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Love/Hate: How Lospass Island rekindled my schoolgirl crush on Suda 51

3:00 PM on 12.26.2009 // Discarded Couch Sandwich

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Something about me as a gamer: I didn’t like Psychonauts. There, I said it. Go ahead and scold me if you must, I can take it. To me it’s just a simple game that contains a lot of horrid, fun-hindering flaws. Sure, it had spades of charm and character, which I understood, but the actual adventurey bit wrapped around its world was not something I would consider pleasurable. Crashes were an overlooking liability I always had to live in fear of and a certain boss fight glitched so my only visual aid was a clear blue sky. On another, similar hand, being stuck for hours because I’d missed an item wasn’t much fun, and I personally found the humour so lauded would constantly flux from nod-head-and-smirk-slightly to dry-as-a-week-old-turkey-sandwich. A barrage of sound glitches, whilst delivering what I’d imagine to be punchlines didn’t assist this. I would describe my experience with Psychonauts as a twelve-hour affair with the shell of what a good game should look like. Indeed I can appreciate its lovely gooey insides for what they are -- lovely -- but unfortunately my eyes are keener drawn to the oozing layers of unpolished poop that envelop it, thus damaging my overall enjoyment of the finished product.

Now I’m completely sure that the people attempting to take out my windows as we speak are not those kids from down the street this time but Tim Schafer’s personal fan club (read: lynch mob) out to get me, whose collective clairvoyancy enables them to -- within a reasonable five kilometre radius -- appear at the front door of anyone who so much as whispers distaste for their noble master’s wisdom and give them a right good telling to, before choking them to death on a floppy disc copy of The Secret of Monkey Island. Sure this prospect may seem like a ridiculous farce, but such are the minds of some people on this thoroughly diverse planet. Loyalty to a brand, a name, or a lineage can easily influence a person’s perception of a physical object, in some cases transforming broken down rubble into a vintage works of art. Or a guff videogame platformer into a top-fifty-of-the-decade masterpiece.

So does this make us mindless sheep, made to be slaves to “the man” throughout our short lifespan? No, of course not, it makes us passionate human beings. It’s a latent feeling that is equal parts illogical, unpredictable, and to many, myself included, completely understandable. It is the reason why I will undoubtedly enjoy any movie starring Nicolas Cage even if it completely sucks. It’s also cause as to why the sh*t that Suda 51 throws my way will be lapped up, over-analysed, and enjoyed to levels of head exploding fantasy before the frothing over his next mind bending excrement begins. Yes, I will be talking about the peculiar work that was Flower, Sun and Rain for Nintendo DS. 

Possibly the greatest movie ever made. I could seriously sit and watch it forever because its just that good. In a bad way!

Love is blind: a simple three-words of cliché that many of us have come to hold true. It holds truth to myself as it summarizes exactly why I thoroughly enjoyed my unnecessarily long time on Lospass Island. I’m in love with Goichi Suda. In my mind he’s the kind of guy who could get away with anything, game-wise, and I’m going to follow him regardless. He asks me to walk for seven straight minutes to fetch him something; I ask which direction and how fast should I go. He promises to fill that gaping hole where my heart used to reside if I answer one of his stupidly obscure logic puzzles; well sure, I’ll be right on that for the better part of an evening before hopping on the internet to find the solution, thus making me feel like a fool and crushing any hopes of becoming my own person again. I’m his eternal bitch, but I can’t help but feel that the man has earned that position over me.

Why do I love the man? It makes me so confused!

As far as games go, Flower, Sun and Rain is a tremendously crap achievement from a design perspective. We have two styles of gaming to be found in this tiny cartridge: walking, and looking inside a detailed handbook for puzzle clues. The top screen conforms to its usual duties as a hero-cam, introducing the player to Sumio Mondo in all his angular glory, and the possibly-cel-shaded-but-I’m-not-sure world in which he resides. The bottom screen however is designed for much more nefarious play, displaying a constant overlooking digital image of Suda 51’s face that will either laugh or spout insults on every frequent occasion you manage to steer your poor character into a wall. “Why the hell are you still here,” jokes an unapologetic Japanese games designer as Mr Mondo manages to circle the hotel lobby for the third time in a row. Tears are shed, names are called, and yet I still battle on with the viewpoint to reach the front door so I can continue my useless pursuit of a quest.

