The Rapid Angel: Playstation Homesickness

Tuesday, March 21st, 2023

One of my favorite things about finding ‘new’ games for old systems is how quickly they can transport you back to a specific time and place, even if it’s something you never actually played (or even knew existed) back in the day.

At least for me, the idea of finding a game I’d never played before, for a system that I owned at the time, can do a lot to recall the sensation of trying a new game back when that platform was still part of the current console generation. This sensation can almost be as important as the games themselves – being excited for some game you just read about in a magazine or on the internet (and probably begging your dad to rent it for you) is just as much a part of the “process” of playing video games as the actual playing can be, once you’ve gotten ahold of it.

So as happy as I always am to grab a new game for my Switch or my Series X or whatever, the idea of discovering a game for a beloved childhood console can be just as exciting. Existing games you didn’t play at release, unreleased games that someone finds down the road, games that were big in the import scene that you missed out on like Policenauts or Pepsiman – these games have a way of feeling ‘fresh’ and new even if it came out forever ago for a system you actually owned at the time. (Of course, if the game is also fun, all the better, right?)

The Rapid Angel is a great example of one of those games.

Originally released in 1999 and never leaving Japan (common speculation assumes that this was due, at least in part, to Sony’s restrictions on bringing over primarily 2D games), The Rapid Angel is, in its own words, a “high tension comical action game”, one of those charming genre self-descriptors that a lot of Japanese developers like to create – and a very true one, in this case.

A 2D action-platformer with shades of titles like Valis, El Viento, or a less-acrobatic Strider, The Rapid Angel puts you in the shoes of one of three delivery girls, given the task of delivering a very important document to the president of a major manufacturing concern. That premise could already have some legs, as things like Paperboy and Pepsiman have shown us how fun the simple act of trying to deliver something to someone can be, but (as one would expect) it gets a lot sillier from there.

The girls quickly find themselves thrust into the heart of a major conspiracy involving (as best as I can tell from clumsily Google Translating the dialogue) insider trading, financial improprieties, a wizard’s apprentice, a wandering swordsperson, a magical cat, and prototype military mecha. And yet, through it all, they remain steadfastly focused on their goal of delivering these documents, no matter how many baffling turns their adventure takes.

That description of the events therein should give you a pretty good idea of what you’re in for. A lot of the game’s humor falls somewhere between Slayers and Excel Saga, where absurd things keep happening that you’re asked to take at face value, while the main characters get increasingly irritated with how convoluted their journey becomes. I’m sure a lot of the written dialogue is much funnier if you have a greater understanding of Japanese, but the sketchy, expressive art style is enough to convey the game’s lighthearted tone and get some laughs on its own, even if (like me) you’re not quite able to read the dialogue. 

The game’s art style also does a lot to keep it looking graphically sharp, even compared to a lot of the more 3D-heavy games of the time that perhaps haven’t held up as well. The sprites are detailed without being distracting, the music is fantastic, and it employs some graphical tricks seen in certain 90s arcade games (or even something like Guardian Heroes) by being able to zoom in and out of the action at predetermined points to show more of the screen as needed, creating something of a ‘scaling’ effect like that of Space Harrier. While the reliance on 2D graphics might’ve been considered something of a ‘throwback’ even at the time (given as it released some 3 years after Super Mario 64 made us all decide that pointy polygons were the near-term future of gaming), it uses these graphics in a way that feels rooted in the tradition of 2D action games without feeling like a gimmick, the way a lot of ‘faux retro’ games do, both then and now.

So far, this all sounds very up my alley, as I know it does for a lot of you. A fun 2D action game on a system where that was a rarity (even when the ones that it had were still very good, like Mega Man 8), with a hilarious anime-inspired art style that isn’t terribly difficult or complex? I would’ve rented this game every dang weekend if I could.

And maybe that’s why the game made me so oddly nostalgic and emotional. It would’ve come out right around the time I was discovering how much I loved anime (and realizing how many of my favorite games also came from Japan), and considering how many beat-em-ups and platformers I loved when I was younger, this would’ve been a perfect storm of my interests. 
Getting to play this on an emulator was a brief glimpse into a world where I saw this on the shelf at a Blockbuster, and being curious to see what this nice red-haired anime girl with the big metal punching hands was up to. Firing it up, hearing the amazing PSX startup noise, seeing all the late-90s graphical tricks and font choices, enjoying the wonderful anime art and expressive sprites – all of it transported me back to the Playstation era in a way that might not even be matched by games I actually played, because it felt so untouched by memories of me replaying it later, or seeing it re-released for PS3 or something. (Which, ironically, this totally was, I was just too shamefully out of the loop to notice.)

