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11:21 PM on 03.20.2015

Being a Monster Hunter is way better than being a Pokemon Trainer

I’m 70 hours into Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, and the game has firmly sunk its hooks, claws, fangs, and Seltas horns into me. After failing to make it past the steep learning curve in the series’ previous entry – calling it quits the first time I went head-to-head with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate’s unwieldy underwater controls – the franchise’s addictive loop of slaying progressively more challenging monsters and crafting progressively more kickass armor and weapons has finally clicked into place.

And yet, I can’t help but feel a little guilty over how much I’ve fallen for Monster Hunter. Up until now, the only monster-based game that’s held a place in my heart has been Pokémon. I’ve spent 16 years conquering leagues and filling up my Pokédex in every region from Kanto to Kalos. Hundreds of hours have been dedicated to my singular pursuit of becoming the very best. Before they just gave everything out over the Internet, I once drove 45 minutes to the nearest Toys R’ Us to download an Arceus, because that’s the sacrifice I’m willing to make for Pokémon God.

But Monster Hunter is well on its way to passing Pokémon Y as my most-played 3DS game, and I’m beginning to come to a terrible realization:

I like being a Monster Hunter way more than being a Pokémon trainer.

Now, there are a few things to parse in such a serious statement. First, comparing Monster Hunter to Pokémon is an absolute apples-to-oranges situation. One is an action-oriented, tough-as-nails title that has more in common with Dark Souls-style boss gauntlets than traditional RPGs. The other is a classic turn-based affair geared more toward children than the adults who take it way too seriously. But both stem from the same basic setup of striking out and forging your own path to domination over a menagerie of exotic creatures, and both are founded on addictive mechanics meant to consume a considerable portion of your life, so I think the comparison is fair.

There’s also the possibility that this is the kind of fleeting obsession with some shiny new thing that threatens every long-term commitment at one point or another. Thus far, my time with Monster Hunter has been a few sleepless nights spent tackling Tetsucabras for their sweet, sweet armor parts. Meanwhile, my time with the Pokémon franchise is a stone foundation upon which a house of good memories is built. From the monochrome halcyon days of Pokémon Blue to my countless attempts to beat all the Frontier Brains in Emerald and Platinum to the pure joy I felt the first time I saw a Magikarp flopping around in full 3D in Y. You just don’t leave the level 100 Milotic you’ve transferred over four different generations of games for some flash-in-the-pan affair.

But the more I think about it, the more I find myself preferring Monster Hunter‘s set of charms over Pokémon’s staid traditions. For years, I’ve adhered to the belief that the only proper way to engage in battles with exotic and dangerous creatures is through strict, league-regulated turn-based combat. Sure, you can save the world by fighting a time-rending space dragon here and there, but success in Pokémon is primarily measured by going through the motions of beating up on 12 chumps too stupid to realize they’re allowed to use different types of Pokémon, and then facing the one guy/girl/Lady Gaga-wannabe who has figured out they can field more than one type on their team.

The challenges in Monster Hunter are far less rigorously structured. Like the fearsome beasts you’re constantly rodeo riding, success in Monster Hunter is a wild and unruly thing. The game may never stray far from its slay-loot-craft format, but every new encounter is a terrifying and dangerous experience, throwing you against a blubber-bloated ice shark tearing through a frozen tundra one moment, to a desert ship battle with a city-sized sand lizard the next, to fights with dragon after dragon after dragon. So many dragons. The first time I brought down the Shagaru Magala – out of potions and clinging to the last scrap of my health, felling the golden menace by bringing my sword crashing down upon its head as bursts of concentrated Frenzy exploded around me – was more dynamic and exciting than anything I’ve ever achieved in my years as a Pokémon trainer.

Which brings me to the key differentiator between the two series – the difficulty. As already mentioned, Pokémon games are primarily meant for kids, so they’re not designed with any real challenge in mind. But the cutesy exterior hides such a rich and complex battle system that it’s a massive waste for each iteration to spend 40 hours hand holding players through a laughably easy campaign before presenting them with anything that will even remotely test their mettle. When it came time to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Alpha Sapphire, there was no sense of accomplishment, because I had breezed through the whole game with a single overpowered shiny Metagross. Sure, I can take extra steps to make Pokémon harder, but I shouldn’t have to find ways to turn the game into an unbearable grind just to wring some challenge out of it.

Monster Hunter, on the other hand, is naturally rewarding. The single player component is a trial-by-fire series of fights designed to knock you on your ass, so that it’s intensely satisfying every time you’ve snatched victory from the jaws of a lightning-charged wyvern. Gameplay is composed of the tried-and-true tenants of pattern recognition and reflex tests, mechanics that have made blister-fingered warriors out of gamers since the days of Mega Man and Punch-Out!! Throw in variables like harsh weather conditions, frenzied monsters, and constantly shifting terrain, and you have a title that’s constantly keeping you on your toes.

Even though it’s far less action-oriented, Pokémon has all the necessary ingredients to be just as thrilling. Anyone who’s thrown down against an equally matched human opponent knows Pokémon resembles a multilayered game of elemental chess at its very best, but the series continues to squander its assets on overly simplistic gym battles and one-sided fights against the world’s most inept criminal organizations.

While Monster Hunter’s core experience is primarily what has me throwing down my Pokédex, some of its more perfunctory aspects have also won me over. A hunter’s victory swag is about a billion times better than a trainer’s. Crafting intricate armor and weapons out of the skin of your enemies is barbaric, sure, but it’s also a way more awesome indicator of your triumphs than Pokémon’s underwhelming badge system. Lashing immensely powerful creatures to your will and using them to climb the ladder of a professional fighting league isn’t worth it when all you have to show for your efforts are the same things boy scouts get when they learn how to tie a fisherman’s knot.

And then there are the games’ varying philosophies when it comes to fan service. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate’s scheduled buttload of free DLC promises exclusive outfits, quests, nostalgic shout-outs to past titles, and the opportunity for players to hunt while dressed as Nintendo favorites like Link or Samus Aran. Comparatively, Pokémon can’t be bothered to recreate Emerald’s Battle Frontier in the Ruby and Sapphire remakes, leaving out Generation III’s greatest addition to the series in favor of copy and pasting X and Y’s Battle Maison and including a few infuriatingly coy “Coming soon!” signs.

Perhaps most shockingly, I’ve even found Monster Hunter’s approach to multiplayer to be more engrossing. Pokémon sells itself on how it connects you with other players, but the game’s social features have always struck me as purely mercenary. You can either fight your fellow trainers or trade with them. That’s not unifying so much as it’s using others to satisfy your own nefarious agenda. Look no further than the Wonder Trade system to witness the full extent of human selfishness. The ability to randomly swap Pokémon has resulted in a sea of unwanted Zigzagoons and Zubats abandoned in the slim hope that they’ll be exchanged for something better.

Monster Hunter’s emphasis on teaming players up against a common enemy is a far more enriching take on multiplayer. Instead of figuring out how to best take advantage of your hunter compatriots, you’re all united by the common goal of taking down some big, bad mamma jamma together. While combining that level of cooperation with a system that lets you easily join up with a bunch of strangers is usually a recipe for disaster, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate has been some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing with people online. There’s very little room for the usual anonymous asshattery, and I’ve found the legion of players going by One Piece or Naruto-based handles to be nothing but friendly. Slaying stuff is so much better when you have someone to fist pump with afterward.

Of course, Monster Hunter isn’t without its own set of faults. The game demands time and commitment at its most basic level, whereas digging into Pokémon’s more advanced world of EV training and IV breeding is entirely optional. Its camera woes are slightly mitigated by the ability to lock onto bigger enemies, but the targeting system can still present as much of a struggle as the fight themselves. And no amount of helpful tutorials can keep the action from sometimes descending down a rabbit hole of incomprehensible menus.

But ultimately, if for some incomprehensible reason I was forced to choose only one monster-centric series to spend the rest of my life with, I think my loyalty may firmly lie with Monster Hunter. It seems like sacrilege to think it, but it might finally be time for me to hang up my hat in favor of a helmet fashioned out of a dragon’s skull. Monster Hunter's unforgiving allure has shown me a beautiful new way to pulverize fantastical virtual critters, and by the time the next generation of Pokémon inevitably rolls around, I might still be too busy harvesting parts for cat outfits to care.

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2:05 PM on 02.08.2015

Five videogames that make way better Netflix shows than The Legend of Zelda

The internet recently lost its collective shit over a potential live-action Netflix adaptation of The Legend of Zelda. Of course, the internet also recently lost its collective shit over Katy Perry’s goofy dancing sharks, so the bar for things that excite us isn’t set particularly high. But still, if the very thought of a Zelda television series - one that’s being described as just a dumber version of an already existing show - is enough to get the hype train rolling, then I’ve got five way better pitches for potential adaptations that ought to earn me a prime cut of that sweet, sweet Netflix debt.

Because as everyone knows, videogames are so much better when they’re acted out by real people.

Half-Life

The kneejerk pitch for a Half-Life television show would be an action-oriented sci-fi conspiracy thriller, like 24 meets Battlestar Galactica. But if there’s one thing the world needs more of, it's workplace comedies, and Half-Life 2’s dystopian Citadel is a prime setting for all manner of Combine office drone shenanigans.

The show could focus on a department run by an overbearing, desperate-to-be-liked regional Combine manager, who tells inappropriate jokes and wants to crush the human resistance in the name of the Combine empire. Then there’s the nerdy office toady, who grates on everyone’s nerves and wants to crush the human resistance in the name of the Combine empire. And of course, you need a pair of thirtysomething destined-to-be soul mates, who find respite from their dead-end jobs in each other, all while wanting to crush the human resistance in the name of the Combine empire.

Like the original The Office, the show is designed to only run for two seasons, and maybe a few bonus episodes.

Metroid

In the Metroid games, Samus Aran is a badass intergalactic bounty hunter who weilds her plasma weapons with silent stoicism. But years of pigeonholing women into demeaning secondary roles in our fiction has taught us that a female protagonist needs to be saddled with a kid, a man to marry, or some combination thereof, which is why the only way a Metroid television series will work is if it’s basically The Mysteries of Laura in space. In a live-action Metroid adaptation, Samus Aran is your everyday single mom struggling to balance her kids, her love life, and her singular pursuit to eradicate the Space Pirate threat from the galaxy.

The pilot episode will feature Samus trying to escape an exploding Space Pirate frigate so she can make it to her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in time. She may lose all her power-ups in the ensuing blast, but she’ll learn a lot about what it means to be a family.

Grand Theft Auto

The actual content of a Grand Theft Auto series does not matter in the slightest. Grand Theft Auto games are just pastiches of gangster movie tropes, like the collected works of Martin Scorsese run through a blender, and the inexplicable continued renewal of Ray Donovan has proven that it’s possible to spin that method of storytelling into a successful television model.

Just hire a bunch of character actors willing to slum it for a few years, fill in a crime movie Mad Lib, and slap the Grand Theft Auto name on the final product. To make it even easier, I’ve got the entire plot outlined below. Fill in the blanks, throw a few million dollars at it, and you’ve got yourself a successor to The Sopranos:

An ex-(criminal occupation) has to return to his hometown of (shitty American city) after his (noun) is killed by rivals in the (ethnicity) mafia. He’s inevitably pulled back into a life of crime when his (family member), now running the (adjective) gang he left behind, asks him to kill a (adjective) (noun) in return for helping him on his quest for revenge. Can our (adjective) hero resist the temptation of his old ways, or will he succumb to the same greed, violence, and (powerful emotion) that have claimed his family?

