Friday, 19 September 2014

Don't Touch The Edge, Okay? That's Part Of The Game! (Touhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom)

Sorry for the lull in activity here. I'll explain. See, I've had a stroke of genius regarding three of the "big" games coming up. A trilogy on the NES that starts with N, no big surprises what that is. Problem is, I had the idea too close to me making it to those games, and I've been busy with errands and also dragging my feet a little when it comes to working on those gonzo entries. It'll be fun, though. A hint: Ain. Ain Sof. Ain Sof Aur. Now that you're all mystified, I'm going to not neglect this blogspace for a brief moment. So let's talk, you and I.

Let's talk about a different project: The Touhou Project. I just learned that Touhou means "Eastern". Well, that just fits with that one article of Phil's I keep quoting, about how Japan didn't exist. By 1996 it kind of did, though. Not entirely, but it kind of did. The veil between our worlds had become transparent, much like the veil between the world of humans and the demonic realm of Gensokyo. On the other side, an alchemist known only as ZUN tinkered with a Japanese computer, first creating a Breakout-style game. A year later... who knows what happened? Perhaps in his dreams he saw them. The bullets. The patterns. The patterns are so pretty. They entice, like an angler fish, and then the jaws come. Each one spells certain death for you, a meeting with Peko the Destructor should you touch their beauty. But you know that. You've seen them before, haven't you? Gaze upon the face of madness that has shocked and horrified many who know of Touhou. Gaze at the relentess spread of instant death bullets. Gaze at a new creature, born from the heart of Japan-Gensokyo and tearing through the veil to terrorize us. Look upon the Dread Beast DANMAKU, and feel ultimate despair. I have. I have ventured into Gensokyo, and I have come back after three days of weaving through its curtain fire. I have come back to tell you...

...that I love every bit of it.

To be clear, I played the seventh game in the series: Perfect Cherry Blossom. I have previously dabbled with some of the PC-98 games, including an extended series of attempts to best the first true shooting game, Story Of Eastern Wonderland. Perfect Cherry Blossom is the second in the series to be made for Windows, and... It's perfect. I almost have no words to express how satisfyingly good I found this. I understand the Kool-Aid that fans of this series adore so much now. All of this despite the fact that I am complete garbage at shooting games. You've seen some disdain for them here; hell, the whole Dread Beast GREED thing was invented because of Image Fight. The scrolling shooter was built to siphon your quarters, and in the 8-bit era they were still learning not to do that. Touhou, like Axelay before it, was created from the ground-up to be "not for the arcade". Axelay exorcises the Dread Beast GREED with its reversal of Gradius Syndrome. Perfect Cherry Blossom is set in a realm where it can't even exist. This is the land of the Dread Beast DANMAKU, and its multi-colored eyes glare at dear GREED and send it running to hide in a pile of hundred dollar bills. Now, I made the mistake in the past of running as well at that glare. One shouldn't. A German Let's Player pal of mine, who is a whiz at Touhou, has lots to say about Touhou and its status as an Impossible Video Game holy fucking shit look at those fucking bullets Joe--

Sorry? I was rambling. Anyway, Gesh here has lots to say. Basically, the average Video Game Fan will look at one of the really intense Touhou challenges and assume that all the game consists of is ridiculous curtain fire. Untrue. It eases you into things before throwing the scary stuff at you. So it went with me and Perfect Cherry Blossom. I will confess. I started on Easy Mode. Now, a lot of super Touhou fans will scoff at Easy mode. Fuck that, I say. It's probably a bad idea to coddle yourself outright and only play Easy mode Touhou without dipping your toe in a higher difficulty, but that shouldn't make it verboten outright. One must learn to crawl before they learn to walk... but one can't crawl for the rest of their lives. I spent two days learning to crawl. Here is how you crawl in Perfect Cherry Blossom, and how wonderful it is. You've got three playable characters, each with two different "styles" of shot, so to speak. I went with a maid named Sakuya who shoots knives, and gave her a homing shot. She also had four bombs per life. These are the tools Perfect Cherry Blossom gives you to survive. Shooting, moving, and bombing. Those first two we understand. The bombs? In my case, they did damage and cleared away bullets in a set area around me. They are a panic button, something to press when you weave your way incorrectly and need to save yourself. Losing a life will cost you all the bombs of that life, but using a bomb just costs... well, one bomb. Still, one cannot bomb willy-nilly. In my case, I hit a balance. I learned to weave through certain patterns of danmaku fire, moving gracefully and not letting my tiny dot of a hitbox get poked. At some points I thought I was in a field full of cows because of all the damn grazing happening. At others? HOLY SHIT SCARY PATTERN BOMB BOMB BOMB.

