Hollow Knight – Switch, PS4, XBox One, PC, Linux

Screenshot from 2019-07-04 20-46-44

The knight collapses due to his hollowness, despite a fully functioning exoskekleton

I swear I’m heading back to Resident Evil soon. I just sort of got distracted by a nice shiny indie game with high reviews and a chance to play it for free. Indie games, for those of you not in the loop, are a refreshing departure from Triple-A, big game industry games who constantly repeat the same tired tropes over and over in a cheap attempt to make more money. Indy games are passion projects, works of art freed from the constraints of capitalism to grow and shape themselves as unique and innovative gems. So, naturally, it’s an open-world Metroidvania platformer that tries to carve a name for itself for being tough-as-balls.

Hollow Knight is the worst game I’ve ever wanted to finish. Or the best game I’ve ever panned. Eh. I’m not sure. I like Metroidvania games, and I often wished there were more 2D Metroids or a little more meat to Castlevania, but It’s one thing to draw out a 4-hour game to 10 hours. But the over 30 hours I sunk into Hollow Knight is like being caught smoking and forced to smoke the whole pack. And much of that is just padding with trolling on the part of the game designers—the platforms are tiny, the checkpoints are an endangered species, and even with the weapon upgrades, the bosses (and some regular enemies) feel like plywood piñatas. There are about 30 bosses in the game, and not a damn one of them knows how to die just before the Groundhog Day battles get boring and tedious.

Screenshot from 2019-07-12 21-04-28

As his ACME bomb blows up in his face, the Knight fails to slay the Roadrunner.

Multiple lives have always been a staple of video games. Generally, I like to think that the handful of deaths don’t count, and that all the successes meld together to tell the story of an impressive video game hero who survives against all odds. Unfortunately, at a certain point, the sheer quantity of mortal coils you shuffle off starts to form the narrative of a compulsive gambler losing game after game trying desperately to hit it big once. One day alone I spent roughly two hours trying to fight a single battle. Every time a gate slammed closed behind me, I’d have to clear my schedule for the next two days.

Screenshot from 2019-07-12 20-58-11

Hey, if you’re into that sort of thing…

Maybe the metastasized difficulty added replay value when I was a kid and owned about ten games total, but I’ve got a job now. Come on, Hollow Knight! I’ve got shit to do! Other games to play! I can’t afford to be wasting my life on your sorry bug-ridden ass! Hollow Knight is that professor who assigns homework as though you’re not taking any other classes for six months.

While it makes a lot of people’s must-play lists, I can’t help but get the impression I’ve played this before. The plot came from Bioshock. The music came from Journey. The expansive travel-anywhere-from-the-beginning came from Breath of the Wild. The art style came from Shovel Knight. Let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with an eclectic pastiche of good ideas from elsewhere, especially if you feel like playing a wilderness survival critique of Ayn Rand with mythological overtones and absolutely no checkpoints, but I feel like I could have played all those other games back-to-back instead and saved a little time.

Screenshot from 2019-07-12 20-30-16

Ahhhh! That’s the last time I ask for extra beans at Chipotle!

I finished. I clocked in with a 67% completion rate and, no surprise, the worst of five endings. And I mean really bad; not only was everything the same at the end of the game, but nothing ever changed to begin with. I could down two liters of milk while eating a porterhouse steak smothered in cheese and habanero sauce, and I’d probably feel more complete and satisfied with the ensuing bowel movement.

Screenshot from 2019-07-12 20-53-27

Usually a gathering of creepy crawlies costs me money. I want the bugs that’ll turn a profit.

For all the sense this makes, Hollow Knight’s problem is that it is such a good game that I have to keep playing, as frustrating as it is, that it’s good enough to get through in spite of its flaws, but those flaws are still shaving a good three or four years of my life, absorbing it like soul…and then giving it to other people.

Seriously. Two days before I posted this, I watched a 2019 SGDQ speed run of Hollow Knight, and halfway through, Team Cherry—who designed the game—called in with a $10,000 donation.

Screenshot from 2019-07-12 21-18-25

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Onimusha Series – PS2, XBox, PS4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch

Onimusha
Shit! People are reading now…and they seemed to like the “Every Game In The Series” stunt I pulled with Resident Evil. What other series do I have? Mega Man? Nah, they’re all the same. Final Fantasy? Goodbye, next five years of my life. Fire Emblem? Where were you when I did that the first time! Damn it! I’m just not ready to be done with Resident Evil! I need more! Isn’t there anything like those classic games, where you wander back and forth through a haunted mansion looking for keys and solving puzzles? Screw this! I’m playing Onimusha.