Bubsy

If the success of Birdman and BoJack Horseman has shown us anything, it’s that people love meta comeback stories about washed-up actors. In the videogame world, you don’t get more washed up than Bubsy, the feline with a ‘tude that exemplified everything that was wrong with marketing in the ‘90s.

Bubsy was a platformer star in the mold of Mario and Sonic, but whereas those two characters had charm and mass appeal, Bubsy had the sociopathic narcissism of a serial killer. The cat’s short-lived career was ended by a foray into 3D that’s considered one of the worst games ever, which is exactly why Bubsy would be the perfect subject for a dark dramedy about an out-of-work videogame character clawing to get back into the limelight.

We open on a heroin-addled Bubsy watching the failed pilot for his Saturday morning cartoon show for the umpteenth time. We give him a season-long arc about redeeming himself with a fictional reboot of his franchise for current gen consoles, and use it to explore how he’s spent the past 20 years disappointing his children, his ex-wife, and his armadillo sidekick. We turn his catchphrase of “What could possibly go wrong?” into the thematic crux of the series, a question to which Bubsy’s entire miserable life has been the answer.

We make “Human Being” by Cat Power the theme song, then sit back and watch people waste time arguing about whether it belongs in the category for Best Comedy or Best Drama at the Emmys.

The Walking Dead

While this would technically be an adaptation of a comic book series, the Telltale adventure games based on Robert Kirkman’s popular graphic novels have proven that you can use the horror trappings of a zombie apocalypse to tell powerful, character-driven stories in any medium. Whether based on the actual plot of the comics, or Clementine’s story in the Telltale games, or something wholly original, I believe a Walking Dead television series is one that would strike a chord with a lot of people.

Of course, you’d have to be careful about a show like that, and make sure not to cram it full of two-dimensional archetypes, with only one or two characters in the entire ensemble worth caring about. And you’d have to make sure long stretches of each season weren’t spent on time-filling stupidity, like wasting too many episodes on a farm or prison that are inevitably overrun by zombies and abandoned. You wouldn’t want to have laughably inept villains who swerve from sympathetic to cartoonishly evil depending on the whims of the plot. You’d need a leading man who could do a convincing American accent that didn’t sound like a hillbilly gargling hot gravel. And for the love of God, no matter what you do, make sure you don’t have Chris Hardwick host an inane post-episode talk show dedicated to discussing what people just watched.

Because if a Walking Dead series broken any of those cardinal rules, there’s no way it would be one of the most popular television shows of all time, would there?

So what do you think, sirs? Do any of these deserve some of that President Kevin Spacey money? Let me know if you have anything better, but you all know you'd watch the shit out of that Bubsy show.

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12:43 PM on 01.11.2015

Most Anticipated Videogame Disappointments of 2015

If 2014 taught us anything, it’s that Tay Swift’s still got it. If 2014 taught us anything else, it’s that we should never be excited for videogames. The year’s most hyped releases were met with varying degrees of disappointment, apathy, and outright scorn. Some of the fault lies in overzealous studios, who bandied about the word “revolutionary” to describe their giant robot shooters and NSA-inspired conspiracy thrillers, which is a practice we really need to put a moratorium on. “Revolutionary” is word that should be reserved for massive social upheaval. If your game didn’t directly lead to the beheading of at least one tyrannical world leader, then it’s not revolutionary.

Though as much as we’d like to blame public relation carnival barkers and buzzword-laced press packets, the people most at fault are us, the gamers, who year in and year out fall for developers’ sweet lies like the sad suckers we are. We’re not exactly a group known for learning from our mistakes. Whenever met with any kind of let down, we simply dig our heels in deeper and tell ourselves it’ll be better next time, only to fall all that much harder when the next highly anticipated title arrives underwhelming or outright broken. It’s the reason companies still manage to swindle people into buying new consoles at launch, even though everyone knows buying a console at launch is like putting a $400 down payment on having fun in two years.

But this year will be different. After the shit show of broken dreams that was 2014, I’ve shed all lingering traces of hope and have prepared myself for the inevitable disappointment of any game that looks even remotely promising. 2015 is, after all, the year of disappointment. We were promised hover boards and flying cars, and the most we have are phones small enough to carry around in our pockets that are capable of accessing the internet’s infinite wealth of human knowledge at a moment’s notice. Sure, that’s still impressive, but it’s not a fucking hoverboard.

So with that in mind, here are my most anticipated gaming disappointments of 2015.

Persona 5

From a pure gameplay standpoint, Persona 5 will be as good as any other title in the series. Like the Pokémon franchise it shares a few passing similarities with, the Persona games have a formula that’s hard to screw up. You get to play the world’s most inexplicably popular transfer student, who has the uncanny ability to make friends without saying a single word and summon a bevy of erotically-shaped creatures to help you battle against the forces of evil. That blend of social simulation and monster fighting is the kind of stuff that JRPG dreams are made of.

What concerns me about Persona 5 is the huge potential for a disappointing cast. As a series that relies so heavily on forging relationships, Persona games live and die by their characters, and it seems nigh impossible to surpass or even meet the standard set by Persona 4. That game’s Scooby gang of meddling teen detectives is one of my all-time favorite casts, from the ass-kicking Chie to the sexually confused Kanji to the un-bear-able Teddie, and I’m simply not ready to let them go. 

Sure, they’ve had seven years in the spotlight, getting to star in their own anime, fighting game, dungeon crawler, live stage show, fighting game sequel, and that upcoming one where you just straight-up watch them dance. But it’s still not enough! What about a Persona 4 cereal? A Persona 4 series of episodic Telltale adventure games? A Marvel-esque cinematic universe? You can hire Scarlett Johansen to play Rise. It’ll be great! There are just so many more convoluted spinoffs to explore!

Basically, I'm bracing myself for Persona 5 to be Persona: The New Class, with a bunch of pale imitations that only make me miss the originals all the more.

The Legend of Zelda Wii U

Everyone is salivating over the idea of an open world Zelda, because “open world” is the bacon of videogames. It’s the ingredient you slap onto every dish imaginable to try and make the meal sound more delicious than it really is.

The thought of a 3D Zelda that captures the roaming, exploration-heavy spirit of series golden child A Link to the Past is certainly enticing, but I have my doubts about the execution. People are expecting Dark Souls Light, with a richly detailed and thoughtfully laid out Hyrule that players have to figure out for themselves. But what we’re most likely going to get is a game that’s 25% dungeons, and 75% traversing picturesque but ultimately meaningless scenery to get to those dungeons.

The actual footage Nintendo released to hype the game hasn’t dissuaded me of these fears. The four minutes the company uses to showcase one of the titles they’re hoping gets the Wii U out of the basement focuses on the fact that it takes five minutes of aimlessly wandering on horseback through vast fields and forests just to get from one point of interest on the map to another, and that you can pick apples. Fucking apple picking. We griped that Skyrim and GTA V gave us massive worlds with not a lot to do in them, and one of Zelda Wii U’s major selling points is that you can pretend to do the kind of weekend activities that yuppie couples do when they’re miserable and bored in their relationship.

The Legend of Zelda Wii U will have all the scope and none of the charm of a genuinely good open world game.

No Man’s Sky

“Infinite” is rarely used in a positive context. When you think of anything in terms of being infinite, it usually only serves to remind you how soul-crushingly insignificant you are, or how meaningless everything is, or how alone we all are, adrift in this endless sea of forever.

Which is why the near limitless breadth of the upcoming planetary exploration game No Man’s Sky fills me with nothing but dread. Whatever mathematical wizardry the developers devised to make the game possible is an unquestionable technical achievement, but stranding players in a world they’ll never see the end of is a cruel joke. I got stressed out collecting all 100 Jiggies in Banjo-Kazooie, and now you want me to discover more than 18 quintillion planets?

Of course, the point of the game isn’t to see everything. The point of No Man’s Sky is to... well, nobody is really sure what the point is yet. Early reports indicate the ultimate goal is to reach the center of the universe by gathering and selling resources, because even in worlds beyond our wildest imaginations we can’t keep things from boiling down to making dat money. But that doesn’t sound like much of an impetus. Nor do such thrilling side activities as studying intergalactic flora and fauna. I don’t need to spend precious time looking at pretend plants. At that point I could just go outside and experience actual nature.

Again, my concern is the focus on size and not content. As the most hyped game of 2015, No Man’s Sky seems destined to fall well short of our lofty expectations. I’m mentally preparing myself for it to be nothing more than a very big fish tank – pretty to look at, but lacking anything to keep you invested in its universe.

Final Fantasy XV

A Final Fantasy game in the guise of a road trip movie actually sounds pretty awesome. All Final Fantasy games are essentially road trip movies anyway, only this one drops all pretentions of airships and chocobos and lets you cruise around the world map in some rich kid’s souped-up sports car.

There will still be airships and chocobos, of course, because this is still a Final Fantasy game, but why would you want to hoof it on some glorified ostrich when you’ve got such a sweet set of wheels?

But count me among those who think the Final Fantasy series is beyond saving. The franchise lost something in the transition from its turn-based roots, and I’m not sure Kingdom Hearts-style gameplay is the answer to its battle system woes. I’ve always disliked the insistence on turning your party members into AI-controlled puppets operating purely on the fight itinerary you’ve planned for them. Because you’re not actually playing as them, the only connection you have to your party in recent Final Fantasy games comes from how much you enjoy their personalities, which is a tall order because the personalities of modern Final Fantasy characters are uniformly terrible.

Final Fantasy XV’s core of brooding J-pop rejects doesn’t look to buck the trend of ripping characters wholesale from the Official Guidebook to Irritating Anime Archetypes. Maybe I’ll be wrong and the plot will commit to its road trip narrative influences and be about four young men’s coming-of-age journey to maturity and emotional growth, but more likely than not there will just be the stoic one, the naïve one, the bad boy, and the one who wants to be an airship pilot. There’s always one who wants to be an airship pilot. It’s the Final Fantasy equivalent of wanting to grow up to be a cowboy.

The whole thing is going to be 300 hours long and I’m going to spend way too much time getting all their ultimate weapons and I’m going to hate every single goddamn second of it.

The Last Guardian

Because 2015 will be another year in which we don’t hear anything about The Last Guardian, and thus another year in which a little part of me dies from not having a big, goofy bird-dog to throw barrels at.

Now, what's everyone else's 2015 title sure to cement the realization that all hope is a lie and everything always ends in disappointment? Feel free to sound off in the comments! Or not. What's the point?

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8:29 PM on 11.16.2014

Ranking Overwatch's characters from worst to best

I’m not sure how I feel about Overwatch, Blizzard’s recently announced take on squad-based shooters. On the one hand, Blizzard knows how to craft a compelling IP, and if the playfully corny, Pixar-esque cinematic trailer is any indication, then the company’s spin on Team Fortress will at the very least have plenty of personality. And considering this is their first franchise in seventeen years, it’s exciting to see them tackle a project that isn’t Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo, or some kind of combination thereof.

On the other hand, I’m a hot mess when it comes to tactical shooters. As a gamer raised on consoles, teamwork is a foreign experience for me. The explicit lack of a deathmatch mode means the most I can hope to ever get out of Overwatch is fifteen minutes of miserable failure, all while being yelled at by more experienced strangers for sucking at something I never played before.

But my opinion of the game itself isn’t what matters right now. What matters is getting in there and being the first to establish a hierarchy for Overwatch’s cast of international Super Friends. Because this is the Internet, baby, and there’s nothing we can’t distill down to a few basic components to be ranked in a superficial and meaningless list, and that includes videogames that haven’t even released yet. Hell, especially videogames that haven’t even released yet.

So, using nothing but kneejerk reactions and roughly twenty minutes of actual gameplay footage, I present to you...

