The 'Shroom:Issue LXI/Crocodile Style Reviews
(can I have the charge now, herr doktor?)
OK I think I should probably explain this bizarre double-up; I had intended to review Asura's Wrath this month and Kid Icarus: Uprising for the May issue, but then Journey came out unexpectedly early and I just couldn't pass up an opportunity to advertise one of my favourite independent developers, me being the tremendous hipster I am. This would've backed up my schedule really badly, so rather than do the sensible, level-headed thing and just give up one, I decided to go for the least practical and budget-friendly solution to this conflict by reviewing them together. Which makes perfect sense from an aesthetic perspective because they both tackle obnoxiously loose reinterpretations of traditional mythologies within a ludicrous science fiction framework, Kid Icarus being a childish take on the gruesome Greek mythology, and Asura's Wrath based on the relatively tame Hindu and Buddhist mythos, with a degree of gratuitous aggression and violence that calls into question the studio's religious studies credentials and sanity.
I'll start with the one more people here would be familiar with because I can't keep your interest as well otherwise; Kid Icarus: Uprising! the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 NES release (because who honestly ever gave a shit about the GameBoy sequel?), which managed to attain a great deal of popularity and recognition among gamers and critics alike despite controlling like a walrus driving a double-decker bus, and possessing quite possibly the most obtuse difficulty curve in gaming history. Let it be known that just like the first game, Uprising has a rather flimsy start as well; as soon as you hit the 'Solo' tab, you're thrown into the middle of the sky from what I can only assume is a door in the fourth wall for some good ol' fashioned on-rails arcade shooting, gameplay so archaic it wouldn't be out-of-place in a museum. There's just something wrong in my eyes with packing enough firepower to level the entirety of New England and yet being restricted to where the game thinks you should go, the only freedom being move along a tiny 2D plane that offers very little dodging area from the abundance of transparent lasers and other assorted shiny things, not helped by the rather limited screen resolution, speeding scenery and Pit's alarmingly large models making it difficult to see exactly what it is you're shooting at.
Kid Icarus is at its best when it takes you off the rails allowing you to go do your own thing, with a surprisingly rich variety of unique weapons that offer a wide assortment of different stats perks and strategic approaches. It's just a shame you only have one weapon slot for both the ranged and melee combat, which limits the customization somewhat and makes it very awkward when Pit starts smacking giant noses with his large arm cannon thing. Actually, why the hell are there hoverbikes, laser cannons, a goddamned mecha and alien mechanical floating islands in this game? The setting still appears to be ancient Greece, and the contrast is not particularly clever or amusing... but I'm getting sidetracked there. Even if there are a lot of weapons to choose from, there rarely seems to be any moments in the game where one type of weapon is preferable over another, and your choice is essentially just aesthetic based on what looks coolest to you; the power-ups carry a bit more substance, but they have the same problem as most free-to-customize skill systems in that you'll find a few skills that suit you and never use anything else. The actual controls are kind of ass, movement feeling awkward and sticky with a really stunted means to run and a bloody stamina metre arbitrarily slowing down the pace; and the circle pad always misinterpreted my slight nudge as a wild flail which would send Pit running or side-strafing directly into an enemy attack or off a bottomless pit. Moving the camera requires you to flick the stylus in the direction you want it to scroll, and I cannot stress how unintuitive this is since moving the stylus around is used for targeting as well, and so half the time it misread my aiming motions as Pit wanting to rotate 120 degrees to the side to look at a fluffy cloud in the horizon. And I want to slap whoever decided it was a good idea to only allow you to throw bombs immediately after collecting them; being able to stow them away for a rainy day would've been nice!
