Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kazekage's Game Collection: The Perfect 10

In our never-ending quest to ever-expand our mandate here at the Prattle (to say nothing of putting off the next DS9 post--I really do hate that next slate of episodes) and with little interesting in comics that I feel like commenting on, I struggled for something meaningful to build a post around, weighed my options and just decided to do a list post, that last bastion of those who want to do content, but don't want to be hassled substantially in the doing of it.

But this one's going to be a little different. This time, I offer you a peek behind the curtain at the games that really gripped the shit (phrase tm 2011 David Campbell) of a young Kazekage and set him on the course that ultimately led to the creation of this blog.

A word before we begin--you will probably not find anything that's an acknowledged classic on my list, as mine if more personal, I've along ago abandoned the notion I have any "cred" and thus the need to front to maintain it--this is just the stuff I like.

Now that we got that shit out of the way, in no particular order, here's Kazekage's 10 Essential Games for Being Stranded On A Desert Island or Whatever Fucking Cliche Will Justify the Following List

The character Strider Hiryu is rad as hell. This is indisputable, incontrovertible fact. It helps, of course, that the arcade game that featured him (and to a lesser extent, the NES game, which would have been fine had they understood terms like "debug") is awesome/utterly insane. Taking place in an alternate future where the Soviet Union still exists thanks to their investment in robot gorillas as an effective military deterrent, Strider understands the concept of effective set pieces--witness the end of the first level, the end of the third . . .the list is long and distinguished:

Other games that recognised the brilliance of the set-piece were Strider 2 (the best platformer of 1995, which unfortunately got released in 1999) the sorta-sequel-to-Strider-but-not-really recently discovered lost game Cannon Dancer and out next entry . . .

These days, I suspect Revenge is known its unrelenting copyright infringement about as much as the fact that it's an awesome game.

I better explain--when it first came out, Revenge had a number if bosses that, well, looked a little familiar. You had the boss of Level 4, who was a strong guy who turned green and then exploded, revealing the skeleton underneath, the boss of Level 6, who starts out as fucking Spider-Man and then turns into Batman (this was one of the things that led to the first revision, I think--Marvel demanded their cut because, well, it's pretty goddamned blatant)

Oh, and the Level 7 boss? Totally not Godzilla. I swear.

That aside, Revenge is totally awesome. It's a bit less frenetic than some of the platformers I love (although the sequel would soon take care of that) the music is awesome, and it has ninjas, back before ninjas got chewed up in the jaws of Internet memes.

Oh, and the music is fucking awesome. It's worth saying twice:

Just to show it's not all about platforming or twitch reflexes, we have this strange little gem. One of the first real-time-strategy games that ever really clicked with me, you control a transforming fighter/plane thing and play against another fighter/plane thing as you try to destroy each other's base.

To help in that, you can deploy various levels of armament to capture bases scattered on the battlefield, launch attacks on the main base. Curiously, despite all the cool shit you can get, it turned out the motorcycle troops were the most effective unit to strike the main base, especially if you backed it up with one of those tanks that shot homing missiles at the enemy--which prevents them from destroying it or deploying countermeasures. Kind of a dick move, now that I look at it in retrospect.

One of my favourite memories of college is getting a friend, tricking out the game with the Game Genie, and having tooth and nail battles for supremacy.

Oh yes (and you'll get tired of me saying this) the music is awesome as hell.

Herzog Zwei is a curious little gem. Very few people played it when it came out. But everyone who played it, seems to love it:

Shinobi III is not as well loved as Revenge, possibly because the music is not done by the composer from Revenge, and also because they apparently weren't as keen to infringe on anyone's copyrights this time.

However, because I'm bloody contrary, Shinobi III is the clear favourite of mine. I like that it's fast, the control is tight as hell (finally, a game makes wall jumping NOT a screaming pain in the ass) the music is appropriately epic and the game manages to merge the set pieces of something like Strider with the action the Shinobi games were known for?

What do I mean? Well, there's the level where the level boss stands in the background taking potshots at you. There's the level where you have to strategically destroy the floor to move through the level, a level you go through on horseback, and a level you go through on a jetski.

Oh, and there are the last 2 levels, which need their own paragraph because they are etched in my goddamn brain for all time. Level 6-1 involves you having to climb up an avalanche--no, really, the entire stage is a race to keep from falling. Here's a true story for you--to finally get through that level (I cheated and used the invincibility code, which only gives you a 45% better chance of clearing the game, as the falling will kill you and there's plenty of opportunities for that) I played it over and over again with the sound off so I could concentrate on getting my timing as crisp and perfect as possible to clear it.

And that's only the beginning. 7-1 has you crawling on the underside of a jet, which means your shit must be crisp or it's instant death. 7-2 is even more sadistic, as it's nothing but jumping puzzles and all the invincibility in the world won't make those any easier.

Have a look!

Dammit, I sometimes think all games should be like that . . .

The good news--in the late 80s/Early 90s, there was an effort to make kick-ass female characters for games--there's Alis, Nei, Rika, and Alys from the Phantasy Star series, Yuko from the Valis series, and Annet from the Earnest Evans/El Viento series.