Overwatch Characters Ranked from Worst to Best

12. Widowmaker

Allow me, if you will, to imagine the creative process that produced Widowmaker:

Director: [Smoking a cigar] Alright, you bums. We need a gimmick for our sniper character. What d’you got?

Designer #1: Well, I was thinking maybe some kind of cyborg cowboy that –

Director: Next!

Designer #2: What about, like, a steampunk –

Director: Next!

Designer #3: What if we do a sort of alien hitman who –

Director: No, no, no! What do I pay you people for? We need something that’ll sell! We need something that’ll really grab people by the balls! We need... we need...

Designer #4: ... what if we turned sideboob into a character? 

[An awed silence falls over the room. The director’s face lights up like a man who has seen the face of God. His eyes fill with joyous tears.]

Director: You magnificent son of a bitch.

[Fin.]

11. Reaper

I’m not sure how a character like Reaper gets made in the year 2014. He looks like he escaped straight out of the pages of a middle schooler’s notebook circa 1996. He wears a trench coat with a hood. His face is hidden behind a skull mask. He’s always talking about death. He fucking bleeds shadows.

Countless character concepts were no doubt rejected during the game’s development, so I want to know how Skeletor’s manic depressive cousin managed to crawl out of the discard pile.

Admittedly, the duel shotguns are cool, but I don’t want to give them too much credit because they’re probably powered by darkness, or the terrible poems he wrote when his girlfriend left him, or the tears of everyone who’s ever watched the opening montage of Up.

10. Mercy

We’re only on the third entry, but I think we’ve already established that Overwatch’s combatants aren’t the subtlest bunch. But even so, a healer character named Mercy? Who has angel wings and a halo? I’m sorry, but I’ve watched YouTube fail compilations with more nuance than that. Literally, videos of skateboarders falling face first into handrails that have contained more breadth and artistic complexity than ol’ Touched by an Angel over here.

Religious and cultural imagery are incorporated into a few of the other fighters, so obviously Judeo-Christianity has to get its shot in, but the end result is inevitably the most boring, white bread member of the roster.

9. Pharah

Pharah is the blue one.

8. Reinhardt

Reinhardt is the token heavy. He’s Overwatch’s Zangief, its Potemkin, its... Heavy. His job is to be a big, slow, and powerful package all wrapped up in an Easten European accent.

While I’m docking the power armored Kraut originality points for fitting a very typical mold, I do appreciate the selection of a rocket-powered hammer as his weapon of choice. I can get behind any guy who models his fighting style after King Dedede.

Plus, the lion crest on his arm sort of makes him look like a ‘roided up Voltron, so he has that going for him.

7. Bastion

Bastion’s a good middle-of-the-pack character not only because the sensitive battlebot represents the tenuous crossroad between humanity and technology, but also the crossroad between a concept I sort of love and sort of hate.

On the plus side, everybody likes a robot with feelings. Wall-E, Johnny Five, R2-D2 and C3PO – there’s nothing audiences eat up more than a heartless machine that thinks it’s people.

But they imbued Bastion with a personality in the laziest way imaginable. It’s like they spent five minutes brainstorming ways for players to connect with the one class that’s just a walking gun, settled on “Eh, he likes nature or some shit,” and called it a day.

If game designers are going to go the sympathetic droid route, they’re going to have to try harder than “doesn’t immediately crush a small bird in its steel death grip,” because a glorified trash compactor already taught the world how to love again.

6. Tracer

Tracer is the cheeky one, which you can tell because her personality boils down to “has an English accent and a pixie cut.” And while the game’s trailer saddled her with an insufferable catchphrase, I’m willing to withstand a thousand shrill cries of “The cavalry’s ‘ere!” because Tracer looks so much fun to actually play.

She’s Overwatch’s Scout, focusing on speed and offense. While the Scout favors the savage thrill of bonking people with a baseball bat, Tracer prefers that most exquisitely humiliating of first-person shooter weapons: the sticky grenade. There’s nothing more embarrassing than getting stuck by a sticky grenade. It’s like getting food on your face at a fancy dinner party, only your face explodes as soon as someone points it out to you.

Being able to blink in, slap someone with a pulse bomb, and blink out is a rich, multilayered sort of pleasure that no number of irritating catchphrases can ruin.

5. Hanzo

The Hunger Games franchise has made bows and arrows cool again, so naturally there’s a member of Overwatch’s coterie of gun-toting mercenaries that’s repping the archaic – yet currently in vogue – instrument of death. Though, Hanzo is the stoic, semi-shirtless badass of the bunch, so maybe he’s just above something as dishonorable as using bullets.

He’s essentially the guy bringing a knife to a gunfight, which is usually frowned upon, but I’ve never bought into the philosophy that the opponent with the primitive stabbing tool is the one at a disadvantage. The one with the knife or bow and arrow or spear is the one you want to run the hell away from, because that dude straight up does not give a fuck. He knows he’s going to murder his enemies no matter what they use against him. And as you can see from his gameplay video, the wall-scampering assassin is a Legolas-level death-dealing machine.

And honestly, what kind of list would this be if the ability to shoot dragons didn’t at least break you into the top five?

4. Symmetra

Symmetra earns her high ranking because she’s one of Overwatch’s few wholly original creations. While the others on this list fit typical roles or utilize ideas that have already been seen elsewhere, an Indian architect who bends reality and provides portal support can’t be so easily put into a box.

Honestly, I think Overwatch could have avoided a lot of the unfavorable Team Fortress 2 comparisons if more of its characters were like Symmetra. Understandably, a game like this needs its standard classes – its snipers, its heavies, its healers. But Team Fortress 2 already took those roles and turned them into living, breathing personalities. If you’re going to do a squad-based shooter now, then you have to do something different than what Valve did, and Symmetra proves that the capacity for repackaging typical characters into new and compelling creations was there, but not necessarily applied to everyone.

Still, if sideboobs and angsty shadow bros are the price we must pay for the faintest hint of progressiveness and innovation, then at least we got one ass-kicking lady scientist out of the deal.

3. Zenyatta

Zenyatta slightly edges out Symmetra as Overwatch’s most interesting fighter, mostly on the strength of his unique “killer Tibetan monk robot” hook. Sure, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that a self-aware machine that spouts pseudo-Buddhist nonsense would float around slaughtering people with spirit orbs, but maybe Zenyatta’s personal concept of transcendence just involves transcending a phantasmal sphere straight into someone’s skull. And Lord knows I’m in no position to begrudge anyone their beliefs.

But incongruent phisosophies aside, just look at him! He looks so cool! He floats around in an unflappable yoga pose – coasting along purely on what I assume are good vibes – and enlightens the masses by pelting them with balls at dangerously high velocities. If Jehova’s Witnesses adopted that sort of conversion method, I think they’d be a lot more effective at spreading the good news.

2. Torbjörn

If you’ve made it this far and haven’t already realized that this ranking is based upon the most suspect of criteria, then let me make that fact explicit for you: Torbjörn is the second-best Overwatch character because I love his name.

The whole Viking engineer angle certainly boosts his appeal, but really, it’s all about that name. I don’t even know if I’m pronouncing it correctly, but I don’t care, because the way I think I’m pronouncing it is awesome. Torbjörn! It’s like the name of the party animal character in a Scandinavian ‘80s frat movie. He’s the one who chugs the keg the fastest in the keg-chugging contest that saves the Alpha Delta Ragnarök house from expulsion. Torbjörn!

Engineer classes aren’t my thing, but I’ll play this guy just for the privilege of yelling his name every time I score a kill. Torbjörn!

1. Winston

A hyper intelligent primate who can talk isn’t exactly groundbreaking. If I recall correctly, there was already that entire planet full of them. But there’s no questioning the sheer majesty of a bespectacled gorilla in a battlesuit. He’s the perfect blend of sophistication and raw, primal brutality. With those glasses and a yuppie name like Winston, you know he’s as capable of discussing Chaucer over fine wine as he is of ripping out your throat if you make eye contact with him.

Also, it’s a scientifically proven fact that monkeys make everything better. See also: islands, time travel, hotels, and Metal Gear Solid.

Now feel free to offer your own rankings in the comments! So long as you understand that your opinions are inherently wrong, because I established my ranking first, and thereby my word is law.

  read


12:18 PM on 06.14.2014

10 things about UsurpMyProse because I DON’T KNOW!

Oh, why, hello Dtoid! I didn’t see you come in. I was just sitting here by my fireplace, enjoying a nice glass of cognac as I discuss the day’s politics with other men of great stature. By which I mean I’m lying in bed shirtless, watching old episodes of One Piece over a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. I’m currently halfway through the Water 7 Arc, and shit is heating up. That Luffy will stop at nothing to save his nakama!

Anyway, I thought I’d take some time out from such significant matters to discuss a subject of even greater significance – myself! It’s come to my attention that I may be somewhat of a mystery to you all. A man shrouded in secrets. An unknowable enigma of much fascination. Or maybe you don’t really care who I am. Well, too bad. You’re going to shut up and you’re going to sit here and I’m going to tell you 10 super interesting facts about myself and then we’re all going to find out how the Straw Hats can possibly defeat CP9.

1. UsurpMyProse is...



Undoubtedly, the question vexing you the most is “Who is UsurpMyProse?” The subject must keep you awake at night, slowly eating away at the edges of your sanity, driving you to feverish and increasingly incoherent speculation. Is UsurpMyProse a man? A woman? Some kind of hyper intelligent animal who has been taught to communicate through blog posts about Pokémon? An advanced AI program that has gained sentience and is now trying to understand this emotion you humans call “videogame journalism”?

Or is UsurpMyProse simply a feeling that exists inside us all? That quiet longing that comes to us in the dead of night, when we think of missed opportunities and words regrettably left unsaid?

Nope! I’m a 26-year-old white guy. I wear glasses and have red hair. I am a Gemini. As far as I can tell, I am an actual person and not just an intangible construct. Though, I do learn something new about myself every day, so who knows?

2. I listen to really sad music



Oh man, guess how much I like sad music! Did you say “a lot”? Well you’re wrong, stupid. The answer is “too much.” If there’s one thing that matches my all-encompassing adoration of videogames, then it’s my love for bleak, howling-winds-across-my-barren-soul kind of tunes.  Stuff like The Mountain Goats, Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens, The National, Heartless Bastards, etc. 

That’s not to say I listen to sad music  exclusively, but if it’s a song about a relationship hurtling headlong toward inevitable disaster, or the never-ending struggle that is our continued existence, then chances are that I have it on my Spotify playlist.

3. I’m a Philadelphia Flyers fan



Or as we’re referred to in the hockey community, “human garbage.” But seriously, Philly fans aren’t all that bad! We’re simply passionate, which is a word usually reserved for insane artists and crimes in which spouses murder one another, but is equally applicable to the sort of people who spend their every waking moment hoping every individual member of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization and fan base gets their faces punched in. 

Though can you blame us? I mean, you take one look at Claude Giroux and tell me the things you wouldn’t do for that glorious ginger mane. 

4. My favorite game of all time is Disgaea: Hour of Darkness



There are games I’ve devoted more hours to than Disgaea. I’ve played more technically impressive games, games that have resonated more emotionally, even games that were more fun. But I can’t think of a single game I love more unabashedly than the PS2 SRPG that consumed a considerable portion of my teenage years. Disgaea is an over-the-top time sink, the kind of niche title that’s impenetrable to those who aren’t already on its wavelength, but is one-of-a-kind perfection for anyone charmed by its stylish 2D sprites, endless side quests and secrets, and overbearingly otaku sense of humor.

I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours plumbing the depths of Disgaea’s endless Item Worlds, but still barely managed to scratch the game’s surface. I was never able to level any of my characters to 9999, never obtained any of the Rank 40 items, and only managed to pass a few of the bonus stage proposals through the Dark Assembly. I accomplished way more in Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, but nothing beats a first love, and only Persona 4 comes close to having a cast of RPG characters I adore more than Laharl, Etna, and Flonne.

