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12:18 PM on 07.30.2015

What if Game Characters were Ice Cream?

I don't know about you guys, but here in upstate New York, it's hot. Okay, so maybe low 80's isn't as bad as it gets some places, but the humidity makes up for it. I've had ice cream on the mind, and when I decided to write a blog, that was the first thing that came to my head. The only problem is, is that really the thing to do this week? Writing about food? I should do something game related, right?

This was my solution. I know, it's corny and goofy. Just bear with me. We'll have a little fun. I've taken six of my favorite video game characters and figured out the answer to a question that nobody asked. If these characters were actually ice cream, what kind would they be?

 

Bulbasaur is Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

If there's one game that I can go back to a again and again, it's Pokemon Red. It's been one of my favorite games since fifth grade. Even today, I still dig out my copy and play through every couple of years. While I mean no disrespect toward Squirtle or Charmander, my starter of choice has always been good ol' Bulbasaur.

Bulbasaur is reliable. He is a classic. He is always there. For as far back as I can remember, Bulbasaur has been my reliable pal. You just can't go wrong with him. In the same way, chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream is my go-to source for delicious goodness. There are plenty of other flavors out there. Some of them are more adventurous, some of them are sweeter, and some are mouth-fulls of power. But chocolate peanut butter cup is always there. I know that just like a loyal Pokemon, whenever I walk into my local Stewart's Shop for a half-gallon of the good stuff, it will be right there for me.

 

Recette is Strawberry

If you think about the three main flavors of ice cream, you probably come up with chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. If you think harder, you might realize, why strawberry? Chocolate and vanilla are like yin and yang. One is soft and subtle, one is bold. One is light, the other is dark. Then you get to strawberry and you think, why? I mean, it's understandable that the third flavor would be a fruit. But why strawberry? Why not pineapple, or banana, or orange?

Not that I'm complaining. Everyone loves strawberry, myself included. It's just that, well, it's kind of off the wall. Recette, from Recettear (which, if you haven't played, log onto Steam and fix this problem now,) is a sweetie. She is absolutely adorable. She's also absent minded and quirky, bringing a little bit of color to the world around her. The game's plot finds Recette with an incredible debt she needs to pay off. She has the odds stacked against her, yet somehow manages to pull through. Just like strawberry had its...

Alright, that was a major stretch. You get what I mean.

 

Link is a Sundae

You know how people sometimes use the word "vanilla" to mean something that is dull, boring, or generic? I'm not saying Link is any of those things, but he is a silent protagonist, made that way so that the player can project themselves into his shoes. I mean when I play Zelda I games, I usually name him after myself. In the same way, most ice cream sundaes start with vanilla. The thing is, this makes it a blank slate. In the case of sundaes, the important thing isn't the base, it's what you put on them. In their own mind, players can make Link as colorful and exciting as they want. When you start with just a basic scoop, you can make it completely to your liking.

This same logic could essentially turn any silent protagonist into an ice cream sundae. It goes double for Link because the metaphor can also apply from a gameplay perspective. In the physical sense, our hero is one of the most versatile characters in gaming. Look at the massive arsenal of weapons and tools he has at his disposal. The endless possibilities of sundae topings makes this delightful dairy dish a jack of all trades, and if there were any one phrase to describe the hero of time, that would be it.

 

Alyx Vance is a Root Beer Float

No, it's not because they're kind of the same color.

Alyx is one of the best characters in gaming. I could write an entire separate blog on why. In fact, just do a google search, you'll find hundreds of articles already explaining why. In that regard, a root beer float is a unique combination of ice cream and soda. In other words, it has different elements. It has a mixture of traits that gives a rarely seen depth and makes it very well developed overall.

Alyx Vance is loveable. I don't know any Half-Life fans that don't like her. In fact, when I was crawling through the subterranean underbelly of City 17 with nothing but Alyx and the gravity gun, I had the time of my life. Alyx is such a well rounded character that I almost literally started talking back to her. You just have to like her. She's also exceptionally proficient in combat and is a very reliable partner to have along.

This ice cream-soda hybrid is a great refresher on a hot day. It's not in your face, it's just enjoyable. Just like Alyx, it's sweet, it's bubbly, and it gets the job done.

 

The Last Kusagari is Mint Chocolate Chip

Let's talk about chocolate for a minute. I love chocolate. When I eat ice cream, or any food really, with chocolate in it, the chocolate becomes center stage. If its chocolate ice cream with chunks of stuff in it, then the chunks are just for show. On the other hand, if its any other flavor with chunks of chocolate in it, then I'm pretty much just digging around for the chunks. If I get neapolitan, the chocolate is alway the first stripe to go. One of the few exceptions is mint chip ice cream. It has chocolate in it, but the mint is the most important thing. Chocolate is usually the main attraction, but when mint comes along, it takes over.

In other words, mint makes chocolate its bitch.

The last Kusagari is mostly silent. He has a couple lines of dialogue. That's okay, he doesn't need to talk. The Kusagari let's his actions speak for him, and those words are usually, "you lose." Mint is a very cooling, breezy flavor. The Kusagari fits that description perfectly: he is calm, cool, collected, and gets the job done. In fact, if I were to sum up both the Kusagari and mint in one word, that would be "sleek." When you dig your scooper into a carton of mint ice cream, you can almost hear that metal-on-metal shing! sound. You know, like a sword being pulled from it scabbard?

Which is also the last sound the Kusagari's enemies hear before they get a chest full of steel. Unless, of course, he decides to give them a face full of lead instead.

 

Sora is a Rocket Pop

Sora is a pretty happy-go-lucky fellow. He is friendly, he is devoted, and he's also pretty down to earth. A well rounded hero, in other words. So why does that make him a three-colored popsicle? Well, popsicles, unlike ice cream, are pretty basic. They are sweet, but not too sweet. They are lovable, but not giddy. There are no qualms about them. Unlike ice cream, popsicles don't involve any complicated processes or anything. They are just frozen juice on a stick. It's about as down-to-earth as it gets.

Still, neither of these are to be underestimated. Popsicles are just what you need to cool you off, while Sora is the perfect hero who you can always depend on to be there for you fight the monsters. I guess what I'm trying to say is, both Sora and a rocket pop are like your buddy. They are nice, well rounded, and its great to have them by your side.

 

It's late July. The dog days of summer. The ice cream windows are bound to be booming in business. I could go for a bowl right now. So next time you get yourself a cone, think to yourself, if this were a game character, who would it be?

Or you could not do that. Because its weird. I know it is, you don't have to pretend it isn't. So thank you for reading through this bonkers idea and dealing with these painfully forced analogies. Let me ask you, if your favorite video game character was ice cream, what would he/she be?

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9:56 PM on 07.24.2015

Challenger Approaching: The Babes of Bionis

Xenoblade Chronicles. It's a game I've already written about at length. It seemed destined for obscurity when Nintendo announced that it would not be released in North America. Operation Rainfall rescued our dreams, and it would go on to be called one of the best JRPG's in recent history. Xenoblade Chronicles now has a New 3DS port, an upcoming sequel, and a roster spot on the latest Super Smash Bros. in the form of its lead protagonist, Shulk.

Xenoblade Chronicles was the last game I played before purchasing Super Smash Bros. on Wii U. I was excited to pick Shulk, and even more excited to learn how fun he is to play. Shulk is now my most played character, replacing Link was my main. With all this going on, I couldn't help thinking about what else the game could have to offer Super Smash Bros. It is a first party title, after all.

The main order of business is what other characters would fit well on the SSB roster. Besides Shulk, there are six other playable party members and a small handful of enemies that could all qualify. As I pondered and considered, and considered and pondered, I came with the perfect way for the three female protagonists to fit into Smash. I did not set out just to focus on the ladies, but the more I thought about it, the more I feel that the other men would be too generic. The girls have unique abilities that would allow them to stand out more among Smash's colorful roster.

WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Xenoblade Chronicles, especially regarding the character known as "Seven." If you haven't finished the game or don't want anything spoiled, I suggest coming back to this at a later time.

WHO ARE SHARLA, MELIA, AND FIORA?

Fiora was a plucky young lass with a big heart and a knack for sarcasm. She was the younger sister of the war hero Dunban, good friends with local lunkhead Reyn, and had more than a little romantic inkling for Shulk. She mostly occupied her time with keeping her friends' Y chromosomes in check, but was a pretty formidable fighter in her own right. On that fateful day, Fiora had life in a basket and a bright future ahead of her.

That future would be seemingly cut down when her hometown was attacked by a hoard of robotic insects called Mechon. In the ensuing battle, Fiora would make the ultimate sacrifice to save her friends. This act of heroism ensured the survival of the colony for the time being, but left her loved ones broken hearted. Fiora's death motivated Shulk and his friends to set out on a journey to discover the secrets of the Mechon and have their revenge.

They weren't travelling very long when they met a woman named Sharla, who was having her own fair share of problems. Sharla's hometown had also been attacked by Mechon, leaving it almost entirely destroyed. Sharla had become the de facto leader of a small group of survivors. For once, fate seemed to be on Sharla's side, as Shulk and Reyn quickly helped her rescue her brother, liberate the seiged town from Mechon, and begin reconstruction. Through facing adversity, they formed a powerful bond, and Sharla offered her services as a field medic to our heroes on their journey.

A little later in the game, the party crosses paths with Melia. Melia is the princess of the High Entia (elves with wings on their heads.) When she met Shulk in the forest, she quickly teamed up with his group. Shulk and his friends assisted her with the drama of being royalty (including quelling a coupe) while Melia helped them gain access to a nearby ruin. It was in exploring this ruin where the group would uncover an ancient secret. A sudden Mechon attack at this time would pile on the surprises even more: Fiora was still alive.

Her body had been taken back to the Mechon headquarters and forcibly converted into a cyborg to be used as weapon. To make matters worse, she had seemingly been possessed by the consciousness of some other being, whose motives were not exactly clear. This same Mechon attack would leave the king, Melia's father, dead. These events became the catalyst for a permanent alliance between not only Melia and the group, but every race on Bionis into one massive army.

Through their perseverance and determination, the group would eventually rescue Fiora. They would help her to recover her own mind, and she in turn would bring to the party a whole host of new abilities granted by her mechanical body. However, in rescuing her, they learned the most terrifying truth of all. They were not only fighting for their own survival, they were caught in the middle of a battle between two gods!

Fiora is thought to be dead for much of the game. To avoid spoilers, fans usually refer to her mechanical form by the name "Seven," referring to the fact that she is the seventh full time party member.

With Sharla's medical skills, Melia's mastery of magic, and Fiora's cybernetic weaponry, all three women are valuable asset in battle.

HOW WOULD SHARLA WORK?

Sharla's role in Xenoblade is the the party's healer. The majority of her capabilities involve healing and buffing her companions. From the offensive line, she mostly just takes pot shots at enemies with her rifle between healing blasts. Sharla is not much of a fighter in Xenoblade. Her limitted attacking and almost exclusive use of long range tactics don't lend themselves very well to a fighting game.

That doesn't mean that she can't have a role in Smash, however. The same traits that make her ill-suited for fighting also make her an excellent choice for an assist trophy. Upon being summoned, Sharla would run or jump to an out-of-the-way corner of the arena and then proceed to do exactly what she does in Xenoblade. Every couple seconds, for the duration of her stay, Sharla would fire off a random action from Xenoblade. Most of these would be weak attacks or minor healing spells. Occasionally she would throw out a Heal Blast, which heals a great amount of damage, or even a Heal Round if in team mode (heals the entire party.) A shield bullet could protect the player, or a cure bullet if they are stunned or something.

HOW WOULD MELIA WORK?

In Xenoblade, Melia has the lowest HP. In Smash, this would translate to Melia being a very light character. The good news is that Melia would be great in the air. Combat in Xenoblade has no jumping, but it stands to reason that if it did, Melia would be quite good. The High Entia race has strong ties to flying beasts, and the wings on their heads are a defining physical characteristic. At least one other High Entia is shown to be able to fly with those wings. Smash Bros. would be Melia's opportunity to shine in the air, with quick reflexes, spot-on control, and maybe even multiple jumps.

Of all the playable characters in Xenoblade Chronicles, Melia has the most unique offensive capabilities. She is the group's only magic user, which manifests in a summon and release combo attack that makes her play style siginificantly different from any of the other party members. In addition to her regular specials, a good portion of Melia's arts have her summoning an elemental spirit. This spirit takes the form of a little ball that hovers around her head. As long as this elemental is present, Melia and any party members close by gain some kind of buff or special ability. In all, Melia can have up to three active elementals at a tiime, and can stack multiples of the same one.

As long as at least one elemental is active, Melia can release them as attacks. The little balls become magic projectiles, that not only do damage but also usually have some other kind of effect on the target. As Melia uses these attacks, it fills a gauge that grants her the use of even more powerful special moves when it fills up.

Melia's attacks in SSB would work very much the same way. For summoning, Melia would take a page from her stablemate, Shulk. The player would use the n-special button to sift through different icons to represent different elementals. Whichever one they stop on, Melia summons that element and gains a buff. How many she can have at once and whether or not they are stackable would be subject to balance testing, but I'd like to keep it authentic at three. They would also wear off after a little while and probably need some recharge time. When the player wants to attack, a simple down special would release the elementals as projectiles, probably in reverse order.

With the mechanics down, the big question becomes which of her elements would be featured and what would their effects be. Melia has six summons in Xenoblade, which isn't unreasonable for Smash as long as they are balanced properly. Here's a list of what they are and how they might funciton in SSB:

BOLT
Summon: In Xenoblade, Bolt increases the power of magic attacks. In Smash, that would mean basically increasing itself, which would be weird. I'm changing it to increasing movement speed.
Release: A very fast moving electric projectile with high damage and low knockback.

FLARE
Summon: Increases physical attack power
Release: Medium speed projectile that explodes on contact like Samus's missile or Link's bomb. Explosion can damage other enemies if they are close enough.

AQUA
Summon: Heals small amounts of damage over time. A single one doesn't do much but stacking them increases the effect.
Release: Medium speed projectile with medium damage. After hitting an enemy, a big bubble "boomerangs" slowly back toward Melia. Characters can grab it to heal a small amount of damage.

WIND
Summon: Improves jumping by way of increasing height, directional influence, decreasing landing lag, and maybe even add an extra jump.
Release: Fast projectile with low damage and respectable knockback. When it hits, it bursts outward in a large wind vortex that can damage other characters as well.

EARTH
Summon: In Xenoblade, Earth increases physical defense. In SSB, this could translate into Melia taking less damage, knockback, having increased shield strength, or being stronger against certain attacks. It could even be a combination of these.
Release: A slower projectile with medium damage. In Xenoblade, an enemy hit with Earth becomes poisoned. I don't think there is a Smash equivalent, so one could be added in, or it could be changed to a different effect such as Bury.

ICE
Summon: See above. The Ice elemental in Xenoblade increases Melia's magic defense. Since there isn't really "magic" in SSB, it could be changed to some other defensive capability. Probably whichever of the effects described above that doesn't end up in play.
Release: Melia shoots the Ice downward. When it hits the ground, it creates ice spikes that damage characters who touch them. If a player takes a direct hit from the energy ball, they suffer medium damage with high knockback.

The other part of Melia's offense would be her topple combo. She has plenty of other attacks besides these, but there are two in particular that fans, myself included, love due to their usefulness. Spear Break, which is a powerful jab with her staff, and Starlight Kick, in which she runs toward an enemy and does a sort of spinning dropkick. If both attacks are done in quick succession, it forces the target into a type of stun called Topple. Spear Break would be great as a side special or side smash. Starlight Kick could be Melia's up special, or a side special if Spear Break was used for a smash attack. Just like in Xenoblade, this combo could lead to either stun or paralysis if used properly.

For a Final Smash, I think the best contender is Melia's Mind Blast. This is one of the moves activated by the Summon/Release gauge I talked about above, and is one of her most powerful moves. Not only is it useful in game, but one of Melia's shining moments in Xenoblade comes when lays out a very powerful antagonist in a cutscene. Mind Blast has Melia spraying gold energy in a large cone shape. It does a respectable level of damage, but on top of that, it also inflicts Art Seal, which prevents a target from using their special moves.

In Smash Bros., I can see it initally functioning like Samus's FInal Smash, with a shorter but wider range. When it's done, any opponents who took damage from it but aren't knocked out would also be inflicted with Art Seal, complete with Xenoblade's icon for it hovering around their heads. This woudl prevent that character from using their specials for a short time five to ten seconds, depending on how much exposure they had to the blast. I would not completely disable the special moves; most characters use them to recover from falls and move around, so that would just be cruel. I would just prevent those attacks form doing damage, or making them fail if they have some kind of energy or projectile.

I honestly feel that if done right, Melia has a lot of potential to be one of the most creative characters in Smash. The way I outlined it may make her a bit overpowered, but I think that if the makers stuck close to Xenoblade's gameplay elements in designing her, she could be a lot of fun and stand out quite a bit among the rest of the roster.

HOW WOULD FIORA WORK?

In her cybernetic form, Fiora is also one of the more unique characters in Xenoblade. In a game where most people fight with fantasy weapons or magic, FIora has electricity and laser blasts. Hey two main draws are ability to shoot energy beams, and her drones, which are remote-controlled robotic saber boomerang things. Yeah, I know. These two concepts alone could give the makers of Smash a lot of room to craft a character similar to Fox or Samus without having to rely on her actual in game attacks as a basis.

But let's say they do stick closer to her in-game mechanics. In Xenoblade Chornicles, there's a passive battle mechanic called Tension. It raises and lowers depending on how well a characters is doing in battle, and having high Tension can give you bonuses like an increased critical hit rate. It's useful but fairly inconsequential for most of the game, until Fiora comes along. Fiora has a couple attacks that tie directly into her Tension level.

In SSB, Fiora would have a Tension meter similar to Little Mac's Power Meter. It would raise and lower depending on how she does in battle. During this time, Fiora's n-special would likely be Double Wind, a sword attack with moderate damage and descent knockback that boosts Tension when it connects properly. When her Tension is topped out, as indicated by her portrait being on fire like in Xenoblade, Double Wind becomes Final Cross.

Final Cross is a very powerful move, and if not for the Tension system, I'd probably designate it as a Final Smash instead. Fiora levitates off the ground and shoots a series of red lasers at the ground in a cone shape, similar to Master Hand's blue laser fingers. Each one does high damage and has a good degree of knockback. If a character takes enough damage from the attack without being KO'ed, the attack leaves them stunned. In order to keep things fair, once the attack is done, Fiora's Tension would probably drop back to neutral.

Fiora is one of the few Xenoblade characters who has a lot of different possibilities for an up special. Air Fang is a sword attack that begins with an upward slash. That's a little too boring, though. Fortunately, many of her moves in Xenoblade begin with her levitating upward and attacking from the air. In that regard, it wouldn't be out of character to start an up special with Fiora shooting skyward, then hovering in place while she does an attack. There are any number of options for what this. My personal pick would be Mag Storm, where Fiora generates an electric purple force field that would damage anyone who touches it. Maybe she could slightly hover from side to side while performing it. Mag Storm could also be a down special.

There is a whole smorgasbord of options for her remaining specials. Anything that involves an energy field or laser blast. She could do some sword moves, like Double Blade (basically Shulk's back slash) or Shutdown (causes enemies to fall asleep.) She could also deploy her drones to slash out in front of her or spin and come back like Link's boomerang.

Assuming Fiora's Final Smash isn't the aforementioned Final Cross, it would likely be one of her drone talent arts. In her original game, this attack changes based on what kind of equipment she has. My picks for SSB are Sword Drones, in which she deploys four remote controlled blades to slash the crap out of anything in her way, and Cannon Drones, which is a huge plasma beam. The latter would be similar to Samus's Final Smash, or Lucario's Kamehameha from Brawl. I'd probably base it on Lucario's because a.) That's closer to what it looks like in Xenoblade, and b.) That was one of my favorite Final Smashes in Brawl and I'm ticked that they changed it.

