About three hours ago I sat down to write today's post, and decided I wanted to find some original art for it. I scoured the internet and wound up on Deviantart and now I've got like a half-gig of cool images on my hard drive, no post and a pair of eyes that are in imminent danger of forcing themselves shut.
Sorry 'bout that.
Here, enjoy three of the awesome pictures I found. This is Bruce Lee and The Bride.
One thing there's no shortage of on Deviantart is Alice: Madness Returns fanart. Here's one from an artist who draws almost nothing but Transformers and fantasy landscapes.
And here's an epic knucks from an artist who draws a lot of video game heroes with little drops of white yogurt on their manly exposed chests.
Not kidding. Look up doubleleaf.
Saturday, June 30, 2012
Friday, June 29, 2012
|I may be playing Spec Ops, but I'm still thinking about Lollipop.|
Today - a day which I, deliciously, I did not have to spend at the office - I went down to my local EB Games (GameStop in Canada).
"So Rob," I said, "I hear you're the guy I'd have to talk to about maybe getting that Lollipop Chainsaw scroll in the window."
It was about four or five feet tall, the upper third being a separate advertisement for Lego Batman 2. The thing was perforated with tiny holes to allow air to pass through, and was plastered with release dates and preorder information. Not a perfect artistic representation - but the best Lollipop Chainsaw poster I imagined I would find.
"You are in here a lot," he acknowledged.
"And I've been coming here a long time. Long enough that when folks told me Rob was the manager, I thought they were talking about the skinny dude with the beard."
"Rob Grey? God, he's been gone for like, five years."
"That's how long I've been coming here, yes."
"Well... I don't think I can give you the scroll, but I think we've got like a glossy in the back that she like, signed and everything."
So he brings it out. It's nice, heavy stock - the game's key art on a standard 8.5x11" page - obviously not signed by voice actress Tara Strong, but embellished with a little Valley girl sass from Juliet.
Rob and I chat about this and that - about Lollipop and Gravity Rush and Spec Ops, and when it was polite to excuse myself I walked over to Wal-Mart to purchase a cheap frame.
The key art at top is hardly my favorite bit of artwork the game's inspired - but it's official, so that makes it keepable. The above piece by the prolific and profoundly stylish Metal Hanzo sits comfortably in the top two, while semsi's Juliet with the beaming smile remains my favorite.
Between the two, they do a perfect job of capturing Juliet's possibly-split personality - semsei's piece highlights the girl's irrepressible positivity in contrast to her bloody work, while Metal Hanzo's is one of the few bits of LP art you'll find that acknowledges the psychological impact of the disturbingly gory violence she's subjected to, with the half-closed eye suggesting the girl's not entirely conscious of the horror of it all.
So I framed all three, and lined them up.
No, no, no - that wouldn't do. I didn't want three Lollipop Chainsaw pictures sitting together. So the key art holds a special place above a door frame, Metal Hanzo's rests as the newest addition in a horizontal line of similar pieces for Shadow of the Colossus, inFamous 2, Gravity Rush, Dead Space and Bayonetta/Okami, while semsi's sits just beneath Brawlin' Ladies, on the left of a wonderful Madness Returns piece, quite near where I do my writing.
It's gotten to the point where I've amassed quite a respectable collection of game art.
If it's not weird yet, it will be soon.
Last night, I finally played any other game in the world with the unsealing of Spec Ops: The Line. I'd long been intrigued with Spec Ops, due mainly to its haunting Bjork-toned first trailer and heartening reviews with the devs that likened the title to Heart of Darkness in video game form.
Then the demo happened.
I was not impressed with that demo. Perhaps in the same way I was not impressed with the demo for Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, the game did absolutely nothing for me without the context it narrative offers.
Now, I've put four hours into it, and when Kayla asked me what I thought of it today I discovered I was listing off a bunch of things I really liked about it. I'm going to hold off on discussing the narrative until its conclusion, but let me say this...
Did you play Red Dead Revolver?
No, that's not a typo. I'm not talking about Rockstar's last open-world opus, I'm talking about the little, not-quite-triple-A title from the waning years of the PS2.
Like Revolver in its time, Spec Ops: The Line is not exactly a master of technology. Like Revolver, its mechanics are comfortable and serviceable without being anything to really celebrate. Like Revolver, it makes huge strides to making up for its less-than-triple-A nature by way of effective world-building, art direction and color palettes that give everything a slightly gorgeous, slightly unreal, somehow very iconic sheen.
There is artistry, here. There's artistic merit.
At the same time, it is just another third-person shooter. This is an already-saturated genre, dominated by the sublime production values of Uncharted and the massive audience of Gears. If you plan to step up to that plate, you'd better bring the noise and the funk.
Elsewhere - general production values aside - it's merely acceptable. And it's a little strange that when I kill three enemies in quick succession, I find I'm disappointed to not get rewarded with a Sparkle Hunting kill. Beyond that - within the language of the third-person shooter, I find myself wishing I were playing Max Payne 3 - and speaking of Max, they finally released a patch for the PS3 version that fixes the bug on infinite bullet time!
Ooooh I wanna' try that...
Thursday, June 28, 2012
That's not a typo. The Game of July.
As in, non-plural.
Now, in fairness, there are other games being released this month - it's just that they're called Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends and Ice Age: Continental Drift. Even XBLA's Summer of Arcade won't really heat up until August, when Deadlight and Dust: An Elysian Tale are due to appear. I suppose you might be excited that Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance is dropping on July 30th, but I'm willing to bet you don't own a 3DS (except for you, Mario).
So. Here it is, The Last Story. A cool-looking RPG for the Wii, made by Hironobu Sakaguchi - the dude who created Final Fantasy - coming to a GameStop near you on July 10th.
Have a trailer.
(Tosses confetti.) Mazel tov.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
I just watched the Django Unchained teaser on my Vita. That's an awesome sentence. Speaking of the Django teaser, check out this remix of James Brown's The Payback by Gramatik.
Counter-intuitively, the new feature for your Vita doesn't permit you to view YouTube videos from the web browser - if you're reading this post on your Vita, you can't play the vid I've embedded above. Instead, it's a separate app you have to download from the Vita's PlayStation store, and run independently.
