Eyes on Antihero

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So, in general terms, an antihero is a bad person who’s really a good person.  It turns out, an Antihero is also a video game.  Who knew?!

Me.  I knew.  Man, I rule.  And now you do too, because I’m telling you about it!

So, Antihero is a turn-based strategy game in which you run a thieves guild.  In said guild, you manage a team of units to help you yank, gank, and shank, all in the name of robbing the rich to give to… yourself.  You’re like half of Robin Hood, here.  To be honest, the ‘hero’ part of Antihero doesn’t really show up in the game.

Antihero is one of those games that’s simple in concept but really solid in execution.  It plays a lot like a board game, honestly.  Except it’s a video game.  It’s a video board game.  Yes.  You play in a semi-randomized section of one of the three types of Englands that show up in fiction (it’s the Sherlock Holmes-type, for reference) and they have you and a CPU or other player facing off against each other, racing to collect enough victory points to win the game before your opponent does.

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One of the things that I really like about Antihero is the way that your strategy has to evolve as you go along with the game.  Each game moves really quickly, and is over in about 15-20 minutes at most, yet there’s a really clear progression in strategy there.  In the early game, you might be able to make a really strong showing of it by denying your opponent access to resources and blocking them from scouting into your side of the board, while you snatch up and burglarize as much as you can.  If you just stick with that, though, you won’t be able to keep up as they start being able to move units through more territory and the places you’re stealing from run out of stuff to steal, so you’d better have built up a solid base of resource generation to keep you going by the mid-game.  And then in the end game, it becomes very difficult to keep units on the board but both sides should usually have enough to keep pumping more out, so it turns into a very aggressive war of attrition, and the guessing game of where to hit them hardest and where to place your own traps ends up ruling the day.

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There’s two major resources to secure; lanterns, which buy you upgrades, and coins, which buy you units.  Upgrades give you access to more units, improve on their capabilities, and boost your resource generation.  You’re not typically limited as far as how much you can get per turn, but every upgrade makes additional upgrades that turn more expenses, and buying units increases the price of other units of the same type.  Another layer of strategy there, sometimes you’re going to be best served by spending your wealth on a number of units, while other times you should spread them out between turns.

I particularly like the way units are designed to deal with the way strategies change throughout the course of the game.  To start with, you’ve got your master thief, who’s basically the queen of the chess board.  This guy/gal is the lynchpin of everything you’ve got going on.  They’re in charge of scouting, stabbing, and stealing.  One of the big strategic keys of the game is working out just when to upgrade their capabilities over the capabilities of the guild as a whole.  Your units can only operate in the locations you’ve scouted, burglarizing is your man source of resources in the early/mid game, and your attack capabilities without the master thief’s contributions has a strict application limit, so a lot of your momentum swings on how you use your master thief.  This unit gets the most upgrades, as well, and you’re able to increase the amount of moves you can make in a turn, the damage they do, the amount of coins you get activities, the types of places you can steal from, etc.  They’ll get progressively more powerful as the game goes on.  And, they retreat back to your hideout at the end of every turn, making it impossible for the opponent to attack them directly.

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Then you’ve got your urchins.  Urchins are pretty much the worker units of other strategy games.  Have them invade businesses, and they’ll get you benefits for it.  Usually that’ll be resources you get every turn, but sometimes it can be upgrades to your units, reduced costs, or even victory points.  They’ve usually only got one application, but it’s one that’s useful the whole game through.

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Your gangs are another one of your backbones.  These are the things that make people hurt.  Got some goons blocking your way?  Give them a good drubbing.  An assassination target?  Send the gangs after them.  They can kick urchins out of buildings, too, paving the way for you to take hold of it yourself.  You get to upgrade them every time they succeed at doing something, building up the damage they do, the amount of urchins they can remove at once, or the amount of money they make when they succeed at something.  These guys are kind of funny, so absolutely vital in the early game, but they end up dying by the droves in the late game, so it’s hard to build them up much then.  Even so, the ability to remove urchins from locations is vital to managing your opponent, and even when they can only do one before dying, it’s still the most cost-effective way of doing so.

Thugs can block off areas.  Neutral thugs will pop up randomly or around assassination targets over the course of the game, but if you want to keep your opponent from scouting out a certain area or reaching a certain resource, you can send a thug of your own to block it off.  They don’t have any offensive capabilities of their own, but you can make your opponent waste some moves in dealing with them, which is crazy effective in the early game.  As your opponent scouts more and more territory, their usefulness starts to wane, but you can always also add them to a gang to boost its health.

Saboteurs are one time use units that are pretty cheap.  They’re the only other unit other than the master thief that can scout, so if you need to extend your reach but the head honcho is busy, they can at least reveal some more street for your other units to prowl.  Their true utility, however, comes in the traps they lay.  Got a business where you just need to make sure your urchins are unmolested?  This guy can plant a bomb there.  It’ll last for a couple turns, and the first unit that tries to mess with that building will be stunned.  It makes the master thief lose all their remaining moves, and it leaves gangs and truant officers helpless in the streets, waiting to be picked off, all while your happy urchins are still there, unfettered.

And then you have truant officers and assassins.  Both one time use units, the best at what they do.  Both the most expensive units available.  Truant officers will roll up, and in the creepiest way possible, remove all the urchins from a building.  Assassins will strike for a whopping six damage, more than any other unit in the game and enough to slay almost anything except for the later assassination targets, before vanishing.  Both are only available by the time you reach the late game, and the economy on them isn’t great, as given enough time you could have a gang do the same work for much less cost, but smart use of them can really turn the tide for you.

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To win the game, you usually need to secure six victory points.  There’s a bunch of ways to do that, but there’s three that’s available on every map.  You can spend lanterns on bribing someone to get a victory point, although the cost of doing so increases each time you do.  You can fulfill contracts for assassination, taking out random targets with more health than you typically have available at that point, although again, the amount of health they have will increase every time one of them falls.  And you can fill a church with urchins, learning enough from confessions to secure blackmail, but this is the only type of victory point you can lose, so you’ll have to defend those urchins until the game is won.  Scenarios may also present you with other means of scoring victory points, such as by stealing a ship’s cargo, sneaking into a masquerade, or overcoming a palaces security and burglarizing its jewels.

The game has a campaign mode that’ll take you through all of these, as it tells the story of master thief Lightfinger as he ousts all the other thieves guilds from NOT LONDON and establishes his control over the city.  It also has an exhibition mode that I spent a fair bit of time in, and a multiplayer mode that might mean something to me if I ever played these things with anyone else.

