I’ve had a long and colorful relationship with the game Cuphead. I remember when it was first announced at E3 as an XB1 exclusive back in 2014. I was actually the person who started the wiki on IGN for Cuphead when I worked on their E3 wiki creation strike team. I knew from the first announcement that I wanted to play this game but I also feared that I never would because I was absolutely not going to buy an XB1, and I still haven’t. But thankfully Microsoft decided to port all their games to PC. That’s also how I finally got a copy of Sunset Overdrive, which I still need to play.
Before Cuphead was released on PC, people were already talking about it on XB1, and they were not happy. While the game was praised for both the art and gameplay, so many people took issue with both. The art angered people because of the racist history behind the style. And the gameplay angered people because it was considered too hard for many (noobs). Now I don’t actually agree with the idea that people shouldn’t be able to use this art style for non-race related projects, so I won’t get into that. But the gameplay thing was a real worry for me.
I have never shied away from a game because it was too hard, provided it still felt balanced, but it can be quite intimidating to purposely walk into a game that everyone else is calling impossible. I still remember how much everyone was talking about Demon’s Souls when it first released. Even a GameStop clerk told me it was so hard that he had given up playing it. By the time I finally sat down to play it, I was horrified. Soulslike is now one of my favorite game genres. So I still wanted to play Cuphead, but I was really worried that I’d get stuck and not be able to finish it. The game happens to be in one of my worst performing genres, which worried me even more. People found the game so challenging that they petitioned for an easy mode to be added and the developers actually delivered one. It doesn’t allow you to finish the entire game, but it does let you reach the penultimate boss. To me, this entire thing was ludicrous, but it also made me want to play the game even more. The demand for an easy mode always motivates me to take an interest in a game. Not because I want to play on easy mode but because I want to prove that I don’t need to.
After several months of actively waiting for a price drop, having already waited years for the game release and then finally the PC port, I finally bought Cuphead. This was before the Switch version was announced or else I probably would have gotten it on that. When I first started the game, I was using a DualShock 4 controller. That and a Wii U Pro controller were my only viable options for playing on PC. I was not going to use a keyboard to play this type of game and at that point did not own an XB1 controller. So I went with the DS4 because it’s the controller I had the most experience with between the two options I had.
I struggled so much to beat The Root Pack. This was the first boss I faced when I started Cuphead. It took me literal hours to finally beat that boss. I was shocked at how hard the game was for me. To get stuck on the first encounter in a game was an experience I’d never had before in more than 20 years of gaming. I felt depressed. Maybe this game really was too hard for me and I actually needed to use the easy mode? But I refused. I would quit the game altogether before I would belittle myself to playing on easy mode.
After many hours of frustration, I finally defeated The Root Pack and went on to fight Ribby & Croaks. I could not beat them. I struggled and struggled for hours but I absolutely could not beat them. Ultimately I stopped playing the game altogether because I simply couldn’t move forward and refused to play the easy mode. I promised myself I would return to the game at some point but honestly I didn’t see the point when it was just too hard for me. I think I probably should have faced Goopy Le Grande instead of Ribby & Croaks second but that’s not what happened. I put the game in my start menu to remind me that I still needed to go back and beat it but I never actually attempted to because I knew I’d not be able to beat Ribby & Croaks.
It wasn’t until several months later that I finally returned to Cuphead. I had wanted an XB1 controller for PC gaming for some time, because it’s the only controller that consistently works properly with just about every PC game. But I didn’t technically need one because I had the ability to use any of my controllers on PC with an adapter I had purchased more than a year earlier. I just happened to luck into a free one that was being thrown out at my office. Ironically I had to spend more than the cost of a controller to buy a Bluetooth adapter and battery pack but I now had an XB1 controller for PC gaming. I decided to test it out with Cuphead since it’s one of the only games in my PC I could start without logging into Steam or another launcher and I was already familiar with the game so there wouldn’t be any delays to starting the test. I went right back into the Ribby & Croaks fight.
I did not defeat Ribby & Croaks immediately when trying the XB1 controller, but I did immediately realize that I was performing well enough to where beating them would be possible. After a few more tries and shaking the rust off, I defeated Ribby & Croaks and then went on to quickly defeat Goopy Le Grande, Cagney Carnation, and Hilda Berg. Suddenly I wasn’t just OK at Cuphead. I was good at it. I realized that the whole time it wasn’t my lack of skill that had made the game so hard. It was my lack of proper hardware. The game was literally made to be played on an XB1 controller and as soon as I corrected this issue I was zooming through the bosses. That’s not to imply that the game has to be played on an XB1 controller. My friend beat the whole thing with a keyboard, which I still think is ridiculous. But now I too was progressing through Cuphead at an appropriate rate, without using the easy mode.
Though there were some bosses that were tough for a short while, in general I flew through the rest of the game. I played it sparingly over the course of several weeks, but basically no regular boss took me more than two hours to beat and most of them I cleared in under 30 minutes. I even managed to defeat Baroness Von Bon Bon on the first try. I got held up a bit at Carla Maria, which I think might be the hardest boss in the game other than maybe King Dice, but ultimately I reached the Devil.
It took me about three hours to defeat the Devil. He wasn’t hard to figure out. Just hard to fight without taking stray hits. But eventually I defeated him. It was so satisfying to finally beat Cuphead. And it made me feel great to not have had to use the easy mode. It almost feels like a chapter of my life has closed. I’ve spent five years wanting to beat that game.
Cuphead was fun. It was challenging, but not in a stupid way. Really the boss fights were just as much about thought as they were reflexes. Each one was a bit of a puzzle. Choosing the correct approach with the right weapons, special ability, and charm made the difference between winning and losing. Yes you did have to be able to jump and move dynamically and quickly, but this was only a part of the boss fights as a whole. And of course, the art was beautiful. I would absolutely play a sequel. Now that I’ve completed Cuphead, I’ve removed it from my start menu. The delight in not being reminded that I might be a noob in disguise is a great feeling. Now to find a new game to casually torture myself over. I’m thinking Dead Cells next.
I saw the original Halloween (1978) in 2008. I watched it for a class I took on horror films. Even 30 years later, it still stood up as an excellent slasher film. What I like about it is that unlike many other slasher films of that era, it actually looks good as far as conventional film making practices. Many horror films, both in and out of the slasher genre, aren’t shot particularly well. They often have a very low budget look to them which in many ways became the standard and has since the early 80’s been done intentionally, which I personally think is a stupid genre trope. The original Halloween is responsible for creating and/or normalizing many of the slasher/horror tropes we are used to today and it’s within that context that one should watch Halloween (2018), the direct sequel to the original film.
*Please note that from here on whenever I say Halloween I’m referring to the 2018 film unless otherwise stated.
The first thing that needs to be noted about Halloween is the attention to detail and consistency within the timeline of the franchise/story. The original film takes place on Halloween 1978 in Haddonfield, IL. In the original film, it’s stated that the villain, Michael Myers, murdered his sister when he was six years old on Halloween 1963 in Haddonfield, IL. Halloween takes place on Halloween 2018, exactly 40 years to the day later, with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in both films) facing off against Michael Myers in Haddonfield, IL again. It’s a beautiful coupling of history, canon, and aesthetic that many horror franchises have never and will never get to accomplish. And it makes the film way better. I assume this is even more the case if you watched the original in theaters 40 years ago. Note that this film acts as a direct sequel to the original and disregards all the various nonsense shown in the countless campy Halloween sequels and remakes that have been made over the years.
Halloween is effective in its storytelling because it builds off of the original film’s ideas but modernizes them both in aesthetic and plot. It’s still Haddonfield, IL. It’s still a nice, presumably safe suburb full of happy families, friendly neighbors, and angsty but ultimately harmless teenagers. Though it’s set in 2018, a world full of various issues political, cultural, and otherwise, that’s not part of the film. Though it is commented on near the beginning in a single short conversation, the rest of the world doesn’t really matter here. This isn’t a story about the world or society at large. This is simply the story of maybe 100 people being affected by the actions of one man. You don’t have to read more into it and you shouldn’t. Whether it’s 1978 or 2018, teenagers still go to school, fool around when adults aren’t looking, and live mostly inconsequential, carefree lives. And that’s how it should be. Really that’s what Halloween, in the modern American context, is supposed to be about.