On the presentation end of things, Fiora is a lot of fun to speculate about. Her into animation would have her landing as the Face Nemesis then jumping out of the cockpit. She also has a ton of battle quotes in Xenoblade that I'd be sorely disappointed not to hear in Smash. It's not that Melia doesn't have battle dialogue, but Fiora's voice acting and girlish charm makes hers a lot more memorable. Just listen to her. There are dozens and dozens of potential taunt and win quotes in there. I'd be giddy to hear "Alrighty!" or the sheepish, "Yay! We win!"

As a little bonus, I think it would be neat to include Fiora's human form as an alternate outfit. That said, I don't know how they could accurately portray her that way and keep the same moveset. The meat of her attacks in this blog stems from her cybernetic body. In human form, Fiora just fights with knives. It wouldn't make sense for her to be able to shoot lasers.

Then again, I guess it doesn't make sense for Mario to be able to shoot fire in his basic outfit either, so whatever. I'm not going to think about it too hard. No matter what they did, if Fiora got into Super Smash Bros., I would be a happy laddy.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENING?

Slim but possible. A heck of a lot more possible than Kane or Sub-Zero. Xenoblade is a Nintendo game, after all, and it already has some representation in the Smash Bros. series. The problem is that I just don't think it's popular enough to warrant much more than it already has. While it does have a huge cult following, it's mostly just that: a cult following.

To put it bluntly, if Xenoblade Chronicles was popular enough to warrant a whole cast of characters in the Smash roster, it probably would have happened already. Earthbound is a far more popular series and after four games, it still only has two roster slots in Smash. And one of those is pretty much a complete clone. It's possible that Xenoblade could become more popular with time, but if it ever does get to the point where it gets more recognition in Smash, then Nintendo will likely be looking to future installments like Xenoblade Chronicles X instead of digging into the original. 

The other hurdle is that sadly, I don't think Melia and Fiora are popular enough characters to become playable even if Xenoblade did get more slots in Smash. Fiora is a walking spoiler and Melia doesn't have a particularly commanding presence in the game anyway. Compare that to their male castmates: Riki is practically the series mascot and already has a few appearances in Smash; Dunban is immensely popular in the fandom to the point where there is a Mii outfit for him in SSB4 as DLC; Reyn is a contender for deuter- or at least tri-tagonist and his antics have reached meme level. Out of all of the party members in Xenoblade, those three would be the most likely. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against them as characters. I just feel it would be disappointing to get another generic swordfighter like Dunban when we could be graced with a cool new magic system from Melia.

Like I said, though, it's far from impossible. Xenoblade is a Nintendo game. All the ground work is there. All it would take would be a little muse from Sakurai or another team member for it to happen. I also find some optimism in the Smash Fighter Ballot. Cruising Xenoblade fansites, I see a lot of people writing in Fiora. I highly doubt she's getting as many votes as Goku or Ridley, but all it takes is a spark. So if you're a Xenoblade fan like me, head on over there and cast your vote. And keep your fingers crossed.  

So here ends another issue of Challenger Approaching. Thank you for reading, and if you've been following the series, extra thanks for your support. If you haven't, why not start now? And by the way, if you don't know much about Xenoblade Chronicles, it's a pretty good game that you might want ot check out if you like RPG's. You can check out my thoughts on that as well.

Thanks again. Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

 

 

 

Psst! Hey! Do you like my writing? Want to read more of my stuff, as well as some stuff by other great writers? Head on over to this little website. I post most of my stuff there a week before anywhere, and there are a few other great writers there as well.

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8:31 PM on 07.16.2015

Game Review - Contrast (PC)

What is it about shadows that fascinates us so much? Dark is merely the absence of light. We fear it because of what it hides, but what of the shadows? Those oblong silhouettes, the dark mirrors that speckle our world like glimpses into some unreachable dimension. It thrills the imagination. Ever since Peter Pan lost his companion, our fiction has tried to explore this other world within our own. It has ranged from the whimsical to the horrific. Now, thanks to the fine folks at Compulsion, we have a video game whose dream of shadows is downright jazzy.

Contrast
System: PC (reviewed), PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbone
Developer: Compulsion Games
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Released: November 15, 2013

All images were taken from the developer's website.

 

I remember when this game was in development. A lot of websites talked it up as the next great indie platformer, and it even got some great press at E3 a couple years ago. It looked great to me, and I got pretty excited for it. Yet when it was released, the gaming public seemed to forget all about it. There was little fanfare, barely even an acknowledgement beyond, "hey, this exists now." I was fairly perplexed, but onto my wishlist it went, and a little over a year later, I got to see if it was any good after all.

It's the roaring twenties. An age of jazz and cabaret, of noir and gangsters, of light and shadows. Living in this world is a little girl named Didi. Life hasn't been kind to Didi: her father ran off, her mother is barely making ends meet as a lounge singer with no time or for her, and her only companion is her "imaginary friend," a mysterious shadow girl named Dawn. That's you, by the way. The player controls Dawn, a leggy young woman in a garish costume with the ability to turn herself into a shadow on the wall. Only Didi can see her; to everyone else, Dawn is merely an imaginary friend. Being mute isn't exactly shedding any light on her character, either.

That doesn't matter. The story belongs to Didi. One night her estranged father, Johnny, rolls back into town with a fancy new suit and a scheme to provide for them. Didi's mother isn't buying it, and neither are the loan sharks riding Johnny's ass. Not wanting to see her family torn apart again, Didi takes it upon herself to help Johnny from behind scenes, enlisting Dawn's help with some of the heavy lifting. The story and conflict belong to them. You're just along for the ride. Didi is the Penny to Johnny's Inspector Gadget, and you're playing as Brain.

The sweetness of the conflict with the noir atmosphere are fitting blend of light and dark. The soulfull score and aesthetics certainly don't hurt. The design of the characters and environment have an almost mildly Burton-esque flair to them. As small as it is, the setting oozes personality. Things in the environment have a dreamy quality to them as well. You can be exploring an otherwise realistic locale then turn a corner and have to jump across a floating piano. The edge of the world drops off into an infinite void like Silent Hill. Little of the fantasy is explained, and it blurs the line between truth and imagination.

Almost nothing is revealed about Dawn and her powers. I've seen other complain about this, wanting more solid explanations about the character and the way the world works. I disagree. Contrast has enough substance that it doesn't need to explain. The story of Didi's family is charming without a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about shadow realms to distract from it. The abstract nature of the environment gives the whole game and air of awe. I think that explaining these things outright would take away more than it would add. It gives the player a sense of wonderment.

The gameplay is puzzle-platforming. There's a decent mix but it definitely skews toward the intellectual side. The way the game unfolds reminds me a lot of Portal. There is plenty of action by way of running and jumping, but the meat of the experience comes from figuring out how to progress. Dawn's main power is to turn into a shadow on the wall and use other shadows as platforms to get around. You have to go back and forth between 2D and 3D to get around.

In this regard, there really isn't aren't many creative uses to the gimmick as you would think. Mostly you're just trying to get yourself or an opject from point A to point B. The most common use of Dawn's ability is to move around a light source in 3D to get your shadow-platforms lined up properly so that you can reach a distant ledge or something. There aren't really any mind-blowing ways in which the shadow realm and real world interact with each other. On top of that, the game is pretty small and linear, so there isn't much in the way of exploration, either.

That doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable. Jumping is still fun, figuring out a solution is still satisfying. The novelty of shifting between dimensions takes a long time to wear off, even if there isn't much to it. For a game with such a cool concept, it doesn't feel like you're doing much more than you could do in most other action-puzzlers. There's still a lot to enjoy, though.

The game's biggest detriment comes from some technical flaws. One in particular sticks out like a sore thumb. Whenever Dawn is in shadow and there is a conflict of solid object (like if she dashes into a wall or gets pinched between moving platforms) she gets ejected back into the 3D space. The game is far from picky about doing this. It's very common to be hopping through a 2D section only to be abruptly popped out because you jumped a hair too far or landed at the wrong angle, or for no discernible reason at all.

This is compounded by the fact that Dawn moves way too fast. She zips around like Sonic and leaps like Superman, making it hard to land short-range jumps with precision. When hopping from place to place, you frequently leap right off the boundary of the shadow, spoiling your progress and forcing you to start the whole platform segment over again. It can turn otherwise straightforward platforming into an unwarranted challenge, and long segments can be outright rage inducing. These long segments are few and far between, but even shorter ones can be a pain because of it. The issue never resolves itself, and will bother players throughout the whole game. If anybody on the dev team is reading this, please accept my apology. I like your product but cursed you out under my breath during the carousel part.

Contrast is a nice puzzle-platform game with a great story and atmosphere. The gameplay doesn't break any molds and is bogged down by some frustrating technical issues, but it's still fun nonetheless. The average playthrough is about four hours, with repeat ventures clocking in at less than half that time. The Steam list price of $15 dollars is pretty steep for such a short game, even if it is ultimately good. I got it on on sale for just south of four bucks and was pretty satisfied. If like puzzle-platform games, give this one a shot when the price drops.

 

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11:45 AM on 07.08.2015

Sweet Lily Dreams review

Bundles! Don't you love them? I bought a Humble RPG Maker Bundle last year and got some RPG Maker games! One of them has been sitting untouched in my Steam library for months, until I got bored enough last week to finally try it out. And now that it's done, and I have a weekly blog quota to fill, I figured I'd review it.

Sweet Lily Dreams
System: PC via Steam
Developer: RosePortal Games
Publisher: Degica
Released: May 16, 2014

All images were taken from the developer's website.

There isn't a whole lot of information out there about RosePortal Games. The most I can find about the group themselves is that they are small and like to make games with RPG Maker. They have apparently made several games in the past. Sweet Lily Dreams was the first to hit Steam last year, followed by its prequel, Whisper of a Rose. The humble little company seems to have some big dreams, which is a very heavy theme within its games, but that doesn't necessarily mean those games are a dream come true.

The problem with RPG Maker games is since it's so user friendly, anybody can make a game by plugging some assets into a menu, typing a few text boxes, and calling it a day. A lot of people don't bother to do anything creative with the game the engine at all. As a result, most RPG Maker games end of playing virtually the same.

The folks at RosePortal clearly weren't satisfied with this approach. Despite using RPG Maker, they crafted the game into their own. The vast majority of the mechanics are customized. RosePortal has implemented a crafting system, a sidequest system, a whole slew of minigames, an interior-decorating thing, they've customized most of the menus, and while I can't tell how it works under the hood, even the combat is at least aesthetically different from other games of this type.

The visuals are also very well done. I've played around with RPG Maker and if Sweet Lily Dreams uses any of the default assets, I haven't noticed. The sprite work is great. The environments are exquisite, with plenty of little touches to make everything a joy to look at. The hand-drawn stuff is mostly spot on. I can't imagine how long it must have taken such a small team to put together all that art so well.

Rounding out the presentation is the music. Tunes range from acceptable to memorable. Every single one is the work of somebody who knows what they're doing. While not all of them are memorable, none of them are offensive. I would love to add a couple of the songs to my music library, I'm honestly surprised that they haven't offered the soundtrack for sale or download to fans.

This game is obviously not something that somebody crapped out in RPG maker for a quick buck. There is a lot of tender loving care put into making this game. RosePortal wanted to make it their own, and for that I applaud them.

The story is about a seven-year-old girl named Lily and a team of dream defenders called Illuminati. Far from a conspiracy theory, this Illuminati is a group of magical warriors who travel between dreams to fight the monsters that turn them into nightmares. With a father who is never around and a mother that she can't quite connect with, Lily combats her lonely home life by reading. In a dream one night, Lily crosses paths with two bumbling Illuminati of the less-than-competent variety: a big hearted dog named Faith, and a cynical Tim Burton-esque "cat" named Curly. The encounter causes a sort of glitch in Lily's dream, which fully integrates her into the dream world. Since the two find her newfound magic powers useful in combat, and since Lily has nothing better to do anyway, she joins the duo on their quest to move up the ranks of the Illuminati and making sleeping a safer place for all.

Let me say one thing right off the bat: the game is a little confused about its target audience. The visuals, audio, premise, and marketing all make it seem very child friendly. Without spoiling too much, it's not. Very, very not. As one user on the game's Steam forum pointed out, anyone who thinks this game is for kids clearly hasn't played it all the way through.

Most of the game has you visiting different dreams based on different works of fiction. The heroes have to go through these levels in a fashion similar to Kingdom Hearts while the story unfolds. I like the plot, and it's fun to visit different places from literature, but the actual progression of the story arc has a few shortcomings. For one, all of the worlds are based on horror stories. The marketing, opening cutscenes, and word of mouth all led me to believe that there would be fairy tales and fantasy adventure, or otherwise a good mix of locales.

Instead, every one of the levels comes from horror fiction or folklore. There's nothing wrong with that, per se; I loved exploring the town of Sleepy Hollow and the mansion of Dr. Jekyll. It just feels like a missed opportunity. They could have let us join Captain Ahab's hunt for Moby Dick or raid Ilium alongside Achilles. Instead, we get six spooky forests and a couple spooky castles. Some even have both of these. Sweet Lily Dreams does do a very respectable job with the lore it chooses to represent - I was always excited to see what the next dream would be and was always happy with how it played out - I just think a little more variety would have spiced things up.

A couple of the selections struck me as a little odd. Most of the dreams are based on classic works or folkore, but every once in a while you'll run into something from modern fiction. I was a little surprised when the party crossed paths with the clown from It and John Kramer from the Saw movies. I don't mean thinly veiled expies; they're actually called by name. One of the worlds comes a comic book. This in a video game that is being sold to the public. If Sweet Lily Dreams was more widely known, I have to wonder if RosePortal might not be facing some copyright problems.

There's something a little awkward about the way the story plays out. RosePortal clearly had a lot of ideas that they tried to implement, but something holds them back. There are moments in the story where something big and emotional is happening on screen, that for all the effort put into it, lacks any kind of potency. I blame the pacing, and the order of events. At the end of one of the early levels, one of the characters has a flashback that is supposed to be a big tragic reveal of his troubled past. The problem is that by this point in the story, said characters has had about two lines of dialogue. We barely know him, and thus his angst is lost on the player.

The whole game is peppered with instances like this. Plot points that lose their impact due to the game's structure and pacing. The villains suffer from this the worst. There are two main antagonists: The Wrtier, some guy who travels between dream worlds to create nightmares just for funzies or something, and The Asureans, an ancient society that something something I don't even care enough to finish describing them. Both of these are practically non-entities. In their few token appearances, my reaction was never "oh snap, bad guys!", rather "oh yeah, they exist."

Part of the villain problem is that their backstories aren't explained in a very cohesive manner. For all the worlds in Sweet Lily Dreams, the one that it fleshes out the least is its own. The Asureans' grudge has something to do with the Illuminati homeworld. Whenever they show up, they ramble on and talk about legends and history without every making the player care. Meanwhile, in the "real" world, there's a company that makes some kind of dream control device. This ties in with the backstory of many of the characters, including both Lily and the Writer, but we scarcely get into the meat of it. It's just talked about in passing while the player scarcely gets any glimpse of what it actually is. There's also some magic apparition lady who shows up a couple times to offer advice to the heroes. We're led to believe that she will have a big role down the line, but unless I missed something, she's never even mentioned after her second appearance.

These come from the game's prequel, Whisper of a Rose. The developer has outright stated in the Steam forums that there are things you probably won't understand without playing Rose first. I think that's a little unfair. Considering how tied-in the plot is, I feel like it would solve a lot of Lily's story problems if they showed us more.

This makes the climax of the game kind of bittersweet. Most of the plot threads come together nicely at the scene of the final battle. It leads up to an exciting conclusion that makes me wish we had been able to enjoy the build-up of these story arcs. Granted, the epilogue doesn't really do it much service with its lack of concrete details and Big Lipped Alligator Moment cliffhanger, but the tail of end of the game was definitely one of the highlights.

If you'll humor me one more nitpick about the story, the characterization is all over the place. Some of the characters have a lot of personality, others are dull as bricks. Curly the cat is the standout character, and Faith is pretty well written too. Lily's personality fluctuates a lot. She's supposed to be a seven-year-old who is smart for her age because she reads a lot. Sometimes that's an accurate description, though sometimes it seems more like an excuse to have her be a lot more intelligent than she should be. Lily mentions reading Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a long time ago, which makes me wonder if anyone on the development team has actually read it themselves. What's worse, though, is when she acts too young. Whenever the plot demands that she show her age, she regresses to that fake babytalk personality that all writers who don't spend a lot of time around kids use.

For example, there's a point when the group is going up against a mummy. Lily refers to it as a "bandage monster." There is no reason why any seven-year-old wouldn't know what a mummy is, especially one as supposedly smart as Lily. The icing on the cake is that at the beginning of that level, she does call it a mummy, then promptly starts referring to it in baby talk. I facepalmed pretty hard at that one.

The dream worlds are pretty well done. Each has its own self-contained story that are usually at least competent. They look nice as well, despite a lack of variety in their settings. The designers put a lot of scenery into each one, with flowers and bushes and grasses frosted all over the ground. It adds a lot of visual flair to environments. The only problem is that it's hard to tell what is part of the the tileset and what is a solid object. There are tons of the latter, meaning that walking through what appears to be an open field is more like navigating a maze of invisible walls. I wouldn't want the developers to get rid of all the nice scenery, just make it so we can walk overtop of it.

Every world has some kind of puzzle gimmick. This was a very pleasant surprise. It turns the game into something a little more than just walking around and fighting enemies. They're often simple in concept and creative in execution. Part of the fun of visiting each new world was seeing what cool new thing the developer came up with this time. It's one more little thing that shows how much RosePortal cared about this project.

They do tend to push these puzzles to the limit. Whether or not this is a flaw depends on how much you like being forced to think. I wasn't expecting the difficulty of the gimmicks, and while they were fun, many of them started to get old pretty quickly. There's a maze where the floor falls through with no indication of where you can stand, and a dungeon where you have to flip switches to open and close certain doors. The one that takes the cake, though, is the frog swamp. You get an item that lets you summon frogs to help you across a swamp. There are a bunch of different ways to go, but only one correct one, and you only get the exact number of items to make a perfect run through the swamp. It requires a lot of patience and a lot of trial and error.

In fact, some of the dungeons stop just short of requiring a map and trigonometry. It got a little overbearing for me more than once. They still get an A for effort, though. Players who enjoy a nice challenging puzzle will feel right at home here.

Most of the game balances out thus far. For everything Sweet Lily Dreams has going for it, there is some minor scuff that tarnishes the enjoyment. For each factor that makes me shake my head, it isn't enough to brign the game down. If we ended the review here, it would be pretty much a fifty/fifty split on pros and cons. Then we get to the combat.

Sweet Lily Dreams uses turn-based RPG combat. It's as straightforward as it gets, and unless you have no idea what an RPG is, I don't need to lay out the details. The game tries to spice things up in a couple ways but most of them are flat at best, irritating at worst. A major part of the fighting is the element system. Most enemies and attacks have one of four elemental types, giving them strengths and weaknesses to the player characters' elemental spells. Basically, a substantially dumbed-down version of Pokemon.

Pokemon this ain't. The combat is severely imbalanced, and much of that can be traced back to this very type system. For starters, the characters don't learn elemental spells. Their basic attacks never do much damage to begin with and actually seem to get weaker as the game goes along. The special attacks that they learn by leveling are either physical attacks with the same problem, or are buffs that don't actually seem to do what they're supposed to. Elemental spells have to be crafted and taught. While there's no shortage of supplies to craft spells, there certainly isn't enough to equip all of your characters with every element. It doesn't matter what kind of monster you're fighting, almost every battle in the game is going to leave you with at least one disadvantaged character.

