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You're just a normal private dick, smoking a cig in your office, when suddenly the cops appear and knock down your door. You've never commited a crime in your life, you think. Why are they after me? Armed with only a mysterious briefcase and your wits, you start running. Eventually, a woman in a bowler hat is roped in to this, and at first it seems like they're working together, but it turns out to be ambigious. And there's also a Bond-villain-like man with a mustache after you both...
That's only the surface of the iOS/Android game Framed, an interactive comic/puzzle/stealth game that notably recieved recognition from Hideo Fuckin' Kojima as his Game of the Year. It's very easy to see why, since the game is probably one of the most clever puzzle games in recent memory, telling a complete noir tale where you have to direct the course of the story so the two protagonists make it to the end.
Platforms: iOS, Android
If you haven't played it yet, the gameplay of Framed is deceptively simple. You have to move panels of a comic around so the protagonist makes it to the end of the page without being caught by guards, falling off a building, or otherwise getting stuck. For the most part, you'll be planning your next move by changing the order of panels and letting the story play out. Like any good puzzle game, more ideas are added as you go, such as pinned panels which can only be tilted, and moments where you have to reuse panels to get to the end. This makes it uniquely engrossing, plotting out scenes like a Hollywood director and making sure that the scenes go without a hitch, and while many of the pages are deviously designed, there's no penalty to trial and error. It's basically a given that you'll watch your characters fail quite a bit on your first go through.
The story is presented with no dialogue, letting the wonderful presentation do most of the talking. Every character is a rotoscoped sillouette performed by live actors, with little touches of color, contrasting with the more colorful city. The whole thing is a throwback to the heyday of noir, with a jazzy soundtrack and familiar archetypes populating the scenes, while the "man on the run" concept is fairly evocative of films such as North By Northwest. More importantly, the composition, staging and execution of each page is quite good, which raises the comic motif from a mere gimmick to integral to enjoying the whole thing.
Framed provides an excellent way of playing a narrative game. Though the story isn't multi-pronged, it's enjoyable to watch each scene play out like it should after much deliberation and trial and error, and successfully tells a stylish noir tale through a unique format. It's 5 dollars on the App Store and can be finished in an afternoon, but I think these guys are on to something about the future of narrative games.
You begin this demo standing atop of a jet fighter. And not just any jet fighter, but a jet fighter careening through a city desperately trying to stay in flight while you are reducing monstrous angels to clouds of feathers and viscera. But who cares about that poor pilot when you're coming to grips with the game's smooth-as-butter controls and gameplay mechanics? Eventually, as the jet is reduced to scrap by some angel-dragon-serpant thingy, you find yourself fighting a bigger, much stronger angel on top of a train, dodging his attacks with impeccable precision and revealing his disgusting collection of eyes. THAT angel becomes dinner for one of your demons from the previous game, but what's this? The demon, appropriately named Gommorah, sends the soul of your partner, Jeanne, into the depths of hell, and breaks free of your hairy bonds! Time to fight your former ally and get revenge(ance)! Is he the final boss, you ask. He seems quite difficult and massive, and acts like some cross between Godzilla and King Kong, so why is he the first boss?
Well, that's only the prologue, my friend.
GAME: Bayonetta 2
Release Date: October 24th, 2014
Ah, yes, this is a Platinum game. Though they are critical darlings and have a dedicated fanbase, they have rarely recieved the popular recognition that they deserve, and it's not really difficult to notice why. Their games are usually full of mechanical complexity, the kind rarely seen outside the realm of fighting games. They ask a whole lot out of the player from the very beginning, encouraging multiple playthroughs in the process. And for the most part, their games are, in a word, sort of crazy. To give you an idea, their most sedate game to date is Metal Gear Rising. Think about that. Their games rarely let up on that part either, so what should be the final boss in every other game becomes the boss of the first level.
So, even from my limited experience from Metal Gear Rising and The Wonderful 101(two games that I highly, highly reccomend), the gameplay is instantly familiar. You have two buttons here, for punches and kicks respectively, and for people who have played The Wonderful 101, the buttons are now mapped to the X and A buttons, presumably for their proximity to the right analog stick. successfully completing a combo, for example, unleashes a devastating Wicked Weave. Using Love is Blue(your new guns), for example, summons the hands and legs of Madama Butterfly for a strong punch or kick, while having the Rakshasa swords and Alruna whips equiped summons larger blades and whips. Attacking builds up a magic meter, which can be unleashed(*snicker*) in two equally satisfying ways. Torture Attacks brutalizes a single enemy in exchange for their weapons(in the full game), while Umbran Climax turns every blow into a Wicked Weave and ending combos in summoning entire demons("Infernal Weaves," if you will). Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but most of the time I just used Umbran Climax for the purposes of crowd control. The Y button also has the purpose of continuous shooting, which is useful for continuing combos even if there are few enemies near you.
With these two weapon sets(which can be switched without delay), you can set up countless combos quite easily. Aiding you is the tried-and-true Witch Time mechanic, which after a successful dodge slows down time for you and leaves foes vulnerable. Your combo score is temperarily increased while in Witch Time, which makes it a classically helpful and satisfying mechanic. Also back is Dodge Offset, which by holding the button you were attacking with while dodging at the same time negates the effect. It takes a moment to get used to, but it's also really helpful once it's learned.
The audiovisual aspect is also really impressive. For a game that runs on weaker hardware, Platinum makes full use of the system's capabilities, having the game run undeniably smoothly with eye-popping colors and detailed characters. The weird yellow filter and real-is-brown inclinations of the first Bayonetta and MGR, respectively, are entirely removed, which allows the game's flamboyant art direction shine even brighter. The performance is, more importantly, a massive step-up from their last Wii U game, The Wonderful 101, shining where that game struggled to keep up. There are occasionally noticable drops, but they rarely get in the way of gameplay. The music, too, is classic stuff, like all the electric sugar that you can take.
