Monday, December 23, 2013

State of the Onionne and Games that I need to play during Christmas Break

at 5:00 PM
Okay. I am off work for the next two weeks. I do not have a ton of stuff I need to do, except that I need to try to unwind. That means the blog will be on semi-vacation as well. Thanksgiving was not a very relaxing time, it was like five days of stress attacks and brain tumors ("helping out", "spending time", etc.). The main big breaks I've had this year involved doing stuff or having medical problems like tonsillectomy and tonsillitis-con-mono. Hey spellcheck, and by extension Google, who I assume controls everything computer: why the fuck do you know "tonsillitis" but still try to call my mom and issue a three day out-of-school suspension every time I write "gameplay", "sidescrolling", or "platformer"? I realize that the Doctor's Association of America probably has a better dictionary lobby (to... Google?) and is slightly better-respected than Game Informer, but we're talking about a jargon that is going on forty years old. It is older than spellcheck

The big problem with this blog at the moment (from my perspective - I doubt anyone on the outside notices our subtle shifts from "really crappy" to "mostly crappy"), particularly since November, is that I haven't had time to play games. Hence any free time spent writing is less time gaming which is less rehearsed material to write about which is less well-considered posts which is a viscous cycle which results in a lifestyle where I neither get to play games nor produce work that I consider worth my time or worth your time. I've somewhat deflected that with substitute material like Godzilla and It's Always Sunny, but unless you want to start reading about my job or my way-too-dramatic-for-a-25-year-old friendships or coping with a newly quadriplegic father, I can't write unless I get some time to play games. I love games, critical theory, and vain stabs at comedy - not being an autobiographer. I'm surprised how much I've enjoyed working on this blog considering that I hadn't written shit since college. It's a legitimate creative outlet for me and I have no intention of stopping... at least until my life reaches a stable enough point that I feel comfortable committing to a game project - as intended earlier this year, before Events. 

Anyway, I'm taking two weeks off work and only about half of those are committed to other things, so that's sevenish days to play games (as fucking if - I guarantee I get no more than 24 hours - still a luxury). Vacation time is typically great for finishing games - I even go to the extent of setting aside certain games I enjoy so much that I'd rather save them for an "off" time when I can give them the attention they deserve. When I was a kid they were "summer games" - Skies of Arcadia, Ocarina of Time - games I didn't want to play during the school year because my schedule prevented me from bingeing as their quality demanded. Since I don't have a tenth enough breaks for all the games I'd love to binge on these days... well, a lot of them go unfinished (The Witcher, Dark Souls, Dragon Quest IX) or I gradually pick through an hour a night as pains me to do (every modern Zelda, XCOM).

Okay. As the great Hulk Hogan once said, "Enough is enough". Here are some games I need to, as the great Hulk Hogan once said, "take care of". I will be posting sporadically, but mostly reruns, during my vacation while I enjoy these games. When I come back, whoo boy will it be a delight updating you on how much I've accomplished of what I said I would have accomplished.

DEFINITELY FINISH Mark of the Ninja. Been working on this on and off since the Spring I think. Always great fun to jump into a level, and the later levels even start getting more obnoxiously platformy (in a good way, with moving obstacles and timed jumps and stuff). It's neat that this is a stealth game that has multiple selectable characters (a mechanic Greg and I recently discussed in platformers), though they need to be unlocked, making them feel more like Castlevania's bonus rounds with Julius, Richter, Maria, et al. It's still pretty game-changing to have, for instance, a character who is completely silent but also can't attack. I need to explore this some more.

DEFINITELY FINISH Phantasy Star IV. I set this aside after my big initial run took me three quarters of the way through the game. That was the beginning of my JRPG kick - I ended up splaying off and losing focus between Radiant Historia, Dragon Quest IX, Denpa Men 2, roguelikes, etc. I'm almost at the end - I need to finish the side-quests which have been a cute bit of exploratory fun and see the final boss battles, as the game definitely excels (as did Overworks' later RPG, Skies of Arcadia) at tough fights.

DEFINITELY FINISH Capsized. As I mentioned in my initial impression of Capsized, it's a bit rough around the edges - when the game gets hard in the later stages it occasionally feels cheap because of weird physics-induced deaths and kludgy "puzzles". This is particularly frustrating as these stages can run for 20+ minutes and are played with limited lives and ammo - one or two bullshit deaths can severely fuck a run. That aside, Capsized is a great game. The shooting is satisfyingly visceral - thanks in great part to those physics - but kept frantic by aggressive enemies more reminiscent of Geometry Wars than Metroid. Combined with the maze-like environments, the hard survival action conjures a DOOM-meets-Dead-Space feel. It's worth gritting my teeth through a few botched runs to see what the final levels have in store.

PROBABLY FINISH but at least play P.N.03. This is probably the last Gamecube game I ever bought, back at a time when I was catching up on both Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya games (the respective masterminds between Resident Evil 4 and Devil May Cry, the two have frequently collaborated and nearly everything they produce is pure gold... or pure platinum). I grabbed both P.N.03 and God Hand (both directed by Mikami) at the same time - the games shared a similar fate on release (misunderstood by critics who couldn't learn the mechanics and too obliquely marketed to appeal to the public... I mean what the fuck do those titles mean to casual Joe gamer) and perhaps fortuitously shared a similar fate in my catalog: I stumbled through the first hour losing countless lives until the mechanics finally clicked and I realized what original and fun games I was playing, then I set them aside to be finished later... and haven't gone back. In the case of P.N.03 that meant coming to the realization that the game was not a cover-shooter but a rhythmically-driven classic shooting gallery (a la Wild Guns) based on timed dodges and aggressive combo-focused offense. I dropped it after one out of eleven levels just because - too many other things to play, nothing against the game. So I really need to go back and see if this 3D shmup gameplay is developed in an interesting way (as it later was in Vanquish).

PLAY Link Between Worlds. Hard to say I'm going to finish this when I don't have a good guess at how long it's going to be, and I definitely don't want to rush it, but Link Between Worlds deserves some good, honest attention. I'm not sure at this point that it's quite as open-ended as someone would have you believe (the puzzle-solving/pathway-opening capability of items seems to be downplayed now that they're readily available), but since I just got to the Dark World, I really can't say. The next few hours - choosing which order to attack the seven dungeons - should be interesting.

There are of course many other games I am playing and hope to have time for, but I won't put my foot where my mouth is and promise things I can't promise. Besides, I'm also trying to get back into reading Guardians of the Galaxy and maybe start watching Mobile Suit Gundam

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Amazing web find: Geddy Lee Is Slusho

at 8:47 PM
Didn't have time for a post today but I found this unbelievably fantastic website from 2007, when the viral marketing for Cloverfield was in full swing. 

