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.
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.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you probably know by now that I’m a big Yakuza mark. Love the games. I love the deep social conspiracies, I love the badass manly drama, I love the big dumb crazy sidequests, I love the action, I love the tone shifts, I love the gameplay, I love the world, etc. A new Yakuza game came out a few weeks ago. And it reflects a big shift for the series. So much so that the localized version completely removes the sequel number from the title, opting to be released as Yakuza: Like a Dragon rather than having it a proper Ryu ga Gotoku 7 as it’s called in Japan. Yakuza 6 provided a soft end to the saga of Kazuma Kiryu, meaning this game introduces a new lead character for the series and with it a whole new story thread. And the gameplay’s been changed up so significantly it’s not even in the same genre as the rest of the series anymore.
Well, with such a monumental step for one of my favorite series, I felt it only right that I give my esteemed judgement on how well they did. Because who else understands and appreciates this series more deeply than I do? Nobody I know, that’s for sure. My word on this is pretty much the bottom line. I play through these games pretty slow, though, take my time, explore every inch of it until I am satisfied, so if you want the full review, that’s going to be a while off. But here’s my impressions of this new Yakuza not-7 from my playtime so far.
With Kazuma Kiryu out of the main event picture, Yakuza: Like a Dragon has us in the shoes of new series protagonist Ichiban Kasuga and his hair. I like Kasuga. Not so much his hair. For the most part, the Yakuza series has been really reliably good with the characterization, writing, and design of their player characters, and Ichiban Kasuga is no different. He’s got a heart of gold and an ass of dumb, and he’s very outgoing, kind, and earnest, and seems not to let setbacks bring him down. He’s a very likeable character, and with the depth and development they gave him, particularly in the early stages, it’s clear how a lot of facets of his personality developed. Kasuga doesn’t always make the most sensible decisions, but I found myself really understanding him and his thought process in the decisions he was choosing to make, which is something that’s really not easy to establish with a fictional character. And for as charmingly dumb as he is, Kasuga has a great gift for insight, and it’s a really common plot factor wherein someone is acting brusque and off-putting in an attempt to hide their intentions but he’s able to understand what’s really going on with them.
With the developers seemingly intending Kasuga to take Kiryu’s place as the game lead for future titles, it’s really interesting both how many parallels he has to Kiryu as well as the very clear ways they approach things differently. The basic backstory is the same for both men. In order to protect someone they considered family, they took the blame for a murder they didn’t commit and spent long years in prison, only to find out on release that the person they sacrificed huge chunks of their lives for changed drastically in the time they were gone and now act very much against the values and yakuza family they once held dear. Both believe very strongly in the romantic ideal of the yakuza, and that forms the basis of a plot-long struggle against the reality that these are organized criminal who do horrible things to innocent people for personal gain. Kiryu’s back is tattooed with a dragon, while Kasuga is emblazoned with a dragonfish. Both model themselves after father figures who are in deep with yakuza leadership, and admire the high ethics and nobility they display in their roles. Their backstories are very similar. Yet their approaches from there are very different. Kiryu, through his building of alliances and his just being harder than everyone else was very effective as a yakuza. Kasuga was a horrible yakuza, being too nice to earn much. Kiryu was very well-respected before his fall from grace and infamous and reviled afterwards. Kasuga was unpopular among his fellow yakuza beforehand, and utterly forgotten afterwards. Kiryu was stoic and reserved. Kasuga is expressive and a giant dork. Kiryu’s largely self made, whereas Kasuga relies on the assistance of others. Kiryu made things go right by having a highly developed moral code and being strong enough to crush whatever goes against it. Kasuga, at least so far, makes things go right by using his background to understand others and taking bold action to bring them around to his point of view. Kiryu was laser-focused, whereas Kasuga rolls with changes and takes a more short-term mindset. It’s starting out with the basics of a similar story, but their divergent personalities end up making them approach it in very different ways.
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!!!
Alternative Title: The bad one. The really bad one.
So if you talk to anyone who knows Godzilla films, they’ll generally have their opinions. They’ll have their unadulterated favorites. They’ll have their guilty pleasures. They’ll have their personal bombs. Those lists won’t always line up. There’s a lot of room for opinion variation on Godzilla. And that’s really a beautiful thing. Everyone gets their own journeys through these films, unique to them. Except for All Monsters Attack. Everyone, absolutely every single Godzilla fan, hates this film. And not in a love to hate kind of way. Not in a ‘it’s a pain, but watch it once to get it out of the way’ kind of way. Everyone straight up just recommends you skip this one. I told people I was writing up all the Godzilla films. Everyone who knows Godzilla assumed I was just going to skip this one.
So that’s how you know you’re in for a good time, right?
So lets rewind a bit. Destroy All Monsters was the Godzilla team blowing everything they had on it. All the monsters, all together. The biggest, baddest conflicts they could come up with, serving as a massive denouement to their kaiju saga. The story was resolved, and they gave Godzilla the sweetest send-off they could, before Toho kicked in its plan for shelving the movies for a while and launching the Godzilla Multinational Cartoon Universe. Interest in Godzilla movies were waning, and it was drawing less and less money over time, so that decision makes sense. Give the series new life in a different format. But, said cartoon didn’t come out. The companies Toho was going to be co-producing it with didn’t end up going through. Meanwhile, longtime Godzilla producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was looking at the competition, particularly the Gamera series of films, who were making bank by producing incredibly cheap kaiju films and marketing them directly to children. And he was like, you know what, we can do that too.
So he called up a screenwriter, and asked him to slap something together on the back of a napkin. Then he called up Ishiro Honda, longtime Godzilla director, and told him to start digging through people’s couches, because whatever change he found there was going to be this movie’s budget.
And that’s how this magic was born. A film where its questionable whether or not all the previous Godzilla movies actually happened and Godzilla et al are real in this universe, or they’re just movies in this world too. A film where children dealing with typical kid stuff is the primary conflict. A film where, although Eiji Tsuburaya is credited with the special effects out of respect, his health was too poor for him to work so all special effects had to be handled by his protege and by Honda on a shoestring budget, with rather poor results. A film that makes extensive reuse of the footage from the previous handful of films rather than shooting anything new. A film that centers on Minilla.