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Tony Ponce's blog

Roger Ebert is not far off the mark
1:57 PM on 04.18.2010
The Last Story... is that a TIGER!?!?!?
10:43 AM on 04.09.2010
The PAX Misadventures of Beyamor and Qalamari
2:49 PM on 03.31.2010
Off-Brand Games: DuLuDuBi Star
5:06 PM on 02.10.2010
'Round and 'round we go!
8:51 PM on 02.04.2010
Off-Brand Games: Crusader of Centy
6:46 PM on 01.26.2010

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It's been quite a while since renowned film critic Roger Ebert last shared his thoughts on video games. His opinion that games are not and cannot be art doesn't sit well with gamers, many who have taken it upon themselves to properly "educate" him on the subject.

Just recently, Mr. Ebert took thatgamecompany co-founder and president Kellee Santiago to task over a TED presentation she delivered early last year. Two games mentioned during the presentation were indie darlings Braid and flOwer. Ebert could not see the artistic merit in these examples and thus the Internet erupted: "You are an ignorant man, Roger Ebert! You haven't even played these games, so how could you pass judgment?"

I think you are being just a tad bit harsh on the man. No, scratch that -- you are acting like brats. Show a little respect, will you please?

How ridiculous is it that you ask for the man's thoughts on a subject that you damn well know he's not familiar with and then hound him because you didn't like his answer? It's not like he decided one day to condemn the entire pastime. Someone years ago assumed that with his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema lore he might have some insight into the rising interactive medium that has been compared to film on more than one occasion. He was merely answering fan mail.

Gamers must reeeeeally want the support of such an influential figure in the entertainment world. You want his support so badly that you will spam his inbox and blogs' comments with scathing degradations and grade-school rants until you wear him down. I mean, there are people actually trying to have list wars -- LIST WARS -- with Roger Ebert! When has that ever been an effective tactic?

If only the man would play the games, then he'll understand, right? It's easy for gamers to forget that games are not an immediately accessible medium like film and literature. Other than the ability to register images and words, movies and books don't require any extra skills in order to be consumed. Video games, on the other hand, require users to be well-versed in electronic "language," that is, a rhythm and familiarity that comes with play over an extended period. Aside from possibly Myst, I doubt that Ebert's gaming experience extends beyond a single quarter on a Donkey Kong cabinet. Expecting him play the games you demand of him without succumbing to frustration, regardless of how easy we find them, is beyond foolish.

So if he can't acquire first-hand knowledge of gaming, why doesn't he just keep his mouth shut? Because you people keep opening yours! You are the ones so bent on changing his tune. He could have ignored the subject entirely, but that would be rude to all the people asking for feedback. Ebert is a true professional and wants to be as fair to his fans as he can. If he were a dishonorable hack with a political agenda, he would simply cherry-pick the most caustic comments and then use that material to damn all gamers as barbaric miscreants. Give the man props for seeking out polite and well-constructed counterpoints such as Ms. Santiago's presentation.

As often as Ebert returns to this subject, I figure he would love to be persuaded by a thoroughly convincing argument. Unfortunately, he wasn't sold on the three games Santiago highlighted as proof that games can be and already are art. It has nothing to do with stubbornness and everything to do with her failure to state compelling reasons. She described Braid as a tool to help the players reflect upon their own real-world mistakes, but how does that in any way inspire a non-gamer to play that over, say, reading Chicken Soup for the Soul? How does illustrating the critical and financial impact of these games in any way address the art debate?

Roger Ebert is an extremely busy man who does not see the point in dedicating the amount of time needed to play games "properly." What kind of art, he figures, demands a set of skills that limits the number of people who can benefit from it? If you cannot effectively describe to a non-gamer how a game is a form of artistic expression without ultimately resorting to "well, you just don't get it," maybe there is a kernel of truth in Ebert's words.

Regardless of his opinions, Ebert doesn't discourage gamers from enjoying games however they see fit. Really, why should his thoughts affect your pleasure? He only offered his musings because he keeps getting pestered about it. And so he asks, "Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art?"

I'm mulling it over, trying to imagine how gamers would benefit from the mainstream acknowledgement of games as an art form. None of us were concerned about artistic merit back in our preteen years. What I think tends to happen is you hit that age -- about 20, 25, or 30 -- where your minor in-game accomplishments start to seem childish and nonessential. Then there's that gnawing at the back of your head, the fear that one day you'll look back and realize you wasted the best years of your life on a mindless hobby with nothing to show for it. Before that happens, you need to somehow validate your hobby to the world, make the people understand that you are engaging your body and soul by playing these games.