The Haddonfield of today may have some of the modern conveniences that weren’t present in 1978 like cell phones, but really little has changed. It still has a sheriff’s department instead of a police department. People still leave their back doors open. Most people don’t have security systems. It might not be how America is often depicted today in news media, but it’s the America people like to pretend still exists. And in many ways that makes it scarier. The most noticeable change in this film compared to the original and really most horror films of the 70’s and 80’s is that now there are considerably more Black people, with speaking parts, and none of them were the first one to die. #Progress!
The film recreates a similar story where Michael has once again escaped custody the day before Halloween and has decided to return to his hometown to murder people at seemingly random for no explained reason. Really that’s my biggest beef with this and the original film. Michael simply is evil. We never get any insight into why he kills people and why he does it on Halloween. He just does. This movie takes the time to argue that some people just are pure evil. That there’s no explanation or justification for it. Michael Myers simply kills. While I may not like this explanation, it does accomplish two things rather well. First, it removes the need for a legitimate backstory and/or explanation. Often these come off cheesy and don’t necessarily make the film any better. I appreciate their presence in movies, but can admit that most of them don’t make any sense. How did the boy who drowned in the lake come back to life? How did the man become an evil spirit that hunts teens down in their dreams? Explanations justify the plot of the current story, but they often also leave the viewer with more questions than answers by the end of the movie.
The second thing a lack of justification accomplishes is that it makes the story even scarier. Films like I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) give you a justification for the actions shown. The victims did something wrong and they are punished for it. Many slasher films work this way. Teenagers get killed because of bad behavior. This allows the viewer to not feel as bad for the victims when they get offed and allows them to remove themselves from the story, ultimately reducing the fear factor. It’s really easy to walk out of a theater after seeing a bunch of kids get murdered for covering up a manslaughter charge. You don’t even necessarily feel sorry for them at the end of the day. But if there is no reason for the violence and no specific justification for the victims chosen then that means everyone is a potential target. There’s nothing the characters and more importantly the viewer(s) can do to avoid being murdered. It’s simply a random case of bad luck where you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a case of weaker writing to achieve a stronger overall experience.
In the case of specifically Laurie, it’s not even fully apparent that Michael had planned to go after her in this film. What it more seems to be is that he was just on a random killing spree and was maneuvered towards going after her again. Multiple characters go out of their way to try to put the two back together in order to see what will happen. This worked well here because it justified the story focusing on Laurie without giving up the original randomness of Michael’s victims. He kills almost indiscriminately based on who’s in his vicinity when no witnesses are present. By the end of the film a great many people had been killed by Michael, but only two of the murders shown on screen happened with other people present. There are a number of little details like this that make Halloween so much more than the original. Almost to the point where I’d be willing to believe that people had really spent the last 40 years planning this almost perfect sequel. I don’t want to go into too much specific detail about the main plot because it’s so tightly written that mentioning most things directly related to Laurie will spoil her story arc. Suffice it to say that they did a story that I didn’t expect but that I really liked. I found it to be a perfect ending to a 40 year struggle that was true to both the main characters.
The cinematography is excellent. It’s a very well shot film that takes advantage of the experience gained over the last four decades of horror films. The lighting, the angles, the cuts, and even the sound all comes together perfectly to create a very stressful yet entirely believable viewing experience. I also really appreciated that there was only one jump scare in the whole movie and it wasn’t done by Michael. It’s expressed intentionally as a Halloween prank within the movie and for me that’s important. Jump scares are the lazy man’s horror technique. I’m glad we’ve pretty much done away with them in horror movies in exchange for psychological terror. One of my favorite shots in the whole movie was when someone, who I won’t name for spoiler reasons, decides to try to turn the fight back on Michael only to get thrown out a window. But at this point the roles have been reversed and the camera expresses this very well. Michael gets distracted and when he looks back at the body lying outside it’s gone. The sequence proceeds to show Michael moving through the house searching for an intruder the way the prey usually is in this genre. It was a phenomenal sequence that humanized Michael. Many other shots and sequences were just as effective in their own ways at telling a great slasher horror story.
While this is in many ways a higher minded slasher film that isn’t simply using gore to impress the audience, it’s still very graphic. Michael is at peak killing prowess and he’s not just using knives to kill people. Stabbing is just one of many ways he murders his victims this time around, but what’s also well done is the murders they didn’t show on screen. Many sequences cut or angle away from the actual violence and then show you the after math, leaving you to imagine what happened yourself. While this may not be the most visceral way to depict a murder story, it’s much stronger for the overall storytelling. You don’t have to dwell on every murder that takes place which keeps the pacing good. The film never drags on with violence even while showing you a slew of bodies left in Michael’s wake. Again, Halloween really shows itself as a high quality modern movie that just happens to be a slasher film rather than the classic low quality film that stereotypes the genre.
The acting was great. Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance has only gotten better with age. You really believed that she had been struggling with the memories of that night for 40 years. But other actors did a fine job as well. Will Patton as Sheriff Hawkins was exactly what I wanted him to be. This movie actually centers mostly on women of various ages and they all gave great performances. The writing definitely plays a role in this because the story was very realistic, thus making it even more believable. It’s not the cheesy somehow Michael is everywhere scenario. The characters just happen to move into his path and are killed as a consequence of that. There are really only two murders in the whole movie that seem completely intentional as targeted victims and Michael targeting them made perfect sense. I will say though that there are a number of classic dumb horror movie character moments that take place. They’re believable, but they continue the stereotype of people (in this case me) wanting to yell at the screen because why would you run into the woods when a psychopath is trying to murder you when you’re already on a road that cars drive on? The movie isn’t built on these moments, but a number of them occur and as a Black man I had to do everything in my power not to yell at the screen. What was great was that there actually is a Black kid in the movie that basically does this for one sequence. He tells the two older white kids what not to do, they don’t listen, and bad things happen to them. So kudos to you David Gordon Green for acknowledging your audience and for casting a hilarious Black kid.
I’m not going to say there haven’t been other great pure American slasher films in the last 10 years, but I will say that I can’t recall any. It’s not my favorite genre so I haven’t devoted time to actively seeking them out, but in my opinion horror as a genre has moved away from the slasher idea. Halloween does the genre justice. It’s not just an excellent slasher film. It’s an excellent film that I might even argue is better than the original both in how it presents the genre and circumvents many of the tropes of the genre 40 years later. If you enjoyed the original film, this is a must watch. But even if you didn’t see the original and aren’t a fan of the genre, I still think you’ll enjoy this movie quite a bit.
If you don’t already know, there’s a new TV show that just came out called Titans. It’s a live action series based on the Teen Titans comic book series. Many more people today probably know this IP from one or both of the cartoons: Teen Titans and Teen Titans GO!. This new show is live action and like with the DC movies, appears to have a much darker tone than either of the cartoons. At the time of writing this, not a single episode has officially aired. By the time this is published, according to the release schedule, exactly one episode will have aired. And yet even though not a single member of the unaffiliated public has seen a single episode of the show, I can already say that there will be a Titans season 2. This is not my opinion. This is not a prediction. This is a reported fact by multiple credible sources that Titans has already been greenlighted for a second season.
I don’t want to talk about the show. In fact, I can’t talk about the show, because like everyone else, I haven’t seen it yet. What I want to talk about is the fact that a show that no normal consumers has ever seen, that has already gotten a ton of negative reception just from the trailers, is already guaranteed a second season. This is a big problem for me.
The public is supposed to shape the direction of entertainment. That’s how pretty much all capitalism is supposed to work. The market demands what it wants and companies produce what the market wants. In some ways it’s the purest form of Democracy. But more importantly, it keeps entertainment media companies in check. It’s a problem when companies can control what the public sees and experiences regardless of the public’s opinion on it. It’s a problem when the people say they want, or more importantly don’t want, something and companies make a profit while completely disregarding or even blatantly going against those demands. It’s a problem when companies are able to operate with no oversight and no repercussions regardless of how bad their decisions are. Let me be clear, I’m not saying Titans is a bad show and shouldn’t get a second season. As I’ve already stated, I haven’t seen it so I can’t make that judgement. But the fact that it’s already guaranteed a second season regardless of how the public feels about it is not a good thing. It indicates that our opinions and demands as consumers are meaningless.