Aside from its inherent absurd hilarity, this is some decent satire of the viral marketing fad and the culture that developed around it. Just check out amazing lol-out-lol posts like these:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Link X Dynasty Warriors: Only cool things can come from Nintendo and Koei combined

at 7:14 PM

And you thought Twilight Princess was bad! HAhahaha! aHAhahahahaahaaHAHAHahah! HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAAHAAH!

Sorry, that was my impression of how 90% of the Internet reacted to that video. 

Isn't this only natural considering Pokemonaga's Ambition? Silly, sure, but I kinda love that we're getting Nintendo/Koei crossovers. Two companies who've been in the industry as long as there's been an industry, one the most iconic and revered of all-time, the other perpetually mocked and banished to the shadows, both supported by fervently dedicated fans. It could be said there's not really any difference between the Nintenhardcorer and the Koeihardcorer except that the former were often so destined by the holiday console purchasing predilections of their parents, while the latter perhaps became so attached to their patron saint because of the effort it took to seek out their games (and then defend them from the onslaught of critics). Regardless, I think in some sense Nintendo and Koei are symbolic of both the best and worst of the video game industry - the idealism, the precision, the tight connection between the community and the creators, and also the redundancy, the pandering, and the reluctance to evolve.

As someone with moderate respect for the Dynasty Warriors franchise (though I can only enjoy the games for about two hours per year), I think the series is anything but a barren wasteland of inspiration. People trash Koei's action games a lot (and maybe they'd trash their strategy games if they knew they existed), but they're labors of love, not schlock. Honestly, check one out sometime. You can get one of the PS2 or Xbox games for all of $2 or fucking splurge and dump 19 cents on Samurai Warriors. Actually, do yourself one better and get the best (of the ~five I've played), Mystic Heroes. They may be boring to some (myself included), but they have a dedicated hardcore fanbase and each game is overflowing with dozens of levels, hundreds of weapons and characters, all kinds of mode variations, and the tried and true gameplay that the fans demand. Taking potshots about how they're samey mindless grindfests is like shitting on Godzilla movies for being ridiculously cheesy scifi or Friday the 13th for being idiotic flasher-slashers - that's the entire reason people like them. They're not trying to cater to the mainstream. There's a reason Ebert didn't bother to review Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, so I'm not sure why IGN feels so justified giving Dynasty Warriors 8 a 4.63/10 every year. It seems like maybe Zelda vs. Dynasty Warriors is a chance at a big budget mainstream crossover a la Pacific Rim or JJ Abram is Star Trek.

That's pretty much what Pokemon Conquest was for Nobunaga's Ambition - it stripped away the excesses of the franchise, concentrated on the core characteristic elements (recruiting and balancing a force, taking and holding territory, and turn-based tactical battles), introduced some Pokemon strategy (trainer/Pokemon matching and elemental cycles, which actually took on a new level when it became necessary to distribute different types of Pokemon around the map, determining which areas were Fire-vulnerable or where to make a strong Rock/Psychic attack), and significantly prettied it up for mass appeal (the series was barely animated up til that point). It was NOT just Nobunaga's Ambition in a Pokemon coat of paint. If Nintendo/Koei apply the same mentality to Hyrule Warriors and give a substantial Zelda slant to the action, there could be a pretty damn decent game in store. Especially if they keep the strategier elements of the better Dynasty Warriors games, or somehow find a way to replace them with Zelda's exploration/collection shenanigans. Of course, Conquest was nearly as obscure as the Koei games that spawned it simply because of the obscene glut of Pokemon spinoffs released on a daily basis - I doubt I Rule Warriors will suffer that fate, as the uproar already unleashed is indicative of just how rare and special it is for anything to bear the Zelda brand. [instead HW will find its way to obscurity via its release platform, Wii U, on which a 3D Mario game sold only 200k units in a November launch].

Is it the next Zelda game I wanted? No, but it's clearly not the next Zelda anymoreso than was Link's Crossbow Training. People are already panicking about where this is going to fit in canon and shit like that. Seriously? Link was in fucking Smash Bros., is this really any different?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Greg L's 2013 GOTY Award

at 4:39 PM
I just have the one.

When Nintendo released Wind Waker HD, everyone noted that the prospect was sad in one sense or another: one of Wii U's headliners was a remake. The console's first party offerings have been short on creativity. New Super Mario Bros. U continues the line of New Super Mario Bros. games that iterate rather than progress. Super Mario 3D World gives players a cast of characters with competing strengths and weaknesses, but it's a gesture that does little to hide that each stage is predictable and shallow.

(Maybe we can discuss Pikmin 3 and Game & Wario some other time.)

Enter New Super Luigi U. On the surface, it appears to be a shameless rehash, featuring assets already used for New Super Mario Bros. U. Luigi may jump higher, he may be more slippery, and he may only have 100 seconds to clear each stage, but there's no obvious change to the essence of New Super Mario Bros.

In reality, though, these modifications fuel sweeping changes. Because you have but 100 seconds to clear each stage, the stages are shorter. This leads to denser enemy placement. Flying squirrel enemies will land on your weighted platforms, disrupting your footing. Ice-throwing turtles will bump elbows with spiked fuzzballs, turning harmful obstacles into icy platforms. Elements interact more often, creating a more engaging playground. 

In one stage, Ice Bros. freeze your enemies to create platforms. It's definitely one of the better stages, and it showcases how original the Luigi U team got with old assets.

New Super Luigi U emphasizes a sense of chaos. Stages are not just punchier than usual; there's more going on in each individual moment. Normal New Super Mario Bros. stages have a series of challenges, but in New Super Luigi U, those challenges are all lumped over top one another. On top of that, Luigi's floaty jumps and slippery stops lend more weight to your button presses, increasing the sense of chaos.

Perhaps ghost houses speak the most to this change. These stages are all about employing deception to hinder your navigation. Normally, this means plopping a big old maze for the player to slog through; check each door, make a mental note of what you do, and eventually you'll walk out. New Super Luigi U instead restricts its deceptions to the span of one room. Rather than wander around a maze, you'll see a single scenario and figure the best way through it. In one stage, you're on a moving platform suspended over a bottomless pit, and it looks like it's about to hit a wall--there must be some way past, right? Try checking for an invisible passage through the wall. Moments like these make deception tense and exciting rather than long and drawn-out.

Given the time restriction on levels, the developers mixed crafty design with tension for ghost houses.

It's no revolution, but it's an experience unique to the Mario series in the same way that Lost Levels and Super Mario World carve unique spaces from the molds of Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3, respectively. It's an important distinction to make from other games that merely improve--New Super Luigi U deviates.

