Turn ons: Cursing, music from the '90s, sleeping
Turn offs: "Games as art," 4chan culture, wet socks
Favorite gaming genres: Beat-'em-ups, 2D fighters, turn-based/real time strategy games
Winners: Don't use drugs
America: Fuck yeah!
Playing right now: Whatever, nobody reads this.
"This ain't a god damned field trip, people. This is a fuckin' war!!"
-Captain Rhodes, Day of the Dead. One of the most badass characters ever put to film.
My personal Hall of Fame: Mega Man II, III, 9, and 10 (NES/XBLA)
Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis)
Contra + Super C (NES)
The Legend of Zelda + Link to the Past (NES/SNES)
Final Fantasy VI (SNES)
RBI Baseball (NES)
StarCraft I + II (PC)
Castle Crashers (XBLA)
Mass Effect Trilogy (360)
Super Street Fighter IV AE (360)
King of Fighters XIII (360)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (360)
This is a Public Service Announcement: there’s an amazing game on Xbox Live that nobody seems to be aware of. It’s an old-school beat-‘em-up that combines the stunning pixel art of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and the sophisticated gameplay of Guardian Heroes. It’s $10, it’s mad Japanese, and you should play it IMMEDIATELY!!
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is a spinoff of obscure Japanese 2D fighter Phantom Breaker. The North American release was cancelled, apparently, and I can’t even begin to comprehend the story. Something about “Fu-Mantion Artifacts” and reviving an ancient evil named Phantom who looks like Ghetto Jafar. The full title for this thing is Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds – Cocoa’s Nightmare Attack – . Yeah, the grammar nerd in me is screaming out in agony at ending a sentence with a dash. I’m surprised they couldn’t fit a few tildes in there while they were at it. Thanks, Japan.
There’s not a whole lot of information available about this game. It was made by Japanese developer Division2 and published by 5pb Games. There’s a Japanese website for the game that was translated into English (http://5pb.jp/games/pbbg/en/), leading to some helpful gems like this: “Mikoto - The music college student, has black hair and great sword. All round player with basic tricks.” They must have a shitty PR/marketing budget, because I’ve only seen two or three gaming websites cover it. I didn’t even know it existed until I stumbled onto the demo in the new releases section of Xbox Live Arcade.
When I fired up that demo on a whim, though, I was blown away. The most striking feature is the presentation of the game, which does justice to the pixelated roots of the beat-‘em-up genre. It wasn’t animated by famed artist Paul Robertson, but it sure as hell looks like it (which is a plus for me). I had to do some digging to find that it wasn’t him doing the game, because it looks that damn good. Characters are “super deformed,” so they’re all enormous heads and adorable puppy dog eyes. I have to say it again: damn, these sprites look good. Just watching the characters’ idle animations is mesmerizing. There is also some excellent, catchy chiptunes music in the background at all times, which adds a lot to the experience.
Since this is a Japanese game, the characters are an assortment of anime archetypes like “girl in frilly dress,” “ninja girl,” and “shrine keeper girl.” There’s an amnesiac who “fights only to satisfy her lust for battles.” There’s also a maid that wields a giant hammer and calls herself a warrior of justice, or something. Characters have overly elaborate names for their special moves, borrowing stuff from other languages like “Stumpfer Flugel.” Just go with it. Pick the one you think is cutest. You start off with 4 available characters, with 6 others unlocked through beating the game on the four different difficulty levels. There’s also a DLC character being released next week, bringing the roster to 10 female characters and 1 evil male.
If you’re turned off by the 1000% Japan-sanity™ of this game thus far, there’s one major selling point: the combat is unparalleled among beat-‘em-ups. It’s a simple system at first glance, with strong, medium, and light attack buttons that you can wail on to take down enemies. As you level up between stages, you can invest in stat bonuses to attack, defense, and speed. More importantly, there’s also an elaborate skill tree to spend your points on, which opens up the game to a huge extent. There is way too much stuff to cover here, but the game gets into special moves, EX moves, guard cancels, overdrives, Phantom Breaks, and all kinds of nonsense. It’s ridiculous, almost as detailed as a regular 2D fighter, yet it all works. It requires a 26-page “How to Play” tutorial thing to explain all of this shit. The depth is there is you want to explore it, or you can just smash some stuff up real good if you’d prefer.
