Hey, Supergiant Games has been getting a lot of attention with their latest release. Apparently, Hades is a good game. So I thought today, we’d take a look at… something completely different.
A while back, we took a look at Supergiant Games’ first published effort, Bastion. I like the game, a lot. And I wrote a lot about it, once! Today, we’re going to follow up on that, by taking a look at their follow up, Transistor.
Transistor is a pretty obvious spiritual successor to Bastion, working off of the same DNA while really doing its own thing. In Transistor, you play as a woman without a voice using a sword that is also her lover in a world that’s cyberpunk as all hell and maybe is inside a computer or is a virtual reality thing or something to fight beasties that are probably computer programs gone wrong. Uhh… it gets a little weird when you phrase it all out like that. Let’s start over.
In Transistor, you find yourself in the city of Cloudbank, a city where absolutely everything, down to the weather is democratically determined, and as a result, has a bit of a problem with constant meaningless change and mediocrity. Whatever’s the lowest common denominator catches on the most, and never sticks around to make an impact. Nearly everyone is registered and set towards two determined goals, and individuals rise and fall all the time with barely anyone caring. You play as Red, a popular singer and maybe something of an activist who’s become ‘the voice of the people’. The local illuminati, the Camerata, who want to break Cloudbank out of that democratic quagmire it’s in, attack you, trying to stab you with the titular Transistor. Your romantic partner, a mysterious man who’s somehow entered Cloudbank without anything about him being registered, takes the hit for you, and his soul is absorbed into the Transistor. And then the Camerata take your voice somehow. You escape, get your hands on the Transistor, through which your boyfriend is still able to speak with you, and then you get attacked by computerized beasties as a result of something called the Process running amok. So, there’s the background of the game. In much more accurate and describing wordy-things this time around.
It’s never especially clear what exactly Cloudbank’s nature is, what’s outside of the city, etc. The game’s short on details in general. We’ll get into that later. Anyways, programming themes abound, which does lead to the impression that it’s all software. Most of the potential interaction points are highlighted using what looks like code, all your moves are code terms, your enemies and so much about the setting are computer terminology, Red, at least, seems rather adept with programming language, etc. It overall gives the piece a somewhat surreal tone. Visually and auditorily, the world hear is very somber. Colors are high contrast, but very muted, and the music, although nearly as good as we heard in Bastion last, are much less solely listenable, serving more to set the mood in combination with the story and the game, rather than standing on their own as great listens. Between that, the game feels a lot more lonely and oppressive than even Bastion’s post-apocalyptic romp with less characters than this game did. The music, they do some really interesting play with that I have to commend them for. Red, your character, is a singer, and you can unlock some of her songs. Moreover, even though she lost her voice, she can still hum, and will do so along with the background track at the press of a button. So you get your lead pretty heavily involved in the game’s soundtrack, hearing her voice where you can’t hear her otherwise. It makes for a really interesting tour through the game’s soundtrack.
More Memorable Title: The last one of the original series OR The one that’s not Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II
Here, we come to it, the final, ultimate movie of Godzilla’s Showa era. And for that matter, the one that brought back Godzilla’s original and best regarded director and composer. In fact, this was director Ishiro Honda’s end to an extended break in production, and reportedly the guy was so into being able to work again that he was taking on way more tasks on set than usual for someone in his position, leaving some of the staff with nothing to do. Its script was picked through a contest, and was scriptwriter Yukiko Takayama’s first produced effort. Positioned as a direct sequel to the previous Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, it also takes a markedly more introspective tone, using its sci-fi elements to explore thoughts of what it means to be human outside of just the form one’s body takes. Ishiro Honda seemed to regard this film highly, feeling it was very refreshing and injected new life into the Godzilla model.
It was also an absolute bomb, in its day. One of only two Godzilla films to sell less than a million tickets, and, depending on whose reports you’re using, is the least profitable Godzilla film in history. On the contrary, it’s also one of the favorites in the series for a lot of people now. But it didn’t really come out of a good environment. The Japanese film industry in general was experiencing a downturn in 1975, giant monster movies in particular were dropping fans all over the place, and it’s coming off a time where the Godzilla franchise wasn’t exactly clear on what type of film they were wanting to make. First the series was psychological horror, then it was fun monster movies with heavy, thoughtful themes and undertones, then it just threw ideas at you for a while, then it was simple kid-friendly movies, then it was adult oriented ultra-violent for its day stuff, then it was… this. So it was a little hard to follow the throughline unless you were a big giant sexy nerd like myself Except they didn’t really have those in the 70s. So rough sales time in there.
But hey, lots of people like it. Does Aether as well? Let’s find out.
The film opens up with a montage of the Godzilla against MechaGodzilla fights from last time. No mention of King Caesar, however. Brother has just been memory holed. Cut to a year later, and there’s a submarine searching the sea floor where Godzilla dropped MechaGodzilla to try and find his remains. Because apparently nobody thought that they should go check out the big giant alien monster up until now. So the submarine gets there, and then there’s this lady on the shore who’s watching them with her magic eye. And then some giant fishy monster starts beating his tail, which causes a whirlpool that forces the submarine up to the surface. And then said fish monster pounces on them, and drags them back down. Where they get destroyed.