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All in all, I want to call back to what I said earlier.  It’s a really simple concept with a very solid execution.  I had a lot of fun with it.  There’s not a whole lot of meat there, though.  The campaign mode will take you maybe 3 hours, and when you’re done with that, you’ve seen pretty much all the game has.  Short games don’t bother me at all, and it’s really good for a quick bit of fun, but if you’re expecting something with staying power, this is not it.  It is really satisfying to get a good strategy going, and although you will probably use the same basic model throughout, the different scenarios and actions of your enemies will require a fair bit of variation to that.  It’s good for my thinking cap, is what I’m saying.

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Project G-Godzilla (1954)

We’re going to be doing things a little differently with this one than I’m planning on doing with all the rest.  There’s reasons for this, of course.  I never do things without reason.  Even if that reason is just ‘because I feel like it’.

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In this case however, frankly, the original Godzilla is a little bit different.  It’s incredibly different in tone from what the series would become, or even the rest of the genre it helped found.  Although it’s considered a Showa era film, it has continuity and repurcussions among all the rest of the Godzilla films of every era.  And really, this movie is a lot more serious, haunting, and downright reverent for its subject matter than what’s to come in this series.  So I’ll be treating this one different than the rest of what’s to come.  Usually, we’ll review in bulk, but here, Godzilla stands alone.  I’m planning on snarking up the place, but this film deserves more than that.  So let’s go.

Godzilla (1954)

Memorable Title: The OG Godzilla

Before we start proper, I should mention, I am horrible with names.  I’m especially horrible with names that aren’t in one of the languages I speak.  And I’m super horrible with names that only come up a few times over the course of my run with a film.  So, as will be common with these reviews, I’ll only call people by the names I remember.  If I don’t remember a name, I’m making one up.

Anyways, we’ll lead with a synopsis.  At least, as best I can remember, some time after watching the film and with a drink in hand now.  The film opens with a vaguely seen monster wrecking some boat near some island.  Another boat goes there to check it out, and the monster wrecks that too, leaving few survivors, including, if I’m remembering correctly, Some Guy.  Some Guy will be important later.  In any case, the monster proceeds to also wreck a fishing boat because it’s there, and it turns out that even when he’s not out wrecking boats, he’s still eating all the fish near an island.  This is important enough to get a film crew in the area to investigate.  They learn that the island used to sacrifice it’s nubile maidens to a sea monster named “Godzilla” in exchange for a good harvest of fish.  Godzilla decides to crush the island that night, reporters see, then everyone goes to Tokyo to ask them to do something about the giant monster breaking all the stuff.

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The government sends a mission to the island, consisting of, among others, Dr. Dinosaur, Some Guy, and for some reason the Dr.’s daughter, Daft Tart.  Seeing them off is Dr. Serizawa.  Dude’s a scientist and is really married to his job, but it’s an open relationship, so he’s also engaged to Daft Tart.  Daft Tart and Some Guy are schtupping on the fly, but Serizawa knows about it and is cool with it, because again, open relationship.  Anyways, the mission heads there, takes a look at some footprints.  Dr. Dinosaur notices some extinct creature living in the footprint, notices that it’s radioactive as all hell, and also notices that a bunch of kids have gotten a fatal dose of radiation in them.  The group continues exploring until they spot Godzilla in broad daylight, screaming at them from over a hill.  Dr. Dinosaur takes his knowledge back to Tokyo, presenting that Godzilla’s this still-living dinosaur who had been residing in an evolutionarily and biologically isolated underwater pocket until he was mutated by an errant H-bomb test.  This leads to a bit of furor as some insist that Godzilla’s existence should be hidden to prevent panic and protect Japan’s international relations, while others insist everyone has a right to know.  Either way, everyone agrees that the big giant thing that has killed tons of people should probably not be alive to kill a bunch of other people, except for Dr. Dinosaur who wants to keep the big guy alive so he can do science stuff on him.

Government sends a bunch of ships out to sea to go bomb Godzilla.  They fail to do any serious damage.  This will be a theme in future movies.  They do, however, manage to lead Godzilla back to Japan, where he destroys a train and some other stuff before heading back to the ocean.  Government gets with Dr. Dinosaur about what to do about Godzilla, who tells them that Godzilla is unkillable and also don’t shine lights at him.  Dr. Serizawa shows Daft Tart what he’s been working on, the Oxygen Destroyer, which…. destroys oxygen.  Good name, I guess.  Literally eliminates oxygen molecules from whatever it comes into contact with.  Serizawa is a WW2 vet, saw the impact of the atomic bombings, and is absolutely distraught that he’s created the world’s next great super-weapon.  He resolves to keep his discovery an absolute secret until he’s found a peaceful, truly helpful application to it, worried that if anyone else finds out about it, it’s just going to be used to kill.

 

Japan builds a giant electric fence around the country, thinking that it will stop Godzilla if he ever attacks.  Godzilla attacks.  It bothers him for a second, but then he unleashes something nobody ever expected, his atomic breath, to melt his way through it.  He then lays siege to Tokyo.

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Absolute siege.  I feel I can’t understate it enough.  By the modern day, we’ve seen Godzilla go on a rampage tons of times.  Even compared to that, the destruction he inflicts on Tokyo in this film is absolutely brutal.  And you see it all from the people affected by it.  Those fleeing.  Those hiding.  Those who can go no more, and know that they’re going die.  Moreover, the military is absolutely ineffective against him.  There is nothing they can do that is not futile.  Yet they keep trying, because they have to, and they die by the ton for it.  A big theme in this film is the consequences of the atomic bombing, and you see it heavily here.

The day after, every single place that can care for the injured is absolutely flooded with the wounded survivors.  Daft Tart sees this, and tells Some Guy about Dr. Serizawa’s new potential superweapon.  They confront Serizawa about it, expressing the need to kill Godzilla before he does this again.  Serizawa begins destroying his work at this, leading to a confrontation with Some Guy in which Some Guy gets bloodied, and Serizawa hates himself for the violence.  Then he watches TV, sees what’s going on, and agrees to turn his invention into a weapon, but still destroys all his work so it can never be replicated.

Even with the knowledge that the Oxygen Destroyer is going to wreck the local ecosystem, the government’s behind the plan.  Some Guy and Dr. Serizawa head out to sea, where the military has tracked Godzilla.  Contrary to his previous appearances, here, Godzilla is completely peaceful, and makes no move against the two.  Serizawa plants the Oxygen Destroyer, sends Some Guy back up, then severs his own ties to the ship and his oxygen line, taking the only surviving knowledge of how to create the Oxygen Destroyer with him and keeping it from being unleashed on the world.  The Oxygen Destroyer goes off, and strips Godzilla to the bone.  With Godzilla dead, and Serizawa with it, those above have a bittersweet moment, remembering the heroic scientist and the potentially tragic beast, while also realizing that, if the world keeps on the path it’s on, more Godzillas may well be created.