Excusing the hyperbole, things may as well be the way I’ve just described. Throughout the ten plus hours it must have taken me to complete, the majority of my time was made up of menial handiwork. Case 1: there is a heck of a lot of running back and forth in this game. In fact, the game actually rubs it in your face at various points, whether it’s a throwaway piece of dialogue explaining the long hike that’s to come, or the appearance of a bike during the closing chapters that you can approximately once before it vanishes for good. One stretch of road will literally take up to ten minutes to traverse, and that’s not including the likelihood of going back. And the worst part? Thanks to the magic of Sumio’s shonky camera, it’s not even possible to tape down the directional button and pay attention to something else, say, the rain dripping down a window frame, as the viewing angle will often change without warning and cause you to either run steadfast into a wall for a while or double back on yourself. CGI Suda face notices you trying to sneak a glimpse of the television behind the screen, and punishes you accordingly for not paying enough attention to him. For a long time you’ll be expected to jump through fiery hoops for no reason other than the sadistic developer wants you to. Why on earth would I want to go through this?

How to solve a logic puzzle in
Flower, Sun and Rain on DSi. 1. Stare at puzzle for thirty minutes. 2. Give up, save game, hit power button and boot up internet browser. 3. Type in search bar “flower, sun and rain faq’s.” 4. Search for solution and reboot game, managing to progress further and die a little inside.

If I were to make a second case, it would be that the actual “game” parts of Flower, Sun and Rain are entirely optional, and the only reason to seek them out is to fulfil the accomplishment of something half challenging during this trawl. Even then, the three puzzles you can pass per chapter are all number based assignments that are solved by looking through the pages of your lengthy, conveniently given guidebook at the beginning of the game. Flick to the right subject, do a bit of basic math, and the answer will be staring right in your face. You’ll occasionally also be thrown away from the basic formula and be given a more difficult task, which is refreshing for about five seconds before you realize you’ll have to participate in a battle of what I’ve dubbed “stupid logic:” the kind whose solution would make even Professor Layton scream away in terror. Pens, paper, (the three measly stylus pages you’re given to scribble on aren’t enough) rulers, and about twice the memory capacity of the average human being will be necessary to solve some of the more deluded schemes presented, of course with the reward being an immense satisfaction when (if) completed without assistance. (1) As the game goes however, they are optional, and you may have given up before then.

But here is what is surprising: you can analyse every crook and crevice of a game, a movie or even a piece of writing in a black and white manner, yet still not achieve an accurate picture of what it is you’re trying to describe. And that is where my love for this game comes in. Regardless of three paragraphs describing technical issues and a distinct lack of actual gameplay, Suda can certainly make his products interesting. Flower, Sun and Rain opens with a completely nonsensical-yet-arousing full motion video that doesn’t seem to have any bearing on actual plot or themes, even after completion. When we finally reach playable territory, we’re greeted by equally cryptic characters that manage to pique interest with interesting anecdotes on their strange lives. Take the playable Sumio Mondo for example; a bit of a twattish individual proclaiming to be a “searcher” hired by Lospass Island, carrying a briefcase named Catherine. Why Catherine, you ask? “Well who would you rather have as a partner, a Catherine or a Bob?” And right there you have one of he most quotable lines in videogames. (2) From simple dialogue, to an opening moment where Sumio “jacks in” to a mans eye, to the intriguing chapter closing plane crashes, Flower, Sun and Rain demands that you play it just a little bit more to find out the mysteries of the island. And you will wilfully accept.