5. I’ve talked to famous people!



I fancy myself something of a writer. Which is to say I’m an emotionally compromised man child with failed artistic aspirations and a deep loathing of my own writing abilities. But that’s not to say I haven’t written professionally before! In fact, over the last year I’ve done a few interviews for the comedy news website Splitsider, in which I've had the opportunity to talk to Badger from Breaking Bad, the creator of Bob's Burgers, and the Editor of The Onion, all of whom were class acts and politely dealt with me rambling at them in a hyperventilating starstruck frenzy.

6. I really am Penn State’s 2010 Triwizard Champion



In my blog’s “About Me” section, I mention that I’m the Penn State 2010 Triwizard Champion. I didn’t make that up. That actually happened.  In college, I was a member of Penn State’s Harry Potter club (yes, that’s a thing) and during our Yule Ball (yes, that’s a thing) I participated in the Triwizard Tournament as the elected representative for Ravenclaw (all things). 

The tournament was basically a bunch of dumb party games, but I won because in the final task I built the largest house of cards with the help of a jar of peanut butter. Like a real goddamn wizard.

7. My avatar comes from an episode of The Venture Bros., and my username comes from a Beastie Boys song



For those interested in such things (i.e. no one), my username comes from a line from my favorite Beastie Boys’ song, dropped by the late, great MCA:

At the risk of sounding crass, I would like to mention

That I am well aware of your wack intentions

To usurp my prose, you so-and-so

It's my primary bone of contention

I think it might be the most poetic diss I’ve ever heard. And when it comes to a writing pseudonym, you can’t get much better than a reference to hip hop’s greatest wordsmiths.

My avatar, meanwhile, comes from the first season Venture Bros. episode “Careers in Science,” in which Dr. Venture has to fix the space station his father built. In a gag that resonates with me on a far too personal level, the only way they know there’s something wrong with the station is an unhelpfully vague "Problem" light. As someone who exists in a near constant state of inexplicable anxiety, I find something striking about a warning light that only tells you there’s a problem, but doesn’t bother to define it for you.

Unsurprisingly, Beastie Boys and The Venture Bros. make for two pretty apt Rosetta Stones for figuring me out.

8. My most played game on Steam is The Binding of Isaac



I’m not sure what spending 150 hours as a naked child outrunning my homicidal mother says about me, but I’d rather not find out. I will say, however, that Binding of Isaac is hands down my favorite product of the recent roguelike boom. The game’s heavy Zelda influence and endless wealth of secrets and unlockables have turned runs through its messy Freudian levels into a nightly ritual.

With 85 secrets found, all I have left to do is beat The Chest on a few more characters, finish Sheol and Cathedral with ???, and somehow figure out a way to get those “no damage” achievements on the Depths and Womb. I feel as if some of those will be impossible to accomplish, but there was a time when I thought I would never even make it past Mom.  Now look at me! I’ve nearly conquered everything the game has to offer... just in time for it all to become meaningless when The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth releases. Yay?

9. If I were a Sailor Moon character, I’d be Tuxedo Mask



I took BuzzFeed’s “Which Sailor Moon Character Are You?” quiz because I thought it’d be funny to include here and be all like, “Haha I’m Sailor Venus what does that even mean you guys??” But now I’m upset because I’m fucking Tuxedo Mask. Really? I’m the punk who shows up after the Sailor Scouts have done all the hard work just so I can wave my dumb cape around and act important? I took a quiz to find out which magical space princess I am, and you give me the useless man of the bunch?

Actually, I guess that’s pretty accurate. You can’t argue with a test that judges you by which Justin Timberlake you prefer.

10. I just bought a Wii U



After the smack down Sony delivered at last year’s E3, I was certain my next gen console of choice was going to be a PS4. I was ready to wash my hands of my Xbox 360 and return to Playstation’s loving, expertly marketed embrace. But then something happened. Something nobody could have predicted. Something wonderful.

Luigi’s death stare.

Now, I’m not saying a single stupid meme is responsible for me driving 45 minutes to the only GameStop in my area with the Mario Kart 8 Wii U Deluxe Bundle still in stock. It’s just that Mario Kart 8 looked so damn fun. As did Super Mario 3D World. And Super Smash Bros. Wii U. And all the classic Wii games I never played because I never owned a Wii.

SO MOVE BITCH, GET OUT DA WAY.  Or add SodaPopkinski to your Wii U friend’s list! BUT MOSTLY GET OUT DA WAY.   read


11:48 PM on 05.24.2014

I'm sick of saving Hyrule



After finally finishing A Link Between Worlds, I believe there’s only one phrase that can adequately summarize my feelings toward the seventeenth entry in the storied Zelda franchise:

Goddamnit.

Seriously, Hyrule? Link had to save you again? Do you backwards country bumpkins know how many times that kid has had to pull your milk farms and labyrinthine dungeons back from the brink of obliteration? I just told you. Seventeen. Seventeen goddamn times that a ten year old has had to slay an all-powerful demon king so y’all can go on running your mask shops and gambling parlors and whatever the hell else you use to generate your world’s nonsensical economy.

Look, I know all this Ganon business isn’t technically your fault. I know this is all the result of an ancient curse forcing Link’s descendants to fight the same battle between good and evil across all of eternity. All I’m saying is that you selfish dicks could try lending a hand once every few centuries. Maybe instead of wasting your Legendary Hero’s time with Pictograph trading quests and baby Maiamai rescue missions you could, I don’t know, invest in a goddamn national defense infrastructure.

But seeing as how you people won’t stop depositing your entire gross national income into random bushels of grass, maybe it’s asking too much for you to implement a contingency plan that’s not reliant on a sword-wielding child. Still, during this latest round of giant eyeball stabbing and puzzle solving, I did think of a few helpful suggestions that might prevent your society from being completely paralyzed the next time some jabroni with a stupid haircut starts zapping people into paintings. First off... 



Stop sealing away evil

I think this right here is your biggest issue, Hyrule. Start nipping your issues in the bud, and stop tossing every threat to your existence off into the Sacred Realm, or Evil Realm, or whatever other realm you have laying around that day.

I mean, I understand the appeal. I lock away the negative stuff in my life all the time. Rough day at work? Concerns about my appearance? The slowly dawning acceptance that I’ll never achieve my dreams and die alone and irrelevant? I bury that stuff deep. But everything bad finds its way out eventually. One day you're just going about your business when -- bam! -- some big-nosed pig demon is running off with your princess for the umpteenth time, and I’m inexplicably crying because the nearest Redbox is all out of copies of Frozen.



Stop having so many goddamn dungeons

Can any of you explain why your landscape is littered with dungeons? Specifically dungeons packed full of bloodthirsty monsters, deadly traps, and powerful artifacts protected by basic logic puzzles? How do you expect to maintain any semblance of peace when 75% of your civilization’s structures are devoted to the singular purpose of housing pissed-off behemoths guarding all manner of magical MacGuffins? 

How about instead of just waiting for your generation’s fairy whipping boy to come along to clear those death factories out, you turn a few of those decrepit temples into hospitals or public libraries or, I don’t know, high-rise condominiums. All I’m saying is, maybe you get a Whole Foods up in your joint, and the only problem you guys have to start worrying about is having enough rupees at the end of the week to buy your favorite Lon Lon organic dairy products.



Stop imbuing so much shit with ancient magic

I cannot for the life of me fathom why you people are so obsessed with cramming every little jewel, instrument, mask, or knick-knack you can get your grimy hands on with highly-specific magic. You’re an agrarian society that hasn’t even managed to progress beyond a ruling monarchy in thousands of years across three different timelines. I wouldn’t trust you people to harness the power of a toaster, let alone a flute that controls space and time. It’s bad enough when you have all that mystical crap buried away at the bottom of some dungeon, but now any psychopath can just rent a rod that shoots fire from some enterprising interloper that sets up shop right in people’s houses.

And you want to know why sealing your troubles away never works? Because every time you do, you make a bunch of pearls or medallions or precious gems with the power to unlock them. Why? Bury that shit under fifty feet of concrete and call it a day. Nobody is going to have to get back into the Sacred Realm because they forgot their keys in there.



Stop being so goddamn weird

I’m not usually one to judge. I’m all about letting people do whatever makes them happy. All I’m saying is that you’re inviting a certain level of moral decay when you allow a man to dedicate an entire shop to collecting bees. While also allowing him to dress up like a bee. And letting him commission young boys to collect the bees for him. Do you see what I’m getting at here? I don’t think you do, which is the problem.

Quite frankly, you’re all a bunch of freaks. You let creepy babies build retail empires and have boats that can talk and your Great Fairies all look like ‘80s mob wives. You people can’t even get baseball right! It’s baseball! The most wholesome sport known to man and you’ve somehow turned it into an excuse to deck innocent crabs. How do you expect to maintain any sort of order when you can’t even grasp fundamental team athletics?



Stop entrusting everything to an adolescent boy

You’ve all grown way too accustomed to dumping your every responsibility off on a single child, and then having the gall to try and play it up as some kind of prophecy. Passing the buck to a poor young chump isn't some grand design -- you're all just lazy assholes. The only thing adolescent boys are good for are working as grocery store clerks and writing sexually frustrated posts on Reddit, not being the deciding factor in humanity's continued survival while taking care of all your mundane fetch quests.

You know what a normal society thinks when they see some kid walking around in tights and a goofy hat? They think, “Oh, that boy’s parents must not care about him very much.” Not, “This motherfucker is going to take some time out from saving the universe to find the cuccos I just lost.”

I know this is a lot to consider, Hyrule. You're obviously steeped in your ways, however misguided they may be. All I'm asking is that you take some time to at least think about what I've said, providing you can go five seconds without being wiped out by a falling moon or cataclysmic flood. 

But I assure you, by enacting just a few of these simple changes you'll be well on your way to functioning like a normal society, where the only threats you'll have to worry about will be war, poverty, natural disasters, racism, civil unrest, materialism, disease, and the inexhaustible number of horrors man is capable of inflicting upon one another. 

You know, the kind of problems that can't be solved by a ten-year-old boy. Or anyone, for that matter.   read


11:18 AM on 02.13.2014

The Past: Who the hell puts Mew under a truck?



Ten year olds are idiots. Let’s face facts – it is a miracle that any of us are sitting here today, instead of having perished during the age where the only thing preventing us from chugging down a gallon of dish detergent was a cartoon frowny face. I mean, how is it possible that I – a rational adult intelligent enough to understand at least half of the pseudo-philosophical nonsense Matthew McConaughey spouts on any given episode of True Detective – was at one point dumb enough to believe that the secret to unlocking Mew in Pokémon Red and Blue was held by an abandoned truck?

Yes, the truck. You know the truck. The truck. The seemingly innocuous automobile sitting outside the S.S. Anne in the first Pokémon games. The harmless scrap of scenery that, through a combination of schoolyard rumors and Internet conspiracy theories, became the key to the most coveted pocket monster in the original 151. The truck that became my white whale, my magic bullet, my singular obsession in my pursuit of catching ‘em all.

If I had to point to a single thing to define my gaming past – something that encapsulates all the wonder, imagination, and childlike stupidity of my earliest videogame memories – then it is without a doubt that godforsaken truck.



On its surface, Pokémon’s infamous truck is just one of gaming’s many silly urban legends. The idea that a player could catch the legendary Mew merely by shoving aside a car is absurd, even by the standards of a series whose central conceit involves magical monster fighting. I mean, think about it. Mew is essentially Pokémon’s Missing Link, an ancient creature whose existence has spanned millennia and whose genetic makeup forms the basis for all Pokémon life. An abandoned truck is an abandoned truck. You’ve probably driven by hundreds of them, left behind on the side of highways with plastic bags hanging out of their windows. The only “mysteries” those things are capable of containing are wasp’s nests and hobos.

