the police force to work as a government agent. Her boss sends her to investigate Raccoon City the town of Dryfield, where she discovers an abandoned underground laboratory dedicated to replicating the T-Virus neo-mitochondria. Oh, what horrors of dialogue writing will she face? What plot holes might she fall into? Stay tuned to find out!

Are you my mummy?

Are you my mummy?

The game plays well, let me say up front. Rather than borrow Resident Evil’s raise-the-gun-and-hope-for-the-best method of aiming, Parasite Eve 2 introduces a lock-on method of aiming, which allows you to point your gun directly at whatever you want to die. You can even see it, too…if the enemy hasn’t wandered out of the pre-rendered camera angle. Battles also have a more realistic flow than in the original game. Granted, from a game play perspective, PE1‘s combat system worked nearly flawlessly. However, it did take a leap of faith to understand why Aya always felt the need to step back and re-evaluate her strategy/situation/life between attacks. PE2 lets her pull the trigger as fast as the bullets come out of the gun.

PE2 drops some RPG elements from the first game, including leveling-up. Throughout the game, guns simply don’t get stronger, and Aya can’t suddenly take a shotgun blast to the face without flinching. On one hand, yes this makes the game more realistic, but assuming most people bought this game based on the merits of the original storyline where a flying opera singer with a velociraptor claw for a lower torso recruits your microscopic organisms to turn traitor and set themselves on fire, I think the target audience only cares about realism to a very small extent. Sacrificing game play for that element of realism may have about the same effect of eating tree bark instead of pasta and expecting health benefits from the all-natural ingredients. It may make you feel good at first, but in the end you’ll find yourself with significantly less health after taking damage in a cut scene. Right before the final boss. Seriously. Fuck you, game.

Then I could do what all snowmen do in summer.

Then I could do what all snowmen do in summer.

This element of realism grows a little murky when calling in to save your game for the first time. PE2 still uses phones as save points, but feels the need to put someone on the other end of the line, and every time you find a phone, after standing there wondering if it dials out (while the player watches, wondering how Aya ever passed high school, let alone her NYPD exams and field tests), we have to listen to the commentary of the NPCs, like a Greek Chorus of Nitwits repeating to the player what we already know. Especially astute players and their walkthroughs might access a minute sub-plot about a mole in the agency, but this proves about as vital and interesting as a pile of toenail clippings. Anyway, the first time you call in to save, your boss authorizes you to use weapons and armor you find on corpses. Thanks chief, but won’t I make the dead guys happier by dying myself rather than taking their stuff?

Bad writing plagues this game. Resident Evil often stitches together stories by ripping pages out of dime store sci-fi novels and pressing them together in whatever order they fall, but next to PE2, Resident Evil rises to the quality of Dostoyevsky. Characters speak in unnatural, stilted dialogue, like a troop of actors who all simultaneously forgot their lines, the premise of the play, and everything they learned since the third grade. Aya, one of the most awesome, badass protagonists of all time suddenly feels the need to flaunt her girliness by criticizing the P.I.’s outfit and telling us about the clearance sale she visited the previous weekend. And let me tell you, nothing builds up to an exciting climax of an epic survival horror game like a series of long, boring cut scenes filled with exposition that won’t matter thirty seconds later.

Smooth. On the upside, I no longer feel as bad for some of my failed attempts at talking to girls in high school.

Smooth. On the upside, I no longer feel as bad for some of my failed attempts at talking to girls in high school.

Ladies and Gentelmen, your villain. Code Name: Love Potion

Ladies and Gentlemen, your villain. Code Name: Love Potion

The original Parasite Eve showed a lot of effort in writing. They showed us a connection between Aya and her antagonist, which made their final confrontation meaningful as more than an obligatory battle. The story gave her doubts and personal conflicts. PE2, on the other hand, refers to the primary antagonist as “the big guy,” and he never takes off his army mask. You don’t know his identity or his motivations, much less how he connects with Aya or the events of the previous game. They introduce a private investigator as sort of a love interest, but they have even less chemistry than Leon and Ada in RE2, spend almost no time together, an remember how I said you lose HP in the cut scene before the final boss fight? Yeah…spoiler alert…he shoots Aya. In order to earn the trust of the villain that he betrays in the same cut scene. But no biggie, right? ‘Cuz he’s a hot guy. What else does he need?

I try to get away, but something irresistible just keeps drawing me back.

I try to get away, but something irresistible just keeps drawing me back.

