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 Jim, The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 threeofthem. 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.
I can’t be the only one who feels a twinge of guilt every time they open Steam. Playing a game on my laptop means having to search through a sea of grey for a handful of bright spots. I realize that’s true of a lot of things in life, but I don’t need to be reminded of the banality of my existence whenever I want to sink a few hours into Binding of Isaac.
I feel a perpetual sense of buyer’s remorse, the equivalent of waking up the night after a drunken Amazon shopping binge and having to ask myself, “When the hell did I buy Lugaru HD?” Because after years of Steam Sales and Weekend Specials and Crazy Uncle Gabe’s Low, Low Prices, I have amassed a library of videogames that I will never, ever play.
Plenty has already been said about how Steam deviously encourages a compulsion to collect games, which results in a backlog that does nothing but gather dust in the nebulous ether of digital distribution. But while some people may look to their bloated library with pride, I can’t suppress that aforementioned guilt whenever I have to scroll past the likes of Company of Heroes, Dragon Age: Origins, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. People poured their blood and sweat into those games. Untold hours of entertainment lay within those games. I spent money on those games!
So to honor the titles I’ll never touch, I’ve decided to spotlight ten indefinitely uninstalled games in my Steam library. Perhaps in the hopes that acknowledging their existence will relieve me of their haunting presence, or that the infinitely knowledgeable Destructoid commentariat will tell me what I’m missing out on and convince me to give one of these suckers a whirl. Whatever the reason, here’s my therapeutic look at the top ten games in my Steam library that will never feel my sweet embrace.
10. Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3
Tim Curry and tactically deployed armored bears are the peanut butter and chocolate of my fantasies. Combine that with fond memories of my basement-dwelling childhood spent devising military masterstrokes in the original Command and Conquer – I attacked bases from two sides! – and the third Red Alert entry in the classically campy RTS series becomes an irresistible siren song.
But I forgot one crucial fact: I am a Bay of Pigs disaster when it comes to real time strategy games. My chief plan of attack consists of spending hours churning out the equivalent of Russia’s populace in ground units and then sending my forces to overwhelm the opposition by dying meaningless deaths. As a result, countless ore mines go undepleted and I have to sate my Tim Curry lust with YouTube clips of Clue.
The dark period of videogame history during which studios tried to turn first person parkour into a legitimate mechanic will be regarded with the same bemused scorn currently reserved for the NHL’s glowing puck and Hollywood’s miserable attempt to turn Colin Farrell into an action star. Misguided street acrobat gimmicks aside, Brink is at least buoyed by a lively junkyard metropolis and an absurd amount of customization for characters with 30-second life spans.
But all of that is moot, because after dropping a measly few bucks on Brink I discovered the game lacks controller support. “But FPS’s are meant to be played with a mouse and keyboard!” rises the indignant cry of the noble PC gamer. And yes, they probably are, but when you’ve spent your entire life nursing from the teat of console shooters, trying to switch control schemes is like trying to learn how to drive stick. Telepathically. In a car full of angry bees.
It’s just a shame that Rage had to be so late to the post-apocalyptic party. Releasing after Fallout 3 and Borderlands means I have very little space in my heart for any more arid ruins of civilization. And you’re telling me that the most innovative contribution to first-person shooters that the creators of the genre can muster is a godforsaken boomerang? When they give this generation its Mecha Hitler, we’ll see if I’m willing to play through the hundredth game that thinks the world ends not with a bang, but with dune buggies.
I have no idea what Rochard is. A puzzle platformer? A run and gun in the Metal Slug vein? A silent foreign film about an impoverished Italian winemaker who must struggle to overcome the loss of his hands? My impression of the game is based entirely on its mystifyingly elegant title and its promotional artwork, which I always think is for Dustforce because of the protagonist’s unmistakable custodian vibe.
Incidentally, Dustforce is the only reason I own Rochard, as the two were lumped together in the underwhelming Humble Indie Bundle 6. That’s the indie grab bag that gave my library such other never-installed classics as Vessel, Space Pirates and Zombies, and Shatter. While those titles may one day engender enough interest for a playthrough, Rochard is the unquestionable complimentary flavor injector of the group, a curiosity to be marveled over but immediately buried in a drawer and forgotten about forever.
6. Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West
My interest in team-based shooters is one of pure vanity. “Look at those Halo and Call of Duty troglodytes with their kindergartener free-for-all antics,” I scoff over my cup of chamomile tea and dog-eared copy of Zarathustra. “Thanks, but I prefer a thinking man’s FPS.”
Except in practice, the very notion of being relied upon to do anything more than spastically spray bullets sends me into a crippling panic. Even if Lead and Gold appeals to my natural love of anything Western and features a class that deals heavily in bear traps, it isn’t enough to get me over the fear that I might have to interact with people in a capacity more cooperative than calling them a homophobic slur.
A 2D beat ‘em up with a Saturday-morning-cartoon-by-way-of-Robert-Rodriguez aesthetic is the kind of stylized reimagining of a classic genre that gets my indie-loving heart throbbing. Yet as happy as I’d be to play a game whose very name conjures the delightful image of a shiv being buried in the kidney of an unsuspecting snitch, I’m hesitant to give Shank a try.
Brawlers have a reputation for getting boring after you’ve taken a lead pipe to the head of your 50th generic baddie, which usually happens around the fifteen-minute mark. As awesome as choking an oversized butcher with his own meat hook sounds, I fear Shank may match a masterpiece like Castle Crashers in terms of sheer personality, but not in depth. I’d rather not deal with all that blood-spattered disappointment.
4. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. gets a pass from my Armageddon exhaustion because it released right before the recent deluge of end-of-the-world games. It also gets points for going with a The Road-style collapse of humanity, which I’ve always found much more believable than any kind of Mad Max badlands imitation. Piece of advice: if you’re bracing for doomsday invest in windbreakers, not dog skull codpieces.
What I’m less eager about is the equally realistic approach to gameplay. Guns that jam, a hunger system, the inability to withstand more than a few bullets? Hey, I get it. Being shot would be a total bummer. I don’t need a videogame that pits players against whatever the hell this meaty ray of sunshine is to try and teach me real world lessons. I’m all up for a challenge, but the reason we don’t have to constantly feed the characters we play is the same reason they never show people going to the bathroom in movies.
Amnesia showed major developers that they had learned all the wrong lessons from Resident Evil 4. The plucky Lovecraftian indie reminded us all that survivor horror games aren't about jump scares or quick time events, but rather the unshakable dread that a creature of unfathomable terror is always seconds away from wearing your skin as a lovely Sunday.
Though while I’ll admit that all those reaction videos of people emotionally breaking down more than I did at the end of Silver Linings Playbook sell me on Amnesia’s horror chops, I’ve always thought the game looked like a glorified simulator of that scene in every slasher flick where our teenage hero believes they’ll escape harm by knocking a bunch of furniture over in the path of 200 lbs of lumbering chainsaw-wielding hillbilly cannibal. That, and I kind of spoiled myself by looking up a screenshot of the game’s chief monster. Things are a lot less scary when you realize you spend the entire time being stalked by Oogie Boogie.
2. Greed Corp
I wish I was the kind of person who could play Settlers of Catan without quitting halfway through having the rules explained to me. Unfortunately, any board game that doesn’t strictly adhere to dice-based tile movement or involve an overly complicated Rube Goldberg contraption designed to catch mice is out of my league. Greed Corp may have caught my interest by offering a challenging strategy game doubling as a critique on unchecked capitalism, but I’ll never make it past the game’s tutorial.
Besides, I’ve always found something depressing about playing titles specifically designed for multiplayer by myself. And when the alternative is actually being friends with the kind of person who knows how to play Greed Corp, I’m not sure I want that either.
1. Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
There was a very dark period of my life where I played Lemonade Tycoon every day for two weeks straight. I once stayed up until 5AM during a marathon session of Game Dev Story. Do you remember RollerCoaster Tycoon? Because I remember. I remember watching loan collectors circle like buzzards as I tried to keep Dr. Moosington’s Funporium Park afloat by courting the fickle needs of a never-ending parade of greedy little monsters.