The one hit the hardest is Lily. Even her basic attack has a type, determined by an item you can swap out. You have a choice of one of these items at the beginning of the game, and the rest have to be bought. If you make a bad choice (DO NOT START WITH THUNDER) then Lily is completely useless for the first couple hours of the game. Getting the other elements doesn't help much: they can't be swapped on the fly. You have to go to a specific spot in the hub world to change them. If you pick the fire item and the next level has mostly water enemies, I hope you figure that out before you're too far to turn around. The monsters aren't exactly red lizards with fire tails. It's scarcely possible to tell what type an enemy is the first time you encounter it. You have to just throw everything you have and see what works.

Even when you do get the proper magic attacks, their usefulness doesn't last long. All but the most powerful attacks get out-progressed pretty quickly. You can craft the right spells to empower your characters for one level, and by the time you get to the next, the enemies are strong enough that even a type advantage doesn't give you much offense. Which leads me to another complaint: on normal difficulty, enemies just plain take too long to kill. Every fight is a commitment. It can take upwards of four turns for your entire party to kill a single basic monster.

This all adds up to combat being a dull slog. You never feel like you are making any progress. In a good game, a new attack should feel like a reward. A spell is supposed to empower players, to give us satisfaction of a new way to dispatch foes. Sweet Lily Dreams feels like a constant struggle just to keep up. It's not that enemies are particularly difficult if you pay attention and know what you're doing, it's just an endurance contest. Learning new attacks in this game is a necessity, like keeping your gas tank filled so you don't get stranded on the side of the road.

Healing is just as bad. You know how most games have Inns at every town? Sweet Lily Dreams has a genie in the hub world. And that's it. There are no other ultimate healing options anywhere in the game. Once you enter a dream world, you're basically on your own as far as health goes. The only way to heal is with these green balls that you can collect, which the game actively discourages you from getting with the promise of a reward down the line. Healing spells suck for the same reason as attack spells.

That leaves you almost entirely reliant on items. You have to stock up as much as you can on HP and MP potions before entering a new world. If your supply runs out while you're too deep in the level to go home, then you're out of luck. Just like everything else in the game, items get ouleveled. By the last couple worlds, they don't even heal enough damage to counter a single enemy attack. The strategy becomes "heal as much as you can on the overworld, hope for the best in battle." At least by that point you can pretty easily afford to top off your supply, but what good does it do to buy 99 potions if it takes 20 to get a character back to full health?

Trying to avoid battle is a waste of time. Enemies are represented on the overworld so you can theoretically avoid them. Theoretically. In practice, the only way to actually dodge an enemy sprite is if you're lucky enough to trap it behind one of those invisible walls I talked about above. Once the fight commences, don't bother trying to escape. I don't know what factors into it. It seemed completely random whether or not it actually worked, with a success rate of about 1/6. You can't attack the same turn you try to run, so even selecting the option is akin to handing your enemy a free turn. On the off chance that you do manage to make it out of battle, it resets the enemy sprite to its original position on the map. If that's anywhere close to you, it's just going to beeline for your party and restart the battle all over again.

Combat is not fun. The only way to lessen the irritation is to play on the easy difficulty. The Steam forum is packed with users to admit to starting on normal and hard before switching to easy part way through. Easy mode doesn't fix all the balance problems, it just makes your attacks do a little more damage. The issues persist no matter how you play. At least on easy, battles go by faster and you don't have to put up with the crap for as long.

That's kind of a cheap way to make your game playable. It's kind of unfortunate, really. The developers put a lot of time and effort into making the game. It isn't all great, but there's still a lot to admire. It's kind of tragic that the combat drags down their work so much.

Sweet Lily Dreams is not a great game. I don't even think it's a good game. Despite the best efforts from the developer, it is schizophrenic in quality and combat just plain sucks. That's not to say it's a lost cause. What it does do, is showcase a lot of talent from RosePortal. There is clearly a lot of potential in them. With a little practice to iron out their flaws, they could eventually be among the best RPG devs on the indie scene. Heck, this is the only game of theirs that I've played and they've made a lot more since then. As far as I know, their more recent work could be flawless.

There is enough good in the game to keep me from hating it. At the same time, there's way too much bad for me to unconditionally recommend it to even hardcore RPG fans. The people who I think would get the most enjoyment out of these would be those who like difficult Zelda-style puzzles in their dungeons. Other RPG fans might not hate it, but if you decide to give it a shot, don't get your hopes up going in. And play on easy mode.

Even if you do decide it's worth purchasing, wait for a sale. The going price on Steam is fifteen bucks. It's not that the developers don't deserve to get paid for their work - they've definitely put in the effort. I just think that's pretty steep for any RPG maker game, let alone one with as many flaws as this one has.

 

 

Psst! Hey! Do you like my writing? Want to read more of my stuff, as well as some stuff by other great writers? Head on over to this little website. I post most of my stuff there a week before anywhere, and there are a few other great writers there as well.

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1:33 PM on 06.18.2015

Challenger Approaching: The Big Daddy of Destruction

Happy Holidays! Well, Holiday. Singular. What holiday, you ask? Why, Father's Day, of course! That wonderful day of the year when we celebrate the life and times of dear ol' dad! I love my dad in earnest. He has been one of the most positive people in my life. He's a great man who has done so much for our family and I wouldn't be who I am today without him. He's just like Nathan Explosion's!

Hopefully your dad is just as awesome. So this Father's Day, let's celebrate dad the way we know how. Maybe that's going out to dinner, or taking your fishing poles out on the lake, or heading over to London and disembowling some mutant scumbags.

That's right. In honor of Father's Day, this issue of Challenger Approaching is taking a look at one of gaming's biggest patriarchs. THE Patriarch.

WHO IS THE PATRIARCH?

This ugly sumbitch is the big bad of Killing Floor, a coop FPS from Tripwire Interactive. It's a monster mashing game similar to zombie mode from Call of Duty. A small group of players is placed in a map and has to kill off increasingly difficult waves of enemy mutants. If they manage to survive a predetermined number of rounds, the Patriarch appears as the final boss to give the players one last challenge.

The plot of Killing Floor is sparse. The official wiki and fan forums talk about plot devices, but if not for them, you'd barely even know the story exists. There is no story mode in the game itself and so there is very little mention of a plot within it. The Patriarch's background as detailed here is just what I've pieced together from reading various other websites.

Horzine was a biotech company that specialized in genetic experimention of the not-so-ethical type. Among their enterprises was research into DNA splicing, bionic enhancements, and cloning. One of their top scientists was a man named Kevin Clamely. This middle aged milquetoast didn't have the best home life. When his wife tried to divorce him, poor Mr. Clamely decided to take his life...

...to the next level. Clamely seized control of Horzine's technology. With a combination of genetic modification and cyber implants, he forged a group of mutant creatures to be his children. The cloning process developed by Horzine allowed him to multiply these abominations into his own personal army. And he didn't stop there: Clamely ultimately turned the experiments on himself, mutating his body into a monster and replacing his arm with a machine gun rocket launcher. Now calling himself The Patriarch, Clamely unleashed his forces on an unsuspecting London, ravaging all but the most hardened survivors.

The Patriarch is a force to be reckoned with. As the final boss, he is by far the most dangerous force in the game. He has a lot of health, a lot of power, and is never to be taken lightly. It's not uncommon for an experienced group to players to breeze through ten waves of enemies only to get wiped out by the Patriarch in a matter of seconds. 

HOW WOULD THE PATRIARCH WORK?

I'm a little conflicted on how his stats would work. Logic dictates that with his size and power, the Patriarch would be a heavy character like Bowser or Ganondorf. That doesn't quite mesh with Killing Floor; in his home game, the Patriarch is the fastest entity by far. No other enemy or player class even comes close to him. It seems a little unbalanced to make one of the beefiest characters in SSB move as quickly as Zero Suit Samus. Maybe he could just have a really good dash.

The Pat has a whole bunch of abilities in Killing Floor to draw from for Smash. The most obvious is his hardware. The Patriarch's left arm has been replaced with a gatling gun/rocket launcher. His right hand is a claw, and he has a sizeable tentacle in his chest that is great for bashing enemies. He also possesses cloaking technology, which he can use to turn invisible to retreat or sneak up on enemies. And last but not least, he carries around a few syringest for healing.

How most of these would work in Smash is a given. His basic attacks would use the claw. Getting hit by the tentacle in Killing Floor sends players flying backward, so that would be used for his smash attacks. The precedent for the rocket launcher has long been set by Samus and there's no logical reason to alter that for the Patriarch.

I think the Patriarch should use his minigun for his neutral special. He would stand in position, point it out in front, and fire off for as long as the button is held. I'm not sure how accurately the shooting could be portrayed. I don't think there has ever been another realistic firearm in the series, save maybe the Duck Hunt Dog's down special. Instinct says that the Pat's chaingun would be a multi-fire hitscan attack with long range, although that seems overly powerful. For balance, it should be slowed down, the range shortened, and made into an actual physical projectile. Smash has a strong tie with older games, and if you think back to the classic era, guns usually shot little white pellets (think Contra.) That seems like the best option of the Patriarch's n-special. It would be a sort of mid-way point between Mega Man's normal attack and the Super Scope item.

The Patriarch's other key power is his invisibilty. I suppose he could have a special that just straight up turns him invisible for a few seconds. It might be self-blancing: the opponents wouldn't be able to see him, but neither would the player, so it has risks as well as rewards. Maybe the duration is shortened each time it's used. Maybe there could be some start up or ending lag as well.

If that seems unfair, there are a few other ways to implement it. It would make a nice counter move. Another possibility is to use it like Meta Knight's Dimensional Cape. He goes invisible, and before turning back, the player has a split second to input a direction to move him in. This could double as the Patriarch's vertical recovery move, making it a decent option for an up special.

The Killing Floor fanboy in me wants to incorporate his healing, but the more I ponder that, the less I think it would work. Other characters with healing abilities, like the Wii Fit Trainer, have some kind of gimmick to make them fair. I can't think of satisfactory way to portray the Pat's recovery that's not either broken, unreliable, inaccurate to the character, or some combination. Besides, while you can play around to make his attacks less violent, there isn't really a way to PG straight up injecting yourself with a syringe. Healing can be done, but it would probably be better to just drop it.

That frees up a down special, which has a lot of possibilities. A strong close range attack, a weapon attack, maybe one of the invisibility things mentioned above. The possibilities are endless. If I really wanted to geek out, I would incorporate something similar to Zelda's newest down special where she summons a knight. The Patriarch could conjur up a regular enemy from the game for a single attack. Maybe a Scrake to chainsaw them, a Gorefast for a quick sword swipe, or a Bloat to spit some acid. The Bloat could even explode if opponents hit it. Hey, why not all three? The player could tap or hold the button to cycle through them.

The Patriarch is the commander of a whole army of mutant-zombie-creatures, and frequently summons them in battle to help. This should be fully realized in the Patriarch's Final Smash, in which he conjurs up a small group of his "children" to fight. They would be a small selection of weaker enemies (Clots, Crawlers, Stalkers, maybe Gorefasts) and maybe a Siren or Bloat for good measure. They would swarm players, who could fight back was well, making them sort of the like mini-fighters in their own right, or like assist trophies. Which monsters they are would be random (with a penchant toward Clots, since they are the most common enemy in KF) in a base group of four or five, with a couple more added for each extra player in the game.

If the original design is too much for you, there are plenty of other forms of the Patriarch to use as alternate outfits. Every couple months for as long as I've been playing, Killing Floor has an "event." In addition to (usually) releasing a new map, the enemies get re-skinned to match a certain theme. There's the sideshow theme, Halloween, rednecks, and my personal favorite, Christmas! I'd love to see some of these re-skins as alternates for the Pat. How fun would it be to fight a homicidal robot Santa?

Pretty much every franchise that gets represented in SSB gets an Assist Trophy in some form or another. For Killing Floor's spot, I think the honor should go to the fearsome Flesh Pound. The most powerful non-boss enemy in the game, he would jump into battle and wander around the stage with his yellow lights. If a character were to do something to piss it off, like hitting it, it enters the red-lit rage mode and beats that character down.

Finally, every character also needs a stage. There's a wide variety of maps to pick for inspiration in Killing Floor. My first thought goes to West London, arguably the most popular map in the game. However, while London's circular layout is great for an FPS like Killing Floor, it would be kind of boring in a 2D fighter like Smash unless there were some major adjustments made. With that in mind, a multi-floored level like Biotics Lab or Hospital Horrors would probably be a better choice.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENING?

Nope.

Not just because Killing Floor is overly violent, either. Nintendo is an enormous company making family-friendly consoles while Tripwire is slightly larger than an indie studio and makes gorey PC games. Nintendo likely doesn't even know that Killing Floor exists, and Tripwire probably couldn't care less about anything that the Big N is doing. The Patriarch doesn't even have the marquee value of Scorpion or Kane. Nintendo putting him in Smash would be like Disney making Frozen 2: Elsa vs. Sharknado.

The only chance this ever has of coming to fruition would be if the currently early access Killing Floor 2 becomes a monster hit and makes the series a household name. Then they might be in a similar position as Netherrealm studios.

That's all for this week. Thank you for reading. Remember to hug your dad extra tight this week, lest his loneliness turn him into a monstrous abomination that thirsts for pain and suffering. Have a good day!

 

 

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7:45 PM on 06.14.2015

What's so great about E3, anyway?

It's that time of the year again. If you didn't come here by mistake, then chances are I don't need to explain what E3 is. Every gaming news outlet on the internet - and even some non-gaming news outlets - are plastered with the latest from the Expo. For the next few weeks, you won't be able to open your browser without seeing some kind of speculation or analysis or reveal or something or other. And we gamers will eat up ever word of it.

Who can blame us? This is the biggest gaming event of the year. It's where pretty much every relevant company in the gaming industry sticks a funnel in our collective mouth and pours in all the juicy details of their current projects. We get to get pumped about what games we'll get to play down the line. We can root for our favorite consoles and developers. We pore over all the things we want to hear. And it's all presented to us on a grand stage with the biggest executives personally the delivering the news.

During E3, I'm always glued to my computer screen along with everybody else. I watch as many live conferences as I can. Between them, I have about a dozen tabs opened to different gaming sites which I constantly refresh in case a new story breaks. Even many of the topics I generally have no interest in, like consoles I don't own or genres I don't play, still grab my attention. It's because E3 is like a second Christmas. It's not only where all of our wildest dreams come true, it's where many of them begin.

It's also a farce.

For all of its positives, there is a huge slew of flaws that come from the Electronic Entertainment Expo. They are well documented. For starters, the very purpose of the event itself could be summed up in one word: hype. For the consumers, that might be misconstrued as being synonymous with "excitement," but the real translation is what the companies are after. Everything about E3, from the big screen stages with the light shows, the rock music montages, the gameplay demos, all the trashing of the competition. It's all engineered by the presenters with the hopes of securing our dollars.

On top of that, we take stock of the individual conferences to pick out a "winner," an act which serves no purpose other than feeding our misguided fanboy egos. We get pissy about what's not shown, or when what is shown doesn't match our hopes. We mock the presenters for anything that might come off as a little bit weird. Don't even get me started on "vertical slices" and the hype fiascos like Colonial Marines and Watch_Dogs.

In fact, E3 might just be the single biggest act of decadence in gaming culture. All of this, the good and the bad, the millions of dollars and all the effort and manipulation happen because of video games. These big reveals take on godlike proportions. When we see something we like, the cheers and excitement would make you think of some kind of religious epiphany. A new Zelda! The sky has been torn back and Link is going to defeat the seven headed Bowser as foretold in the Third Epistle of Saint Miyamoto!

These facts are not lost on the gaming public. There are plenty of critical and sarcastic pieces about the event popping up before, after, and any other time of the year. Unless we're not in the middle of the event itself, it's pretty hard to find an article about E3 that doesn't reference Giant Enemy Crabs®.

So if we know all this, why do we love it so much? Why do we put up with all this crap and buy into all this hype? Just to get an idea of what video games we might want to play a few months down the line? Do we really wallow that much in our own consumerism?

Let me tell you a story.

A few years ago, I was going through a pretty dark time in my life. Some personal events had left me pretty down in the dumps for months on end. To take my mind off it, I decided to take up a couple new hobbies. One of them was magic. David Blaine and Criss Angel were fairly popular at the time. I enjoyed watching them, so I bought a deck of cards and a beat up old magic book and started learning how to pull quarters out of people's ears. It was pretty fun at first. As I got more accustomed to it, I wanted to learn more, so I went shopping online and came across a website that sells magic stuff. It's a fairly well known website. I won't name it because of magicians secrets and whatnot, but if you've ever tried to buy magic supplies on the internet, I guarantee that it was one of the first sites you came across.

When I discovered this online store, I caught magic fever. They had everything a budding Houdini could want. There tons of cool custom decks of cards, there were all kinds of little trinkets, instructional DVD's out the wazoo. It just so happened that I found this website right around the time I got my first job, so guess where most of my newfound disposable income went?

The website featured plenty of great magicians, but what they were even better at than magic was marketing. These people know how to sell a product. Whenever you click on one of their product pages, you're greated with a trailer. It starts out with some avante garde music with some moody shots of a sunset over a bridge or something. There will be shots of the instructor in sunglasses and a trench coat and some kind of trendy facial hair while he gives a voiceover that sounds like some kind of vague beatnick poetry. This goes on for a minute when suddenly MUSICAL STING! followed by a quick montage of crowds screeching and freaking out over how awesome that magic trick was OH MY GOSH HOW DID HE DO THAT AAAHHHH!!!!!;alksdjfhglkasd

I bought every bit of it. Not literally; magic tricks are expensive. But I invested a pretty sizeable chunk of my income into whatever cool new thing caught my fancy each week. For a while, that was great. I'd get them in the mail, excitedly study whatever it was, perform it for all my friends and relatives... and then put it on my shelf to collect dust. After a while I started to notice that it didn't take long for my zeal for these new tricks to wear off. For as much as I looked forward to getting each one, each one left me a little - dare I say it - disappointed. Sure, it was fun to watch people's eyes bug out the first couple times I would perform it, but it never quite had the magic that I was looking for.

The magic I was looking for.

That's why. It dawned on me one day while I was browsing. The reason I was always disappointed wasn't because the products weren't good but because I was expecting something that it couldn't possibly deliver. To put it bluntly, I wanted real magic. I knew that every trick had a secret, but when I watched those trailers or whatever, some giddy little kid buried in my sub-conscious was secretly hoping that it would be real. That this DVD might actually teach me how to do this for real. I was buying a magic spell, and getting a magnet on a string.

That might sound silly. It is, it really is, and I admit that freely. I got caught up in the hype. That's the power of it. Everybody knows about advertising and marketing and all that. We all think we're smart enough not to fall for it. Yet when it comes to something we like, we still get sucked right into it. It's because we want to believe.

It's the same deal with E3. All the pomp and circumstance, the anticipation, it turns gaming into something larger than life. We forget that these things are just time killers to play on our gadgets. We get lost in the bombast, we see the video games as real magic. Maybe the same thing that all materialism stems from. We feel like we are missing something inside of ourselves and only this new thing can fill that void, even though it won't because it isn't God and the novelty will just wear off when the light shows are over. Man, that got really deep, really quickly.

I can't tell you how many times I've been watching E3 and said "WOW! I would buy a console just to play that game!" Then release day rolls around, and that becomes, "Hey, I should pick that up if I can round up the extra cash." That turns into, "Maybe I'll get that when the price drops," to "That would be a good  choice during the next used game sale," to "Hey, I remember that game, I wonder if it was any good?" It doesnt' always go that way. I remember watching Nintendo a few years ago and thinking "WOW! A new 2D Mario game just like the old ones except now I can play with three other people AT THE SAME TIME AAAHHHH!!!!!;alksdjfhglkasd." We all know how that turned out.

Am I saying that we shouldn't love E3? Absolutely not. For all the negative that comes with it, the reason all of that showing works so well is because it's fun. It's great to see the montages and lights and the speakers. It's awesome to see what our favorite companies have been working on. We love to get an idea of what we might want to play down the line. For the majority of us, the best experience we're ever going to have with most of these games is watching their reveal trailers.

There's no shame in liking E3. I'm watching it too, analyzing the conferences and reading all the news coverage. I love it. You should too. But with all of that love, let there come some discretion.