And let the credits roll.

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Godzilla could have just been another of the stupid fun monster bash movies that I’ve gotten so hooked on, exactly what the series became.  The original film, though, is far, far deeper than that.  You can’t enjoy this film the same way you enjoy the rest of the Godzilla movies.  Overall Godzilla fans may not enjoy this film, and fans of this film may not enjoy the rest of the franchise.  It’s very, very different.  In particular, it’s the themes of this film and the mindset of the people who made it that makes this special.  This is a film about war, about destruction, and about the atomic bomb created by the survivors and veterans of World War II who were witness to its most devastating events and lived through the aftermath.  This type of film could only have come from this creative team and at this time, and it offers a unique perspective into the mentality of the Japanese populace in the years they spent recovering from the end of World War II.

I don’t see any way around this.  Let’s set the scene here.  Pre-WW2, Japan was one of the most vicious, cruel, and inhumane nations on the planet.  World War 2 was the cap for them on at least 30 years of continuous aggressive action and numerous war crimes against China, Korea, Russia, and beyond.  Active and expansive slavery, comfort women, the Rape of Nanking, the Asian Holocaust, the list of horrors that they committed goes on and on.  As the war turned against them, they turned against their own citizens as well, committing to the use of kamikaze pilots long after they ceased being any sort of effective, aggressively encouraging families in soon-to-be Ally-controlled territories to commit suicide in order to keep their populace from finding out that life under Allied occupation is not near as horrible as they’ve been saying, or press-ganging millions of their civilians into military service, arming them with suicide weaponry, and telling them to make their deaths count.  Nazi Germany may be getting the most focus for WW2 horrors, but Imperial Japan was right there with them.

And the atomic bombs hit them so hard they turned into a nation of pacifists.

Granted, there was a lot more involved in their societal change than just that.  Saying it that way makes for a way more dramatic picture, though.  And it’s really hard to understate the impact the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on Japan.  The film Godzilla gives you a bit of a glimpse of it, though, wrapped up in a much more palatable fantasy horror shell.  Yes, you’re watching a movie about a giant monster terrifying Japan.  But, the monster Godzilla is the atomic bomb.  And that takes things to a deeper level here.

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Director Ishiro Honda, if memory serves, was in the Japanese military during World War II, and returned to see the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima.  He drew from those images in creating Godzilla, and I imagine a fair bit of the feelings of the time, too.  The military is helpless against Godzilla, much like they were against Fat Man and Little Boy.  The aftermath of Godzilla’s rampage sees hospitals overcrowded, medical staff overwhelmed, and even the immediate survivors aren’t safe, as radiation poisoning grabs hold.  As was common following the atomic bomb.  Godzilla, who, as the film points out, was mutated by the H-bomb himself, has skin that’s scarred and warped much like that of real-world survivors of the atomic bombings was.  It is not subtle in its metaphors.

Given that the initial American version of this film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, cut out some “anti-American” scenes, the Japanese Godzilla has picked up a bit of a reputation.  However, I didn’t really see much in the way of anti-Americanism in the original version I watched.  Granted, my copy of it is by Criterion, whom I know retranslated the subtitles from earlier versions, but given their reputation for maintaining movies in their original format, I would think it would be more accurate.  In any case, I just didn’t see it here.  It is strongly against H-bomb testing, and frankly, given that this came out shortly after the Lucky Dragon incident, I can’t blame them for that, but anything that’s really targeted at America is only by extended implication.  Hell, it’s at least as anti-Japanese government as it is anti-American, as you see some mindset to leave people vulnerable and keep Godzilla hidden in order to protect their own interests, and they lead the assault against Godzilla that ends up leading him back to them and provoking even worse devastation.  It is against the advancements of the new biggest, baddest weapons and the use of science to kill people in general, as seen in basically everything to do with Dr. Serizawa.  Even then, though, it doesn’t make a flat statement against them.  I don’t necessarily know if this was the intended statement or not, but there did hit a threshold in this movie where it was necessary to use the new big, bad superweapon to keep the nation from being wiped out, even when that did have lingering effects.  The message ends up being more “only use the superweapons in the direst peril, and even then take care that they don’t develop further” rather than a simple “atomic bombs=BAD!”

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As far as the quality of the movie, well, I know I enjoy my films very differently than your average consumer.  I had a very fine time with it, however.  It’s typical in Godzilla films to have a long time building up tension before Big G appears while they develop the human interest side of things, and that’s definitely the case here.  It’s a very different tension here than you usually see, though, building up fear and danger rather than the thrill of impending chaos.  Several of the characters have a surprising amount of nuance, moreso than was typical for this time period.  And I really have to applaud it for making you feel its themes.  This film has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and it would have been very easy for it to end up basically screaming what the developers really thought at you without any hope for absorption, as so many attempts at “thoughtful” media end up doing.  But this film doesn’t do that.  Godzilla exhibits a high level of “show, don’t tell” that makes its themes, blunt as they are, way more impactful, and really promotes an understanding of them.  This is a monster movie at its core, sure.  But it’s a monster movie that makes you think, and it’s one that has lingered with me well beyond when I finished watching it.

Project G-A Primer

Man, you remember when I used to do series?  Have a particular idea or theme I was wanting to have across several posts to build off each other, or more thoroughly explore a work or franchise?  And how at least half of them I never bothered actually finishing?  Yeah, good times.  We should do that again.  And you know what, let’s do that again here!

So, a while back, I did something for like the second time in like three years.  I went to see a movie in the theater.  Godzilla: King of the Monsters, in fact.  I’d been kind of a passive Godzilla fan for a while.  I’ve seen more of the Godzilla stuff than your average, less sexy general consumer, and probably enjoyed all the stuff it has to offer way more than most, but I’ve rarely made a point of getting into something Godzilla when it wasn’t right there in front of me.  I caught the 2014 Godzilla in theaters, and thought it was all right, although it was the first movie that I watched after I left the film industry that I ended up with an overall positive experience of.  Still, I found myself inexplicably excited for King of the Monsters.

