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Game Review: Randal’s Monday

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Game Review: Randal’s Monday

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Daedalic has a winner here with Randal’s Monday, a point-and-click adventure game currently available on Steam. The humor is crass, vulgar, and full of nostalgia.  Randal is a kleptomaniac douche who swipes his buddy’s wallet and the engagement ring within.

The bad news, for Randal, is the ring is cursed. What follows is a time-loop scenario with a slight twist: whatever Randal changes stays changed and alters the space-time continuum wreaking havoc on reality.

The dialogue is all spoken, sometimes though with a speed that left me frantically clicking to advance it. The artwork is decent with many hidden Easter-eggs to well known fandoms. There’s even a sci-fi convention, and a guest star (voiced by the actual actor, if my ears are correct) who has slightly more than a cameo in the tribulations of Randal.

8/10 paws

 

Much Ado About Medocrity: The Drama Around Mass Effect

Much Ado About Medocrity: The Drama Around Mass Effect

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The Mass Effect series has been a highly regarded RPG franchise since 2007.  Even with the widely criticized ending of Mass Effect 3, the series is considered by most to be the pinnacle of story-telling RPGs.  In my opinion, it has been the game that’s kept Bioware on the map all these years when compared to other releases from the company.  It has spawned comics, film prospects, novels and more, and has over 14 million units sold before the release of the latest installment.

Now, ten years after the release of Mass Effect, Mass Effect: Andromeda is out and the reception is less than stellar.  On Metacritic, where reviewers and gamers rarely agree, the game has a critical score of about 77 out of 100 (as of this writing) and right about 4 out of 10 with gamers.  It’s being criticized for everything from bad animation, rehashing of dated mechanics, and poorly developed story.  A couple of reviewers whose opinion I trust give their initial reactions as a mediocre installment at best.

While much of the criticism is without a doubt justified, some few have gone beyond that.  You can’t really go on Twitter without seeing memes, gifs, and screencaps of the bad animations in the game.  That’s all normal for something like this.  What isn’t normal are the people going after one animator that doesn’t even seem to work for Bioware any longer.  Whether she was involved is a matter of debate, but targeting one person on a team for actual harassment isn’t acceptable at all.  Linking them here would be pointless, but if you look, you’ll find a couple of amateur trash bloggers out there with some pretty terrible pieces on the subject.

Then came the defenders to stir the pot and make it worse.  Articles coming out blaming whole swaths of gamers for the harassment, which is completely untrue.  Commentators and games media saying you should support the developer by buying the game and so on.  People defending the game out of pure righteous indignation because of the negative feedback.

All the drama boils down to this.  A lot of people dislike a mediocre game.  A few people have decided to be jerks about it.  A few other people have decided to defend it with large sums of money.  All of it over a game that doesn’t appear to be up to the standards of the franchise.  All this drama, over nothing really.  The worst part is, I can see this eventually becoming the next big marketing ploy.  Crank out a lackluster game, get some bad coverage, stage some harassment or drama, signal the defenders, cash the checks.  We all know publishers aren’t above some seriously low garbage to sell games and get good reviews.  This is well within the realm of possibility.

So, if we want better games, stop buying bad ones for stupid reasons.  Don’t harass developers because they didn’t do a good job on a game.  Stop letting the media blow things out of proportion or convince you to throw your money after bad ideas.  And for Gods’ sake, play some decent games.  I hear Neir Automata is good.

All Bound Up: Art, Pornography, and “Ladykiller in a Bind”

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All Bound Up: Art, Pornography, and “Ladykiller in a Bind”

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Hello, gamers!  In (belated) honor of Valentine’s day I’ve decided to get sexy and talk about porn: specifically the erotic and controversial visual novel Ladykiller In A Bind.  But, before we get started, let’s talk about art, pornogrophy, and what defnines each of them.

It seems that everyone has an opinion as to what does or does not constitute ‘art.’  At the first PAX convention I attended, an audience member asked Penny Arcade’s Jerry Holkins if he considered video games to be art.  Holkins thought (and I agree) that this was a silly question: how could something that hundreds of artists work on for months possibly be anything but art? This school of thought has been spreading, especially since Anita Sarkeesian has so famously subjected video games to the same thorough analysis that academics have used to look at literature and film for generations.

So, assuming we can agree that video games are art, we still haven’t answered the question of what ‘art’ actually is.  It’s a question I’ve thought about a great deal, especially while I was working on my BA in a creative field.  Novelist and educator John Green describes art as ‘something someone put into the world to make my life more interesting(1).’  My personal definition is similar, though not exactly the same.  I believe that, on the most basic level, art is a form of communication: something created by an individual to inspire a reaction in an audience.