In the American system of television, where shows go on for as long as they can retain value (viewership, high ratings, and advertising sponsorships), getting an additional season used to mean something. It meant a show was good enough for people to want an entire additional year (depending on how the seasons are broken up) of that show. It meant all the actors, producers, directors, and other staff members had earned their paychecks and were being given permission from the public to keep their jobs. Those additional seasons were proof of the value of that show. And the relationship between the studio and the public was symbiotic in nature. But if shows are just gonna get additional seasons regardless of whether or not the public likes them, how are we as consumers supposed to get the content we want?
You see the same thing happening with games and movies now too. They create franchises from the ground up without verifying that people even want the content. No one wants a Suicide Squad 2. The first one was terrible and the public doesn’t want a sequel. I’m glad James Gunn is writing the sequel if it has to happen. But the fact that it’s happening shows the studio’s complete disregard for the public’s opinion. Shitty games are getting sequels all the time now. Standalone games rarely exist anymore. Some studios have even publicly said that they won’t build them any longer. Destiny was bad. Everyone agreed it was bad. It had some good qualities, but ultimately the people were not happy. But they were already making Destiny 2 before the first raid dropped in 1. And that’s after they had already said there was a 10 year lifespan planned for the first game. This is a problem. They’re supposed to make the games the market wants. Not force the market to play subpar games due to a lack of options.
God of War is a perfect example of how the system is supposed to work. The original game on PS2 back in 2005 was made as a standalone game. No sequels were planned. There were no holes in the plot. It was just a solid game. And because it did so well both financially and critically, they made more of them. The game earned the privilege, not right, to become a full-fledged franchise. And then years after the conclusion of the franchise, demand was still so high that they made another game, which was also excellent and has absolutely earned the right to a sequel. Now I will say that clearly they planned a sequel in advance with the latest game, and I do take issue with that, but remember that we’re talking about game seven, not one. It’s fair at that point to create a story driven saga because you already have the existing market data to show demand. But if a new IP drops and the opening game is already assuming several sequels, that’s a problem.
This sort of project development is especially troublesome in how it allows entertainment production companies to control what the public views with no repercussions. I truly believe entertainers of all types have the right to create whatever type of content they want with whatever inserted messages and politics they want to present. That is the right of the creator. But at the same time, there are supposed to be risks incurred when doing that. The market rewards and/or punishes creators for the content they create. If a company wants to insert a political message or idea into their content and their market doesn’t care for it, that company is supposed to take that feedback and moderate the politics they present accordingly for their next work/installment. If that doesn’t happen, the consumer base will cease to buy their products and they will go out of business. That’s Democracy at work. But if companies no longer have to create at the mercy of their markets they can just say whatever they want. They can subliminally alter the views of large groups of people by presenting ideas with no repercussions. And sure that’s fine when that idea is something along the lines equal rights for minorities. But what happens when it’s something like anti-Muslim propaganda?
The ability for consumers to control and shape the kind of media that ultimately gets produced keeps media companies in check. Yes the check goes in both directions and often progressive ideas are stomped out as well, but I would argue the potential benefits of unchecked content creation are outweighed by the potential negative repercussions. So in my opinion it’s really problematic when movie studios come out of the gate with a new movie IP and state they’re already planning multiple sequels and spinoffs. Glances at The Mummy (2017). I don’t like hearing that a new show already has multiple seasons and other connected shows in the works before the first season has even aired. And while yes I understand that the MCU is probably the greatest multi-faceted entertainment media project/franchise ever created in the history of the world, I think it’s important to realize Marvel had already been making comics, cartoons, and video games for 69 years before Iron Man (2008) released. They had already earned their right to creative control and did their homework in terms of what kind of content to create and the messages that should be presented. And sure DC may be even older than Marvel, but they’ve shown multiple times that they don’t know how to make successful movies and TV shows that the public is happy with consistently. They keep making them, but the people keep being unhappy with what’s created a majority of the time. If anything, DC is the perfect example of why no company should ever consider itself above the opinions of consumers.
I hope Titans is good. From what I’ve seen of the trailers I doubt it will be, but genuinely don’t like seeing comic book related projects fail. I like seeing them succeed. But I cannot condone the idea that the public’s opinion on entertainment is irrelevant and that companies should just do whatever the hell they want because people will probably just watch anyway out of boredom. That sets a bad precedent which ultimately leads to mediocre or even bad content as well as subliminal messaging shaping the public’s views with no ability for us to push back.
This past weekend, I finally finished the main story of Nioh. It took me just over 70 hours to complete. I am not finished with the game because there are several post-game missions, an entire new class of items you unlock by finishing the main story, a new game plus mode (which I probably don’t have time to play), and a number of DLC missions, which I do plan on completing. I have to say that this was an excellent game. I have some complaints, which is true for every game I’ve ever played, but overall Nioh was quite the positive gaming experience.
I played both the alpha and beta of the game, but didn’t get around to actually playing it till they had already announced the sequel, which was the main reason I finally got my ass in gear with this one. What I find interesting is that many people I’ve spoken to aren’t fans of Nioh because of their relationship with Dark Souls. I understand but don’t agree with this point of view. First, because the games really are quite different in many respects. And second, because Dark Souls I & II (still haven’t gotten around to III) are no more or less flawed than Nioh. All three of these games, and Bloodborne, all have their own issues which are subjective design choices that some people will like and others will hate, while many won’t care one way or the other. So rather than write a straight review of Nioh, I thought it would be more useful to write a comparison of Nioh to Dark Souls with a focus on some key design choices/differences between the two franchises.
People tend to differentiate Dark Souls from Bloodborne because of the combat pacing/style. Dark Souls is seen as the slower more defense focused game that relies heavily on technique and strategy. While Bloodborne is seen as the faster paced more offense focused game that relies more on real time skill and reaction. Having played both games, I can agree with this assessment on some level. I tend to prefer Dark Souls, which is interesting because I hate blocking in games generally. What I like about Nioh is that it allows the player a lot more differentiation while still keeping it really simple, when it comes to combat. Dark Souls offers you 22 different weapon types with various weapons in each category, but they’re all fairly similar, with the exception of magic. It’s one handed short weapons or two handed great weapons, plus bows for ranged attacks. The combat is focused much more on stats than actual weapon performance other than one handed vs two handed. But you do have a fair amount of control over the pacing of combat between those two differentiations, not to mention you have the option to play with or without a shield. You also have to take weight into account when playing Dark Souls and it has a huge effect on gameplay.
Bloodborne is less varied in specific weapon options with only a single version of each type of weapon, but each of the 15 weapon types is fairly different plus there are 11 different secondary weapons to choose from. You are afforded a lot more variation among the Bloodborne weapons, but the pacing of combat is very similar for all weapon types. Add this to the fact that there are no shields in Bloodborne and weight doesn’t have to be accounted for and you have a very fast paced, but less varied gameplay experience than Dark Souls.
The problem with both Dark Souls and Bloodborne, when it comes to combat, is you have a lot of choices, but few options. Ranged attacks and magic aside, Dark Souls really just comes down to one handed vs two handed weapons, shield or no shield in the case of choosing one handed, and weight class, which affects agility. Bloodborne is similar in making you choose between one handed and two handed combat, but it gives the player the option of using any weapon in either way and allows you to change in real time. But with the lack of weight and similar style the weapons carry, you can pretty much commit to a play style early on and ride it out the whole game. For instance, I used two handed axe for probably 85% of the game.