That's a bit disappointing - that the PS3's browser can manage it, but not the Vita's. On the bright side, the Vita's app runs the vidoes way better than the PS3's browser ever could.
You can switch from HD to SD, from the windowed mode above to fullscreen with ease - but marking videos as favorites, weirdly, requires you to log in to your YouTube account. Presumably to block kiddies from tripping over videos of Quentin Tarantino slapping the hell out of a paparazzi while dropping F-bombs.
The videos run perfectly, look great on the Vita's screen and - as you can see above - it retains YouTube's system of allowing you to become gripped by the obsessive-compulsive need to click on the suggested videos in the sidebar, and thus lose an hour of your day which could have been spent being productive in work or making love to a member of the opposite sex.
Nice. Elsewhere on the Vita...
I still haven't played more than the intro of Gravity Rush. This is weird, to me.
Gravity Rush was one of my more anticipated games of the year - up there with Max Payne 3 and SSX - and the single Vita title I've been dying to get my hands on. Now that it's here, I'm not playing it.
What the eff?
Perhaps it's just that Lollipop Chainsaw so successfully seduced me. I think maybe two days have gone by since its release on the 12th in which I didn't play it. That's two weeks I've spent absorbed in a five-hour game.
I've repeatedly told myself I need to unplug from that game and engage with Gravity, but the other day I found myself telling Kayla that I should, perhaps, pick up and review Spec Ops.
"I thought you said Spec Ops sucked?" Which is (mostly) true - I was rather nonplussed with its demo.
"That's exactly why I should get."
"You want to get a game you think you won't like?"
"Well... most of my reviews end up being largely positive, right? Aside from like, Amy." (Or Scarygirl or Escape Plan.) "It gets to a point where it doesn't mean anything when I say a game is good, 'cause I think almost everything is good."
So I resolved to - maybe, if budget allows - pick up Spec Ops.
Then, reviews start dropping for it universally praising its story elements and how it deconstructs a player's ultraviolent actions in third-person shooters and it's like oh my God I would love that and ahhhhhh crap.
I totally picked up Spec Ops today. And now Kayla is here, and I feel we both require a sound snuggling.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Like, on a bluray. With Flower and Flow and developer commentary tracks for every game!
Please don't make this more than thirrrrr... forty dollars, or I'll feel super-guilty about it.
[update[ $29.99 - thanks, Gio! [/update]
Please don't make this more than thirrrrr... forty dollars, or I'll feel super-guilty about it.
[update[ $29.99 - thanks, Gio! [/update]
"Today, Ubisoft announced that Far Cry 3 will be released on November 29 in EMEA and on December 4 in the U.S. Far Cry 3 will be available for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, the Sony PlayStation 3 computer entertainment system and Windows PC.
In Far Cry 3, players step into the shoes of Jason Brody, a man alone at the edge of the world, stranded on a mysterious tropical island. In this savage paradise where lawlessness and violence are the only sure thing, players dictate how the story unfolds, from the battles they choose to fight to the allies or enemies they make along the way. As Jason Brody, players will slash, sneak, detonate and shoot their way across the island in a world that has lost all sense of right and wrong.
“We’re taking more time to create the best possible gameplay experience,” said Dan Hay, producer at Ubisoft. “Far Cry 3 is a huge offering and we want every element of this insane, action-packed adventure to be of the highest possible quality for the players.”"Good, says I. More late-year titles should release in December, instead of everything getting crammed into Septem-Octo-November.
I have been profoundly under the weather this weekend (which we shall take as good reason for a lack of posts), but yesterday Kayla and I caught a matinee of Pixar's new Brave.
The trailers beforehand were a bit on the nose. There was one for the new Ice Age movie, one for the re-release of Finding Nemo, one for Monsters University and one for Wreck-it Ralph. It was like an ad for Fox's Animation Domination, except all CG and all from Disney.
Brave was a great show - certainly more enjoyable across-the-board than, say, most recent Dreamworks CGs - but it didn't replace Wall-E or The Incredibles, for me, as Pixar's best. Instead it stands comfortably alongside Up and Toy Story 3.
It's well-constructed and beautifully-executed - perhaps worth seeing alone for Merida's fabulous hair. I did, at times, feel it was taking a bit too long to get where it was going - but once it got there, you're strapped in and loving the ride. Yet again, Pixar has legitimately teased tears from my granite-jawed, manly eyes, and... yeah.
Pixar are kinda' the Rockstar of CG films. They just swing 'round once every two years or so and drop another exemplary work into the pool of popular culture. Brave ranks well among Pixar's better work, and a good Pixar movie - like a good Rockstar game - is not something lightly missed.
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Hideo Kojima - in a very strange move - revealed that Metal Gear Solid 5 is in the works in an interview with a French gaming magazine. No trailer, no press release - just a casual mention that Metal Gear Solid 5 is coming, and he's working on it.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that 5 immediatelywill once again place players in the boots of Big Boss - genetic father of Solid Snake and player-character of (critical darling) Metal Gear Solid 3 and Peace Walker. Word is it will take place in the mid-70s, directly following the events of Peace Walker (when Big Boss decides to create Outer Heaven).
Here's a bunch of guesses about the game made by Computer and Videogames - but I don't much care about that because I seriously feel that Lollipop Chainsaw article needs a rewrite - and after being sick in bed all day, I intend to take a crack at it.
[update] Ugh, God, I can't believe I actually added like another seven paragraphs to that thing. What am I, writing a novel? [/update]
Friday, June 22, 2012
|Yeah, I'm gonna' use semsei's art every time I talk about this game.|
And I am not done talking about it.
I countered that Ubisoft do not, perhaps, deserve such benefit of the doubt. That we - the public - thought Assassin's Creed would have similarly open and reactive design, and look how that turned out?
Then I told him I've been playing a ton of Lollipop Chainsaw lately, and he looked like I'd slapped him in the face.
"Why?" he almost spat the word.
"'Cause it's fun, man."
It'd be fair to assume the opposite, looking at that cover, but Lollipop Chainsaw is actually a very well-designed game. In the review I said it "smacks of old score attack arcade challenges while comfortably speaking the language of a modern gamer" - but let me explain that.