The bad news--in the case of the Valis and El Viento games, it seemed to be less about female empowerment and more about upskirt shots because, y'know, Japan.

However, every now and again, they rose above that and you got completely unique and unlikely stuff like El Viento, which puts out razor boomerang and magic wielding heroine Annet, and puts her in the middle of a plot to resurrect a Lovecraftian god in the middle of 1920s New York City.

This game is brutally hard, and not quite as tight in terms of gameplay as the games mentioned above. However, it does have a few things going for it--one, the bosses are really imaginative (the giant cell boss in level 3 is a favourite) the music kicks ass, the story and ending are a lot heavier than most stories of the time (seriously, shit gets GRIM over the end credits) and the cut scenes are utterly awesome:

Well, King of Fighters in general, really (Except 12. Longtime readers will remember how much 12 pissed me off) but 97 is a great representation of what makes KOF so awesome (well, apart from the deep, deep, technical stuff that the SRK folks are more qualified to talk about than me)--the character roster is so dense and so much care is taken (ideally) with them that you can do friggin' story arcs in a fighting game and make them work.

No mean feat--fighting games are damn difficult to advance in terms of story. Look at Street Fighter--ultimately Ryu is constantly questing to become the ultimate fighter and never getting anywhere, Ken is perpetually getting married, etc. etc. Nothing ever really advances.

King of Fighters, however, tries and mostly succeeds with it. What we're about to see is the finale of King of Fighters 1997, which concludes the first and most tightly constructed of the story arcs the series has undertaken--the Orochi saga. Essentially, Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami (the two rivals/main characters of the game) and a few other characters are the keys to a conspiracy to resurrect Orochi, the avatar of the ancient Japanese god and bring about the end of the world (in a fighting tournament. Clearly ancient Japanese gods play their long games on somewhat small stages) Finally, with the 1997 installment, Orochi actually steps forth and several dozen SNK players try to keep from throwing their controller at the cheap-ass son of a bitch:

Much like King of Fighters, the Dynasty Warriors Gundam series condenses a hell of a lot of series together in the name of fanservice. However, DWG offers a hell of a lot more in terms of unrestrained mayhem, and therefore, has a lot to offer in terms of awesomeness.

There are few better stress relievers than wading into an army of mechs in your own mech suit and unleashing unholy amounts of whup-ass on them. Witness:

I can't really do Gunstar Heroes its proper justice--despite the fact that it seems on the surface to be your basic "run left and destroy everything" game, it is not afraid to break its own rules.

Like when a board game suddenly breaks out in the middle of all the shooting things:

Gunstar Heroes is one of those games that few people played (oh lord I hope you never played the Gameboy Advance version) but most everyone who played it, loved it and keeps it in a special place in their hearts. How can you not love a game that calls a bonus room the "Happy Item Room?"

My name is Kazekage, and I have a problem--I have played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night far more times over far too many different versions than any one human should probably have done. Serious--I have three different versions of the damn game, most of which have at best superficial differences. That's not healthy, probably.

I think it's because it's kind of awesome. Sure, they beat this style of Castlevania into the ground, dug it up and did it all over again, but the mistakes of the future don't detract from the splendid present (and people who say differently are just miserable piles of secrets and fuck them): Symphony is an awesome game, blending the action and RPG elements deftly and giving us as close to perfect as Metroid clone as you can have without just buying a bloody copy of Metroid already.

As the game takes more than a few hours to complete playing straight, you'll have be satisfied with the highlight reel below:

So, the folks behind Gunstar Heroes got the word from Sega: "Hey guys, we're rolling out this new game system that we haven't exactly thought through, and this is the final stage of our long-term plan to piss away any and all goodwill we'd accrued from our fans, so is there any way you could make a game that is so awesome, so fun, and so surprisingly deep that no one will play it at the time but plenty of people will write wistful articles about it many years later and used copies on eBay will go for stupefying prices?"

And so, Guardian Heroes was born. Not a sequel to Gunstar (not exactly, anyways--there are some homages to Gunstar within the game, though) but a different spin on the Action RPG than Symphony was, Guardian Heroes is all about two things--as much mayhem as possible and a surprising amount of depth.

Essentially, you pick your character and proceed to beat massive amounts of ass. At the end of different levels, you can assign points to enhance various character attributes, which allow you to beat even more ass. At various point in the game, you are offered different choices to make, which cause the story of the game to take different paths, so playing through it each time can lead to an entirely different outcome.

Because that wasn't enough, there's also a second mode, wherein up to 8-10 people can battle it out in the arena as one of the up to 30 characters you unlock during the course of the main game. This folks, was the party game in my dorm hall in 1994. Even if there was always that one asshole who kept picking the Sky God and spamming screen-filling fireballs.

All this, and it had a bitching intro:

Joe Madureria saw this, was inspired, and spent the next 6 years mostly not drawing Battle Chasers which, uhm, let's say borrowed liberally from this.

Oh damn, 10 already?! And I've already thought of a few dozen more while I've been writing this. I suppose I'll have to do another one sometime, if people who like this sort of thing tell me that it is the sort of thing they like.

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