It's okay to enjoy the show as long as we remember that the magic is just an illusion.

 

 

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8:47 PM on 06.10.2015

Challenger Approaching: The Arch Nemesis Ninjas

Quick! Name the two most recognizable video game characters.

Mario and Pac-Man. Obviously.

Besides them.

Probably Sonic and Pikachu. Maybe Donkey Kong.

No no no. Well, yeah, probably. How about, name the two most recognizable fighting game characters.

All of those characters are fighting game characters. You should know that. This is a Smash Bros. blog, after all.

You know what I mean. Dedicated fighting game characters.

Oh. In that case, Ryu and...

No no no! We're talking about Scorpion and Sub-Zero!

Mortal Kombat is one of the most famous games in the medium. They say it began its development based on Jean-Claude Van Damme. That didn't quite pan out, so the brainchild of Ed Boon and John Tobias became its own beast. Released in 1992, it took the game world by storm. Its ultra-violent approach to fighting games would not only make it a formidable rival to then-genre king Street FIghter, but also to concerned parents. In addition to spawning tons of sequels and spin-offs, Mortal Kombat can also count the ESRB rating system as part of its legacy.

The series has created an entire cavalcade of memorable characters, but there is no question that Scorpion and Sub-Zero are its most popular. Two ninjas, garbed in yellow and blue respectively, have captured fans hearts since the beginning, my own included. It's not hard to see why. I can't be the only one for whom the appeal was "come for the cool outfits, stay for the aweseome powers." The relationship has only cemented itself from there. The two ninjas are pretty much the de facto mascots for the series, and when they're not around, they are sorely missed.

With Mortal Kombat being such a beloved game, it's only natural that its fans would like to see somebody join Mega Man and Snake among SSB's third party lineup. It makes sense that the most suited character for the position would be the most recognizable, and in that regard, there's not question that it would be one of these two.

WHO ARE SCORPION AND SUB-ZERO?

If you're unfamiliar with Mortal Kombat's plot, it tells of an interdimensional war. The warlords of Outworld long to invade Earth. In order to keep things fair, the Elder Gods have forced the realms to settle their differences in a martial arts tournament, pitting the two sides' best warriors against each other. The original trilogy follows Raiden's chosen heroes as they battle to ward off invasion from Shao Kahn's forces of darkness.

Despite being the most popular characters, Scorpion and Sub-Zero are only tangentially related to the main plot. Their story arc has more to do with each other. The plot puts them in their own conflict, which only occasionally intersects with the conflict between the realms.

Shortly before the first Mortal Kombat, Sub-Zero of the Lin Kuei would attack and wipe out a rival ninja clan. One of these warriors would rise from the grave. Calling himself Scorpion, the undead ninja vowed to avenge his family's murder so his soul could rest in peace. He tracked Sub-Zero to the Mortal Kombat tournament, in which he would enter and successfully get his revenge. (It should be noted that Sub-Zero and the Lin Kuei's role in the tournament is unclear, as it has been retconned in different games.)

Scorpion's peace would be short lived when word reached him that Sub-Zero, somehow alive and well, had entered into the second Mortal Kombat. This new warrior was actually the younger brother of the original Sub-Zero, who had entered the tournament to bait out his brother's killer and - of course - have revenge. It soon became obvious to Scorpion that this new Sub-Zero was not the same person; they reconciled and formed an alliance to help Earthrealm.

In the events of Mortal Kombat 3, in which Shao Kahn uses some good ol' fashioned loophole abuse to invade Earth despite losing the tournaments, Scorpion continued to ally himself with Raiden and his pals. Sub-Zero was caught up in the drama unfolding within his own clan. The Lin Kuei had developed the technology to convert their warriors into cyborgs, something they had already done with two of Sub-Zero's compatriots. Sub-Zero and his friend Smoke chose to retain their humanity, creating a feud among the Lin Kuei. Smoke was forced to become a cyborg, but with coaxing from Sub-Zero, kept his true self alive, and the two defeated their former clan.

Also during this time, another warrior would appear on the scene. A shadow-like assassin named Noob Saibot, he would linger in the background, remaining a mystery until after Shao Kahn's defeat. Noob Saibot was in fact the original Sub-Zero who was killed by Scorpion, now serving the rulers of the Netherrealm. The warriors would clash again during the conquest of Earth by Shinnok and Quan Chi. During this time it was revealed that one responsible for the massacre of Scorpion's clan was actually Quan Chi, who had orchestrated the event in order to manipulate the fighters for his own cause. This revelation would further put to rest the harsh feelings between Scorpion and Sub-Zero.

After Earthrealm's victory in MK4, the characters would go on to have further adventures throughout the rest of the series. History would repeat itself after and before Armageddon, when the world's doom inspired Raiden to send a message to his past self in hopes of preventing catastrophe. In this alternate timeline, most of these preceding events would remain the same. However, this time around, it was Sub-Zero who would be transformed into a cyborg rather than Smoke. Now the two continue their adventures in the recently released Mortal Kombat X, now available on PC, PS4, and X-Box One.

Whew. That was a lot to type.

HOW WOULD SCORPION WORK?

A key component of Mortal Kombat is the violence. It's filled to the brim with blood and gore, which is a selling point for fans. Obviously we can't have Scorpion and Sub-Zero ripping Mario's spine out, so that would tone down the violence factor quite a bit. That doesn't mean that Nintendo can't draw on the home series for inspiration. The good thing about having a fighting game character cross over to another fighting game is that all the base work is already done. All of the ninjas' basic moves and aerials could come straight from Mortal Kombat with few alterations.

From a design standpoint, I think that Scorpion and Sub-Zero should stick closer to their original outfits. That doesn't mean I don't like the recent versions, I just feel that the classic outfits with the plain ol' colored sashes would be a better fit for the aesthetic of Smash Brothers.

As far as Scorpion's moves go, I think it's about as straightforward as it gets. As mentioned, his basic moves would be hand-to-hand stuff taken more or less from the MK games. In terms of specials, Scorpion has three major recurring abilities throughout the series, each of which matches up pretty much perfectly with one of the special inputs from Smash.
The first is Scorpion's spear throw. He throws a spear (with a rope attached) at his opponent. When it hits, it ensnare's Scorpion's foe, allowing Scorpion to pull him into close range to commence a beat down. It's Scorpion's signature move and would be a perfect side special with almost no changes from the MK game.

The next big staple of Scorpion is his fire breath fatality. Scorpion takes off his mask to reveal that he's actually Ghost Rider. He then blasts flames at his opponent, burning them to a crisp. It's likely the most prolific fatality in the entire series, and has appeared in almost every game that has featured Scorpion. We're not going to let Scorpion murder his opponents in Super Smash Brothers, but that doesn't mean it can't make some kind appearance. Bowser and Charizard both have neutral specials that involve them breathing fire at a downward angle, pretty much exactly like Scorpion's fatality, minus the whole "agonizing death" thing. The same move would fit quite nicely as the ninja's n-special as well.

Scorpion's teleport punch would be the perfect up special. I imagine it working very similarly to Meta Knight's invisibility move. Scorpion would vanish in a burst of flame. In the split second before he reappears, the player would be able to input which direction they want him to go in, including up or down. This would allow it to work as a vertical recovery move in addition to being an attack.

That only leaves the down special. Scorpion has an entire arsenal of fire, weapon, and movement based attacks to draw on for that one. However, my favorite idea for that would be a Mortal Kombat mainstay, the ever present uppercut. It's a really popular move that's used by every character in pretty much every game. The reason I choose it for a down special is simply because the control inputs would be nearly identical to how it's used in Mortal Kombat, making it a perfect shout out to Scorpion's parent series.

On the other hand, it would also work very well as an up smash. The move's puprose in Mortal Kombat is to throw your opponent a long distance, so it makes sense to be a smash move in SSB. As a little bonus, it could be grouped with the classic roundhouse and sweep kicks as the side and down smash, completing the trifecta. As long as the uppercut is part of Scorpion's arsenal, I'd be happy.

There is a lot of room for creativity for Scorpion's Final Smash. Pretty much anything involving fire or bladed weapon or a ninja move. It stands to reason that his ultimate move in Smash would be based on a fatality. The problem is that MK's fatalities are, well, they're MK's fatalities. As much as I'd love to see Diddy Kong get what's coming to him, we can't exactly have characters dismembering each other. The aforementioned skull/fireball could work with a giant fire blast.

If it were my decision, I would probably have Scorpion open a portal to the Netherrealm. Maybe an entrapment type, where he sucks the enemies into a portal then launches them out. Another idea would be based on one of his MK3 fatalities. In this one, Scorpion summons a giant flaming skeleton hand to crush his opponent. The same concept was reused Shinnok in MK4. Maybe the hand would come out and smack or punch opponents around. Maybe it would have Master Hand's move set and stick around to help for a little while like an assist trophy.

Scorpion needs to have a joke taunt. His other taunts could be cool ninja or fire poses, but one of them has to be completely off the wall. For that, I have the perfect idea. Going back to MK3, the characters had a special kind of fatality called "Animalities," in which they would transform into an animal and maul their opponent. So what do you think Scorpion's was? Seriously, what animal do you think a guy named Scorpion would turn into?

Give up?

It was a penguin. If Scorpion was in Smash Bros., it would be completely unacceptable to not have him transform into a penguin for one of his taunts. It would be a great little shout-out for longtime fans, while everybody else would baffled by the sheer absurdity of it.

And finally, Smash would need to feature that classic Mortal Kombat Easter Egg, "Toasty!" My first thought was have it as a taunt, by why not make it the same as MK? When certain conditions are met, maybe when Scorpion KO's with a certain attack, a little face pops up in the corner and yells "Toasty!" It would have to be a rare occurence, lest it lose the novelty or get annoying. There are different possibilities for the face as well. Maybe it could be Mario's, or one of the Nintendo staff like Sakurai or Miyamoto. Maybe it would be the classed Dan Forden face but every once in a while be somebody else. I don't care, it just has to be there.

HOW WOULD SUB ZERO WORK?

Very similarly to Scorpion. As mentioned above, most of his basic attacks could come straight out of MK games. Furthermore, however the uppercut and kick moves were implemented with Scorpion, Sub-Zero's use would have to be identical. In Mortal Kombat, those moves are shared by every member of the cast, so it would have to be the same for our two ninjas in this game.

The real issue is how would freezing work? Super Smash Bros. does feature freezing in the form of a little ice item that, when thrown, encases an opponent inside of a glacier. This is a major effect, as it's very hard to break out of and takes a long time to cease, even if the entrapped fighter is taking a lot of damage. There are some characters who have stunning attacks, but these attacks are typically very close range, short lived, and have some kind of drawback. Even Ice Climbers and Lucas can freeze, but the effect is unreliable and not powerful enough to be an accurate reflection of Sub-Zero's ice powers.

If Sub-Zero could reliably and continuously freeze opponents from across the screen, it would break the game. All it would take would be a grab-throw followed by an n-special for an instant KO. A player with good reflexes could win the game in a matter of seconds. In order to keep things fair, SSB would have to feature a whole new freeze condition just for Sub-Zero.

His basic ice ball would be a charged projectile like Samus or Lucario's n-special. The longer it was charged, the stronger the freeze. A quick tap would be incredibly weak; it would break after one hit, dissipate on its own after a split second, and the entrapped player would be able to break out with only a couple button presses. On the flip side, a fully charged shot would be the same as hitting them with the ice item. Charging it up that far would have to take a long time to keep things fair.

Subby has no shortage of teleportation and flying kicks for an up special, but I would like to see him use the ice clone. He does a somersault in the air, leaving behind a blue afterimage that freezes opponents when they touch it. This would be subject to the same balance issues as above. It would not be a charged move, so the freeze effect would need a static amount of power, probably on the lower end.

The most obvious option for a side special is Sub-Zero's recurring slide move. My problem with this is that it would be too easy to dodge in Smash, and it also lacks any kind of visual flair. If it were included, it would have to be modified into a more impressive variation, maybe leavign an ice trail behind it like the enhanced version from MK9.

All of Sub-Zero's fatalities involve him freezing an opponent and shattering them or just flat out dismembering them. There really isn't much to draw on for inspiration of a Final Smash, so we have to look to his regular moves. I nominate a souped-up version of the Ice Shower. Normally just a vertical freeze move, in this case Subby could shoot a powerful ice blast into the air, which then rains down upon the arena like Ness's final smash, freezing anyone it hits.

Sub-Zero also needs at least one silly taunt. In keeping with his powers, Sub-Zero would conjur up a cute little snowman.
Unlike Scorpion, who pretty much looks the same in all of his appearances, there are several options for Sub-Zero to have an alternat costume. He could appear as both a masked and unmasked version. There's the cyborg version, a black Noob Saibot pallet swab wouldn't be out of place either.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENING?

I'd say they have...

(•_•)
( •_•)>⌐■-■
(⌐■_■)

...a snowball's chance in Hell. YYYEEEAAAHHH!!!

It's hard to imagine what Nintendo and Netherrealm studios actually feel about each other. In my overly dramatic mind, I see years of animosity given the radically different philosophies on gaming, the spotty system support on NR's part, and the censorship years ago. That's probably not true, though. I've Googled the issue and have seen radically different stuff on both ends of the spectrum, making it really hard to gauge where the companies stand. I doubt there's any real hard feelings there. Even still, though, the violent world of Mortal Kombat still doesn't seem like a good fit for a Nintendo crossover.

Then I think of Solid Snake. When third party characters started showing up in Brawl, there was plenty of potential, such as Mega Man and Pac-Man who made it into SSB4. But why Solid Snake? While not as gory as Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear is certainly a lot darker and more adult than other franchises represented in Smash. Other than a Gamecube exclusive MGS remake, it wasn't like the series had any major obligation to the Big N, either. The main reason that Solid Snake was featured in Brawl is because Hideo Kojima asked for him to featured. That's it.

And who can blame him? What creator wouldn't want to see their creations featured alongside Mario and Link? I doubt Nintendo would ever consider any MK characters for Super Smash Bros., but that doesn't mean they would be closed to the idea if somebody else brought it up.

So if anybody happens to talk to Ed Boon, tell him to give Sakurai a call.

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11:28 AM on 06.03.2015

Challenger Approaching: The Big Red Machine

A few days ago, I was at my uncle's funeral. The man was elderly and had not been in good health for many years, but was a very kind man and great blessing to our family. Emotions ran high. Tears streamed and hugs hugged as my family said our goodbyes. Gathered in the back of the funeral parlor, my brother, my cousin, and myself spent the time contemplating the great eternal mysteries of life and death. And while this great tragedy unearthed thoughts of the deepest philosophies, we debated a quandary of the most existential nature:

Should Spongebob Squarepants be in Super Smash Bros.?

I said no, of course. Super Smash Brothers is celebration of Nintendo, putting together their colorful cast of characters to show off their abilities. There have been third party characters included, of course, but those characters have always been from games and usually had close ties with Nintendo or their products anyway. There was certainly no reason that I could see for placing an American cartoon character, with no real connection with battling anyway, My brother and cousin, however, insisted that Spongebob's goofy nature would fit in perfectly with the cartoony aspects of Nintendo's roster. There was plenty of speculation on our porous pal's antics could factor into his attacks.  Summoning jellyfish, for example, or maybe blowing bubbles in the shapes of bombs.

They came up a final smash, where a stove appears and Spongebob flips Krabby Patties at his opponents. And since no character can be in Smash without his own stage, naturally Spongebob would battle inside the Krusty Krab while Squidward looks on with disdain from his cash register. Mr. Krabs and some of the other citizens of Bikini Bottom would occasionally walk by in the background.

Yeah, it was a silly conversation, and probably not the most appropriate thing to be discussing at a funeral. My brother and I have Super Smash Brothers on the brain. We just bought the latest SSB on Wii U a couple weeks ago and have been playing it ever since. We're a few months late to the party. The novelty has worn off for most people. The two of us, though, are still in the fandom daydream stage. Everyone goes through the same thing when I new one is announced. Who should be in it? What should their moves be? It goes on until slightly after the game's release, then the world moves on for a few years until the next one gets announced.

The names that get tossed around range from reasonable to bonkers. Goku gets tossed around a lot, as does Shrek, and I honestly wouldn't be surprised if my brother wasn't the first person to suggest Spongebob. Mega Man was a pretty popular request before actually being added in the most recent interation. Others get a little crazy. Anime characters especially. And of course, there's always that person who says, "WHAT? Of course Nintendo HAS to add Ranamuna Moji from Aimaina no Gemu XXVII!"

I tend to be a little more realistic. It's Smash Bros., after all, not MUGEN. A little thid party here and there is great, of course. And I certainly do my share of dreaming. That said, I don't realisitically think there should be an influx of non-Nintendo characters into SSB. But why can't we have a little fun? I've been thinking about it lately, and I've come up with a bunch of ideas for different characters. Sure, it's just fanboyish wanking that everyone does, but what is this idle chatter if not entertaining?

I've taken some inspiration from another blog I've been reading lately, Prowler64's What if _____ was a Pokemon? series. I'm going to take a page from that series and test out one of my own. Here I'll be analyzing some different characters from games and other works of fiction. Maybe this will become a series. Maybe not. Some will be more realistic, others not so much. I've picked out a rather off-beat one for our pilot episode, so I hope you enjoy.

The Big Red Machine, the Devil's Favorite Demon, one half of team Hell No and the Brother's of Destruction, it's KANE! In Smash Brothers' world of mascots and high fantasy, abstract attacks and sword weilders, what's more original than an actual professional wrestler? Classic Kane looks awesome and brings a much-needed grappling style to the series.

WHO IS KANE?

Kane is the brother of The Undertaker. They lived their early years in the family funeral home until a tragic fire robbed them of their parents and left Kane permanently disfigured. Kane was left to the "care" of government mental facilities, while the Undertaker was raised by Paul Bearer to become a force of darkness and eventually become one of the most dominant wrestlers in the World Wrestling Federation. This alliance would not last forever: in the mid-nineties, the two had a falling out, prompting Bearer to rescue Kane from a mental institution and bring him to WWF in order to get revenge on his brother.

Much of Kane's story has focused on the Undertaker. The two have had a very on-again, off-again relationship. They have been both bitter enemies as well as invaluable teammates on multiple different occasions throughout their careers. Kane's conflicts have not been limitted to his brother, however. The Big Red Machine has certainly made his mark on the rest of the sports entertainment world as well. He has had a history with plenty of other superstars, including but not limited to Mick Foley, D-Generation X, Triple H, Rob Van Dam, Edge, a claw machine, Mark Henry, Daniel Bryan, and more. He's also held his fair share of championships, though he has always been motivated more by causing chaos than seeking glory.

Storylines for Kane have gone up and down. His tenure in WWE has long outlasted Paul Bearer and the Undertaker. Perhaps the most significant event was Kane's unmasking. For much of Kane's career, he had hidden his face behind a mask under the guise of being disfigured. In 2003, Kane underwent a storyline in which he was publicly and permanently unmasked. Of course, since Kane's real life actor Glenn Jacobs has a perfectly normal looking face, this led to Kane becoming a generic strong bald guy for most of his run since then. Fans have been split on the quality of Kane's storylines since then, but with a couple exceptions (such as his recent team-up with Daniel Bryan) the consensus is that Kane's character hasn't quite been the same since. Despite this, Glenn Jacobs' undying loyalty to WWE and its fans have made his character retain its special place in the hearts of the WWE universe, especially those who remember his early badass years.

Kane is an enormous human being. Even in an industry built around gigantic men, he dwarfs most of his competition. Keeping with the fire theme, his outfits are typically red and black. It all combines to make him one of the most visually appealing (not to mention intimidating) people on the roster.

HOW WOULD KANE WORK IN SMASH?

Any adaption of Kane would have to be based on his masked looks. The classic one is the most obviously. I personally prefer the black tanktop-style outfit that he used in the early 2000's. Any of Kane's masked outfits would work. Since a couple are just the same things with swapped colors, I don't see why there couldn't be multiple alternate outfits in Smash.

