Weird Wargaming: The Axis Contraptions

After World War II, various veterans of the vanquished (to put it that way) offered to design and make various military platforms. Only a few actually entered production. Kurt Tank designed the HF-24 Marut and sputtered-out Pulqui jet fighters. An Italian submachine gun, the TZ-45, found its way into the Burmese Army. Most fell victim to the same culprits: A combination of Cold War military aid and cheap Allied surplus sweeping them aside, while not being high-performance enough to beat them that way.

Yet for alternate historians/wargamers/writers wanting to add various wunderwaffe to their scenarios, it’s not that implausible that a few could slip through here and there. They’d mostly be out of the way unless history moved to that region (for instance, the Willy Messerschmidt-designed HA-300 would undoubtedly see service in the Arab-Israeli Wars if it entered mass production.) But they could still be done.

What would be most interesting would be the really exotic and large Luft 46 aircraft and wunderpanzer tanks. Those would probably need veto-able foreign engines (or other less obvious components) and would be no picnic to design. But they would be the most fun to play.

A Thousand Words: Mighty No. 9

Mighty No. 9

Judged on its own without any other context, Mighty No. 9 would resemble a mediocre Mega Man-style game. There have been dozens of those, including more than a few in the official series itself. To study it there would not be the most interesting. About the only things I can say for the game itself are that it copied the cheapest difficulty elements (why?) and in everything from plot to aesthetics simply tried to be “as close to classic Mega Man as possible without lawsuits”.

But what is interesting is the ridiculous amount of hype that came around its crowdfunding. Occuring in the “irrational exuberance” phase of Kickstarter and spearheaded by ex-Mega Man head Keiji Inafune, this was one of those “the gaming king came down to make a dream” experiences. This prompted emotion that successful MM-esques like Azure Striker Gunvolt (made conventionally by a firm that had experience on the official games) and 20XX (crowdfunded yet made by an unknown) couldn’t bring.

The result was a ton of stretch goals “met”, feature creep, the project getting out of hand, the mood turning from hopeful to laughable, and then the game itself sinking like a stone when it was finally released. Whether it could have been better or if the expectations were just too great is an open question. What is not is that this was one of the biggest crowdfunding embarrassments.

A Thousand Words: Alien3 The Gun

Alien3: The Gun

Based off the ugly duckling of the Alien franchise (infamous for killing off the beloved non-Ripley cast of Aliens, for starters), Sega’s Alien3: The Gun was an arcade lightgun shooter a la Revolution X. Unlike that “how do you do fellow kids” game, this actually manages to be atmospheric. The visuals match the movie’s themes well, and the music is excellent.

In fact, this is the rare game that manages to have its cake and eat it too. Alien properties, following in the wake of the second movie, have this tendency to turn xenomorphs into uglier Koopa Troopas, being generic expendable enemies. (The game Alien: Isolation was a deliberate reaction to this trope). Naturally, a light gun arcade game can only do that… but it still manages to be chilling and foreboding too.

Then there’s how the action is jury-rigged into the movie plot. The player controls an anonymous marine who somehow ended up on the doomed Sulaco and goes through all the parts of the actual movie. There are robots, including a giant tank. Despite there being hordes of xenomorphs, the real one from the actual movie is inexplicably more durable as a boss. And finally, the last boss, in a game full of hideous monsters is….. a human with a flamethrower. It would be annoying in other contexts, but here it’s endearing.

This is the rare quarter-muncher with class and poise, and a pleasant surprise from a genre with low expectations.

A Thousand Words: Sonic Adventure

Sonic Adventure

I was a child when Sonic Adventure first came out on the Dreamcast. I was also one of the rare few who got to see it new and firsthand. At the time it looked impressive. Now with hindsight, it’s basically the Yak-38 of video games.

The Forger was basically a tech demo of a V/STOL fighter that got shoehorned into being an operational aircraft out of desperation. It was horrendously underpowered and unsafe. Likewise, this is a massively erratic way to show off all the things the Dreamcast could do more than an actual game. Sonic himself is a barely controllable pinball. Everyone else is there to represent something “new” and “amazing”. Tails can fly. Knuckles is there to have the same kind of collectathon gameplay pioneered in Mario 64. Amy-uh, does, basic puzzle stealth? Gamma the robot does third-person shooting by way of locking on, and Big the Cat infamously has that classic element of a speed game: Fishing. Slow paced fishing at that.

The cinematography in the cutscenes is utterly horrendous with the slightest point of comparison to anything else. And this introduced the storyline elements that would explode to horrendous proportions in Shadow and 06 and remain with the series even to this day. Which is to say, a combination of mystical mumbo-jumbo, Dr. Robotnik/Eggman messing with something he shouldn’t, and tons of new characters with each installment.

What I consider interesting is that Super Mario 64, made by Nintendo from a position of strength, did not do anything like this. It kept the same basic excuse plot as the past installments, and didn’t feel like it had to push anyone new very hard. Sonic Adventure, made by Sega from a position of weakness, had to stretch, and it failed in that regard.

The tragedy of this for the series was that instead of trying to improve the fundamental controls, Sonic Team focused on one gimmick after another. Mechs, teams, guns, telekinesis, anything but razor-sharp platforming. Adventure didn’t cause the famous 3D pit all by itself, but it started the process of digging.

A Thousand Words: BUSTAFELLOWS

BUSTAFELLOWS

So, it should be obvious that I’m not the target romance fiction aimed at women. But romance fiction that doubles as a crime thriller? Call me intrigued. So when I saw the Blerdy Otome Review of BUSTAFELLOWS (the official title is in ALL CAPS), I felt like I should check what’s still a crime thriller out. Hey, if an otome game took place in a conventional World War III, I’d look at it (I’d be seriously interested in how someone who came from the opposite background as most technothriller authors would handle it.)