If Nintendo needs to turn to easy-to-make budget-priced DLC to regain its sense of daring, so be it. On that note, New Super Luigi U also makes me smile because it reflects Nintendo's growing realization that the internet can be your friend.

Games like Pandora's Tower, Chain Blaster, and The Wonderful 101 also made my year, but as an increasingly cynical Mario fan, New Super Luigi U stood above the pack as Game of the Year.

Monday, December 16, 2013

LPGA Plays Bucky O'Hare (for arcades), Part 1

at 6:18 PM
Many know the famous finned face of Buckland O'Reilly Rabbit, even if they don't immediately recognize it by that name. 

It was under the stage name "Bucky O'Hare" that Buckland made his short-lived mark on the pop-culture consciousness of 20th century America.. This portmanteau of "Bucky Barnes" (Captain America's sidekick), "Scarlett O'Hara" (the protagonist of Gone with the Wind), and "hare" (a relative of rabbits) encapsulates the pure essence of Buckland's stage character, the space ranger O'Hare: he's loyal to a fault, clever and willful, always getting his way in the end, and generally reminiscent of a rabbit. 

Yes, despite his inexplicably fish-like appearance, O'Hare really hit it off with kids during the anthropomorphic animal craze of the late '80s and early '90s, so much so that Konami snatched up the video game rights alongside Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men, and The Simpsons. The NES got a scrolling shooter/platformer in the vein of Mega Man, often classified as a "proto-Treasure" game (not one I've gotten around to playing, and I take the "proto-Treasure" label very lightly - it's liberally (and incorrectly) applied to every single Konami game released before 1993, from Contra III to Rocket Knight Adventures to Super Castlevania IV). While that's the game that's typically remembered (by people who chronicle these kind of things), the arcade Bucky O'Hare is a different beast altogether.

While at first glance the arcade adaptation of Bucky appears to be in lockstep with Konami's other tie-in coin-op brawlers like The Simpsons, it actually attempts to be something of a shoot-'em-up meets beat-'em-up. A generalized-'em-up, if you will. The structure and engine of the game are clearly borrowed directly from Konami's other brawlers, but the player characters use lazer-guns instead of fisticuffs, creating some semblance of ranged combat. I'm not even sure whether to call the game a brawler or a shmup - technically I want to say it's a shmup, and for the most part the boss battles support that conclusion. On the other hand, both X-Men and TMNTIV introduced a lot of ranged enemies, group conflicts, crowd control, patterned attacks, traps, and dodging, and I would be remiss not to point out that they share almost all of the same "original" developments of Bucky but for the player ranged attack. Then again, I always considered TMNTIV and X-Men to be pretty far from the fighting-game-derived brawler paradigm of one-on-one combat established by Streets of Rage and Double Dragon, moving more in their own direction of balanced melee combat action. So perhaps it's not unusual that throwing a gun into the mix doesn't make things any less brawlery - those games weren't very brawlery to start with.

That probably stands to be fleshed out a little more. Until now, enjoy the first half of some Let's Play action:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mario VERSUS Luigi: Character select in platformers. A duologue.

at 5:53 PM
Duologue. Diatribe. Dissension. Declamation. Double Talk. Double Talk. It's alllll talk. So is this feature, captured from some of the secret email archives of co-bloggers Greg (Yourself) and Greg (Golem).

Golem: So, I was thinking about what I might use to write a hefty email, and character distinction in Super Mario 3D World kept bugging me. I dunno how much of this is me repeating myself from the other night, but hey, it's worthwhile to get it written down. None of this is a specific rebuttal to what you said the other night.

In Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Tails and Knuckles offer platforming abilities far beyond Sonic's. The huge, sprawling levels offer plenty of opportunities for areas that only Tails can access, other areas that only Knuckles can access, and some they can both reach that Sonic can't.

I don't know how familiar you are with Sonic 3 & Knuckles, so you may have to take some of this on faith.

I wouldn't call that a particularly shallow system, especially since Sonic 3 & Knuckles often blends in paths naturally. Even when it's something dopey like a wall that only Knuckles can break, the path beyond A) explores a new space of the level map that you may have imagined exploring and B) sticks to the assets and general design sensibilities of the stage. (That latter point is a frightening discussion unto itself, but I think for the purposes of this email, we can gloss over that.)

But mechanically speaking, I think it's a copout compared to something like Super Mario Bros. 2. That is, I mean to compare the low-level rhythm of gameplay, the feel of each individual jump. Sonic 3 & Knuckles' system offers greater possibilities in terms of overall level exploration and uncovering entire new areas.

Anyway, every time you separate characters into their own unique stage segments, that's one less chance for a comparison. If you get a part that requires Knuckles so you can glide over pits, you'll never know what it's like to carry Sonic through that section (you'll have two different sections and only one way to experience each). On the other hand, if you have a tough platforming segment with Sonic, you might remark to yourself that Knuckles would sure be helpful (one section that has two different experiences).

And that leads to a lot of neat strategery in Super Mario Bros. 2. 1-2 has a difficult cave portion where Snifits corner you as you try to blast open walls. One option is to take Toad, who's built for combat--not like you need to make big jumps in the cave anyway. Or, you could take Luigi; if you're skilled, you can bypass that cave section entirely by jumping to the top of a tall hill. Anyone can play that part, but the character you choose will cast the same stage design in a different light.

There are neat moments of character comparison in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, and Super Mario Bros. 2 does feature character-specific paths. I just mean to compare their overall demeanor. Can I use the word "demeanor" like that?

So, in general, I like to have a way to cheese a situation and a skilled way to approach a situation. That's as opposed to something binary, either you can do a segment or you can't.

And I think that fits Super Mario 3D World's overall arcadey mentality. Something like Sonic 3 & Knuckles or Super Mario 64 is built for hanging out and poking around. Super Mario 3D World, on the other hand, has stages built around a single path. The interesting part isn't how you explore, it's in the mechanics of experiencing that path.

You also get character-relevant puzzles, but they're not character-dependent. So, that green star might be easier to grab with Peach, and recognizing as much is solving a puzzle. Figuring out how to get there with Mario is another puzzle.

3D World does have moments where you can only collect something if you have the right powerup, but that's a matter of skill rather than character choice. They'll always give you the necessary powerup in the level, too.

If all the character-specific switches in 3D World lead to stamps, and none to green stars, that would fall in line with my reading. I have no idea if that's the case.

On that note, it's worth saying that my points about Super Mario 3D World are in theory. A better writer would have examples: here's one green star that suggests the use of one character and provides challenge for another, something like that. Not only has it been like two weeks since 3D World came out, but given the game's size and range (see: the Super Mario Galaxies), I don't know that I'll ever have a great grasp on it.