The business simulator is my heroin, a genre that preys upon my self-destructive compulsion toward turning arbitrary numbers into better numbers. For this reason, a discounted Recettear was at once impossible to pass up and impossible to play. Cutesy item shop economics and a heaping helping of RPG elements are the ingredients for a sim speedball, and the moment I start this game is the moment I disappear down the rabbit hole forever.
Okay you beautiful, opinionated angels: tell me which of the games currently languishing in Steam purgatory deserves a better shake. Or perhaps you have your own shameful list of uninstalled titles you’ll never play? Share ‘em in the comments, and let’s all try to calculate how much money could have been better spent on charity.
Being a Nintendo fan is a unique brand of insanity. As an owner of a Nintendo system through every generation of consoles, I’m someone who has been playing the same video games over and over again for the last 24 years. I've essentially been buying updated versions of Pokémon Red ever since I was 10, and I don’t know if it’s just some form of arrested development that makes me believe they’ve changed the Legend of Zelda formula in a meaningful enough way to justify shelling out money for Skyward Sword. But there’s no denying there’s some sort of mental deficiency at play whenever I’m excited to see they’ve given Mario a new flying rodent costume.
Though I don’t think anything exemplifies my issues as a Nintendo fan quite like my anticipation for the upcoming Wii U. As a (debatably) fully functioning adult with a (relatively) sound, rational mind, I should be regarding Nintendo’s new console about as seriously as people regard Carly Rae Jepsen as a musician. I mean, you all saw the same E3 I did, right? A useless touch screen add on that makes the Kinect look like the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey? The only noteworthy launch title an overdue sequel to an eight-year-old game about micromanaging sentient plants? A social media system that is some combination of Twitter and the scrawled penises and racial epithets usually found in bathroom stalls? The Wii U isn’t a next-gen console, it’s Nintendo recreating the money burning scene from The Dark Knight.
And yet, despite everything indicating a colossal waste of a future paycheck, I know beyond a doubt I’ll have one sitting in my apartment one day.
I may not be elbowing the throat of some spoiled kid’s grandma to nab a box on release day, but I know somewhere down the line it’ll be sitting there in a Gamestop window, refurbished and significantly slashed in price. And like an alcoholic returning to his sweet boozey mistress, I won’t be able to help myself. I will buy a Wii U, its corresponding iteration of Smash Bros., and whatever steering wheel and inevitable Touch Screen Plus peripherals are needed to make the console semi-functional. Because if there’s one thing every Nintendo system since the Gamecube has taught me, it’s that I will happily fork over cash to wade through the company’s endlessly yawning shit swamp in search of the few gems they produce.
Take the DS, for instance. Touch screens have now become the norm in handheld gaming, but at the time Nintendo was introducing the usurper to the Gameboy line it seemed like they were touting technology that had been used by ATMs for years as revolutionary.The use of dual screens and touch controls really only appealed to Shigeru Miyamoto’s whimsical sense of childlike wonder, while everybody else just wanted games that didn’t try to awkwardly shoehorn them in. And confidence wasn’t exactly instilled by the DS’s starting lineup, which boasted repurposed Nintendo 64 games and a dog simulator that proved a hypo-allergenic alternative for people who could never know the love of a real pet.
Fortunately, as the DS winds its eight-year life to a close, we can now say with certainty that Nintendo’s grand experiment... wasn’t a totally unmitigated crash-and-burn failure? Look, the DS may very well go down as the last great handheld system, but a near decade later and poorly implemented touch controls are still screwing up the likes of Kid Icarus. And out of its bottomless wealth of cheap movie tie-ins and Bratz dress-up games, you’d be hard pressed to find a top 25 of titles that used the DS’s features to their full potential. Only a handful managed to take advantage of the touch screen to create something uniquely satisfying, while the vast majority used it for seemingly no other reason than to serve as evidence in a future class action lawsuit for inducing early onset arthritis. I look forward to my day in court, Geometry Wars: Galaxies.