You can accuse the man of cutting corners on every project he’s worked on, but can’t help but love him for it. Let us return to the criticisms of Killer 7 for its lack of freedom, or the ironic use of empty space in No More Heroes. Another worthy contender to the pot would be to claim that the music lifted from this very game – entirely based on classical tracks – was used because it is easy to license. To which I would reply, “but it was awesome, you silly fool.” Just like running about with the A button was, or mowing down palm trees in the Schpeltiger. The tune you hear every morning upon Sumio getting out of bed (always fully clothed?) is Satie’s famous Gymnopédie 1, which is always a joy to wake up to and fits the melancholy setting perfectly. In fact, the musical interludes were one of my high points and have actually gotten me interested in seeking out more classical composers. I fear that soon the mind I currently inhabit will be turned to mush, replaced with a snobbish wine-and-cheeser who looks down on you kids and your popular choons these days and knows the name of anyone who has ever so much as touched as piano. Because Suda.

Pictured: What I look like while playing Flower, Sun and Rain

Its strange, illogical, senseless, that I have absolutely zero idea what on earth happened in Suda 51’s previous Gamecube title, yet still regard it as one of the greatest storylines that has ever unfolded in front of my glazed-over eyes. What madness is this? Most notably, the “oh my god it was him all along” twist ending in Flower that actually had me rushing off to my computer to find out who exactly “him” was, didn’t negate my enjoyment of this title. Then when I discovered that “him” wasn’t even in the game I’d just played, but a character crossed over from Suda’s The Silver Case – currently gone unreleased in the west – my personal stance still remained strong: rather I was curious about what this other title would be like. The question plaguing my mind at this point is: if I don’t get it, why the heck should I like it?

Okay, so upon finding out that the DS release of The Silver Case has allegedly been completed since 2007 and stayed in gaming limbo because the man wants it to, I was slightly irked. But that just goes to show how fond I am of this game.

Does Killer 7 have one of the best narratives in gaming to date? The answer is yes. Can you tell me anything that actually happened in Killer 7? Uh, I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Recently I have been taught that when judging a piece of writing, it is necessary to look at it in a critical sense alongside your initial emotional response. Upon applying that reasoning to any of Suda’s works, I’m torn. There are so many layers to be deciphered, in gameplay, narrative (3), and pure stupid, that I wouldn’t know where to begin. Still, there a few loosely connected lessons that can be taken away from my experience with this dirty, hateful secret lover I’ve shared. Firstly, that people are wonderful beings, with wonderful opinions and emotions that differ from each to another. Sure they may occasionally make little sense to us, but that’s the point of being individuals, right? Second: your garbage is my treasure. I don’t like Tim Schafer’s work, but I love this. For some reason. Maybe your feelings are the opposite, or quite possibly you’re some kind of mythical creature that enjoys them both. I don’t know, I’ve never met one but I’m sure they exist. Third: its not what is on the outside that counts, but what is on the inside (we’re getting into really deep territory now). The inside of Flower, Sun and Rain is, well, a bit rubbish, but there definitely is something to enjoy down there. Somewhere. And finally of course, giving an inanimate object a pretty name is like, y’know, the best thing ever.

You can bash his games, you can bash the man himself, but you can still quite possibly be entertained his output more than anything else you come into contact with. He is simply a master of creating unbalanced and confusing emotions. And I want to have his babies.

(1) Probably my favourite puzzle in Phantom Hourglass was about half way through on a ghost ship (I think), where you had to light the torches in order (maybe, my memory is a little hazy) using a number puzzle, but the straightforward answer wasn’t the right one and maths was needed. Anyone know which one I’m talking about? Am I just talking a load of rubbish right now? Well, it happened and when I solved it I felt like the smartest person in the world, and that’s the level of satisfaction we’re talking about in Flower, Sun and Rain. Just wanted to put that out there!

(2) Given that you can provide some context to use it in. You should maybe buy a new bag or something, then try to force an exchange such as this: “Hey man, nice bag, when did you get it?” “Oh this old thing, this is my partner, her names’ Bethany!” You’ll instantly become roughly 12.5% cooler than you were before.

(3) Anyone who has attempted to read up on Killer 7 (a requirement if you want to comprehend it in the slightest) has come across that article. You know the one: its on gamefaq’s and goes on for hundreds of pages about symbolism, politics, and the apparent three Harman Smith’s. An interesting skim-through.

Discarded Couch Sandwich,
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