Onimusha 1

Sato Castle…Feudal Japan’s version of the Raccoon City Police Department

Onimusha, if you didn’t immediately catch the joke, is a game set in feudal Japan where a samurai, Samanosuke, wanders back and forth through a demon-infested castle looking for keys and solving puzzles. It’s survivally horrorish, except that a mainstay of survival horror is the conservation of ammunition. As one tends not to reload a sword all that often, the game adopts a more adventure-y feel.

Onimusha Fortinbras

I am Fortinbras! Japanese demon king who has a penchant for naming my underlings after characters from Hamlet for some reason!

One of the more interesting aspects of the game is that it was based on actual historical figures and locations. Oda Nobunaga really did fight the battle at the beginning of the game, and then laid siege to the Saito clan’s Inabayama castle. He was, as we find out in the third game, finally defeated at Honno-ji, by Mitsuhide Akechi (uncle of the fictional protagonist, Samanosuke Akechi), possibly over a contention with another of Nobunaga’s retainers, Mori Ranmaru. Of course, saying that Onimusha is based on historical events is on par with saying that William the Conqueror won the battle of Hastings with a contingent of trolls and a magical amulet provided by Doc Brown and his Delorean. The real Nobunaga is respected as one of the great unifiers of Japan, while the Nobunaga of the Onimusha series is basically the child born after Hannibal Lecter raped Satan at Auschwitz. And also, I’m pretty sure he didn’t make a pact with demons after they resurrected him and drink the blood of a Saito princess from her own skull. But I wasn’t there. Don’t quote me on that one.

So the game plays out pretty much like a Resident Evil game with a little faster pace. The only complaints I have are that the game feels too short, and also that the sequels played with this design like two monkeys flinging shit at each other. For instance, the second game, Samurai’s Destiny, takes the God-of-War-2 style cliffhanger from the first game—Nobunaga, imbued with fresh demon powers, menacingly approaching Samanosuke after he transformed into the Oni Warrior—and runs it through an industrial garbage disposal, washing it down with a steady flow of sulfuric acid. They never come back to that. It feels like that game where you tell a story one sentence at a time, and then pass to the next person for the next sentence, except one of you is trying to write a Game-of-Thrones sex-murder scene while the other one is channeling the more conservative parts of Jane Austin.

Onimusha 2

Highlight of the game was playing with the stacked Asian chick with the European fighting style.

To be fair, both Onimusha 1 and 2 are good games, but in the way where Final Fantasy 7 and Grand Theft Auto are both good games; you’ll play them both, but when someone tries to tell you they’re related, you react the way you do to the people who accost you on the street to tell you that Jesus is returning in his flying saucer as soon as the shadow government decides to release flux capacitor technology to the public. Samurai’s Destiny just straightens out the map like it can’t waste time wandering around some damn haunted house because it’s got somewhere to be. And then it ramps up the difficulty to ensure it won’t get there on time. In my defense, though, I made it all the way to Nobunaga’s final form before I collapsed like a pavlova with bad knees and lowered the difficulty. So…almost good enough, I guess?

Onimusha 3: Demon Siege is where things start going hilariously off the rails.

“You know what we need in our epic historical samurai series?”

“Is it it modern day French guy?”

“Close.”

“Is it a modern French guy and 21st Century France?”

“You know me so well!”

“Hey, isn’t there a tough guy in France?”

Onimusha Frat

It’s amazing how thousands of miles away and 400 years apart, the secret frat handshake still works.

And so they hired Jean Reno to play—wanna guess?—a bad-ass French cop…who was chosen by the Oni clan to fight Oda Nobunaga, the great unifier of Japan and accused demon colluder. Meanwhile, Samanosuke gets a well-deserved vacation in 21st century France, chumming around with Reno’s son and girlfriend, helping them resolve some deep-seated resentment between the two. Because the core of any game about surviving an onslaught of demons is a relatable, human conflict about the potential usurpation of an absent mother. And what better vehicle for resolution than a hapless time-traveling samurai who somehow speaks fluent modern French? And while he’s there, Samanosuke gets to take in the sights: Notre Dame, the Arc D’Triumph, Mont-Saint-Michel, and the Eiffel Tower, all of which currently suffer from a Genma demon infestation.

Meanwhile, Jean Reno (what was his character’s name? Give me a moment. I have to look this up…Jaques Blanc. Wait, seriously? Jack White? Did Capcom literally name the only European in Japan “White”? I’m sure there’s also a White-Stripes-Seven-Nation-Army joke in there somewhere, but I’m too lazy to find it right now.) Anyway, Jaques gets dropped into feudal Japan, where a radioactive KISS fan tells him to go slaughter the head of state, and Jaques signs up without so much as checking Wikipedia for potential historical ramifications. But hey, to prevent any zany cultural mishaps (you know, other than murdering their de facto shogun), they send Jacques on his way with…Navi.