Those titles that did figure out how to build a game around the DS, however, are unquestionable classics. See, it’s not entirely a sense of self-loathing and resignation that always brings me back to Nintendo. For all they’ve gotten wrong these past few years, the things they get right are the sort of brilliant games that bring you back to the days you spent inseparable from the end of an NES controller. When you weren’t such a jaded, cynical twentysomething, and you didn’t write angry blog posts about how the Zapper was an overblown and ultimately useless piece of hardware.
I’m talking about The World Ends With You, one of the few modern day JRPGs I managed to beat, because the fast paced swipe-and-tap battle system kept me from quitting out of sheer boredom. Elite Beat Agents and its Japense precursor Ouendan, which are still my all time favorite rhythm games and managed to save me a bundle on fake plastic instruments. And, of course, Kirby Canvas Curse, with which I spent more time playing with rainbows than an adult heterosexual male probably should.
And then there were those games that, while mostly shunting the touch controls off to the side, proved Nintendo’s other great strength. That is, as I said, convincing people to buy the same games they’ve played hundreds of times. I honestly can’t tell you what New Super Mario Bros. does differently than Super Mario Bros. 3 did in 1988, but that almost isn’t even the point. Nintendo has distilled the most standard genres – platforming, adventure, roleplaying – into their purest forms. Playing Spirit Tracks or Phantom Hourglass isn’t so much about experiencing something new as it is about getting a fix. The tried and true formula of dungeon crawling, light puzzle solving, and bosses with giant glowing weak points prone to boomerang shots are scientifically proven to hit all the right pleasure sensors. All the developers have to do is slap on a fresh layer of paint and they’ve got a best seller on their hands.
The Wii is an even greater example of this “diamond in the rough” phenomenon because motion control technology is gaming’s greatest monster. In fact, the entire console is an amalgam of short comings and inadequacies, and while I relate to that on a deeply personal level, it does not make for an enjoyable home entertainment system.
While Sony and Microsoft were busying exploring ways to deepen players’ online experiences, Nintendo clung to it archaic Friend Code system that was like the alt newsgroups of online multiplayer. Its library was a veritable breeding ground for low-res cash ins of more popular games that replaced everything fun with segments where you got to realistically turn a doorknob. And Reggie Fils-Aime should publicly shamed for any part he played in convincing the industry that the future of video games resided in virtual bowling.
The Wii’s legacy will forever be that of the puppy every family was excited to get for Christmas, only to be dropped back on to the steps of the SPCA two weeks later when they grew bored of it.
But its gimmicky trappings didn’t stop the system from releasing some seriously essential games. Waggle controls may never have transcended in quite the same way that the DS’s touch screen did, but the Mario Galaxy games are still the closest 3D platforming has come to perfection. Niche titles like Little King’s Story and Zack & Wiki provided the kind of cutesy all-ages fun that’s become rare now that developers are chasing graphic engines that most realistically render Lara Croft getting impaled on a rusty pipe. Donkey Kong Country Returns and Punch-Out!! were nostalgia-soaked security blankets.
And, again, it was Kirby that really figured the system out. Epic Yarn provided one of the rare motion controlled games that didn’t make players want to rend their Wiimote asunder. Why the pink blob has become the company’s chief innovator is beyond me, but it probably has something to do with having no established formula from which the slightest deviation would send fan boys into a frothy rage.
But none of that matters. There will be a Legend of Zelda game for this system, and I am going to buy it. There will be a Smash Bros. game, and I will buy that. I don’t know what they have in store for Kirby, but it’s going to be revelatory. And I’ve already got my heart dead set on whatever insanity is going on in Project P-100.
So why am I excited for the Wii U? Shut the hell up, that’s why.
It’s Father’s Day today, which means it’s time to give the paternal figure in your life a call, send him a card, or patch over years of festering resentment for failing to live up to his expectations with a gift card to Lowes. To help celebrate the most important men in our lives, I thought I’d take a look at a few video games that are just as much about making your father proud as they are about saving the world.
Sure, this is essentially the same list that has been compiled by video game websites around Father's Day for years, but did those other lists include Norman from Pokemon Emerald? Probably not, so put off talking to your dad for a few more minutes and enjoy!