The game doesn’t suck. Completely. Although I maintain that RE-style walking controls never helped anyone and feel even clunkier here where Aya automatically tries to reorient herself towards her target enemy, thus constantly steering her slightly back towards any enemy she needs to escape. The overly simplistic weapon customization system pales in comparison with PE1. And the puzzles, while they earn bonus points as interesting challenges, might offer too much of a challenge for someone who just wants to get on with the game, thus making a walkthrough necessary for completion. But I did play through the game twice (even though the New Game Plus option gives you nothing worthwhile) in order to get both the bad ending and the…well, still bad, but longer ending.

I couldn't find a clear solution anywhere online. Use this screensshot! This screenshot will help you finish this puzzle!

I couldn’t find a clear solution anywhere online. Use this screen shot! This screen shot will help you finish this puzzle!

I guess the “good” ending best sums up the obliviousness of the development team. A year after Mr. Sack-of-Flour Personality disappears, Aya visits the Museum of Natural History in New York–because when Alan Grant needed to relax, he spent some time on Isla Nublar–and the doors burst open behind her to reveal the Private Investigator, and I couldn’t find myself caring less about this bland, poorly written douchebag who shot me right before the final battle. Kick his ass to the curb, Aya! You can do better than him, and you have a birthday coming up…

Ju-on: Haunted House Simulator – Wii

Taking the week off, everyone! Here’s a review by Anne, the only person I know who has ever told me I’m optimistic. Enjoy!

Juon

Let me start off by saying I HATE THIS GAME! I spent multiple curse filled, blood pressure raising, hours playing this game and even the memories of it make me want to toss my Wii-mote off a tall building. There, with that out of the way I can look at this game a little more objectively but still, you know what you’re in for.

Ju-on: The Haunted House Simulator is, as so many people before me have stated, more of an experience than a real game. It plays in the style of old point and click adventures to a certain extent in that you use the Wii-mote as a flashlight and as a means of telling the lucky character of any given level where to go. This also allows you to interact with a limited number of pre-set objects that either progress the story or cause a jump-scare to occur. I say limited because there are a certain number of paper scraps one must collect in each level and they tend to be hidden in drawers or in mailboxes but it is sometimes difficult to figure out what can be interacted with and what is just a static background piece. The best example I can give is in the security guard level there is a section where you must flush all of the urinals in the men’s bathroom in order to set off the next sequence but prior to this none of the bathrooms have allowed such an option, so the player must go by trial and error to discover what will make the story progress. In addition, if you do not collect all of the pieces in the level you will find yourself replaying as the only way to unlock the final level is through having all of the pages from all of the previous levels completed.

I understand that some people find children creepy...but did he have to drop his pants?

I understand that some people find children creepy…but did he have to drop his pants?

With all of that nitty-gritty detail out of the way let’s talk game play. I would like to start off with one not to subtle hint: there is no run button. Each character walks down their given corridors like they are strolling through a museum rather than being chased for their lives by a vindictive ghost. Personally, if I were in their shoes I would have noped the fuck out of there way before things got as bad as they do and to hell with my dog, my job, or my ‘family’ (I think that’s what they’re indicating with that picture that shows up in each level and the little bit of commentary in the last one?). Picture this if you will: you are walking your dog when it suddenly gets away from you and runs into a darkened warehouse. In the very first room that you enter you hear it barking and attempt to open a set of doors only to be grabbed by something behind the door and shaken. Would you calmly start browsing around for batteries, keys, and hidden pages? I personally would be well on my way to another zip code and hoping the dog was smarter than it looked.

Oh yeah, I'll tell you something I think you'll understand...

Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something I think you’ll understand…

Additionally, and I know this is picking at small details but what is with the trend of having video game protagonists get horse shoes nailed to their feet before any game that involves any level of stealth. This game’s horse shoe sound effects are so bad that there were several times that I missed the beginning of a scare because I couldn’t hear it over my own character’s walking. Again, am I the only one who would be tip-toeing as quietly as possible if I were being chased or even taking off my shoes if they insisted on making that much noise? Also, where does one find a horse-shoer for humans? Is it a niche market? Is there a discount since there are only two feet to shoe or is it extra since you probably have to anaesthetize them so they don’t pass out when you nail the shoe on?

Finally, the motion sensor aspect of this game as a way to simulate a flashlight is actually a really innovative and interesting idea. Newer horror games have run with this theme with the most notable one in recent memory being Outlast. The problem with this is that the Wii-mote sensor in this particular game is AWFUL. I thought I had played bad Wii games before but I was wrong. When my character wasn’t determinedly staring at the ceiling like a paranoid pest control worker he or she would make 180-degree spins to go in the opposite direction of where I needed to go. This wouldn’t have been such a problem except that every level is for all intents and purposes timed due to the shortest lasting batteries that have ever been my honor to curse about. This means that half the time a ‘scary’ nose would occur and I wouldn’t even be looking in the right direction for the scare.