Looks like that was an Interpol sub, and now Interpol is investigating what just went down. With a whole bunch of people who aren’t particularly creepy. After last movie, I would have guessed they had those. They call in Dr. Loverboy, a marine biologist, to help them figure out what they’re dealing with. When he heads in for the meeting, he’s greeted by Inspector Average. The two of them are old college buddies, thus elegantly avoiding the need to spend time building a relationship between them. Anyways, the Interpol captain then plays the sub’s final transmission, where the captain’s screaming something like “Oh my God! We’re getting attacked by a dinosaur!” Then Dr. Loverboy deduces “You know, perhaps they were attacked by a dinosaur.” This is why he gets paid the big scientist bucks.
At this point, it’s been almost a year since we entered quarantine. And it’s had its ups, times when I’ve been able to live up to my magnificent self, and its had its downs, times when I’ve been reminded that we’re still living in a dystopian future. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a long tunnel, and we’re still a ways from the end. So you know what? Let’s take that time to play some games. Here’s what I’ve been working through lately.
So, here’s one of those games I never really knew existed, but when one of the various give-you-games services landed it into my library, it really stood out. Chroma Squad is a Tactics-style strategy RPG in which you’re playing out battles for a Power Rangers-esque Super Sentai show. It lets you customize a lot about your show, from team and character names to the colors of your rangers and everything in between, which gives me incredible freedom to amuse myself with the powers of my own mind in ways absolutely nobody else will find funny, probably. From Kickass Blaster Studios, in the prime after school viewing block, hang on to your hats, boys and girls, it’s time for the totally child-appropriate show, Tooty Fruity Kill Squad! When evil is afoot, these five heroes, with a shout of “It’s Murder Time!”, will activate their Moon Prism Magic and transform into Killer Red (because every sentai group has a red leader), Killer Black, Killer Gray, Killer White (because it amused me to have a chunk of the usually colorful sentai squads be completely monochrome), and Killer Purple (because nobody ever has a purple ranger)! They’ll fight their way through hordes of goons, and then, when things get too hot to handle, unleash their team-based special move, the Eat Shit! And when their might alone isn’t enough, they’ll pilot their giant robot, the Killborg 10,000, to victory!
It rather helps that there’s a pretty simple but mechanically solid gameplay system behind it too. It’s a really basic tactics system in all, it’s grid-based and you’ve got your basic movements and attacks, a few weapons and abilities that depend on your characters classes and equipment, and an option to assist that’s really one of the things that adds a surprisingly large amount of depth to the gameplay. By assisting, your heroes will set themselves up for others to leap off of, adding a lot of range to their movement, and will also attack in unison with other rangers targeting enemies in mutual melee range, more than doubling their attack damage. If you pull off having all five members attack one enemy at once, they’ll do the team special move, the Eat Shit! in my case but you can call it something lamer if you’d like to in your game. But that’s supposed to be a finishing move, and if you use it as anything but a coup de grace, the anticlimax will make for a worse episode and you’ll lose fan power for that. Which is a thing. You need to have built up a certain amount of fan power to be able to transform from your lame everyday forms to your Killer selves, or whatever your team is named, in the first place, and beyond that, it plays a part in your overall studio management. That component feels a lot like a management sim, where you’re laying out and dealing with the resources for your own studio, but everything you do has a direct, in-combat effect, so it’s not really that in practice, more like just a really elaborate means of equipping your team in an RPG.
I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the character of the game, it does a lot of wink-wink nudge-nudge humor that seems likes it’s just trying too hard, and a lot of the enemy design is a little lackluster. You’ll be tired of fighting the same jobbers over and over again, but the bosses are frequent and varied, which works really well to keep things fresh. And the visuals, in spite of me deliberately toning down over half of my team, are very vibrant and coloful, and the music is pretty nice. Captures the old 90’s vibe really well in a primitive almost-chiptune set. Overall, I enjoyed my time with the game quite a bit. It moves quickly, and although it can be a little cringy or basic in parts, it’s a simple, fun time in all.
From a very vibrant game to one that’s carefully not. Aztez uses the old Madworld color palette of black, white, red, and nothing else. It’s a hard game to describe. Particularly given that I don’t especially understand it myself. It’s half board game, half smackdown? Something like that. So, in a given game, you’re playing in ancient Mexico, trying to do… something. I thought you were trying to take over cities and force out rival tribes, but then I won the game without doing that. Anyways, you start with board game parts, managing your towns and resources and what not. One of your resources are your warriors, and you get to do one major thing per warrior per turn. So more warriors equals more turns. The bulk of the things in this are combat challenges, where you get to the smackdown gameplay. I don’t know why, but that part of the game reminds me a lot of Viewtiful Joe’s post-game challenge levels. It has a similar feel to combat, and a lot of it is based on keeping track of enemies and making appropriate reactions to their telegraphed attack, much like Viewtiful Joe. Except you can absorb your opponent’s blood and use that to summon your god to smack them around. As you do.