Onimusha Aku

I hate you already.

Well, not quite Navi, but basically the same thing. A tiny little girl (ostensibly a tengu, but actually a discount Barbie with wings) who buzzes your head like a mosquito at a rave. Because those first two games were apparently so terrible that they needed to add the only character more obnoxious than Slippy Toad.

Onimusha Siege

Demon seige. Or, rather, melee, which is the complete opposite of a siege, but points for trying.

And…honestly, I can’t even begin to describe how weird this is. Your obnoxious guide spontaneously gains the ability to travel through time and carry objects back and forth, but not Samanosuke or Jaques. You land on a 17th century ship in Japan sailing to an underground Shinto temple in Paris. Jaques’ motorcycle appears out of nowhere for no reason other than a kick-ass scene where he guns it off a dock and onto the departing ship. And the Genma somehow build a device on the Eiffel tower to fold time. I’ve had more coherent mushroom trips.

So yeah…the hole in my heart left by squishing zombie heads was sadly not filled by Onimusha. I guess I have no choice but to plod on and hope RE7 goes back to its roots, as they say. And now for something completely different…

Resident Evil 6 – PS3, PS4, XBox One, XBox 360, Switch, Microsoft Windows

 

RE6 Sherry Jake

They’ve known each other about a week and she’s already giving him the “I’ve got a headache” excuse.

Hello, everyone. I just wanted to pop in to say something unheard of happened in the last two months since my RE5 post. We’re talking alignment-of-the-planets rare, the birth and death of stars rare, something of Big Bang or otherwise astrological frequency; someone started reading me. And not just one person…like, four or five people subscribed to Retrocookie. So you have managed to drag me back here, away from my play script about the secret agent convention. Probably for the best. My writing style was dangerously similar to a torrent stalling out at 93%. I’d make myself promises, come up with deadlines, then sit down and type out two or three lines per week. But hell, with that work ethic, I could be sitting on top of the next Song of Ice and Fire book.

So thank you to those of you who started following me. Sorry that it might take me a while to get myself running at full capacity, but I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve; take time off from work, drink a nice cup of high-end tea, and blow in the cartridge a bit (note: don’t actually blow in your cartridges Your connection pins aren’t dusty, and we’ve lost too many classic games to Dorito spittle). Good news is, Anne’s black belt in Demanding Toddler style kung fu has beaten me down enough to buy a PS4. So after writing about a few games I’ve played in the interim, I’ll be right back to finish the series with Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 7.

For now, let me amuse you by interpreting the notes I made over two months ago:

1. Sherry’s jiggles – Yes, this is the little girl from RE2. But she’s all grown up now into a mature, highly-trained BSAA agent, just waiting to be objectified by thousands of lonely teenage boys. Although Capcom gave her a reasonable athletic figure, her small breasts happen to jiggle as though she’s replaced the standard bullet-proof kevlar vest by stuffing her bra with ballistic gel. It’s actually a nice touch that they thought to bring her back, and to make her a playable character, and create a missing son for Wesker so they riff on classic archetypal themes of redeeming themselves for their father’s sins of mutating their genetics until they become aggressive mutants hell-bent on mass murder. Unfortunately, they just didn’t. I guess breast physics were considered a bit more meaningful. And to top it all off, while both Sherry and Wesker’s son, Jake (Grammar nazis, note how I skillfully avoided any Oxford Comma confusion there!) are playable characters, the game just assumes you’ll want to play as the beefy, muscle head that no one has ever heard of instead of the established character with a feminine deficit of testosterone.

RE6 Sherry

This is a designer hospital gown. You know…if your ass hanging out isn’t good enough, this way your tits can come loose in any of a dozen directions. Although looking closely, I think that’s a push-up hospital gown.

2. Off screen deaths – Yeah, sorry, but the T-Virus (or G-Virus or Plagas or Oroburous or whatever Sesame Street villain is sponsoring this game) must have been developed from cat DNA, because if a character dies off-screen, you’re not fooling anyone. He’s coming back. Hell, if a character dies on-screen there’s about a 75% chance they’ll just shake off that drill through the torso or rocket blast to the face with a good nap.

3. China falling apart? – Was I making a note here or commenting on the state of global affairs? Not sure what I wanted to say here.