Nioh takes a much different approach to combat differentiation than either Dark Souls or Bloodborne. While those two franchises approach the issue from the style of traditional action games, Nioh is more similar to a JRPG. Rather than bogging you down with tons of weapon types, there are only six: katana, axe, kusarigama, spear, dual-swords, and tonfa. As well as three ranged types: bow, rifle, hand cannon. Each weapon type is wholly different, but true differentiation comes from the fact that there are countless variations of each type of weapon as well as the ability to manipulate, reforge, and evolve them. The speed and style of combat is contingent on numerous factors. You have to account for weapon type, weapon stance (low, mid, high), armor weight, magic and ninja enhancements, natural weapon enhancements/buffs, learned skills/techniques, and you can forge your own buffs into weapons. All while also considering your character’s build. The thing I really like is that the game forces you to take the time to “master” all six weapon types to get maximum character bonuses. This allowed me to find which type of weapon actually works the best for my style of play. You also get to carry two main weapons and two ranged weapons which can be hot swapped at any time. While it’s easy to settle into a specific weapon type, you are still constantly honing and evolving your use of any weapon type as you learn new techniques, magical enhancements, and acquire different/better versions of a weapon type. Combat is never really mastered, so much as it slows down in its evolution.
The Souls franchise, spanning all the way back to the original Demon’s Souls (2009), takes its name from the fact that the one and only currency available in the game is souls. You use them to level up, buy things, and upgrade gear. This system works because it’s simple. With a single currency to do everything, you don’t have to worry about exchange rates, what resource to focus on accumulating, or how to manage and distribute your rewards. You have one thing for everything all the time. The problem with this system is that when you die, and fail to reclaim your souls, you are royally screwed. You lose your progress towards everything you’re working towards all at the same time. That level up, those upgrades, that new weapon. It’s all gone in one foul swoop. Realizing this, Nioh went a different way.
Nioh has two currencies, amrita and gold. Amrita is the equivalent of souls but it can only be used to level up. Its sole purpose is to make you physically more capable. Gold is used for everything else. Buying items, selling items, upgrading gear, forging new gear, and pretty much everything else is done with gold. It’s the currency of the game. Amrita is simply the currency of your character’s development. In most games, xp is permanent while gold can be lost/stolen. In Nioh, it’s the reverse. Just like with Dark Souls, you can lose your amrita when you die and fail to return to your corpse. But your gold is permanent until you spend it.
What’s nice is that you get both gold and amrita from killing enemies, just at different rates. You can also choose to trade gear for either gold or amrita, depending on what you want. This is why I find this system superior. The player is given a choice in how to prioritize their loot. If you don’t want to level up but want better gear, you can choose to focus on amassing gold. If you want to level up, you focus on amassing amrita. And in the late game this becomes key because leveling up becomes way slower than improving your gear with crafting and upgrades.
There is technically a third currency called glory, which you get from fighting revenants, but it’s not as useful and it’s not required to get through the game. I honestly didn’t use it at all except to buy character transformations, which I’ll address in the appearance section.
One of the main selling points of Demon’s Souls, and by extension Dark Souls, was the multiplayer interactions. This includes co-op, PVP, and communication through hints. I have to say that both games franchises/games get a little right and a lot wrong, but in different ways. The worst part about PVP in Dark Souls is that it’s never by choice for the victim of invasion. You can be playing the game with no interest in fighting or even interacting with other players, soon to reach the next bonfire, only to be invaded and often killed by no fault of your own. One of the worst things in the game(s) is that there are invasion hot spots where you literally can’t progress forward because you can be back to back invaded by the same player who’s already proven to be stronger than you. One of the only ways around this is to play offline, but then you lose the ability to summon help, so it leaves you in a catch 22. Nioh doesn’t have this problem.
There is no invasion in Nioh. You never have to fight against anyone you don’t choose to. If you want a PVP match you have to go into the PVP lobby and create/find a match. That’s how it should be. But the regular game is not devoid of special interactions against other players, or at least a version of them. The revenant system is the bridge that connects PVP and PVE. When you die, you leave a corpse. It has your gear, traits, fighting style, and abilities. When other people play through a level, they can see your corpse and choose to challenge it in a duel. If they can defeat it, they get some gear matching the gear you were wearing when you died in that spot. You don’t actually lose any of your gear. What’s great about this system is you can see the level and class of gear of the corpse before battling it so you can decide which fights are worth your time as well as moderate how difficult these opponents are. This allows you to have the PVP experience and rewards without actually having to be bothered by other people or wait for them to be online in order to get rewards from fighting them. And the revenants are different from each other. They have different gear and use different tactics based on the player they’re derived from. Some use magic, some fight more conservatively, some are terribly easy even when they’re a much higher level. It’s a great system that allows everyone to have the encounters they want without negatively affecting those of other players in the process. And just to spice it up a bit, there are moments in the game where revenants are summoned automatically, similar to the bell ringing maidens in Bloodborne. In key areas there are sages playing a Japanese guitar like instrument. This automatically summons any revenant you get too close to within the vicinity of the music. Once you’ve killed the sage, the automatic summoning ceases. What’s really nice is that once the sages are killed they’re dead for good even after you die and respawn.
Communication between disconnected players is an important part of both Dark Souls and Nioh, but it’s done in completely different ways. In Dark Souls you can leave messages for other players. This is a nice system, but it’s also annoying for everyone involved. As a person leaving a message you have to choose the best spot to leave it so that people will see it. You have to piece together a message with sentence fragments because you aren’t given the ability to just write whatever you want, which is a good thing. Even after all that work people still might not notice or take the time to read your message. And even if they do read your message, if they don’t up-vote it the message will eventually disappear no matter how useful it actually may have been. The person reading the message has to find it, actively read it, interpret the piecemeal language in the context of the current setting, and up-vote it to make sure it doesn’t disappear for other players. Very few people actually want to go through any of this trouble. Not to mention that it’s extremely difficult to leave helpful messages to players that also have to be located in places they will actually see. In reality, the only information players absolutely need in a Soulslike game is how other players died. Missing a chest sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. And if you really want to find all the items, you’ll use an online walkthrough. The only information that will truly affect players is knowing what’s coming to kill them. So Nioh focuses only on conveying information about deaths between players directly. This is also done through the revenant system and it’s way more convenient than the messaging in Dark Souls. When you die and leave a corpse/revenant, players can also see how you died. It’s easy because there aren’t even any commands needed unless you actually want to fight a revenant. Just walking near their corpses instantly tells players how they died, what level they were when they died, and the gear they were carrying. And that’s really all the information you need. Being able to see how other players died gives you a clear hint about what’s coming up to try and kill you so you can be ready.
I would say neither Nioh nor Dark Souls handles coop matchmaking well. Both do certain things well, but both also have fundamental flaws to their systems which make things terribly inconvenient for the player(s). Dark Souls has the more convenient summoning system in that you can at any time drop a sign in any location and other players can summon you. You can summon up to three people, which is really convenient. It’s a nice system because you can be playing the game and farming while waiting to be summoned. The hitch is that you can only summon people when you’re alive, which requires using an item or helping someone else beat a boss. Overall thissystem makes it so you never have to waste any time while waiting to get summoned by other people. Nioh fails in this regard. To play coop as the summoner, you can only summon people from in level shrines, which are the equivalent of bonfires. There are two to four per a stage. There is no alive or dead system in Nioh, which is a good thing, but summoning requires single use items, which you find as loot from killing enemies. You can carry up to 99 of these at a time, which is nice, but they are not easy to find early on in the game. So you have struggle alone early on if you actually want/need summons to move forward. Personally, I think Nioh is easier than Dark Souls and I didn’t summon anyone to beat the main story. This was not the case for Dark Souls I & II or Bloodborne for me. What’s really annoying about the system in Nioh is that you have to do it at a shrine, meaning you have to reset all the enemies you’ve already cleared to summon someone and you can’t summon from the boss door like you can in Dark Souls. But thankfully you can go back to shrines while a summon is active, refilling all yours and their health and items. Being summoned is even more inconvenient in Nioh. You can’t just drop a sign or ring a bell and go on with your day until summoned. You have to go to a menu on the world map and enter a summoning lobby. You then have to wait until you’re summoned to play in a stage. On the flip side, you can set parameters for summons such as which stage you’d liked to be summoned to and difficulty level. But if no one wants to summon then you just sit and wait rather than farming while you’re waiting. And you can be rejected by players once summoned, which might happen for various reasons.