The game also features two horizontal planes in which you can fight enemies, much like the genre classic Guardian Heroes. You can hop between the two lanes at will to avoid enemy attacks, which is very helpful during the boss fights. I wasn’t a huge fan of this setup when I first encountered it in Guardian Heroes, but it works seamlessly in this game.
I could go on and on about how much fun I’ve had with this game since I picked it up this past weekend and how much time I’ve lost while playing it (always a sign of an awesome game for me). The most important bullet point for me is that the game shows a little respect to players. It’s $10 for starters, not $15 or $20. It seems like $15 is the standard price now for XBLA games, so I was super happy to see that $10 price tag. The game also has more features in it at launch than Scott Pilgrim has a year or two later, with that planned DLC or whatever that will finally add online multiplayer. Phantom Breaker has 4-player online co-op from the get-go, couch co-op, a deathmatch mode, more complex fighting, and way more characters to choose from. The DLC I mentioned earlier is being released for $5 next week, and it includes a bonus character and doubles the level cap from 50 to 99. I’m happy to buy that and show some support for the game. With Scott Pilgrim, I have to pay extra for the privilege of playing online with friends, pay extra for the bonus modes and stuff. Nah, not doing it.
Like I said at the beginning of this thing, I just don’t think enough people are aware of this game, which is a goddamn shame. I consider myself to be a pretty well-informed consumer when it comes to video games, especially the intersection of retro games and weird Japanese shit, and Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds wasn’t on my radar AT ALL. If you have even a passing fondness for the beat-‘em-up genre, I highly, highly recommend that you give this game a look.
Disclaimer: this is a rambling, loosely focused rant that will probably expose me as a hypocrite. Up front: hypocrisy confirmed. I need to get a few things off my chest on this snowy Friday afternoon, though, so won’t you indulge me?
I’m not yet 30, but I’m already a grumpy, old douchebag.
This feeling crept up on me out of nowhere, but there’s no denying it now: I kinda hate everything about the modern video game industry, and I feel more disconnected than ever.
With every faux-controversy that blows over in a week, every “me too” Kickstarter announcement, every thinly-veiled press release masquerading as an article, I grow increasingly weary. I have no patience for this shit any more; it’s the same story, over and over. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was legitimately excited about something related to video games. It was probably this:
Look, I get it. There are just things out there that aren’t meant for everyone. Cultures change and leave people behind in the dust. Sinatra fans were once fired up about some jerks from Liverpool with long hair, but they had to get over it and move aside. You have to say “Ok, that’s not for me” and move on to something you actually enjoy.
There’s not much that I actually enjoy about modern games, though, at least not in mainstream releases. This feeling is brought into even more stark contrast by lists such as this one, the top games played on Xbox 360 last year. The list is dominated by the “shoot dudes in the face” genre, a constant parade of perks and kill cams and the endless, monotonous grind of competitive multiplayer. The list is also full of sports games, which I haven’t really appreciated since NBA Jam. I love sports in real life, but sports games have become much too complex and I don’t have the patience to learn all the systems. That one’s on me.
Almost every time I turn on my Xbox, my friends list is filled, top-to-bottom, with people watching Netflix or playing FPS games. Any time I volunteer to host a game for Friday Night Fights that’s not a FPS, nobody shows up. Because of this, I find myself retreating further into single-player games and niche genres, like fighting games (Street Fighter), strategy games (XCOM, Final Fantasy Tactics), “retro” stuff like Mega Man (‘cuz we all know how much love the Blue Bomber gets these days), and quirky outliers such as Spelunky, FTL, and 10000000.
What’s more alienating is that I can’t relate to the average gamer any more, or at least not with the ones that comment on video game websites. Sure, there are incredible, unique, hilarious, caring people to be found (you know who you are), but all too often they’re drowned out by the din of the entitled masses. I’m fed up with fans feeling that the world owes them something for buying a dumb game. I was ashamed by the Mass Effect 3 backlash and the venom that people unleashed on Bioware, whether the company deserved it or not. Impotently thrashing around online and spewing vitriol (take, for instance, the very words you’re reading on this blog) aren’t helping anything.
I don’t even know where I’m going with this. I’m getting older and things are changing? Let me stop here before I drift further into Andy Rooney territory.