But ten year olds aren’t normally ones to consult logic when confronted with ridiculous rumors. They have yet to be spurned by the harsh reality of life, their boundless capacity for hope yet to be ground to dust by the universe’s indifferent cruelty. They don’t know any better, because they are idiots. Which is why when I heard that Mew was hiding underneath that truck, my initial response wasn’t skepticism, but absolute conviction. Of course it was under there. In a game that limited its scenic flourishes to trees, patches of grass, and the occasional fence, that simple pickup stuck out like an extravagant sore thumb. Why else would it be there, other than to hide Pokémon’s most spectacular secret? 

While I can’t recall exactly where and when I learned of Mew’s rumored location, I do remember the knowledge basically transforming me into Russell Crowe’s character from A Beautiful Mind. I was a child possessed, deciphering coded messages in a vast conspiracy of my own creation. This was back in 1998, before you could just hop on an entire digital encyclopedia dedicated to Pokémon and bring up an article that helpfully informed you that the truck theory was a bunch of bullshit. I had to sift through countless seedy message boards, Yahoo! email groups, and eye-searing Angelfire fan sites, chasing down every half-baked lead in search of the truth.



Because, as you may know if your childhood was as consumed by the search for Mew as mine was, testing the rumor wasn’t as easy as swimming over to the truck and giving it the ol’ heave ho. The truck was inaccessible. Players reached the S.S. Anne before they had the Surf and Strength HMs, which were necessary for the swimming and heave ho-ing, respectively. After they set sail on ship, they couldn’t return to that area of the game, as it was forever blocked off by some punk sailor that turned trainers around if they tried to walk past him. Thus, the trick was finding a way to get back to the dock after the S.S. Anne had already left.

I can tell you with the utmost certainty that if I had dedicated the time I spent trying to get back to that dock on my fourth grade school work like I was supposed to, I would not be sitting in a Panera Bread writing my umpteenth blog post about Pokémon. I’d be a Zuckerberg-esque billionaire, swimming in his Scrooge McDuck money pool and smoking cigars made out of poor people’s defaulted bank loans. Learn your geometry, kids. It’s important.

But such is the sacrifice one must make in their quest for rare Pokémon. In hindsight, the whole endeavor smacks of childish ignorance, as I wasted hours testing every crackpot method of accessing that truck. I tried everything shy of defeating the Elite Four 365 times, which even I knew had to be an anonymous jerk’s attempt to screw with a bunch of little kids’ heads. Though, granted, I only reached that conclusion after seeing how many times I could beat the Elite Four in a single Saturday, and falling woefully short of 365.

At the time, however, my efforts didn’t seem trivial. They felt important. As if I were an intrepid sleuth unraveling Kanto’s greatest mysteries. Because if there’s one thing videogames do better than any other form of media, it’s secrets. Sure, books can have hidden meanings and movies can have shadows that look suspiciously like suicidal munchkins, but videogame secrets are more tangible. They’re characters for you to unlock, or bonus stages for you to explore, or all-powerful bosses at the end of back-breaking side quests. And as a kid, before you’ve been burned out on cynicism and knowing better, they take on a greater sense of importance than some measly additional content. They’re a personal discovery, as if you chipped away at a part of the world that no one else has ever seen. They make you feel like motherfucking Magellan, charting new territory in an electronic frontier. 



So when I finally was able to reach the truck – through a convoluted process of saving and rebooting in a specific spot while my trainer walked in a specific direction, which somehow allowed me to surf over the sailor standing guard – I wasn’t crushed by the inevitable lack of Mew. It wasn’t a harsh life lesson in disappointment and lowered expectations. I simply decided the truck was a dead end, while the real secret to finding the mythical Pokémon remained beyond our mortal grasp. My long, arduous journey had been worth the effort, as I wouldn’t have been satisfied until I found out the truth for myself. Besides, finding a way into an inaccessible area of the map was a minor victory in its own right. 

And my failure didn’t prevent me from tackling similarly ludicrous rumors in other games. I spent just as many hours hunting down Mew as I did trying to acquire the Triforce in Ocarina of Time, or figuring out how to collect the Stop ‘n’ Swop items in Banjo-Kazooie, or eventually turning my Pokémon trainer’s sights on how to catch Missingno. I divided my time between actually playing videogames and scouring AOL message boards for ways to reveal their innermost secrets. My Nintendo 64 and Game Boy weren’t just consoles – they were elaborate puzzle boxes, and I was intent on divining their every solution.

As much as I want to write off my grandiose investigations as the work of a dumb kid with too few friends and too much time on his hands, the fact is that nothing has informed my current gaming habits more than that maddening truck. To this day, I adore any game that can make me feel like a ten year old chasing wild Internet myths again. My most-played title on Steam is The Binding of Isaac, a Zelda-inspired labyrinth of steadily unlocking secrets. For me, Dark Souls biggest draw wasn’t its punishing difficulty, but the game’s cryptic mystique, where every new area and boss felt imbued with the sense of a terrible discovery. And for all of its supposed pretentions, I maintain that Fez is one of the best platformers ever made, because it nails an atmosphere of greater meaning, its obtuse puzzles, Tetris-inspired symbols, and strange collectibles hinting that there’s much more to the pixilated universe than the game lets on.



My gaming past is one shrouded in secrecy and stupidity. I still don’t know who the hell puts Mew under a truck, but in a way, I’ve spent my adult gaming life trying to figure out the answer. I’m enamored with the unique ability of videogames to contain hidden rewards for the most dedicated explorers. And as I grow ever more jaded in my later years, it can be nice to remember a time where something as simple as an 8-bit truck could inspire such passionate speculation.
 
Even if it did coincide with a time where I had to be actively told not to jam toys into electrical sockets.   read


9:54 AM on 01.03.2014

Steam Holiday Sale damage report



The holidays are over, which means it’s time to put away the Christmas lights, stop pretending like you can tolerate your loved ones, and survey the smoking crater the latest Steam sale has left behind in place of your bank account. And like the morning after any seasonal bacchanal, it can be difficult to recall the exact details of all the poor decisions you made, which is why I’ve chosen to compile a list of my Steam Holiday Sale purchases so I can remember exactly what I was thinking when I decided I suddenly needed nine You Don’t Know Jack games in my life.



Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Regular Price: $29.99
Paid: $19.99
Rationale for Buying: Having not played Metal Gear Solid 4, I don’t know the story behind Raiden’s magical girl transformation from franchise goat to bad ass cyborg ninja. But I’m fine with whatever convoluted plot point paved the way for me to feed on people’s spinal cords and beat on buffed-up GOP allegories.



Stick it to the Man!
Regular Price: $14.99
Paid: $8.99
Rationale for Buying: Is this game related to Psychonauts? It looks like Psychonauts. It has nothing to do with Psychonauts? Whatever, it reminds me of Psychonauts, so now it has my money.



The Typing of the Dead: Overkill
Regular Price: $19.99
Paid: $9.99
Rationale for Buying: The strange, alchemic brew of Mavis Beacon and an on-rails light gun shooter is the kind of novel combination that simultaneously makes no sense and absolutely perfect sense, like folk covers of Katy Perry songs or ranch dressing and everything.



Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches
Regular Price: $9.99
Paid: $4.99
Rationale for Buying: I picked up Dishonored in this year’s Steam Summer Sale, foolishly doing so before The Brigmore Witches was released and the whole Game of the Year edition was put up for even cheaper than what I originally paid. The $6.67 I wasted will haunt me even more than the main campaign’s unbearably mediocre ending. 



You Don’t Know Jack Classic Pack
Regular Price: $19.99
Paid: $4.99
Rationale for Buying: If you don’t know why I bought nine entries of a multiplayer trivia game that I will only every play by myself, then obviously you don’t know... the symptoms of a severely lonely individual.



King of Fighters XIII
Regular Price: $29.99
Paid: $10.19
Rationale for Buying: Gorgeous 2D fighters are like an irresistible siren song. I’m seduced by their pixilated beauty, only to have my soul crushed by intricate button combinations and move lists that I don’t have the patience to memorize. I essentially purchased a few hours of enthusiastic button mashing and giggling Japanese voice actresses, which sounds less like a videogame and more like the perfect idea for a themed bar in Tokyo.



DmC
Regular Price: $49.99
Paid: $12.49
Rationale for Buying: I only ever played the first Devil May Cry, so my love for the franchise is not sacred enough to be ruined by Dante’s radical transformation from cocky half-demon adonis to even cockier half-demon adonis with not white hair. So long as the game allows me to shoot ‘n slice various grotesqueries all while being judged by an arbitrary combo system, I’ll be able to tolerate whatever Gen X ‘tude the game shoves down my throat.



Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons
Regular Price: $14.99
Paid: $4.49
Rationale for Buying: It’s an indie that marries gameplay with emotional storytelling, and I’m the kind of delicate butterfly that cries when he listens to Neko Case, so this one is kind of a no brainer.



Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition
Regular Price: $29.99
Paid: $10.19
Rationale for Buying: Putting aside the insufferable spelling of “Komplete,” the Mortal Kombat reboot allows me to relive my halcyon days of playing obscenely violent video games under my parents’ noses. I’m not sure how thrilling the excessive gore will be now that I’m an adult and nobody gives a damn how much graphic media I consume (ie, a lot), but at least the MRI-quality zooms of multiple bone fractures will be a sobering reminder of the seriousness of shuriken-related facial injuries.



Valdis Story: Abyssal City
Regular Price: $14.99
Paid: $3.74
Rationale for Buying: There will be a day when I don’t have a Pavlovian urge to immediately buy any game described as a Metroidvania. Today is not that day.



Total Regular Price: $234.90
Total Spent: $90.05
Total “Saved”: $144.85
Guilt Level: Oh god what have I done where is my money   read


7:26 AM on 12.11.2013

My big, stupid, honking list of 2013's best videogame... things



Time marches on. A tide sweeping over us in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. Orchestrating the rise and fall of civilizations. Establishing cities of elaborate wonder before reducing them to dust and ashes. The cruel mistress to which we must all one day succumb. Inescapable. Inexorable. Mortality.

Which means it’s time to tell everyone about the videogames I really liked in 2013!

That’s right! December is “Best Of” season, the magical part of the year when we attempt to capture the essence of the last 365 days by crowning something “Best Cooperative Multiplayer SRPG FPS 3D Soundtrack.” Because how else are we to define the intangible human experience if not by the pop culture we enjoyed? You can’t make a year-end list of the “10 Best Infant’s Smiles” or “Top 20 Sweet Nothings Whispered in the Early Dawn After an Evening of Lovemaking in Which You and Your Lover’s Souls Were One.” I mean, you can try, but unless you spice that dish up with some Nene Leakes GIFs a la BuzzFeed, ain’t nobody clicking.

Thus your good pal UsurpMyProse is here to offer up his own list of favorites, so that you may look upon them and be satisfied in the knowledge that a no-name blogger’s adoration of Grand Theft Auto V has heralded another step closer to your grave.

So without further ado, I give you...

USURPMYPROSE’S BIG, STUPID, HONKING LIST OF 2013’S BEST VIDEOGAME... THINGS



Best Game I Watched a Complete Stranger Play - The Last of Us

I don’t understand the whole “Let’s Play” phenomenon. As someone who barely has enough time to actually play videogames, the notion of devoting a portion of my day to watching someone else have fun doesn't make much sense. But the cavalcades of noble YouTube gamers do have their uses, as I learned after an entire weekend spent watching a playthrough of the not-quite-zombies-but-okay-they’re-totally-zombies classic The Last of Us.