What I find superior about summoning in Nioh compared to both Dark Souls and Bloodborne is that there are no level caps or level scaling. If you are on the first stage as a level 5 and you want to summon a friend who is level 150 and has already beaten the game, you can do that. If you want to bring in a high level player to stomp the boss for you, the game doesn’t scale them down to your level. It lets them play to the full extent of their power and abilities. And that’s how it should be. If you want to earn it, that should be your choice as the player. If you want your friends to help you, then that should be your choice as well. But you can only summon one player in Nioh as opposed to three in Dark Souls.
Dark Souls and Bloodborne are full open world games where you make your way across the land finding bonfires or lanterns along the way, which can then be used as warp points. There isn’t really a right way to go, but you have to figure out where to go to move forward in the story. I find the system inconvenient because you have no real direction. Many people enjoy this style of play because they like feeling in control, but I find it a large waste of my time for games like this. Nioh is broken into missions. There is a world map with clearly defined main missions and sub-missions. Each individual mission is a contained open world that you can freely explore within the confines of, but there is an entrance. The only way out is by completing the mission objective, which is usually but not always to defeat a specific enemy, usually a boss. I prefer this system. The game has the same level of stress as any other Soulslike game while you’re in the thick of it, but you don’t always have to be in the thick of it. There is structure and clearly defined goals. You can skip sub-missions or play them all. You don’t accidentally miss bonus bosses before beating the game. You control everything because it’s all clearly laid out on a world map. This also makes organizing your matchmaking easier, even though the system in general is inferior, because you don’t have to deal with the trying to put your spot down in the right area problem you get in Dark Souls. You can handle all of that from the world map.
Character development at base level is similar between Dark Souls and Nioh. In Dark Souls you have nine stats that can be advanced one at a time in exchange for souls. In Nioh you have eight. These stats improve certain specific features of your character and make them better able to handle certain weapons, armor, skills, and general performance. It’s the same system. But the gear development and aesthetics systems are much more robust and user friendly in Nioh.
Developing weapons in Dark Souls is done by going to a black smith and trading materials and souls to level up a weapon. You can slightly differentiate the development of weapons by using different materials to take new development paths. The weapon’s performance is based solely on stats depending on the development paths you’ve taken with the specific weapon. In Nioh, you don’t level up weapons until the end game/NG+ when you get divine weapons, but that’s not relevant to a first play through. Weapons are split into five categories based on rarity (color in menu) which kind of translates to potential. The same is true for armor in all respects except familiarity, which I’ll explain. You can get the same piece of gear at any of the five rarity types. The rarity level defines how many natural enhancements it has and its maximum familiarity potential. Familiarity is essentially how much the attack stat on any weapon can increase with use. The highest possible familiarity is 999, but this is only available on divine items after beating the final main story missions. During the first playthrough, 900 is the maximum possible familiarity. So your goal is to get purple, the rarest type, rarity gear for all your items because it offers the highest familiarity bonus for weapons and the most natural enhancements on gear. Natural enhancements can be anything. Sometimes it’s more damage against certain enemy types. Sometimes it’s higher amrita (souls) yields. It can be resistance to certain types of damage or increased damage of a certain type. Even lower weight and blacksmith costs can appear as a gear enhancement. So even when you find a rare item with high starting stats, it might not be the enhancements that work best for you. That’s OK in Nioh though because you have the ability to reforge and evolve items. Gear can be broken down and crafted into new things. Gear can be absorbed into other gear to make it stronger, or weaker if you combine something stupid. You can even forge new stats into gear.
In Dark Souls you don’t really have techniques. You have gear of various types and stats. But fighting is focused on the technical aspects of using that gear and applying it to the combat situation you’re in. There are heavy and light attacks and some charge moves, but that about does it for what you can do. Nioh has specialty techniques that you develop with special points in either samurai, ninja, or mage categories. These techniques can be specific combos, buffs, spells, specialty items, and specific moves. Many of them are tied to specific stances within specific weapon types. You can get really technical in this game if you want to and mastering certain techniques can make all the difference.
Nioh has one the best appearance systems I’ve seen in any Soulslike game ever, and it doesn’t even have a character creator. Dark Souls lets you create your character, but you are stuck looking like whatever armor you are wearing, regardless of how bad it looks. It the problem of so many RPGs. Your best stuff doesn’t look cool and your cool stuff doesn’t perform the best. Nioh gets around this by letting you refashion gear. Any piece of gear you find can be skinned over to look like any other piece of gear regardless of what it is. Some gear looks awesome and some gear looks like trash. But with refashioning you just spend a modest amount of gold (modest for the end-game anyway) and you can make that awesome piece of gear look like whatever gear set you like. In my case I use the best mid-weight gear I have but I refashioned it to look like the DLC gold set, because I’m a sucker for shiny gold gear. I have the performance I need to succeed, and I shine while doing it. You can refashion weapons as well. Some weapons look so cool with elaborate designs and paint jobs, while others are boring and devoid of color. But appearance has nothing to do with performance. That’s why the refashioning system is so important.
Nioh may let you customize your gear to look however you want, but you can’t create your own character. You play as William, a British white man with blonde hair. The only customization you have for him is his hair style. But what is nice is that you can get transformations. As mentioned previously, there is a third currency called glory. You can only get this from killing revenants. It can be used to buy special crafting materials, but what it’s most useful for is buying transformations. You have the ability to transform William into any character you meet in the game. That includes villains you face and female characters. You just buy the transformations with glory and you can change your appearance an unlimited number of times to whatever transformations you own. Transformations do not affect gameplay or stats. It’s a nice way to let players look the way they want to in case you get tired of being a blonde white man running around killing monsters in Japan. For instance, I like being a Black Samurai, based on a historical character you duel later in the game.
Both Nioh and Dark Souls have NG+ modes, but what’s nice about Nioh is that it has actual end-game content that takes place within your first playthrough. Defeating the final story stage unlocks several bonus sub-missions as well as more story that connects into the DLC. You also get a new class of items after you complete the final level, which can be used for this end-game content before you start a NG+ run. I will probably never play NG+ but I still have several hours of play to look forward to in Nioh before I put it on the shelf for good. I have never played past beating the final boss in Dark Souls or Bloodborne, because I simply had no reason to and have no interest in replaying the same game.
What’s nice about the NG+ though is that it’s directly connected to your original playthrough. It’s not even called NG+. It’s referred to as “Way of the Strong”. From the world map you can switch between normal play and NG+ play from the same file as often as you like. The NG+ levels are the same stages with higher difficulty and better rewards but you don’t have to have a completely separate playthrough from your original. This is nice because it allows you grind with better yields or in normal difficulty at the same time, taking advantage of either depending on what your goals/needs are. And the DLC content is attached in the same way so you can always jump around to play whatever you want at any time. This is made possible because of the level based structure mentioned previously. So while I don’t see myself finishing NG+, I may very well run a few stages for better gear that I can then use to complete the end-game missions and DLC. It’s the best of all worlds.
I want to be clear in saying that I am not arguing that Nioh is superior to Dark Souls. I am arguing that Nioh is not a clone of Dark Souls. It’s part of the Soulslike genre which started with Demon’s Souls, but it is an original game with considerably different design choices, aesthetic, and gameplay. As with any two franchises or even just individual games, there are both good and bad things about both Nioh and Dark Souls and there’s no reason to ignore one simply because it’s not the other. If you haven’t played Nioh but you do play Dark Souls then I highly encourage you to try it out. Especially with the sequel on the way.
As is tradition, I would like to do a post about gaming in 2017. I know 2017 was a rough year in reality. I would argue worse than 2016 in many ways. But we’re only gonna talk about gaming here and in that realm I would say though there were some definite low points, overall it wasn’t a horrible year. As I always say, I’m gonna do my best to sum up gaming this year but I’m only one man not being paid to do this so realistically I’m probably gonna miss a number of events and I’m only writing from one perspective. Also as we should be aware, I focus primarily, but not exclusively, on console gaming.