Oh, there are mechanics for getting high scores. Like the Supernatural Barrier. Get a bunch of points and you get this temporary shield that will absorb one hit. The kicker is that you can dismiss it early and clear every bullet off the screen. Since I gave more of a care about completing the game, I considered these bonus bombs and used them accordingly. If you save the shield, though, you get a point bonus. Which could be helpful if you're good. Which I'm not. I'm rambling, but these are almost all of the tools the game gives you. The mission then is to clear it and get a "good ending" by beating all six stages without using a continue. In this realm, the Dread Beast GREED's usual scheming is thwarted. Touhou doesn't want your quarters. It wants you to feed it as little as possible. Unlike GREED, who couldn't care less about your victory so long as you give it money... DANMAKU wants you to succeed. So much so that it gives you the option to practice any stage you've cleared. In my case, I used the continue option to clear the whole game, and then set to work on practicing the other stages. Learning the spreads as best as I could. Attempting to optimize life preservation and bomb use. I eventually succeeded. No continues... on Easy mode. I then bumped up to Normal, expecting pain... and it wasn't so bad! The things I had learned still applied! Some patterns were faster and more involved, but I handled it within a day. By the absolute skin of my teeth, I got the one credit clear on Normal. A difficulty which Touhou fans recognize. This counts. This is a realm I have survived.

This game lives up to its name. It's perfect. Perfectly balanced with difficulty. It's scary, but completely learnable and passable given some planning and practice. The game's length of about 30 minutes also means it doesn't drag on. The six stages go by, and a failed attempt can still teach you things. It respects you enough to want you to succeed, but doesn't patronize you by pulling its punches, even on Easy. By god, I like it. I like Perfect Cherry Blossom. I like it so much that I don't want to play another Touhou game. Not because it exhausted me and made me wary of putting my soul through that again. No. Because I want this experience to stand resolute in my mind. My three days in Gensokyo, dodging the dread beast DANMAKU's assault and bettering my reflexes with each retread. To do it over again with a new coat of paint would almost cheapen it. No. For now, this must be my only foray.

Perfect Cherry Blossom is perfect. Why can't more shooter games be like this?

Friday, 12 September 2014

All Of Your Dreams Go Down The Drain (NFL, Nigel Mansell's World Championship Racing, A Nightmare On Elm Street)

This is like a bad dream or something. NFL by LJN. You know what? No. Fuck it. From now on, whenever I come across an unremarkable sports game I dislike, I'm going to instead quote a Wikipedia article about anything else. NFL on NES, published by NES, is irrelevant and not at all fun. Instead, let's learn about electrical engineering.

Electrical engineering is a field of engineering that generally deals with the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. This field first became an identifiable occupation in the latter half of the 19th century after commercialization of the electric telegraph, the telephone, and electric power distribution and use. Subsequently, broadcasting and recording media made electronics part of daily life. The invention of the transistor and, subsequently, the integrated circuit brought down the cost of electronics to the point where they can be used in almost any household object.

Electrical engineering has now subdivided into a wide range of subfields including electronics, digital computers, power engineering, telecommunications, control systems, RF engineering, signal processing, instrumentation, and microelectronics. The subject of electronic engineering is often treated as its own subfield but it intersects with all the other subfields, including the power electronics of power engineering.

Great. Next.

