Month: October 2015

Two Legends

Tomb Raider Legend

Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider (2013) are almost identical. They’re both reboots of a sort, concerned primarily with solidifying an interpretation of a character which exists more as a vague cultural icon, a combination of symbols and ideas which build an empty vessel to be filled when pen gets put to paper. They both centre on Lara’s origins, and they both end with a Lara Croft made whole, setting off on further adventures on which you will hopefully accompany her.

Obviously, the interpretation of both Lara’s character and the Tomb Raider form differ wildly. Legend presents a Lara detached and cool, Indiana Jones, James Bond and Bayonetta mashed up into one tomb raiding whole, and its play follows suit. The game is concerned with the relationship between player and space, and wholly unconcerned with the amount of violence Lara dishes out moment to moment. The lock-on reticule veers wildly off centre, and Lara is given free reign of movement during any combat situation; the bodies will fall without you even needing to turn to look. Sequences of combat speed past in a flash, whereas moments of awe and grandeur are slow and contemplative, the camera panning lavishly around each and every beautiful cavern.

The Lara of Tomb Raider is a far more fragile interpretation of the character. Gone are the days of outlandish antics without consequence, the new Lara must be one who feels, who suffers, imbuing her eventual triumph with weight and meaning. Before she fires her bow, she pulls it back, the player lining up the reticule just right, aiming for the head, watching her prey fall with a satisfying thwip. The sequences of exploration are far more scripted, cribbing from Uncharted to create a world in which every ledge crumbles at the last moment, every safe landing a near-miss, a miracle. Even the world itself wants Lara dead. (more…)

Advertisements

Great Games: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

928900Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Japan
Platform: PlayStation, Xbox 360
Release Year: 1997

Symphony of the Night is a game of excess. Castlevania itself is already a cornucopia of creepy, cribbing heavily from Universal’s slate of horror icons and injecting as many public domain monsters as one can shake a stick at until the most baroque, Halloween game comes out the other end of an otherwise traditional NES action platformer. By the time Symphony of the Night (the tenth game in the series) came out, the world was ready to move on. 3D was in, and everything about the Castlevania formula had been hashed out. Fans would enjoy whipping through some stages, but nothing truly new was happening with the series.

It’s into this world that Symphony of the Night emerges, confident and light-footed, just as its protagonist rushes through the woods into Dracula’s eponymous castle(vania). This is Alucard, estranged son of Dracula, a moodier hero for a more dramatic game, illustrated with Ayami Kojima’s now iconic gothic bishonen style. The castle he finds himself in is not the stage-level format of most of the prior games, but instead a constant, contiguous world that cribs heavily from the structure of Nintendo’s Super Metroid. Not only do you have a map and save rooms, but you have RPG mechanics, as Alucard levels up and equips armor and weapons in his expanding skill set.

These familiar mechanical developments are in service of something much more profound, however. Utilizing 3D game console hardware to create a sprawling 2D game, Symphony of the Night grants Dracula’s castle an unknowable power in just how elaborate it is. Baroque only hints at the castle’s variety and impossible geometry, as marble hallways open up into vortexes of stormclouds, where statuary pulls back to reveal occult laborities, where the catacombs underneath the castle expand into lakes and tombs so deep your path is surrounded by roiling lava. Every part feels whole unto itself, but in concert the array of structures bolted onto each other feels impossible to navigate, dizzying in its chaos and fundamental inscrutability.

Which is the world that Alucard finds himself within. This lone, tragic hero enters his fathers house only to find that it is actually as complicated and strange as the idea of a mythical super-Dracula’s castle would evoke. Much has been made of Castlevania as a narrative of asserting identity and reclaiming sense of self over abuse or trauma, and that makes sense given the basic mechanics of the game. Alucard enters what should be his home, and he and the player find it challenging—in finding its many secrets, in fighting the foes within, in even surviving its spaces without harm—until you and Alucard both begin to slowly make headway against the evil forces and geometry in front of you.