First, let me talk about how gaming was for me personally in 2017. It was a solid year. It wasn’t like 2016 where I was able to get through 52 games. But I was able to tackle an acceptable 22 titles. Of those 22, only two game were actually released in 2017. Those would be Mass Effect: Andromeda, which I will of course discuss later in this post, and StarFox 2 on the SNES Classic. In my opinion, the best game I completed in the last year was unquestionably Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Not only was it the best Uncharted game, but it was just genuinely one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. Naughty Dog just doesn’t disappoint.
As far as completing my gaming goals for 2017, I did ok. If you look at my list of 2017 gaming goals from the beginning of the year, I had 12 main goals and six bonus goals. Of those 12 main goals I managed to complete nine of them which is pretty good. But I will say that I did not complete, or even start, two of the most important ones. That is play The Witcher 2 (yes that is a 2) and play Final Fantasy VII. I am making these two games a priority in 2018, starting with FFVII. I’ve even set my desktop and mobile wallpapers to FFVII images in order to motivate myself to play the game. Of the six bonus goals, I completed four of them, which is also pretty good. That’s an overall completion rate of 72%. Not an amazing grade, but definitely passable. Now let’s talk about the highlights of 2017 for the rest of the gaming community. Events are in no particular order.
Indies Take the Reigns
This was an amazing year for indie games. We saw some phenomenal releases of games that were not only critically acclaimed, but financially successful in record time.
I haven’t personally played this game, but one cannot deny the success or importance of it. Not only has it broken records for Steam concurrent users but it’s also sold at record numbers and rushed out an XBOX ONE release last minute. I actually take a lot of issue with this game. The fact that people are so misguided in their judgement that a movement actually formed calling for an early access game with no single player campaign to be considered for game of the year is insane. It’s one of the most preposterous things I’ve ever heard. But it only shows just how successful the game is. It will be interesting to see what this means for AAA FPS games. If an indie studio can make a single mode FPS game with no campaign or serious production value and only charge $30 for it then how will companies like Activision continue their current COD business model?
I knew this game would be a success when it was first announced at E3 back in like 2013. I was actually the person who created the Cuphead wiki page on IGN when I worked for their E3 wiki team that year. It’s beautiful, different, retro, and has a very Disney style story based campaign. It’s already gone double platinum and has spawned various articles and fan creations.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
This game had basically no publisher and kind of came out of nowhere but they’ve already sold enough copies to be profitable. There was a lot of controversy at the beginning about saves possibly getting erased and really I think that ultimately helped the game. This is just another example of how large publishers like EA are blatantly lying to the public when they say single player campaigns are no longer viable and/or profitable because this game is objective proof against that statement. Hellblade also addresses mental illness as part of the gameplay and adds both an interesting perspective to gameplay and brings the conversation about mental illness to the forefront of the gaming community, both of which are good things.
A Hat in Time
This game hasn’t been out too long but it’s doing very well both critically and financially. People really seem to like it, which is great because we need more traditional single player platformers other than just Nintendo first party games and Ratchet & Clank. Hopefully the success of this game will inspire other larger studios to revisit the genre with more than just HD remakes of older games.
EA Screws Everything Up
I’m not going to say it hasn’t happened before, but I can’t recall any other year where EA screwed the pooch so big, so many times, so quickly. Like if you took away EA Sports from the equation, I wouldn’t be surprised if they folded next year after all the bullshit they tried to pull in 2017.
Mass Effect Andromeda
Now personally I didn’t hate this game, but it was no Mass Effect 3. There was a ton of negative press and public opinion because of graphical issues. The story was kind of flat in the end. No DLC was released even though some was promised originally. The game was clearly rushed out; which is sad because it had so much potential. And this really hurt BioWare, which sucks because they used to be one of my favorite studios. But it’s clear that most of these problems are the fault of EA management rather than bad work on the developer side. EA keeps shoehorning in multiplayer, loot boxes, and open world into games, forcing developers to work on too much too quickly and ultimately put out lackluster games, all while being forced to use an engine that’s really only good for one genre. But the worst part is that EA refuses to acknowledge this. They just keep blaming the studios for the failures. They even shuttered BioWare Montreal.
EA shutdown Visceral Games, the studio that brought you Dead Space. But what was really bad about this was when, why, and how they did it. The studio was in the midst of creating a single player, linear, story focused Star Wars game. Also known as exactly the type of game real Star Wars fans have been waiting for since like The Force Unleashed II. Then when asked about it, EA made a statement that sounded like they were declaring an end to single player, linear campaigns. They then came back and said that’s not what they meant, but it just goes to show you that EA can’t be trusted because they refuse to just give a straight answer about any topic. And that policy of using marketing speak instead of concrete words is finally coming back to bite them in the ass. And it absolutely did not help them that they were releasing a Star Wars themed multiplayer shooter with a joke of a campaign just a few months after closing down Visceral Games and stating that they were not killing but were changing the scope of their project considerably. Read my full thoughts on the closing of Visceral Gameshere.
Star Wars Battlefront II and the Loot Boxes
Star Wars Battlefront II is the sequel no one really asked for. It was a cash grab game made to symbiotically increase sales and popularity of the Star Wars IP with Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. The true irony being that both works garnered a ton of controversy and negativity among the populous. The film did at least make money though.
Because of a combination of predatory business practices, bad blood over the Visceral GamesStar Wars game, and an unacceptably long series of social faux pas, Battlefront II has done terribly. Its sales were considerably lower than its predecessor out of the gate. Disney forced them to completely remove microtransactions from the game until further notice, but they are supposed to be returning at some point. It was reported that EA’s stock value dropped by about $3 Billion because of this whole travesty of a game release. And the company is now responsible for the most downvoted comment in Reddit history.
The most important thing about this entire series of events is that it showed that we as a group actually do have real power over the gaming industry. Our comments, tweets, Reddit posts, and angry YouTube videos do make a difference when we work as a single unit with a common goal. This whole ordeal proved that if we would just get organized we could truly change things. And things are changing. Apple now requires all mobile apps with loot boxes to display the possible win percentages. And politicians in the United States and other countries are starting to discuss legislation about stopping predatory monetization practices in games. You can read my full account of the Star Wars Battlefront II controversy and timeline here.
Nintendo Owns It Hard
Nintendo has the odd habit of doing everything the public says they shouldn’t and then making a killing in sales and approval, both critical and public, and no one can ever seem to understand why or how they make this work. They’re just a magical company that shits gold time and time again. Here are some of their highlights for 2017.
They released a new console that people weren’t sure about and that many said would cannibalize their own handheld market. The console is doing very well and has already outsold the Wii U by leaps and bounds. Not to mention, the top two contested games of the year were both first party Switch games (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild / Super Mario Odyssey). I wasn’t even planning on buying a Switch this year, but they finally got me with Odyssey.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
Everyone said it was impossible to make Rabbids not the most annoying thing ever. I too was one of those people. The idea of a turn based RPG starring Mario and Rabbids sounded ridiculous. In fact it still does. But ultimately it won best strategy game at The Game Awards 2017.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Objectively speaking this was the best game of 2017. It won the Golden Joystick Awards. It won The Game Awards. It made the Switch a financial success much sooner than expected. It’s being called by many the greatest Zelda game ever made, which is a bold statement to even consider making. This is like the new Final Fantasy VII. I haven’t personally played it yet, but from what I understand your children’s children will still be talking about this game.
The best way to make money is to do so without doing anything you haven’t already done before. Nintendo exercises this statement boldly with the SNES Classic and the NES Classic before it. It’s another amazing trip down memory lane, they’re sold out everywhere, and scalpers are making a killing reselling them. Because Nintendo refuses to manufacture enough of them in order to artificially keep demand high. I actually was able to get one and I have to say that it’s an amazing console.
The idea of Nintendo getting into mobile games was offensive and worrisome. They already control the handheld market. How would they possibly participate in both markets without quality lacking somewhere? I still don’t really know how to answer that question. But I do know that Super Mario Run was the most downloaded app at one point in 2017. And people seem to love Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.
The business of trailers seemed to stand out a lot in 2017. Three games stand out the most. By newsworthy I don’t mean the best looking or even most anticipated trailers. I mean trailers that garnered actual news stories other than just “check out this trailer”.