Nigel Mansell's World Championship Racing. It's like Rad Racer in first-person. Also sort of frustrating because the opposing racers are nigh-impossible to pass. They weave around too much and I rear-ended them. I made no progress in this game. It is a better game than NFL on NES but not by much. It also came out in 1993 and was but one version of many. This is what happens when the Nintendo Project dies. All we have left is mediocrity. It's enough to put you to fucking sleep. I have nothing to fill this space. I have nothing constructive to say about any of this. At last I understand the futility of it all. The Nintendo Project died for a reason, and so did the NES. So did the NES. So, too, will all your favorites die. Entropy rules absolute, and Peko the Destructor holds sway over all. Perhaps, then, we should visit her. Why the hell not? Video games are a goddamned nightmare these days. Let's delve into the nightmare and face our destiny. We've done it before, and by god we'll do it again.

Rare Ltd. brought me joy in the mid-1990s. Here they bring me supposed despair. Here they drag me into the nightmare. A world where progress is unclear, where snakes and bats swarm and rocks fall from the heavens just to kill me. This is not the domain of Peko the Destructor, or even the Nightmare. This space was created out of malice and revenge. A very bad man did very bad things in 1968, and in response the public took justice into their own hands. They burned a murderer alive in his home, and his vengeance brought him back. He is Frederick Krueger, of the Bladed Hand. We are in his charged space, and it is horrific. He screams for justice and revenge. How dare those people kill him? In revenge, he shall kill as something beyond a human being. He will kill as an idea, living within the nightmare. His havoc will spread to the waking world. His dark seed, his cries of justice... they resonate with some. In his dream realm, Frederick cries for the blood of the Dream Warriors. In the waking world, the zealots of the Church Of Gaming cry for the blood of the social justice warriors. There is no integrity. There is only misplaced anger, a sense at being wronged when they themselves have cast the first stones. We enter this space, and we seek to exorcise the demon once and for all. A Bladed Hand with disconnected orbs for limbs threatens us, echoing the future heat death of the NES. Echoing the nightmare which taught us about death in the first place. How can anyone stand up to this?

Without fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Just as the nightmare has its heroes, so too do the zealots have their targets... but they fall victim to infiltration. Their scheming exposed. This is not a crusade. It is a witch hunt. The fighting continues, as it always has and always will... but they can never win. These are not dominoes. These are people, and these people will not topple. Frederick is a spectre. He is an idea haunting the subconscious of promiscuous teens. All one has to do is remain unafraid, to remain brave... and one may burn his bones. Then Peko the Destructor shall descend, and Frederick will pay for his transgressions. Then will come the Lady Valya, bringing the truth that we had forgotten when we got too angry at football games. It is a truth that will send the zealots screaming back to their caves, plotting for "next year".

The secret of alchemy is material social progress.
Video games are alive again.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Gettin' Mad About Video Games (NARC, NES Open Tournament Golf, NES Play Action Football)

Welcome to the letter N. It stands for Nothing. As in, nothing today is actually any good. Okay, maybe one game, but it sure as shit ain't NARC. We're in War On Drugs territory here. Also Williams Arcade territory. Also Rare Ltd. programmer territory. Mother of god, these are bad lands to be in. So how do we fight the war on drugs? Kill it. Kill them all. Destroy every drug-peddling criminal scum shooting at you. They are the enemy, and you are the Law. The absolute, the champion of virtue and of right. They shot first, so it's within your rights as a gun-toting officer of peace to mow them all down. How dare anybody question otherwise. Attack dogs? Mow them down too. The powers that be have deigned them threats. There are no cute dogs in this world, only attack dogs that will gnaw your leg off. Men who throw hypodermic needles. Gun not enough? Blow them up with a rocket. Create a cascade of corrupt corpses in your wake, no remorse or worry... and then go for a round of golf.

This is better. This elicits warm memories of the 1990s. Borrowing this game on the same day as art class. We had to make placemats. I made a crude drawing of the cover art of this game. Is it still here, I wonder? Let me check.

By God in heaven. There it is. Littered with signatures from classmates. "AFA." A Friend Always. Here's the punchline; I have forgotten who some of these people are. Who the hell is Holly, or Billy, or Jennifer? Was AFA just some cool thing to say in 1995? I don't know, but somehow this game still has power over me. Somehow it's a fun golf game. Even if I can barely make par on some holes, and end up triple bogeying on others. Somehow, it's still fun. No bullshit, no nonsense, just you and a golf club and hitting the damn ball. No Jack Nicklaus, no Lee Trevino. Just Mario. And a golf club. It's the best game today, and I have nothing else to say about it. It's a golf game and it's fun.