Around the turn of the century, gaming largely adhered to classic principles of communication with the player. Specifically, there wasn't much unless a new gameplay mechanic was introduced (if then). Levels were separated by load times, and the only in-game story progression came from brief tableaus in which an enemy would appear in like, a floating clown head to taunt our hero.
Those days are gone, and nowadays we expect - and demand - that games consistently remind us why we're here, where we're going and what the context is for our actions as player. Some of the best examples of this are God of War, Dead Space, Max Payne 3 and Uncharted.
Context is constantly warbling on the periphery of the experience as, say, a bus stuffed to the gills with enemies crashes through a wall ahead of you. As a ceiling collapses, changing the layout of the fighting space. As a column or log blocks your path. As an AI character barks instructions when the player needs to react quickly.
Now, it may seem strange to compare those shining stars of triple-A development to what Grasshopper Manufacture has put forward, but man, I can't help it. They're speaking the exact same language, right down to the sentence structure.
|Nick is your Elena Fisher, your Sully, your Raul Passos, your Dom and Marcus.|
It's not just that identical events occur here as there - Kratos must mash triangle to throw open a massive door as Juliet must mash triangle to chainsaw a path forward - it's that the pacing, purpose and design of the language is so similar that one could reasonably presume they've been separated from birth.
When a new enemy type appears for the first time, they are nearly always accompanied by a small - perhaps five second - cutscene of introduction, as in God of War. Here as there, the player-character's minor interactions with the environment - scaling a wall, opening a door, destroying an obstacle - are leveraged to showcase character.
Instead of Kratos flexing to the limits of his manly power to throw open a door, Juliet - somehow daintily - slams the end of her chainsaw into a wall to cut herself a path, guided by the analog stick as you cut the shape. Instead of Nathan Drake taking a flying leap to grab on to a zipline, Juliet will hop on to a broken beam side-saddle - as if she were riding a horse as a proper lady should - to slide down to the next area. Instead of Dom and Marcus trading witty banter, Juliet is accompanied by the disembodied and still-living head of her boyfriend, Nick.
The list of comparisons go on and on, and Lollipop pulls it off phenomenally well when taking its limited budget into account - to the point that I can't understand why critics aren't raving about how sagely the production is broken into palatable chunks of brawling, peppered with brief environmental interactions a'la God of War and gameplay switch-ups like Gears' diversions into rail shooting.
Y'know why? 'Cause it's not triple-A, that's why. Because when a truck explodes in Lollipop Chainsaw, it doesn't look like this:
Running on Unreal Engine 3 and helped along by a major dose of style, Lollipop can't gloss over the fact that while its presentation is thoughtful, creative and artistically sound, it's no Uncharted or God of War.
It leverages all the tools and tricks those games do, but it can't present them as well as Dead Space 2 - so there is absolutely no suspension of disbelief on the part of the player. We are still unconsciously being given a little break from the main entree - it serves the same purpose of design - but it can't be as thrilling here as it is there.
Ironically, while the game's graphics and effects - presentation - are sub-par, it pulls off all these small moments with writing and creativity that actually outpaces the games it apes. If Kratos straining against his limits to throw a chest open or Marcus Fenix kicking a door down are reflections and explorations of their character (which they are), Lollipop Chainsaw goes much further down that road, ensuring that every such moment is brightly colored and informed by Juliet's irrepressible personality, self-consciousness and optimism.
The game's structural design and pacing are in lock-step with the best in the business - and I refuse to hold the fact that it was defiantly achieved without the stratospheric budget of blockbuster titles against it.
That's structural design. Let's talk gameplay.
In the review, I told you that LP's combat doesn't approach the depth of brawlers like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry - but that may have done a disservice to you, and the game. I've seen comparisons to brawlers of old like Streets of Rage, and while that may be a bit closer, it still doesn't quite hit it on the head.
Pulling off combos feels like something akin to Ninja Gaiden, in which you need a complete understanding of your button presses and their result before the action happens onscreen - but that doesn't nail it, either. In comparisons to the triple-A brawlers, we concern ourselves more with what Lollipop Chainsaw isn't, when one will draw much greater reserves of joy from the game if concerned with what it is.
While its structure is modern, its system of rewards is classic and its gameplay ends up feeling like no other brawler I've ever played.
Instead of a repertoire of thirty-plus moves and combos, Juliet has a relatively lean arsenal of attacks - but each one is a necessary addition, and if the player wants to really wreck some zombies as God intended, they'd better master it.
It does feel somewhat analog - but it also feels very deliberate. Weighty. Impactful - and the method to its madness is not apparent, at first blush.
For example, remember the last move Juliet uses in the debut trailer?
|Press circle (frog hop) then triangle (high chainsaw).|
It's called the Lollipop Split. Juliet frog-hops an individual zombie, and if you tap triangle, she lands in the splits with the titular chainsaw between her target's feet. She draws the 'saw vertically up its torso (mashing triangle), annnd... pop! Bisected!
This is a finisher. I told my brother this, and he scoffed.
"It doesn't finish anything," he said. "It just hurts them like, a little bit!"
"Well yeah, if it's the first thing you do to them."
It's un-dodgeable and enemies can't interrupt the attack, but the Lollipop Split finisher isn't actually meant to inflict major damage. I know that's counter-intuitive, but let me explain.
This is Juliet's bread and butter. You press square, then square, then square, and when you press triangle she will execute the Chainsaw Full Swing:
|"Hup, hup, ha -" brrrrumWHAM!|
The Full Swing is a very deliberate attack - a massive dose of heavy damage with no secondary effects that could kill an unintended zombie. It's a little atom bomb you drop on the dudes that are directly in front of/closely surrounding Juliet, and if its major damage output finishes three or more zombies in a single blow (I think the max is seven - or at least, that's my record), you get a bunch of medallions and a gorgeous splash of inspired visual design.
The rewards start off small - killing three stock zombies with one blow will net you nine gold medallions and one cherished platinum (used for purchasing music for your custom soundtrack, concept art and new outfits for Juliet), which gently shower her after the Sparkle Hunting animation ends. It's a nice little treat - but it's so unlike the feedback any other brawler provides, we don't initially pursue only Sparkle Hunting kills.