4. Lava rooms – for definite deaths – Okay, whatever I said earlier, we all know as soon as you step into a room full of lava, that you’re ready for an epic showdown. Sudden, inexplicable rooms full of magma are the Chekhov’s Gun of video games.

5. Not dead–just very badly burned – Okay, sorry…forget what I just said. In addition to liquid hot mag-ma, we also have a character who isn’t dead…just very badly burned. Capcom is now taking inspiration not so much from classic Resident Evil games, but from classic Austin Powers movies. Groovy, baby.

RE6 Leon

Ever fire two guns whilst jumping through the air?

6. Leon, he’s obviously a zombie – Arguably, no character is as bad-ass as Leon Kennedy, now on his third Zom-pocalypse (fourth, if you count Resident Evil Gaiden. I don’t.). So then why does his scenario opened with this seasoned horror veteran trying to reason with a man who obviously has nothing on his brain except other brains?

RE6 Pres

They turned the president into a mindless beast ready to devour those closest to him to satisfy his own monstrous hunger. And Sci-Fi continues to be prophetic.

7. Villain dressed like a plantation owner – Umm…well, he is. I remember that. But why? Is it to make some statement on how zombifying two major world powers is akin to enslavement? Or, more likely, plantation owners are both well-dressed and historically confirmed douchebags.

8. Hours of credits – Seriously, you’re going to give us four different scenarios, and then make us read through your entire marketing and design department staff roster each time?

9. Resident = Whole world – We have now reached the loosest definition of the term “resident” here, as we are no longer confined to a haunted house, castle or city. Our heroes are now cleansing evil from the U.S., China, and parts of Europe as well (convenient, at least, that all three apocalypses have the decency to unfold concurrently). Before I make any assertions that, even if Capcom isn’t playing by the rules anymore, we can still believe that we are all residents of the earth, let me wait to see if they put RE8 on fucking Mars.

RE6 Sherry 2

Who is more mentally ill? Sherry for squeezing into the exact outfit she wore in RE2, or the guys who actually want to see her do that?

In sum, Resident Evil 6 is a game that can appeal to everyone. For those of you who want a traditional apocalypse filled with zombies and confined spaces, you can play through Leon’s scenario (although you will have to put up with a segment where Leon quite literally jumps a shark). For those of you who enjoyed the thrill of running from Nemesis through Racoon City, Sherry’s scenario will keep your heart beating. Meanwhile, for those of you who don’t like Resident Evil at all and would much rather be playing Call of Duty, Chris has a scenario that might be more up your alley. And finally, if stealth, subterfuge, and espionage is more your thing, you can play as Ada wong. This multi-scenario system ensures that the only people who will walk away frustrated and disappointed, are fans of classic Resident Evil games.

RE6 Chris

For those of you who loved Chris’s wits and strength to get out of horrific situations, enjoy him with a team full of army dudes and lots of guns!

Pick a target audience, game developers. If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up with a game that disappoints everyone.

Final Score:

Chris B
Sherry B
Leon A
Ada ?

RE6 Monsters

Resident Evil 5 – PS3, PS4, XBox One XBox360

 

RE5 Chris and Sheva

Sheva displaying her assets in profile.

Hi guys! It’s been a few weeks. I’d like to feed you the old line, “I’ve been focusing on bigger projects lately,” but yesterday the only thing I did was think up funny announcements you might hear at a conference for spies. So here’s the fruit of my labor:  Will the owner of a blue 2020 Aston Martin with the rotating license plates LQE601, 689GMW and XPZ755, please report to the valet? Your headlight machine guns are on.

I’m reaching home base on this project. Well, let me rephrase that. I’ll reach home, providing no one minds that second base is literally nowhere to be found and the distance between 3rd base and home plate is only half its regulation length. I don’t have anything that can play Resident Evil 7 or the RE2 Remake, and the only used game store around here, EB Games, won’t sell anything older than one generation back, making New Zealand the Logan’s Run of the video game world. Technically, I could call it quits after this post, as already wrote about RE6 as one of my first entries, and I don’t really think the Mercenaries needs its own post. But for now, at least, let’s deal with Resident Evil 5.

RE5 is notorious for not only forcing yet another unwanted partner on the player, but for giving that partner an intelligence only slightly higher than a blackface minstrel show held face-down in a toilet for a good seven minutes. My first run of this game, the only one I had done until now, I took all the critics’ warnings and forced Anne to play alongside me. Playing through it solo this time, I’ve come to the conclusion that either A) they’ve patched the partner mechanics in the intervening years or B) Anne has the motor control and reaction time of a sunflower on a frosty morning.