Anyways, in my game, I spent most of my time campaigning against my rival tribes, pushing them back and stealing their territory, aiming to eradicate them as is usually the win condition in those types of strategy games. I almost got to that point, but then the Spanish arrived, with their armor and their guns and their better equipment than me, and they started completely crushing my guys. With clever use of items, I managed to push them back to the borders of the map, then devoted all my remaining warriors to taking them down so I could smash my rivals in peace. They killed all but the last of my warriors, but that last one brought down the guy with the biggest feather in his helmet, and that apparently meant that I won the game, even though my rivals now were in a perfect position to retake my land after I spent all I had in fighting the Spanish. So, I guess there’s a moral to the story. And that moral is that the true path to victory runs through beating up the Spanish.
Alternative Title: The one that used all the fireworks in Japan.
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla! Where do we start with this one? For some reason, trivia on the development of this movie seems to be much less available on the internet than for the other films, so… well, we’ll have to resort to conjecture for some of this, probably.
What we do know is that the Godzilla franchise had been making largely kid-oriented fare since Destroy All Monsters saw the original creative team leave the series for various reasons. It’d also been waning in popularity for a while, never reaching the lofty peaks of commercial success established by King Kong vs. Godzilla. Meanwhile, other kaiju productions were soundly beating the film in the very genre Big G had established. Some of them were kid-friendly, sure. Others proved there were a sizable audience of adults out there for kaiju films. So, dudes here saw that, and figured, ‘You know, the whole kid thing isn’t exactly working out for us. Maybe we should go after that market. Those who can enjoy the big dumb giant monster battles on a whole other level.
And so, this film was made with that in mind. Adult oriented. Actioned way the heck up. No more stock footage, because they’re not just playing to dumb children for whom they can get away with that. More violent and gory than the series has been before, and possibly has been since. Explosions and pyrotechnics up the giant monster-sized wazoo. Life and death stakes, and people getting straight up killed on screen. And not a single childly shortpant to be seen.
This… ends up being a really weeeeeeeeiiiiiiird movie to watch. Inconsistency is rampant throughout. Do you love explosions? I hope you do, because they are HERE with a statement. The pyrotechnic work here is gratuitous and glorious. The overlays; the beams, atomic breaths, aliens transforming, etc., look cartoonish and absolutely horrible. Mechagodzilla looks amazing! King Caesar is kind of ok, and the aliens are absolutely awful. The action between the monsters is strong and exciting and visceral. Everything going on with the people makes no sense and has way too many moving parts. And a lot of the things that happen just don’t make any darn sense. It’s amazing in parts, and laughably bad in others, and almost never anywhere in between.
Also, I’ll say it again. Explosions. If you love things blowing up in your movies, man, the work here is obscene. There’s one part in particular that had me in awe at just how spectacular it was. There’s corners cut in this movie, yes. But they did not spare the pyrotechnics in any way.
Alright, boys, girls, ladies, and gentlemen, I think we need to set some ground rules here. Normally, I wouldn’t say I entirely adhere to the traditional review format, but with my “Eyes on” pieces, I like to take things as objectively as I can when looking at an inherently subjective medium. But try as I might, I can’t really do that today. Not with this piece. I absolutely love Bastion. And I love it for reasons that are a bit hard to articulate, and definitely aren’t universal. It connects with me in a particular way. A way others share, absolutely, so it’s not perfectly unique to me, but it’s a way that not everyone is going to connect with. But maybe some of you reading this would! So, in order to bring some light to it, I’m going to talk about Bastion today. But keep in mind, this is going to be less a review, and more me just gushing about one of my favorite games.
The game begins with your hero, the Kid, waking up after the Calamity, an apocalyptic event that blew his home city to pieces and turned most of the people therein into statues of ash. In third-person isometric action gameplay style, the Kid then makes his way to the titular Bastion, which was supposed to be the safe haven gathering spot for the city in the event of disaster, accompanied only by the ongoing narration of Rucks. Upon reaching the Bastion, the Kid learns that it has a function that can maybe do something about all of this, but it’s incomplete, so he needs to venture off to the various parts of the territory that had been sent sky high to regain the pieces it needs to work.
One of the most striking things about Bastion is how much it leverages its unique character. This most notably presents itself in the aforementioned ongoing narration. Rucks is, for the most part, the only character in the game to get any lines and personality, but he’s showing it to you constantly. As long as you’re continually moving forward and you’re outside of fights, he’s usually commenting on whatever’s going on. Your actions, the surrounding area, the backstory of the city and the calamity, the motivations of the enemies you’re facing, everything. All of your interactions with the world and people around you that go beyond hitting them with a hammer are relayed to you by the narrator rather than you seeing them directly, which in most instances would be absolutely frustrating to get through, but Rucks has such flavor to him that the game makes it work. The voice-acting, direction, and writing of the narrator is so beautifully on point, and it adds so much life to the game.
It helps that Rucks has a lot of good material to work with. The setting is a very interesting and unique one. It strikes me as being the type of place you’d see more often if the standard fantasy tropes were influenced by early American culture more so than Western European. The city of Caelondia was founded by pioneers from outside the area, and grew into a major economic and technological center in the world. They originally bought land from the natives to it, then ended up having a lot of friction with them. The city grew large, but it still had a lot of wild, untamed areas, of which many people were set to explore and master. Judging by Rucks, the people of Caelondia have a southwestern twang to their voice, and you see railways, revolvers and muskets, and other standard from the Wild Western genres. The major god of the parts is stylized as a ranch-style bull. One of the locations is called a Melting Pot, another is a straight up bayou, you take barges down big rivers, etc. If you mixed the classic western with fantasy, you might get what you see here. That, and the interesting applications and hints of a guild structure, the variety of items and descriptions you find, and the way Rucks adds so much character to even the simplest of things ends up making the game world so interesting.