Even if it wasn’t fun, playing Rapid Angel was so weirdly comforting and sentimental for me that I would’ve loved the experience, but it’s also a great friggin game that could stand up on its own in any era. So I can recommend it to two sorts of people: anyone who loves underappreciated 2D action games, anyone who was reading both EGM and Animerica at the same time, or both.

If either of those apply to you, fire up an ISO of Rapid Angel (because a physical copy is way too much money right now, just like any game released before 2008 is), listen to a band you haven’t thought about since high school, and find yourself sent back to a much better (or at least simpler) time. 

Just remember to use save states, or you’re gonna be there a while.

Dead Space: The Sins of a Previous Console Generation

Monday, March 13th, 2023

After finishing the absolutely-fantastic Dead Space remake, I found myself wanting to revisit the rest of the series. Having only played Dead Space 2 once immediately at launch, and having never played Dead Space 3, I was curious to see how they would all hold up one after another, especially hot off the heels of the remake of the first one, which is now one of my favorite games of all time. 

What I was expecting was to have a totally fine time romping through some Xbox 360-era action games that I hadn’t really thought about in forever, but what I got was an oddly perfect time capsule of everything big publishers were trying to do with video games back in those days.

You don’t need me to tell you how great the Dead Space remake is, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it took one of the best games I ever played, and improved it in ways I wouldn’t have even considered until playing the remake. The quality of the remake, however, doesn’t change the fact that the original was already fantastic, nor does it change the fact that it was something of an anomaly back upon its original release.

Even by 2008, big-budget, completely single-player action games were starting to fall out of favor, at least with major Western developers. Dead Space, by comparison, was a completely single-player title clearly inspired by things like System Shock 2 and Half-Life, and would’ve seemed pretty weird in any EA lineup, let alone during the online-heavy Xbox 360 days. (The success of Bioshock the year before had to have emboldened them somewhat, although it would be silly to pretend that it wasn’t in development well prior to that.) The game itself still holds up incredibly well, and even if you’re only going back to play the original on GamePass, I dare say it stands up favorably next to even current-gen single-player experiences.

Which brings us to Dead Space 2. Having not played it since it came out back in 2011, I was excited to see how it held up over time, since I didn’t quite remember it as well as the first one. And I’m happy to say it was totally fine, although you can already start to see the dreaded “executive interference” at work.

All the hallmarks of a big-budget game from 2010-2011 are right here on display in Dead Space 2. There’s an online multiplayer mode (which I can confidently say I’ve never tried), there’s downloadable content, there’s multimedia tie-ins. Heck, there was even a side-story game developed for the Wii, and you all know how I feel about lower-budget Wii spinoff games.

Luckily, the game itself doesn’t really suffer for these decisions, even if it does begin to differ from the first in some substantial ways. While the original Dead Space was closer in pacing to something like Metal Gear Solid, or a game-length Zelda dungeon, with the occasional need to backtrack or revisit previous areas as you solve puzzles spread throughout the environment as the plot dictates, Dead Space 2 is very much an “Xbox 360 action game”. Full of linear corridors, the game de-emphasizes exploration and puzzle solving in favor of a more Gears of War-style “traversal-combat-traversal” loop. That’s not to say the puzzles are gone, and that’s not to say the game isn’t fun by any means, but the pacing of Dead Space 2 (when compared to the first one) will feel awfully familiar to…well, anyone who played any other over-the-shoulder action game released between 2006-2012, and it makes the game ‘feel’ a lot different from the original as a result.

Sadly, while Dead Space 2 is able to make the most of its differences from the first and remain fun as a result, the third one…finds itself struggling.

I’ll just come out and say it: Dead Space 3 is one of the least-fun games I’ve played in a really long time. I’m not even sure if I can say it’s a disappointment, because that would imply I didn’t have 10 years’ worth of reviews and stories from friends warning me away from it, but I can tell you I did not enjoy my time with it.

Every single thing about Dead Space 3 feels like it was ordered by a committee of C-level nobodies who didn’t understand why people liked the first two, and thought that by including a rote checklist of things that games tended to offer in the 2010s, they could chase that nebulous and futile idea of “mainstream success” (despite the first two both, you know, selling a ton of copies and making money.)