Can there really be any other reason than that? Games can't just be "entertaining," no. They have to offer some greater wisdom, serve some higher purpose. But let me ask this -- has it occurred to anyone that something can be meaningful and elicit emotional response without being art? It's like the boy whose life changed after dad took him to his first ball game. Doesn't mean baseball is art, does it? You get so hung up on this three-letter word, as if games are going to get any better once the medium is "validated" in the eyes of educators, political pundits, and disapproving parents the world over. Why should it matter what it's classified as?

But don't take my word for it! If anyone could give a straight answer on the "games as art" debate, it would be the "artists" who made those games possible. And not just any games! The best in their class!

Upon winning the British Academy of Film and Television Arts fellowship award, Nintendo wonder child Shigeru Miyamoto said this in his acceptance speech:

"It's a great honor that my name might be listed as a fellowship member along with such a great director as Hitchcock. I have never said that video games [are] an art."

Miyamoto has helped to shape some of gaming's greatest icons like Mario and Link, but he's been more focused on bringing joy to players than producing art. As we've seen with Wii Music, sometimes he doesn't even make games!

Speaking of not making games, Sim City-creator Will Wright dropped this nugget while at the Toy Fair in New York City:

"I always thought of Sim City as a digital toy. Most people call it a game, but, really, the rules structure is much looser than a real game. You can't really win or lose in Sim City or The Sims. You can try for certain goal states and maybe achieve them or not. But I think my games have always been more like toys than games."

Will Wright considers himself in the toy business! Even if you managed to form a convincing argument for why his simulation software is art, it wouldn't make a case for video games by his own admission. In fact, Ebert said as much in his blog:

"One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite an immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them."

In the past decade, the face of the "games as art" movement has been the one-two punch of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. During a GDC '09 panel, Team Ico designer Fumito Ueda said this in response to that honor:

"My team and I are making a game which is close to art -- that's what people say. Personally I don't think that way. We're making a game to entertain people. Sometimes my personality and my team's might be reflected on the game, and it might look like art, but it is a game to entertain people. That kind of feedback is welcome but it's not what I'm trying to achieve."

Here are three men whose landmark games have had tremendous influence on the shape and direction of this industry, yet not a one would consider what they do "art." If these powerful figures care so little for such a nonessential title, why should the rest of us care?

Please, take Roger Ebert's advice and enjoy your games for what they are. You'll most likely never convince him that games can be art, but maybe that's the lesson we should learn. Drop the circular debate and just play some damn games. Also, stop giving the man crap. I think he knows what's up.
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So I saw this new piece of concept art for Mistwalker's The Last Story. That dude's "sword" is wild. Has everyone forgotten what a real weapon looks like? The chick is not bad. No hot pants or exposed clevage for a change. And... wait... what...

Is that a tiger?


Fuckin' tiger!

There's a tiger in this game!


I wanna name it Cringer and ride around on it into battle!
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Tony: Beyamor! Hey, Qalamari! Come with me! We'll go and see a place called PAX East!

Real-World Responsibilities: Who needs PAX East? You have to pay the rent!

Tony: But their ain't no streams of vidja games to play to hearts' content!

Real-World Responsibilities: It's childish and silly!

Tony: But filled with nerdy glee!

Beyamor: Adventure!

Qalamari: That's the life for me!

Tony: There's Pokéwalkers and swag for free!

Real-World Responsibilities: Doesn't sound very good to me!

CHORUS: The PAX misadventures of...

Beyamor/Qalamari: Beyamor and Qalamari!

Behold, the Black Folder of Wonders. What is contained within?

Ah! Very swanky! Our heroes will be riding in style along this journey!

Our heroes wait at the gate for their flight to begin boarding.

Sorry, Beyamor! Looks like Qalamari got the window seat!

Our heroes wait for their luggage to arrive. Already, they can feel the cool Boston air breezing through the automatic doors.

United at last! Our heroes gather with their compatriots for some well-deserved merry-making.

Brother Hamza cannot resist the urge to taste the sweat off our heroes' brows.

Our heroes enjoy a frosty beverage! I hope they can restrain themselves.

Guess not! Our heroes slumber in a warm embrace, the alcohol surely erasing the memories of the previous evening.

Our heroes have arrived at the entrance of the Hynes Convention Center! PAX East is just up those escalators!

And past this line, apparently.

Qalamari wanted to play Picross 3D at the Nintendo booth. Beyamor preferred WarioWare D.I.Y..

Our heroes met this valiant warrior early in their travels.

The Mega64 crew was displeased by out heroes' two-dimensional forms.

At the Behemoth booth, our heroes sampled Madness Accelerant, an updated version of a Flash game from Newgrounds.

Our heroes joined the search for Jason!? JAAAAAAAAAAAASOOOOOOOOON!!!

Our heroes take a moment to collect themselves and to enjoy the Boston cityscape.