[So we had a bit of an offline discussion about how many games actually have a character select, particularly platformers featuring exploration, and particularly ones that don't allow swapping on the fly. The answer we came up with is that we don't know a ton :( . Super Mario Bros. 2 and Sonic 3 & Knuckles are not a particularly common model - if you think about it, the primary games starring character selection are fighters/racers/shoot-em-ups/brawlers/etc. Those adventurier games that do allow character selection, like a few from the late Castlevania and Mega Man series or Ganbare Goemon, usually have completely scripted differences in campaigns (a la Resident Evil) or superficial or action-only distinctions between characters.

Nonetheless, the conversation on SMB2 and S&K3 is valid and in keeping with the original lead-in, Super Mario 3D World]

Yourself: What it sounds like you like about Super Mario Bros. 2 is that it's a platformer with a weapon select; your 'weapons' here being the characters' physical attributes. I suppose what leads me to make that wholly semantic distinction is the notion that there are really two skill-sets at play in a game that includes both action and exploration, one for each type of gameplay. In as simple a platformer as Sonic 3 & Knuckles or SMB2, those skill-sets are comprised of the same abilities, but still applied differently - Knuckles' glide may allow him to safely swoop over a boss or cross a gap to a new section of a level that Sonic can't reach. Anyway, I liken the selection of an action skill-set to a weapon select because, really, isn't that the same thing you see in a Gradius or a Gunstar Heroes or an Earth Defense Force 2017? The pre-determination of a set of functional capabilities?

You say of Super Mario Bros. 2: "the character you choose will cast the same stage design in a different light". I find that to be a somewhat optimistic way of looking at things. For instance, the aforementioned cave from 1-2 - it really doesn't feel like it's made to be played as any character BUT Toad/Mario. Sure Luigi can make it through, but his skills don't offer any benefits - in fact, his high jump just kind of gets in the way, causing him to bump into the ceiling and making Snifit bullets harder to dodge, and his slow pick-up speed makes the bombs more tedious to deal with. I suppose that's "a different light", but to me that light seems to be revealing that that part of the level is meant for a different character - similar to the way 4-1 (Lakitu stage) of Super Mario Bros. is suited to the Fire Flower, even though it can certainly be survived without. I see how Luigi's version is different, but it's not totally clear to me how it's rewarding (it's slow and awkward to time).

I'm not saying this is a universal syndrome or that I have a problem with that, simply that my impression of the game is that it vacillates between generic-enough-to-play-the-same-with-every-character and character-specific segments, such that I don't think it really is so much more complex than "pick the character you like best, and occasionally switch to someone specific for a particular segment". There are subtly variant experiences and plenty of parts that do play uniquely interesting with all four, and there's certainly nothing to dictate that you must have a favorite character, i.e. that you can't equally enjoy playing with all four, but I've never found nearly enough variation in the bread-and-butter gameplay between characters to make it feel any more like four games in one than Pokemon Red is 1.1390625e+13 (150^6) in one.

Bearing that in mind, neither Super Mario Bros. 2 nor Super Mario 3D World is purely an action game. There is exploration and (light) puzzle-solving to be done as well, thus the characters' exploratory skill-sets come into play when I'm making a selection. In fact, in Super Mario 3D World my choice is dictated almost entirely by how I'm looking to play the game. While the characters are largely balanced, the heavy use of scrolling and mobile and rhythmic obstacles, like the Train levels, the gate level [fill the number in later], and the rolling tiles in Star-2 certainly suggest faster characters for better scores and play times. With that on top of the tendency for Green Stars and Stamps to be hidden past high and long jumps, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to designate Mario and Toad as the action characters and Luigi and Peach as the explorers. So, playing with that understanding, I don't even really need to be on the lookout for Luigi- or Peach-specific puzzles - I can just plow through the fun-runs with Toad and not worry about missing a Star, knowing that when I go back with Peach I'll have a much easier time grabbing it anyway. 

I don't think I've come across any (or enough to remember) "puzzles" complex enough that they demand character-specific solutions (yeah, Peach can cheese a lot of stuff, but so can anyone with a Raccoon suit) - the game has not broken my general Mario mentality of playing stages once for challenge and once for completion - the difference here is that I have different characters suited for each play-through. That's really nice - since I'm still going for completion on every run, I get to see multiple variations on the action and on the puzzles. But again, I don't think the game provides a compelling argument to play every stage with every character. And that's not even touching on the fact that a larger number of the levels are built around equalizing mechanics like the boost pads and beep-boop blocks that essentially nullify character benefits. 

GolemThat got me thinking; one key difference between Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario 3D World is the sense of platforming. I notice fewer bottomless pits in Super Mario 3D World, lessening the importance of someone like Peach. On top of that, verticality isn't played up as much, either--after all, judging how tall something is in 3D World is harder than in 2D. So, I might pick Luigi in Super Mario Bros. 2 if one level has those plants that shoot fire straight up, since he'd be able to jump over the fire. I don't think I ever have trouble jumping over anything in Super Mario 3D World. In all, the size of my jumps is less important for regular old action, meaning it (pretty much) only holds relevance when I'm exploring. That's on top of the other gestures that even out character attributes that you mentioned, such as powerups and boost pads.

So, when it comes to something like Super Mario Bros. 2, I think you don't give "subtly variant experiences" enough credit. Assuming you enjoy the game enough to play all the way through four times, it's neat that the characters tweak that experience. It's not an entirely new game, but I gain a new appreciation for old challenges. So far, in Super Mario 3D World, I've struggled to find enough subtle variance to care. These days, I'm usually just picking Mario because I can't find something to care about in the other characters. (Rosalina aside, who opens up new attack possibilities.) Granted, that's working alongside my general fatigue with the game, so I'm already biased against it.

But it sounds like you'd say the game is fairly balanced between action and exploration? You have one approach to the stage where you just clear it, and another where you collect everything, so it sounds like you pick from Mario/Toad just as often as Luigi/Peach.

YourselfWhen it comes to a mechanic though, is it fair to presume you enjoy the game enough to play all the way through four times? I'm not even sure I agree with the unpleasantly specific thesis, "if you like SMB2, you'll love playing through as all four characters! If you don't like SMB2, you won't!" Given the presumption that one likes the game enough to play it multiple times, the proclivity still exists for a player to pick the same character that felt best the first time. That's typically how I end up playing any given game - as you said, we're assuming I'm already motivated by other factors to replay, so I don't tend to re-evaluate the character selection process. If I decided I liked Mario for 3-1 the first time, there was probably a reason I made that decision, so I'm likely to stick with Mario for 3-1 the second time. 