The character most similar to Kane would be Ganondorf. In fact, the inspiration behind this very article came when I was noticed that Ganondorf's side-special is extremely similar to Kane's signature move, the Chokeslam. Kane would function very similarly, being slow but powerful and fighting with his fists. Kane's Chokeslam could function the same way as Ganondorf's, or it could be used as a down throw. Another staple of Kane's arsenal that deserves representation is the Tombstone Piledriver. I can see this working similarly to Bowser's side special.

Another fixture of the Kane character is the fire motif. Kane has had a very heavy association with fire throughout his career. In addition to his signature entrance taunt (more on that in a second) early Kane would sometimes throw fireballs (in one of the worst special affects in WWE history, I might add.) This could easily transfer over to Smash in order to spice things up (hehe) and give Kane a little more variety. to a primarily close-range fighter. Certain parts of Kane's body, like his fists, could be burning to add a little visual flair (hehehe) as well.

Of all the different aspects of Kane's character, few are tied so closely as his entrance. Kane is one of the most prolific users of pyrotechnics in all of wrestling. He frequently announces his entrance with an explosion from the stage, and always lights up the arena with his awesome ring pyro. Once inside the ring, Kane will stand in the center and slowly lift his arms over this head before throwing them down, signaling pyro explosions from all four corners of the ring.

 

This entrance is effectively Kane's signature. More than his moves, his mask, or anything else, Kane and his pyros are inseperable. This is essential and needs to have some kind of presence in Super Smash Brothers. Fortunately, there are a number of ways it could manifest. A taunt, an entrance or winning animation, or a basic special move are all viable options. I think, though, that something as awesome as Kane's pyro deserves a bit more glory. It could function perfectly as smash attack, perhaps an up smash in the same vein as Palutena's, replacing the big blue laser things with a column of fire.

Yet another option would be to use it as Kane's Final Smash. When using it, Kane would start raising his arms in the air. During this time, the ground would start to glow on random spots around the arena, allowing opponents a short time to get out of the way. Then, when Kane throws his arms down, they erupt into guysers of fire, causing massive damage and potentially KOing anybody unfortunate enough to caught in them. There are plenty of possibilities, and it could even be used for more than one, though I'd hate to see it get over used as well. Personally, I like the Final Smash and Up Smash ideas the best.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENING?

Extremely unlikely. Then again, if you'd asked me a year ago, I'd say there was a better chance of Kane in Smash Brothers than there was of CM Punk in The Flintstones, so I guess you can't say it's impossible. WWE does have a history of branching out and getting experimental with their video games. There have been two experimental mobile games in the last year (trading card game SuperCard and MK-like fighting game Immortals, both of which were generally well recieved). Let's not forget their 2003 Twisted Metal-esque Crush Hour, either. So while the chances of WWE ever having a direct relationship with Nintendo are a million to one, I don't think it's completely unimaginable, either.

With that said, if WWE ever DID find itself in a position where a representation in Smash were a viable option, I doubt Kane would be their go to man. Far more likely would be one of the faces of the company, like current superman John Cena or the legendary Hulk Hogan. I doubt an aging tweener like Kane would be in the running. Even if they did decide to go the "dark anti-hero" route, there's no doubt that The Undertaker would be their first choice before his lesser-known little brother. Still, Kane is one of the more recognizable and well loved characters among big fans, so we can still dream.

So, have I convinced you that Kane is the perfect choice for Smash Brothers? Of course I have. How do you think he would play? Or perhaps you can think of a better WWE superstar to stand toe-to-toe with Mario and Link?

I'm thinking about turning this into a full fledged series, at least until the novelty wears off and I lose interest in the game. So if you liked this, be on the lookout for more issues of A New Challenger Approaches, where I'll discuss other characters having a chance in Smash, from the likely to the absurd. Thanks for reading!

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10:30 AM on 05.26.2015

Xenoblade Chronicles Review

Xenoblade Chronicles is an underdog story in more ways than one. Born in a world of strife, it seemed destined for obscurity until, against the odds, we chose to fight. Even with its extremely limited North American release and quickly becoming a collector's item on the Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles beat the odds enough to develop a cult following, get a 3DS port, and even get some representation on Super Smash Brothers 4. These obstacles kept me from indulging the game until very recently. This review may be a couple years out of date for the Wii, but having recently finished it only days within the release of the 3DS version, I can't help give Xenoblade Chronicles its due.

"The future's not set. There's no fate but what we make for ourselves." - The Terminator

Xenoblade Chronicles
System: Wii (reviewed), New 3DS
Developer: Monolith Soft
Publisher: Nintendo, Xseed
Released: April 6, 2012

The universe of Xenoblade Chronicles exists as an infinite ocean that stretches for eternity in all directions. In the center of it all stand two collossal titans. Legends say that in ancient times, they fought a massive battle against each other until one day both fell dormant. Fast forward a few thousand years, and life has cropped up and evolved on their corpses. On one, the Bionis, is a world not unlike our own. Forests and mountains, plants and animal, human-like Homs and a few other sapient species. The other, Mechonis, has become home to race of robotic insectoids called Mechon. Centuries later, these species carry on the war of their parents. The Mechon hold a vicious edge in the conflict, but homanity has managed to stave off extinction thus far thanks to a mysterious magical sword called the Monado. (That's the red thing you see in all the promotional material.)

That's all backstory, mostly given in the opening cutscenes. The player, for their part, follows the adventures of Shulk and his companions. Shulk is a young tinkerer studying the Monado when one day his home is attacked by a mysterious new mechon. The assault leaves many, including one of his best friends, dead. With a lust for revenge, Shulk takes up the Monado and sets out to discover the secrets of the mechon. He soon finds that the Monado has taken to him Chosen One-style, giving him a host of new abilities, not the least of which is looking into the future (That's So Raven style.)

There are a few cliches, or course. There are heartfelt reunions with long-thought-dead companions. A moody villain who'se really just misunderstood and needs a hug. An ancient evil magically sealed away. (Multiple!) wise lost races who show up just in time to info-dumb a bunch of exposition on the party. The same stuff that pops up in every JRPG. It didn't bother me that much, as there is enough originality in the game to make it feel fresh and interesting anyway.

Early on, the conflict is mainly there to move the party from location to location. Early in the game, the characters don't really know where to go, so they chase shadows like a breadcrumb trail that bring them from place to place. The story is very internally-focused for the first half of the game. The characters will enter a new location and discover some major problem plaguing the locals. The main conflict gets put on hold until the party rescues the runaway kid/defeats the dinobeast/helps the princess explore the ruins, at which point the mechon will make a token appearance and the party moves on to the next area to reapeat the process.

For much of the game, the mechon are just faceless mooks (pun totally intended.) We don't start to learn about them or even meet the big bad until pretty deep into the game. Early villain Metal Face is excellent to watch, but his role is mostly to show up and banter before a quick boss battle, then fly away so the party can chase him to the next area. It does make the plot feel a little slow sometimes, and I wish would have met the mechon leader earlier in the story to give us somebody more substantial to root against. However, I don't think this has an overly negative impact on the game. What we get is plenty of development of the world itself. Discovering the regions, races, and cultures or Bionis is every bit as intriguing as busting up mortal enemies.

Xenoblade's universe truly does feel alive. Every race has a ton of history. Every location on Bionis has little touches to make it feel so much more than just a map in a video game. Many NPC's are characters in their own rights. There are dozens and dozens of named NPC's that have their own lives, schedules, and relationships. A few are even more developed than some of the -agonists. They are a great addition to the game, and it's a pleasure to watch their own stories unfold through dialogue and sidequests.

Speaking of sidequests, there is definitely no shortage. It's pretty common to walk up to a group of NPC's and see a half-dozen exclamation points over their heads. Many lead into each other, and many more are dependent on where you are in the story. Given the number of NPC's, they can pile up really quickly. If you're thorough in talking to residents, you can add literally hundreds of things to your to do list in just a few minutes. There were times when I would spend entire play sessions solely doing sidequests. It's enough to drive a completionist nuts.

Most of them aren't very interesting. The overwhelming majority of them consist of "go collect random item(s), kill random monster(s), and/or talk to random NPC(s)." That can be a far more daunting task than it seems. The sheer volume of each of those things is incredible. On top of that, they are spread out across huge areas and often only appear at specific times. There's no in-game encyclopedia for enemies and items (and only a vague one for NPC's) and dialogue hints are usually ambiguous Encountering any of them even once depends entirely on being in the right place at the right time. Tracking them down deliberately requires either monumental luck or near omniscient memory.

Or a walkthrough.

Which I used.

A lot.

Some sidequests are more unique and, as mentioned, tie right in to the lives of the minor characters. They can link together to create effective sub-plots. Granted, for the player's part it usually boils down the same thing, but helping a Nopon uncover a drug cartel is a lot more worthwhile than two hundred different versions of "hey, I want to knit a sweater. Can you go to death mountain and kill twenty-six velociraptors for me?"

Of course, you don't have to complete them all. Players are free to do them at their leisure. Skipping too many, though, means missing out on not only sub-plots but experience and party affinity as well. I eventually got in the habit of saving them up, then taking a break when things got hard to go back and catch up. This not only made it more tolerable for sidequests but allowed me to level grind without things becoming monotonous.

(On a side note, I do NOT recommend doing this before the final boss. The last few enemies of the game do not scale with the party's level. If you stop at the point of no return to go play completionist, you're likely to end up a good ten to fifteen levels higher than you need to be, thus turning the final boss into a complete joke. When you get to the point of no return (you'll know, trust me) I suggest copying your save file and then going ahead to the final battle. Then, use your other save to go do what you want to do afterward. Otherwise, you're looking at a pretty big anticlimax.)

What's not monotonous is exploring. The environments on Bionis are stunning. Absolutely enormous, gorgeously designed, packed with interesting little things. More than sideuests, more than combat, just going into a new area and exploring was one of the highlights of the game. Every area on Bionis is packed with scenery. Keep in mind, the "world" is the body of giant titan, meaning the layouts can get really unique. Even something as basic as a small hill can be really cool to look at. It brings me back to my childhood playing The Legend of Zelda. It's rare that modern games give me that kind of thrill just from walking around, so Xenoblade gets major props in that department.

Unfortunately, that's not consistent all the way through the game. Late game locations tend to get pretty sparse. There's a particularly dull stretch near the turn of the third act when you get behind enemy lines. Mechon territory has very little of interest to see (despite having one of the largest locations in the game). Friendly NPC's are almost non-existent (yet the game still manages to pile on a few thousand boring sidequests) and the color pallet sucks. It's made a little more pallatable by the fact that this is where the story starts to heat up and powering your way through it is pretty straightforward, so it's easy to overlook.

Exploring is helped by the fact that environments are gorgeously rendered. With the exception of the above, colors are vibrant. There are lush fields and hazy forests. Waterfalls that could come from photographs, and mountains that could come from Thomas Kinkade. There are ample places to just stop and admire the scenery.

I only wish the visual quality could have carried over into the character models. Monsters and mechon are adequate, but the characters leave a lot to be desired. You might not notice it in play, but closeups in cutscenes reveal them to be pixely. Their faces are flat, with mouths that don't always match the words. To put it bluntly, human characters look like they could be from a PS2 game. I'm not big graphics in general, but there's another, even worse factor in the character designs.
The party's equipment reflects on their character models. Not uncommon in modern games. The problem is that equipment is designed in sets, with certain pieces matching other pieces from the same set, like medeval Garanimals.

There is no guarantee that you are going to have every piece of equipment from a given set, and if you do, that still doesn't mean that they will be the best things to equip on any given character, forcing you to mix and match if you want the best stats. This means that it's extremely likely that your characters will end up with, say, a huge bulky chest plate and a loin cloth. Even the outfits that do go together are still often hideous. My endgame equipment for one character was honey-yellow armor with circle things on it. It looked like somebody glued cheerios to a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's. Then gave him a helmet that looked like a Beetleborg. It's really irritating, to say the least. It can even ruin some of the drama when there's a serious cutscene going on and somebody is dressed in a shogun helmet and a bikini. I'd go so far as to say that his is one of my biggest gripes with the game.

The rest of the presentation is pretty good. The English dubbing, for the most part, is superb. A couple of the voice actors - Metal Face, Dunban, and Xord - like to chew the scenery, but that just adds to the charm. To give further credit to the audio department, Xenoblade has one of the best soundtracks I've ever heard. It's filled to the brim with memorable music, and very few bad tracks to speak of. Heartfelt harmonies, melancholy melodies, and blasting battle guitars are masterfully composed and perfectly placed to elicit just the right mood. There are a couple themes still haven't left my head.

All of these aspects come together quite nicely in the cutscenes. In the world of interactive movies, it's rare when cinematics are still considered a reward, instead making players yell "shut up and let me play the game!" The cutscenes in Xenoblade can be as exciting or emotional as any movie. There is one particularly long late-game cutscene that goes on for at least twenty minutes, and I didn't even care. Hand it to the folks at Monolith Soft. When they want to make something epic, they know how to do it.

The biggest gameplay element that I haven't touched on yet is combat. Enemies roam around unpopulated areas (usually predetermined groups in predetermined spots.) When the players gets too close to a sufficiently hostile foe, they will attack automatically. On top of that, players can choose to make the first move, which usually nets them some mild bonuses at the start of the battle.

The fighting itself can be a little complicated. Battles take place in real time. The player can move their character around while basic attacks happen automatically as long as they are in range of the targetted enemy. Special attacks, called "Arts," are selected by scrolling through icons at the bottom of the screen. It sounds simple enough on paper, but figuring out how it works under the hood is a different animal. Tactics are not as simple as "use water spell against fire enemy." Most arts have some kind of effect besides just causing damage. To adequately bring down baddies, you have to figure out how these effects work together. Buffs and status ailments are huge in Xenoblade, as well as positioning and aggro. Some arts are best used in conjunction with other arts, either yours or your allies. On top of that, each character (which you can switch between outside of battle) has a different intended role in combat, and has different strengths and weaknesses to match. That means changing your party also means changing your strategy to find the best way to make characters work together.

I'm told that the combat is based on the system used in many MMO's, such as World of Warcraft. When it comes to that genre, my experience is a big fat zilcho. It doesn't help that the combat "tutorials" are poorly-written in-game instruction manuals that are shoved down the players throat en-masse at the beginning of the game. After the fifth or sixth one, I basically said "screw this, I'll figure it out on my own." As a result, it took me a while to get used to the nuances of combat. Once I did, I had a lot of fun incapacitating enemies or dealing massive damage with just the right combos. It just took me longer to get to that stage than it should have. Players with more experience in this type of thing likely won't have the same problem.

In keeping with Shulk's ability to see the future, sometimes during battle, the current character will experience a vision. This serves to warn the player of an impending enemy attack, typically one that will kill a party member. This gives you a few seconds to react and prevent any negative drawbacks. This is both a useful and creative way to link the story with the gameplay. It can get a little annoying in longer battles when the action keeps getting interrupted.

There are a couple other minor hiccups in combat. Changing targets is cumbersome and frequently unresponsive. In bigger battles, it can sometimes be a pain to lock on to the enemy that you actually want to attack. Sometimes your character will switch targets on their own (usually due to an enemy's attack), and if you don't notice right away, you'll end up flailing like an idiot. AI allies can have an occasional brain fart as well. They are mostly pretty competent, but every once in a while they do something stupid. Wasting a healing art on a party member at ninety percent health when somebody else is barely clinging on to life, or running off to go fight a distant monster that wasn't even part of the battle in the first place, leaving you to get bumrushed by a bunch of minions. The latter can get especially annoying when you realize that maps are peppered with occasional high-leveled enemies or mini-boss like "unique monsters." It's not uncommon to be item farming against low level frog monsters when suddenly the music changes and you find yourself being chased down by a level ninety T-Rex.

Despite the complexities and nitpicks, the combat really is satisfying when you get the hange of it. Nothing beats topple-locking an enemy to keep them pinned to the ground, or using a chain attack to get a multiplier and knock off two thirds of an opponent's health bar in one attack.

 

For all the game's primary pros and cons, there is one minor thing I've saved for last. It's an odd quirk. I'm not sure if it's a flaw or not. Most people wouldn't even care. In fact, I guarantee that I'm the odd one out for even noticing it, and taking issue with it might make me seem like I'm being overly sensitive or politically correct or something.

WARNING: The next section contains minor late game spoilers. It also includes discussion on religion. I DO NOT WANT TO TURN THIS INTO A RELIGIOUS DEBATE. If you want to avoid spoilers, or if you don't think you can read pro-religious statements without making negative comments, please skip to the next section. Thank you.

I know very little of past Xeno- games. One of the few things I DO know, is that they contain a lot of religious parallels, not all of which are positive. I've made it no secret that I'm a practicing Christian, and so I was a little apprehensive going into Xenoblade Chronicles. I did as much research into the plot as I could without going into spoiler territory, and saw nothing to indicate that -blade followed in the footsteps of it's Xeno- counterparts. 

Well, sure enough, late in the game, some gods show up and start working against the party. These so-called "gods" are hardly similar to the "Faith, Hope, and Love" deity of Abrahamic faiths. They are more like the gods of mythology, being basically super-powered humanoids. This is nothing new. The same kind of thing pops in countless works of fiction and I have never even batted an eyelash.

The problem here is that once the gods come into the conflict, the characters take on a very anti-theistic mindset. It's hard to blame them, of course. The Xenoblade version of Zeus is a collossal prick. If my only example of a god was a murderous maniac, I'd probably feel the same way. That said, when the characters start going on rants about "how much better the world would if there was no god," it makes me feel kind of, for lack of better word, icky

I don't say that lightly. I have pretty thick skin about this kind of stuff. Looking at my shelf just now, there are at least a dozen other games on there that also have you fighting an evil god. Xenoblade Chronicles takes that beyond a simple plot point. I've seen YouTube comments that are less anti-theistic than some of the heroes' late-game dialogue. At risk of sounding overly sensitive, it started to bush the boundaries of what I'm willing to accept from my protagonists without being offended. 

Despite what I said, I'm NOT actually offended. If I was, then I would have stopped playing the game right then and there. Xenoblade's "god" is not analogous to Jesus or YHWH, and the characters' actions are completely justified within the context of the plot. It did not stop me from enjoying the game. I am also not questioning anybody else's relgious beliefs or their right to express them. I simply want to let people know that there is some potentially offensive religious stuff going on here.

In other words, consider this one big trigger warning.

End spoilers and controversial stuff.

 

 

I'd be remiss to pretend that Xenoblade Chronicles doesn't have it's shortcomings. Characters look off, there are too many monotonous sidequests, and the game in general can be a little slow sometimes. On the flip side, the music is incredible, the combat is a blast (once you get used to it,) and exploring those big beautiful landscapes is a joy that I haven't gotten from a game in a long time.

Buying Xenoblade Chronicles is a bit of a cash investment. Either you track down a copy of the Wii version at hyper-inflated collector's prices, or you shell out the dough for a New 3DS (assuming you haven't gotten one already) before you can get the portable version. That's a bit of a commitment no matter how you slice it, which is why Xenoblade Chronicles is hard to recommend to everyone despite how much I enjoyed it. The game is jam-packed with content, so hardcore RPG fans will still get their money's worth even with the high cost. This goes double for completionists. For everyone else, I certainly won't discourage anyone from buying it, though I can't blame anyone for passing on the high price tag.

 

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7:12 PM on 11.15.2014

Jeff the Killer sucks (Part 2)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was intended to be a Halloween piece, but I got severely held up in finishing it. Be warned, this post contains a few scary pictures from shock sites, so if you are sensitive to that kind of thing, please proceed with caution.

 

 

Greetings, fellow horror fans, and welcome to part two of my full Jeff the Killer commentary.

If you missed part one, here's the basic rundown: Creepy Pasta are those scary short stories that hobby writers like to post online to scare their internet friends. They are usually presented as firsthand accounts, often urban legend type deals, and usually have freaky twist endings. Think Slender Man, BEN Drowned, that kind of thing.