There’s a co-op mode, which I guarantee I will never play. There’s microtransactions to buy new guns, in case you don’t want to mess around with the mandatory crafting systems. There’s a mandatory crafting system, like a lot of games insisted they should have around this time, and while it theoretically makes sense with Isaac’s engineering background, it really goofs up the overall weapon balance and makes the combat a lot less fun. Heck, the combat would still be a lot less fun even if I wasn’t assembling my own guns, because all of the enemies have become indistinguishable bullet sponges that take forever to fight, even if you’re doing it the “right” way and targeting their limbs.

All of this sort of pales to what I consider to be both the game’s biggest failing, and the most clear sign of executive meddling. Very early on, during the game’s oddly bleak and violent intro (with vague shades of Mass Effect 3, as though EA couldn’t understand why one of their “space games” was outselling the other), you find yourself getting involved in a gunfight…with very much alive human beings, shooting back at you with their own guns. 

You’re getting into a gunfight. With cover. Against normal, alive, human soldiers. I cannot stress enough how this sentence should not ever be allowed to apply to DEAD SPACE 3, and yet here we are.

Despite what a clear warning sign this was, I trudged joylessly through the rest of the game, and found an almost Alien 3 level of contempt for both its characters and its audience. The entire cast, including returning characters, are shrill, bitter assholes who exist only to be mean to one another, and then die in increasingly pointless and cruel ways. The environments are all interchangeable, with most of them feeling strangely out of place in a Dead Space title. The lore takes some actually pretty interesting turns, but it’s hard to decipher what impact the events of the game are actually having on the universe thanks to everyone’s muddled motivations. 

I could go on, but it would just be punching down. It’s not Dead Space 3’s fault it totally sucks! It’s the fault of the decision-makers at EA, who gave their weird little scary space series one last chance to…I don’t know, somehow appeal to fans of both Mass Effect, Gears of War, and Dead Island all at once, by turning it into a muddled hodgepodge of cliches from big action games in the 2010s. 

Maybe…maybe it’s better this way, Isaac. Thanks for two good games.

So while I did not have fun playing it, I also can’t really get mad at the game itself, or at the actual developers involved with its creation, who did the best they could with the mess they were instructed to make. And, in a joyless way, it did add to the weird “seventh generation game console time capsule” vibe the entire series carries, as Dead Space 3 is just as much of a game from 2013, as the first two were very much games from 2008 and 2011. It’s a period of time that I hold dear to my heart thanks to my employment at GameStop lasting from just before the launch of the 360 to just after the launch of the Wii U, and it was probably the era in which I was the most excited about video games I’d ever been, or at least since I was a kid.

That’s a lot of words to say that the first two Dead Space games rule and you should deffo play them again when you get the chance. Go ahead and just make up your own version of 3, though, because you’ll be disappointed either way (even if the pre-DLC ending to 3 isn’t all bad).

Dead Space: 8.5/10 (original), 10/10 (remake)

Dead Space 2: 7/10

Dead Space 3: 3/10

My Pokemon Violet Vacation

Saturday, March 4th, 2023

I rolled credits on Pokemon Violet the other day, and I only cried a little bit.

I am, at best, a very casual Pokemon fan. There’s more of the games I haven’t played than have, I’ve never been particularly concerned about the stats or competitive nature of my party as much as I’m more concerned about finding Pokemon of a certain type that I think are cute, and there’s way more Pokemon I couldn’t name on sight than ones I can.

And yet, it’s still been an incredibly important series to me. Blue and Red were a lengthy obsession for my sister and I around the time it launched, and while I would hop on and off the Pokemon hype train over the next 20-some years, it was always a presence in my life, largely due to me seeing it all the time while working at GameStop, and/or having a ton of friends who still made time to play each new game.

The Switch was when I would get back into it more seriously, playing darn near every Pokemon game of this console generation, with Arceus being a particular favorite before Violet came into my life. It might be recency bias talking, but Violet is easily my favorite of them due to both a combination of timing, as well as the game itself.

Violet does a lot of things that, deep down, I realized I wanted a Pokemon game to do the whole time. I prefer the more open-ended, adventure-y pacing that Violet offered, as it made the game feel like a much bigger quest than previous titles without having to fall back on the yawn-inducing Ubisoft open-world checklist like a lot of similar games would have chosen to. The balance between the three main quests really helped break up the “grind/gym badge/grind” formula that we all knew and loved, and it made me feel more like I actually existed in the world of Pokemon and got to see more aspects of how things worked. (Admittedly, I barely even scratched the surface of what the Academy elements had to offer, but everything I saw just added to the idea that I was finally achieving my childhood dream of “living in wherever Pokemon took place”.)