Each square uncovered on the map is the reclaiming of the unknowable into the dominion of your understanding, each shortcut or hidden room a growing of your knowledge and a lessening of the power your enemy holds over you through secrets and illusion. Even the literal inversion of the castle, an entire second world where Alucard’s world is literally turned upside down, only slows you down until you begin to doggedly chip away at the edifice of this hurdle in pursuit of the inner peace Alucard seeks at the end of his journey.

Symphony of the Night is a game out of time depicting a world out of time, a strange amalgam of new technologies and old design to create something that sits in the middle of the history of game development as a testement to the power of both in unison. Later that year, Final Fantasy VII will emerge as the torchbearer to the future of cinematic 3D storytelling. On the SNES, the power of moving pixels and scaling sprites could only create a dynamic action version of Castlevania with rocking music, but it couldn’t give you the spaces of quiet and beauty and the insurmountable myriad obstructions with the assured, methodical atmosphere and melancholy of Symphony of the Night.

Of all the games people consider great games, Symphony of the Night exists firmly in one of the most important crossroads in the history of the medium. That it triumphs as the last bastion of an old generation of games speaks not just to the power of an ethos supposedly long-gone, but of the marriage of old and new, artistic and technological, in an elegant assertion of mastery over one’s powers and the forces of darkness that threaten to engulf us all.

Abnormal Mapping 37: A Miserable Pile of Dicks

castlevsotnArt23

The Mappers take to the Halloween skies of a cursed night long long ago in a castle far far away to discuss the Greatest Video Game Ever Made … Super Bombad Racing.

Items Discussed: Going to GAME in 2015; Bloodborne; Errant Signal’s “Peak Star Wars“; Star Wars in video games (Battlefront 2015 and 2003, Shadows of the Empire, Lego, etc); Castlevania: Symphony of the Night; Leigh Alexander’s writing on SotN; Eva Problem’s “your asshole dad’s castle is back again“; Mike Joffe’s writing on SotN; Vania Mania; Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow; Destiny’s Pokemon Team: Espurr, Eevee, Squirtle, Jigglypuff, Snorlax; Matthew’s Pokemon Team: Wobbuffet, Arcanine, Breloom, Probopass, Victini, Kiefi; Metroid Prime; Donkey Kong Country; Mario 64; Mystical Ninja starring Goemon; Catherine; Star Wars books; Stephen King

You can get our podcast on iTunes, on Stitcher, or you can download it directly by clicking here.

This Month’s Game Club: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Next Month’s Game Club: Beeswing

Music This Episode
Blown Away by Kevin MacLeod
Dance of Gold by Michiru Yamane
Wood Carving Partita by Michiru Yamane
Rainbow Cemetery by Michiru Yamane
I Am The Wind by Michiru Yamane (feat. Cynthia Harrel)

The Metal Gear Diaries #6: Menial Tasks

MGS2

The setup for these posts is simple: I’ve never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, and I want to change that. I’m going to be writing my on-going reactions to the games as I go, and sharing them with the world. The Metal Gear Diaries are somewhere between a full critical essay and twitter gut responses, and will form an honest document of my shock, frustration and surprise at the events of, say it with me now, “Metal Gear?!” They will be packed with spoilers for all Metal Gear games!

Last time, we met Raiden, and went up the elevator, ready to tackle Big Shell… (more…)

The Metal Gear Diaries #5: Kojima Hates You

Otacon

The setup for these posts is simple: I’ve never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, and I want to change that. I’m going to be writing my on-going reactions to the games as I go, and sharing them with the world. The Metal Gear Diaries are somewhere between a full critical essay and twitter gut responses, and will form an honest document of my shock, frustration and surprise at the events of, say it with me now, “Metal Gear?!” They will be packed with spoilers for all Metal Gear games!