Between acts at the Friday concert, our heroes enjoy the company of other Dtoiders in a haze of light and sound.

Jonathan Holmes expressed surprise at our heroes' presence.

Our heroes devour a pie from the P.B. Winterbottom panel. All that lemon meringue will impair your judgment!

See? Our heroes' snuggle once again, this time with their roommate Wexx.

It's a beautiful Boston morning! The crisp air clears our heroes' minds of their bedtime antics.

Oh no! Our heroes have accidentally broken Ralph Baer's Brown Box!

Make haste! Pretend you were playing Buck Rogers pinball the whole time!

The Dtoid clan cements their glorious meeting with a series of photographs.

Gus and Geoff of Rooster Teeth were more than happy to spend time with our heroes.

Our heroes score a little Bayonetta action!

Our heroes admire the Mother 3 models at the Fangamer booth.

Our heroes go old school with some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 for the NES.

Unfortunately, the helmets of The Protomen did not fit over our heroes' collective head.

The 3D glasses did nothing for our heroes.

Our heroes bask in the warm glow of row after row of condoms.

Our heroes cheer on the participants in the final round of the Omegathon.

Our heroes enjoy the company of good people at the nearby food court.

Nick Chester gently cradles our heroes in his loving embrace.

Samit also spends some quality time with our heroes.

As our heroes take the subway back to Logan International, they reminisce about the people they met and the memories they shared. If only every single day could be as rich in company and good-natured fun as this PAX East weekend. Our heroes will carry these memories for years to come.

Until we meet again, rest easy, our heroes.

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Over the past few months, word has spread of a certain Chinese PC game that tore every page out of the Nintendo handbook and replaced them with abrasive dollar-store toilet paper. DuLuDuBi Star is a clone of 2007's Super Mario Galaxy and inarguably the most shameless cases of intellectual piracy in recent memory. Yes, I'd say even more so than Limbo of the Lost.

Naturally, this excited me. I saw the GameTrailer video. I checked a few YouTube videos here and there. I had to play this game somehow. All I needed was a copy of the game and the means with which to properly install Chinese software.

I made a mistake. A terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible mistake.

The time I wasted on this steaming heap of fecal matter can never be recovered. Those hours I lost are gone forever. My transformation from curious optimist to full-blown cynic is now complete and I can never go back.

What stings me most isn't how bad this game is (and boy, is it baaaad), it's the résumé of the company responsible for its existence. There will be retribution against this band of criminals. Believe me when I warn that you have no idea how deep this shit runs. None whatsoever.

TASTES LIKE: Super Mario Galaxy

Fantawild is not a garage developer with a shoestring budget and a basket full of hopes and aspirations. It is a massive multimedia conglomerate, itself a subsidiary of a much larger investment group known as Huaqiang Holdings, that has its hand in just about every entertainment field you can imagine. It develops traditional and CGI animation, 3D film technologies, interactive software, and a whole host of related culture-tech productions. It maintains a stable of in-house properties that appears everywhere from cartoons to merchandising, leading the charge for greater awareness of domestic animation.

Then there are the theme parks. Yes, there are several Fantawild Adventure parks that rank among the most popular in China. Figuring that they aren't rich enough, the top Huaqiang brass decided to expand outside their borders by constructing parks in Iran and South Africa.

Fantawild is the Disney of China. Its sphere of influence is greater than that of the actual Disney within the nation. It is the company's ultimate goal to match and surpass Disney in every facet imaginable.

The mascot of Fantawild Adventure is an adorable blue dinosaur named DuLuDuBi. He has a female counterpart named DuLuDuNi; together they are the Mickey and Minnie of Fantawild, appearing on T-shirts, plush pillows, what-name-you. To promote the characters, a PC game starring the critters was developed and made available for free. It's a universe-touring 3D platformer that spans five themed zones, following DuLuDuBi in his quest to save DuLuDuNi from some great evil.

And it's Super Mario Galaxy. That just blows my mind. Considering the pedigree of the empire behind the characters' inception, you would think that this piece of software would reflect pride in one of the company's critical brands enough. It's not like the guys are lacking in resources and creativity. Just what was going on in that boardroom when the idea for a DuLuDuBi game was pitched?

To be fair, even Disney has been known to draw "inspiration" from other sources. The Lion King appears to have a link with Osamu Tezuka's Jungle Emperor, better known in the West as Kimba the White Lion. Atlantis: The Lost Empire plays out like a condensed version of Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water despite assurances from the Atlantis producer and co-director that they had never heard of the latter. Then there are the numerous public domain fairy tales that serve as the foundation for many of Disney's legendary films, but retelling an old story with a unique twist is not the same case as copying a more recent work.