I’ve seen plenty of similar blogs during my years at Dtoid, with guys getting burned out or disillusioned with their favorite hobby. My usual advice was to go back to what you loved as a kid, to the games that got you hooked in the first place to rekindle the flame. Maybe I just need to break out the NES and play some RBI Baseball. Or, have I finally reached that moment where I hang up the controller for good and devote my time, energy, and money to more worthwhile pursuits that will have some tangible benefit to my career or my place in life?
Disclaimer: I played through the game on normal, no ironman mode - I'm a wimp. Has it really been almost 3 years since I updated my cblog? Also, I made a new banner and everything, but I couldn't get it to update. Here it is: link
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the best strategy RPG released in years, and one of the very few to get a full retail release across multiple platforms. I want to scream from the rooftop how much fun I had with this game, how much nail-biting tension I experienced as my squad members held on for dear life, how much frantic cursing like "fuck, please, fuck, God, no, FUCK!" I yelled at the TV while hoping for an enemy to whiff on that last attack. Don't you want a taste of that?
If you've enjoyed games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, and Tactics Ogre, you will fall in love with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Just give it a chance. Don't be scared off by what you've heard about the difficulty level, or your past experiences with XCOM games. Some of you, like me, may have picked up the original XCOM a decade too late when it was in a Steam sale, and couldn't even make your way out of the fucking lander on the first mission, when aliens incinerate you from offscreen. Followed by a ragequit.
This game is certainly doable, and the optional tutorial does an incredible job of quickly bringing you up to speed. XCOM strikes a perfect balance of making your soldiers feel extremely vulnerable, but capable of kicking major ass if you put them in positions to suceed. The game empowers the player in a way that few games do these days, which makes me appreciate the challenge that much more.
XCOM is tough, yet fair. Much like Dark Souls, if you die, it's usually your own damn fault. Shoulda picked that other position with more cover, pal. Shoulda been patient and waited for next turn to move forward, dumb-dumb. Shoulda used Overwatch instead of attempting that low-percentage shot, stupid. Every death is a learning opportunity, and a reminder of how NOT to play the game. You're not just smashing your head against a wall repeatedly until it breaks; you need to use that head to find a way around the wall and shoot it in the back (the wall's back? Where the hell am I going with this analogy?).
Wrenchfarm and akathatoneguy already did a great job of breaking down the game in further detail, so check out their blogs for more gushing praise if you're still on the fence. I just beat the campaign last night, and I want to get into some vague discussion of the game's story. Kinda-spoilers? I dunno, avoid if you're being careful.
--- Spoiler warning ---
The last mission is pretty fucking awesome. I won't get into specific details, but there's more story development here than in every other part of the game combined. That's my main complaint with the game (aside from an occasional glitch), as I really wish this story was spread out through more of the campaign. It's a shame that it's all crammed into one mission. I wanted to see those ideas explored some more, with further info on the invading forces. I liked where that last mission was going.
I was kinda hoping for some kind of New Game+ option, as well, to carry over my dudes into another playthrough on a harder difficulty level. Yeah, it would totally throw off the balance of the game, and you wouldn't have any progression if everyone's already a colonel, but still. I just don't want to leave my guys behind. *sniffle* Maybe a "custom game" kind of thing would work, where you can set up the two squads like in multiplayer and then have the computer play as one of them. Future DLC?
Also, the sniper is almost too damn good in this game. If the odds weren't so stacked against the player, I would almost feel a little guilty for dominating with this class. Almost. With a plasma sniper rifle and double tap (an ability to shoot twice in one turn), and the help of two critical hits, I took down the final boss with only one guy. My snipers ended up with like 4-5 times as many total kills than the average squad member. I don't know if it's my personal play style, but the sniper is clearly the best human unit in the game.
Sectopods are such dicks.
--- End spoilers ---
I pre-ordered XCOM on a whim, which is something I never do. I'm so glad that I followed the advice of a friend, and the excited first impressions I heard from Giant Bomb. I'm eager to get home from work and start my second playthrough on the classic difficulty level, or maybe mess around with the multiplayer for a bit. Any flaws that I've found with the game have been more than offset by the sheer fun I've had with the strategic gameplay. I encourage everyone to support this game and show that there's an audience for this type of thing. This is the real deal, SRPG nerds.