The story’s really solid as well. It’s a lesson in minimalist storytelling, you only have four real characters, and everything is filtered through the viewpoint of a single one of them, but it ends up having a real impact in its execution. You get hope, guilt, betrayal, redemption, sacrifice, salvation, all flowing into each other really well. In optional challenges, you can explore everyone’s backstory as well, which proves itself to be really well thought-out and rounds them out as characters while also tying them into their role in the current plot really well. It makes them all, and their actions, seem very relatable, whatever they end up doing. Without spoilers, the endgame in particular makes me want to chef kiss at how it plays out. It really uses the imagination well, leaving just enough gaps for you to fill things in and bring things more to life in your head, without underexplaining anything or avoiding conclusions. It also has some capital letter THEMES, and it hits those beautifully. It really doesn’t feel like the freshman effort it is by Supergiant Games; the game moves its pieces around that central theme so adeptly I’d swear the team was all old hands at this. It really works best because it’s a somewhat short game, and has so few moving parts, as I feel like if they made it more complex than it was it’d all start to fall apart. As is, the basic elements of the plot may be things you’d see in many other places, but the way it’s handled here really sets this game apart in terms of storytelling.
Beyond that, the music of this game is absolutely stellar. This game has one of my absolute favorite soundtracks, and it’s probably the one I’ve returned to most often over the last decade. The southwestern instrumentation lends a lot of the songs a classic western feel overtop the modern and industrial foundation while all maintaining a pulse-pounding energetic feel. They evoke emotions and a sense of action very well, and truly add a lot to the piece. The songs with vocal tracks also provide a bit of a glimpse into the characters behind them, and really gain a lot of emotional grounding in context as well. So yes. Music. Marvellous. Dig it.
And I’ve been talking about the presentation a lot. You’re probably wondering about the gameplay. And you know, it’s good. Not quite as overwhelmingly stellar as the narration and music, but it’s still very solid. Walking around and bashing things feels very good, and you’ve got a great degree of control over your character. The Kid is pretty slow in ground speed, but that seems deliberate, and puts a greater emphasis on using your other tools for defense than just walking around attacks. There’s a really big variety of enemies for how long of a game this is, so you’re constantly changing up and adjusting your combat operations. You get a huge amount of options in setting up your character’s loadout, making the Kid incredibly versatile. It seems like every other level you get a new weapon, all of which play completely differently from each other, and you can mix and match upgrades to significantly alter their functionality. You’ve also got a number of buffs you can apply between levels that, again, significantly change the way you play, and, if you’re so inclined, a number of debuffs you can apply to yourself as well. If you’re interested in a combat systems that gives you a lot of control and is constantly introducing new things, Bastion scratches that itch well. Navigation is a bit of another story, however. Between the Kid’s slow movement and the fact that the world is remaking itself around you, it’s not too much fun to be walking around the parts in between when you’re crushing baddies, and it can be pretty confusing to get to where you’re going. Unless you’re willing to spend a lot of time slowly hugging the walls, expect to leave a lot of goodies behind. You can buy them later, but that takes resources you can probably put to better uses. It’s a lot better experience when you have the opportunity to just flow from one fight to the next.
The visuals of the piece are kind of ok. They’re colorful, and characters, creatures, and sprites are very distinct, making things really pleasant to look at and really easy to navigate in the midst of really complicated sequences. I do kind of get tired of nearly everything being made of tiles, but that’s kind of a necessity with the way they set things up here. Artistic design is a little mixed, most of the characters and some of the monsters do look really nice, others are kind of bland or visually confusing. It hits right when it matters most, at the very least.
But yeah. Less of a review. More of me raving about a thing I really like. But I REALLY like it. And now you know. So there.
Alternative Title: The One with the Big Dumb Godzilla Dropkick
Godzilla vs. Megalon. Here’s a particularly notable one. And I imagine a rather love it or hate it affair.
So the backstory of Godzilla vs. Megalon is that once upon a time, some kid won a design-us-a-monster! contest with Toho, drawing a giant robot suit with a lot of similarities to Ultraman and Mazinger Z for use in a future monster movie. Toho then made this design even more like Ultraman, to the point it didn’t really resemble the original contest design at all anymore. And then they tried to put a movie together around it. Hey, you know what’s really cool? Ultraman. That’s really cool. Maybe we should make a movie like Ultraman.
So you know what the problem is with making something that’s just like something else that’s really cool except your thing isn’t actually that cool? You end up making something that’s just not as good as the original. So this movie kind of kicked around for a while, with nobody really believing that the not-Ultraman was a strong enough character to carry the film, until producer Tomoyuki Tanaka came upon it and had the same thought I often think in the middle of bad movies, church services, and particularly average sessions of coitus: “This would be better with Godzilla in it.”