The story... well, it's not terrible, but it certainly isn't going to blow anyone away; it concerns the standard "gods want to save mortals from the underworld" angle, because I quite distinctly remember Greek gods giving all the shits in the world about human safety, but considering there's only one human ever shown in the entire game and everyone keeps painting them as assholes, the only real way to feel sympathy for them is by realizing that SHIT, you're a human too! Really, the whole thing is a bit of a mess, getting really bizarre by the mid-way point when Pit is not only fighting the underworld and the goddess of nature, but also robot aliens too, which makes it all seem like a clusterfuck. Some people call this clever variety; I call it an inconsistency in tone. The last two levels really phone it in, forcing you to re-fight several of the previous bosses again and scripting the hell out of the final boss fight, which made me feel like the game was doing all the work and I was just giving it the go-ahead. And not meaning to spoil too much for you, but Medusa is not the real villain; here's a hint – the real villain is the one deity every bloody safe for work version of Greek myth shoehorns into the villain role, in this game sounding disturbingly like Tim Curry. I'd probably be more engaged in the story if the characters weren't all dipshits; Pit is a whingy, dependant little bitch, many of the villains are unnecessarily flamboyant as a message to all children that gays are evil, and everyone else are condescending assholes, which wouldn't have been so bad had they all just stopped yabbering on for five seconds.
That reminds me, the voice acting and writing in particular are embarrassing, to the point where I can't tell if they're meant to be ironic or just indicative of what Nintendo thinks of their fans. I won't reiterate any of the lines here because they're too humiliating; just go on Youtube if you want to hear them that badly. It almost seems like they're trying to abide by clichés and display a sloppy thematic design solely for the sake of forcing humour, as displayed by Pit's commentary on the first boss in which he jokingly exclaims the title of 'dark lord' has been done to death in other media; why yes game, it is done to death, so why the fuck are you doing it? And good job Nintendo, going out of your way to call attention to your unoriginality by explicitly stating you just lifted Metroids over with a slight recolour. The reuse and glorification of an alarming amount of content, as well as the fourth-wall breaking call-backs, are recurring themes and I really don't like it; it all reads out like a deliberate nostalgia trip to appeal to the income of long-time fans and no one else, which makes it feel really exclusive and limited in its appeal. But even the new content is still unspectacular, especially for those looking for something brand new in the genre, and I feel like the only people who will treat this like anything special are those who are already fans of the series. And if that was Nintendo's intention all along, then pat yourselves on the back, mates, for displaying everything wrong with franchising!
Kid Icarus has made me depressed now, so let's take a jump over into the realm of third-party development for something a little more exciting with Asura's Wrath, which comes to us from CyberConnect2, most well-known for their Naruto: Ultimate Cash-In series. I say "exciting" because everything it does seems to be designed specifically to make all my sensory organs bleed, which naturally makes it the sort of game that I have the most fun reviewing. Asura's Wrath is an utterly ridiculous sci-fi "reimagining" of south Asian mythology in that there are Buddha statues, a bunch of references to mantras and devas, and absolutely nothing else referencing the actual myths and theology. You play as one of the eight fictitious demigods of the world named Asura – not to be confused with the malevolent demon-like deities of actual Hindu myth, although I'm wondering how "accidental" that choice was – who is betrayed by his brethren and banished to hell because he was the unfortunate bugger to have fathered a priestess packing enough holy juice to power a huge space cannon that uses human souls as ammunition. Uhhh... these are supposed to be benevolent gods, right? Not that Asura himself is much better, spending much of his dialogue either gargling or telling everyone very rudely to shut up like he has Tourette’s syndrome from hell, and expressing time and time again that he doesn't care at all for the safety of the world; he just wants to rescue his daughter and seek revenge for his murdered wife, the selfish cunt.