Speaking of which, who hasn't glanced into the discount movie bins at Wal-Mart or their local drugstore, found cheaply-produced animated films, typically under the GoodTimes label, and muttered something about them being Disney knock-offs? We associate stories like Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland so closely with Disney that we forget that they didn't originate with Disney.

The rule is that mind share is won through extensive polish regardless of whether or not you were the originator of the property. Disney's more questionable films like The Lion King are not discredited because the quality of the product is so high. On top of that, the movies feature enough hallmark Disney "magic" that even the toughest skeptics may be willing to chalk up the similarities as mere coincidence.

DuLuDuBi Star has no such magic. The law in China is completely topsy-turvy. The Chinese look at the word "copyright" and take it to mean that it is "alright" to "copy." Why wouldn't you if you could get away with it scot-free? Given the depths of Fantawild's pockets, do you really think it gives a damn about masking its intentions? Hell no.

I've put this off long enough.


Alright, here we go. All the text is in Chinese, but it shouldn't be too hard to navigate the menu. That button on the far left looks promising. I'll click it.

Aaaaand here we are, the hub world. Look at those graphics. It's good to see that even in 2008 the spirit of the Nintendo 64 is being kept alive. So... wait. Is that the Jeopardy theme? The Jeopardy theme is playing in the overworld. The Jeopardy theme. This should set the tone for the rest of the article, shouldn't it?

So I'm running around, acclimating myself with the controls. The WASD keys control movement. Yeah, just what I was hoping for in a 3D platformer. I would have loved some of the nuance that analog controls provide, but nope! This will do just dandy!

Left mouse click is your Super Mario Galaxy spin attack and right mouse click is your jump. Kinda awkward that those aren't mapped to the keyboard, but I suppose it makes sense since you use the mouse to navigate menus. No reason to swap hand positions continuously. Back to the jump, clicking again while airborne will launch a double jump accompanied by a "wahoo" sound clip pulled straight out of Klonoa. I haven't even gone to the first level and already I see two bits of lifted assets.

Finally, there are the camera controls mapped to the Q and E keys. Don't think you'll get anything resembling a decent viewing angle with this shit. The camera locks into one of four positions, none of which are ideal for any given situation. Would it have killed to have a button to center the camera behind your character? But that would have required actual work!

All the zone entrances have a big padlock on them, so I gotta go to the only one that's open. Thankfully, there is a path of arrows leading right to the portal and... wait a second. Those arrows look familiar. Oh! Those are the arrows from Dance Dance Revolution! Genius! Pure genius!

Okay. Select your galaxy. The closed galaxies are represented by big question mark boxes. Whoa. Déjà vu, indeed.

Now I select my mission. Enter a zone, select a galaxy, select a level and go after a star. Yep! This is the Super Mario Galaxy format alright!

I land on this planetoid and gotta collect these crystal shard pieces. Collecting all will open up...

... this slingshot launcher to the next planetoid. It's automatic, so there is no need for the spin attack like in Galaxy.

All I gotta do is clear this gap, land on the floating platform, and grab that star. Lemme just jump and...

Oh, you've gotta be kidding! The momentum in this game is horrible! You try to turn in mid-air to correct a jump and you just stall. It's worse than in Castlevania since at least in that game you'll continue your forward arc despite pushing the D-pad in the opposite direction.

And what exactly killed me, anyway? In Galaxy, you can see the giant gravity wells that suck you in. Here, you fall through the center of the planet, expecting to pop out the other side but don't. It makes zero fucking sense.

Great, my first star. Oh yeah, strike a cool pose, you little blue bastard. Think you're hot shit, don't cha?

What kind of enemies are there? We've got these Piranha Plant/Goomba hybrids...

... some Bullet Bills...

... these bulbous, chainsaw-wielding puff balls...

... and baby triceratops with mile-long tumors. Isn't that a bit top-heavy? I know I'd have problems maintaining my balance if I had a blue whale's dick growing out of my forehead.

But what are minions without strong bosses to lead them into battle? Who should make an appearance but the Dino Piranha as well as...

... Kamella! Yeah, they probably got sick of Mario's shit and decided to harass some other fuckernutter. Moving from fat plumber to blue midget dinosaur must have been a real step up the ladder of villainy.

Alright, I just gotta climb up these steps. Cakewalk. Just jump up to the top, just keep climbing, and...

Fuck! In any Mario game, this would be the easiest thing in the world. Why is it so God damn hard here? Why is it so God damn hard!? I'm just trying to climb up the fucking steps! I can't jump in straight lines because pushing right just sends off the edge furthest from the wall!