This is a brawler, so the purpose is to kill enemies - not necessarily to always kill them in such a glorious way.
When you start mastering Sparkle Hunting - exercising knowledge of mechanics, enemy behavior, potential reward and the precise properties of your murderous repertoire - the rewards turn from a crappy Canadian fireworks display into a full-on New Year's Rockin' Eve spectacle.
The difference that experience and Juliet's full repertoire offers casts the entire game in a very different light. So pronounced is the expanse between the initial playthrough and those that follow, I'm prepared to suggest that if you played through Lollipop Chainsaw a single time, you were merely successful in defeating the game's tutorial.
Everything changes when you return to it and concern yourself first and foremost with collecting those precious platinums - and one discovers this isn't so much a game about killing zombies as it is about not killing zombies until it's most profitable.
This has a profound effect on the player's strategy, when compared to any other brawler. While the enemy type you're facing is still a concern to be taken into account, the most important thing is now the spatial relationship between Juliet and every evil dead in the room. Enemy placement - and your ability to move them - is more important here than it is in Grand Knights History.
|See? Juliet used the chainsaw without killing a half-dozen zombies in a single blow.|
She's doing it wrong.
When you return to LP armed with Juliet's full arsenal and your understanding of how to maximize rewards, you stop playing it like it's any other brawler and start enjoying what it actually is.
When you first play through the prologue, for example, and meet the first super-tough named zombie and his two super-tough associates, you're desperately fighting for survival. You'll restart that checkpoint over and over just trying to live through the encounter.
When you come back to it, it's an entirely new game. You don't just want to kill George and his associates - you want to beat the holy crap out of them with your pom poms and only kill them with one gorgeous, definitive stroke of your 'saw. And it's hard. It's not easy to do - but Lollipop Chainsaw doesn't want anything less of you.
It merely offers less to those who don't actually invest more than a single playthrough.
Going back through the game, you discover that - a handful of examples aside - every combat scenario (including those where you wield the third-person-shooter Chainsaw Blaster) is set up to permit you Sparkle Hunting kills. It expects you to work for it. It expects you to have mastered Juliet's crowd controlling pom pom attacks, and then to wield them as a weapon of tactical beauty.
With Juliet's style clearly understood and her strategies mastered, she no longer feels like a sluggish, not-quite-Dante. She is, as it turns out, perfectly suited to her objective.
Juliet doesn't just kill the crap out of zombies - she dances with them.
In a room of five minor zeds and one named badass, she'll lock on to the leader and start strafing around. She'll line up one or three of the smaller guys and bop bop bop them towards the bigg'un. When an enemy comes in for a swipe, she elegantly flips out of the way, tumbling to the side to sweep up behind them to bop bop bop bop them into place, knocking them silly.
She flips and twirls, her eye constantly on the ball, and when half the enemies are dumbly staggering from her onslaught - when every zombie is perfectly placed for maximum punishment, like in some murderously dense strategy RPG - she rushes in to stun the leader.
This is a crucial moment. Too many pom-bashes will spread your carefully-cultivated, tightly-grouped clutch of staggered zombies about to the point that your planned attack may not properly connect - and given that most of your major chainsaw attacks are tied to a string that begins with pom pom bashes, you don't just need to be thinking about where the zombies are now, you need to be anticipating where they'll be once you execute your combo and break out the final attack.
Bop bop bop. The revving roar of the chainsaw makes its first - and only - appearance, and the game world explodes with color.
In the shimmering glow of cosmic starlight, electric neon hearts gush from the evil dead like psychedelic arterial spray. Juliet's joyful, heartfelt smile is the brightest star in the sky, and the coin counter skyrockets to 99. Silver and gold pour, and pour, and pour,
and Kayla, sitting next to me, says "holy shit."
In its way of constantly, repeatedly rewarding the player for perfect execution, Lollipop Chainsaw separates itself from Devil May Cry, Bayonetta and God of War, and one-ups them in this one beautiful facet. In DMC and Bayonetta - as here - the player will get to the end of the level, and be judged on their performance, but in Lollipop Chainsaw, every single room is a new opportunity for that same feedback.
So if that's what Lollipop Chainsaw's gameplay is really about, what was that "finisher" even for?
The Lollipop Split is called a finisher because it's what do to that one mis-placed zombie who's left standing after you obliterated his seven buddies in one blow.
There's a bunch of other ways to deal with him, of course, but if you're gonna' go for style, why not go all the way?
So - to recap - excellent pacing, taking cues from the best in the business and classic brawling gameplay mixed up with arcadey score-attack sensibilities. The icing on the cake - which some may take as a bitter pill - are major gameplay switch-ups which appear in each and every level.
Often in brawlers, I feel such switch-ups are an affront to all that is good and holy. In Bayonetta, for example, they felt like weak homages to past SEGA titles that cast in stark relief how un-fun they were, when compared to the brawling entree.
Here, as there, they're still not as much fun as the main course, but I feel they serve a somewhat different purpose.
Thanks to their inclusion in every single level - and introduced at first as mere variations on the core gameplay as you lop off zombie heads on a basketball court to hit 100 points within 3 minutes - they feel more like a crucial part of the formula, here. Like a near-impossible leap in an 8-bit platformer, like a sudden difficulty spike in a 16-bit brawler (I'm looking at you, Whip Girls in Double Dragon), you'll most likely fail at these play sequences - which are often quite separate from the core mechanics - the first time you see them.
You'll probably fail the second time you meet Zombie Basketball (when they introduce zombies in defensive positions), the first time you try Zombie Baseball (turn off auto-aim - it's a big help), or when you find yourself in a maze fleeing from giant Pac Man dog heads wearing little fezzes - but each of these sequences are designed to be mastered.
Just like the Whip Girls, these deviations from the norm are designed not just as a coffee break from the main event, but a test of the player's knowledge - and not just of the game's core mechanics, but of the game as a whole. You'll never hit the top ten on the leaderboards if, for example, you might fail at the gondola game even once.
Fortunately, each little diversion is well-realized to the point that they can be mastered. The (incredibly frustrating, at first) gondola game even has a trophy for completing it without ever firing your defensive attack to take out the pixelated bombs your enemies drop - which seems like an insane request, at first.