Lacking the bags of Sony bribe money that come with being a “real” videogame journalist, I do not own a PS3, and thus had to resort to experiencing Naughty Dogs’ tragic tale of spores and survival through 15-minute chunks of low quality video. Which was fine, considering The Last of Us is as close to a cinematic experience as a videogame can get, albeit one where a considerable portion of the running time is devoted to watching people scrounge for gauze and rubbing alcohol.

The hours I spent squinting at the trials of Joel and Ellie were worth it, however, as The Last of Us is a beautifully bold spin on the “bleak and unforgiving apocalypse” genre, with the kind of potent moral ambiguity usually reserved for cable network dramas.

Runner-Up: Dota 2: Alliance vs. Na’Vi Championship Game – I don’t understand a single thing about Dota 2, but that didn’t stop me from watching three-plus hours of The International finals for no other reason than the infectious enthusiasm of announcers David “LD” Gorman and David “Luminous” Zhang. The dynamite duo combine the amateur earnestness of college radio DJs with the hyped-up jargon of WWE commentators.



Best Game I Paid to Not Play in 2013 – Armikrog

I arrived a year late to the crowd funding party, as Kickstarter rose to prominence in 2012 when Double Fine raised approximately enough money to secede from the US and start their own secret psychic summer camp (which, by the sound of Broken Age’s development issues, is probably what really happened).

But 2013 saw even more big name Kickstarters, and I was no longer able to resist the allure of playing pretend Shark Tank by having developers vie for my pledge money. I helped fund six projects this year, chief among them Armikrog, the spiritual successor to claymation cult hit The Neverhood. While I’ve expressed some concerns about the involvement of Doug “Icky Homophobic Elf” TenNapel, ultimately my inflated sense of social justice is trumped by my love of talking alien dogs voiced by Yakko Warner.

I mean, come on, we’re getting a pseudo-sequel to The Neverhood. In 2013. Because of the internet. Barring the sudden invention of cancer-curing hoverboards, that’s the best damn proof we’re living in the future that we’re going to get.

Runner-Up: Torment: Tides of NumeneraMighty No. 9Shantae: Half-Genie HeroHyper Light DrifterParadise Lost: First Contact – Officially making 2013 the best year for games from 2014!



Best Non-2013 Game I Played in 2013 - Final Fantasy IX

2013 was a big year for many of my friends and family. I watched as loved ones got engaged, announced pregnancies, were hired for dream jobs, and just generally developed as people. But more importantly, I finally got around to playing the best JRPG of 2000!

I’ve seen many people claim that Final Fantasy IX is their favorite of the series, and it’s easy to see why. The game captures the simple magic of SNES-era Final Fantasys, while benefiting from the striking pre-rendered backgrounds of the PS1-era. Plus, as the last entry before the franchise began to look more and more like a J-pop music video with every new Roman numeral, I can see why FFIX might have a special place in the adolescent memories of some gamers.

Though I did have a few quibbles. Namely, the standard Final Fantasy plot that doesn’t make a lick of sense, the cartoonish one-dimensionality of a few members of the cast, the urge to set fire to my brain every time Zorn and Thorn popped up. But FFIX’s zealous charm covers for any shortcomings, and Vivi’s struggle with identity was the rare instance of me emotionally investing in a Final Fantasy character, easily making it the best JRPG I played all year.

Runner-Up: Dead Rising 2: Off the Record – On a scale from one to seeing Blue is the Warmest Color with my parents, how uncomfortable were the Psychopaths in Dead Rising 2 supposed to make me?



Best Game I’m Going to be Defending in a Comments Section in Five Years – Grand Theft Auto V

I’ve noticed a troubling trend with modern blockbuster releases. These days, big titles will be released with a tremendous deal of fanfare, all the reviewers will whip out their highest grades and their “Masterpiece!” superlatives, and the game in question will have seemingly cemented its coveted spot in the greater videogame canon.

Fast forward a few years, and an inexplicable backlash has festered in the community. Any mention of the game will prompt cries of “Overrated!”, and an unspoken consensus has been reached that the critical darling was actually a towering monument of suck the whole time. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, try striking up a conversation about Skyward Sword, or Skyrim, or the original “next-gen Grand Theft Auto,” GTA IV, and see how quickly you get shouted down by naysayers.

So to the inevitable future detractors I say this: Grand Theft Auto V is an amazing game. Yes, the game has its issues: a writing team apparently comprised of porn-addled fourteen year olds, a plot that’s more wacky caper than thrilling crime epic, and satire that’s as subtle as a Kanye West track. But the sheer scope and the, I don’t know, that thing, that magic of Los Santos cannot be understated. Rockstar crafted one of the most compelling and absurdly detailed videogame worlds in recent memory, and the unpretentious joy of terrorizing a herd of helpless cows with a forklift was unmatched by anything else I played this year. And in Trevor, the GTA series finally gave us an honest-to-god protagonist, a messy, complicated, whirling dervish of chaos and sadness.

Maybe I’m not exactly bold for defending the game when it’s about to be drowned in an avalanche of “Best of the Year” awards, but I assure you I’ll be a hero when the time comes for “Best of the ‘10s” deliberations.

Runner-Up: The Last of Us – Okay, hypothetical future tough guy, you can pretend like those opening ten minutes didn’t make you bawl your eyes out all you want, but that would make you a filthy liar.



Best Insta-Death That Still Haunts Me in Waking Nightmares –Tomb Raider’s Quick Time Tracheotomy

JESUS MOTHER OF GOD DID YOU JUST SEE THAT?! HOLY CHRIST THAT THING JUST TORE THROUGH HER THROAT LIKE WET TISSUE PAPER. OH MY FUCK SHE’S STILL MOVING HOW IS SHE STILL MOVING OH JESUS I CAN HEAR HER CHOKING ON HER OWN BLOOD WHY DIDN’T I MOVE THE JOYSTICK LEFT FAST ENOUGH WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS MAKE IT STOP PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF HUMAN DECENY I JUST WANTED TO RAID SOME TOMBS WHAT THE FUCK

Runner-Up: Spelunky – I’ll just gently ease myself off this cliff edge here aaaaaand an arrow ricocheted by body into a bed of spikes again ffffffffff-



Best New Pokémon - Dark Lord Klefki, Devourer of Souls

Allow me to direct your attention to a little article that was published on this very website shortly before the release of Pokémon X & Y. In this article the reveal of Klefki, one of the new Generation VI Pokémon, was met with disbelief and derision. Many, myself included, wrote off the sentient key ring as definitive proof that Game Freak was scraping the bottom of the monster design barrel. We all laughed Klefki off. Because we didn’t know any better. We didn’t know.

Now, anyone who has faced this eight inch behemoth in battle can tell you that it’s evil incarnate. It is steel forged in hatred. Its keys unlock nothing but madness.

For those of you who are not Pokémon masters, allow me to explain. Klefki is equipped with the Prankster ability, which gives priority to all status moves. Klefki can potentially paralyze and confuse an entire team before they’re able to land a single hit. This turns the finely-tuned chess match of Pokémon battling into a miserable game of luck. Twitching, crippled opponents struggle to attack while Klefki gorges itself on Leftovers and pops off Substitutes like a mogwai after a spritz.

Klefki is basically Rage Quit: the Pokémon.

Some people will tell you that Klefki is just an irritating gimmick that can easily be countered. Those people are hiding the deep scars this malicious, jangly bastard has inflicted on them. When Generation VII rolls around and the series inevitably turns another useless inanimate object into a Pokémon, we should all be prepared for that thing to be Satan made manifest.

Runner-Up: Hawlucha – It’s a luchador bird. Why would I even need to explain the appeal of a luchador bird to you?



Best Blatant GLaDOS Ripoff - The Stanley Parable’s Narrator

If there’s one emerging videogame trend I love even more than cramming Ellen Page or Ellen Page approximations into every major release, it is the inevitable spawning of countless GLaDOS clones. The sardonic narrator is a rich tradition that dates all the way back to the very dawn of time. Or at least, dates back to Monty Python and the Holy Grai. Which, if we’re being honest, is when time only just started to get interesting.

GLaDOS was a legendary addition to the pantheon – half omnipresent color commentator, half classic villain. The droll Brit serving as The Stanley Parable’s Narrator is a worthy successor, and with Portal references sprinkled liberally throughout the game, there’s an explicit acknowledgment that he’s a shameless parody of everyone’s favorite homicidal AI.

What puts The Stanley Parable’s Narrator over the top is how he operates as GLaDOS in his own uniquely meta way. He’s an antagonistic force running the player through obstacles like a rat in a maze, yes, but his primary purpose is to highlight the game’s greater points about narrative limitations. The Narrator’s most chilling moment isn’t when he’s mocking your futile attempts to stop a doomsday countdown. It’s when he’s pleading for you to get back on the one “true” path, showing the seams in The Stanley Parable’s grand design, and revealing that even the gentlemanly voice dictating your every action with effacing British wit is a prisoner to the shackles of story and structure.

Runner-UpBattleBlock Theater Narrator – I’m fairly certain Will Stamper was chosen purely for his exquisite pronunciation of the name “Hatty Hattington.”



Best Ending I Needed a Diagram to Understand - Bioshock Infinite

I’m an intelligent guy. That is to say, I ain’t no dummy. I enjoy the occasional cerebral stimulation, the occasional hoity-toity foreign film, the occasional rumination on the day’s sociopolitical events over a glass of cognac and a pipe packed with flavored tobacco.

But even I – esteemed paragon of sophistication and culture that I am – needed a godforsaken map to navigate the choppy waters that were Bioshock Infinite’s metaphysical mind fuck of an ending. Now, the particulars of the game’s closing minutes weren’t necessarily difficult to discern. Alternate dimensions, yadda yadda yadda, murder myself so I can be murdered by my daughter, blah blah blah, who are we but carbon copies carrying out our predetermined fates across infinite parallel universes, something something ragtime R.E.M.

It was the motivations of the whole sordid affair that eluded me, particularly those of aloof brother and sister comedy duo the Lutece twins. I felt as if I had missed a voxophone or twelve that explained why the cosmic pranksters were setting the whole doomed rescue mission in motion when they, y’know, were mostly responsible for Elizabeth’s role in the “drowning in fire the mountains of man” business in the first place.

Someone eventually explained to me that it was partly because Comstock had the Lutece twins killed, but finding that out just made me want to curl up and watch Duck Dynasty until I fell into a coma.

Runner-Up: The Swapper – So... hive-minded space rocks and disembodied talking brains try to make me have an identity crisis. No thanks, guys, that’s what high school was for.



Best Game I Should Have Played More and Will Probably Lie to People About Finishing to Sound Like More of a Discerning Gamer Than I Really Am - Monaco

Fantastic co-op games are the bane of my existence. It’s not like I don’t have friends. I have plenty of friends. I have more friends than you! But what I don’t have are friends who salivate over the idea of cooperative heists staged in a glorious orgy of color and 2D pixels. I know, I know – any friends who can’t appreciate Pac-Man as filtered through a cool French heist flick aren’t really your friends. But the two-bit boosters I played with in random online games weren’t my friends either, which took some of the excitement out of Monaco’s madcap thievery.

Going it alone was certainly a viable option, as Monaco’s addictively simple mechanics and gorgeous visuals are more than enough to buoy a single-player campaign. But a one-man job almost always ends in disaster. Rather than an intricate clockwork of color-coded archetypes executing a perfect plan, you’re usually reduced to a panicked, painfully unhip dash through multiple tripped alarms and tenacious guard dogs. It’s less The Italian Job and more The Thomas Crown Affair. The lame Pierce Brosnan one.