This wound up being the genius stroke that saved the project. And at least two of my relationships. But at this point, the producers just looked at each other, and decided that the film with all its troubled history had spent long enough in pre-production that it was time to move it right to shooting. So what if they don’t even have a script yet! They’ll figure something out. And Tanaka had already raided his couch cushions for the spare change used for All Monsters Attacks’ budget, then the back seat of his car for the change for Godzilla vs. Hedorah, and they probably weren’t going to be able to get away with making a film so cheap to make its production actually created stacks of yen from thin air again like they did with Godzilla vs. Gigan. So this time, they gave it a big massive budget, but it’s all in Imagibucks, the currency of Pretend Land. And the exchange rate for that with the real world is really low.
Once again, Jun Fukuda’s at the helm, who’s had kind of a spotty track record with Godzilla. We’ve got a film where all they had to go on were storyboards and Fukuda literally had to create the script while they were filming and two of the four monsters in it were stapled onto the plot after the fact. They’ve probably got more of a budget than they did for Godzilla vs. Gigan, but not by much. And they’re needing to get through production incredibly quickly. So, what do they do?
You know how when big actors get roped into projects they know are going to be bad, they start hamming it up all over the place? They figure if they have to make something that will be ill-remembered, they’re at least going to have a lot of goofy fun with it? That’s what we get here. A lot of Godzilla’s movie output has at least a bit of the dumb factor to it. That’s one of the things I love about it. And Godzilla vs. Megalon is the film that embraces that factor most whole-heartedly. You shall see. Oh, you shall see.
The film opens with some nation performing some underground nuclear tests, which creates earthquakes that can be felt on Monster Island. Supposedly far away from its epicenter. Some time later, we get a nice little family playing at a lake in Japan. Baby Rider, played by the same actor who was Ok Kid in Godzilla vs. Hedorah but is explicitly not the same character for that little bit of confusion, is playing on a little pedal boat thing in the lake while his older brother and older brother’s, uh, ‘friend’ enjoy a nice picnic. So, these guys. I don’t think it’s done deliberately, because this movie came out in the 1970s, which was not a time period where people were very open to these types of relationships, and is from Japan, which was not a place where people were very open to these types of relationships. So, even though these are two men that seem incredibly close to each other, seem to be out for a rather intimate personal experience at the start of the film, and both seem to take a father-like relationship to the young boy in their charge, I’m not going to call the relationship what it obviously seems to be, because it was probably not intended on the part of the creators. Let’s just say they’re very Happy.
So, they’re all doing their thing when an earthquake hits. The Happy Pair call Baby Rider back to shore, so earthquake lake stuff doesn’t end up doing whatever to him. But then a whirlpool appears in the lake! And it starts draining! And Baby Rider starts getting sucked in! But luckily, the Happy Pair brought their grappling hook to the picnic. You know, as is traditional. So they grapple hook Baby Rider in, and watch as the lake drains completely into a new crack underneath. Then they’re like ‘huh, that was weird.’ and then they go home, to the Happy Scientist’s lab.
Alternative Title: The One With the Alien Cockroaches
Godzilla vs. Gigan is… well, divisive is a good way to put it. So, as a refresher, this is part of a string of Godzilla films that came after they intended to end the series, then decided “Nah, let’s make some cheap dumb things for children”. Of the ones of those we’ve seen so far, All Monsters Attack was abysmal, whereas Godzilla vs. Hedorah was of the ‘so bad it’s good’ variety. So, now we have Godzilla vs. Gigan lined up. They’re bringing back Jun Fukuda, the guy who was behind the rather meh and definitely not Big G-feeling Ebirah, Horror of the Deep and my least favorite Godzilla film in Son of Godzilla. Haruo Nakajima was having a hard time stepping into his long-time role as Godzilla after the death of series special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, and this would prove to be his final time in the Godzilla suit. And, to make matters worse, the Japanese film industry as a whole was really going through some rough times at this period, and the results show greatly here. This film seems to have been made with a negative budget. The actors are, even beyond the language barrier, obviously not of the highest paygrade, the sets are really sparse, stock footage is used in abundance, nearly all the soundtrack is pulled from other Toho films, and for the original footage, the returning monsters suits are all so beat up that they’re barely functional. You can see scales peeling off of Godzilla in parts.
And yet, even with all that, you can tell they applied quite a bit of wisdom when working with their limits. The stock footage is used far more wisely than it was in All Monsters Attack, and it doesn’t really stand out that much when shown in sequence with the original content. And once the monster action starts, you can tell that all the skimping on sets and the extended amount of time you spent without your monster action was dedicated to make the monster action that was as big as it could be. And hell, even the long time you spend on the human drama kind of things is pretty decent, if incredibly low-rent and cheesy. This is a film that really rolled with the punches.
And it also introduced us to one of the Godzilla video games’ favorite monsters in the cyborg space-beast Gigan. Take note of him. This guy shall recur. Even in the films’ continuity.
So, does all that serve to elevate the film above its severely weak productive foundation in the eyes of the Aether? Let’s dig in to find out.