I know what you’re thinking.  “Aether, my main man, don’t you have issues with watching movies?  And didn’t King of the Monsters get really mixed reviews?  This doesn’t seem like a good time.” On the contrary, this ended up being the best time with a movie I’ve had in… I don’t know how long.  It was perfect for me.  Part of it may be expectations.  I remember talking to a few people about my hopes going into the film, hoping that it would be at least a little stupid, but not too stupid, and that it would revel in it’s own big dumb monsters fights in a satisfying way.  And I’ve never had a movie that delivered what I needed from it so fully.  It is exactly the right level of stupid, it relishes its monster fights, and, for me, one of the best things is that about 90% of the movie was done either on a sound stage or by CGI, which are two aspects of production that I never had anything to do with when I worked in film, and therefore don’t trigger my burnout-induced stresses that often come with watching a movie.  So, whomever you are on the film crew for that movie that is a devoted follower of this blog because that’s the only likely way you’d know so much about me, thank you so much for making a movie that’s just for me.

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In any case, after my time with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I found myself diving deep into my inner Godzilla fangirl.  Snapping up all the movies I could easily get my hands on, pouring hours into going through them, reminiscing about all the other Godzilla properties I’ve spent time with, I don’t think I can call myself a ‘passive’ Godzilla fan any longer.

Which brings us into this series I’m going to start here.  I’m spending all this time with the movies, I figured I’d at least build some content around it.  Godzilla’s been around for close to 65 years now, with more than 30 films made, with widely varying levels of quality and availability, and I haven’t been able to build up a complete library of Godzilla films overnight.  As such, this may not be a comprehensive look at the Godzilla films.  But I am going to at least put together some mini-reviews for all the Godzilla films I’ve been able to collect.  So, I call this a series, but that’s really just what it will be.  A bunch of small reviews.

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Before I get into doing that, though, I wanted to go over how these films all fit together, because I think some groundwork there will be useful in understanding these things once we get into a bit more of the nitty gritty.  One of the things I particularly enjoy about the Godzilla films is that in general, the continuity is handled in a way that, largely, you could make whatever you want out of it.  The movies may be very, very different, and there’s a couple of separate timelines and continuities there, but you can always just pick up a movie and watch it, if you were so inclined.  The individual stories are almost entirely self-contained, and for the bits that do follow up from previous films, they will explain clearly what happened in those films and how it’s leading to things now.  There is absolutely zero continuity lockout in this things, and you could start from any point and be right where you need to be.  And frankly, there’s a lot of room for headcanon in there too.  There’s the official lines, sure, and things may not always match up between series, but it’s wiggly enough that if you wanted to, you could consider things pretty much happening all in one go, with different Godzillas growing up and stomping around at different times.

That said, there are a couple of factors that could be useful to keep in mind as we’re going through this.  Biggest one is just the eras of Godzilla we’re looking at here.  Toho will typically produce Godzilla films in clumps, doing them over a span of time while people are really interested in them.  Then, when interest starts to wane, so as to avoid making things overdone, Toho will put the franchise on hiatus for a decade or so, to give it time so that it’s more fresh when they come back to it.  As they bring Godzilla back, they’ll reboot the continuity, starting after the first movie.  Usually, each span of time will be creatively rather different as well.

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As far as the movies go, you start, obviously, with the original Godzilla in 1954.  No matter what the other films do with their timelines (except for the American-made Monsterverse films and Shin Godzilla, which start everything over completely), the original Godzilla is fixed point in history.  The first Godzilla known to man always attacked Japan in 1954, Japan was always helpless against him, and he was (almost) always killed by Dr. Serizawa weaponizing his newest, fearsome scientific discovery.

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Then, some time later, a new Godzilla arose to terrify the world.  What happened there, though, varies.  The various series of Godzilla films are named after the Japanese eras in which they were largely made.  The first of those is the Showa series, which is what most people think of when they think of Godzilla.  Probably where the films made their biggest overall impact.  The Showa series came out in a time where the Japanese film industry as a whole was really troubled, and although they did have home-grown successes of all types, the only types of films that could consistently bring in a profitable audience where kids’ movies.  The first two Godzilla films are thoughtful horror movies akin to the classic King Kong.  If they stayed that way, though, the franchise probably wouldn’t have survived this long.  Bowing to the market of the time, from the third movie on, Godzilla movies where either ‘all-ages’ or outright children movies.  This is where you see the campy, goofy Godzilla, basically pro-wrestling in rubber suits.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s helpful to know what to expect.  When you think of cheesy Godzilla movies, the scenes you may be remembering probably came from this era.  This is where the big dumb Godzilla dropkick was.  This is where you saw Godzilla dancing.  And although this isn’t the only place to find Godzilla goofiness, this is where it was most concentrated.

And although the first Godzilla movie pretty much stands outside the series structure, it’s considered a Showa era film, so next time you’re trying to impress that fly honey at one of those Godzilla parties that go on all over the place all the time, make sure you include the original in the Showa films or he/she is just going to think you’re a big nerd.

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The Showa series ended in the 70s.  Godzilla was on hiatus for a while, until they came back with a new film in 1984.  The developers, recognizing the trajectory the original series was on, wanted to go back to its roots and start fresh with the dark, heavy tone that the first movie set.  So, The Return of Godzilla, the first movie of the Heisei series, rebooted the timeline to just after the first movie, and had a new Godzilla attacking Japan 30 years later, taking the next step from the original film while also maintaining a lot of the sci-fi elements that the later films had brought.  Other films in the series followed suit.  The Heisei series definitely has it’s own goofy moments, some of them really goofy, but it plays everything a lot more seriously than the Showa series did, and it’s rare that you’ll find instances of deliberate humor in there.  It still revels in its fun big monster fights, but it does so seriously.  Serious face :I.  It has a bit more of a sense of continuity; there’s a couple of recurring characters, the G-force organization is at the heart of most of the movies, and fairly often new villains are created as a result of past happenings in this Godzilla timeline.  You can also tell that the special effects team was really excited about being able to put lasers on screen here.  In most other eras, most of the monsters will fight physically most of the time, with the various breath and other distance weapons being reserved for special occasions, when you really just need to hit the big guy hard or when you need a whole lot of things destroyed right now.  In the Heisei era, though, monster combat is mostly done through beam spam.  Lasers, breath weapons, special moves, the monsters are definitely at their flashiest here.