Within these diversions, Lollipop Chainsaw both pays homage to its arcade, score-attack roots and builds their classic mid-level difficulty spikes into its DNA. It is, I'm almost sorry to say, pretty damn clever and successful.
Lollipop Chainsaw is - obviously, clearly - long on style, but also rich with substance. Its design and pacing successfully apes the best developers in the world, it celebrates its arcade-attack heritage while cleverly mixing the emotional highs and lows of that design into its structure and its tactical gameplay - so obsessed with situational awareness, AI and the precise properties of your attacks - feels like nothing else, while constantly rewarding the player for dashing after perfection.
It's a glorious exercise - and that's why I've been playing Lollipop Chainsaw. Lollipop Chainsaw provides a lovely new spin on standard brawling mechanics and riffs on the classic addiction of one-upping yourself a'la arcade score challenges while speaking modern gamerese.
You're damned right I've been playing Lollipop Chainsaw. Proudly.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
I was working on a rather large post, but as part of it I had to try to make an animated .gif (which I've never done before), and no matter how I adjusted the speed on the damn thing it won't play any faster than 3 frames per second. So that took a while - and I'm still not happy with it. Eventually I just gave up and...
Well, on Tuesday I had a conversation with a fellow at work. The short version is this;
"I just can't stop playing Lollipop Chainsaw."
"Why?" His shock was palpable.
"'Cause it's fun, man."
And the article - I hope - is gonna' be about that. And, for those of you who are expecting it - yes, I also plan to do up something about Juliet's place in the continuing discussion of sexism in gaming.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Well, that didn't take long. Thanks to everyone who commented to let me know! (Damn the need to go to work every day.)
Now, there may be some of you who have no idea what Ōkami is. Simply put, it's a Zelda-like made by Resident Evil 2, Viewtiful Joe, Devil May Cry and Bayonetta director Hideki Kamiya. More broadly, it is, along with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Dark Souls - one of the few games I would classify as a masterpiece - and is actually the game that first got me writing about games.
If you'd like to know more, this is one of the first reviews I ever wrote - and I stand by it.
Now, my feelings on one of the greatest games of all time getting an HD remaster are probably pretty clear - but, just in case...
"Capcom today announced that award winning Ōkami will be re-born this fall as a digital download on PlayStation Network for $19.99/€19.99. Already one of the most beautiful games ever created, the addition of HD graphics will make this new version of Ōkami even more stunning. Ōkami HD will also feature PlayStation Move integration as well as a full suite of PlayStation 3 system trophies.
Initially released to critical acclaim on the PlayStation 2 system, players take on the role of Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess, who inhabits the form of a wolf. After a tyrannical monster turns the world into a ruined wasteland, she must use her magical abilities to restore the land to its previous glory full of life and color.
Ōkami HD brings Amaterasu’s epic tale to the PS3 with fully integrated HD graphics and 16:9 aspect ratio. The trademark sumi-e ink art style lends itself perfectly to HD allowing players to experience more of the awe-inspiring world displayed in greater detail than ever before.
To create an even more immersive experience, players can take advantage of the PlayStation Move motion controller and naturally make brush strokes with the essential Celestial Brush to defeat enemies and solve puzzles. Ōkami HD will also support the DUALSHOCK 3 wireless controller for those who wish to re-live the original experience."
- Works with the Move
- Works with the Dualshock
- Is totally awesome.
Interesting timing, eh Ramzeltron?
"Thing is, the Japanese site that originally posted the rumor—Game Jouhou—quickly updated its post, stating that, well, the rumor's source wasn't clear and then apologized. Moreover, the site didn't really source anyone for said rumor."So, don't believe it. Also:
Not cool. Don't you tease me about Ōkami in HD.
Don't you do that.
Monday, June 18, 2012
Australians have long had to contend with many popular games never getting a legal release in their country because, weirdly enough, their video games classification system only went to "MA15+". MA15+ essentially was a classification that said "it's okay for fifteen year olds to play" - but without a classification for games featuring "mature" or otherwise controversial content, the country was shit out of luck.
If you wanted to play Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead 2 or Grand Theft Auto IV, you were getting a (sometimes heavily) altered version of the game - customized for the Aussie ratings system. If you wanted to play Mortal Kombat, Silent Hill: Homcoming or The Witcher 2, you would have to import it and basically lock it up - 'cause it would then be illegal to let a minor so much as see it.
Well, today, finally - after years of protests and petitions - Australia got an 18+ rating for video games.
Congratulations, Aussies! Welcome to the civilized world - we got shitloads of gore.
* * *
And... that's it for today, really. Microsoft announced a tablet, but meh - if you wanna' know the scoop, that's what Gizmodo's for.
I should throw down with Gravity Rush or muck around with a VF5: Final Showdown review, but that's not what I want to do - and so, I'm off to dance with the dead in Lollipop Chainsaw and make some sparklies.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
It's back, baby! Remember to check out Chamberlain's blog, Infinite Backlog.
Chamberlain and I are pretty much in agreement that Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown is an exemplary fighting game. One should note; this means a lot more coming from him - a veteran of fighting games - than it does me, who loved the genre back in the 16-bit days, but has all but abandoned it since. Still, there's no argument that the relatively lean roster of only nineteen fighters belies the seemingly limitless fathoms of depth the game offers, and this is Virtua Fighter 5 refined and re-iterated to its sharpest, most considered edge.
If the game - specifically, the grace and balance of its mechanics and their remarkable realization - is so exemplary, what is there to talk about?
The question that comes up is whether or not someone without Virtua Fighter experience should invest themselves - and their time. After all, with the leanest of single-player offerings, VF5:FS pretty much only offers a phenomenal fighter and excellent online - with none of the bells and whistles genre fans have come to expect (and perhaps demand) of fighting games.
CHAMBERLAIN : It depends what you mean by bells and whistles. Does is have the expansive single player fluff that Mortal Kombat did? No. Does it have a better training mode and a more useful tutorial than any other game on the market? Yes. Capcom games are notoriously obtuse. There is very little in the game itself to explain what needs to be done. It does have a challenge mode, but after the first five or six most of the challenges are impractical for use in a fight. Plus the game never bothers to explain what a link is versus a chancel, you have to look to the community for an explanation. Virtua Fighter has a lengthy tutorial that starts off with just blocking and moves all the way up to crouch dashing to avoid a throw and a block an attack at the same time.