So, the film opens up with out lead character, Jimmy Slacks, lazy artist extraordinaire, putting in a pitch for a manga he’s been working on, except he didn’t bother to finish his sample or even draw in the big monster that’s supposed to be its central figure and… yeah, that gets him nowhere. So he goes to have lunch with Lady Pain. Lady Pain is awesome. Jimmy Slacks basically does whatever she says because she’s a black belt and her ability to kick ass is without peer. She’s off for most of the story here, but she shows up whenever anyone needs their face inverted. The film’s not clear on their relationship, but he treats her and she acts more like his mother and he’s nowhere near cool enough to be the boyfriend of someone as stellar as she is, so that’s what I go with. Anyways, there’s this children’s theme park that’s looking for a monster designer, and she hooks him up with an interview there. Jimmy Slacks shows up at their office which is inside a giant Godzilla statue, discusses the lamest possible monster designs, and even he’s honestly surprised when he gets hired. He hears a bit of the organization’s mission statement, which is to bring peace to the world by destroying monster island and everything on it. Which is not something I would expect a children’s theme park to be going for. A little bit of mission drift there, it seems.
Anyways, Jimmy Slacks designs some really bad monsters, then goes to show up at the office and bumps into some girl. She drops a tape and runs off. He picks up the tape, then the guy that just hired him and some guards show up. They ask him where she went, and for completely no reason, he covers for her and points them in the wrong direction, then heads into the office. Nobody else is there, so he starts nosing around until he accidentally opens a secret door and finds the boss of the place inside. Jimmy Slacks is apparently stunned by the boss being a teenager, but he looks older than Jimmy Slacks, so that really didn’t come across very well. Teen boss is working on some incredibly advanced mathematics, and when asked, says that he’s charting the position of M Space Hunter Nebula. You might have picked up by now that these guys are incredibly suspicious. Like, they’re not even trying to hide it. Also, nothing about them hiring Jimmy Slacks makes sense. Like, they never need monster designs for anything, and when we do learn their plans, none of them involve anything about a homework monster or overbearing mother monster or anything else they hired him to do, so I have no idea. Whatever, lets move on.
On Jimmy Slacks’ way home, the girl from earlier stops him and tells him to hand over the tape. Jimmy Slacks did one thing right at least, and saw this coming, having hid the tape somewhere before hand. He refuses, they can’t find it on him, and some beatnik comes up and sticks an ear of corn in Jimmy Slacks’ back. Jimmy Slacks faints. So they take him to his house and give him some TLC for a while, then he wakes up and they chat. Turns out the girl’s brother, Dr. Computer, has probably been kidnapped by the theme park, and she thought the tape might give some clue as to his whereabouts. Jimmy Slacks could just write them off as crazies who held him up with corn, but on the other hand, that theme park is super shady, so he decides to check it out.
So, Dead Cells is a roguelike action platformer with some Metroidvania elements. It’s awesome. Sorry for spoiling the rest of the review there.
It’s also hard, as befits a roguelike. But sometimes you have to play and beat those hard games. Because that’s how people know that your penis is big. Even if you don’t have a physical penis. Your metaphorical penis is big. The penis of your soul.
Anyways, Dead Cells is really a great model of what makes roguelikes so enjoyable to play. For those who aren’t super familiar with the model, let’s go through what makes a roguelike a roguelike. The model traditionally built around having a high degree of challenge, a very high skill ceiling, and permadeath, meaning that the games are very hard and if you die you’re right back at the beginning, but there’s a lot of room for you to get very very good at them and they’ll throw challenges at you for near every level of skill. Given that you’ll be dying and going back to the beginning a lot, the model makes heavy use procedurally-generated levels (well, at least semi-procedurally generated, a lot of games will cheat by just having premade rooms connected in a randomized layout) and randomized gear and resources, which cuts down on the repetition by changing up the levels and your playstyle each time. In fact, the randomized gear adds a lot to the gameplay of the model, as you have to try out and adapt to a lot of different capabilities and your strategy needs to adjust constantly to the specific things your character is capable of. In more recent games, roguelikes have started adopting a practice of having you collect resources in each run that unlocks upgrades or new weapons or whatnot that linger between characters, meaning the game will grow as you play it more. Success in a roguelike usually relies on three factors, your knowledge of the game and its future possibilities and various microcomponents, your ability to use that knowledge to make strong decisions about how you’re building your character with the limited and randomized resources available to you as well as your decisions to manage risk, and your in the moment gameplay skills in whatever genre the roguelike is.
So Dead Cells takes that foundation, just as described there, and builds on top of it a very technically solid action platformer. Your main character is… well, a sentient blobby mass possessing a headless corpse, but it really doesn’t control like a sentient blobby mass possessing a headless corpse. Your character is quick and incredibly responsive, and it feels very natural controlling them. It does take a little bit of getting used to, but soon you’ll be zipping back and forth around enemies, dodging through their attacks, leaping through platforms and coming up behind them to bring the pain in no time. Moreover, this game does a thing. A thing with speed. Every time you kill an enemy, you get a speed boost for the next several second. This stacks to a certain extent, so if you’re smacking down enemies over and over again, you’ll get pretty darn zippy, which you can then use to beat the level in record time or to be even more deadly against your foes. Complimenting the great controls and speed here are that your rank and file enemies are very distinct in their moves. They telegraph their attacks really well, both with their sprites rearing back as well as with a nice exclamation point decal alerting you to the attack, even if it’s coming from off screen. They’ll also pause just long enough for you to take a single action, aggressive or defensive, as long as your reflexes are on par. There may be a bit of trouble time as you get to recognize the enemies and the nature of their attacks, but once you learn how and what they do, if you get hit, it’s because of a mistake you made and you know exactly what that mistake was. Usually. Because there was at least one point where I got killed by an enemy that attacked in half the time its fellows did with absolutely not warning. Jerk. But yeah, the game is hugely demanding and its very easy to make mistakes, but aside from those few times, its completely fair in its challenge.