The demo comes out fifteen days before the release of the full game, and the full game will inevitably be a much bigger game than the demo, which consists of just a few portions of the prologue. Still, it's an exciting vertical cut of gameplay, and you'll probably use up all 15 plays before the actual game is here.
Video game music doesn't really get the complete recognition it deserves. Around here it does, but in other circles it's not exactly seen as respectable. It may just be because it's seemingly secondary to every other aspect of a game, or that it's supposed to loop around it, which somehow makes it not a song(?). But forget about that. This is a blog for music that developers lovingly inflict upon our eardrums and provide whatever appropriate reaction there is to what's happening.
Name: The Wonderful 101 Official Soundtrack, Vol 1. and Vol. 2
Label: Sumthing Else/Polaris Tone
Composer(s): Hiroshi Yamaguchi, Rei Kondoh, Akira Takazawa, Norihiko Hibino, Masato Kouda, Hitomi Kurokawa, feat. FORESTA, Jimmy Wilcox, Rob McElroy, and Bruce Blanchard
To start this off we have The Wonderful 101, whose soundtrack you can get digitally right now in two $10 volumes. If you're familiar with the developer, they've been quite the character when it comes to crafting a great score. From the electro-jazz of Bayonetta, the underground hip-hip that characterized MadWorld/Anarchy Reigns to the comical nu-metal guilty pleasure that is the Metal Gear Rising soundtrack, their soundtrack catalog is pretty eclectic for a developer whose game count only made it to ten recently. And before all of that, Okami was one of my favorite soundtracks ever. But what about this?
Well, The Wonderful 101 is a rather evocative soundtrack. It all at once evokes the Sci-fi Supermarionation shows of Gerry Anderson, the cheesier Tokusatsu shows of the 60s and 70s, and the tunes that mainly dominated anime back the days of creator Hideki Kamiya's childhood. It's appropriately bombastic, emotional and sometimes hilariously over-the-top. Considering how the game constantly yet lovingly lampoons these genres, it's appropriate that the soundtrack would be a total pastiche of it.
This of course wouldn't be possible without some really talented composers. The most famous of these composers is one Norihiko Hibino, of Metal Gear Solid and Bayonetta fame, but nearly everyone involved does a fantastic job of creating some fist-pumping orchestral anthems. Most of these people have been in games that you've seen before (Okami, Fire Emblem Awakening), so some of it may feel familiar. Since the soundtrack consists of 127 tracks, I really can't go through them all without making this blog prohibitively long in the tooth, so I'll just list some of my favorites.
The Won-Stoppable Wonderful 100
Composer: Hiroshi Yamaguchi
Singers: FORESTA(Japanese); Jimmy Wilcox, Rob McElroy and Bruce Blanchard(English)
Just to let you all know, the soundtrack version of this is slightly different. It has an outro for starters, but also sounds cleaner. But I'm too lazy to learn Sony Vegas, so here's the game version, with lyrics!
Anyhow, considering what I compared the game to, it needs a little theme tune to go along with it. Thankfully, Kamiya and friends knew better and gave us a very appropriate theme song. The composition is purposefully bombastic, similar to Barry Gray's theme for Thunderbirds, and the utterly ridiculous lyrics("Go, go, team!/Demolish those fiends!/Toss them in the garbage can!/Wipe the floor/with aliens galore/'Til the world is spic 'n' span!" is one lyrical highlight) set the tone perfectly. It always shows up when you defeat a boss, which makes fighting the various alien beasties that you come across in your travels even more satisfying.
Composer: Hiroshi Yamaguchi
Speaking of bosses, this game has plenty of them. Spread out across the game's 27 levels are boss missions that put you at odds with some of the ugliest mofos that GEATHJERK has to offer. I really don't want to spoil it all, but they could routinely be good final bosses if this were any other game, let's say that. After a long and harsh battle, the odds are now in your favor, with this to go along with it. The marching percussion, determined horns and roaring tempo accurately create the undeniable feeling that yes, you will win, no matter how hard it gets.
Composer: Hitomi Kurokawa
Prince Vorkken isn't really a run-of-the-mill evil counterpart. Well, he's got the same powers, but he's a rather refined, if all-around immoral, man of wealth and taste to boot, which this bit of music accurately communicates to the listener. It's appropriately regal and whimsical, with prominent strings, and feels like a Danny Elfman piece. Will you not fight against this fella for the fate of Dearth? Also, I forgot to mention that his English voice actor played Raiden in Metal Gear Rising.
Composer: Rei Kondoh
Heroic. Tension-filled. Dramatique! This wouldn't feel out of place with the same composer's work in Fire Emblem Awakening, feeling like a good battle theme for Chrom and friends, but even without that in mind, this is the perfect tune for a pivotal battle. Its first appearance is pretty spoiler-y, so I won't make it the point of this description.
It's frankly a crime that this game was so overlooked over a year back, and people still like to overlook it in favor of its gorier, easier and still Wii U exclusive bigger sister Bayonetta 2. And while Bayonetta is undeniably more intuitive, people missed out on a true original, a bold reinvention of the beat-em-up genre that was also a nostalgic tribute to the superhero genre. The music, too, is quite honestly one of my favorite Nintendo soundtracks, on par with Mario Galaxy at least. It's heroic, it's routinely preposterous and bombastic, and hugely exciting. I'd prefer it if you got both the game and the soundtrack, but you can just get the soundtrack by itself and have yourself both a massive deal(keep in mind that it would normally take up 5 CDs and it would probably be more expensive) and a beautiful soundtrack. Unite Up, Dtoid!