This is why I’ve always thought the dichotomy between ‘art’ and ‘pornography’ to be false.  Many years ago, I found myself interviewed for a ‘man on the street’ segment of some sort, where I was shown a series of pictures and asked I considered them to be art or pornography, and why.  I probably skewed their results, since I classified every single image as ‘art’ (though I recall describing a few of them as ‘art with pornographic subject matter’).  Putting aside ‘I’ll know it when I see it,’ pornography is generally described as media designed to titillate or sexually arouse.  Which, going by my definition of art, doesn’t separate pornography from art at all.  It places it as a category: a form of communication meant to instill a particular response in the audience.

So is a pornographic video game art?  I would unequivocally say ‘yes.’  Mind you, that doesn’t mean it has to be good art.  We can probably all agree that film is an artform, but that doesn’t mean all movies have equal artistic merit.  Some films are thought provoking while others offer little more than base escapism and toilet humor.2906863-ladykiller+in+a+bind+2016-12-17+2_38_02+pm

Ladykiller occupies a nuanced position on this continuum.  It stars a young woman (the Beast) who has been forced to masquerade as her twin brother while his high-school graduating class take a cruise ship across the Atlantic.  If she acts too suspiciously she’ll be thrown into cargo hold, ending the game.  The mechanics revolve around accruing ‘votes’ (for an in-game contest that may or may not be BS), while avoiding ‘suspicion.’  Conversation options appear and disappear as they occur to the player-character.  There are two main romance storylines to chose from or combine, as well as a number of side-stories involving minor characters.  The player gets to chose the names of each character as they appear, either from one of two default options or by entering a custom name.  For the remainder of this article I’ll refer to the characters by the default names we chose in our longest playthrough.

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Review: Pokemon Snap

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By: Iris the Keyblade Master

Ah, Pokémon Snap, the only Pokémon-related video game that I ever got to play when I was a kid.  It was made for the Nintendo 64, but it’s also currently available on the Wii U Virtual Console.  I recently bought a copy for my N64 and found that it still held up for me as an adult.

First, I told myself that I just wanted to test the game out to make sure it still worked.  About twenty minutes later, I had furiously headed back to the Beach level to prove to Professor Oak that the size in my pictures was NOT “so-so!”  It’s one of those games that is so simple and yet so addicting at times.

Unlike other Pokémon games, you don’t get to capture, train, or trade any of the wild Pokémon that you find in the different levels.  You take pictures and send them to Professor Oak, who then gives you points based on its size, position, how many of the same type appeared in the shot, etc.  (And boy, does he have high standards for “size!”)  However, to get to the next level, you must complete a variety of objectives.  Sometimes, it’s a matter of taking a certain number of pictures of unique Pokémon.  Other times, you need to trigger something special within a level to get to the next one.

Additionally, certain Pokémon won’t appear without the help of tools that Professor Oak gives you throughout the game.  And sometimes the ways to get new Pokémon aren’t so obvious.  For example, there’s a Charmeleon that walks around a lava pit towards the end of the Volcano course.  If you knock him into the pit with an apple treat, he’ll evolve into Charazard.  This interaction increases the replay value of the game, since it encourages you to go back and try new tricks to find hidden Pokémon.  (Side note: it’s also worth mentioning that because it’s an older game, you won’t find any Pokémon that came after Mew. Mew himself doesn’t even appear until after you’ve unlocked the final level.)

Technically, the player character has a name, Todd.  But like Link and the early Final Fantasy heroes, you get to pick what you want to call him.  He doesn’t have much of a personality in the game beyond, “Oh boy, let’s take a lot of pictures of Pokémon!” but it works.

Pokémon Snap is a fun, colorful game.  I love the different environments that you get to view through Todd’s safari vehicle.  Hopefully, some day, Nintendo will make a sequel.  They could really make it work by including the other generations of Pokémon, and maybe add new features, i.e. editing your pictures or getting to explore open world settings instead of following the same track.

If you like the Pokémon series, but never got around to trying this game, then I recommend checking it out if you still have your Nintendo 64 or access to the Virtual Console.  It’s a lot of fun!

Women in Gaming: Laura Bailey

lb_1950When I started to get back into gaming, it was through Dungeons & Dragons. My friend and DM suggested I watch a stream of a show called Critical Role. He hoped that by watching, I would get a better idea of how to play. To get out of my head, stop worrying about the grid on the map and start being my character. I really enjoyed watching the stream. One of my favorite characters was the Half-Elf Ranger who snarked her way through most of the game. That was my first introduction to Laura Bailey.