I think the issue we've been skirting is simply a difference in the way you and I play games. We both enjoy gameplay that encourages experimentation, and selection is an explicit mechanic through which a game can facilitate tomfoolery. I think the conversation on SMB2 has pretty clearly illustrated the two sides of the issue - your approach, to uniquely combine skills with challenges to gradually uncover more information about every individual part of the game, and mine, to try to solve the puzzle of which selection maxes some metric for each situation and then to put together the solutions to form a grand picture of the game. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the way you think about it is: "what is Mario's version of the game like? How does it compare to Toadstool's?" Whereas I think about "which parts of the game belong to Luigi? Which are played as Toad?" Don't get me wrong, I'm not coming out in support of the Sonic 3 & Knuckles / World of Illusion approach, where there are portions of the stage ONLY accessible by a single character, because figuring out which parts I like to play as whom - solving that puzzle - is entirely why I like character select. But that rarely involves actually playing all the parts with all the characters.

Back to 3D World - I think we both land in the same place, that for the purported experimental avenue that the character select provides, there aren't enough original rewards to reap from the levels to justify exploring it. No to your latter question, I wouldn't say 3D World is anywhere even close to balanced between action and exploration. As I said, I still go for completion on every run, even the "action" run, and the game is so light on puzzles/exploration that I usually do get the 100% on that Mario/Toad attempt. It's only maybe a quarter of the time that I find myself dropping to the Luigi/Peach pool for a collection rerun. It's a slightly different kind of play-though, but one that I only experience on a small fraction of the levels.

GolemThat's a succinct way to put it--that is, "what's X's version of the game like?" versus "which parts of the game belongs to X?" You know, using X reminds me that that's what X4 versus X5 is like. Putting aside the question of whether or not one would actually want to play X5, you get character selection on a per-level basis because some levels work better with a ranged weapon, while others feel better with a strong melee move.

Is the conclusion that Super Mario 3D World's characters ultimately satisfy no one? I mean, I'd take it over New Super Mario Bros' character selection any day, but they aren't different enough, and the stages don't do much to evoke their differences. On the other hand, if you're building a game for four-player coop, I can see why you wouldn't want the characters to stray too far from one another.

YourselfYeah. The conclusion is that it's a game that's made for co-op, so going too out-of-bounds for an interesting single-player character would've made it a hassle to play. I'll give them that co-op is fun, and that given more balanced stage design - a Super Mario Galaxy 2, if you will - I think the differentiation between action and exploratory characters would be sufficiently interesting. Of course, the portioning and flow of levels in Galaxy 2 vs. 3D World is an entirely different conversation... and one we almost had instead of this one, had I fired off my half-completed opening email before yours on character select.

It figures you would bring up X4/X5 - this conversation actually made me want to go back and replay them. I always enjoyed the distinction between X and Zero in X4, feeling like it really was two different games, but never got a feel for it in X5. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ezio's 2013 GOTY Awards

at 6:40 PM
My first thought when I heard that the blog was doing Games of 2013 awards was to come up with 13 wacky categories of awards. Then I realized that I had not even played 13 new games this year, so I opted for the next best thing: 1 + 3 categories. So here are my 4 Most _____ games of the year.

Most Aesthetically Pleasing Game of the Year-- Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

I cannot say enough about how pretty this game looks. The cutscenes were fully animated and would not look out of place in any Miyazaki movie. The cel-shaded character and monster design made it look as everything in the world popped out and gave them a strong sense of life and movement. There are a variety of backgrounds, from industrial cities run by pigs, to forests, to the real world which are all more spectacular than the next. I often had to put the controller down while my jaw dropped at the visuals of this game. The graphics created a sense of wonder and childlike glee that drove me to keep on exploring the world despite its lackluster gameplay and story. 

The music in the game was composed by Joe Hishashi, who does the music for the majority of Miyazaki's movies. As I walked around the world map, them music made me feel as though I was going on a grand adventure. Just listen:
Even though I would not rate this game highly, I certainly had fun playing it because of the game's aesthetics. My inner child enjoyed the pretty visuals and music too much for me to dismiss the game entirely. 

Most Socially Unacceptable Game of the Year-- Persona 3

The Persona series is embarrassing to play in general, since they are basically anime in video game form. But since I do not really care if someone looks over my shoulder and thinks I am some weird otaku or something, I played Persona 3 in public locations on my Vita this summer. That was until I started getting some really strange looks in the waiting room of a doctor's office. This was a result of them seeing this:
The way that characters unlock special powers in battle in Persona 3 is by shooting themselves in the head. It was then I realized that I should not let anybody ever see me playing this game unless I wanted a long conversation with local law enforcement. 

Most Terrible Game of the Year-- Heavy Rain

Here is a quote taken from the metacritic page of Heavy Rain, "There are some flaws, but taken as a package Heavy Rain is a remarkable achievement in gaming that creates an interactive experience that goes beyond the pages of a good novel or film noir. This is a game that needs to be experienced." 

My response to this reviewer is: Fuck you. Reviewers like you are the reason that I wasted $10 at gamestop and 10 hours playing it. I would rank the narrative of Elmo's Letter Adventure for the N64 as superior to this steaming pile of David Cage's masturbatory revels of his self-perceived writing talent. I would say that this was the worst story I have ever "experienced" if not for the existence of David Cage's earlier work, Indigo Prophecy

There are so many plot holes in the story, that it makes me wonder if David Cage thought himself above an editor. After completing the game, I read a four part series (begun here: on the problems with the game, while mentally adding a few plot holes and errors that the articles missed.

I know that reviewers have a child's understanding of narrative complexity, but I cannot fathom anyone thinking that this was a good story unless they have never even seen a book before. Do not play this game. 

Most Favorite Game of the Year-- Bioshock Infinite

You are likely going to see this game at the top of many a list this time of year. There is a reason for that; this game is pretty sweet. It does have some glaring narrative and gameplay issues, however, so let me explain why they do not stop me from declaring this the best game I played this year.

Bioshock Infinite, unlike Heavy Rain, does have a good story, even though it might not be the best story ever written. It suffers from some strange logical leaps and a pretty weak understanding of quantum mechanics. Despite those flaws, after playing the game, I felt like the story mattered. And more importantly, it mattered to me. It was a story about fate, salvation, and redemption that made me grow as a person from the very act of playing it.

One way that Bioshock Infinite is able to resonate with nearly everyone who plays it is the way that it makes you care about Elizabeth, the object of your quest on Colombia. The scene in which you are introduced to her is incredibly powerful in making you want to know more about her and protect her. I encourage you to watch it if you have not seen it before (it starts around 3:00 of this clip). 