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Then, in the 90s, the Heisei films started slowing down.  As a result, Toho put their Godzilla films on hiatus again.  This time though, we weren’t going to lack for Godzilla in general, just their version of Godzilla.  Instead, they were going to give Tri-star a shot at making their own Godzilla universe in America.  Plan was for Toho to be on hiatus and Tri-star leading the way for Godzilla for about ten years.  Tri-star’s Godzilla film came out in 1998.  It… wasn’t good.  Toho wasn’t willing to let that be the lingering memory anyone had of Godzilla, so they broke their hiatus early and came out with the Millennium series of films.  Probably the biggest notable thing about the Millennium series is that every single film with one exception is in a continuity of it’s own.  Like The Return of Godzilla did, although most of these came out within a year of each other, they all take things back to just after the first movie.  Some of them do recreate events in the backstory between the first movie and this one, but that’s always independent of any of the other movies, and doesn’t match up with anything we’ve seen on film so far.  This series is less consistent, in general, in terms of creative design between films, but overall, it strikes a balance between the goofiness of the Showa series and that seriousness of the Heisei.  It’s also of pretty mixed quality, but the good films of this series are some of the best Godzilla movies overall.  In my not-so-humble opinion.

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Then the series was put on hiatus again after all that was done.  Ten years later, Toho decided to trust an American producer again, licensing Godzilla to Legendary Pictures for what would become their Monsterverse.  That’s still ongoing, with two Godzilla movies on deck so far as well as one where Godzilla made a cameo, and a third already in post-production, and it will be ongoing until at least 2021.  Contrary to last time, Toho seems very happy with what Legendary is doing, and is satisfied with allowing them to take the lead.  The Monsterverse, so far, restarts Godzilla and most of it’s associated features from an American perspective, while also slowly combining it with what they’re doing with the King Kong reboot.  It offers a new take on the classic Godzilla format while also being really faithful to what worked with Toho’s films, and with the latest release, is starting to build a world unique to itself.  I’ve been a fan of it.

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Toho has returned to the Godzilla well a few times, however, although they haven’t made a dedicated effort to establish a new series.  It seems that so far, with what’s being called the Reiwa series, they’re mostly doing it when the creative opportunity for something unique presents itself instead of really trying to establish a market position for it the way most film producers would.  So far, we’ve got one movie and a trilogy of anime films out of the Reiwa series, both of which are taking the normal Godzilla formula and twisting it into new forms, well beyond what’s been done before, that essentially require these movies stand apart from anything else that would typically be going on with Godzilla.

So…. that’s that.  Here’s a big old post where I’m creating content that’s mostly talking about how I’m going to create content later.  Have I ever mentioned that I work for the government?  We love recursivity.  In any case, I’ll see you guys down the line.

Eyes on >observer_

Between Amazon’s Twitch Prime and the various Humble Bundle stuff I’ve been a part of, I own a ton of games I’ve never even heard of.  I decided to start running my way through them.  First on the list, because I organized it alphabetically, was the oddly titled >observer_.  Looking at its Playstation Store page, I see the game bills itself as a ‘Cyberpunk Horror’, with the tagline “What would you do if your fears were hacked” which is not quite accurate to what actually goes on in the game.  But looking at the guts of the game, what really is >observer_?

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It’s cyberpunk as hell, is what it is.  Ugly technomodifications are commonplace, corporations act more like government, a high degree of enforced social stratification, Rutger Hauer is there, you get the whole cyberpunk shebang.  You play as Daniel Lazarski, one of the titular Observers, members of the corporate-owned police force who jack into the chips in people’s heads to experience their memories in abstract form.  He gets a call from his estranged son in which he seems to be needing help, which he tracks back to the most run down future apartment building you’ve ever seen.  Tracking things down there, he finds a headless corpse in his son’s room, with plenty of evidence of foul play around.  Shortly afterwards, the system detects the technoplague in that building, and locks the whole place down in quarantine.

>observer_ was made by Bloober Team, the same folk who made Layers of Fear, a game I actually own twice but likewise have never played.  From what I understand, though, it’s somewhat similar in gameplay.  It hews close to the whole Environmental Narrative/Walking Simulator thing.  When you’re not forcing your way into people’s memories, you’re pretty much just exploring the apartment building you find yourself locked in, searching out clues to lead you to the killer.  It wouldn’t be cyberpunk if you didn’t have technology to help you on that, and true to form, you’ve got three types of visions to work in there.  Night-vision is the obvious one, but you have a filter that highlights and gives extra information on all the technological objects in your view, and a filter for the biological objects as well.  Using these, you can pick up traces that are otherwise invisible to the eye, autopsy the other bodies you find, get a small degree of specified X-ray vision, and more.  The core of the gameplay is largely linear, you’re just moving along the path, seeing the sights, and picking up bits of information here and there that lead you to the next place to go.

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Things get shaken up quite a bit when you’re breaking into people’s heads.  At least in terms of tone.  They’re still crazy linear, and there’s usually much less for you to figure out and more just walking from place to place, but really that’s where this game shines.  You get into people’s heads and you can see their memories.  But it’s not clear, and it’s not direct, and it’s beautifully abstracted.  It’s where the game gets into the whole spooky freaky stuff it trades on.  The imagery it gets into is rather disturbing in the best of times, even when it’s delivering the more mundane moments in these people’s lives.  Early on in the story, our dear Lazarski, cut off from backup and with his son at risk, jacks into someone under situations that are supposed to be dangerous and harmful, and he actually has to disengage the safeties on his system to do so.  This has horrible effects on him, and those same effects he sees in other people’s minds start showing up in reality as well, as the lines between reality and his own mind start breaking down.  The visual glitches and imagery you see as this state takes hold forms some of the more interesting parts of the game.

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>observer_ does explore a lot of the ramifications of the cyberpunk setting it’s using in interesting, albeit generally shallow, ways.  You see the effects of people getting addicted to VR, what happens as body modification gets more extensive, the idea of people choosing to go without implants and being thought of as fringe for it.  Most of it is explored in brief conversations, so again, you don’t get to go super deep into it, but you do get some really interesting ideas coming through there.

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Some places call >observer_ a horror game.  Some stick with thriller.  I find it a little hard to place.  The game wants to be scary.  If it was a movie, what it does might have succeeded.  Not so much as a game thought.  Part of it might be how limited it is in scope.  It feels a lot like it was built under limitations, like a game jam or a NaNo thing.  They had a set amount of time and/or resources they were wanting to keep this within, and they stuck with that.  There’s not a whole lot of assets here.  In fact, there’s only two NPCs that you see outside of cutscenes, two enemy types (of which one is only in one scene), with nearly all your interactions taking place through communicators or beyond doors so you don’t actually interact with much more than voices.  You have to stealth by the enemies, but the main enemy is incredibly simple to get by once you learn the rules it operates with, and it becomes clear some time after they’re introduced that there’s nothing that’s going to happen to you outside of those enemies.  Granted, game overs are really bad for maintaining a horror environment, because they completely ruin immersion, but there has to at least be the threat that the bad things are going to do bad things to you, and the monsters here are so disconnected with anything that they don’t do it.  It ends up being a scary game without much in the way of threat to it.  It can get very tense, but that lack of threat keeps it from being very frightening.