I’ll still tell everyone I beat the game, and that I didn’t just drop it after the first few levels, because not playing Monaco is a bigger crime than... whatever it is the characters do in Monaco. I don’t know, I didn’t really get that far.

Runner-Up: Don’t Starve – As someone who bursts into apocalyptic hysterics when the Wi-Fi is particularly slow at a Starbucks, the survival genre is a little too stressful for me.



Best Game That Consumed Hours of My Life I Could Have Better Devoted to Literally Anything Else - Cookie Clicker

Cookie Clicker isn’t a game; it’s a state of depression. The amusing thrill of establishing a confectionery empire draws you in, but the novelty lasts for all of five seconds before giving way to an endless slog of gradually rising digits. And just like depression, you find yourself unable to claw your way out of the misery, sinking deeper with each passing second into a morass of numbing banality and unlockable antimatter condensers.

You can interpret Cookie Clicker as a clever deconstruction of the meaningless number games that power most videogames, but to do so is to admit defeat. The compulsive click-a-thon actively mocks the “bigger numbers are better than smaller numbers!” principle that governs our lives as gamers, revealing that the hours you’ve whittled away plumbing for cookie dough in other dimensions is nothing compared to the lifetime you’ve wasted on electronic entertainment. Sure, we connect to the stories and characters and fantastical settings, but Cookie Clicker strips all of that away to reveal the cold, merciless engine running beneath.

“You feel like making cookies. But nobody wants to eat your cookies,” the game tells you before you make your first click, as fitting a tagline for the unfillable void in our lives as any in all of literature.

Runner-Up: Surgeon Simulator 2013 – Time I spent learning how to tear out a man’s kidneys with my bare hands is time I could have spent learning how to better communicate in a relationship.



Best Game I Want to Buy Based Entirely on Hearing 60 Seconds of the Soundtrack - Super Mario World 3D

It is the year 2013. An antiquated Italian stereotype should not still have the power to move consoles. And yet every single second I’ve seen of Super Mario World 3D has made me want to run out and buy a Wii U, a system I spent a solid year thinking was some kind of Sega CD-esque add-on for the original Wii.

I’m not likely to follow through on my impulse anytime soon, but Super Mario World 3D has guaranteed that I will pick up the console at some point, and that every second until that point will be spent in agonizing anticipation. The game just looks fun. Pure, unadulterated, Nintendo-brand fun. The catsuits! The Saturday morning cartoon visuals! A whole gaggle of Marios! (Flock of Marios? Herd of Marios? Murder of Marios? Whatever.)

But more than anything else, it’s the bombastic, jazzy score that has me foaming at the mouth. I’ve seen comparisons made to Studio Ghibli soundtracks, the undisputed kings of highly concentrated, swelling orchestral crack. But no comparison can adequately prepare you for the sheer joy of hearing Super Mario 3D World’s opening cut scene for the first time. It’s like a 1920’s screwball comedy distilled into its purest musical notes.

The game’s aural prowess shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering this is the series that gave us “Swing! Your! Arms! From side to side!” But seeing the old plumber rock a horn section like that is still nothing short of amazing.

Runner-Up: Rayman Legends – Whoever thought to combine '80s power ballads with a desperado-led mariachi band deserves a Nobel Prize in Goddamn Everything.



Best Decision I Made - Writing More Blogs on Destructoid

2013 marked the first time I had a blog post promoted to Destructoid’s front page, a validating achievement that I’ve been trying to recapture ever since. It’s like seeing your work put up on the refrigerators of hundreds of anonymous strangers. Only the refrigerators are computer screens, and all the anonymous strangers call you an idiot for saying Gaping Dragon was a difficult Dark Souls boss.

My first promoted post motivated me to write even more blogs. Some were also promoted, and some weren’t. The important thing is that I wrote them, putting forth the time and effort to bring my opinions squalling into existence in the bright, beautiful ether of the web. And I hope to do even more of that in 2014! Which certainly beats the plan I originally had before getting my first blog post promoted: wandering into the sea never to be seen again.

But I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank the community for providing a word of encouragement here, or some thought-provoking words there, and paying even a modicum of attention to my dumb thoughts. The reason I consider Destructoid to be the best gaming news thing out of all the other gaming news things is due in no small part to all you magnificent bastards who call this place home. You people are the real heroes.

I’m just grateful to play some small part in the madness, and hope to do so until this website is nothing but a shambling shell of its former self, overrun by spyware bots advertising cheap PC parts, eventually returning to the loam as we all one day must. Which, by my calculations, will probably happen sometime... March-ish?

Runner-Up: Seeing 12 Years A Slave – What are you doing reading another useless "Best Of" list? Go see 12 Years A Slave and do something important with your life!   read


8:09 AM on 06.24.2013

Doug TenNapel, I hate you and I hope your game gets funded



Heroes will always disappoint you. I don’t mean to sound like a fourteen year old who just discovered Morrissey, but the sad truth is that no amount of faith in the inherent good of humanity can guard us against inevitable heartbreak by those we look up to. The ones we admire most – the shining paragons of everything we value – will eventually crumble before our eyes like false idols. Elmo will solicit sex from minors, Lance Armstrong will inject tiger blood into his veins, Will Smith will flirt with Scientology, and the world will keep on spinning, some terrible truth about someone we believe in just waiting to come to light.

So I was hardly surprised when I found out two years ago that Doug TenNapel, creator of Earthworm JimThe Neverhood, and some of my most cherished videogame memories, is actually a staunchly religious, homophobic wingnut. Because of course he is. Of course the brilliant imagination behind one of my favorite adventure games is brimming with hatred. Of course the man who gave us Klaymen, Big Robot Bil, Bob the Killer Goldfish, and The Evil Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug-For-A-Butt would deny gays the right to marry, because we can’t ever have nice things.

Yet as much as it pained me to discover that an artist I respected was a bigoted monster, his misguided personal beliefs didn’t retroactively invalidate the joy I had once derived from his work. Maybe the theological undertones of The Neverhood took on a more sinister meaning, but because I had played TenNapel’s games long before the internet gave him a platform to turn into everyone’s overly opinionated uncle at Thanksgiving, I was able to preserve my memories in a hazy bubble of ignorant bliss. Besides, the dude hadn’t been in the gaming business since the ‘90s. I could just go on not buying any of his comics and be satisfied that I wasn’t supporting his bible thumping with any of my money.

But then came Armikrog.



A spiritual successor to The Neverhood. An old school adventure game made entirely out of clay. Classic stop-motion animation. The vocal talents of Yakko Warner and Mike Fuckin’ Nelson. Soundtrack by Terry S. Taylor, the man responsible for the single greatest song ever recorded for a videogame. A talking alien dog named Beak-Beak.

I pledged $45 the second it was announced.

I wish I could tell you that supporting Armikrog was a difficult decision. That I spent days mired in an internal struggle to even consider the idea. That ultimately I stuck to my values and decided having a really cool videogame wasn’t worth supporting a man who likened same-sex marriage to a guy taking a dump in a women’s bathroom, a statement that makes me feel dirty just typing out.

But I can’t. I just told you the exact opposite of that. No matter how I try to rationalize my choice, I’ll have to live knowing that I’m willing to sell out my morals for a few tons of clay.

Though let me try rationalizing it anyway.



At the most basic level of the Armikrog Kickstarter, we have a classic scenario of having to separate the art from the artist. That’s step one, because unless you adhere to TenNapel’s beliefs that roving gangs of commitment-seeking gays are terrorizing our idyllic American towns, every dollar contributed to the campaign requires you to weigh the value of the product against the continued success of a man who would deprive people of their rights because of their sexual orientation.

Now, this is a conflict that’s raged since time immemorial, beginning with the first caveman to scrawl a couple of bison on a wall before declaring bison shouldn't be able to marry other bison. We’re not going to solve the conflict between creations and their creators in one half-baked blog post and a boycotted Kickstarter campaign. Personally, I’ve always been of the opinion that art should be able to stand on its own, viewed independently of any and all outside factors. In terms of videogames, this means ignoring every delusional word that comes out of the mouths of people like David Cage or Phil Fish, and playing their games separate from the influence of their embittered Twitter rants. 

Though the issue with Cage and Fish as examples, besides the combination of their names sounding like a TV show about a pair of crime-solving longshoremen, is that while they’ve said some pretty incendiary things, they haven’t said them out of outright hatred for another group of human beings. Well, except Fish, who seems to have a grudge against the entire nation of Japan. But TenNapel is an entirely different beast. He can gussy up his intolerance as unassailable religious belief all he wants, but the fact remains that he’s trying to impede a basic liberty that should be afforded to everyone. I stand by my argument of always separating art from the artist, but I acknowledge I’ve had to do some serious mental back flips to reconcile my desire for a unique and innovative videogame with my desire to not give money to a raging asshole.



The next stop on this beautiful sightseeing tour through Suspect Reasoningville is the kneejerk argument you’ll see anyone defending Armikrog make, and that is that a videogame is not the work of one person. No artistic endeavor is, except maybe those street performers who pretend to be dancing robots in Times Square, but even those people are the product of years of neglect and abuse by the whole of society. Armikrog is the work of Pencil Test Studios, an independent game and animation company founded by Mike Dietz and Ed Schofield, two people who worked with Doug TenNapel on Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood, but who are very much not Doug TenNapel.

Then there are the previously mentioned voices of Rob Paulsen and Michael Nelson, men I grew up watching on Saturday mornings, and who I’ve idealized to the point where I firmly believe their off hours are spent inoculating sick children and spreading hope and prosperity to the disenfranchised, hopefully through the use of robot puppets. And the entire reason I jumped in on the $45 tier is because that’s the first tier the game’s soundtrack is available on, and I can’t begin to describe the pure, unadulterated pleasure Terry S. Taylor’s honky tonk guitar strumming and charcoal-smoked babbling brings me. Just take a listen to “The Neverhood Theme,” or “The Battle of Robot Bil,” and try to resist the urge to throw money at your screen until this man makes more music.

Yes, it’s possible all of these talented people are part of one big, shadowy cabal who meet every Tuesday to bemoan the loss of “traditional values” and discuss the best way to rid the world of their archnemesis Neil Patrick Harris. Or, more likely, they’re all individuals who are putting forth an immense effort to lovingly craft a work of art that they believe is special and worth their time. Doug TenNapel may be the creative voice driving the project, but he’s a single part of a team, and the money put into Armikrog will go toward helping that team bring a fictional clay space fortress to life, and not toward supporting one man’s awful, myopic bigotry.



All of this isn’t to begrudge anyone for not supporting Armikrog out of principle. I wish I had the strength to stand by my convictions like that, and not sell out like a total consumer whore. Because by the look of countless comment sections, think pieces and, most tellingly, a pledge total that's going to need some kind of Daddy Warbucks miracle to reach its $900,000 goal in two days, it seems there are plenty of people who are much stronger than I am.

I’m simply trying to talk through my own decision in what is unfortunately a complex issue. This should be a no brainer. I mean, we’re talking a full-fledged semi-sequel to The Neverhood, the kind of weird, hyper niche game that could have only been put out by a major studio in the experimental days of the ‘90s. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Or if they do, they’re made by an indie developer on a much smaller scale, like The Dream Machine. Which I’m sure is an absolute delight but, no offense, kind of looks like what would happen if Ben Wyatt finally finished Requiem for a Tuesday.

But while Armikrog promises to provide the kind of indelible, imaginative experience that I crave in videogames, it comes at the price of knowingly supporting a man with some reprehensible ideas. I mean, he wrote an article on how Republican women are happier than other women because “they don't mope around like victims or screech about how terrible men are for being men.” Seriously. He wrote that. That awful thought occupied his head, and then he transcribed it for other people to see. Horrible, right? I just gave $45 to that. How do you think I feel? 