Bioshock – Andrew Ryan/Frank Fontaine
Father to: Jack
Fathers/Sleeper Assassin Relationship: Like an art deco My Two Dads, Bioshock’s silent protagonist is torn between two terrible fathers at war with one another. There’s his biological pop Andrew Ryan who, while entitling him to the keys to a pretty swanky collapsing utopia, murdered Jack’s exotic dancer mom in cold blood. Then there’s criminal mastermind Frank Fontaine, who bought Jack as an embryo from said exotic dancer, but only to raise him as an artificially-aged killer trained to obey an innocuously polite trigger phrase.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad?Disappointed Dads. While Andrew Ryan is able to use his illegitimate son to get brained by a golf club on his own terms – and even manages to impart some fatherly advice on his way out – no healthy parent-child relationship ends with a brainwashed assassination. Nor does it end with a consciously planned one, as Jack also puts down an ADAM-jacked Frank Fontaine in a Feat of Strength that would put even Frank Costanza to shame. But, hey, in a game that’s all about killing Big Daddies, what’s two more to the pile?
Fallout 3 – James
Father to: The Lone Wanderer
Father/Wasteland Messiah Relationship: Now who wouldn’t want Liam Neeson as their dad? In addition to being known to punch wolves in the face and foil Batman, the man once took down the entire Albanian mafia just to rescue his daughter from sex traffickers. James doesn’t initially appear to be a badass in the usual Neeson mold, ditching Vault 101 and his kid just to focus on a science project. But he eventually proves his chops when, in a typical display of Neeson heroics, he locks himself and the colonel of the totalitarian Enclave in a chamber of lethal radiation just to buy his child enough time to escape their clutches.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad? Either. Since Fallout 3 is all about moral choice, you can validate everything Daddy Neeson sacrificed by successfully activating the water purification system he was working on. Or you can be a huge jerk and use your father’s work to spread a genetically engineered virus and eradicate all life outside the Wasteland’s vaults. Granted, James dies before he can witness your decision, so any resulting guilt or approval is provided solely by the game’s poorly spliced together ending.
StarFox – James McCloud
Father to: Fox McCloud
Father/Fox Relationship: Despite putting as much effort into naming his kid as people put into naming their goldfish, the elder shades-sporting McCloud had a close relationship with his equally ace offspring. The Arwing pilot and founder of the Star Fox Team heavily influenced his son’s career path, and the two would have torn up the Lylat System like some kind of cosmic Sanford and Son if James hadn’t been tragically shot down by the nefarious monkey scientist Andross first.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad? Proud Papa. Though, either James influenced his son a little too much or the Cornerian Army is severely lacking in a half-decent grief counselor. Despite being killed before the events of the first Star Fox game, James has appeared throughout the series as a product of his son’s war-addled psyche. In Star Fox 64, Fox hallucinates his father leading the way out of Andross’s self-destructing base, and in Star Fox Command James shows up to help the team without anybody ever acknowledging that he’s there piloting a military-grade starfighter from beyond the grave. Fox constantly seeking encouragement from his dead dad would be worrisome, but this is a game where the primary antagonist is a giant sentient chimp face, so all bets are off.
Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald – Norman
Father to: Player’s character
Father/Trainer Relationship: In a series that’s notorious for absentee fathers, Norman is the rare exception... sort of. While he is the only dad of a Pokémon trainer we ever get to meet, his job as Petalburg City’s Normal-type Gym Leader means he’s away from home more often than not. So he’s as emotionally distant as any other father in the franchise, and as only the fifth Gym Leader the player faces, he’s kind of small potatoes to boot.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad?Proud Papa. Considering it took Pokémon fifteen years to address the ethicality of forcing animals to fight for our amusement, the game’s limited moral spectrum doesn’t allow Norman to be anything other than overbearingly supportive. But no dad is immune to the sting of getting beat by their kid for the first time, and I can’t imagine the number of late night beers in the garage it takes to get over the fact that your ten year old is better at your profession than you are. I’m just surprised Norman doesn’t threaten disownment if the player dares to use a Fighting-type Pokémon against him.