Of course, on top of being a fantastic new approach to Pokemon, the timing of the game’s release did a lot to cement it in my (completely personal and anecdotal) memory as well. The game’s release just so happened to coincide with my honeymoon in Japan, so the advertisements, merch, and hype for the game were pretty inescapable while I was over there. Admittedly, it’s pretty unsurprising that I would’ve encountered a lot of Nintendo marketing on my honeymoon , since a big part of my trip involved me visiting things like the Pokemon Center (where I bought a Quaxly plush, having already settled on him as my starter for this generation), Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios, and a pretty wide range of game stores both old and new. It was actually pretty fun to see how many different forms the hype for this game took over there, from giant ads to toys and clothes, even to commercials being played inside the subway trains, and it just made me more excited to actually get my hands on the game (which, due to time constraints, I couldn’t actually do until I landed back in the States).

See? Here I am, in Japan, meeting the inventor of video games

My time in Japan also helped to give me a deeper appreciation for a lot of the game’s aesthetic choices. While the broader landscape and architecture of Paldea drew heavy inspiration from Spain (and a more broadly ‘European’ sensibility) than previous games, there’s still a lot of little touches throughout that bring to mind modern Tokyo. Something as small as the way ads dance across the screens at the Pokemon Center (as well as the design and animation thereof) very heavily reflect the way LCD screen advertisements were ubiquitous throughout the areas I saw during my honeymoon. The realization that Delibird Presents is supposed to be a takeoff on legendary Japanese mega-store chain Don Quixote cracked me up once I realized it (mostly thanks to the similarities in their mascots). Even the shape of many of the buildings in the larger cities throughout the game called to mind my then-recent wanderings through the sidestreets of Kabukicho and Shibuya, and it really helped me immerse myself in the world even further.

Now, I do acknowledge that this is an incredibly subjective take. I think the thing that I like most about Pokemon Violet is that it would be a fantastic game even if I wasn’t just on the greatest vacation of my life in the lead-up to it, and it did a lot of the things I’d always wanted a Pokemon game to do, even back in those hazy Game Boy days of yore. (Heck, I was pretty blessed to even have a pretty bug/glitch-free playthrough, although I admit that I either got super lucky or was just having too much fun to give a care.) 

At the end of the day, I both had a great time playing Pokemon Violet, and I’m super grateful it came out exactly when it did, as I will always enjoy the idea of one of my favorite Pokemon games ever being forever entwined in my heart with the greatest trip I ever took, alongside the coolest person I’ve ever known. (I could kinda say the same thing about Sonic Frontiers, as I spent a ton of time with that on the flights into and out of Japan, but that’s another story for another day.)

Thanks for everything, Pokemon Violet. Thanks for the sandwiches, the bonkers final quest, the Tera Raids, and for giving Tinkaton a permanent home among my “best Pokemon ever” lists.

Everybody, Stop Being Mean To Transformers Cybertron Adventures

Monday, February 20th, 2023

Ports used to be a weird topic in games.

While these days, you mostly tend to see big AAA games skipping platforms that can’t handle it, hardware-wise (or, worse, releasing a cloud streaming version), this wasn’t always the case. Back during the Wii’s heyday, the system’s absolutely ridiculous install base led to a lot of developers trying their hand at making a less-demanding version of their biggest titles in an attempt to get Wii owners onboard with whatever their hot new franchises were, even if they weren’t quite as graphically demanding (or even too similar, gameplay-wise, due to the Wii’s unique controls.)

Sometimes this meant you just got a worse-looking version of something that existed on another platform, but this time with ‘waggle’ controls (frequently the case with yearly sports titles, or big-name first person shooter franchises). In some cases, however, you would get a unique experience, better tailored to what the Wii could offer. Dead Space, for example, would get an exclusive light gun/rail shooter released for the Wii that offered a side story to the first two Dead Space titles for other consoles. My favorite example, Ghostbusters: The Video Game, provided a campaign based on the ‘bigger’ title but with a fun, cartoony art style (that Dan Aykroyd himself likened to The Incredibles), as well as the inclusion of split-screen co-op multiplayer, which would be something that would be legally required to be part of every Ghostbusters game ever made, if I were king.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, a lot of HARDCORE GAMERZ would look at these ‘lesser’ titles with scorn, as though having lower-resolution graphics meant it was immediately not as good as the versions released for other consoles, not paying attention to how much work went into creating an all-new experience on a platform with drastically different requirements and expectations than something like an Xbox or a PlayStation.