Something that I still cannot do, but at least the game took the time to explain to me that it exists. You could play Street Fighter for years and never figure out what an option select is.
CHANCE : I don't think I would've ever latched on to Virtua Fighter 4 the way I did were it not for how detailed and extensive the training is. When BlazBlue dropped, journalists were hugely positive about how great its tutorials were, but - aside from a few mashy combos - I could never get off the ground with it.
For someone like me, who hadn't picked up a fighting game in the better part of a decade, Virtua Fighter 4's tutorials opened up the whole game for me. Even now, years later, I'm still nowhere near able to pull off some of the more insane strings (see: Akira) or higher-level tactics (reliable punishers), but I've discovered I can pretty much hold my own with the PS3's online community.
This is a welcome surprise, 'cause you're right about single player...
CHAMBERLAIN : Playing single player in any fighting game is a great way to develop terrible habits. As much as I liked kumite mode in Virtua Fighter 4, I do not miss it now, because as you said in your reactions, the online mode is the new kumite, and the netcode is up to the task. Most of the ranked I played was right on par with Street Fighter without the roll back issues that plague Street Fighter X Tekken. It has to be, because the fighting is much more active that the former and much more precise than the latter. I play a very reactive, defensive Blanka (when I am playing not terribly, anyway) and that does work in Virtua Fighter. Mashing jab doesn’t work either. It feels like I am always doing something in Virtua Fighter. I am dashing, feinting, blocking, dodging, then dropping combos and choosing the wrong punish because I am still not very good.
CHANCE : I agree. Even with a... well, ridiculous amount of depth, VF5:FS feels very balanced. Yes, an elite player will wipe the floor with me - but here, I understand the how and the why of every maneuver they pull off, and every mistake I make that allows them to pummel me.
CHAMBERLAIN : While Virtua Fighter does a better job of teaching you how to play, actually playing it is not as obvious. I am currently drowning in moves.
CHANCE : Yeah, those move lists (50+ for every character) are incredibly intimidating.
CHAMBERLAIN : There are so many choices that I cannot remember all of them, much less keep track of which one is the right one to use at the right time. I have chosen a few that I like, forgotten the rest, and am fighting with half an arsenal.
CHANCE : In its own way, though, that's almost a strength. Only the most elite players will take advantage of a character's entire move list. Looking at most intermediate players online, many of them don't use 80% of it - the move lists are so gigantic, just burning the whole thing into your muscle memory can take weeks.
But that... I don't know... it says good things about the game, I think. The fact that every character on the roster is built from the ground up - often playing entirely differently from each other - to accurately reflect a real-world fighting style is a huge feather in the game's cap. The incredibly extensive move lists allow Johnny's Jackie to fight completely different from Jenny's - using a different arsenal of moves - and both can be successful due to VF's heavy emphasis on mind games and building up expectations with your foe.
I love that moment where another player and I are beating the crap out of each other, we both back off for an instant, and I snap into crane stance. There's this beautiful half-second where I'm waiting and they're weighing all the stuff I could throw out from that stance - and I'm praying I've "programmed" them with one expectation so I can punish them for thinking I'm about to go high instead of low.
CHAMBERLAIN : It is all very new to me now, so I don’t have the right answer yet. I can’t even tell what can be punished and what is safe, much less what the max damage punish combo is (or, in my case, the most damage my meager skills will allow).
For $15, the game is a steal, but if you don’t have a good internet connection I would skip it.
CHANCE : Yeah, the lack of Kumite mode - or rather, moving it online - means the game is really hobbled if it's just you, at home. The fact that it is online, though, places it so far beyond VF's last outing on the PS3 that it's rather staggering.
This, finally, feels like the Virtua Fighter I've been wanting to play since 4 on the PS2 - where you would wander around a virtual map and play against CPU opponents programmed to behave like real-world players.
For me, actually fighting against real-world players - with such fidelity to the local Vs. experience - is an absolute revelation.
I haven't felt so involved with a multiplayer game since... World of Warcraft.
CHAMBERLAIN : The net code is exceptional, right on par with Street Fighter 4. Playing people in my region (which includes Canada, oddly enough) results in very playable matches 90% of the time. My only concern is with the size of the community, specifically how long interest will hold out. To this day I can host a ranked match in Street Fighter and have an opponent in less than 30 seconds. Finding people in Virtua Fighter 5 is quick now, but how long with it last?
Regarding balance, I spoke to one of the tournament level players from PA and while it is very well balanced there are still tiers. This is inevitable, but he did say that at higher levels Virtua Fighter is all mind games, and that any character can beat any other if the right person is playing. This makes up for a relatively small roster, because success can be had with all of them.
This game also highlights how much I need a new a new stick. I cannot fathom how you are playing this on a d-pad. My poor stick has a dead zone so large in the middle that every motion needs to be exaggerated, and that just doesn’t work for an game as active as this. Really, I’m not making excuses.
Yes I am.
* * *
There's no argument as to whether or not Final Showdown is an excellent fighter - it is exemplary - and for fifteen dollars, a steal. The question, then, is whether or not a novice should dip their trembling toe in these heady waters - made infinitely more answerable by this game's accessible portfolio of ridiculously detailed tutorials.
If you have a single bone in your body that loves fighting games and possess a capable internet connection, this is a fifteen dollar toy you could be playing for years to come.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
So there's this girl. An all-American girl. She's super-cheerful, captain of the cheerleading squad and, as it turns out, pretty handy with a chainsaw in a zombie outbreak.
Well, shit. I can dig it.
|art by semsei|
That's unexpected, to be sure. Games with the Suda 51 sticker have never really penetrated, for me. I bypassed Killer 7, didn't care for any aspect of No More Heroes beyond its presentation and felt specifically positive but generally lukewarm about last year's Shadows of the Damned. Here, though, I feel it all works.