The game is also negatively critiqued for being a "movie on rails," as opposed to a game. And while I agree with that to an extent (I did play the game on easy so I could get through the shooting parts quickly), it is not an entirely fair criticism. The gameplay does help enhance the narrative in small ways. For example, the nontraditional escort system of Bioshock Infinite makes the player care about Elizabeth more. 

In Resident Evil 4, I really came to hate Ashley because she was always getting attacked by zombies and dying while you were suplexing zombies. In Bioshock Infinite, Elizabeth has no health bar and cannot die on you. They subtracted the negative side of an escort mission. They also enhanced the positive aspect. The game could have had the player pick all the ammo off the ground automatically in combat, but instead the game has Elizabeth throw the ammo to Booker instead. This causes the player to appreciate her being around more because she is helping the player when they are in stressful situations. A nice, subtle touch that enforces the narrative. 

Bioshock Infinite may not be perfect, as either a story or a game, but it is damn good. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Songs of Snow

at 3:25 PM
It's snowing here in East Coast today so I thought in tribute to the original Rain Song post we did for Hurricane Sandy, I'd do a post with some songs about some snow. Then I couldn't think of any good snow songs because when it snows I just listen to:

Anyway then I remembered the BEST song from a snowy stage, a delightful track from an overall wondrous soundtrack with the thumpingest bassline I've ever heard on the SNES:

So admittedly that probably doesn't get you in much of a mood for snowy relaxing times. Here is one that is a little moodier, a little more touching, for when the sun goes down over those icy glacial cliffs (that appear every time it snows like three inches in the city):

I'm sure as you listen to this next one you'll almost be able to feel the bitter wind gusting against your face as you attempt to push on through a blizzard... of robots.

And one for Ezio here, from certainly the coolest region of Metroid Prime, the most atmospheric region, almost certainly the best part of the game. 

Next time it snows, someone remind me to do this again and do a not-sucky version. This was like fucking worst picks ever. Don't know why I'm blanking, I think either I don't like snow songs very much (the ones I sorta remembered like Freezeflame Galaxy and Flanoir from Tales of Symphonia weren't all that great) or that the tracks that play during snow regions aren't always all that suited for actually snowy days ("Battle on Snow Mountain" from Odin Sphere, "Pitch Black Intrusion" from Dawn of Sorrow).

Monday, December 9, 2013

Huge news: Nintendo debuts new console, Wii U!

at 6:30 PM
That's right, you heard it here first - Nintendo, hot on the heels of their success with Wii and 3DS, will be taking the first leap into the next generation with the Wii U on November 18, 2012, exactly one year and three weeks ago today! The Nintendo Wii U will represent a brand new generation of home hardware for Nintendo, sporting 1080p next generation graphics, advanced media center and social networking features, sophisticated online support, and an unprecedented new controller: the Nintendo Wii U GamePad:
The future is yesterday.
The Wii U GamePad features a gigantic 6.2 inch embedded touchscreen and... okay. I'm gonna stop here. You're probably asking yourself, "why is he doing this? Where am I? What does it all mean?" Well, it's come to my attention over the course of every single conversation I have about "next-gen" consoles with casual gamers (namely family and coworkers) that no one actually knows that Wii U exists. Normally it comes up when someone asks "is Nintendo coming out with another console?", "how's Wii doing?", or, most recently, when I mention that I'm playing Super Mario 3D World ("is that on Wii?"). Realize that the "casual gamers" I'm referencing are not, like, my grandma. These are people that own consoles, are considering buying Xbox Ones/PS4s, and in some cases, owned a Wii. HOW IS NINTENDO DOING SUCH A TERRIBLE JOB AT MARKETING THAT THESE PEOPLE DON'T KNOW THEY'VE HAD A NEW CONSOLE AVAILABLE FOR A YEAR??? I've had this exact "wtf is a Wii U?" conversation at least five times in the past few months. That is extremely worrisome. It's not like consoles are something that gain publicity and attention the longer they exist, taking a while to build steam like a hot new fashion trend or a band heating up the local scene. They precipitously drop off the map like everything in the electronics world... especially when other new consoles get released. 

So anyway, I figured that Nintendo and their little engine that could are in desperate need of publicity, and as a blog that gets up to seven (!) human readers a day, I figured GNG may be the best and only chance they've got. That's why I decided to publish this press release detailing the debut of their console - now you know it exists, so spread the word! I mean, I don't care if you buy it or anything, I really don't give a shit if they sink or swim. That's their problem and a grave they've been happily digging for years. I'm just tired of people fucking asking me about it. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mini Movie Mreviews: Godzilla lives on

at 7:52 PM
Welcome to Mini Movie Mreviews, a feature where I take you through the movies I've watched in the last week or two. These reviews are geared toward those who HAVEN'T seen the film and just want to know if they should watch. I give my condensed recommendation in italics at the end of each review.

At the rate I'm moving through the Godzilla series, I think the MMM format is most appropriate. At this point I've seen eight of the movies, seven in the past two months....

If you're confused by any of the terminology in this post - and actually care - here's a Godzilla Cheat Sheet

Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971) [English dub]
Freaky. At the height of Godzilla becoming a kids' series, vs. Hedorah throws us a foreboding psychedelic curve-ball twisting together nuclear holocaust, a living landfill, bad acid trips, and Godzilla himself drowning in sludge. The anti-pollution message is so heavy-handed that it wraps around to be oppressively horrifying - Hedorah is pollution incarnate, a mass of slime and sludge that rips from smokestacks like a bong and exhales gas so poisonous it burns the flesh from human bones. This movie doesn't pull any punches when it comes to human casualties; we see men and women - even an actual character - stripped to the bone by Hedorah's acidic fumes, and news reports actually give us a running death toll. Tens of thousands fall to Hedorah - to pollution - to industry - to the hubris of the human race. Hedorah is the folly of industry come back to haunt us, just as Godzilla was originally the folly of nuclear war incarnate. This time Hero-zilla takes on the role of the spirit of nature, first shown vainly trying to clean up Earth's desecrated oceans (though hilariously, Godzilla is valiantly burning the trash - what the hell man, are you trying to make things worse?). His adoring young fan Ken (our human protagonist) seems to be less an association of Godzilla with humanity and more of a call for the younger generation to abandon the old ways of polluting the environment to stand (with Godzilla) against industry.

What really sets vs. Hedorah apart is the trippy, frantic audio/visual style, inter-cutting soul music, funk, folk, acid rock, and eerie silence with scenes of carnage, dance clubs, blighted seas, hippy bonfires, monster battles, and even some freaky Ralph Bakshi-esque animations.