NES Play Action Football is a football game. It is not fun... but it's had a strange effect on me. I went in expecting very little. I got, of course, very little. It is football. Just like I've done before, and will do again and again until the end of time. It uses an isometric perspective and sometimes zooms out. Then the conspiring begins. Plays and attack patterns that I have no comprehension of. The screen zooming out as it's my turn to move, such that the tiny red man I'm controlling collides with a tiny yellow man and I lose my turn. No gain. Controls that are unintuitive. God. I know that I'm not playing it as intended. I am meant to have the instruction book with me like a bible... but I guess I'm just used to a certain level of figuring stuff out. Something simple would work. B to pass. A to tackle. Select to switch player. This is all you would need. Instead, it's B plus a direction to pass. B PLUS A to change players. This is never told on screen, of course. I had to look it up after finishing play. Good riddance. Bad rubbish.

Then I thought further. I thought of Gamergate, of the faceless swarms that are descending on women in gaming and driving them right the fuck out with their virtual pitchforks and torches. All in the name of "weeding out corruption". Bullshit. Bullshit. I have yet to see an example of Gamergate doing anything of a sort. A woman has had dirty relationship laundry aired out for the world to see. Another woman has been driven out of her home by threats of rape and death. Another woman has quit writing about video games entirely. The Faceless Ones are claiming victim after victim to their crusade... and for what? To protect this? To protect their darling dear video games? Emboiting a closed space upon which nothing that is not a privileged white male can enter on pain of death? Literally fuck off. Real people, real living and feeling people on planet Earth, are being hurt by this. Hurt by the mob, in favor of protecting video games. Literally. Fuck off. Video games are not worth protecting. Even if they were, they wouldn't need it. They have survived market crashes and system changes and social upheaval. A couple of "non-games" aren't going to kill it. Get out. Video games were corrupt from the moment they were born. They exist to make money, and they will continue to make money until the end of time. The fuckwits behind Gamergate are no better than the NARC men, shooting at everything that dares to be Not Them.

Destroy all "gamers". Ruin all video games. Video games are dead. From now on, this project is a postmortem.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie

(Hi there! This isn't really a Nintendo game post, but I was inspired. After years of filming and production and stuff, the Angry Video Game Nerd movie finally came out! I watched it last night and I had words to write about it... sort of. There will be spoilers in these words, so do beware. If you'd like to see the film, here is a legal avenue for you to do so. Regardless, here we go.

PS: If you got here from Cinemassacre, hi! I hope you like my silly Nintendo game blog!)

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie (henceforth referred to as the AVGN movie) is many things. "Terrible", surprisingly enough, is not one of them. Believe me, I'm the first to call out an AVGN-related product when it falters. I've done it before. Still, this is not a review of the AVGN movie. Not quite, but let's get housekeeping out of the way and give quick thoughts anyway. It's okay. It's not a classic or a masterpiece, but it's a movie I'd watch again. My favorite part, aside from all of the esoteric bullshit I'm going to write about it in a second, is how it handles cameos. This is an Internet Celebrity Movie, and in my mind I immediately compare it to Doug Walker's Internet Celebrity Movies for his website, That Guy With The Glasses. They are not very good in my eyes, and one of the reasons I dislike them? Their reliance on cameos and reference. They exist to light up the audience's memory neurons regarding Internet Celebrity Inside Jokes And Appearances. By contrast, the AVGN movie is also brimming with cameos from other Internet Celebrities (even Doug Walker himself shows up!)... but at almost no point is it ever directly stated that the person appearing on screen is Someone From The Internet. Doug Walker gets his cameo, but it's a scream of horror at something. He does not identify himself as Doug Walker. He is a cutaway reaction, a piece of a larger montage that actually is relevant to the plot of the film. There are other things I liked, but let's not go into those now. Let's talk about alchemy again.