You know Dark Souls, right? It’s a great game. Absolutely phenomenal. Honestly one of the best I’ve played. We’ve spent some time on it. Well, let’s imagine you’re a game designer. And you look at Dark Souls. And you see how fantastic it is. And you’re like “Aww, I wish I made that.” You find your craft at the top of its form and wish you could be there, making something of that level.
Well, Death’s Gambit is what you would get if you just went ahead and made Dark Souls again anyway, and put your stamp on it and called it yours.
Honestly, that describes the game really well. This is 2d indie action-platformer Dark Souls. Everything about the game, from its structure, to its set up, to its atmosphere, to its means of storytelling, absolutely everything was incredibly clearly inspired by Dark Souls. Even the unique things it does were built on a Dark Souls base, rather than truly standing on their own. For a while, I wasn’t sure what I thought about it. The game is good. No doubt about that. This is a team that was just making Dark Souls in a different form, sure, but also a team that truly understood what makes Dark Souls great, way more than most of the game’s imitators. But the thought I struggled with was whether or not there was a place for a game like this. Like, why would I play a Dark Souls imitator if I could just play the original?
It took a while, but eventually, the unique bits about Death’s Gambit won me over. Particularly, it was the more compact nature of Death’s Gambit that did it for me. I love Dark Souls. It is a hugely dense, long-form game. The run we did here took me over 70 hours of game time, and there are plenty of those hours I didn’t make any real progress in, just trying and failing and learning and trying again over and over. Dark Souls is a huge, multi-layered cake. Death’s Gambit is a cupcake. And sometimes, you just want a cupcake. You get the complete experience in around ten hours game time. Even though the bosses required a similar mechanically complex means of handling, and had the same scale of tension as Dark Souls, they were far more achievable and it doesn’t take quite as much an investment in time to achieve them. The levels have less back and forth, better placed checkpoints, and it doesn’t take as long to traverse them. So yeah, here, you get a lot of what you probably love about Dark Souls, but you’re able to do it with less of an investment of time. And I ended up finding that really valuable. Snack size Dark Souls is really meaningful as well, especially when you don’t have the emotional bandwidth to do the “Try, Die, Learn, Repeat” for hours on end that Dark Souls requires before you complete any particular challenge.
And I do rather like a lot of the unique things it does here, some of which wouldn’t work out in OG Dark Souls. In addition to your starting class being a selection of stats and starting equipment, they also come with their own abilities and skill trees. You can still spec any class however you want and gear them with whatever they have the stats for, but your unique abilities and your skill trees are different for every class, and both give more replayability as well as more impact. I wouldn’t want that in Dark Souls, the ability to design anything however you want there is really powerful to the game’s structure, but it works a lot better in a quicker game. So does the way they’ll sometimes interrupt your deaths to give you a bit of story before they revive you. Your character here is a defined personality with a bit of backstory, which I wouldn’t want in Dark Souls but I feel they were able to make work here. I also have to give particular props to the way this game handles death. Normally, in Dark Souls and all the games that copied it thinking this was why Dark Souls was good without understanding the other factors around this, when you die, you lose all your money/experience points unless you can get to where you were and grab those back. Here, you leave behind one use of your standard recovery item. Which you can choose to pay out the nose with via money/experience if you can’t get those back yourself, so that option is there, but it’s not by default. It still keeps death feeling like it has consequence and impact, but it’s not as punitive and time-sinky as losing your combined cash/development resource. That’s something I’d absolutely like to see more Souls-likes picking up on. Between that and the better-placed checkpoints, you can bounce back from failure with a lot less frustration, which is fantastic in a game that’s built around you failing a whole lot. Honestly, the walk back after Death in Dark Souls was always my least favorite part of the game, and it almost absolutely ruined both Demon Souls and Bloodborne for me. You have a game here that mitigates it very well, while still using the same structure, so… yeah. Good going.
Combat maintains the relatively slower pace, high consquence actions, and generally more thoughtful, tactical feel of Dark Souls, although it’s slight faster. You’ve got a couple of additional factors here, though. Being a 2D action platformer, of course you have to worry about aerial combat and environmental threats. Positioning becomes a lot more important, and you’ll need to know the range and arc of your weapons in a variety of different circumstances, both ground-based and in the air. As in Dark Souls, defense is your primary consideration in most circumstances, so you’ll need to keep an eye out for how you and your enemy will move in all these circumstances as well. In addition to your bread and butter weapon attacks, you also equip three abilities at a time, most of which will have you do a heavy attack, and will often also leave an ongoing buff, debuff, or other active factor for the next while. There’s a fair amount of variety to them, and I found myself really relying on them a lot as the game progressed. In fact, by the time of the endgame, my own success seemed to lie just as much as my designing equipment and abilities in effective combination as it did with my in-the-moment twitch reflexes and decision making.