Like most Godzilla films I've enjoyed, this is unfortunately a great 60-minute movie in a 90-minute package, with too much pseudo-scientific exposition (I don't think Hedorah needed to originate in space) and a painfully drawn-out series of fake-out endings. The humans' electro-generator thing in particular could've been cut almost entirely; it was boring as shit to watch and took like fifteen minutes to setup.

Not particularly representative of the series, but a terrific and unique movie. A must-watch for fans of the G-man, psychedelia, or '70s eco-horror.

Godzilla (1984) [Japanese, subtitled]
So I've decided to watch the entire Heisei series, and right here is where it starts: the 1984 revival of the property from a decade-long hiatus. Godzilla '84 picks up right where Godzilla '54 left off, conveniently ignoring all the monster battles, smog monster battles, and illegitimate children that happened in between.

It's appropriate that this movie is so blandly titled, as it's perhaps the blandest series entry I've yet seen. It is boring as fucking fuck. If you happen to have seen any of the later Heisei movies and are expecting the same from this, you'll be sorely disappointed (as was I). This is essentially Showa-quality special effects and action with a slightly darker presentation surrounded by a bunch of half-plots about characters who get cursory 10-minute arcs before being discarded as the over-arching narrative sees fit.

I realize this series isn't really about the human characters and I've never expected much on that front - perhaps what bugs me about Godzilla ('84) is that it seems to think I will care about the various one-dimensional faces it introduces, from the boring reporter to the boring prime minister to the terrifyingly out-of-place comic relief drunk. They each get some time onscreen to have some kind of personal dilemma and theoretically a conflict, none of them are developed to any depth or resolved in any meaningful way - in fact they just eat up screen time without developing the plot or themes (lol) of the movie at all. If you only give me a few minutes with a character, I'm just not going to be able to get involved in their story, and I'm certainly not going to be able to unceremoniously switch gears five times over the course of the movie.

Yeah don't watch this one, it is tedious, boring, and redundant. Also, Godzilla gets killed by a bird-machine and that is just stupid.

Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) [Japanese, subtitled]
Almost certainly my favorite Godzilla film thus far, vs. Biollante tells the story of one man's boundless dream to resurrect his daughter by empowering a psychic rose with the DNA of Godzilla and... then... something. Dr. Shinagami's daughter died near a rose plant. He saved that rose. He worked under contract for the government so he could get access to Godzilla cells. On a (literally) dark and stormy night, he merged a Godzilla cell with a rose cell (by injecting one into the other - science, lol!) to create a super-rose. This unleashed a gigantic horrific Godzilla-Rose-Monster, Biollante. You could say things didn't go according to plan, but what was the plan? Create a non-gigantic horrific rose monster? Reincarnate his daughter as a radioactive psychic rose - "like she always wanted"? Better not to ask. It's not like Dr. Frankenstein had a plan, right?!

This movie starts the unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on your opinion and the particular movie) tradition of the Heisei series riffing on popular 'contemporary' Western movies. Here it's an cop/spy action subplot where two of our heroes have to play keep-away with a maguffin against a vaguely Middle-Eastern, suspiciously Prince-looking agent. In case this is too vague to key any tropes for you, the subplot also involves a pair of American agents, one white and one black, who literally speak the line, "we are a lethal weapon!"
The fight with Biollante is undoubtedly my favorite kaiju battle so far
Vs. Biollante has some of the most intense and brutal monster battles you'll see in a Godzilla movie (these are almost on par with Heisei Gamera) on top of fantastic creature design. The film manages to make Biollante both beautiful and horrifying - as the saying goes, "you can't have a genetically modified super-rose without its mile-long tendril swarms and acidic secretions".

If you love giant monsters, THIS is the movie for you. If you love corny '80s movies, that'll just be a bonus. If you only want to watch one Godzilla, this is definitely the #1 latter-day candidate. 

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) [Japanese, subtitled]
This movie is terrible. There are funny parts, but it's so overwhelmingly terrible that after a certain point I had a hard time enjoying the ridiculous camp. See, the problem is that it's built around a terrible core. Most of the Godzilla series, despite its middling execution, is built from really cool ideas. Or at least, ideas that appeal to me. See the above vs. Hedorah and vs. Biollante. Vs. King Ghidorah is just really, really fucking stupid. It is a movie written by idiots (or written in an extremely insane way) that has no goal in mind beyond imitating great works that are far, far beyond its reach. I think I would not be alone in worrying that time travel is too high-concept for the Godzilla franchise. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah makes this clearer than it ever needed to be: time travel is too high-concept for the Godzilla franchise.

I have never watched a movie with more plot holes, and that is not an exaggeration. Everything in the movie feels so distinctly conceived-by-a-five-year-old that my head almost exploded. The entire point of time travel is that things happen synchronously in different time periods. Kill Godzilla before he's born, and he should cease to exist forever. That's not how it works here. In GvKG, if you jump in a time machine on 11/4/1991, travel to 11/4/1945 and kill the dinosaur that will become Godzilla, then return to 11/4/1991... Godzilla drops dead on 11/4/1991. What the hell does that even mean?! I spent at least a half hour of the movie just thinking about that. Why not just have a device that kills Godzilla? The time travel served ABSOLUTELY NO PURPOSE! IT DIDN'T CHANGE THE PAST! There's also the fucking ridiculous convolution that the movie is set in 1991, but the time travelers are from 2204, but Godzilla was born around 1945, so the time travelers come back to 1991 to tell the people in 1991 "Hi, we're here to tell you that we're here to travel back in time to 1945 to kill Godzilla, okay?" Obviously the reason is that it was too expensive to set the entire movie in 2204, but it's hilariously nonsensical that the time-travelers essentially 'stop by' the movie to tell us about their plans (and inevitably foil their own sinister plot).

Gotta give credit where it's due: I never cease to be amused by anti-European racism in foreign movies. Three people show up from the future, two white, one Japanese. Guess which two turn out to be evil? The conniving, interloping European stereotype cracks me up every time.

This time the parody subplot (are they parodies though?) seems to be based on Terminator, as the future people utilize a powerful but emotionless android soldier whose skin at one point gets torn off to reveal he looks like a mechanical skeleton. At some point, in a scene accidentally edited in from T2, he gets reprogrammed and becomes good, and also runs like The Six-Million Dollar Man. There are also scenes shot-for-shot taken from Star Wars, and Back to the Future, so... I don't even know what to say about that. It doesn't seem like a joke. It's just fucking weird and gives the whole thing a not-a-real-movie feel. Doesn't help that the future costumes are insanely cheap and look like something Devo would wear.