God of War – Zeus
Father to: Kratos
God/Son Relationship: You know how the story goes. Dad has son. Dad is too busy being Olympian god to raise son. Son is tricked into murdering his wife and child and starts down a long, winding path of vengeance that ends in him claiming the throne as an Olympian god just like his dad. And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon...
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad?Disappointed Dad. Zeus must have not been a fan of theater, because all he had to do was take a look at any Greek tragedy to know that trying to prevent a prophecy is usually the surefire way to fulfill that prophecy. Zeus kills Kratos to keep his son from offing him like he did his own dad, Cronos, but in doing so inadvertently ensures the complete destruction of Olympus and his own demise. Maybe if he hadn’t been too busy banging broads as a swan to notice the small nation’s worth of gods, titans, and mythical creatures his son had already slaughtered, he would have realized that killing Kratos would only make him angry. Remember to always take an interest in your children’s hobbies.
Mega Man series – Dr. Light
Father to: Mega Man
Scientist/Boy Robot Relationship: Dr. Light is like Geppetto, Dr. Frankenstein, and Santa Claus all rolled up into one. He initially created Mega Man to serve as his robot assistant in the year 20XX, when it apparently became socially acceptable to build servile automatons that look like eight-year-old boys. Dr. Light then used his mechanical “son” to combat his rival Dr. Wily’s evil robot army. Some may question the child-rearing abilities of a dad who sends their kid to single-handedly defeat a legion of homicidal machines, but when most people describe their children as “special,” they don’t usually mean he has a laser cannon for an arm.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad?Proud Papa. Dr. Light has plenty of reasons to be proud of his precious Blue Bomber, considering he’s been saving the world from total robot annihilation for the past 25 years. And it’s a good thing he has, because the only thing Mega Man has accomplished lately has been getting left out of Marvel vs Capcom 3 and having both his upcoming games cancelled. At least he still has an Archie comic to his name, otherwise Dr. Light might start offering all his equipment upgrades to Roll.
Final Fantasy X – Jecht
Father to: Tidus
Sin Monster/Imaginary Son Relationship: Ahh, Jecht. For a JRPG, there’s something so quintessentially American about Tidus’s washed-up drunk of a father. Like the middle-aged All American who never went pro, Jecht spends the days past his prime taking the frustration over his withered dreams out on his son. He (accurately) nicknames Tidus “crybaby,” and instills him with the kind of barely suppressed inferiority complex that results in a teenager getting his ears pierced and wearing denim overalls in public.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad?Disappointed Dad. Sure, there’s a last minute stab at resolution after Tidus and his friends defeat Jecht when he transforms into a Sin-infused demigod sporting an Axel Rose bandana, and the two do get to bond over their mutual nonexistence in the game’s closing cutscene. But I don’t think any of the latest studies suggest that years of emotional abuse and constant belittlement at the hands of an alcoholic father can be worked out with a single bro five. Plus, unless you’re one of those psychotic completionists who actually mastered the arcane rules of Blitzball, Tidus never did become a star player like his old man.
Katamari Damacy – King of All Cosmos
Father to: Prince of All Cosmos
King/Prince Relationship: The King of All Cosmos is that cool dad you were jealous of your friend having as a kid. You know, the one who let your friend stay up late watching blurry Cinemax movies and was lousy with keeping the liquor cabinet locked. But then your friend secretly hated him because he was actually a neglectful alcoholic, and your friend was always the one who had to put him under a cold show after he came home blackout drunk every night. Kind of like that, only as a tall as a planet and wearing a codpiece.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad?Neither. To be capable of disappointment or pride the King would first need to acknowledge his diminutively-sized son as anything more than a punching bag. Not that anyone can really blame him for ignoring his son, seeing as how the Prince is one of countless other equally goofy looking star children. But still, you’d think rolling up entire Japanese communities to repopulate the cosmos with stars would earn a slap on the back or a firm handshake or something. That the only way to get the Prince noticed is by making a katamari big enough to roll up the King is as fitting a metaphor for father/child relationships as you can get.