Personally, I love this stuff. But there is one very famous Creepy Pasta that has been floating around for a while. It has a huge fan following and is considered to be one of the classics. That Pasta is Jeff the Killer, and despite its fame, it's actually pretty terrible. So to celebrate the Halloween season (yeah, yeah, I'm two weeks late, but it's never too late for horror!) I'm doing a full commentary.

For more information on this pasta and to see the first half of the commentary, move your mouse over these words and push the button on it.

Now, when we last left our heroes, Jeff's brother Liu had just been arrested after taking the blame when Jeff beat up some local bullies. After several days of sulking, Jeff has just been awoken one bright morning by his mother.

 

“Jeff, it’s the day.” she said as she opened up the curtains and let light flood into his room.

Yes, it's the day. Before it was the night, but now it is the morning. Would you like to come to the downstairs and eat the breakfast before the noon?

“What, what’s today?” asked Jeff as he stirs awake.

“Why, it’s Billy’s party.” He was now fully awake.

“Mom, you’re joking, right? You don’t expect me to go to some kid’s party after…” There was a long pause.

“Jeff, we both know what happened. I think this party could be the thing that brightens up the past days. Now, get dressed.” Jeff’s mother walked out of the room and downstairs to get ready herself. He fought himself to get up. He picked out a random shirt and pair of jeans and walked down stairs. He saw his mother and father all dressed up; his mother in a dress and his father in a suit. He thought, why they would ever wear such fancy clothes to a kid’s party?

How do you "pick out" a random shirt? To pick something out means it is deliberately selected, which is the exact opposite of random. I assume this means he just grabbed a shirt out of his closet without paying attention, but if that's the case, he didn't pick it out. Alternatively, maybe the "random" aspect is a quality of the shirt rather than his actions. Maybe the shirt magically changes color and pattern of its own accord with no rhyme or reason, making it a random shirt. Yeah, I like that explanation. For the rest of this scene, I'm just going to picture Jeff wearing a shirt that is perpetually transforming.

Also, that last sentence is not phrased as a question.

“Son, is that all your going to wear?” said Jeff’s mom.

“Better than wearing too much.” he said. His mother pushed down the feeling to yell at him and hid it with a smile.

“Now Jeff, we may be over-dressed, but this is how you go if you want to make an impression.” said his father. Jeff grunted and went back up to his room.

“I don’t have any fancy clothes!” he yelled down stairs.

“Just pick out something.” called his mother. He looked around in his closet for what he would call fancy. He found a pair of black dress pants he had for special occasions and an undershirt. He couldn’t find a shirt to go with it though. He looked around, and found only striped and patterned shirts. None of which go with dress pants. Finally he found a white hoodie and put it on.

Oh. Never mind about the shirt then, I guess. What was the point of that? Seriously, what does this whole wardrobe fiasco add to the story? This is one of the longest scenes in the story, and it's about Jeff putting on a sweatshirt. My guess is the intended purpose here is to paint Jeff as being awkward, that he doesn't quite fit in with his parents. The problem is that this is one of the most asinine possible ways to show it. Furthermore, it makes the parents out to be complete buffoons while showing Jeff to be an entitled little brat. Which is exactly what they are, except it's not done in a good way. The reason these characters come off like that is not because they are intentionally being developed as such but because the story is doing a piss poor job at actually building three dimensional personalities.

“You’re wearing that?” they both said. His mother looked at her watch. “Oh, no time to change. Let’s just go.” She said as she herded Jeff and his father out the door. They crossed the street over to Barbara and Billy’s house. They knocked on the door and at it appeared that Barbara, just like his parents, way over-dressed. As they walked inside all Jeff could see were adults, no kids.

Of course they are all over dressed, because that's how grown-ups act in real life, right?

“The kids are out in the yard. Jeff, how about you go and meet some of them?” said Barbara.

Jeff walked outside to a yard full of kids. They were running around in weird cowboy costumes and shooting each other with plastic guns. He might as well be standing in a Toys R Us. Suddenly a kid came up to him and handed him a toy gun and hat.

Aren't I so cool? I don't have time for stupid baby things like Toys 'R Us. That crap is for babies, and I'm almost thirteen! Also, there's another human being suddenly appearing. The kid was playing on the other side of the yard and BAMF! Wanna pway?

“Hey. Wanna pway?” he said.

OH MYLANTA HE ACTUALLY DID IT. THE WRITER ACTUALLY JUST TYPED OUT THE WORD "PWAY."

“Ah, no kid. I’m way too old for this stuff.” The kid looked at him with that weird puppydog face.

“Pwease?” said the kid. “Fine,” said Jeff. He put on the hat and started to pretend shoot at the kids. At first he thought it was totally ridiculous, but then he started to actually have fun. It might not have been super cool, but it was the first time he had done something that took his mind off of Liu. So he played with the kids for a while, until he heard a noise. A weird rolling noise. Then it hit him. Randy, Troy, and Keith all jumped over the fence on their skateboards. Jeff dropped the fake gun and ripped off the hat. Randy looked at Jeff with a burning hatred.

This writer has no idea how paragraphs work. That is actually making it hard to comment on individual issues because I don't want to break up a paragraph but each one has about eight million different things wrong with it.

" “Pwease?” said the kid. "
As mentioned above, this is really stupid. I want to rant about it, but just isn't worth it.

" “Fine,” said Jeff. "
This should be a new paragraph. Actually, every other sentence should be a new paragraph, but this is the most obvious.

" At first he thought it was totally ridiculous, but then he started to actually have fun. It might not have been super cool, but it was the first time he had done something that took his mind off of Liu. "
This is that clumsy, half-conversational tone that keeps popping up.

" So he played with the kids for a while, until he heard a noise. "
That doesn't make any sense. Were there not plenty of noises while playing? Is this actually some kind of mime party, everything was completely silent until there came one noise? Did Jeff just stop dead the instant he heard it? Obviously Jeff just heard something odd that diverted his attention, but this sentence makes it sound as though he just froze at some random noise. I'm picturing Jeff as some small animal - a chipmunk, maybe - going stealthily about it's business, hearing a rustling in the bushes, then snapping to attention.

" A weird rolling noise. "
What exactly is a "rolling" noise? I've heard thunder described as "rolling," but "rolling" itself is not a noise.

 " Then it hit him. "
What hit him? The noise?

" Randy, Troy, and Keith all jumped over the fence on their skateboards. "
Ah, okay, I get it now. The reason it was a rolling sound is because that's exactly what it was. No, you can't do that. That is cheating. If you are going to be vague and build suspense about the noise, you can't describe it by saying exactly what it is. That's like saying:

I looked out my window and saw an odd shadow. I couldn't tell what it was, but it was shaped kind of like a masked serial killer holding a machete. So I shined a light on it, only to reveal that it was a maked serial killer holding a machete!

There's another thing that bothers me about that sentence. How did the bullies jump over a fence? Let's think about this. I don't know how high the fence is, but it had to be tall enough that Jeff couldn't see them coming (then again, with the way people teleport around in this universe, you never know.) Now these kids are stated to be around twelve years old, so even if we are conservative about their heights, I assume the fence would have to be at least five feet tall. Furthermore, I don't know what is on the other side of the fence, but considering this is an average suburban neighborhood, I think it's safe to say that it's not a huge ramp aimed directly at private property.

So in other words, these kids just did an even more ridiculous version of this:

 

 

All right. With the reappearance of the bullies, we are getting to our climax. This is the final showdown, the end battle. Get ready, people, because we are about the crank the diarrhea dial up to eleven.

“Hello, Jeff, is it?” he said. “We have some unfinished business.” Jeff saw his bruised nose.” I think we’re even. I beat the crap out of you, and you get my brother sent to JDC.”

Paragraphs! You're doing them wrong! (And lot's of other things, too.)

Randy got an angry look in his eyes. “Oh no, I don’t go for even, I go for winning. You may have kicked our asses that one day, but not today.” As he said that Randy rushed at Jeff. They both fell to the ground. Randy punched Jeff in the nose, and Jeff grabbed him by the ears and head butted him. Jeff pushed Randy off of him and both rose to their feet. Kids were screaming and parents were running out of the house. Troy and Keith both pulled guns out of their pockets.

Ding ding ding! Round one begins! Jeff and Randy start wrestling around. This gets the attention of the grown-ups, so tweedle dee and tweedle dum pull out guns, at which point I also pull out a gun and shoot my computer monitor for displaying this crap.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Why do they have guns? Why do two twelve-year-old kids from a suburban neighborhood have guns? I'm not trying to say that kids aren't capable of heinous acts of violence and couldn't get a gun somehow. In this day and age of school shootings, that's never been more obvious. The very point of this story is to examine how somebody could come to that point. Yet here are these kids, run of the mill school bullies, who just show up and whip out pistols like it ain't no thing.

This should be a huge deal. I mean, like I said, the entire story is supposed to building up to Jeff crossing that line. Yet Randy and co. do it with such nonchalance that it nukes the threshold of absurdity. This story puts armed robbery and attempted murder on the same tier as wedgies and swirlies.

“No one interrupts or guts will fly!” they said. Randy pulled a knife on Jeff and stabbed it into his shoulder.

See that first part? That's important. Know why? Because that is the only point in this entire episode that addresses the idea of somebody else getting involved. From this point forward, the adults do nothing until the fight is over. Nobody yells at the kids, tries to talk them down, calls the police, runs for help, or even panics. The bullies (KIDS!) say "don't move," and the entire group of grown adults shuts right down and does absolutely nothing.

Jeff screamed and fell to his knees. Randy started kicking him in the face. After three kicks Jeff grabs his foot and twists it, causing Randy to fall to the ground. Jeff stood up and walked towards the back door. Troy grabbed him.

“Need some help?” He picks Jeff up by the back of the collar and throws him through the patio door. As Jeff tries to stand he is kicked down to the ground. Randy repeatedly starts kicking Jeff, until he starts to cough up blood.

“Come on Jeff, fight me!” He picks Jeff up and throws him into the kitchen. Randy sees a bottle of vodka on the counter and smashes the glass over Jeff’s head.

“Fight!” He throws Jeff back into the living room.

“Come on Jeff, look at me!” Jeff glances up, his face riddled with blood. “I was the one who got your brother sent to JDC! And now you’re just gonna sit here and let him rot in there for a whole year! You should be ashamed!” Jeff starts to get up.

Back at the beginning, I pointed how the narration randomly switches between past and present tense for no reason. This has continued to periodically throughout the whole pasta, but this little fight scene kicks it into overdrive. It's like their battle is so epic that it breaks time, or maybe the narrator is actually Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen.

“Oh, finally! you stand and fight!” Jeff is now to his feet, blood and vodka on his face. Once again he gets that strange feeling, the one in which he hasn’t felt for a while. “Finally. He’s up!” says Randy as he runs at Jeff. That’s when it happens. Something inside Jeff snaps. His psyche is destroyed, all rational thinking is gone, all he can do, is kill. He grabs Randy and pile drives him to the ground. He gets on top of him and punches him straight in the heart. The punch causes Randy’s heart to stop. As Randy gasps for breath. Jeff hammers down on him. Punch after punch, blood gushes from Randy’s body, until he takes one final breath, and dies.

Here it is, folks! The moment you've all been waiting for, the ture genesis of Jeff the Killer! That weird feeling finally breaks free, and Jeff hulks out and murders a kid. How does he do it? Stabbing him? Nope, not Jeff, he's too cool for that. He punches Randy straight in the heart. Yes, straight in the heart. Not the chest, the heart. Jeff just used his time-warping teleporting kung-fu psycho powers to bypass Randy's skin, pecs, sternum, and whatever else, and punch him in the heart.

Everyone is looking at Jeff now. The parents, the crying kids, even Troy and Keith. Although they easily break from their gaze and point their guns at Jeff. Jeff see’s the guns trained on him and runs for the stairs. As he runs Troy and Keith let out fire on him, each shot missing. Jeff runs up the stairs. He hears Troy and Keith follow up behind. As they let out their final rounds of bullets Jeff ducks into the bathroom. He grabs the towel rack and rips it off the wall. Troy and Keith race in, knives ready.

I don't understand how everyone could be looking at Jeff now. The rest of the group was outside while Jeff and Randy brawled their way indoors. So that means that at some point, the entire birthday congregation must have formed a single-file line and walked inside to watch the fun.

So now the other two are after him with guns, and Jeff can also dodge bullets apparently. During this time, while the kids are distracting, the adults are continuing to do jack-all.

Troy swings his knife at Jeff, who backs away and bangs the towel rack into Troy’s face. Troy goes down hard and now all that’s left is Keith. He is more agile than Troy though, and ducks when Jeff swings the towel rack. He dropped the knife and grabbed Jeff by the neck. He pushed him into the wall. A thing of bleach fell down on top of him from the top shelf. It burnt both of them and they both started to scream. Jeff wiped his eyes as best as he could. He pulled back the towel rack and swung it straight into Keith’s head. As he lay there, bleeding to death, he let out an ominous smile.

A thing of bleach? A thing of bleach. A THING of bleach. Were the words "container" or "jug" or "bottle" too complex? That is just beautiful. This pasta has just made sucking into an art form.

If I can offer a tip, please don't ever describe anything as "ominous." Nothing says "I'm trying way too fucking hard" like straight up calling something "ominous."

“What’s so funny?” asked Jeff. Keith pulled out a lighter and switched it on. “What’s funny,” he said, “Is that you’re covered in bleach and alcohol.” Jeff’s eyes widened as Keith threw the lighter at him. As soon as the flame made contact with him, the flames ignited the alcohol in the vodka. While the alcohol burned him, the bleach bleached his skin. Jeff let out a terrible screech as he caught on fire. He tried to roll out the fire but it was no use, the alcohol had made him a walking inferno. He ran down the hall, and fell down the stairs. Everybody started screaming as they saw Jeff, now a man on fire, drop to the ground, nearly dead. The last thing Jeff saw was his mother and the other parents trying to extinguish the flame. That’s when he passed out.

That's not how burns work. Or bleach. Or physics. Yes, alcohol is flammable. No, it wouldn't turn him into a "walking inferno." The stupidest thing about this, aside from everything else about it, is the idea of Jeff's skin getting "bleached." Bleach is corrosive. It doesn't just turn things white, it breaks down and destroys whatever is giving it the color. If you got it on your skin, assuming it was potent enough to do anything, it wouldn't dye it white. It would cause a chemical burn. As in, red and blistering and pain. Which is a moot point in this context, since Jeff is apparently so on fire that he looks like the Human Torch.

When Jeff woke he had a cast wrapped around his face. He couldn’t see anything, but he felt a cast on his shoulder, and stitches all over his body. He tried to stand up, but he realized that there was some tube in his arm, and when he tried to get up it fell out, and a nurse rushed in.

“I don’t think you can get out of bed just yet.” she said as she put him back in his bed and re-inserted the tube. Jeff sat there, with no vision, no idea of what his surroundings were. Finally, after hours, he heard his mother.

In the first paragraph we see that Jeff has a Daredevil-level sense of touch, being able to feel casts (by the way, casts don't "wrap,) the exact number of stitches in his body, and even knowing that there is a tube in his arm. In the next paragraph he suddenly doesn't know what his surroundings are. So where does he think he is then? It also implies that he's just left to sit there until his mother shows up hours later. Do no doctors come in? No nurses try to comfort him? Are his parents so callous that they can't be assed to look into their own son's well being? Oh, wait...

“Honey, are you okay?” she asked. Jeff couldn’t answer though, his face was covered, and he was unable to speak. “Oh honey, I have great news. After all the witnesses told the police that Randy confessed of trying to attack you, they decided to let Liu go.” This made Jeff almost bolt up, stopping halfway, remembering the tube coming out of his arm. “He’ll be out by tomorrow, and then you two will be able to be together again.”

" Honey, are you okay? "
Peachy. Never been better.

" Jeff couldn't answer though ... "
Makes sense.

" ... his face was covered ... "
Yeah. We got that.

" ... and he was unable to speak. "
Does the author think we're stupid? We got it the first time.

Yay! Liu is out of trouble now! Isn't our justice system great?

Jeff’s mother hugs Jeff and says her goodbyes. The next couple of weeks were those where Jeff was visited by his family. Then came the day where his bandages were to be removed. His family were all there to see it, what he would look like. As the doctors unwrapped the bandages from Jeff’s face everyone was on the edge of their seats. They waited until the last bandage holding the cover over his face was almost removed.

“Let’s hope for the best,” said the doctor. He quickly pulls the cloth; letting the rest fall from Jeff’s face.

Jeff’s mother screams at the sight of his face. Liu and Jeff’s dad stare awe-struck at his face.

There was a very famous episode of The Twilight Zone that played out similar to the above. This story is also like the Twilight zone, as in it sucks so hard that it is in the same zone as Twilight. What is going on? Did they do surgery or something? I don't get it. I'm asking way too many questions this late in the story. I'm just so baffled that I'm beyond analysis at this point.

“What? What happened to my face?” Jeff said. He rushed out of bed and ran to the bathroom. He looked in the mirror and saw the cause of the distress. His face. It…it’s horrible. His lips were burnt to a deep shade of red. His face was turned into a pure white color, and his hair singed from brown to black. He slowly put his hand to his face. It had a sort of leathery feel to it now. He looked back at his family then back at the mirror.

This pasta. It...it's horrible. Once again, that's not how any of that stuff works. The first thing that is stupid here is how he rushed out of bed like that, but whatever. Yes, skin does turn red what it's burned. That makes sense. It doesn't work like permanent lipstick, though. I've already talked about how stupid the idea of his face being "bleached white" is.

The dumbest part of this, though, is the hair. As anybody who has ever had trouble starting a grill can tell you, THAT IS NOW HOW BURNED HAIR WORKS. Yes, it turns black because it's charred, and then it crumbles into ash. Because that's what happens to stuff when it's burnt. Even more ridiculous, why does there even need to be an explanation for this? Can't he just have black hair?

“Jeff,” said Liu, “It’s not that bad….”

“Not that bad?” said Jeff,” It’s perfect!” His family were equally surprised. Jeff started laughing uncontrollably His parents noticed that his left eye and hand were twitching.

“Uh… Jeff, are you okay?”

“Okay? I’ve never felt more happy! Ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaa, look at me. This face goes perfectly with me!” He couldn’t stop laughing. He stroked his face feeling it. Looking at it in the mirror. What caused this? Well, you may recall that when Jeff was fighting Randy something in his mind, his sanity, snapped. Now he was left as a crazy killing machine, that is, his parents didn’t know.

“Doctor,” said Jeff’s mom, “Is my son… alright, you know. In the head?”

“Oh yes, this behavior is typical for patients that have taken very large amounts of pain killers. If his behavior doesn’t change in a few weeks, bring him back here, and we’ll give him a psychological test.”

“Oh thank you doctor.” Jeff’s mother went over to Jeff.” Jeff, sweety. It’s time to go.”

Jeff looks away from the mirror, his face still formed into a crazy smile. “Kay mommy, ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaa!” his mother took him by the shoulder and took him to get his clothes.

Yeah, he's fine. We just took the bandages off five seconds ago, he has very serious facial injuries, and is either high off his ass or psychologically disturbed or both, but yeah, he's good to go.

“This is what came in,” said the lady at the desk. Jeff’s mom looked down to see the black dress pants and white hoodie her son wore. Now they were clean of blood and now stitched together. Jeff’s mother led him to his room and made him put his clothes on. Then they left, not knowing that this was their final day of life.

Yes, hospitals usually do give you back the stuff you had when you came in. I doubt they take the time to stitch it back together, though. This also makes me wonder how they were salvagable to begin with, considering Jeff was last seen as a "walking inferno." Then again, with the way fire seems to behave in this universe, I guess I should just be glad his shirt hasn't morphed into a goth trench coat or something. Maybe the Thing of Bleach fixed his clothes.