I dunno. All of the pieces add up to a movie that should be a riot of unintentional comedy, but I was totally annoyed and disgusted the entire way through. I say skip it - there are plenty of other funny Godzillas that won't make your head hurt.

Godzilla vs. Destroyah (1995) [English dub]

While you may be asking why I jumped ahead three movies, skipping Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2, and Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla, you actually ought to be asking why I started the Heisei series here at vs. Destoroyah before jumping back to the beginning. It's because whatever. Anyway.

Destroyah is pretty neat plotwise, in that it takes a lot of arbitrary concepts and doesn't overcomplicate them. GvKG tried to play way out of its league with scifi high concepts and got smoked - this time around, fictional leaps are used to facilitate new and cool monsters, so I can happily suspend my disbelief. Destoroyah is a pre-Cambrian life-form that is hyper-evolving because of the modern climate? Well, that's not what "evolution" means, but sure, whatever. It means I get to see four (technically five) different forms of the monster over the course of the movie, so I'm cool with it. It even makes Destoroyah one of the most interesting threats since Ghidorah in that it gives him not just a limitless power level, but pairs each power-up with a completely new look and style of fighting. He goes from battling soldiers indoors to soaring over skyscrapers to towering over Godzilla - in some sense, Destoroyah alone is sort of a throwback to a number of other kaiju, which makes him a great final opponent for the Heisei Godzilla.

Of course, again there was a Western movie reference/parody thing (it actually felt like an homage this time around). Destoroyah's first form is a collective of 4-meter-tall insectoids that attack a squad of marines in an industrial complex. It's a shot-for-shot remake of the first action sequence of Aliens. Oh well.

You could say the movie was a little bloated, but considering that it was bloated with an entertaining variety of monster battles including a new Thermal Godzilla, Junior Godzilla, four forms of Destoroyah, and the triumphant return of the Super X, it didn't bother me. There was a lot going on, but I'll take that over vs. Hedorah's excruciating fascination with one boring character/gimmick.

Solid is the word that comes to mind. Exemplary for a Godzilla movie - if you want to know what the series is all about, it definitely won't hurt to start here. Have crackers ready for a hearty helping of cheese and enjoy the action.


There you have it. Five more Godzillas down. Five to go. Then another fifteen after that. Just for fun, here's an approximate current ranking from best to worst:

Godzilla vs. Biollante
Godzilla vs. The Thing (aka Mothra vs. Godzilla)
Godzilla vs. Hedorah
Godzilla vs. Destoroyah
Ghidorah: The Three-headed Monster
Godzilla ('54)
Godzilla ('84)
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah

Monday, December 2, 2013

Give This Game a Shot: Nosferatu, Man

at 6:27 PM
Nosferatu is a pretty crazy one. As soon as it boots up and you see this:

you could be forgiven for mistaking the game for a Vic Tokai-esque Castlevania clone. I mean good lord. Same font, same castle beneath a full moon, same bat cursor? These SETA fucks really couldn't come up with anything of their own to communicate "vampire"? And is "SETA" supposed to be a fake version of "SEGA"?

Hilariously, this isn't even the first Castlevania-riff which SETA piloted. They published 8 Eyes for the NES, known as perhaps the most blatant Castle-Clone this side of Vampire: Master of Darkness. At least Master of Darkness could excuse itself in that there were no other Castlevania alternatives on Game Gear.

Also worth a chuckle is that the original 1922 filmic classic Nosferatu, an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, is thus titled because Murnau and Co. couldn't obtain the rights to the 1897 novel. Was SETA trying to call back to that? Reawaken the spirit of unlicensed vampire ripoffs?

Thankfully, Nosferatu's Castlevanialarities cease immediately after the title screen (barring that they're both gothic horror games). As soon as you hit start you'll watch a quick (admittedly Castlevanian) cut-scene and then see your character dumped into a locked prison cell. Classic puzzle setup. So you look in the mirror, see what you saw, take the saw, use it to cut off your own head, throw your head as hard as you can at the cell door

In short order, you'll discover that the game is... a cinematic platformer! With spookiness! And brawling! And a really fucking strict time limit. I've heard this game described (in a YouTube comment...) as a mix of Prince of PersiaCastlevania, and Streets of Rage. That's a boldly over-ambitious application of all three - really it's just an action game set across short, tightly-timed mazes that encourage an arcade-style mastery of the mechanics and environments for a fluid play-through. Each stage presents a number of routes, some heavier on obstacle course platforming, others on combat, and others on 'puzzles' (namely tricky jumps, movable blocks, and pressure switches), but the time limit succinctly communicates that there isn't enough time in a single run to investigate all of these available avenues. This isn't Castlevania or some bullshit. Despite that uh, title screen there.

Luckily you've got infinite lives to experiment with these paths, so you won't have to play the entire game over and over to master the later environments (a la Sonic). Once you've conquered a boss (every three stages), the timer resets and you keep that checkpoint for good, allowing you to take your time repeatedly dying and learning each area's nuances (though continuing will cost relatively insignificant upgrades). Still, it's a long enough game that unless you're using emulator save states, you'll have to get good to beat it in one sitting. That's the classic tradeoff for infinite continues - high difficulty and no saving. Fair enough as far as I'm concerned. Unless you're ready to sit down for three straight hours of continuous respawns, you probably won't see the credits until you've spent a lot of time refining your skills and learning the levels - and enemies.

Aside from the arcade-style challenge, those enemies are what really distinguish Nosferatu from the cinematic platforming field. If you've played Prince of Persia, Abe's Oddysee, or Another World, you know the platforming mechanics at play in Nosferatu. Not to say they're bad, just that they've been done before and were, even in 1994, a bit worn. Cine-plats typically separate out their combat (Persia) or omit it completely (Abe), so it's unusual to see it integrated as thoroughly as in Nosferatu. What typically draws attention here is the player character's "Streets of Rage-esque" moveset, but as that mostly boils down to button-mashing, it's really the presentation of the combat that shines through. A wide variety of enemies are used to block your path, to guard platforms, and to provide chase, and almost all of them can be either dodged or smacked down (TM). This really breaks up the monotony, not because there is platforming, then combat, then platforming, then combat (Prince of Persia already does that), but because there is a choice between fight or flight. Each enemy gives the player a chance to evaluate risk both in terms of time and life, and a chance to decide whether they have more faith in their combat or navigational skills.

There are some cool fighting-game style boss-battles to boot
If you like cinematic platformers like Prince of Persia or semi-open-ended platforming of the Sonic, Super Mario World, and Rondo of Blood variety, definitely give Nosferatu a shot. I don't think it's going to provide much of a combat/action fix, but if you like challenging maze exploration and are looking for a unique 2D platformer, you definitely can't go wrong here.