On the Table
Shadows of Malice should likely be considered to be one of this year’s “vanguard” designs. Chances are, at least half of you reading this won’t be interested and a quarter of you will actively hate it. But for the quarter of you that remain, this may be your favorite game of 2015. It’s an utterly compelling, leftfield design that does not feel anything like any other game out there. In some ways, it feels like a game that dropped through a wormhole from an alternate 1982. In others it feels like something from a sleek, minimalist future.
There is so much I love about this game- its vagary, its sparseness and the way it pretty much obliterates this notion that games have to have all of this stupid, ugly artwork and GW-style fluff in order to tell an actual story. This is a very different kind of fantasy game- experimental and sometimes shaky- but with a couple of ideas in it that are just genius.
Review piles are forming…I just got in March of the Ants, which looks pretty cool but after a solo test play, it’s almost the exact opposite of everything I said above. It’s almost completely reiterative of other designs, but it has this ant thing going on that I kind of love. Bullfrogs, I thought would be a good family one but it’s really closer to something like Kahuna in that it’s brutal and unusually deep. Luchador…game comes with a freaking wrestling ring, what do you want from me?
On the Consoles
If you read pretty much any review of Codename: S.T.E.A.M., the reviewer is going to mention that the turns take too long. I saw a couple where folks said that they put the 3DS down to do something else while the aliens are moving. So they’ve rated the game poorly based on the time spent “not playing”. Even though the wait times are not any longer than they are on XCOM or Fire Emblem.
But here’s the deal. This is a third party turn-based game sort of like Valkyria Chronicles. You do not have any kind of an overhead map. All you can see is what your characters can see, depending on their facing. YOU HAVE TO WATCH THE ALIENS MOVE BECAUSE IT IS THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN SEE WHERE THEY ARE. It’s a major strategic element of the design! You have to switch between characters during the alien turn to see what’s going on, and it makes it especially important to situate characters so that you have fields of vision.
But I guess most video game reviewers wouldn’t understand that, because it feels, strangely, VERY boardgame-like.
I like it quite a lot, despite the unfortunate Steampunk business. It’s hard as hell and some of the mechanics are SUPER gamey, but overall it’s a great lighter weight TBS title.
Other than that…SEGAMANIA has hit. I picked up the Sega 3D Classics on the 3DS and they have blown me away. The developer, M2, took some of Sega’s most iconic arcade titles (the ones in the giant moving cabinets) and transposed them pixel-perfect to the 3DS…and they’ve added all kinds of obsessive bells and whistles like simulating the moving cabinets and using actual sound recordings of the motors and buttons. OutRun is the newest one and it is astonishingly good. I actually haven’t played OutRun in 20 years, but oh my god that game holds up so damn well. After Burner II was probably my favorite in the 80s, it’s great to see it in action again- doing barrel rolls before Star Fox. Galaxy Force II I never actually played in the arcade because it was always like a dollar, it’s been fun so far. Super Hang-On is, like OutRun, amazingly current…and PUNISHINGLY difficult. I had to get Space Harrier too, that was my favorite arcade game for a while and I still love it to death despite how utterly shallow it is. I think these are, collectively, some of the best retro ports I’ve ever seen.
I also got the Shinobi III they did, playing through it as well. Great stuff. That lead me to picking up a cheap copy of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection…which is really good, of course, but it’s also missing half of the games I would consider to be definitive for the console- no MUSHA, no Ghouls n’ Ghosts, no Strider, no Sword of Vermillion, no Toejam and Earl, no Alien Soldier, no Gunstar Heroes…
But it does have all three Sonics, all three Streets of Rage, Comix Zone, Ristar, Alex Kidd, all three Golden Axe games…ALTERED BEAST, which is probably the worst game ever made but who doesn’t love that awful, awful game.
For some reason I’m really interested in Gain Ground. It seems like a terrible game, but there’s something about it I really dig.
So it’s been Sega, Sega, Sega here…I actually kind of half-entertained the idea of picking up a DreamCast.
On the Screen
Go ahead and add Inside Llewyn Davis to the list of Coen Brothers movies that I absolutely care nothing whatsoever about. Made it through about 30 minutes.
More Japanimation…still going through Death Note, which I really like a lot. Very compelling story, despite some of the more teenage elements of it.
Finally watched Patlabor: The Movie. I freaking loved it. It’s such a different thing than most anime today. It’s really kind of slow paced, focused on drama, and the mecha stuff is mostly realistic and not really the focus at all. It’s more of a Michael Crichton-style techno-thriller that just happens to have mecha in it. And oh man, the mecha were awesome…I love the police styling of them, with the beacons and giant service revolvers. The story was interesting, the characters were good and I liked that there was some levity in it. I want to get more into the OVAs next.
I watched Ghost in the Shell last night I haven’t seen it since, like, 1996. Back then, I hated it. I remember just being confused and angered by it. I had a recollection of the whole thing looking milky and hazy. But then I remembered that I also saw it on a night when I had been drinking vodka and limoncello all night. On the 20 years late second chance, it’s really good- hilariously dated though. Definitely more thoughtful and sophisticated than the usual anime junk.
Record of Lodoss War…had to watch it on YouTube because the DVDs are stupid expensive…I read that it was actually inspired by one of Japan’s first D&D groups, who would publish their session reports. I remember seeing it back in the early 90s and thinking “OMG, this is just a D&D thing”…and it is. It’s fun.
On tap this week I’ve got the Macross Plus movie, which I’ve not seen before (although I saw the OAVs). Also going to start on Robotech again, I’ve seen the whole Macross part of it like six times in its entirety but it’s still an all-time favorite.
My kids are in on this too. I got them a set of the 2003 Astro Boy series and it’s REALLY good! I had kind of low expectations, but it was just like $8 at the Book Nook. The animation is awesome (especially for TV), and I think it mostly captures the Tezuka spirit even though I can tell that Astro’s dialogue and voice acting is kind of at odds with that…he’s not childlike enough and has too much attitude. Typical for US audiences, etc. But the messages are there, and the nonviolent resolutions are nice. Great robots, fun characters…money well spent.
I got Scarlett the Unico movies…which may or may not mean anything to you.
Almost exclusively listening to “No. 1 in Heaven” this week, Sparks’ record with Giorgio Mordoror. It’s amazing. Excellent cross between late disco and early synthpop. The whole time I’m playing OutRun or Super Hang-On, I’ve got “Beat the Clock” going through my head even though both have those awesome 80s funk-bass Sega music tracks.