Here's where the whole nonsense with the camera comes down to piss in my Cheerios. With the WASD keys, you can only move in the four cardinal directions or the four ordinal directions. Navigating narrow walkways or jumps becomes an exercise in frustration because, thanks to the goofy-ass camera, you can never walk in a straight line! You'll always gravitate to one of the edges, so you resort to taking your time and staggering your movements -- up, up-left, up, up-right, up, up-right, fuck! Fell off again! So damn tedious!

Sweet Jesus, there is no way in hell I'm making it across here! It would be perfect if you could gradually inch the camera into a suitable position whereby you only have to hold down a single key to run across. This part is especially devious in that the platforms run back and forth in a zigzag pattern so you have to constantly change the camera angle. These are conveyer belts, so you can't just sit and take your time! You better move your ass! Oops! You overshot the landing and fell into the abyss! Fuck you! Back to start!

The game for the most part is very easy and straightforward, but when you get to trouble spots like this that make you want to jab a hot poker down your urethra, you'll find 1-ups scattered about all over the place. It's like the creators knew that the game was shit and had to pump you full of extra lives so that even when you are losing you aren't being penalized. It's like heavily sedating trauma victims with morphine to distract them from the stumps where their limbs used to be.

Oh, c'mon! Can you move any slower? You have to get down to the end of this pathway while dodging rolling boulders that pop in out of nowhere, but the game is so poorly optimized that this section taxes your hardware to an unbelievable degree. You grind your teeth as you craaaaaaawl to the next safe zone. C'mon! C'mon! It's gonna hit me! It's gonna hit me! Jump to boost speed! It doesn't help, but do it anyway! C'mon! C'mon! Grrrrrrrrrrrr!

Here's another fun activity! Remember having to collect five shards to either open up a slingshot or reveal the star? This is the same thing, only instead of collecting shards you hit switches. The twist? They can only be flipped in a specific order. You try one, doesn't work. Another, doesn't work. Then you get one that works, so one down. Now try those first two again in case one of them is the second in the sequence. On and on until you trigger all five. What's the point? Variety? Dick is what it is! Give me back the shards if you are going to send me on fetch quest!

The fuck am I doing back here!? I beat this one already! Stop recycling levels, you sick fucks!

Look, a dialogue with your pink damsel-in-distress... HOLY MARY AND JOSEPH! What is up with her eyes!? Is she possessed? Must be! Makes sense, though. You'd have to be possessed to want to be in this shitty fucking game.


No. Just no. A third time? Now with a time limit? What is wrong with you people!? I'm not even in the same fucking galaxy anymore! I shouldn't be dealing with this again!

Now is probably a good time to explain the level structure. As I mentioned before, there are five major zones. Each zone is split into three separate galaxies consisting of three to four levels and a fourth galaxy consisting of a single boss battle. In an individual mission, you visit up to three different planetoids. On each planetoid, your goal is either to go straight to the star or slingshot, to collect five crystal shards, or to flip five switches. Planetoids get revisited multiple times across several levels within a particular zone.

That last part bugs me. Often, you revisit a planetoid in a completely separate galaxy from where you saw it the first time. What's the point of splitting levels across galaxies if you are going to be revisiting the same places no matter where you go? The game's idea of variety is changing up the goals. On your first visit, you may only need to reach the slingshot. On the second visit, you might have to flip switches to reveal the slingshot. Not like the makers could have made new environments or anything. Ya know, something fun.

What's the point of the Super Mario Galaxy-style mission structure at all? You don't unlock the next galaxy until you've found all the stars in the current one, and you don't unlock the next zone until you've beaten the current zone's boss. In Galaxy, you could skip entire levels and still acquire enough stars to reach the final stage. It's very open-ended. In DuLuDuBi Star, it's a straight run from A to B. It's perhaps the only thing straight about this whole damn game.

Oh, go fuck yourself.

Here's a great time waster. You land on a giant cube that can only be navigated via these maze-like corridors. You've got to hit switches so you try the first one. Nope. Go to the next. Nope. Branching path. Oops. A dead end. Backtrack and go down the other path. Finally find the first switch. Keep going until you hit the end of the line then turn around and go aaaaaaall the way back to the start to check that first switch that didn't work the first time and...

My God. So stupid.

Hey! It's an ice world! The floor is slippery! This makes your character's already shitty momentum even shittier! Will the wonders never cease?

I guess not! Yeah! Do your best Sonic the Hedgehog impression and grind those icy rails! Your walking speed is faster, but grind anyway!

Okay, final zone, the volcano worlds.

Oh my God. It's a puzzle! An honest-to-God puzzle! Thank the Lord on high! A little bit of variety!

You have to reach the star suspended above the lava. To do so, you must raise the star platforms be stepping on the corresponding colored tiles. Trigger on just enough to create some steps that you can scale. If you screw up, hit the reset tile and try again.

I still don't believe it. It's a Chinese New Year miracle.