Transformers Cybertron Adventures is one of those games, and I think people need to look upon it a little more fondly.

Read more: Everybody, Stop Being Mean To Transformers Cybertron Adventures

Transformers Cybertron Adventures is the Wii port of the (then-current) Transformers War For Cybertron titles available for consoles and PC, the first time Transformers had appeared in a big-budget 3D action game since the shockingly good PS2 game based on Transformers Armada. Fittingly, Cybertron Adventures is a visually scaled-back version that offers a different approach to gameplay, in order to deliver an experience that better fit the Wii’s hardware.

This is actually what makes it so interesting. Instead of being an over-the-shoulder third-person shooter like damn near everything else was that generation, Cybertron Adventures turned itself into a Sin and Punishment-style rail shooter, with a fairly Time Crisis-like cover mechanic, and the ability to play through the entire campaign in co-op mode with a friend.

Then, as now, the idea of a Transformers light gun game is something I’d wanted for a very long time (having not played the big-budget Sega arcade games based on the movie at that point), and Cybertron Adventures absolutely delivers. The game follows the same basic premise of showing you the final days of the initial Autobot-Decepticon war on Cybertron, split between an Autobot campaign and a Decepticon campaign. While the plot follows different paths between them, it still manages to hit a lot of the same important beats and setpieces, but this time without you having to know who Zeta Prime is. 

Most importantly, though, Cybertron Adventures is fun as heck. The levels are challenging without being frustrating, with the Wii Remote serving as a perfect stand-in for a ‘proper’ light gun, and frankly the fact that you don’t have to split your attention between moving and shooting allows for slightly more frantic gunfights than would perhaps be fair if the player had full control of their character. Sure, the driving could use a little work (especially thanks to the unfair deaths it leads to near the end of the Autobot campaign), and switching weapons is a bit clunkier than you’d like, but the basic framework is fun enough to make it worth going through, just to see old friends like Ironhide represented in those fantastic War for Cybertron aesthetics. (This especially goes for the co-op mode, since a lot of the encounters tend to go much more smoothly with a second Autobot at your side, even if they don’t have the same weapon options and aren’t, uh, actually represented on screen at all.)

And at the end of the day, what matters is that I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything by just playing the Wii version. Sure, a lot of levels are missing (or just different), and the art style may have been simplified to help the standard-definition Wii maintain consistent performance, but it runs well, looks fine, and – most importantly – is fun as heck. On its face, the idea of a Transformers light gun game would be novel enough to keep my interest, but the experience is fun, engaging, and breezy enough to recommend to any Wii owner who’s already played through the various light gun games available for the platform, or even someone who just likes Transformers a lot and wanted to try something new. (Or both, like me!)

So maybe it’s my deep bias for Wii games talking, but I think as time goes by, we’re all going to be a little kinder to games like Cybertron Adventures. Removed from the vitriol of the console wars, and perhaps softened a bit by perspective and hindsight, we’re going to look at games like this as a product of a console generation where the most popular system among more casual players was the least-powerful, requiring teams to try new approaches, in order to deliver a fun experience to people that wanted to play the big-name titles but only owned a Wii or PlayStation 2. (And work they did – I briefly spoke to a developer of Transformers Cybertron Adventures on Reddit, who mentioned how much dang work it was to try and fit War for Cybertron on Wii, which stands as another great argument against crunch culture – but that’s a topic for another day.)

If you take anything away from this post, gentle reader, let it be this – the next time you see a game struggling to keep up with the graphics and performance of its peers, maybe give it a chance and let it into your heart. You just might be surprised.

(Imagine you read that last paragraph while Sarah Maclachlan’s “Angel” is playing.)

Transformers Retro Hot Rod: The Dream Is Real

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023
It’s a WHOPPER, alright!

Part lost prototype, part figment of our collective imaginations, Pink Hot Rod is here, he’s at my house, and he’s my new best friend.

Read more: Transformers Retro Hot Rod: The Dream Is Real

Pink Hot Rod, “Retro Hot Rod”, or just “Hot Rod” if you’re more into brevity, is a reissue of the original Generation 1 Hot Rod toy that we’ve had so, so many variations of over the years, except now he’s in his correct colors.