It’s also not a very clean game.  Your eyes are robotic, which gives it an excuse to be throwing a lot of visual glitches at you, many of which can be somewhat headache inducing, to be honest.  Problems come in when there’s plenty of actual glitches as well.  And it’s hard to tell what’s a real glitch and what’s an in-story glitch.  There was a point in time where I used up all the ‘stop freaking my eyes out’ medicine I had to no effect, then continued on, frustrated at the designer’s choice, only to find out later that it was something that wasn’t really supposed to be happening.  Some time later, I spent a good ten minutes in a completely black room trying to figure out what to do, before checking out a walkthrough and figuring out that the game just failed to load.  Kind of put a damper on the whole thing.

Overall, I’d say I had a decent time with it.  Especially knowing nothing about the game going into it, it was a very interesting experience, and you see some real bursts of creativity there.  It’s probably worth saying that, judging by online reviews, the people who like this game really like this game.  I didn’t quite go that far, but if you’re into cyberpunk and environmental narrative spookiness, maybe it’s your cuppa.

Eyes on The Witcher

The Witcher’s become kind of a big name in games.  One of the prime examples when you think of Western RPGs.  It’s a little weird, looking at the first game in the series, and realizing nobody expected that game to be successful.

It makes sense.  A game by a developer that had never done a project from the ground up before that goes deep into the lore of the obscure Polish novel series it’s based on that has never had any presence in the greater market?  Yeah.  That’s not going far.

Except it did!  The first Witcher game is a lot of fun!  And more than that, you can tell it’s made with a lot of love.  A lot of love by people who don’t know perfectly what they’re doing, sure, but that care for the material just oozes out.  The creators are obviously big Witcher nerds.  And more than anything else, they wanted to deliver the feeling of being the Witcher in the Witcher’s world to you.  And it makes for a good time doing so.

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So, to get this going, in this game, you are Geralt, the titular Witcher.  The game takes place shortly after the final novel in the series, in which Geralt, total badass that he is, got killed like a chump by some random farmer with a pitchfork.  Makes things a little awkward that he’s up and walking around here.  It’s awkward for the people in-universe too.  Geralt did, explicitly die there.  Then he came back to life, sans his memory.  This is a plot point.

And there, you come in.  Yeah, typical “amnesiac hero so we have an excuse to explain all the stuff to the newbies” thing, but it feels more natural here than it does in a lot of other properties.  I think the amnesia was better implemented throughout.  You are Geralt.  As a Witcher, your job is to find monsters and witch them.  Usually, there’s people who will pay you to witch specific monsters.  Sometimes, you have to witch people too, in pursuit of your goals, but never for pay.  Also, you get to carry three swords.  At the same time!

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The game’s definitely a lot more plot- and setting- based than it is combat based.  Not that there’s not plenty of combat, it’s just not where the focus is.  It wants you to feel the world of the Witcher.  Which isn’t a happy place to be.  I don’t think it goes full out dark fantasy, but man-eating monsters are a very common occurrence there, people are horrible to each other, and everyone’s survived several different wars in their lifetimes just to get to this point.  The most common enemies you face are either creatures that feed on the dead or are the risen dead themselves.  You spend more time in the grungy underbelly of the host city than any place nice, and even the nice places aren’t that great.   It’s largely typical medieval fantasy, but it’s really interesting to see it from a different perspective, filled to the brim with classic Polish folklore and beasties.  The novels originally were pretty significant for taking the classic fairy tales and giving them dark twists.  They’ve moved well beyond that, and you don’t see those elements directly in this game, but that’ll give you an idea of the level this is on.  I feel like the big strengths of the Witcher’s setting as a whole lie in its subtleties.  It’s not a big super-unique fantasy setting, but it does have some twists on it that show how much thought went into these things.  And it’s kind of neat how much of that world building got carted into this game without being super explicit about it.  I played this game before I ever read any of the books, and it never felt like I was missing out, but now that I’ve read a couple, it interesting to see the little bits they imported without ever bringing real attention to it.  Like, in the novels, the only women that ever wear their hair down are royalty, prostitutes, or sorceresses, all women who are in control of their own occupations and lives.  The game never calls direct attention to it, but they still bring that feature right over.

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The plot is… it’s interesting.  It has some depth to it, although it can be rather simple in points, but it does go in some interesting directions.  It only carries over a handful of characters and one major faction from the novels, but the style of tale it tells fits in with the original stories fairly well.  It is a bit stop and start, though.  Part of that is natural, coming from trying to carry an involved plotline in a somewhat sandbox world, while the rest is just from the plot and game structure not quite matching up.  The Act structure often brings things to a rather abrupt stop and shift, often when the transition is unexpected.  I lost out on both the best weapons in the game because the Act I was in ended without warning before I had all the sidequests I wanted to do done.  In any case, you’ll have long moments of moving slowly, before everything gets moving at a good clip once again.  I won’t call it persistent pacing problems, because it’s always at the player’s control, but you may not always elect to move through the lines as fast as you’d otherwise like.  In any case, it’s a decently ambitious plot, but the Witcher was obviously designed with gameplay progression in mind first, and story delivery second.  Still, it is multi-faceted enough to hold your interest when the plot does arise.  It plays really nicely with Geralt’s amnesia, in a way a lot of games ignore.  By that to mean, it actually addresses it more than twice.  Geralt has explicitly lost things in losing his memory, both becoming more gullible as he doesn’t have his experiences to draw back on, as well as losing track of who he is and his place in the world.  He has multiple conversations with old friends trying to figure out the role of witchers in this world that might be moving past them, and there’s some times where he has to recreate his personality and choose who he wants to be going forward.

Outside of wandering around and talking your way through situations, most of the gameplay comes through combat.  The combat engine here is really interesting to me.  It’s similar to the Dragon Age games, where all the action you’re seeing on screen are really just visual representations of a bunch of dice rolls going on behind the scenes, and a visual representation that doesn’t always match what’s actually going on.  You’ll see Geralt making some total acrobatic moves on his enemies, completely stun-locking them so they can’t even move, and his HP will still be chipping down bit by bit.