This is it. The last level before the final boss. I've taken everything this game could throw at me and soldiered onward. No last-minute shenanigans are gonna mess my stride. All I have to do run up this path that winds around this volcano and grab the star at the summit. Just gotta dodge falling rocks... fuck. Just gotta clear this jump... fuck. Are there any 1-ups in this level? I guess they wised up and took away that crutch. I can still do this. I've got two dozen lives. I'm in this for the long...

Game over? GAME OVER!? Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

What the hell is going on!? All of a sudden the game decided to pull the rug out from under me. Losing all your lives has no significant drawback other than wasting time you could be spending replaying that same level. You get booted back to the main menu, click start, wait for the hub world to load, run to the zone entrance, select the galaxy, select the mission, wait for the mission to load, only to lose your miserable three lives clipping through the God damn volcano wall.

That doesn't make any sense, does it? You have to run up the path without falling off, so you'd think you could hug the side of the mountain and possibly rebound off it in the event you overshoot a jump. Instead, you phase right through and die instantly. Did the programmers forget to program collision detection here?

This is mind-numbing! In a previous level...

... you have to jump across these outcroppings poking through this lava fall. I took my care not to get too close to the lava, but as it turns out nothing happens when I touched it! Yeah! The game treated it as a solid wall. So the stuff that you think would kill you does not while the stuff that you think is safe does kill you.



This level is a culmination of every bone-headed decision that went into this game's creation. It's a real pillar of shit. Everything can and will kill you repeatedly not because you are a poor player but because the developers were too busy jerking off their dogs to realize that they had no fucking clue how to make a video game.

This level is a fight against multiple forces. You are fighting against the controls, you are fighting against the camera, you are fighting against the clock, you are fighting against the platforms, you are fighting against the falling debris, and you are fighting against the jumps. It is one giant gangbang and you are the unlucky bitch taking it up the ass.

You want to position the camera in an optimal position, but it's ultimately fruitless. No matter what angle you choose, you still run like a drunken hobo. If the camera is behind you, pushing up will send you off the right ledge to your death. Pushing up-left will send you off the left ledge through the volcano wall and to your death as well. So you gotta take your time and stagger up the path.

Only you can't take your time. There's a time limit! But don't move too fast because rocks will fall on you! So you gotta wait for the rocks to fall, but then the ground crumbles beneath you, so you gotta keep moving! You are pretty much dead once a rock hits you! If it doesn't knock you into the lava, you won't recover before the tile you landed on collapses and drops you into the lava anyway!

You gotta jump across gaps but they aren't straight jumps! They are sorta wrapped around the side of the volcano, so you are tempted to try and change direction in mid-air. As we've previously established, that'll stall you and cause you to drop like a fucking anchor! So you have to jump off at a diagonal and pray that a rock doesn't up and land on your skull!

Then you reach a gap that is too wide to cross! You try again and again to clear the jump but keep falling short! You try to time your double jump at the apex and it doesn't work! You try to spin at the end of the double jump for a little extra oomph and it doesn't work! What you have to do is jump, spin at the apex of that first jump, jump again, then spin at the apex of that jump! You've never been required to perform this technique at any other point of the game! HOW IN THE SEVEN LAYERS OF HELL WOULD ANYONE THINK TO DO THAT!?



By the grace of God or Satan or Amun-Ra, I made it to the final boss. Who has been the source of my torture? A squid wearing an '80s power suit. Of course. Why the fuck would it be anything else?

The battle is divided into three stages. First, he flies around in this saucer, launching swarms of Bullet Bills at me. I have to trick the black ones into hitting his hull three times. After that...

... I have to pursue him down a long stretch of moving platforms. After all the shit I've been through, I was able to breeze through this segment without issue.

Once I reach the Sushi Fucker, he transforms into...

... a giant lava octopus. All I have to do is avoid his tentacles and knock the stones that fall down into his God damn face. Three times and bam! It's over.

DuLuDuBi has rescued DuLuDuNi. The credits roll. Everyone is fucking happy. The end.

Now this flaming icon appears on the main menu. Clicking it brings up...

... this screen. What is this? Instructions to unlocking a bonus game? A certificate of completion? Why the hell would I want to be reminded of my "exploits"? I don't know and I don't care. I've had it up to here with this shit-bomb.

DuLuDuBi Star is the ultimate insult. It has no appeal whatsoever. It lifts assets from a number of properties, possibly more that I've missed, and offers no apology. It's so bad that I can't even look at Super Mario Galaxy anymore. This game has ruined Galaxy for me forever.