See, Hot Rod’s actual color scheme has always been a point of contention. His original G1 toy, and so many of his successive toys, have been various combinations of orange, yellow, and red, much closer to his Rodimus Prime incarnation. Over the years, however people gradually started to notice that, in certain releases of Transformers: The Movie, Hot Rod seemed to show up in different colors. Initially, due to either degradation of the source material, deliberate changes done to the overall color timing, or both, many home video releases depicted Hot Rod in his ‘traditional’ orange and red colors. And, for a long time, that was all we had to go on, other than hazy memories.

But a lot of people would watch newer releases of the movie over the years that were intentionally restored to be more accurate to the original theatrical release, and started to realize that Hot Rod might be…pink? Magenta, if you want to be specific.

Almost none of these colors are red, and we’re all better off for it.

As the DVD (and later Blu-ray releases) started to clean up the footage and work a little harder to make it look like it did in theaters, Hot Rod was suddenly a lot more brightly colored than he used to be. This was a shock to many – including Hasbro themselves, who, as recently as Studio Series 86, were initially resistant to the idea of making a truly pink Hot Rod, as described in an Instagram post by Hasbro designer Evan Brooks when designing the recent “movie accurate” Voyager Hot Rod.

(This post from the TFWiki Tumblr account gets into it a little better, if you’re still curious.)
One way or another, Hasbro slowly relented and gave us a true magenta Hot Rod, not too different from the prototype G1 Hot Rod toy. And he’s beautiful.

He even comes with a little retro-styled instruction sheet. As someone who once bought a pile of G1 Transformers instruction sheets from a local comic store so I could pretend I had the toys, this was a delight.

The “new” colors look absolutely fantastic on this mold. By replacing the original’s brick red with a vivid magenta, he pops visually in a way that even few other Autobot figures do, and he looks amazing on a shelf, even next to his previous toys (including his original Masterpiece release, which approximates the magenta look but doesn’t quite get there). The Retro release, as it’s referred to, omits the original’s chrome and tampographs for solid gray plastic and more thorough paint, which does differentiate it from the original release but makes for an overall color scheme more faithful to the original movie. 

And that might be my favorite part of all. Internet speculation points to the idea that, based on the figure’s box art, that the initial plan may have been to use this color scheme on the more modern Studio Series 86 Hot Rod. I’m sure any number of factors went into the decision to reuse the original 1986 mold, but frankly, I’m glad they did it.

Using these colors on the original Hot Rod creates a fun, alternate universe where Hot Rod always got to be those colors; bringing to life a figure that never was, as opposed to a ‘modern update’ of something that didn’t exist in the first place, somewhat like Hasbro did with the Generation Selects Combat Hero Megatron from a few years back. By applying this color scheme to the 1986 mold, Hasbro fulfilled a dream that a lot of us had, even if we didn’t know it – an original Generation 1 Hot Rod, in the colors that Primus (or Floro Dery, at least) intended him to be. 

I’ve always loved Hot Rod, despite a lot of older fans’ slander about how it was (allegedly) his fault that Optimus died in the first place, which is totally untrue. I didn’t get a toy of him growing up until my dad found me an imported reissue in or around the year 2000, but I can say with absolute certainty that the only thing I would’ve loved more than owning a G1 Hot Rod growing up…was owning THIS Hot Rod growing up. 

Now I’m just sad that every single Hot Rod figure wasn’t this color along the way; can you imagine his Classics or Animated molds in this brilliant magenta? But maybe the reason I like Retro Hot Rod so much is because the older ones didn’t look like this, and now the dream of 1986 is alive and well in my collection.

Thank you, Pink Hot Rod. Maybe…maybe now I can finally stop buying Hot Rod figures.

Ah, who am I kidding. I love that turbo-revvin’ young punk.

I love Hot Rod so much, I went all the way to Japan to buy this Crystal version!

Snatcher: My Favorite Metal Gear Game

Tuesday, January 17th, 2023

I played (and finished!) Snatcher for the first time in a very long time, and with the benefit of hindsight, it’s now become one of my favorite things Kojima has ever done.