So yeah, the combat engine is interesting, here.  There’s not a lot of performance-based stuff you can do.  Essentially, once you’re in combat, there’s not a lot of choices you can make, and your skills won’t make much of a difference.  You get up to a five-hit combo with proper timing, but the timing is very easy to pull off, to the point that when you’re far enough into the game that enemies start presenting a challenge, you can get the full combo almost by rote.  You can switch styles at a whim, but in almost every situation, there’s a clear ‘best’ style to use, so you don’t get much utility out of that.  You do have some status-inducing bombs you can use to really change the tide of battle and a few spells you can mix up in combat, but other than that and your choices of target prioritization, all the other things you ‘could’ do to affect the outcome of battle take too long to have a meaningful effect. The core of the combat gameplay is going to play out as it plays out once you start the fight, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.

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That’s because the big meat of the combat engine is in preparation.  You may not be able to do much to change the result of a combat encounter after you start the fight, but you’ve got a huge amount of things you can do before it.  From the start, you carry at least two swords, one steel for humans and one silver for monsters (both are for monsters), each of which can be forged and reforged with a variety of buffs and effects.  Each of those swords has three styles, one for heavily armored enemies, one for evasive enemies, and one for groups, that get different moves and effects depending on the choices you make as you level up.  And then you get a huge array of potions and blade oils to add additional temporary effects to you and your weapons.  You can’t just take an unlimited amount of potions, those things are somewhat toxic, and as you take more than a handful Geralt starts feeling the sting from them, so figuring out the most effective combination of the limited amount of potions you can take is vital for success.  The game is really big on having you do the in-universe research on the monsters and situations you’ll encounter and figuring out what you’ll need to counter them.  You have to find books.  Knowing about the monsters clues you into what they’re weak to, what swords and styles are best for them, and gives you extra ingredients for making your concoctions.  Books also contain the recipes for your potions, blade oils, and bombs which prove so vital, and enable you to gather alchemical ingredients in the wild.  The in-combat gameplay is very simple, but the mental work before it is anything but, which lends to a really interesting take on the typical RPG sword and claw business.

I guess I should also talk about one of the more famous/infamous parts of this game.  So, there’s porn in it.  Not like, hardcore porn or anything, but, well, Geralt has a lot of sex.  It’s pretty integral to the lore, a chaste Geralt would be like a virgin James Bond.  In this game, when you have sex with someone, you’re treated to a really tame kissy kissy fade out like you’d see most every other time something like this pops up.  And then you get a beautifully hand-drawn picture popping up that shows you what the character looks like naked.  It’s not an omnipresent thing or anything, and, with a few notable exceptions, you can ignore the sex scenes without missing out on plot or in-game rewards, but this is before the age of bathtub Geralt, so the sexual appeal is pretty one sided.  I’m a pretty sexually open person, so getting to know what a bunch of fictional people’s breasts look like doesn’t bother me at all, but if it’s not to your taste, I can’t fault you at all for not wanting it in your video games.

Overall, the Witcher does show a lot of signs of being a freshman game.  Designed pursuing the ideal over execution, the untempered ambition of the piece, and a fair bit of jankiness that experience probably ironed out of the later ones.  For all it’s flaws, it’s a really good game.  It delivers a unique experience, and it’s totally accessible yet becomes even deeper on repeat playthroughs and after having read the books.  It’s grown a little dated, but the game was solid enough to launch a very well regarded franchise and position its company well enough to put together the closest thing Steam has to a competitor.  I enjoyed my time with it, and I look forward to jumping into future games in the series.

Ninja Gaiden

You remember those parts in the original Castlevania, where you had Medusa Heads flying at you from all over the place, spawning endlessly, all of them seeking not to wear down your life bar but to knock you into an instant death pit for the cheapest, most frustrating failure?  Did you love it?  No?  That was your least favorite part of the game?  It really didn’t make you feel good?  Well, the makers of the NES Ninja Gaiden think you love that.  In fact, they’ve developed a whole game around that mechanic.

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Ninja Gaiden hates your controllers, and it wants to make you break them all over your knee.  It was made by taking some absolute horseshit, distilling it into its most pure form, inscribing some coding onto it, and compressing it into an NES cartridge.  Ninja Gaiden despises you personally, and it wants to do everything in its power to make you feel like a worthless piece of scum.  This game thinks fair play is for the weak, and the weak are not worthy of stepping foot into these halls.  This game is hard, and not hard in the way something like Dark Souls is, where it’s actually intended for a human being to be able to beat it.

I beat it earlier this week.  And that feels glorious.

Ninja Gaiden is actually an excellent game, as long as you’re the type of player that enjoys staring down the most blatantly unfair obstacles and keeping at it until they blink.  Mechanically, it plays like a faster-paced classic Castlevania with a more maneuverable protagonist.  Enemies are constantly surging onto the screen, but anything short of a boss can be slain in a single hit, and those you can’t cut down, Ryu’s got the speed and the leaping ability to avoid.  You’re given a selection of sub-weapons that extend your attack range beyond just simple sword strikes.  It has a pretty heavy emphasis on platforming, all the while enemies are charging at you or launching projectiles.

And this game made some real achievements.  It was really advanced for its day, in a lot of ways.  For one, look at it.

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Just look at it.

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The game is gorgeous.  Way more detailed than you’d expect for most games on the NES.  They use the limited color palette very well, and it makes for some very striking visuals.

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Ninja Gaiden is also notable for being one of the first games made to implement cutscenes.  This enabled it to tell a story well beyond what you’d normally find in a game of it’s day.  Granted, it’s not exactly recreating the works of Shakespeare here, but you actually get a decently complex plot out of it, with twists every act, betrayals, murders, surprises, deadenings and re-deadenings, and the super tough ninja Ryu turning out to actually be pretty dumb a lot.

Have I made the point that this game is good?  Because I want that in place before I get into all the ways it delivers its complete bullhonky to you.

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I really enjoyed my time with Ninja Gaiden, but if you’re going to do the same, you’ll need to embrace that part of yourself that enjoys facing down things doing their utmost to ruin you and overcoming them.  Playing this game is like riding the bull, in that you’re finding yourself on top of something that’s focusing the totality of its being into throwing you off and running you through.  I said earlier Ryu can slay most any enemy in a single hit.  The game is designed around that.  Most of its enemies, it doesn’t even make them that hard to hit.  Instead, it seeks to overwhelm you with their sheer quantity, and have them come from multiple directions.  One guy in front of you isn’t so bad.  But when you’ve got one guy slowly making his way at you from one direction, another charging from behind, a third chucking axes at your from a distance, and a bird dive-bombing you, all at the same time, it gets a little more complicated.  And you’d better get used to that.