See, this is why digital distribution is a bad idea! I want nothing more than to grab the game disc and feed it through a document shredder, but I can't because there is no physical media! How am I to vent my seething anger? I could smash the computer itself and toss it into the nearest canal, but that wouldn't be practical! When a disc or cartridge is destroyed, there is one less of it in the world. You can't do that to a download. It replicates. It's a fucking virus for which there is no cure.

Does Fantawild care? No, it doesn't. Not one bit. It just laughs and tells you to go fuck a mule. It is too mighty to be toppled, so its actions will go unchecked by the good ol' People's Republic of China. That whole country is messed up.

We need to go to the top, to the Huaqiang Holdings board of directors. I want them to face brutal justice. I want them to go out like that scene from Dogma where two angels, in the name of our Lord Alanis Morissette, make Swiss cheese out of everyone in the room. Then I want Ben Affleck to turn to the camera and say, "Applesauce, bitch!" Only then will I be satisfied.

Fuck DuLuDuBi, fuck Fantawild, and, for good measure, fuck you too. I'm out. Peace.

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The more things change, the more things stay the same:

What is this garbage!?

This is just lazy, Capcom! You give us a brand-new classic Mega Man but with old and shitty retro graphics! How cheap can you be? You aren't even trying! This is literally just an NES game! Video games have advanced! This should be with modern graphics in HD and with new gameplay mechanics! Give me back my slide and charge shot!

My enthusiasm for this game is next to nothing now!

What is this garbage!?

This is just lazy, Sega! You give us a brand-new classic Sonic the Hedgehog but with the new and shitty art design! How cheap can you be? You aren't even trying! We just want another Genesis game! This game doesn't need to advance! This should be with classic graphics... in HD... and with the old gameplay mechanics! Take out the homing attack and goofy green eyes!

My enthusiasm for this game is next to nothing now!

Meanwhile, on Planet McNinja...

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After a short hiatus, I'm back with the next "wonderful" installment of Off-Brand Games! When I began this series, I had a huge list of candidates for crucifixion. I've been zipping through the shorter games, hoping to pump out articles at a regular clip. Now I'm left with the games that require greater investment and feeling a tad overwhelmed. Suck it up, boyo!

That means the articles may not be coming as often as I had once hoped. Don't worry, though! I'm still devoted to cracking open these sons of bitches like piñatas, releasing the months-old candy and moldy chocolate goodness inside. I want to hit up some GameCube and PlayStation 2 games hardcore, maybe a PC title here and there if my laptop is up to the challenge.

As for today, I've pulled out another Atlus-published treasure. The Legend of Zelda is tapped once again, and as with Alundra, it's really kinda tough to screw up a winning formula.

OFFENDER: Crusader of Centy
TASTES LIKE: The Legend of Zelda

Crusader of Centy was developed by Nextech, better known these days as Nex Entertainment. This group demonstrated great prowess with a little game called Resident Evil Code: Veronica. Fearing the obligation of meeting expectations of consistent quality, it shat out Time Crisis 4 and brought balance back to its software catalogue. Who wants to work that hard all the time, seriously?

The game opens with a history lesson on the planet's creation. Before plants and animals sprung, the land was populated by monsters. As light poured over the surface, the weaker monsters died off while the more resilient ones took refuge deep underground. It was there that the monsters flourished as humans established themselves as the dominant creatures in the world above. One day, the monsters crept out of their caves and tried to adapt to the altered environment.

Naturally, the people responded by pissing their pants and killing shit.

You are Corona and you've just celebrated your 14th birthday. That means you get to start hero training! Pick up your dead father's sword and continue the proud family tradition of ruthless slaughter. You were to be joined by your cousins Tecate and Dos Equis, but unfortunately previous engagements prevented their appearance in this game. In their place is a squad of animal companions who bestow upon you kick-ass magic! Animals rule!


What the hell is a "Centy"? No, really. I have no fucking clue.

Is it wrong to assume that the title of a game should offer some insight into what it's all about? The word is only spoken once in the entire game, around the halfway mark when an enemy refers to you as the "Crusader of Centy." A little context could help, thanks! Is it a person? Was there once a hero named Centy? I don't think it's the name of the continent. In fact, the European title of the game, Soleil, happens to be the name of your village. So it's more like you're the "Crusader of Soleil," but we still have a mystery here! Is it shorthand for something? Jesus! Tell me!

The entire game is a localization mess. I thought by 1994 these grammar screw-ups would be a thing of the past, but no! There are cases of text scrolling by so fast that you can't read it, then you are given a yes/no response prompt and you have no idea what it is you are responding to. On several occasions, a word would improperly wrap from one line to the next, so you'd get something like "with" where the end of one line has the "w" and the following line has the "ith." That's some amateur RPG Maker horseshit!