Later that night, Jeff’s mother woke to a sound coming from the bathroom. It sounded as if someone was crying. She slowly walked over to see what it was. When she looked into the bathroom she saw a horrendous sight. Jeff had taken a knife and carved a smile into his cheeks.

I'll save you the trip to Wikipedia: Yes, it came out the same year.

“Jeff, what are you doing?” asked his mother.

Jeff looked over to his mother. “I couldn’t keep smiling mommy. It hurt after awhile. Now, I can smile forever. Jeff’s mother noticed his eyes, ringed in black.

“Jeff, your eyes!” His eyes were seemingly never closing.

“I couldn’t see my face. I got tired and my eyes started to close. I burned out the eyelids so I could forever see myself; my new face.” Jeff’s mother slowly started to back away, seeing that her son was going insane. “What’s wrong mommy? Aren’t I beautiful?

Credit where credit is due: Jeff's explanation is a little creepy. If Stephen King had written something like that, it would have been awesome. Sadly, it's wasted in the nasty pile of nonsense that this pasta has become.

“Yes son,” she said, “Yes you are. L-let me go get daddy, so he can see your face.” She ran into the room and shook Jeff’s dad from his sleep. “Honey, get the gun we…..” She stopped as she saw Jeff in the doorway, holding a knife.

GET THE GUN? ARE YOU FUCKING SHITTING ME RIGHT NOW? You're shitting me. This pasta is literally shitting me. My physical being is literally being expelled from its anal sphincter. Yes, he murders them in the next sentence, but at the time was hurting nobody but himself. His mother's reaction should be to scream, run to him, scoop him in her arms, comfort her baby boy, call an ambulance. Instead, with no prompting at all, she calmly goes to her husband and tells him to "get the gun."

"Wake up, Pete. Get your gun, I think our son has gone insane. Naw, don't bother emergency services. We had a good run but we have to draw the line somewhere. We'll tell Liu we sent him to live on a farm upstate."

It's a good thing he didn't come out of the closet as gay or something. They probably would have sent him to a labor camp.

“Mommy, you lied.” That’s the last thing they hear as Jeff rushes them with the knife, gutting both of them.

Really? That's the last thing they heard? So, they didn't hear footsteps and neither of the parents made a single peep while Jeff was murdering them. Furthermore, insane or not, there is no reason why two capable adults should not be able to overpower a thirteen-year-old kid in a straight-up fight, especially one who is suffering from greivous injuries, including having no eyelids. Of course, given how they reacted during the fight with the bullies, they probably didn't even try.

His brother Liu woke up, startled by some noise. He didn’t hear anything else, so he just shut his eyes and tried to go back to sleep. As he was on the border of slumber, he got the strangest feeling that someone was watching him. He looked up, before Jeff’s hand covered his mouth. He slowly raised the knife ready to plunge it into Liu. Liu thrashed here and there trying to escape Jeff’s grip.

First, what noise woke Liu up? His parents' murders were clearly portrayed as silent, so either there was nothing for Liu to hear, or the narration lied to us. Or the writing sucks. Second, Jeff overpowers Liu far too easily. Jeff holds Liu down with one hand despite Liu thrashing around and fighting as hard as he can to get out of it. It isn't like Jeff is sitting on him or something, he's just pressing on Liu's mouth with one hand. The only way this would be possible was if Jeff had some kind of superhuman strength.

Or if the writing sucks.

“Shhhhhhh,” Jeff said,”Just go to sleep.”

A th- th- thththat's all folks!

 

WatchMojo, a group that makes Top 10 YouTube videos, once named this the second scariest creepy pasta behind Slender Man. They were clearly pandering, and the descriptions sums it up perfectly: "After being badly burned in a fight with some local kids, the once innocent Jeff lost his sanity upon seeing his scarred face. After carving a smile onto his mouth and cutting off his eyelids, he viciously killed his mother, father, and brother." Look at how it downplays so much of the story. Yes, that is technically what happened, but it glosses over almost the entire thing.

In other words, they knew it was bad. They didn't want to lie to the audience or try to spice up the narrative, so they glossed over it. Even the Creepy Pasta Wiki deleted it from their site "as per Quality Control." There is no mistaking it, it is terrible in every way.

The actual writing, as in the phrasing and mechanics, is deplorable. There was so much that I didn't comment on because it would be too time consuming and it wasn't worth it. The whole thing reeks of teenage angst.The dialogue is cliched and hamfisted to the nth degree. From medicine to law to basic social interactions, the author clearly doesn't understand how the world works. The only character to any substantial degree of realistic characterization is Jeff himself. The worst of the cast are the adults, who are complete dipshits, but it's clearly not deliberate. The author just doesn't understand how adults, or pretty much anyone besides thirteen-year-old emo kids, think and act.

So if it's so bad, why, then, do is it so popular? As I said above, I think it all comes back to that face. Like it or not, that little chibi-Marilyn Manson looking photoshop has a pretty eerie air to it. It's shocking to look at it. Being so closely associated with that picture, most people probably come across it while looking into the origins of the picture and take it as canon.

Most people probably pass it over for its quality. The remaining fringe are angsty kids who simultaneously a.) identify with Jeff as misunderstood teen and/or bullying victim; and b.) have never read a book in their life and have no standard of quality. It boils down to a nasty story based on an ill-concieved cyber bullying photoshop, both of which continue to be a bane on Creepy Pasta readers everywhere and bring down the collective quality of horror fiction.

But hey, this is the internet, right? The downside of anybody being able to publish anything is that there is going to be a lot of crap to go with the bad. Fortunately, there is still plenty of good stuff out there, and even the stuff that sucks can be good for a laugh. If you've made it this far, thank you for going through this story and reading my commentary. It was a long one, and I appreciate the support.

Now got read something good, and have a good night.

 

 

  read


9:47 PM on 11.13.2014

Jeff the Killer sucks (Part 1)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was intended to be a Halloween piece, but I got severely held up in finishing it. Be warned, this post contains a few scary pictures from shock sites, so if you are sensitive to that kind of thing, please proceed with caution.

 

Greetings. It's that time of the year again. That time of the year when we put on the scary movies, dress up in costumes, hand out candies, carve up pumpkins, and tell old folktales in honor of All Hallow's Eve. For as long as I have been a member of ScrewAttack, I have made it a tradition to post something horror-related at this time of the year. I've talked about literature, horror games, and even shared some of my own fiction. It's a tradition that I enjoy, and hopefully my past and present readers have been able to as well.

Two years ago, I celebrated the season by talking about one of the internet's scariest babies: Creepy Pasta. That particular blog was (and remains) one my most well received blogs since V4 of ScrewAttack. Creepy Pastas are those gritty, spooky stories that pop up around the internet. Stories like Slender Man, Ben Drowned, Squidward's Suicide, and Zalgo. They are the internet's answer to the folktales or yore, and I have come to enjoy them every bit as much.

What I love about Creepy Pastas is their guerilla nature. They are so informal; they are not published novels, they are simple tales free from the pomp and circumstance of mass media, which in turn creates a layer of mystique that can really make you wonder. The fact that this new lore is often presented in such a down-to-earth fashion means that well written and presented ones can actually blur the line between reality and fiction. They make you want to believe. That is an incredible effect that very few other mediums have managed to replicate. Some of the writings that have come out of this budding genre are nothing short of genius.

I'm really quite enamored by it all. I frequently find myself passing the time by heading over to the creepy pasta and wiki and taking in a good ghost story. I've read most of the famous ones and have amassed quite a love for a few of my personal favorites. In all this time, though, there is one particular Creepy Pasta that keeps popping up everywhere. Jeff the Killer, a.k.a. Go to Sleep, is one of the most well known and well loved Pastas out there. The pasta and its main character have a massive fan following, making Jeff possibly the second-most-popular character in all of Pasta-dom (the first being, of course, Slender Man.)

Despite its massive popularity, I have never really taken the time to acknowledge or comment on Jeff the Killer. There is actually a very good reason for that:

Because it sucks.

 

 

The exact history of the pasta is a little skewed; no details are set in stone. After doing some research, I've put together what I think is the most basic history of the pasta. It all started with that face. Around 2008, the infamous Go To Sleep/Jeff the Killer face started popping up around the internet. Screamer pranks, shock sites, scary image pages, the works. It spread around due to its creepy composition and ability to startle unsuspecting viewers. Indeed, if you're not used to it, it can be pretty nerve racking. Despite looking like somebody pulled an Ecce Homo job on Ronald McDonald, it falls in the middle of the uncanny valley. There is something inherently not right about it, and it does a fine job of wrenching your guts the first time you lay eyes on it.

In my research, the most commonly accepted explanation is that started as the face of a young woman. She posted a selfie on 4chan, where she was then viciously cyberbullied to the point of suicide. If that is true (and I hope it isn't) then that is absolutely horrible. Bullying is awful, and for it to get that bad is deplorable. My heart goes out her and her family. When you interact with somebody, online or otherwise, please keep in mind that they are people with thoughts and feelings and lives. They don't deserve to be treated that way. On the flip side, if you or somebody you know are a victim of bullying or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please seek help. This website has good information and helpful links, including a link to the national suicide hotline.

Anyway, the infamous face is supposedly an ill-conceived Photoshop of that poor lady's selfie. It went viral online because, let's face it, as mean-spirited as the whole episode is, that picture is pretty freaky. Soon after making its rounds, a few independent pastas based on the image started popping up. Being little more than glorified fanfiction, most of these went largely unnoticed. There is one, however, that the masses took notice of. A short story about a young teenager whose trouble with local bullies drove him insane.

It was very well received and is now considered to be a classic creepy pasta. It gets lumped along with Candle Cove and Squidward's Suicide as one of the best out there. It is now considered canon, as the "official" origin story of the guy from the picture. It is now linked with the image in most of the internet's collective conscious. It has a huge fan following, inspiring fanart and more stories. It is as definitive to the Jeff the Killer mythos as Marble Hornets is to Slender Man.

However, just because something is popular does not mean it is good. To put it bluntly, the story is terrible. Not in the same sense the picture is, which is effective but born from a real life horror. The story that has become so famous is a prime example of bad writing. It is filled to the brim with mechanical errors. The characters are either horribly wooden or straight-up Mary Sues. It's filled with cliches, everyone acts completely unrealistically, and it has no semblance of the realism and fear-of-the-unknown that actually make creepy pastas so potent. The entire thing has a flavor that ironically reflects its very content: it reads like teenage emo kid venting his frustration with his parents and the other kids in his seventh grade class.

It is an awful mess of a story. This isn't a controversial topic, either: even the things it gets right are amateurish at best. That is what perplexes me about its popularity. With the internet's known cynicism, most stories written like this would either fall into obscurity or reach so-bad-its-good territory in the same vein as My Immortal or Sonichu. Jeff's fans are completely sincere. Creepy pasta readers have actually turned this thing into a modern classic despite its dreadfulness. If Slender Man and The Rake are the internet's Frankenstein and Dracula, Jeff the Killer is its Twilight.

Speaking of Twilight, a couple years ago I found a tumblr blog called Reasoning with Vampires. It is no longer updated but the basic gist is that the author takes scans of text from the Twilight books and juxtaposes them with snarky commentary. It is a brilliant concept and leads to both comedy gold and some deep insight into good writing. I works quite well, so instead of blindly ranting for the rest of this blog, I'm going to celebrate Halloween by doing a full commentary on Jeff the Killer.

Below is the full text of the infamous creepy pasta interspersed with my own thoughts. What you will find is the original story in normal typeface. My thoughts, in bold, are placed between paragraphs. I might also throw in some underlining during the main text to draw attention to things. The intention here is to illustrate exactly why I don't like this story, and hopefully entertain along the way.

One more thing before we get started. Just to keep this fun, I've made up a little drinking game to play as we read along. I'm kind of a teetotaler, so grab yourself some water or soda pop and see how far you can get without peeing your pants. Now, take a drink whenever...

-You spot a spelling or grammar mistake
-Jeff or Liu does something unrealistically badass and/or courageous
-One of the child characters uses unrealistically articulate diction
-An adult says something not articulate enough
-The narration changes tense at complete random
-The bullies say/do/attempt something so vicious it would put street gangs to shame
-An adult does absolutely nothing to help the above situation
-The narrator describes something in a ridiculously conversational tone

Okay, ready? Now, come with me as we dive into the dark realm of Jeff the Killer...

 

 

Excerpt from a local Newspaper:
OMINOUS UNKNOWN KILLER IS STILL AT LARGE.

After weeks of unexplained murders, the ominous unknown killer is still on the rise. After little evidence has been found, a young boy states that he survived one of the killer’s attacks and bravely tells his story.

“I had a bad dream and I woke up in the middle of the night,” says the boy, “I saw that for some reason the window was open, even though I remember it being closed before I went to bed. I got up and shut it once more. Afterwards, I simply crawled under my covers and tried to get back to sleep. That’s when I had a strange feeling, like someone was watching me. I looked up, and nearly jumped out of my bed. There, in the little ray of light, illuminating from between my curtains, were a pair of two eyes. These weren’t regular eyes; they were dark, ominous eyes. They were bordered in black and… just plain out terrified me. That’s when I saw his mouth. A long, horrendous smile that made every hair on my body stand up. The figure stood there, watching me. Finally, after what seemed like forever, he said it. A simple phrase, but said in a way only a mad man could speak.

“He said, ‘Go To Sleep.’ I let out a scream, that’s what sent him at me. He pulled up a knife; aiming at my heart. He jumped on top of my bed. I fought him back; I kicked, I punched, I rolled around, trying to knock him off me. That’s when my dad busted in. The man threw the knife, it went into my dad’s shoulder. The man probably would’ve finished him off, if one of the neighbors hadn’t alerted the police.

“They drove into the parking lot, and ran towards the door. The man turned and ran down the hallway. I heard a smash, like glass breaking. As I came out of my room, I saw the window that was pointing towards the back of my house was broken. I looked out it to see him vanish into the distance. I can tell you one thing, I will never forget that face. Those cold, evil eyes, and that psychotic smile. They will never leave my head.”

Police are still on the look for this man. If you see anyone that fits the description in this story, please contact your local police department.

Here we have the first indications of suckage. It isn't that bad, but it's far from good. The first thing you might notice is how poorly the writing is executed for being a newspaper article. I'll give the author credit in that introducing the story with a flash-forward prolog of this type is a decent way to go about it. Everything about the newspaper article, though, is completely wrong.

For starters, a real news article would stick mostly to the facts. The embellishments and long, drawn out details are way out of place. The story leads us to believe that this is in the middle of an ongoing string of murders, so the newspaper might run an op-ed piece down the line, at which point this kind of writing might be better suited (though still not of this caliber.) This particular article is presented as straight news, so its style is way out of place. It also doesn't follow the inverted pyramid, which is when a journalist places all of the most important information right at the beginning and fills in the gaps as she goes on. If you look at pretty much any news article (again, not op-eds or features) you will find that the entire story is summed up in the first one-to-three sentences. The most basic details, all of the essential information that you need to now, is right there at the beginning. A real newspaper article for this event would probably look something more like this:

MAN INJURED IN STRUGGLE WITH INTRUDER

A Whereverville man was hospitalized last night with stab wounds after being attacked by a home intruder.

Police say John Doe, 34, was awoken shortly after midnight by the sound of screaming from his son's bedroom. Doe investigated to discover a man in the house threatening the son with a knife. Doe attempted to subdue the intruder, and was stabbed in the shoulder during the ensuing struggle.

Police say the attacker jumped out a window and ran when they arrived on the scene after a neighbor called 911. They were unable to locate the intruder and an investigation is still ongoing.

This incident is the third such case in recent weeks. Police say blah blah blah, so on and so forth. You get the idea.

I can understand why somebody who is not familiar with formal newswriting would not stick to proper form. What I can not forgive is the child's description of the event. It is far too detailed and artistic. This is supposed to be child recounting a bad experience. What we get instead is first-person narrative. His story is written exactly the way a narrator in book would speak, full of imagery and metaphors and even has some poetic language. There is no way that anybody would speak like that in dialog (which is what that is, being a newspaper article), but especially not a terrified little kid who just survived a homicide.

By the way, this is the point where the story shifts from the article to the main story with Jeff. In the original text (without my commentary) there is nothing to distinguish this transition within the formatting. No heading, no line break, no picture, just BAM! New scene. You probably won't notice it since I have essentially created that divide here with my own writing, but when you are just reading it, it's a very abrupt change that really takes you out of the story.

Jeff and his family had just moved into a new neighborhood. His dad had gotten a promotion at work, and they thought it would be best to live in one of those “fancy” neighborhoods. Jeff and his brother Liu couldn’t complain though. A new, better house. What was not to love? As they were getting unpacked, one of their neighbors came by.

“Hello,” she said, “I’m Barbara; I live across the street from you. Well, I just wanted to introduce my self and to introduce my son.” She turns around and calls her son over. “Billy, these are our new neighbors.” Billy said hi and ran back to play in his yard.

Yes, you read that right. The middle sentence in the above paragraph is suddenly in the present tense for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Get used to that, because it's about to happen a lot. Other than that, these paragraphs are rushed, as though the author wants to show the scene but doesn't want to spend too much time on it.

“Well,” said Jeff’s mom, “I’m Margaret, and this is my husband Peter, and my two sons, Jeff and Liu.” They each introduced themselves, and then Barbara invited them to her son’s birthday. Jeff and his brother were about to object, when their mother said that they would love to. When Jeff and his family are done packing, Jeff went up to his mom.

One of these things is not like the other: Jeff, Margaret, Peter, and Liu. As in Liu Kang. This all-American white suburbanite family gave their child a Chinese name. I could accept that if the parents were developed to be cultured, but Maggy and Pete here both have the personality of a door. I don't think this is actually the author's fault; according to Know Your Meme, the "Liu" character comes from a different "origin story" from YouTube video. It is likely that this author just lifted it from there.

“Mom, why would you invite us to some kid’s party? If you haven’t noticed, I’m not some dumb kid.”

I actually like this line. It is a good show of Jeff's personality. Of course, there is the problem that a.) It was the neighbor who did the inviting, not the mom and b.) Jeff is a dumb kid. Still, it shows us that Jeff can be selfish and stuck-up. Which I'm not sure the author was going for -- judging by the tone of the story, I think we might be supposed to take it at face value and agree with Jeff.

“Jeff,” said his mother, “We just moved here; we should show that we want to spend time with our neighbors. Now, we’re going to that party, and that’s final.” Jeff started to talk, but stopped himself, knowing that he couldn’t do anything. Whenever his mom said something, it was final. He walked up to his room and plopped down on his bed. He sat there looking at his ceiling when suddenly, he got a weird feeling. Not so much a pain, but… a weird feeling. He dismissed it as just some random feeling. He heard his mother call him down to get his stuff, and he walked down to get it.

Yup, that's definitely what she said all right. It's also what a million other mother's might say when their author's only write in cliches.

This paragraph has a ton of a flaws that I could analyze all day, but I'm going to focus on one big one right now. Every once in a while, the author will dumb down the narration. He will describe something very conversationally when it doesn't really fit that tone. Notice the sentence I underlined. Even ignoring the incorrect use of the ellipsis, that description is extremely awkward. The only time that wording would work is when I person was trying to describe something to another person, not a third-person narrator with a reasonably distant voice describing a major event. It's almost like the author didn't know how to describe something, so he shifted tone for only one single sentence in order to make it spooky.

That is not only awkward to read, it's also cheating.

The next day, Jeff walked down stairs to get breakfast and got ready for school. As he sat there, eating his breakfast, he once again got that feeling. This time it was stronger. It gave him a slight tugging pain, but he once again dismissed it. As he and Liu finished breakfast, they walked down to the bus stop. They sat there waiting for the bus, and then, all of a sudden, some kid on a skateboard jumped over them, only inches above their laps. They both jumped back in surprise. “Hey, what the hell?”

The kid landed and turned back to them. He kicked his skate board up and caught it with his hands. The kid seems to be about twelve; one year younger than Jeff. He wears a Aeropostale shirt and ripped blue jeans.