RE5 - Monty Mole

Monty Mole must have been hard up for work after Super Mario Bros 3

Was Sheva perfect? No. But judging by multiple introductions where the camera opens, fixated on her chest as though it might treat us to a good motorboating, the developers weren’t actually aiming to build a skilled warrior. But be it patches that introduce Cover and Attack modes, or just plain old ingenuity, I found that what she lacked in her contributions to combat, she more than made up for as a sturdy pack mule: load her down with empty weapons and ammo for guns she doesn’t have and make sure you get to the herbs before she does or she’ll smoke them faster than those college students who dug up the parsley in Anne’s herb garden.

It’s not exactly doing much to improve on accusations of racism, Capcom, to have your black character a drug-crazed idiot whose best use is physical labor.

Is Resident Evil 5 racist? Well yes, but honestly it’s no less racist than sending a pretty white boy to shoot up an underprivileged hispanic neighborhood. It wasn’t even the white-on-black violence that really pushed it over the edge for me. It was the fact that Chris pillages his way through Africa, appropriating cultural artifacts to sell for his weaponry addiction. If there were any more capitalistic exploitation, he’d have to wear a monocle and carry around two giant sacks with dollar signs printed on them.

RE5 - Chainsaw

This guy can take a gun store to the face and still have the wherewithal to slice your neck cleanly.

Okay, but really…ignoring the kum-ba-yas and social justice warriors…is it a good game? Can it compare with the masterpiece that was Resident Evil 4? Be assured that Capcom noted everything that gave RE4 it’s uncanny-valley sort of charm–the lonely, unnerving atmosphere, the chill of night, the weirdly cockney merchant–and chewed it up and shat it out, in favor of doubling down on quick-time events and babysitting an obnoxious partner. Okay, okay, I’m being a bit unfair to Sheva, who seems to have studied medicine under Dr. Arthur Fonzarelli, and has the power to (usually) come over when you’re dying and give you a good, swift pound in the chest to fix you right up.

They also repeated one of the more annoying story moments in Resident Evil 4. Remember that cut scene of Saddler on the island, telling a new subordinate to prepare to fight Leon, and then they show Krauser in a dramatic reveal, as though we’re supposed to know who he is? They do that again. All of a sudden, the mysterious ninja plague doctor who’s popped in and out of the story pulls down her cowling to reveal a blond woman in a skin-tight blue bodysuit. While I’m reeling from the wonderment of how Samus Aran wound up in 21st century Africa, the game tells me it’s supposed to be Jill.   

I don’t know. It’s okay, I guess. And the Mercenaries mini-game is always worth playing. But I just can’t get around the fact that the story is the least atmospheric of any RE game, being set in broad daylight, or the fact that both Chris and Sheva have a sort of shared tourette’s syndrome and can’t help but shout out the word “partner” at odd intervals. At least Africa was built with plenty of doors that require two people to turn a key simultaneously, otherwise we might not know how useful a partner could be.

RE5 - Gutter

Chris and Sheva…minds in the gutter.

Final Grade…shit, did I miss this?

Resident Evil Revelations – 3DS, PS3, Switch, PS4, XBox 360, XBox One, Wii U

RE - RevelationsThere are some tell-tale signs that a TV series has jumped the shark: they introduce new characters that no one cares about, they send the cast off to a tropical resort or cruise, they start writing convoluted multi-episode arcs that require a synopsis at the beginning of each episode, or they have a character physically jump over a great white shark to heighten an absurd sense of tension.  Coincidentally, this week we’re discussing Resident Evil: Revelations, an RE spinoff game with a slew of boring, nameless playable characters set on a Mediterranean cruise ship and released episodically with a “Previously on…” recap at the beginning of each chapter. (What? You expected me to work in all four scenarios? Don’t you remember Resident Evil 1? By that standard, this series literally jumped the shark in the first installment. Yes, that is the series I have decided to play in its entirety.)

RE - Characters

They team you up with Parker “Jowles” Luciano, apparently a middle aged man given a new lease on life after suffering a heart attack and an unexpected divorce. Or so I assume from his fat face.

Despite taking place between Resident Evil 4 and 5, the game was released in 2012, shortly before Resident Evil 6.  At this point, Capcom had stopped designing realistic monsters and just started putting blobfish in the microwave for a good, stout turn. Among these is a particularly obnoxious monster just called “Rachel,” who appears as a common enemy who, we are supposed to understand, is the same monster in every single encounter, one who will not die in spite of carrying around enough lead in her lungs to build a bomb shelter. Also, they brought back hunters. Of course they did. And to make them piss me off even more, they made them invisible. So in a game in which ammo is scarce, I have two monsters who suck in metal like they’re going to build an SUV out of it, but one of them also has the power of the One Ring.