Anyway, BUSTAFELLOWS takes place in the fictional NYC stand-in of New Sieg, where a reporter who can send her mind back in time and bodyjack someone in the past to change the present (the implications are addressed, and it’s portrayed as more limited and less powerful than it could theoretically be) gets involved with five possible love interests/vigilantes. While a visual novel doesn’t have much in the way of gameplay per se save for selecting choices, I have to say that this is one of those “PC version as a total afterthought” ports with a bizarre control scheme. Oh well. I got used to it, and the actual game ran fine.

The good news is that this is the rare “Romantic Suspense” that actually succeeds in balancing “Romance” and “Suspense”. The bad news is A: I think there’s a bit of culture clash that’s iffy but still bears little ill will (I’d expect the same from an American production that tried to tackle East Asian socio-political issues), and worse, B: The tone zigzags too much from “too serious” to “too goofy”. But these aren’t deal-breakers and I found it worth my money.

Review: High Rise Invasion Volume 1

High Rise Invasion Volume 1

The manga High Rise Invasion was recommended to me, so I decided to give the first volume a try. The premise of this volume is extremely simple-schoolgirl Yuri Honjo ends up in a strange world of nothing but skyscrapers and masked killers. Essentially the entire volume’s plot, save for the last few sections where other sane characters appear, is of Yuri running around and fighting.

It’s shallow but I can forgive it. Remembering that it’s meant to be read one chapter at a time in a magazine serial helps a lot. That and the fundamentals being done well (the art is good and so is the action) makes this worth the cost. I’ve read plenty of shallow but worthy cheap thrillers in text form, so one in comic form can work as well.

A Thousand Words: Pokemon Black/White

Pokemon Black and White Versions

It was recently the 11th anniversary of Pokemon Black and White’s release. Now in terms of actual gameplay, it’s the same monster-catching as always. But in terms of opinion, it’s one of the games where, with full hindsight and difference, my views on it have shifted the most.

At the time, I viewed the story’s very slight challenge of its premise as something hamfisted and dumb. For the gameplay, while it wasn’t bad, it still felt like business as usual. Now with three more generations and a decade of thought, I can actually appreciate it more.

The first thing is realizing that Unova, the region of the game, is (loosely) based off my local area, the New York City metropolitan area. That’s neat, at least. The second is seeing that Game Freak played it so safe with the next three games that their mild, necessarily child-friendly critique comes across as the best they could do. Instead of slamming them for not doing it the best, I can praise them for trying. The third is the graphics. This was the last Pokemon game to feature classic sprites, which reach their apex here. After that, it’s ugly, basic, horribly optimized 3D models.

So what I wasn’t the fondest of at the time has turned into a nostalgic memory.

A Thousand Words: Requiem For The Phantom

Phantom: Requiem For The Phantom

The 2009 anime Phantom: Requiem For The Phantom is an adaptation of the “Phantom of Inferno” visual novel, the first work by infamous creator Gen Urobuchi. It tells the story of a young Japanese man and enigmatic girl turned underworld assassins with German number codenames, as they fall into a twisted world. It’s perhaps the best example of a “mean 51%” work I can think of, because of how zig-zaggy it is. A “median 51%” story would be bland but effective consistently, and this is anything but.

The production values and especially soundtrack are excellent overall. But the animation quality is surprisingly inconsistent. And the plot and characters are much more so. It wants to be this dark drama exploring the human psyche but it also wants to have tacticute girls and ex-East German supervillains bouncing around. This doesn’t always mix. A bigger problem is that so much of the story line is devoted to a fundamentally uninteresting conflict between various equally unsympathetic amoral criminals. It just became hard to care about, and the main characters spent more time moping than taking advantage of the agency that they theoretically had.

This is the equivalent of Dave Kingman or Chris Davis, a show that just swings and swings and either hits the ball hard or strikes out. While it often doesn’t succeed, I can give it credit for sincerely trying, and it was never outright bad enough that I didn’t want to watch.

A Thousand Words: Wario Land 4

Wario Land 4

When I was a kid, I got a Game Boy Advance, and one of the available games that early in the product’s life cycle was Wario Land 4. It’s still one of my favorite platformers ever, and learning about it and the character’s history has made it even better.

Wario’s origin apparently came from the Game Boy team loathing having to make a Mario game, viewing him as this ugly mustached intruder. So for Super Mario Land 2, they made an ugly mustached intruder. By a good coincidence, flipping the letter “M” in Mario led to a viable pun in both Japanese (Warui) and English (War) for a villain. Wario became popular enough to get his own games.

The excuse plot is Wario finding about an ancient pyramid and then heading off to plunder it. He travels through paintings into various dimensions (it just dawned on me now that this is a parody of Mario 64), and goes on weird escapades. This is a well-done game. The platforming is very good, and the colorful setup manages to work around the GBA’s infamous dark screen without being too obnoxious. It also ditches the outdated arcade holdover “life” system completely-if you die, you just get pushed back to the hub and have to restart the level.

What’s made me extra-fond of this game is that it’s the first that I mastered. I remember how fun it was to be able to effortlessly beat bosses that used to give me trouble, and recall being able to constantly stunlock one boss as a moment of pride. (Also, it was actually hard to accidentally get the worst ending, but I remember being “bad” on purpose to do so as yet another challenge). The GBA had a lot of clunkers, but this was not one of them.