He's younger than Jeff, because little kids are stupid. Jeff is much smarter and cooler because he is older. Also, this kid shops at Aeropostale, which is where all stupid shallow preppy popular kids go. Not like us cool kids, we only shop at Hot Topic.

“Well, well, well. It looks like we got some new meat.” Suddenly, two other kids appeared. One was super skinny and the other was huge. “Well, since you’re new here, I’d like to introduce ourselves, over there is Keith.” Jeff and Liu looked over to the skinny kid. He had a dopey face that you would expect a sidekick to have. “And he’s Troy.” They looked over at the fat kid. Talk about a tub of lard. This kid looked like he hadn’t exercised since he was crawling.

Ah yes, our antagonists. What? You didn't think the villain in the horror story would be the serial killer, did you? That's just silly!

A lot of things in this universe happen very suddenly, don't they? That's a word that's been tossed around a lot so far, but right there are some of the worst examples. How the fuck do two human beings just suddenly appear? Either Jeff possesses the observational skills of Helen Keller, or everything in this universe can teleport.

Notice how we've known these characters for one paragraph so far and they are already the most stereotypical sidekicks you can imagine?

“And I,” said the first kid, “am Randy. Now, for all the kids in this neighborhood there is a small price for bus fare, if you catch my drift.” Liu stood up, ready to punch the lights out of the kid’s eyes when one of his friends pulled a knife on him. “Tsk, tsk, tsk, I had hoped you would be more cooperative, but it seems we must do this the hard way.” The kid walked up to Liu and took his wallet out of his pocket. Jeff got that feeling again. Now, it was truly strong; a burning sensation. He stood up, but Liu gestured him to sit down. Jeff ignored him and walked up to the kid.

I love the beginning of this paragraph. The author begins the introduction, breaks the quotation for a speaker attribution, then finishes the sentence. This has the effect of making the reader drag out the beginning of the sentence in their head. When I read this, I picture Randy introducing himself like a movie villain:

"And IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII! Am RRRRAAAAANDYYYYYYY!"

Not only that, but the rest of Randy's dialog is so over the top and cliche that I can't help but hear that same tone of voice in every word he says. In my mind, Randy now has the voice of Lord Zedd.

That is not the only bad writing here, either. There is way too much going on. Consider what just happened:

-The leader introduces himself
-He threatens the brothers to give them money
-Liu gets angry
-One of the other kids pulls out a knife
-The other kid steals Liu's wallet
-Jeff gets that weird feeling again, and it's stronger this time
-Liu tries to get Jeff to calm down
-Jeff ignored him and walked up to the kid

There are at least eight major action beats in the course of five line paragraph. They are thrown at us so rapidly that none of them have time to register, so that when we are done reading the paragraph, we have no idea what just happened.

Also, don't even get me started on the fact that the bullies are carrying around weapons and robbing people at knife point. There will be plenty of time for that later. For now, I'm imagining their knives are just boy scout-issue pocket knives with tweezers and nail files and stuff, and that the kids are just picturing it like that episode of South Park with the ninja weapons.

“Listen here you little punk, give back my bro’s wallet or else.” Randy put the wallet in his pocket and pulled out his own knife.

“Oh? And what will you do?” Just as he finished the sentence, Jeff popped the kid in the nose. As Randy reached for his face, Jeff grabbed the kid’s wrist and broke it. Randy screamed and Jeff grabbed the knife from his hand. Troy and Keith rushed Jeff, but Jeff was too quick. He threw Randy to the ground. Keith lashed out at him, but Jeff ducked and stabbed him in the arm. Keith dropped his knife and fell to the ground screaming. Troy rushd him too, but Jeff didn’t even need the knife. He just punched Troy straight in the stomach and Troy went down. As he fell, he puked all over. Liu could do nothing but look in amazement at Jeff.

Oh by the way, Jeff is also Bruce Lee. Here we see him disarm three attackers at once, including the humorously understated breaking of limbs. And in case you didn't catch how impressive that is, the story has to draw attention to it. "Troy rushed--" er, no, I'm sorry, "rushd"-- "Troy rushd hiim too, but Jeff didn't even need the knife, because he's so badass ain't no mufuckas gon' put him down! He was all like hiiiiyaaa bitch! Yeah!" When Jeff does a pull-up, he's not pulling himself up, he's moving the wall down.

“Jeff how’d you?” that was all he said. They saw the bus coming and knew they’d be blamed for the whole thing. So they started running as fast as they could. As they ran, they looked back and saw the bus driver rushing over to Randy and the others. As Jeff and Liu made it to school, they didn’t dare tell what happened. All they did was sit and listen. Liu just thought of that as his brother beating up a few kids, but Jeff knew it was more. It was something, scary. As he got that feeling he felt how powerful it was, the urge to just, hurt someone. He didn’t like how it sounded, but he couldn’t help feeling happy. He felt that strange feeling go away, and stay away for the entire day of school. Even as he walked home due to the whole thing near the bus stop, and how now he probably wouldn’t be taking the bus anymore, he felt happy. When he got home his parents asked him how his day was, and he said, in a somewhat ominous voice, “It was a wonderful day.” Next morning, he heard a knock at his front door. He walked down to find two police officers at the door, his mother looking back at him with an angry look.

So Jeff beats up the bullies and takes off. The first time I read this, I thought it was pretty stupid that they wouldn't go to the police or at least tell their parents. I mean, you would think that they would want to get some help after being assaulted at knife point, and I'm pretty sure that is grounds for self-defense. At the same time, they were probably emotional and not thinking clearly, and it would look suspicious that they ran off and left a pile of bloody kids. So it's understandable. What is not understandable is what happens next.

There's that feeling again, bringing bad writing with it. The phrasing is clumsy, and there is once again way too much stuff crammed into a single paragraph. It's all capped off by Jeff's interaction with his parents the next day. Notice how subtly the author hints at Jeff's state of mind?

 

“Jeff, these officers tell me that you attacked three kids. That it wasn’t regular fighting, and that they were stabbed. Stabbed, son!” Jeff’s gaze fell to the floor, showing his mother that it was true.

“Mom, they were the ones who pulled the knives on me and Liu.”

Wait, what? So Jeff and Liu did tell their parents? But the parents did nothing. They did not call the police, they did not get a lawyer, nothing? Until the next day when the cops show up, at which point Margaret reacts like the neighbor just told them her kids broke a window or something.

“Son,” said one of the cops,” We found three kids, two stabbed, one having a bruise on his stomach, and we have witnesses proving that you fled the scene. Now, what does that tell us?” Jeff knew it was no use. He could say him and Liu had been attacked, but then there was no proof it was not them who attacked first. They couldn’t say that they weren’t fleeing, because truth be told they were. So Jeff couldn’t defend himself or Liu.

“Son, call down your brother.” Jeff couldn’t do it, since it was him who beat up all the kids.

“Sir, it…it was me. I was the one who beat up the kids. Liu tried to hold me back, but he couldn’t stop me.” The cop looked at his partner and they both nod.

“Well kid, looks like a year in Juvy…”

“Wait!” says Liu. They all looked up to see him holding a knife. The officers pulled their guns and locked them on Liu.

“It was me, I beat up those little punks. Have the marks to prove it.” He lifted up his sleeves to reveal cuts and bruises, as if he was in a struggle.

“Son, just put the knife down,” said the officer. Liu held up the knife and dropped it to the ground. He put his hands up and walked over to the cops.

“No Liu, it was me! I did it!” Jeff had tears running down his face.

“Huh, poor bro. Trying to take the blame for what I did. Well, take me away.” The police led Liu out to the patrol car.

“Liu, tell them it was me! Tell them! I was the one who beat up those kids!” Jeff’s mother put her hands on his shoulders.

If the poor writing, one dimensional characters, wooden dialog, third grade mechanics, and ridiculous plot twists weren't enough to convince you of this pasta's awfulness, we get this scene. Ladies and gentlemen, we are slurpin' turds now. I didn't comment through this whole because I wanted you to get the full experience. There is so much suck in the above paragraphs that I could write an entire separate blog post on this scene alone.

This author has no clue how the justice system works.

In this situation, the police would show up and maybe even take somebody down to the station for questioning. Liu would be given a lawyer and probably let out on bail. There would be an investigation that would span weeks or even months, social services would get involved at some point, and it would all lead up to a trial or hearing when a judge, not the police, would decide if and how long he would go to juvenile hall. In this case, Liu would probably not be convicted anyway, since everything that happened was in self defense during an armed robbery.

Furthermore, it isn't like there wouldn't be people to testify. The bullies are known trouble makers. They even said it themselves: "Now, for all the kids in this neighborhood there is a small price for bus fare, if you catch my drift." These kids' activities should be common knowledge in the community. Which actually begs the question of how they were ever able to go after Jeff and Liu to begin with. If these pint-sized extortionists were really as active and violent as we are led to believe, why have the police not done anything about it? Are you trying to tell me that these kids rob people at knife point on a regular basis and nobody in the entire community has done a single fucking thing to stop it?

I'm assuming the story takes place in the United States. I don't know the inner workings of the justice systems of other modern western nations, but I assume there is generally more to them than "the cops show up and take you straight to prison without trial based entirely on hearsay."

So the cops show up looking for Jeff, but Liu steps in and takes the blame. Jeff insists it was him, but Liu picks up a knife. Now keep in mind, the text doesn't say he did anything with the knife. It doesn't say he threatened anybody or used it in any way to inflict or imply harm. He is just holding it. Well, I guess the cops really don't like knives because they draw their guns on him.

Yes. The police draw their fucking guns on a ten year old kid who is doing nothing but holding a kitchen knife. I am not making this up. You read the text, didn't you? That really happened. The author actually wrote that happening in the story.

Liu isn't even very insistent about the crime. He's just like, "yup, it was me, see here's a knife." Meanwhile, Jeff is begging and pleading and putting every ounce of his being in the confession and all of the adults are just brushing it off. Liu's knife has such an intimidating presence that it trumps every other aspect of this interaction. It's a good thing he wasn't slicing bread or something when the police arrived. They probably would have taken straight to the electric chair.

Everything about this is so absurd that I barely even noticed all the other flaws here. The blatant grammatical errors, the poor sentence structure, the constant switching between past and present tense, the dialog that makes me want to puke. Yes, the constant bombardment of horrible writing has reached a point where I'm actually having trouble properly analyzing it, and I'm resorting to toilet metaphors to get my point across.

“Jeff please, you don’t have to lie. We know it’s Liu, you can stop.” Jeff watched helplessly as the cop car speeds off with Liu inside. A few minutes later Jeff’s dad pulled into the driveway, seeing Jeff’s face and knowing something was wrong.

“Son, son what is it?” Jeff couldn’t answer. His vocal cords were strained from crying. Instead, Jeff’s mother walked his father inside to break the bad news to him as Jeff wept in the driveway. After an hour or so Jeff walked back in to the house, seeing that his parents were both shocked, sad, and disappointed. He couldn’t look at them. He couldn’t see how they thought of Liu when it was his fault. He just went to sleep, trying to get the whole thing off his mind. Two days went by, with no word from Liu at JDC. No friends to hang out with. Nothing but sadness and guilt. That is until Saturday, when Jeff is woke up by his mother, with a happy, sunshiny face.

Jeff's parents are idiots. Of course, I can't blame them. The writer clearly doesn't understand how people think. Look at how casually Jeff's parents react. Are they outraged? Getting an attorney, bursting in the police station, calling the local news and throwing a fit? No. Heck, Jeff's mom apparently didn't even think this incident was important enough to warrant calling the father at work. Instead, she waits for him to get home and then "breaks the news" to him. This is how I picture that conversation going down:

"Hi, hunny, I'm home. Did anything interesting happen today?"
"Well, our son was arrested at gunpoint for attempted murder and was immediately jailed without trial, but that's about it."
"Gee, that's unfortunate. So what's for dinner?"

Okay, so the text does say they were "shocked, sad, and disappointed." The problem is that it isn't shown to us in their demeanor, it is told to us after the fact. This is another problem with story, the concept of show vs tell. What that means is that most of a story, but especially the most important parts, should be written so that the reader experiences it in real time, like we are there. On a more specific scale, the author should describe the things happening so that the readers can observe it and draw conclusions for themselves instead being blatantly told what the characters (or even the readers themselves) are supposed to be thinking.

On the other end of the spectrum, some things should be glossed over. Maybe some long-past exposition, or the actions of a minor character, a really slow event, or one that moves the story along but the minute details aren't especially exciting or important.

This story just jumps all over the place. On top of that, the only character who is given enough attention to "show" anything is Jeff himself. The story is written in a third-person-limited POV, but even first-person POV stories at least describe other characters. Anything that any other character does that doesn't directly involved Jeff is some way is glossed over. Jeff is such a Mary Sue that the narration itself doesn't care about anything besides him.

 

Well, I think that's about enough for now. Check out Part 2 for the exciting conclusion!

  read


8:57 PM on 04.29.2013

Slender: The Arrival Review

In June of 2012, one-man development team Mark Parsec Hadley unleashed Slender: The Eight Pages onto the internet as a free downloadable game for horror fans. Billed as a proof of concept, the project was an ultra-low budget experiment for Hadley to test the waters for a larger game he planned to make further down the line. Despite its guerilla nature, the game became a massive hit and is now considered by many to be one of the scariest video games of all time. It is a darling of YouTubers everywhere, who have practically created a new genre out of filming their terrified reactions while playing the game.

All of this success left many wondering exactly what else Hadley could have up his sleeves for whatever undertaking he had originally envisioned, and if it could measure up. Fans no longer have to wait for the answer. Along with help from Blue Isle Studios, Hadley's full vision of Slender: The Arrival has come to fruition and is now available for download.

Unlike its predecessor, The Arrival brings with it an actual plot. The player controls a girl, presumably named Lauren, who crashed her car on a dirt road on the way to visit a friend. After finding her friends house ransacked, Lauren follows an ominous scream into the nearby woods, where she finds herself in the cross hairs of the nightmarish Slender Man.



For those who dont know, Slender Man is a faux urban legend dreamed up on internet message boards. He is a faceless man in a business suit with oddly proportioned limbs who is known to show up in the background of photos shortly before disaster strikes. Exactly what he does varies based on the tale, but his most common shtick is to stalk victims from afar while slowly driving them insane through supernatural means. Hundreds of short stories, photo blogs, and video series based on him have sprung up across the web, making Slender Man into one of the most successful legends on the net.

Slender: The Arrival has the player on the run from the Slender Man, while being driven further into the wilderness and visiting different locales along the way. The events leading up to this point are revealed through notes the player finds scattered throughout the game. Interestingly, the story was written by Slender Man veteran Troy Wagner, of Marble Hornets fame. While not terribly original as far as Slender Man stories go, its appropriately creepy and sets the mood well.

Lauren, for her part, is a blank slate. She is a silent protagonist to the extreme, even more so than Jack Ryan, Gordon Freeman, and Chell. She exists completely as an audience surrogate, allowing players to put themselves into her role and become more immersed in the game. The most we ever see of her is a shadowy drawing during one of the loading screens, and we only know her name because it is mentioned in passing in one of the notes you find.

The game is split into five chapters. The second and third chapters are based on the gameplay of the original Slender, while the first, fourth, and fifth are more structured and linear. The pacing and gameplay can feel very different between the two types of levels, almost making me feel like I should write a separate review for each one.





The second chapter is literally a remake of The Eight Pages, with the third chapter sharing its gameplay style. The player is dropped in a dark, spooky area and given the task of finding certain objects while Slender Man stalks them. Players have no weapons, only a flashlight and their wits. There are no hit points to drain. If Slendy catches you, it's game over.

What sets Slender Man apart from other video game monsters is his slow, calculating methods. He is very patient in his attack, toying with the player like a cat-and-mouse game. It makes him a very intimidating adversary, and ratchets up the suspense, as you never quite know where he might pop up. He announces his presence with static across the screen, sending the player into panic mode, knowing that he is somewhere close by. His AI has been reworked from the previous game, so veterans of The Eight Pages wont be able to rely on the same tactics that got them through the first round.

One of biggest changes to these levels is the addition of Slendys cohort. This time around, Slender Man has an accomplice, a hooded demon girl who fans have nicknamed the Proxy. The Proxy is a physical entity, choosing to stalk players on foot and beat them up rather than teleport around and eat their soul. As a result, players can interact with the Proxy in ways that cant be done with her boss, such as shaking off her attacks or hiding in a dark corner and running when the coast is clear. She is also far more aggressive than the Slender Man, adding a whole new dimension to the game when shes around.

By way of comparison, the final two chapters are much more linear and scripted. The player sets out to accomplish specific tasks, and has a pretty straightforward journey to do so. It is still possible to lose, but the highly-scripted nature of these levels make them much easier than their open-ended counterparts. This also makes them a lot shorter.

Dont get the wrong impression, I am not badmouthing the quality. The latter half of the game is still immersive, engaging, and scary. The problem is that putting two gameplay styles side-by-side throws off the pacing. The third chapter is easily the most difficult, and by extension, the longest. It can take several attempts to beat and treads closely to the line of frustration once in a while.

It feels awkward to put the game on hold for so long in the middle, only to have the final stretch fly by so swiftly. And I do mean fly by: the game as a whole is very short. Even with the odd difficulty spike, a single playthrough only takes about an hour, or less depending on how quickly you get the hang of the open-ended chapters. Playing through once unlocks a hardcore mode, that ups the difficulty on repeat playthoughs, but that probably only offers replay incentive to those who already loved the game to begin with.





Visually, Slender: The Arrival looks great. Even on my lower-end PC with the resolution turned down, the visuals are still stunning in their detail. Environments are excellent, especially the forests, which are lush in the daylight foreboding in the darkness. I found myself stopping along a late-game mountain path just to admire the scenery in the distance.

The character models are not quite as good as the scenery, but they arent necessarily, bad, either. Slender Man is vastly improved over his previous incarnation, looking more natural. If you have the guts to stop and examine him rather than turning tail and booking the instant he appears, you might see him moving a little bit as well, which makes him feel like an actual character this time around instead of a static, indifferent gameplay element. The other character models, few as they are, just kind of fall into mediocrity.

Being a horror game, the sound is a vital part of the atmosphere, and Slender: The Arrival delivers. There is very little music to speak of, but the game is rife with ambient noise. Birds chirping in the daylight give the player time to breathe and relax between the more intense segments. Conversely, the hellish thumping in the headset whenever Slender Man is on the prowl is chilling. Few moments in video games have made my blood run cold faster than being in a tight corridor with the sound of the Proxys footsteps rushing in my direction from just around the corner.

Any other complaints I could make about Slender: The Arrival are minor. Some players have reported glitches, a few of which forced them to replay entire chapters, but I never experienced them myself and they seem to be fixed by now. Interacting with doors and windows is a little clumsy, though overlookable. Also, all of the exposition documents that can be picked up throughout the game are automatically unlocked after you complete a chapter, whether you found them or not, thus rendering extra exploration unnecessary. Those, of course, are just nitpicks. They are noticeable but dont really bring down the overall quality that much.





Horror in media is highly subjective. I cannot pass universal judgment on Slender: The Arrivals scare factor. Some people might play the whole game without batting an eyelash, while others might need to rush out and buy a night light and teddy bear. Personally, I found it to be creepy and atmospheric with a few good heebie-jeebie moments. I would not put it on the same level as games like Amnesia or Silent Hill, but it earns its place in the genre well enough.

Slender: The Arrival is a solid game to play. Despite a major pacing problem and a few minor nitpicks, it delivers a unique and enjoyable horror experience that surpasses its predecessor. The only reservation I have about recommending it is the amount of content compared to the cost. As much as I liked the game, it seems too short to justify even the relatively low ten dollar price point. If you are a devoted fan of the genre, the original game, the Slender Man mythos, or just want to support small-time indie developers, give it a shot. Otherwise, wait and see if you can snag a download in the $5-$7 range further down the line.

Slender: The Arrival is available as a digital download from http://www.slenderarrival.com/   read


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