Because enemy spawning in this game is absolutely brutal.  Every enemy has its spawn point.  Cross a certain part of the stage, and bam!, they’re in your face.  And the enemies in this game are good at keeping the pressure on.  Might be that you need to back up a little to get the space to deal with them.  If you go even a pixel beyond their spawn point though, they’ll be right back as soon as you cross over it again.  Hell, if you kill them while standing on their spawn point, they will immediately pop back up and charge right back at you again.  When their spawn point is at the edge of a gap you need to leap over, that gets to be a problem.

For that matter, you know that comparison to Castlevania’s Medusa Heads here?  Yeah.  Nearly every gap has something on the other side prepped to knock you back into it.  If you play anything like I do, you’ll be losing far more to getting knocked back into a pit than you will to losing your health.  That is a frequent challenge.  Frankly, every time you see a gap, you have to wonder where the enemy is going to spawn while you’re mid jump to try and shove you back into the pit.

And sometimes it gets into straight “Screw You” territory.  One of the things that makes this game work is that it’s actually really generous with it’s check points.  Lose a life, and it only takes you back to the last stage transition you had.  Lose a life to a boss, and it’ll knock you back to the previous stage transition.  Lose all your lives, and you continue on from the start of the stage.  You’re not limited on how many continues you can have.  Each level has 3 or 4 stages, so that’ll usually have you in pretty good position to continue.  Until you get to the final boss gauntlet.  Three bosses in a row, all of which require you to learn their mechanics and patterns a lot more than any other in the game, and if you lose a single life to any of them, you’re knocked back a full three stages.  For no reason whatsoever.  This is especially ridiculous considering that as you’re playing your way back through them, there’s checkpoints inside of that span.  I swear, the endgame benefits so much from having savestates.

And you know what?  That’s all fun.  It’s fun.  I had a great time.  And I get to feel super proud and smug for having beat it.  The game tried to break me, but I am harder than it is.

Oneshot

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What’s this, Aether? Yet another RPG Maker-created indie adventurish game? And this one doesn’t even seem that spooky. You’ve been on a real kick with those, haven’t you, Aether?

Well, sort of. Thanks to my friend and yours, Red Metal, I had the chance to try this game out. I hadn’t heard of this game before. Knew absolutely nothing about it. Yet it ended up being the kind of thing that absolutely vibes with what I look for and enjoy about video games. This is an experience.

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In a sentence, Oneshot is a game with the art style of Cave Story set in an Undertale-esque world mired in the tone from Dark Souls’ Firelink Shrine as played through an RPG Maker puzzle adventure, with a fun and unique twist. And it all comes together, and it works, and it’s good. The game feels like something special, like a real labor of love.

So the big selling point behind Oneshot, the headlining factor that makes it stand out from the rest of the market, is that Oneshot is a game that does its best to make you believe it’s not really a game. You play as yourself, an incredibly sexy warbeast named Aether (or, you know, whoever you are, although I don’t know why you’d want to play as anyone else), who has discovered a piece of software on your computer that allows you to interact with and guide a single catperson, Niko, themselves a stranger in a dying world. You are revered as a deity in that world, much as I am in this one, while Niko turns out to be a sort of messiah, tasked with delivering a light bulb that illuminates whenever he touches it to a tower, where it will serve as the worlds new sun after the last one burned out a while ago.

This game will mess with your computer, and you’ll need to look outside the game itself to solve some of the challenges it presents you with. Puzzle solutions will wind up in your documents, on your desktop, in mysterious programs you don’t remember putting on your computer, etc. The game says in the beginning it’s best played in windowed mode, and that’s true, because sometimes you’ll need to play around with something on your computer or the game window itself to figure out something or other.

That’s the gimmick, and it’s used really creatively throughout, but rarely in a way that you’ll be lost without outside help. After you’ve got the logic of how the game works down, you can usually follow along pretty easily.

It’s not just that alone that comes into play, though, as far as the immersion factor goes. You’re constantly referred to, Niko will chat with you and you have your own dialogue options, and a few characters will bypass Niko and address you directly. If you’re into immersion, few can match this game.

Of course, all the immersion in the world doesn’t matter if the game itself isn’t good. And Oneshot is good. It’s the type of good that’s completely reliant on characterization and storytelling and a lot of things that are way more subjective than the already subjective gameplay-mechanics, so of course, your mileage may vary, but if you’re into the types of things I’ll be talking about here, you’ll probably find the game very solid as well.

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Characterization is really strong, here. Niko, the character you interact with this world through, is one of the few that’s around long enough to get any real depth to them, but he/she is quite interesting. A child, passed from a happy life into a world seeing its sunset years and tasked with being its one ray of hope, they often get overwhelmed, or don’t know how to handle the situations before them, but keep trucking on. They’re decidedly human, as well. They have very understandable desires and impulses, and though they are childlike and a catperson, they’re very relatable.

The other characters you come across are a little different. It’s clear from the outset that you and Niko are very different from the rest of them. And although you can easily find plenty of characters who go beyond the shallow level, you always get the feeling that there’s something a bit off about them. That they’re playing by a set of rules you can barely penetrate and have no hope of ever fully understanding. There’s a point to that. You and Niko both may be one of a billion in your world (unless you’re playing as me, in which case even then, you stand apart), but here, you are something completely unique. The plot takes it from there, but the ways all the characters interact with you keep hammering the point home.

There are puzzles in this game. Again, no real stumpers, even though they do require a lot of outside the box thinking. I think there was one I needed to consult a guide on, and a few I needed to get some mental distance on, take some time away and come back to, but most of the rest I just cruised through easily. It does occasionally work on cartoon physics, but when you get used to how they work, they’ll work pretty well. This would be a very individualized experience, but for me, they generally hit the sweet spot where it takes a bit of thought but not so much that you’re getting frustrated or wasting a lot of your precious gametime retracing steps over and over again.

The plot is one of the stronger parts of the game. It’s one of those good indie-style plots, not a lot of moving parts but what is there is well done and thought provoking. I love a story that lies to you, and Oneshot is playing off your expectations from the moment it drops that title. Even with that in place, though, the story is simple enough to be relatable, and peppered with enough Earthbound-esque surreal humor to keep the dark story from going full on sad. It controls the tension, the bits you may remember from the classic Freytag’s pyramid, very well, going on a slow burn through most of the opening, reaching the climax and having a good denouement, then breaking out the intensity once you’re on the path to the true ending.

Oneshot feels like a special experience. I find myself staying vague with quite a bit of things about it, just because it’s the type of game that’s really best experienced in a vacuum, in a quiet room by yourself. I don’t think it’ll be everyone’s cup of tea. But if it’s yours, it delivers like none other. If this sounds like it’s up your alley, give it a try. I know I haven’t found much else quite like it.