Presentation in this game is a bit weird. The art is absolutely gorgeous. All over. It looks really fantastic in screenshots. The animation is horrible. The game makes heavy use of rotoscoping, even for basic animations, and with the complexity of the sprites, it looks particularly unnatural to see them wholly shifted into angles. You get stray pixels and mismatched components everywhere. Which is a shame. Because the art design is so good, and the pixel art, generally, so fitting, this game could have been a visual treat, but that ends up just making the poor animations stand out. Music is pretty great, though. Definitely worth a listen.
Storywise, it does have a lot of the opaque storytelling that Dark Souls did so well, giving hints and pieces in item descriptions and bits of dialogue and whatnot, and having a lot of features you come across that are only hinted at, while also having a more clear throughline than Dark Souls had. You’ve got a defined character, Sorun, a soldier of a nation that’s been locked in a decades’ long war with a nation of lizardfolk that had uncovered the secret to immortality. The rulers want the secret of immortality themselves, while Sorun’s looking for his mother, who was drafted into this same war when he was a child and never returned. Sorun, is killed in battle early on, but Death appears before him, and offers him a deal. Death, understandably, isn’t a fan of immortality being out there, and if Sorun is willing to slay all the immortals of the land, Death will grant him eternal life himself. However, he warns that immortality has costs of its own. Sorun agrees, and a contract is signed, although Sorun’s more concerned with his own aims, and uses the quest against the immortals as a means to an end.
The world of Siradon here is also rather interesting as well, and it does some nifty things of its own. As Death warned, immortality has not been kind to its residents, and although everyone else wants it, as you venture inward you find that it has caused this civilization to tear itself apart. You’ll run across high magic establishments. You’ll run across unique takes on standard fantasy settings. You’ll get hints that things aren’t quite as clear as expected, through some enemies and locations that seem way out of place. You’ll end up in absolutely freaky locations that seem straight out of the depths of your fears. And through it all, you’ll get these hints, leading you along to greater places. The locations are phenomenal, both from a soulsian level design perspective as well as from a lore/backstory one.
Also, I’ve got to give good props to the boss fights here. The bosses are the best parts of the game, and all of them deliver a great amount of tension. Some of them used mechanics I hadn’t seen before in a game like this. And almost all of them hit that fantastic Souls level of skill ceilings, where they seem completely impossible at first, but you try, and fail, and learn and grow as you’re doing so, until you earn the ability to overcome them and feel absolutely phenomenal doing so. It doesn’t take as long as Dark Souls did, as I previously mentioned, and they’re not as complicated, but they’re still thrilling fights nonetheless.
So yeah, it took me a while to warm up to Death’s Gambit, but I ended up really enjoying my time with it. This is a game that copies Dark Souls so closely it’s not possible for it to be anything more, but it does feature enough smart changes and care in the design that it does create something different. I could definitely see myself diving back into it, and its more compact design makes it easier to do so when I’m jonesing for some Souls goodness but not ready to make a huge commitment for it.
Alternative Title: The one that was made on drugs, probably
Ask Godzilla fans what they think about Godzilla vs. Hedorah and you’ll get reactions ranging from “eh, it’s OK” to “OMG this is the worst!” One thing they’ll all agree on though, is that this film is balls to the wall, pants on head, writers with cocaine and a dartboard WEIRD. This movie runs like a fever dream. Full of things that you never expected, never thought you’d see, and after you saw them, you’ll wonder why the hell they showed it to you in the first place.
So this one follows up on Son of Godzilla, being a low budget, quick turnaround, child-oriented take on Godzilla, which is frankly where the series is going for the next while, so buckle in. Had a new director, Yoshimitsu Banno for this one. He got fired from the series after this. Longtime series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka absolutely hated this film. But Banno did come back to help out with the 2014 American Godzilla. So… that I guess. Anyways, this wasn’t a film that was set up to succeed, and then had some really weird and questionable decisions upon release, was reviewed horribly upon release, and had significant ramifications for that.
But, at the same time, there are some interesting things it does. It’s limited budget was used with purpose, Hedorah is legitimately threatening, and it has some neat parallels to some of the better Godzilla films, so it has some layers to it.
Also, Banno started this film with an ENVIRONMENTAL message in mind, inspired by seeing heavy pollution in the rivers and smog in cities. So there is an absolutely heavy ENVIRONMENTAL moral to this story. That being that the ENVIRONMENT IS GOOD and POLLUTION IS BAD. It will hit you over and over again with all the grace of a jackhammer. So, keep that in mind as you’re reading this. To be fair, this was made at a point where ENVIRONMENTAL conditions in Japan were absolutely horrible, and it got better in the years following this film, so maybe it was super called for and Godzilla vs. Hedorah is exactly what Japan needed to make a comeback. But in any case, there are few morals that will be slammed into your brain harder than this. It will crash and splatter everywhere. Kind of messy, in all. If there’s ever a point while you’re reading this that you’re thinking something other than how absolutely terrible it is that there’s POLLUTION in the ENVIRONMENT, you need to adjust your expectations and start over again. It doesn’t matter that nothing else in the film makes sense. ENVIRONMENT!!!