Read more: Snatcher: My Favorite Metal Gear Game

Snatcher was something I’ve tried to play several times in the past, during the various phases of me being aware of/having access to Sega CD games, and as much as I liked it, I don’t think I ‘got’ it before. The majority of this was likely due to my lack of familiarity with ‘visual novel’ games, or at least more Japanese-styled adventure games, even if the major differences between something like this and something like the LucasArts games I loved as a child come down to a matter of interface and presentation more than anything else.

But I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown more familiar with different styles of gameplay, and I felt like I finally had the context to go back and get the most out of Snatcher. And I absolutely loved it! Aside from a few of the, uh, more poorly-aged character depictions, Snatcher is a fun, engrossing tale with just the right amount of puzzles and interactivity (both with and without the potential for light gun-based combat), and enough unhinged plot developments to keep you engaged.

It’s perhaps that last part, that I enjoyed most. With the benefit of hindsight birthed by playing various other Hideo Kojima titles over the decades, Snatcher is very aggressively a game made by Hideo Kojima, with all that entails.

While the Kojima-ness of this game absolutely involves the name and origin of this little friend, it manages to go much, much farther than that.

To be a little reductive about it, Kojima’s presumed goal throughout his career as a game developer has been to find some elusive balance between telling the stories in his head, and making the games around them fun enough to keep the players engaged in said story. To his credit, this balance tends to be successful more often than not, but maybe I’m saying that as someone for whom the only Metal Gear Solid game I dislike is 4, because of how painfully skewed that balance becomes as the game goes on.

Clearly, however, for a man of Kojima’s storytelling ambitions, the older style of PC adventure game/visual novel/what have you was a fantastic outlet for at least some of the stories he wanted to tell. Snatcher is one of the earliest and best examples of the sort of lunacy Kojima would make commonplace in his later games, and perhaps the reason why he was able to so easily stretch his legs here was due to the more story-forward format of adventure games in general.

Think about this, though. Imagine I just told you that I just completed a Hideo Kojima game where the following things happened, kept vague for the sake of spoilers:

  • One of the main characters turns out to be a duplicate of the game’s eventually-revealed primary villain
  • Several characters’ fates and backstories are tied to the Cold War
  • Cryogenic sleep is involved, somehow
  • Several nations’ secret agencies, both real and fictitious, are all competing to unlock the truth behind a global technological menace
  • Fairly ludicrous connections between different characters are revealed well after meeting them
  • The main character (and, arguably, the player) is given copious amounts of opportunities to be a giant pervert
  • There’s literally a goddamn robot called Metal Gear

What franchise would you assume I was talking about? Right? And yet, Snatcher manages to contain a full-bore Kojima plot some four-ish years before Metal Gear Solid would reach our shores and fully introduce us to the sort of dramatic nonsense Kojima builds his games around. He was clearly relishing the fact he has a better opportunity to tell longer, more involved stories through the framework of an adventure game, as opposed to the more action-oriented 2D Metal Gear titles which, despite still involving lengthy Codec conversations, still need to devote most of their resources (and development time, presumably) to the actual gameplay.

The text in this image is as literal as possible. You have to use this image to aim at the guy choking you. Classic Kojima.

It almost makes me wonder what it would’ve been like had the original two Metal Gear titles been closer to Snatcher. It’s not unfair to assume they wouldn’t have been nearly as successful, or at least they wouldn’t have provided the series a foothold in America the way the original NES game did, but I can’t help but wonder how many more ideas Kojima could’ve crammed into those two games if they had provided the storytelling flexibility of Snatcher.

One way or another, though, I’m glad that the Metal Gear series turned out how it did, although maybe I’m a little sad that it took Kojima away from making other adventure games down the road. I’m about to try Policenauts and I’m super excited based strictly on how much I enjoyed Snatcher – really, other than a few scenes that are way more gory than they need to be, the aforementioned ill-advised character art in a few examples, and one deeply infuriating encounter near the end, the game is a fairly perfect example of what a well-made visual novel or adventure game can be.

I don’t know what it says about me that I’ve played Snatcher before ever trying Death Stranding, but I’ll get around to it one day, I promise.

Macross Frontier: My Darling, My Darling

Saturday, January 14th, 2023

A year to the day after I last wrote about Macross for this blog, I finally finished watching Macross Frontier, and it ruled.

Read more: Macross Frontier: My Darling, My Darling

At the urging of a few of my friends who’ve cosplayed characters from it over the years, I finally uhhhhh found a copy of Macross Frontier to watch. I don’t have a good reason for not having done it sooner – I think something had convinced me that it wasn’t connected to existing Macross canon, somehow? – but now that I have, I’m grateful to have done so.