It's taken a long time, but here, I feel, is a game with all the best and none of the worst of Goichi Suda's formula (perhaps, like Shadows, Lollipop benefits from Suda producing, but not directing.) We have a clever, charming, tongue-in-cheek riff on classic horror tropes, a vibrant cast of colorful characters, presentation that pops in all the right places and pleasing gameplay that smacks of old score attack arcade challenges while comfortably speaking the language of a modern gamer.
Lollipop Chainsaw is proudly low-budget, but feels more cohesive and accomplished than Shadows, even as it sidesteps into gameplay switch-ups that one abhors on first contact. It's a sly, grinning, joyful romp of a game with simple but tactically satisfying combat and the type of presentation that allowed modern not-quite-triple-A classics like Alice: Madness Returns, WET and Brütal Legend to stand out like Jimi Hendrix's bandanna in a sea of suits.
So let's talk presentation.
Let's talk music.
Like 2009's Brütal Legend, I refuse to say anything ill of a track selection which results in me embracing a musical flavor I've all but ignored. Lollipop Chainsaw's soundtrack employs too many styles, too many genres to have it all boil down to one representative track - though Lollipop by The Chordettes may do in a pinch. Above, I've included Rock N' Roll (Will Take You To The Mountain) by Skrillex, which has seen so many replays on my iPod in the past week it borders on obsession.
The main menu looks like a spread from a comic book, with Joan Jett's Cherry Bomb playing in the background. During one of Suda's classic arcade-y gameplay switch ups, you'll pilot a very analog scaffold up a skyscraper as zombies drop big, pixelated bombs towards you, bopping your head to late 70s track Empire State Human. It's one of these perfect gaming moments.
When you first enter the high school and begin lopping zombie heads in a classroom, you're greeted by Sleigh Bells' Riot Rhythm and... it's wonderful. Lollipop Chainsaw now stands comfortably in competition with Max Payne 3 for Best Soundtrack of 2012 - but music is just one facet of this game's delicious overall presentation.
Lollipop's environments are often - not always - rather bland, with zombies and most of all Juliet standing out from the background thanks to the very gentle employment of cell shading which give lines and silhouettes a touch of cartoony punch.
The most startling touch is what, precisely, happens when you Ginsu a zombie. Yes, there's a bit of blood, but what you see is a dazzling firework of pink neon hearts and sparkles launching from its decapitated stump. Your chainsaw's arcing slashes color the world in bright rainbows, and through it all Juliet is giggling like a maniac.
It's entirely counter-intuitive, but the game's art direction - and its effect on the player - brings Ōkami to mind. This is a fun, light-hearted experience - a happy place to visit - and a weirdly refreshing contrast to the grim "maturity" we see so often in modern, high-profile games. Terrible things are happening in Juliet's world, but the game - and she - approach it with such cheerful optimism and joy that it's hard for the player to focus in the least on the dark side of these happenings.
|It's been near-impossible to find a really good screenshot of it, but trust me when I say the gleeful smile on Juliet's face and her declaration of "pure gold!" when executing a Sparkle Hunting multi-kill is terribly infectious.|
Zombies in literature may pre-date almost everything of the last 4,000 years, and were only introduced to the United States by way of Hatian voodoo arriving on American shores via the slave trade - but it's not unfair to suggest that, by modern sensibilities, the Zombie is the quintessential American monster. The creature was picked up by George Romero in '68 (Juliet attends San Romero High) and the rest is history. They have, ever since, been a staple of American horror - and it is from that template, rendered by cinema, that writer James Gunn begins.
Gunn is no stranger to the horror genre himself (Michael Rooker, the villain from his 2006 horror-comedy Slither is the second boss you'll face here), and if you're familiar with his work you'll find he does a great deal here, again, to invest the zombie genre with the sort of joie de vivre it hasn't seen since Shaun of the Dead.
Central to that ambition is player character Juliet Starling - who is both a celebration of American horror movie archetypes and a joke at its expense. No one with Suda 51 experience should have picked up Lollipop Chainsaw expecting even the shallowest of characterization for the heroine, but Gunn comes out swinging and renders her as a wholly endearing, infectiously cheerful girl very much like ones you've probably known yourself.
|NICK: "You've killed sasquatches?"|
JULIET: "Sure - sasquatches are total dicks."
Or at least, I've sure known girls like her. A-type personalities who will tackle anything with a grin and a wink, girls who obsessively work out and still worry that last innocent remark was made at the expense of "my ginormous butt." She's both a cliché and surprisingly three-dimensional.
Despite the player's ability to dress her up in a dizzying array of zany or otherwise barely-there costumes - despite very clearly riffing on the sexually exploitive elements of the genre - the game instead comes across as a glorious exercise that only a female hero could carry, and a wisely respectful one at that (even as zombies throw gender-specific slurs at her.) Juliet's gender is a necessary ingredient to the formula, and instead of treating her as mere eye candy - or worse, ignoring her sex entirely - she is well-realized to the point that one can both glory in how awesome she looks, doing the splits as she hops over a zed...
...and love her for her irrepressible confidence and willingness to see the bright side in everything. The game is well aware that folks will be quick to objectify her, but once you're past the opening cinematic you'll never see another lingering butt shot again. It's like Lost In Translation. Here as in there, the central character is introduced first as a sexual object (the first shot of that movie is Scarlett Johansson's panty-clad ass), and then investigated as a character before being celebrated as a hero.
It's like the game is saying "yes, she's super hot - are we over it? Good, let's have some fun."
I love that we have a brawler with an asskicking lady front-and center (who's very lady-like), I love that when Nick points out a student in need of rescuing, she'll casually say "I'll take care of it," and I love that her sidekick is the impotent, disembodied head of her boyfriend - who gets seriously pissed if anyone ever suggests that he might be a mere object.
"But there's a lot of cool things about being a head," Juliet cheerfully points out. "First of all, I can put you in a bag and sneak you into movies for free!"
"Alright, that hardly makes up for-"
"Carpal tunnel syndrome? You're immune! And it's totally cool. I'm like the only girl with a decapitated head for a boyfriend!"
"I don't want to be a fashion accessory, Juliet! This is my life!"Juliet comes alive thanks to the contribution of veteran voice actor Tara Strong, who's pretty damn close to flawless in her delivery. Click this link, skip to 06:00, and listen to the way she says "jump on a fire truck."