Death Stranding is the latest example of everything that’s wrong with celebrity game development. Just because a specific name, studio, or actor is tied to a game does not mean it will be good. We have seen no gameplay footage and gotten no concrete details but everyone is creaming their jeans over Death Stranding simply because it’s being made by Kojima. The latest trailer makes no sense, tells you nothing, and gives no sort of clues about the gameplay but everyone was losing their minds over it.
I actually really liked this trailer. It doesn’t show us any gameplay footage, but we can assume that because it’s a sequel the gameplay will at least be similar to the first game. What this trailer does show us is that in a Walking Dead style of narrative, zombies are not the biggest problem in the post apocalypse. It’s actually other people. We are shown that we can expect powerful, violent, uncomfortable scenes from the next installment of The Last of Us and that’s a good thing. But many people were angry about the fact that the trailer shows women being tortured. Personally I thought this entire debate was hypocritical bullshit because the women were being tortured by a woman so this can’t be misconstrued as some form of sexism or even objectification for the male gaze. But internet gonna internet so whatever.
Similar to the way people reacted to The Last of Us 2 trailer, a lot of people were really unhappy with the child abuse shown in the latest trailer for Detroit: Become Human. There was a lot of debate about whether or not this kind of thing was ok to show in the marketing of video games or be shown in video games at all. I think this is hypocritical because we wouldn’t be having that conversation when talking about film. Gaming is an entertainment medium with the largest population of users being legal adults. It is perfectly acceptable to address serious themes in such a medium in the same way that it’s socially acceptable to have such things depicted in movies.
To nobody intelligent’s surprise, Bungie and Activision did exactly what I expected of them. Destiny 2 used the same bullshit scheme of overpromising, under delivering, hiding all the content behind additional paywalls, and delivering no end game; and that shouldn’t have surprised anyone. But this time they screwed up and put a vanilla game trophy behind a DLC paywall when they released an expansion and that really hurt their reputation and supposedly their stock price, for at least a time.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Probably the best example of why EA is bullshit from 2017. Guerilla Games created a beautiful, big budget, story based single player game. And it sold like hot cakes. People loved it. Critics loved it. Sony loved it. They even released a large expansion and priced the whole game fairly with it. Many non-Nintendo gamers believed it should have been game of the year. I definitely think we’ll see a sequel to this game and I hope other studios/publishers take Horizon Zero Dawn as an example for future projects.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Most Socially Aware Marketing Campaign of all Time)
Bethesda makes good games. I don’t love all or even most of their stuff, but I have always respected them as a company. But this year what they showed more than anything else is that they do not function in a vacuum. The company makes marketing campaigns and quite possibly games based on current events and popular opinion. I’ve never played any of the Wolfenstein games, old or new. I’ve always known about the franchise but I’ve never been that interested. I took an interest in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus strictly because of the ad campaign. Trailers and banners with calls to action saying “Make America Nazi Free Again” hit so close to home in 2017. And this campaign wasn’t lost on anyone. Trump supporters were pissed about being called Nazis. Liberals thought it was hilarious and pre-ordered the game just to support the message. It was amazing marketing and ultimately I do think I’ll end up not only buying this game but also the previous titles to get the full story.
Bethesda didn’t stop with Wolfenstein. They also went after EA and launched a campaign to save single player games. Also a super relevant and socially aware ad campaign that absolutely increased sales.
XBOX ONE X Released
Microsoft released “the most powerful console on the market” and people still don’t know what the point of that is if you don’t have a healthy lineup of exclusive titles that you can’t play on a much better PC, which the console doesn’t. They claim this console is for the fans who want the best of the best but even those people are smart enough to build a PC when you look at the games available. And to top it all off, Microsoft keeps focusing on bringing back old titles which often don’t even look good in 4k. It’s like they’re trying to compete with Sony and Nintendo at the same time and failing on both fronts.
A few smaller things happened in 2017 that are not worth going over in detail but should be mentioned when grading the year in gaming as a whole.
Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back
This actually happened and that’s worth talking about in and of itself.
Nioh (PC Version)
This was entirely unexpected and while it’s pretty shitty for early adopters I think it ultimately was a good thing because it lowered the price on both platforms and made all the content easier to access for all late adopters.
This happened. Amazing concept to allow people to create their own Sonic characters, but the game itself is about what we’ve come to expect from modern Sonic the Hedgehog. I still bought it predicting that would be the case for some reason.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy
Even on their worst day Naughty Dog only ever creates gold and this was far from their worst day.
Overall I’d say 2017 was a solid year for gaming. There were definitely some serious low points, most of which the fault of EA. But the high points outnumber them tenfold. I look forward to 2018 hoping for another year of excellent gaming but I’m curious to see what we get from Nintendo because they came out of the gate with some heavy hitters. I don’t want to see the Switch peter out after only a year.
This is and will always be a gaming blog, but a few months back I declared that this would no longer be an exclusively gaming blog. I even took the time to change the title of the blog from ‘DJMMT’S Gaming Blog’ to ‘DJMMT’s Gaming (& More) Blog’. But to be honest I really haven’t been true to the “& More” part of the title up until now. So I wanted to take the time to write about something not gaming that is still very much important to many if not most of the members of the gaming community today. I’m talking about Rick & Morty.
I, like any sane human being, love Rick & Morty. It’s an amazing show that’s funny, relatable (in a weird way), somewhat educational in the fact that it gets people thinking about scientific concepts even if not being completely realistic about them, and most importantly, it’s expertly written. It’s one of the only shows I can remember watching and saying it has only gotten better over time. Just about every episode is better than the last one and I don’t think there’s been a single episode that I was genuinely displeased with. Really no other show can make that claim for me. Not even Game of Thrones. I recently re-watched the first three seasons and I was impressed to find that there are really no inconsistencies in the writing. Everything is tied up really nicely and even the continuity of the writing from episode to episode and between dimensions is all pretty much perfect . . . except for one episode, that I noticed.
In Season 1, Episode 6, named Rick Potion #9, Rick creates a special love potion for Morty that will make Jessica fall in love with him. It works but because she had the flu when the potion was applied, it mutated and spread turning everyone into violent, love crazed maniacs, all trying to pretty much rape Morty to death. This potion is based on vole DNA. To counter this potion, Rick creates another potion based on praying mantis DNA, which then turns everyone into giant praying mantises that still want to rape Morty to death. Then Rick makes a third potion that infuses the DNA of several things (koala, rattlesnake, chimpanzee, cactus, shark, golden retriever) including dinosaurs (which are expressed as a single species rather than naming a specific type of dinosaur) and turns everyone into what are referred to as Cronenbergs.
The name Cronenbergs, in my opinion but not verified by a confirmed source, is in reference to director David Cronenberg, specifically because of his film The Fly (1986) where Jeff Goldblum’s genes are accidentally spliced with a fly, mutating him into a fly man and eventually a giant humanoid fly and then in the end splicing in metal turning him into a monstrosity that Geena Davis ultimately shoots in the head. By the end of the film, Jeff Goldblum is a disgusting amalgamation of parts similar to the mutated people at the end of Rick Potion #9.
If we assume that I’m right about why the writers chose to refer to these monstrous mutants as Cronenbergs then the assumption is that both Rick and Morty have seen The Fly, which is why they are both comfortable referring to them as Cronenbergs almost instantly. This all makes perfect sense. But at the very end of the episode in the post credits scene something odd happens. In the same way that Rick and Morty escape to a dimension where the world hasn’t been “Cronenberged” (and the Rick and Morty of that dimension have died for unrelated reasons), a Cronenberg version of Rick and Morty portal into the now Cronenberged world of our Rick and Morty. Cronenberg Rick refers to Morty as “Cronenberg Morty”. The two go on to say that they come from a world where everyone started off as Cronenbergs and then Rick accidentally turned them into normal people (but for some unmentioned reason didn’t use the process on themselves). The Cronenberg Rick and Morty decide to stay in the now Cronenberg world and take the place of Rick and Morty C-137 in that dimension.