Oh, is the AVGN movie dripping with alchemy and the totemic power of the Nintendo pantheon... even if it doesn't really involve Nintendo. For starters, let's look at the Nerd himself. If the Nintendo Project is the TARDIS Eruditorum of the NES (which, really, Phil deserves all credit for)... then the AVGN web series is the About Time. Or the Jeremy Bentham or whatever. Thanks to him, creations of the Nightmare are spotlighted and targeted by the masses. We know to treat Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde as a dread beast. Top Gun and its plane landing are nonsense. The Power Glove really is that bad. (We'll get there, in a roundabout way, soon.) He jumps all over time with these games, as we do, and doesn't even limit himself to the grey box. Atari is fair game as well. The 2600, the once-king of the wastelands of woodgrain. What happened next is recorded history, of course. The impossible king rose to great heights, in conjunction with the dread beast GREED at the near-peak of its capitalist power. They were invincible, and they recruited an alchemist to make something to give them more money. A video game based on that one Spielberg movie. Yes. Eee Tee. They gave their microchip alchemist no time at all to turn lead into gold, and the half-baked creation was sour and malformed. The capitalists, in their hubris, made far too many. Their assumption was that Darth License's brand would fly off the shelves. How wrong they were. Video games suffered a mortal blow, and the lead blood splattered everywhere, poisoning the well. They died in 1983, but the trickling blood splashed into a void, reaching a land that did not exist. It touched a white and red box, and the Famicom was born. As for the E.T. carts? Buried with countless other unsold Atari stock, in a landfill in the wastelands.

All of this is true. Even the landfill part.  The movie, of course, embellishes things slightly. And by "slightly" I mean that every Eee Tee cartridge ever made actually contains a piece of alien super-metal harvested from the Roswell UFO, as well as the floor plans to Area 51. Things go farther than that. There's an alien who tells us that our reality is its own ridiculous video game. Entire planets and nebulas created with alchemy far surpassing our own... and the entropy that can stop it? A Lovecraftian death god lurking under Mount Fuji. Who awakens during the third act of the film and lays waste to the world like a kaiju monster. The Nightmare, Peko The Destructor, the dread beast GREED... all just concepts without form. Here, then, lies the true horror. Video games exist to further capitalism and line the pockets of their creators. The side effect of that? Sometimes they're fun. Sometimes the microchip alchemy creates something beautiful. Sometimes, the grace of good fortune awaits. There is good in this universe, and there are good games.

The Nerd himself, whether he knows it or not, is a force of good. He may swear and fight and drink and vomit, but above all else his greatest fear is the suffering of those who have grown to laugh at his work. The idea that people would actually play E.T., let alone go out to the harsh desert to dig the damn things up? It horrifies him. He spends the film trying to deny the entire thing, even as the conspiracies and revelations about the inner workings of the universe rack up. He doesn't want us to become the mindless zombies of capitalism; indeed, a nightmare sequence early on features just that. A carnival of capitalism with Eee Tee and the Nerd's face plastered everywhere, the undead buying and winning and buying... then playing their product. Furthering the brand. Consuming not just what the fools at Cockburn put out, but human flesh. How horrifying.

In the end, it is too much. In order to save the day, mankind needs to rid itself of this burden. Every cartridge of Eee Tee on the planet comes together, the ultimate alchemy. It forms a spaceship, and this is what sends the death god back to its realm. We are deprived of our so-called "worst game ever", but as the credits roll, we get what we have wanted. We get our AVGN E.T. review... and you know what? It's not the worst game of all time. In the end, E.T. isn't really some earth-shattering calamity that can be used to make it so nothing ever existed. It's a flawed game that some greedy old people rushed out the door for Christmas 1982. It's a game that one man worked on to the best of his effort, creating some weird thing about telephone pieces and falling into holes. It has its cryptic moments, but it was intended to come with instructions. You read them, and understand, because the game has no room to tell you what to do. Its alchemist has no time to explain to you what to do. Sure, it may have brought Atari to its knees and almost killed video games, but that set the scene for the NES, and the 30 years of video gaming that followed. A new empire, forged on the ashes of the old.

In that regard, E.T. might be the most important game of all time.