RE - Monsters

This monster clearly represents how I feel after eating at Burger King.

But actually, in spite of that, there’s not too much to complain about.  There is the constant reminder that each mission was released episodically, and every single one still retains the “Previously on Resident Evil Revelations” like a daytime soap opera where instead of the characters getting cancer, the cancer comes to life, grows to hideous proportions, and tries to saw them in half with a circular saw.  Unfortunately, with the usual convolution of Resident Evil writing, such a recap helped me understand the plot about as well as Chinese subtitles.

Mostly As and Ss

Accuracy 80%    A

Deaths 23        A

Clear Time 6:56’26”

RE - Parker

This picture looks like Parker overcoming some deap-seated childhood trauma that has forever made him fearful of defending those he loved through violent means. Or maybe I’m just reading way too much into his fat face.

Shadow of Mordor -PS4, PS3, XBox One, XBox 360, PC

shadow-of-mordor-screenshot-gollum-and-ghost

Shadow of Mordor is, quite simply, an Assassin’s Creed clone. Forgive me for going straight for the punchline like I could only afford five minutes with a prostitute, but the fact that Monolith Productions spent ten minutes alone with the Xerox machine in Ubisoft’s office is actually more of a starting point than a final judgment. See, creating a clone of a well-known game tends to present a problem when that game already has a nasty habit of cloning itself. What exactly can you do when trying to emulate a game known for glitches, repetitive meaningless tasks, combat that ramps up the difficulty so slightly that old men race their wheelchairs across it, and a story that aspires to be the novelization of it’s own movie adaptation? Turns out, you can make a halfway decent game.

I say halfway, though because that’s about as far as they got. Monolith cleaned up a lot of the trash lying around Ubisoft’s apartment, but one can only do so much after the carpet has developed a healthy substrate of mycelium and the mushrooms just keep growing back. The story, for example, reads as eloquently as a Trump tweet and contains about as much Tolkien lore as one can glean from finding a copy of the Silmarillion during an especially problematic bowel movement. It opens on Talion, a ranger of Gondor (a job description about as endemic to Middle Earth as “LGBT Bible Salesman of Kansas”) who suffers the obligatory wife-and-child-murder scenario in the opening scene, thus absolving him of any pesky responsibility that would prevent him from romping through the Mordor countryside murdering orcs (because let’s be honest, the one thing we took from the Star Wars Holiday Special is that Chewie is a deadbeat dad who neglects his family as long as it’s not Life Day). He then gets himself possessed by an elven wraith whose true identity will both momentarily amaze die-hard Tolkien fans and confuse anyone who didn’t feel like reading the Bible of Middle Earth. Together they romp through the Mordor countryside, shoving Talion’s sword into so many Uruk-hai that if his blade doesn’t kill them, they’ll probably contract Uruk-HIV and die of Uruk-aids anyway. Rinse and repeat for thirty hours, then kill Sauron in a climactic boss battle that makes Inglorious Basterds look like an introduction to European History course.

Middle-earth™: Shadow of Mordor™_20140926235526

Just a scratch.

Gameplay closely resembles Assassin’s Creed, except Shadow of Mordor doesn’t need to dig up a steady supply of Borgias to assassinate—instead you declare genocidal war on all things green and smelly and you have no end to the supply of Uruks to break your falls from high places. Literally. There’s no end. Many of the monsters you kill come back to life, which gets frustrating when you’re trying to whittle Sauron’s army down to nothing, but to be fair, you come back when they kill you, so I’ll allow them the handicap. Shadow of Mordor also trashes the combat from Assassin’s Creed, so gone is the feeling of trying to beat your way out of a refrigerator with a tire iron, and instead you get more of a feel for how Batman would get on in Middle Earth—both combat and stealth seems to have been lifted straight out of Arkham Asylum. It skews the stealth unrealistically, to the vein of assuming Sauron’s entire army is recovering from Lasik surgery over the same two-day period. At times, Talion would run full-bent towards them, stab them in the face, and then sneak around behind the orc who just witnessed the death, only to hear that orc say, “What was that? Did something move over there?” Absurdly unrealistic as this may be, I wholeheartedly approve of the change. Assassin’s Creed went the route of realistic, which broke the mechanics—sitting on a bench or pushing your way into a gaggle of whores sounded like a really cool assassin stealth technique, but most guards were still smart enough to figure out that there weren’t too many giant hulking men in huge white cloaks carrying more cutlery than a Ginsu commercial through Renaissance Italy.

screenshot-from-2017-03-01-10-49-22

The Force has a strong influence on the weak mind.