There are two problems I have with this ending. The first is that Cronenberg Rick and Morty use the term “Cronenberg” to refer to mutated people. This makes no sense. The term Cronenberg applies to people who have been mutated to look abnormal like in the film The Fly by David Cronenberg. That’s why the term makes sense. But in a world where everyone was born a mutant, there is no justification for the term. In a world where everyone is a freakish mutant, David Cronenberg would not have made a film about a normal looking man mutating into a monster. If anything the film would be about a freakish monster mutating into a normal looking person, and normal people would be referred to as Cronenbergs. But Cronenberg Rick and Morty ignore this logical conclusion and refer to mutants, including themselves, as Cronenbergs. How and why would this be the case?
Now clearly from the outside, the writers did this for the purposes of reference language already used in the episode in order to keep the viewers comfortable. But as far as writing goes, which again is perfectly sensible and consistent throughout the rest of the show, this is a travesty. It breaks an otherwise perfect show. I even tried to think of a justification for it occurring. The only way I could see Cronenberg Rick and Morty using the term Croneneberg to identify people that look like them is that they may have watched The Fly on interdimensional cable, which doesn’t actually get shown until two episodes after Rick Potion #9 in Rixty Minutes. They still would have had to decide to use the director’s name as an inside joke to refer to themselves, but that almost seems like creating a slur to refer to yourself and others with your mutated condition. They also could have traveled to a dimension with regular looking people, saw the film, and then did the same thing, but it still assumes they would decide to make a slur of sorts to refer to themselves. This seems out of character for Rick and certainly for Morty.
My other issue, which falls into the same episode, is that on multiple occasions, both at the end of Rick Potion #9 and in Season 3 Episode 1, The Rickshank Rickdemption, Morty’s original family from dimension C-137 are shown to have survived the Cronenberg outbreak and continued living their lives as post-apocalyptic scavengers. In both of these episodes Beth, Jerry, and Summer have survived but Cronenberg Rick & Morty are nowhere to be seen with them. It seems odd, considering Morty’s temperament, that they never tried to meet up with their alternate dimension family. Now this isn’t an inconsistency like them using the term Cronenberg as much as a peeve because if the creators took the time to show them enter that dimension it seems only logical that they would have referenced them in some way later, especially after taking the time to revisit that version of Earth two seasons later.
Now of course neither of these issues detracts from the show as a whole. It has and I hope will continue to be of the highest caliber of quality comedic writing. But I wanted to point out these two continuity issues, see if anyone else noticed them and has any theories about them, as well as see if anyone else has noticed any other inconsistencies throughout the show. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
It seems like more and more often today developers promise things for announced games and then ultimately don’t deliver. Probably the most notable example in modern gaming history is No Man’s Sky. It was only this month that Hello Games finally released a major update that delivered on some of the promises that were originally made and then broken. But I don’t necessarily believe that No Man’s Sky is an example of a developer blatantly lying to consumers. For me, that particular game is an example of indie developers reaching above their means and getting punished for it. But what about when a larger developer, such as DICE or Blizzard, blatantly lies to the public and fails to deliver what they promised?
Earlier this month, Ninja Theory released a game called Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Now personally I consider Ninja Theory to be a reputable developer of fairly decent size. They publish their own games with multi-platform releases. They’ve created great works over the years that everyone has heard of and most higher echelon gamers have played. I think it’s fair to hold them to a higher standard of game development and management expectations. So for me I think it’s a topic worth discussing when a developer like Ninja Theory lies about a key component of one of their games as part of its launch marketing.
I have not yet gotten to play Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. But I know I eventually will once the price drops. In fact I was sold by the opening sentence on the game’s Steam page. “From the makers of Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and DmC: Devil May Cry, comes a warrior’s brutal journey into myth and madness.” That sentence and the genre listing (action, adventure) is all they needed to sell an old schooler like me. Action adventure is my bread and butter and I loved each of the games listed in that sentence. So whether or not I was going to buy Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was never in question. The only real question is when? But one thing that turned me off of the game, but ultimately did not change my mind about eventually buying it, which I haven’t yet, was this rumor about permadeath.
I don’t like permadeath. I grew up in the NES/Arcade era and there are still tons of games that I’ve never finished simply because I wasn’t good enough to beat them without continues. Today, gamers have even less patience and time than they did when I was a kid. That’s both gamers my age and older who have been gaming since that era, and new gamers just starting out today. No one has time to put several hours into a game only to have all your progress lost. I don’t discourage developers from putting permadeath as an option in their games today. But like most unconventional mechanics, I believe that it should be optional. We have the technology today to allow gamers of all types to tailor their gaming experiences to their own wants, needs, and preferences. I play games for the story. I don’t like replaying things. Permadeath is a no go for me. Some play games for the challenge. They don’t care about the story. They like permadeath. Neither of us is more or less of a gamer. And neither of us should have to suffer through an experience we don’t like in a game we’re interested in just so the other person can have maximum enjoyment. The technology exists today where a developer can grant us both maximum enjoyment. They need only add a trophy to differentiate the permadeath player from the continues player. Anyone who doesn’t think that’s fair probably voted for Trump and thinks they have a right to dictate the lives of other people.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice had a huge rumor attached to it during the initial release window that if you died too many times your save would be deleted. This was a huge point of controversy all over the internet. Many forums, blogs, and gaming sites posted and debated this issue quite a bit. Ultimately though it was discovered that this was actually a lie. Ninja Theory put this out to the public and even has it stated in the game as a gimmick. The protagonist in the game suffers from delusions and the story is that she imagined the permadeath thing because her brain was playing tricks on her. Now first let me say kudos to Ninja Theory for connecting a mechanic, or at least the rumor of one, to the actual plot of a game. I love when developers make the story and gameplay work together as equally important parts of a whole. That’s how all games should be made and that belief is why I don’t play games like Overwatch. Also kudos again to Ninja Theory for being able to put out a rumor and keep it a secret until after launch. Even today, I’m sure some people still think the game has permadeath. But ultimately it doesn’t.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice does not actually have a permadeath feature. No not even in the hardest difficulty. Now personally I’m fine with that, which I already expressed earlier in this post. But what I’m not fine with is a developer blatantly lying to the public. Especially not as a way to hype their game. That’s basically false advertising. While it’s certainly not the kind of advertising that increases sales noticeably. In fact, I think it might lower them. It’s still a blatant lie to consumers. No it’s not the same as Hello Games promising multiplayer and then there not being any multiplayer. But it’s still a betrayal of consumer trust. If even one person bought the game specifically because of the permadeath feature, that’s a huge problem.
Developers should not lie to consumers. Especially not as part of launch marketing. This last week BioWare announced that there would be no more single player DLC for Mass Effect Andromeda. That’s a problem. While I personally am not affected by the news because I never buy story DLC and hadn’t planned on it with Andromeda either, it clearly stated during the release window that the game would have additional single player content added in the future. I bought the Deluxe Edition. Plenty of people bought the game expecting additional content to be added later and now they won’t get it. That’s false advertising which is akin to theft. It’s exactly what happened to me with God of War: Ascension. I preordered the Collector’s Edition because of the promise of additional single player content which I was supposed to obtain with the season pass. Ultimately they never released any, made all the multiplayer DLC free for everyone, and never returned my money or compensated me in any way for having paid extra for a literally useless season pass. Developers should not lie to consumers. It’s not ok. In any other industry we’d be talking about a class action lawsuit. There almost was one in the UK for No Man’s Sky. If a game can’t stand on its own two feet and the developer can’t sell it honestly, then it’s clearly not ready for release or shouldn’t be released at all.
The problem is that developers have forgotten that they are in the business of entertainment. They’ve started to think that just because they make games means they deserve to make sales. That’s not how entertainment works. Making a game only gives you the right to potentially make a profit. It’s the quality of that game and the strength of the marketing that ultimately leads to profit. But if the marketing isn’t honest, then it’s not acceptable marketing. Personally, I think this trend is a serious problem. Look at games like Destiny and The Division. Both games that didn’t flat out lie, but were very dishonest in how they were presented pre-release. I preordered both games and while I don’t regret The Division as much, I do wish I hadn’t purchased either game. Lying to consumers or misrepresenting products to consumers, which for all intents and purposes is lying, is not and should not be considered an acceptable practice in the gaming industry or any industry for that matter.