I don't have Photoshop on this computer, so the images are staying ridiculously large and blurry. Fuck it.
After thorough deliberation, the "Games As Art" Fancy Pants Award and free copy of Braid for the PC goes to...GamesAreArt (appropriate name)! Also, TheCleaningGuy and wanderingpixel! That's right, I'm going multiball on that ass, and three people are getting free games. I got a raise this week at work and I'm feeling extra generous, so here we go:
GamesAreArt won bonus points for the irony of his user name appearing in my contest, but also because of the extremely self-aware GameFAQs ode to Pong that I enjoyed. This sealed the deal:
"Flunchy’s final thought
This game accurately models mankind’s propensity to destroy itself. By showing humanity a mirror in which it’s ghastly reflection can be shone back at it, we are both horrified and attracted at the same time.
Or it could just be a case of “Hit ball for high score” – either way..."
7,980 words that made me want to avoid playing Shadow of the Colossus (or talking to someone who has played it). Well done, sir. As a former literature major who wrote his thesis on the history and cultural relevance of Japanese manga, I can relate to this writer's obsession.
This guy's not even halfway through his first sentence and he's making references to Wine Spectator magazine. Love it. Then he delves into a bit of pixel theory:
"Even if you argue that the pixel exists before it becomes a game, that pixel is still blank. I has not color, no shape and no purpose other than being a non-functioning bit."
He also wraps up his piece on a very Jim Sterling-esque note: "Certainly, games can be considered art on many levels and for many reasons."
See? Reasons, and many of them. That proves it once and for all, GAMES = ART. Start preparing your finest cheeses and filling your brandy snifters, folks! "Snifter" is a weird word, isn't it?
Congrats to you guys, I'll be sending those copies of Braid to you in like...5 minutes. And thanks to all of you who participated, commented, and fapped - 'cuz EVERYONE'S a winner with Destructoid!™
I leave you with these parting gifts for the holidays:
AHHHHHHHHHHHWHY ARE THOSE LAST TWO IN THEREAHHHHHHH!!!!
After seeing DaedHead8's recent contest, I was inspired to give back to my Destructoid brethren. So if he wouldn't mind, I'm borrowing his idea and spreading some community love in time for the holidays. In other words, I'm giving away one FREE COPY OF BRAID FOR THE PC to you fools. Well, to one of you, at least.
How do you win your very own copy of this beloved indie darling and favorite of scarf-wearers everywhere? Find me the most ridiculously overblown, absurd argument for "games as art" that is available on the internet and share it here.
(I dunno, man. I shit you not, I searched for "Fancy Pants" and this is what came up. Don't blame me, folks. Blame Google.)
Check out GameFAQs for a justification of Chex Quest's place in the pantheon of artistic expression. Read a random message board and uncover a long-winded love letter to Bubsy. Unearth the crazed ramblings of a devoted Karnov fan. Make something up.
Your task is to showcase the ridiculous nature of the "games as art" debate and make me laugh, and the best man or woman will win.
Deadline: 11:59pm EST, 12/24/09. Whenever I wake up Christmas morning/afternoon, I'll gift the game to the winner of my choosing through Steam.
Note: You must leave your Steam ID somewhere in the comment section below, or you're disqualified. If you don't use Steam, then fuck off. Kidding. But seriously, Steam users only.
(Full Disclosure: Braid is on sale at Steam for $2.49. Cash rules everything around me, C.R.E.A.M. Get the money. Dollar, dollar bill, ya'll.)
Well, I figured I'd join in the fun and add to the headaches for today's Cblog recapper. Happy third anniversary, Niero and crew! I've had a hell of a lot of fun here since I joined the site (maybe a year ago? I don't remember). My days at work have been relatively boredom-free, and many late nights have since been spent kicking ass and bullshitting with some awesome people over Xbox Live.
This was all made possible through Destructoid, so thanks for busting your ass for each and every one of us. We appreciate it.
A special shout-out goes to RetroforceGO! for making my commute to work enjoyable each week. You guys are...wait for it...AMAZING!! Keep on being all awesome, all the time.
Now it's party time!
Rock over London, Rock on Chicago. Polaroid - See What Develops.