When you’re not punching holes in the Uruks like you expect to find a prize inside, you travel around the Mordor countryside picking up trash and cleaning up graffiti. These mini-quests do nothing other than give you minute amounts of experience points and, of course, to clean up the place a bit and make Mordor great again. While it sounds useless, again, it’s an improvement over Assassin’s creed where you chase after boxes of useless cash. At least the XP gives you access to new abilities, and while many games grant you abilities that end up being longer, more complicated ways of accomplishing what is easier gained by punching enemies in the face, I actually found myself using almost all of the skills I unlocked by the end.

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This is lame. Why am I not riding a fucking direwolf?

Mordor apparently isn’t big on diversity, and you only really fight four different monsters throughout the game. But that’s fine, right? After all, Tolkien used excruciating detail—sometimes so excruciating that his readers actually felt right there, suffering Gollum’s torture—but he didn’t invent more than a handful of species of monsters. So it’s okay if we only get to fight orcs and uruks, wargs, spiders, trolls, dragons and balrogs. Except we never fight anything nearly as interesting as a dragon or a balrog…the swarming, skittering monsters are zombie-like ghuls instead of spiders, the giant hulking monsters are called graugs, not trolls, the bipedal wolf-like monsters are carragors, not wargs, and the game doesn’t mention orcs other than to say, “these ain’t them.” But don’t worry…there’s literally no end to the supply of Uruk-hai willing to fight you, and each one of them has a nice little speech to deliver before you get to start the battle.

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Man-swine! Let me go into extended detail on my displeasure with our previous encounter, be it for my demise or your return from yours.

Apparently the version of the game I played is not the one I was supposed to. The PS3 and the Xbox 360 editions are, from what I read online, the PS4 edition after being dragged through a mud puddle and then stored for a week in the rotting carcass of a sperm whale. But what it lacks in aesthetic value, it more than makes up for in loading and saving times, making Shadow of Mordor a great game to play when you have a few dozen small chores around the house, but you’re only willing to use the time going in and out of menus to do them. When you account for menu transitions, listening to each uruk tell you its life story, reloading after it kills you, and watching the WWE of Mordor as the uruks kill each other and level-up during death transitions, a 40-hour game quickly turns into about eight or nine hours of gameplay.

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Tinder profiles in Mordor.

The game touts its Nemesis system, which as far as I can tell is a fancy way of saying “we randomly generate enemies, then assign them a name.” Although this feels to me like Monolith’s main selling point is something I did with Lego guys when I was six, the enemies do feel like they have a little more personality than the goons in other games, and the names sound Tolkien-esque (One notable uruk goes by “Ratbag,” clearly inspired by the orcs from the book, Shagrat and Gorbag), even if I have to ride whatever the hell a caragor is in order to kill them. Supposedly, the PS3 version’s Nemesis system functions about as well as a cassette tape in an MRI machine, but I suspect the nearly three-hour update required when I first booted the game fixed some of that. Just add that to the game’s non-play-time counter.

Shovel Knight – Computer, 3DS, PS Vita, PS3, PS4, XBox One, WiiU

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Shortly, all games will legally require artwork wherein all the game’s characters stampede outwards from the box in dramatic recreation of either the Big Bang or a Kool Aid commercial.

Shovel Knight? Meh. Might as well see what all the fuss is about.

If you haven’t heard of Shovel Knight by now, then congratulations for having successfully avoided the wave of fan-made, kickstarted indie games that constantly threaten to take the game industry by storm and put an end to the soulless vacuum of triple-A games developed by people who know what they’re doing. Okay, so that’s a bit harsh, and I’ve said before I’m convinced that Shigeru Miyamoto is the only one who actually knows how to make a game, and anyone else with a modicum of success has just blundered upon it accidentally, enabling them to go on to make other games that have a chance of being good. Sort of a video game evolution, like a dolphin who manages to survive global warming because some random mutation made it enjoy swimming around in boiling Coke. While the indie movement is praised as revolutionary, I suspect it’s simply spreading out funds, talent and attention and it won’t stop until every game out there is as bland as Call of Duty, Madden and Rock Band. (At that point, no doubt, developers will want to capitalize on the craze of blandness and come up with games that creatively put instruments in the hands of football teams and make them go out and fight brown people.) Don’t believe me? Ask yourself why we have a thousand TV channels that all show reality TV, or why we have hundreds of musical genres that all suck.