Laura is a voice actress by trade and gamer for fun. She was one of the first really successful female gamers I had ever seen. She is what I strive to be when I play. In character and having fun. She is so good at playing in the moment while being filmed. Let me tell you, it is difficult to focus on playing a character while you know you are being filmed.

Laura is as talented as she is funny. As a voice actress she has given her voice to many characters in different mediums. She loves anime, which is where she got her start. Laura voices characters in different cartoons as well. She, of course, also voices video game characters which must be fantastic for a gamer to get to do.

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I have gotten to enjoy watching Laura play other games as well. Mostly she can be watched on Geek and Sundry. As I stated above, every Thursday she and other voice actors play D&D under their DM and fellow voice actor, Matt Mercer. Laura plays Vex’ahlia, who has gone through so much character development on Critical Role. I really enjoy Vex. I love her humor. I love her bear, Trinket. Laura does an amazing character who could have easily been annoying in the start. She gives Vex a lot of personality and emotion. She never holds back while she games and it is amazing to watch.

Laura teamed up last year with fellow Critical Role mates to game for a charity livestream to support MDA. Matt Mercer was the Sheriff, or basically a game master, and led the group through a thoroughly entertaining game of Deadlands. Laura played a gunslinger named Stinky Jules who was basically a Calamity Jane-esque character. She was hysterical and wonderfully inappropriate. The group helped tip Geek and Sundry over its monetary goal. Laura and her husband Travis also played Hearthstone in an episode of Worthy Opponents, which is a great way for newbies to the game to get to learn while being entertained.

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She has also played different games with Wil Wheaton on his Geek and Sundry show, Tabletop. Tabletop is a great show created by Wil to showcase different kinds of tabletop games. It has given me lots of ideas for games to try and also for games for friends in different stages of gaming. Laura also teamed up with Wil to play a character in his homebrew game called, TITANSGRAVE: THE ASHES OF VALKANA.

In Titansgrave, Laura plays a human cyborg named Lemley. Get ready for feels and lots of laughs when you watch this one. Lemley made me realize just how talented Laura really is at RPGs. Lemley is so different from Vex, and Laura gave her just as much love and attention. Titansgrave is also a really great series to watch for new RPGers. Laura and the rest of the cast do a great job of bringing you into the game. You really root for these characters as they try to accomplish their missions, which is a testament to the players.

Laura Bailey is a talented and hard working woman in the gaming industry. She tries to give back to the community. She makes mistakes and, literally, keeps on rolling. Laura really is a great role model for those of us trying to find our gaming style in the world of RPGs. I really admire her for her courage to be so expressive with her characters’ emotions. She also brings so much real joy to her gaming.

Always keep sparkling, my friends!

Influential Female Characters: Princess Zelda

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I know a lot of people who love Princess Zelda. Why wouldn’t they? She’s beauty. She’s grace. She’ll punch you in the face. Well, that is all dependent on which incarnation of Zelda one is playing, that is. She has evolved and changed with every version of The Legend of Zelda that has been released.

Despite her name being in the title of of the games, Princess Zelda is not the main character. The main character is our own pot smashing Link. In every game, we have a different version of Link. Usually he is saving or aiding Zelda. Then why name the games after Zelda? Because there would be no need for Link to be adventuring if not for Zelda.

Yes, she starts off as a damsel in distress, but in many of the newer games, Zelda handles herself fairly well. Also every Princess Zelda is chosen by fate, though often also a member of the ruling family,  to be charged with the Triforce of Wisdom. So, basically, she is a boss with all the wisdom to rule and a chosen one to boot. So yes, her name should be in the title of all the games.

In the first Legend of Zelda game, Zelda is not even seen until after Link defeats the big boss. However, she guides him throughout the game. Zelda usually has some form of psychic powers, including telepathy and sometimes premonitions. She is always very wise and fair in her judgement, which makes her a wonderful ruler. It, however, does not seem to be able to help her evade being captured.

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Zelda’s age and appearance depend largely on the game and Link’s age. Sometimes she is a child, a teenager or a young woman. Usually she has blonde hair – though sometimes brown – with blue eyes, pointed ears and long dresses. There are a few times where she wears boots and pants. Normally she looks very much the picture of a princess. She is always proficient with music.

Her role in the games also varies depending on the game. In earlier games she was normally a damsel for Link to save. There are times when she even wields Link’s blade. In some games, she has her own sword. Other times she has a bow and arrows.

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She is a kind ruler. Zelda tends to be forgiving of those who have wronged her. However, if you hurt someone she cares about, *coughLinkcough*, all bets are off. Her relationship with Link changes from game to game. Sometimes they seem to be together romantically by the end of the game. She does always seem to care about him and his welfare.