I wish this was easier. I want so badly for there to be a correct, clear cut stance on this issue. Armikrog looks like a lush, colorful blip of hope in the endless slog of military shooters and mindless face-stabby murder simulators, but the loathsome qualities of its primary creative mind place the adventures of Tommynaut and Beak-Beak squarely in a moral grey area.

Which, I guess for a videogame made entirely out of clay, is kind of fitting.   read


10:15 AM on 05.08.2013

Why we should never pay $60 for a videogame



I’m cheap.

Frugal. Miserly. A man of generic brands and packed lunches. Of 2-for-1 deals and 10% tips. Someone who feels a twinge of regret over every cent that leaves their bank account. 

Naturally, my penny pinching methodology extends to my gaming habits. I am an unabashed bargain bin gamer. When I patronize one of my three dozen local GameStops, I stride past the shiny new releases and go straight for the pre-owned racks. I even peruse that sad row of misbegotten titles stacked along the floor, where unlovable shovelware and old editions of Madden are banished to languish forever. 

Hell, I admit to actively warranting GameStop, an act that in and of itself is a declaration that I'm willing to throw my scruples to the wind if it means saving a few dollars on someone’s chewed-up copy of Mass Effect 3

But while I acknowledge some trepidation whenever I opt for the sad sack of knockoff Honey Nut Cheerios over the real deal, I'm perfectly at peace with never spending $60 on a new videogame ever again. In fact, I’d argue that being a gamer on the cheap is not only pragmatic, but a lifestyle the entire community should be embracing. 

That’s right. I’m about to get preachy on all y’all. Obnoxious vegan friend preachy.

First and foremost, we can all agree that the monetary value of videogames depreciate at an alarmingly fast rate. The only thing that loses value quicker than a $60 videogame is my stock with women once they find out I look nothing like my JDate profile picture. I won’t pretend to understand the economics behind how videogames are priced, but what I do know is that I could have picked up Tomb Raider on Steam last weekend – a game which came out a little more than two months ago – for a full $35 cheaper than if I had purchased the grungy Lara Croft reboot on its release date. 

What incentives, then, did I have to buy Tomb Raider before its price crashed harder than a boat full of adventurous multiethnic archetypes? Those who pre-ordered had the Sophie's Choice of deciding between a snazzy in-game bomber jacket, a throwaway challenge dungeon, and the option to make Lara Croft look even more like Andy Dufresne after he crawled through a river of shit, minus the redemptive rain storm. I'm not sure any one of those is worth $35 and 60-some days free of the traumatic experience of having to kill my first innocent deer.



In addition to underwhelming pre-order incentives, there's also the increasing sense that the red-blooded consumers who are happy to pay full price for a brand new videogame are spending their money on incomplete products. The debate over downloadable content will rage for millenia, but there's no denying the now common money-grubbing tactic of releasing “Game of the Year” editions is beginning to diminish the base worth of today's popular releases.

From a business standpoint, there’s an understandable need for companies to wring a few extra dollars out of an aging property by dressing it up in a tantalizingly more robust package. “Game of the Year” editions – or “Legendary,” “Prepare to Die,” “Ultimate,” or “Overzealous Superlative of Your Choosing” editions – offer an opportunity to pick up any straggling customers who have been holding out for a sweeter deal. But by releasing a definitive version a year or two down the line, loyal early adopters are being forced to put together their games piecemeal while the jerks who have waited for companies to come crawling to them bearing tribute are the ones being catered to.

For instance, this past month I picked up Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. I had been waiting for the original game's price to drop and, lo and behold, during that time Capcom announced they’d be releasing an updated version loaded with extra content and a number of technical improvements, all at a respectable $40. What's more is that the expansion would only be available as a standalone retail disc, meaning those players who had helped make the IP a surprise hit in the first place would have to essentially buy the game twice if they wanted to experience any of the new content.

What would I have gained from buying the game at full price when it was first released? The satisfaction of knowing I had bought an inferior Dark Souls with a menu layout more complicated than Building Stories? That warm feeling you get when you know you contributed in some small way to the marble counter tops on a Japanese business man’s luxurious dirigible? The chance to once again enable a company who has turned shameless rereleases into a business model?

No, I would have felt like that schnook who buys his groceries right before the 10,000th customer. The one stuck with a bottle of hand lotion and a stack of Lean Cuisines without an oversized novelty check to show for it.



Besides the obvious quantifiable benefits, there’s the intangible upside of gaining a greater appreciation of games that are cheap by nature. Those who subsist off a diet entirely of triple-A titles may disregard the indie scene as the work of a bunch of art house elitists with severe emotional issues – which, sometimes, yeah – but it’s astounding what smaller developers have accomplished with products they’re going to sell for, at most, $15 and, at least, two ha’pennies as a part of some bundle. 

Many of my favorite games of this current generation have been cooked up by a handful of intrepid DIYers. Fez, Shadow Complex, Super Meat Boy, Binding of Isaac, World of Goo – I spent more on the standard indie gamer turtleneck and scarf than I spent on all those games combined.

But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one niggling downside. As someone who only buys games months after their release, I’m constantly falling out of conversation with the gaming community at large. I would have loved to offer an opinion on why BioShock Infinite was or wasn’t a face-grinding assault on good taste. I would have loved to offer any opinion on BioShock Infinite, seeing as how it apparently touched on every topic from racism to quantum physics to the unappreciated genius of Cyndi Lauper.

But nobody is going to care what I have to say when the game’s price is slashed six months from now and I finally find out what all the ludonarrative think pieces are about. I’m in a perpetual state of being that guy at the office who only just watched The Wire and is trying to explain the “king stay the king” speech to everyone.



I'm aware that money is an expansive and multifaceted subject in videogames. Not everyone is coming from my income situation. There are those who can comfortably afford the latest releases, along with the jewel-encrusted chalices from which I assume they sup the tears of the impoverished. Idealistically, we should allow games to stand on their own merits, never factoring their price tag into how we engage with them. And, yes, I know buying used is not helping matters, as companies are now scrambling to find a way to make the most out of their initial sales.

But with evolving technology and bloated budgets and the advent of DLC, games are only growing more expensive.  And with those rising prices comes an equally rising tide of bullshit. We live in an age where we have to honestly ask ourselves if we should expect videogames to be playable at launch. Where games that ship more than 3.5 million units are considered colossal failures. Where mom and pop developers are creating imaginative and indelible gaming experiences for a fraction of what it costs a major studio to stamp out another generic Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty

These are the reasons I preach bargain gaming. It’s pure. It’s liberating. It frees you from the toxic expectations you attach to a game you've devoted a sizable chunk of your paycheck to. It allows you to combat the rampant consumer abuse perpetuated by companies who view their customers as rubes to be swindled. A bargain gamer is a better, happier gamer. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a chewed-up copy of Mass Effect 3 to finish. And you won’t see me complaining about the original ending, because I now have like twenty different DLC conclusions to choose from, and one of them has to end in the Shephard and Wrex dream wedding I’ve always wanted.   read


7:33 AM on 04.10.2013

Newtwo: Game Freak's blatant attempt to ruin my childhood



Look Game Freak, we need to talk. I know you’re hard at work on Pokémon X and Y – after all, that umpteenth boulder puzzle isn’t going to lay itself out – but we need to address this past weekend’s, shall we say, events. On this Sunday’s episode of Pokémon Smash, the weekly Pokémon variety show whose existence is apparently still warranted, you revealed what appeared to be a new form of Mewtwo, but what was in actuality a flagrant assault on my childhood.

I like to think of myself as a rational man, Game Freak. Open-minded, even. I consider myself to be someone who does not react to the announcement of a new character in what is ostensibly a children’s game with intense feelings of blind rage. But what the hell am I looking at here? People have been quick to label this offensive monstrosity as some kind of Dragon Ball Z reject, but that’s giving it too much credit. You just slapped Mewtwo’s tail on to its head. Then you added a weird futuristic flesh hood for, what exactly, aerodynamic reasons? Not only do you have the gall to repurpose the titan of the original 151 for your nefarious purposes, but you have the sheer chutzpah to do it in the most half-assed way possible.

Mind you, this is not coming from a fierce Generation I loyalist, either. I actually like Pokémon beyond Red and Blue. You know what my favorite Pokémon is? Garchomp. What’s there not to like about a face-eating land shark that moves at mach speeds? I also have a Milotic that I’ve used to beat the Elite Four in every region. I always make sure a Metagross is a part of my team, I have a Rotom that’s gotten me out of a lot of jams, and I think Victini is downright adorable. I look down on anyone who hasn’t played any of the series beyond its Game Boy days, because they’re missing out on the soul-enriching experience of catching a Bidoof.

But as much as I defend the nearly 500 other entries in the National Dex, there’s no denying that not every one of them is a winner. You made an ice cream cone Pokémon, Game Freak. You made three of them. You just slapped googly eyes on Mr. Tastee and you have to go to bed every night with that on your conscience. And that’s fine, really. You make all the sentient garbage bags you want. What’s not okay is applying the same level of forethought that you put into Stunfisk into an unnecessary update on my cherished childhood memories.



Listen, my frustration isn't entirely your fault. I’m in a very weird place right now. It just seems that recently the entire world is hell bent on stomping all over the things I once held dear. First Devil May Cry gets an Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show-style reboot with a Dante that has black hair and chugs energy drinks and, I don’t know, probably uses Snapchat to defeat Hell's unholy army. Then I learn that David Hayter wasn’t asked to voice Solid Snake for Metal Gear Solid 5, as if anyone could even fathom replacing that gravel-voiced angel. And now Disney is going all “Uncle Owen’s farm” on Lucasarts and torching the place, reminding me that nothing is forever and that everything beautiful in life eventually decays into a husk of its former glory before succumbing to an ignoble death.

Can’t we just have one thing that’s sacred in videogames? One thing that isn’t reimagined or replaced or ruined for the sake of a few easy bucks? I’m not saying Generation I Pokémon are some kind of untouchable ideal. They’re not. You guys made a transvestite in blackface that we all just kind of pretend never happened. And it’s not like updates on the original 151 can’t be done right. Electivire is pretty awesome, and Magmortar is a glorious realization of all the Pokémon I designed in 4th grade that had flaming cannons for hands.

But Mewtwo is different. Mewtwo is untouchable. Mewtwo represents everything I loved about Pokémon. The wonder I felt when I navigated Cerulean Cave’s labyrinthine passageways in search of the hulking genetic experiment lurking miles beneath Kanto. The triumph of capturing the telekinetic behemoth without chumping out and using a Master Ball. The escapist power trip of leveling that attempt-at-playing-God-gone-awry all the way to 100 and repeatedly tearing through the Elite Four to watch Professor Oak disown his grandson and crown me Champion in a delicious Schadenfreude loop.




Sure, maybe this Newtwo nonsense will provide a generation of kids all the same thrills I experienced. And sure, maybe this is all just the insane ramblings of someone who is ascribing too much meaning to a fictional children’s monster as the encroaching tide of adulthood threatens to sweep over them completely. But screw it. Let me have this, Game Freak. Mewtwo was a legendary back when that word still meant something. This abomination is only a reminder that the symbols of our youth – these silly totems that once held such significance – can be manipulated for a cheap nostalgic kick that keeps us chasing a feeling that we can never get back.

Seriously, seventeen years of fire/water/grass starters and this is what you jerks decide to change? I think it’s time you reevaluate your priorities Game Freak, and this is coming from a grown man who just took to the Internet to write a near 1,000 word rant about a new Pokémon.   read





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