Last time, we infiltrated the Tanker with the help of our boyfriend Otacon, this time we’re going to see what Sons of Liberty is, as we meet Raiden… (more…)

The Metal Gear Diaries #4: Snake On A Boat

MGS2

The setup for these posts is simple: I’ve never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, and I want to change that. I’m going to be writing my on-going reactions to the games as I go, and sharing them with the world. The Metal Gear Diaries are somewhere between a full critical essay and twitter gut responses, and will form an honest document of my shock, frustration and surpise at the events of, say it with me now, “Metal Gear?!” They will be packed with spoilers for all Metal Gear games!

Last time, we completed Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. I played on Very Easy, touristing my way through the game, ingesting the ridiculousness that is the story, and I enjoyed it even more than I expected to. The combination of goofiness and earnestness is exactly what I’m looking for in a good work of genre fiction, and even though it took me forever to play it, I enjoyed it immensely and I’m so glad that I did!

Today, we move on, to the sequel, the Metal Gear game that goes all the way to the white house. I think. Maybe everything I’ve heard about Metal Gear Solid #2 is wrong and you play as Snake the whole time. Maybe this is a double troll.

Knowing what I know about Kojima, I wouldn’t rule it out. (more…)

The Metal Gear Diaries #3: Father’s Genetic Legacy

The Twin Snakes

The setup for these posts is simple: I’ve never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, and I want to change that. I’m going to be writing my on-going reactions to the games as I go, and sharing them with the world. The Metal Gear Diaries are somewhere between a full critical essay and twitter gut responses, and will form an honest document of my shock, frustration and surpise at the events of, say it with me now, “Metal Gear?!” They will be packed with spoilers for all Metal Gear games!

Last time, we definitely, truly, completely killed Liquid Snake. Now, we make our way to the Underground Base, and the final confrontation with Liquid Snake… Wait, what? (more…)

Cities Skylines: The Many Lives Of Luton Town

Jackson loves the idea of City Building games, but often finds them overwhelming in practice. He one day wants to build a great metropolis, beautiful and sprawling, but knows there will be but many failed attempts along the road to greatness. So please sit down, stay a while, as we witness… The Many Lives Of Luton Town.

This is a series which will run intermittently, I’m going to revisit it between other Let’s Plays, and have a bunch of fun playing Cities Skylines! I hope you all enjoy.

The Metal Gear Diaries #2: Your Game Is (Not) Saved

PsychoMantis

The setup for these posts is simple: I’ve never played a Metal Gear Solid game before, and I want to change that. I’m going to be writing my on-going reactions to the games as I go, and sharing them with the world. The Metal Gear Diaries are somewhere between a full critical essay and twitter gut responses, and will form an honest document of my shock, frustration and surpise at the events of, say it with me now, “Metal Gear?!” They will be packed with spoilers for all Metal Gear games!

Last time, we made it to Hal “Otaku “Otacon” Convention” Emmerich, and we’re pushing onwards to meet up with Meryl and make our way… to Metal Gear… (more…)

The Metal Gear Diaries #1: Currently Existing Technology

Twin Snakes 1

I’ve never played a Metal Gear Solid game before. I have a lot of gaps in terms of what I haven’t been able to play, owing to the fact that until 2013, the only two consoles I’d ever owned were an Xbox and a 360. And while I don’t like to put a lot of stock in the idea of a canon, I do at least personally want to fill in as many important gaps as I can, because there’s immense value in knowing the history.

Which is where these posts come in! They’re far more informal and less crafted than my usual writing, mostly because I don’t intend to write a True Critical Analysis of these games. A thorough analysis of any one MGS game would be a book in and of itself, this is just a place for me to write down my immediate reactions and get my thoughts down onto paper, in a manner more readable than twitter. They’re written as reactions, not recaps, so I’m going to be referencing moments from the games as if you, the reader, have played them too. Which is to say, don’t read any of these before playing Metal Gear Solids 1-4 unless you want to get spoiled.

So please, enjoy the Metal Gear Diaries, the document of my finally diving into the world of Metal Gear (read: “Metal Gear?!”) We start with the oft maligned remake of the 1998 classic, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes(more…)