I like how feminine she is. I like how she is always strong, but not always in the way of having to physically fight. Zelda does everything within her power to protect her people. At the end of the day, Zelda is a really interesting character. I think it is important for her strength of mind to be something for gamers to look to as a positive trait as well. Sometimes we push away characters like Zelda because they are not always physically strong. That is is a mistake. Zelda has a lot of positive qualities that we can look to and emulate. 

Here is to Princess Zelda, the chosen princess of her people and overall boss!

Always keep sparkling, friends!

Review: Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

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By Iris the Keyblade Master

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is one of those games that probably shouldn’t work as well as it does.  The first game in the series was this big, epic adventure, involving Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy traveling all over the universe to stop Maleficent and meeting all kinds of Disney characters along the way.  Kingdom Hearts II was another a big, epic adventure that continued Sora’s quest.   He searched for his lost friends, befriended more popular characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Tron, and fought an evil organization.

Chain of Memories limits the adventure to one castle made of illusions.  Every floor that Sora visits is designed to look like a Disney world from his memories.  So almost all of the levels that you complete are areas that you’ve already explored from the first game.  (Little did we know that this would be a recurring problem in future games.)  It’s not necessarily what a person would have in mind if you told them to check out the sequel to Kingdom Hearts.

However, I love the story of Chain of Memories, so it’s probably the entry in the series that I replay the most apart from the first game.  It picks up where the first game left off, with Sora, Donald, and Goofy on the trail of their lost friends, Riku and Mickey.  They come across a castle inhabited by a mysterious organization that claims to have something- or someone- that Sora wants.  Sora takes the bait, only to find as he progresses through the castle that he’s losing his memories.

First, the story’s fantastic.  It’s one of two games in the series that involve a group of villains trying to trick Sora into working for them, and this one executes the idea much better.  The other game more or less saves the mind-bending shenanigans for the final level.  In Chain of Memories, it’s a steady progression of Sora forgetting his previous adventures and becoming increasingly obsessed with rescuing Naminé and Riku from the Organization.  Sora’s been previously established as somebody who cares deeply about his friends and the promises that he makes to them, so his change in personality makes complete sense.  The new characters are also well-written.  It’s the game that kicked off Axel’s popularity, and it’s easy to see why.  Naminé is wonderful too and a good example of a well-written “damsel in distress.”

I thought I would hate the battle system when I learned that it would be card-based.  Every attack that you make and magic spell that you cast is limited to the number of cards that Sora has in his deck.  However, I found that it was very manageable and does force you to strategize a little.  You can only carry so many cards in your deck, and the powerful ones are more expensive than the weaker ones.  You can also create special attacks called “sleights,” where you load three cards and use them together.  But the first card that you load for the sleight will not reappear for the rest of the battle.  So spamming sleight attacks will only take you so far.

Oh, and Donald gets to be just as useless in this game as he is in every Kingdom Hearts game.  Only this time, he doesn’t just fail to heal you.  If you don’t watch it, he can heal your enemies.  Yeah.  You read that right.  You’ll be desperately fighting Axel or Hades, who both use Fire spells, and he’ll happily hit them with Fire spells that bring their health back up.  Try to avoid using him in a fight with a magic-based enemy.

I also find it interesting how the difficulty level of the bosses and the usefulness of certain cards did change in the GameBoy Advanced version and the PlayStation 2 version.  See, the GBA obviously has a small screen, so big enemies aren’t hard to fight and Summon cards have a wider reach.  Cloud Strife was my favorite card in the GBA game.  All I had to do was summon him and he’d wipe out enemies with two slashes of the Buster Sword.  But the PlayStation 2 remake puts you in a bigger, three-dimensional area, so it’s a matter of getting close to an enemy, hoping that enemy stays put as you summon Cloud, and hope that Cloud moves in the right direction to slash said enemies.  If you’re in the wrong place or facing the wrong way, he’s completely useless.

All in all, I think this game was much better suited for the GameBoy Advanced over the PlayStation 2.  It has a smaller story and the levels are mostly the same as the first game.  In a way, it’s kind of impressive.  In terms of world design, it plays like a GBA remake of the first game.  Yet it has its own unique story, which supplies a reason for why you’re playing through the same locations again.  If you play the PlayStation 2 remake without that context, it comes off like a cheap, lazy sequel.

Nonetheless, I love playing the PS2 remake due to the improved graphics and voice acting.  Sora’s character arc and his relationships with his friends go to interesting places.  The series got two new fabulous female characters.  The soundtrack mostly rehashes the first game, but Yoko Shimomura composed some beautiful new tracks, i.e. “Naminé” and the final boss battle theme, “Lord of the Castle.”

Although it’s not an entry in the series that you absolutely must play to understand the rest of the plot, I highly recommend Chain of Memories.