Macross was one of my first big exposures to anime, partly through Robotech, and partly through the old Palladium tabletop RPG (which was also, funnily, my first time playing a pen-and-paper RPG back in the late 90s), and it’s kind of funny to see how it’s influenced my taste in, well, basically everything since then. Accordingly, I was delighted to see all the ways in which Macross Frontier is very much part of Macross tradition.

The series almost feels like a ‘greatest hits’ of Macross at times, both in more obvious and more subtle ways. Several shots and moments throughout the series serve as visual references to the original series, more is added to the lore of the Protoculture, there’s a giant hologram woman near the end kinda like in Macross Plus, the various Valkyrie fighters and uniforms combine visual elements from across DYRL, Plus, and 7, and so on.

That’s not to say it’s totally derivative fanservice, though. Frontier really shines through some unique and memorable visuals, relatable characters (which is impressive given at least a few of them aren’t human, and two of the ones who ARE human are also intergalactic pop stars), and a central conflict that adds new wrinkles to Macross’ continuity as a whole, even if it’s still very much a classic “humans vs. an unstoppable alien force with deeper ties to Protoculture than is acknowledged at first”.

(tiny spoilers ahead!)

It might be because I just watched it, but the ending was particularly refreshing in a number of ways. There’s a huge space battle, sure, but a lot of the revelations about the series’ antagonistic alien force, the Vajra, are…surprisingly sweet? It’s a pretty obvious attempt at a “the aliens aren’t too different from us!” type of explanation, but it’s done in a way that’s much more optimistic than this sort of thing usually is. The idea that they didn’t actually intend to start the war, and instead thought they were rescuing one of their own before things got out of hand (and were unable to apologize) casts the usual Macross message of ‘understanding through shared culture’ into an interesting light, and blends nicely with the final episode’s discussion about how humans need to be able to express their emotions because we’re all largely isolated and disconnected. It’s almost like a less harrowing version of Evangelion, without the added visual metaphor of the AT Fields (if you’re so inclined to read them that way).

I’m not saying anything particularly new here, nor am I as much of an expert on Macross as others out there who would be able to discuss this series in more depth. I guess I’m just glad that, despite the various legal snarls with bringing Macross into America, that Macross as a series still both exists and thrives among fans. It’s probably nostalgia talking, but considering how influential Macross was for me becoming the exact sort of specific dork I became, the fact that it continues to get new series – and ones that people really like! – is oddly reassuring to me.

Of course, this DOES mean I have to make time to watch Delta one day, but I’m sure I’ll get around to it.

Probably also means I should own more Macross/Robotech toys than just these two, huh? Jetfire TOTALLY counts, btw.

Hey Dad, I Finally Watched Macross Plus

Thursday, January 13th, 2022

A lot of people old enough to have gone to video stores recall their time spent looking at the covers of horror movies, and the impressions these images would leave on them.

While this certainly happened to me, I have to say I was a bit more impressed-upon by the action movies and anime sections. I couldn’t deny the memories I had of seeing the box art for Phantasms 1-4, but I was perhaps more taken with the boxes to things like Moonraker and Dirty Pair. 

Moreso than any of these mystery rentals, one movie stood out as something I knew I had to see someday: Macross Plus.

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Wii Would Still Like To Play

Friday, November 19th, 2021

It was a particularly cold Sunday morning on November 19, 2006. 

I had gotten a ride to the mall right around the time it opened so I could pick up the Nintendo Wii I had pre-ordered and paid for at the EB Games I had worked at (perhaps unfairly, as an employee, but whatever, I wasn’t missing out on this thing). 

The week leading up to this day was particularly kind to me, as Casino Royale had hit theaters that Friday, and Gears of War had launched for the Xbox 360 not long before that (perhaps that Tuesday?), so it had been several days of things I’d been excited about all year suddenly coming to fruition. 
At the time, I thought it was really going to change the way video games worked forever. While I was only half-right there, I can say it at least left a lasting impression on me.

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No Time to Die: James Bond Will Return

Thursday, October 14th, 2021

I usually don’t start articles like this, but it’s really hard to talk about No Time to Die without getting into some real heavy spoilers, so please be aware that a lot of it is about to be ruined for you unless you’ve seen it. 

And also: please go see it, because it’s wonderful.

I’m just mad I can’t pull off a jacket of that color, and I imagine most everyone else is too.
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