Because nothing horrifies me more than a comically large hair clog in a bathroom drain.

Because nothing horrifies me more than a comically large hair clog in a bathroom drain.

Which brings me to related point. If you run out of batteries or fail a quick time event, which you will because of the aforementioned control issues, you have to start the level all over again from the very beginning. This wouldn’t be such an issue except every last cut scene must be triggered in order in order to progress and the jump scares don’t change. After the first, or heaven forbid eighth time, you go through a level the preset scares simply feel like they’re taking up valuable time and are a chore to slog through. I’ll admit that every once in a great long while you’ll find an optional jump scare that you may have missed along the way but it is extremely rare and yet these soon to be yawn worthy moments still lead to the ‘scared’ and ‘sissy’ meters at the end of a level somehow filling even if you in no way waggle the controller during one.

...Seems legit. Nothing bad ever happens to anyone who crawls into a jagged hole in a fence in the middle of the night when surrounded by blood.

…Seems legit. Nothing bad ever happens to anyone who crawls into a jagged hole in a fence in the middle of the night when surrounded by blood.

One memorable time I was playing through a level for the umpteenth time and finally completed it only for the game to taunt me with a quip about my basically needing to go hide under a blanket while during the very next level when I nearly jumped out of my skin at a well placed and new to me jump scare it told me I had nerves of steel.

Now here is the part of the review that I like to call ‘random crap that was said during the game’. Some of this will actually be from my brother’s run as I made him play it to make up for him making me play through the first level of Dark Souls II blind (and I don’t play that type of game so I had no idea what to do at first) and spent a good hour or so laughing at me.

~’This looks like the owner’s own personal crop of weed.’ -Regarding the field from level 3 (the delivery boy level) with the grass covered play set and oddly shaped ‘plants’.

~’This person should just lay down the cash to get an LED flashlight or even a crank operated one.’ -Regarding the quickly draining batteries of the flashlights in every level.

~’This is a sign that you’ve taken your delivery to the next level… neither rain, nor sleet, nor slashing knife…’ ‘Oh, no worries, some days are just so strange.’ -Regarding the delivery man not only entering the apartment to attempt to deliver the package but then continues wandering around the buildings afterward rather that high-tailing it out of there.

~’That guy needs to wear bifocals!’ -Regarding the delivery man’s need to hold the package right up to his eye in order to check the address and later being unable to see more than an inch or two in front of his face.

~’Not the death tuba!’ -After yet again missing a jump-scare because my character was facing the entirely wrong direction.

Sacks of bloody garbage bags outside this creepy abandoned apartment? Seems like an invitation to go inside instead of leaving the package on the door step like a normal UPS guy!

Sacks of bloody garbage bags outside this creepy abandoned apartment? Seems like an invitation to go inside instead of leaving the package on the door step like a normal UPS guy!

So is the game worth the play through, I hear nobody ask. In my opinion no. It has all of the ideas and elements to be a great game from the haunting locations and claustrophobic environments of the classic Silent Hill games to the raging jump scares that we’ve come to associate with games like Five Nights at Freddy’s. The problem is that it has extremely limited replay value and even then it isn’t all that scary. I spent most of the short play time simply re-doing levels where I had failed a quick time sequence due to poor control sensitivity or looking for the annoying and sometimes ridiculously placed page fragments that truly require a walk-through to locate. This is made double frustrating by the fact that the levels are so dark that sometimes you don’t know if you’re actually progressing or simply have collided with an obstacle that you can’t see and are slamming the character uselessly and repeatedly against said immovable object. Darkness is atmospheric but it is not, in and of itself, scary.

In addition, the Grudge lady is poorly animated from her chunky octopus hair to her albino son who is practicing his cat calls. Even fans of the original movies are going to be disappointed as there is minimal plot other than that one or all of the characters in the game may or may not be living at the original Grudge site. If the game gave us any reason to relate to or even empathize with the characters this might have played out differently but as it is, slapping a name on the beginning of each level and then asking the player to feel bad when they ultimately meet their untimely demise is bad story writing. This is not to say the game can’t be entertaining for a short time but at least this gamer spent more of her time cursing poor controller sensitivity and crappy batteries then actually feeling frightened and in a haunted house simulator, the sense of impending doom is everything.