Still, in spite of the musical smegma and TV programming that will shortly be replaced by high-definition mirrors, every so often we get something good. Likewise, in the world where everyone with a “Unity for Dummies” book is trying to publish a reinvigorated spiritual successor to what they view as the under-appreciated adaptation of Where’s Waldo for the NES, sometimes a game comes along that shines so brightly in the sunrise that the world stops and turns in unison to gaze on the wonders that private developers have wrought into being.

Shovel Knight is not that game.

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Honestly, I’m not even sure if this is a screenshot from the game or if there’s been some expansion released.

Let’s start with the formalities. Shovel Knight takes place in a world where brutal violence by an elite aristocracy is looked on as cute and quirky, so long as the knights are paired up with mundane objects or themed personae rejected by the worst of indie comic book villains. Fresh off a marathon of indie horror movies, Shovel Knight fights with a sharp wit and an undeserved feeling of righteousness and indignation for those who lead a morally inferior lifestyle. Just kidding! He bludgeons his enemies on the head with a shovel. Having shoveled on my own once or twice, I can say those things don’t like to cut through grass roots without the weight of an obese manatee pushing down on them. A knight fighting with a shovel may sound cute, but we’re talking about a painful and slow death here. At least with a razor-sharp broadsword, your enemies will suffer clean deaths, bleeding out in moments. Anyway, Shovel Knight has a friend named Shield Knight. Shield Knight, presumably pissed off that she got saddled with the same character class as Goofy from Kingdom hearts, ditches the loser who would swagger onto the battlefield with a paintbrush after watching The Karate Kid. Then a bunch of other knights appear and…something. I guess Shovel Knight feels the need to prove the tactical superiority of yard work.

Okay, on the surface, I’ll give it this much; Shovel Knight is brilliantly conceived, well-executed, and hits on most of the right retro qualities to potentially make it a fun game. The game feels like Capcom’s Duck Tales more than anything else, although the stage layouts feel more like Mega Man, the overworld map is in the style of Mario 3, and there’s a town with simple quests Shovel Knight can accept, kind of like…Wikipedia goes with The Adventure of Link. Why not? Sounds good. I admit that during the first stage, I had a lot of fun learning the ropes, digging crap out of the ground, and hopping around on my pogo-shovel without questioning it any more than I did the fact that Scrooge McDuck apparently uses a pogo-stick as a cane. After the tutorial stage, I moved onto the town, thinking it could be really fun trying to collect special items in each stage and trade them for equipment and upgrades. Brilliant! Finding a way to expand on retro games without losing the 8-bit feel!

Then I spent an hour and a half trying to get through the next stage without snapping my 3DS in half.

The other trend spreading like gonorrhea through the fan-rom-hack and indie-game community is to make games hard. Really hard. Like, hard enough that when you beat them you feel a wave of remorse for working on the game with a dedicated passion that you could have used to cure cancer or reverse climate change. After all, the harder the game, the better, right? Why can’t every game be Kaizo Mario?

Let’s talk. Hard games aren’t inherently good games. Some good games are hard. Some hard games are good. The reason people make hard games isn’t because they’re more fun to play, it’s because they’re easier to make. I always questioned why Bowser didn’t knock down some of the platforms over his lava pits, or why he didn’t just build a wall around the first level to prevent Mario from reaching the flagpole. (Although, economic experts in the Mushroom Kingdom suggest the wall would cost billions of dollars to build, staff and maintain, and it wouldn’t stop Mario from entering level 1-2 on a legal visa and overstaying his visit) These things would have been really easy to do and they would have made the game impossible—which means best game ever, right?

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This looks exciting. Too bad I couldn’t make it that far.

No. See, it takes nothing to hack Castlevania to put a boss rush in level one. But does the player have the skill right off the bat (heh, heh) to deal with five bosses at once? Do they have the equipment and power-ups necessary? How many paths can the player take to avoid damage—too many and the game is boring, too few and they won’t be able to progress, get frustrated, and stop playing the game. Making a game hard is easy. Making a game difficult and playable takes skill and effort. Shovel Knight? It’s fun, has game play about as challenging as Duck Tales, and seems well-designed. And if you die, there are no checkpoints. If you spend ten minutes on a level and fail, you have to spend another ten minutes just to get another chance to practice what you screwed up. And this breaks the game, raising it to frustration-level hard. I’ve had this complaint before. After proving to the game that you can accomplish something, you shouldn’t have to keep doing it. If Shovel Knight were math, you could get a problem on your differential calculus homework wrong and it would send you back to Kindergarten to teach you how to count to ten.

If you want a good example of a game that is so hard it is literally impossible, but done so well that people can’t get enough of it, I’m sure whatever device you’re reading this article on has some version of Tetris.

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Gladly.