At least that can be attributed to human error. The game's scenario, on the other hand, is flat-out lazy. The whole game feels like one big fucking side quest. You get a sword, go to the training grounds, travel outside the village, save a lady from the fucking Big Bad Wolf, and rescue a little critter from an octopus, the successful completion of which qualifies you to be the world's savior or some nonsense. It doesn't add up!

Right near the end of the game, you are hit with a big Shyamalan twist. It seems that the monsters are not evil, merely misunderstood. You've been killing innocents out of fear and ignorance! I would feel sickened, except that every monster boss you face is a bigger asshole than the last! They taunt you, insult you, threaten you, and generally get all up in your business. Forgive me if I don't quite empathize with your plight, jerks! Don't gimme that "oh, but we were pushed into a corner" crap either. Even the most minor enemies attack you unprovoked! Misunderstood, my ass!

All this is at odds with the core game which is actually quite polished and streamlined. It really lends credence to my theory that the folks at Nex Entertainment can't stand having a good game on their record and thus must sabotage their work somehow. The game borrows its aesthetic from Zelda, specifically A Link to the Past. A lot of the tiles and architecture look like they would fit right in Link's third outing. Rather than Heart Containers, you collect Apples of Life. There's a Master Sword-like upgrade. Two-thirds of the way through the game, there's even a Dark World mechanic in which you go back in time to explore areas you were unable to in the present.

However, while the game looks like and shares a few common elements with Zelda, it really goes off and does its own thing. The name of the game is "streamlining." The only tool you ever use is your sword (which can be thrown like a boomerang, by the way). Instead of picking up new items, you recruit fifteen different animal helpers and apply any two at a time. They bestow abilities to augment your body and weapon, such as extended sword throwing range, fire or ice affinity, running speed boost, etc. Once equipped, you can see the current animals floating behind you in adorable familiar form.

Because of these visual cues, the game lacks a HUD crowded with a bunch of nonessential data. Crusader of Centy's minimal HUD is in stark contrast to that of the Zelda series which seems to grow more and more cluttered with each successive installment. All you need to know is how much health and money you possess. As an added bonus, monsters have their own visible health bars. Enemies and bosses go down fairly quickly, but it's still a nice extra over Zelda's offering of nothing.

Crusader of Centy eschews a traditional overworld in favor of a stage select map of sorts. In order to progress, you have to complete some challenge at a level marker. Once you've met the clear requirement, whether it be defeating a boss or running from Point A to Point B, you are free to pass over that marker unless a future objective requires a return trip. One downside to Zelda is the tedium in trudging through the same areas to fight the same squads of goons repeatedly every time you have an errand to run. Zelda games get around this through some kind of warping mechanic, but this stage select system is much cleaner.

While Zelda is extremely puzzle-centric, Crusader of Centy is more focused on straightforward platforming. There are several zones that lack any monster encounters and only ask that you clear the obstacles to reach the goal. You ricochet off giant rubber bands, slide across moving floors to pick up enough momentum to cross massive chasms, and maneuver past retractable spikes or flame columns. The game's jump mechanic is only used to step on buttons and clear gaps with no fucked-up relative-elevation guesswork as in Alundra. Thank God for that.

Whereas most of the action in a Zelda game is found in the dungeons, you are just as likely encounter major challenges and bosses in the normal areas in this game. In fact, there is no real distinction between dungeons and regular zones. You don't collect maps or keys, nor do you open more than a couple of treasure chests. It's a transparent experience that avoids the rigid level-overworld-level format that Zelda games fall victim to. Even with the inclusion of the stage select map, the world feels a lot more connected.

There's one point where you gain the ability to speak with plants and animals, but then a calamity occurs that makes it impossible for humans to communicate with one another. Try to speak to an NPC and you'll just get garbled characters. To resolve this, you have to scale the Tower of Babel, battle a freakish dental floss monster, and gain entrance into Heaven. You shoot the breeze with some angels before advancing across platforms miles above the Earth and battling a beast that guards the key to restoring communication. At no point during this trial do you think, "I have completed this dungeon, am entering a town, and will be playing through another dungeon." No, the transition from one zone to the next is very smooth and subtle.

The game flat-out looks good. There are these little details that absolutely tickled me. When you walk across the beach, your footprints will remain in the sand until you exit the beach area. You can run around the whole place and draw pictures in the sand and shit and it'll stay there! It really drives me up the wall that all this polish and detail is ruined because the scenario writers and localizers were dicking around instead of doing their job.

Because of the odd balance of fantastic and lazy design, the end result is somewhat of a mixed bag. The game is fun to play, but you don't feel that sense of satisfaction that should come with tackling an epic quest. The game is over extremely quickly, much faster than A Link to the Past, and the endgame isn't all that satisfying. However, the positives outweigh the negatives, so I say go for it!

Oh yeah! Sonic the Hedgehog says hello!

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