That's all I'm gonna' say. She nails it.
|NICK: "Where do the sparkles come from when you cut off a zombie's head?"|
JULIET: "From awesome."
There's a wonderful silliness to Lollipop Chainsaw, but a silliness I can wholly embrace because - while it achieves dizzying heights of insanity - it never feels less than considered, referential and intelligent.
So, delightful presentation across the board. Voice work, writing, music and art direction are all either exemplary, thrillingly canny or both. There are a lot of load times - but none of them were long enough for me to switch the inputs on my TV.
Now, we come to the place where - Shadows of the Damned aside - Suda titles have always failed me. The gameplay department.
You've likely heard that Lollipop Chainsaw is short - which is true. I'd clock it at about six hours on an initial playthrough - but the important part of that term is 'initial.' This isn't a game to play just once.
After your initial playthrough, things open right up. The attacks you must unlock and purchase for Juliet are all so handy - so necessary - that the sense of progression this offers doesn't quite make up for how lacking the game felt without them. Once you've obtained her entire arsenal, however, the game reveals itself to be a simple but pleasingly tactical brawler.
Lollipop Chainsaw, it turns out, isn't a game about just killing zombies. You can step in to a room and clear it out right quick - but the biggest rewards (and those glorious Sparkle Hunting vignettes) come from killing multiple zombies with a single slash of your 'saw - specifically, not killing zombies until it's most profitable.
In order to do this, you need to understand the precise properties of every chainsaw attack you have, and when to use them. Juliet's martial art consists of (fantastically animated!) exaggerated cheerleading routines as she smacks the crap out of zombies with her pompoms. Each pom strike will drive a zombie (or group) back a teensy bit, and once you understand what the game desires of you, pulling off a precious Sparkle Hunting kill in a room populated by a mere three zombies becomes hugely satisfying.
You dash up - pop pop pop kick one enemy into a corner and backflip over another just before it would have landed an attack. You corral them into place, back up - position yourself between the lone straggler and the others and pop pop pop him into place before wham finishing the combo with the chainsaw.
(Jazz hands) sparklies!
A bit of additional depth is added by way of zombies with different AI or attacks and stronger, life-bar-toting named zeds. These dudes (or ladies) provide the biggest rewards if you can kill them and two weaker zombies in a single blow - and softening them up while not killing the weaker zombies is nigh-impossible until you have Juliet's full arsenal.
Once you've got it, though? It's really nice - and you graduate from wanting to merely slaughter zombies to wanting to do it in the most spectacular, score-enhancing way possible.
Which is good - 'cause that's what the game actually is.
Each of the game's seven levels - five of which are huge - can be tackled in ranking mode. There's score attack, time attack and medal attack (medals are earned by defeating zombies and, of course, by Sparkle Hunting), and you can take them on in any difficulty setting you choose - essentially rendering 84 different scores to beat.
The question being, would one want to?
Well, I would. It's fun - and I'm coming up on my fourth playthrough, which is saying something for any brawler. Coming up to a crowd of zombies, turning on your invincible, one-hit-kills Star Soul mode (Hey Mickey plays, and Juliet flashes rainbow colors), and wrecking fifteen enemies with three perfect cuts... Dancing around the last conscious zombie, bop bop bopping him into place for that gorgeous final strike...
Yeah, man. It's fun. It's simple fun - not terribly high-minded and not particularly challenging until you start score attack and decide to master everything - but fun for fun's sake is all too rare, even in video games these days.
|The Ash costume. Brilliant!|
The cheeky, ambitious B-quality game is in decline. Outside of the indie space, it's increasingly difficult to come across such gems - but investigating games that are perhaps more easily written off is how one discovers Bionic Commando, Dead Island, Alice: Madness Returns or Darksiders.
Strolling through the store, folks will see the cover to Lollipop Chainsaw and write it off as a junk game, devoid of value or spirit - but I assure you, the opposite is true. When you peruse Metacritic and discover this game is hovering in the high sixties or low seventies, know that that score is reasonable.
It's hardly perfect. It's juvenile, but wisely so. It's often beautiful, but it accomplishes it with simple tools. Cheerful, funny, clever in all the right ways, and gorgeous without being too made-up, Lollipop Chainsaw, like its star, is easy to fall for.
- James Gunn's writing is exemplary, here. He pulls off three things at once; a genre piece, funny dialogue that anyone can appreciate, and biting satire of a genre and its exploitive tropes.
- Tara Strong as Juliet is perfect, and Michael Rosenbaum's Nick is pretty funny too
- the soundtrack is pretty damn incredible
- Juliet's animations are excellent
- it may not have much of a budget, but the game's eye-popping art direction goes a very long way to making up for it
- little touches are everywhere - gorgeous menus!
- delightfully light-hearted
- The combat is pleasingly tactile and strategic once you have all the tools at your disposal, and
- does for brawlers what Dead Space did for shooters.
- a remarkable amount of replayability for a linear action game
- gameplay switch-ups - while a huge downer at first - end up feeling like a necessary (masterable) part of the formula, and a sage nod to the game's arcadey roots
- "But they love human face! It's their favorite part!"
- Juliet is a refreshing, wholly endearing protagonist - both three-dimensional and archtypically heroic at once.
- I love that the game and the writing doesn't pull any punches
- a crapload of unlockables
- brief load times!
- tons of loads
- combat is relatively simple compared to the standards of the genre
- the game isn't nearly as much fun when you haven't unlocked all of Juliet's moves - and that takes a while
- if you're only going to play through it once, don't bother - it's six hours long, and the first playthrough is the frustrating one as you knock your head against a lack of combat options and
- zany gameplay switch-ups that can be really frustrating the first time you see them
- ppft - it's hardly triple-A - in fact, it feels downright cheap-looking until you start pulling off Sparkle Hunting kills
- Occasionally the aim function on the Chainsaw Blaster will totally bug out. That's the single biggest problem I have with the game.
- People will look at you funny, when you show it to them at first. Then they totally come around and start talking about how adorable Juliet is.
I love Lollipop Chainsaw.