So the story is complete bollocks, but it's not like that's what Capcom were hoping to sell this game on. No, we're here for the pre-rendered cinematics as displayed by five of the six and a half hours I spent “playing” this game being entirely pre-rendered cutscenes with quick time events, the worst gameplay mechanic ever invented. It's like the original plan was to make Asura's Wrath an anime but the lead director realized late into development that no one actually buys anime legally so decided to hastily convert it into a video game instead based on about 15 minutes of God of War he happened to see his son playing. This is reinforced by all the levels being split up as insultingly short "episodes", the staff credits rolling at the beginning and end of each of these "episodes", still-image cut-ins in the middle of each "episode" to alert the player of the beginning and end of commercial breaks that obviously and thankfully never happen, detailed expository previews preceding each "episode" in an astonishing misunderstanding of how video game storytelling works, and a whole lot of screaming. The boxart blurb claims the game "seamlessly blends gameplay and story", a bold claim on its own, but their idea of gameplay/story marriage is throwing in random button prompts in the middle of every buggering cutscene, many of which you will have no hope of pressing on time because they come completely out of left field and tend to be a crapshoot based on whether your finger was over the correct button that the game randomly chooses each event. Although the cutscenes continue anyway even if you miss the prompt, so they're only really there to both keep you from dozing off from the sheer monotony of the game's cinematic excess, and to give the game an excuse to grade you poorly at the end of every level.
The thing about Asura's Wrath in terms of gameplay is that there isn't really much of anything; occasionally you're invited to a rousing round of "beat up the glowing viral fauna" as a reward for putting up with the game's gaudy bullshit for so long, which is at least functional although it's clear the game begrudges you for interrupting its precious cinematography and thus does its utmost best to fuck up the combat. Despite resembling something that could very well be a barrel of fun, it only serves to degrade the game further with just how insubstantial it is; there are absolutely no extra weapons or even any upgrades to maintain intrigue and variety, since the game is stuck so far up its own ass that the only prizes for accomplishing anything are concept art and cutscene videos, so all you'll do is just spam the same dull attacks over and over. And it is beyond awkward having to stand still in the middle of a fast-paced action sequence to fire projectile attacks at flying enemies or missiles.
But even if I were to forgive all that, I challenge any fans to defend this rationally; fights cannot be won the traditional way of "kill everyone in the room, then move to the next room to kill a bunch more dudes, repeat", but only by beating up the constantly respawning enemies enough to fill up Asura's "rage" metre – which behaves as an all-purpose Green Lantern ring that bends the plot to Asura's will in a good display of what happens when dickheads write stories – which once full can be used to launch a pre-rendered plot-advancing hadouken attack by way of, you guessed it!; another goddamned pissing quick time event! As if the game is scared that letting the player control the outcome of a fight will well and truly stuff up their carefully crafted story and choreography. There are also rail shooting segments, although their only practical purpose is to further justify reviewing this alongside Kid Icarus; they also have the same problem as the hack and slash in that they're very brief and there isn't any variety beyond hold the rapid fire and auto-aim buttons down until the game grows bored of this nonsense and prods you in the head to move on to the next cutscene with another QTE. The game doesn't even trust you enough to let you move from one area to another without the aid of cutscenes or on-rails shooting, having to keep a tight leash on you at all times less you actually start displaying free will and having fun.
Final thoughts; Kid Icarus: Uprising is presented well and will offer its fair share of fun, but it's a physical chore to play and really doesn't offer much new to the medium that other shooters haven't already covered, even kid-friendly ones like Ratchet and Clank or Metroid Prime, both of which I would sooner recommend as an introduction to the genre. It doesn't even end with any real closure; the threat of the genocidal nature goddess is never resolved and the characters spend the ending cutscene reiterating how humans are wastes of carbon, but choose to ignore all of that because yay the underworld is defeated! But that doesn't even come close to the bullshit of Asura's Wrath's finale. Look, the canonical ending should only ever be positioned right at the end of the main story as a tasty reward for all the player's efforts and devotion, to close everything off in a coherent and consistent manner; forcing us to jump through extra hoops to find the true ending hidden somewhere behind a default false one just breaks the flow of the story's progression and throws a massive spanner in the player's immersion. It's not clever storytelling, it's not giving the player more reason to continue playing; it's just needless padding that cheats us out of the well-earned closure a good story is supposed to have. Being the pseudo-professional I am, I did jump through those infuriatingly tedious hoops in Asura's Wrath, only to find that the bonus level isn't even anything new, it's literally just the final level copy pasted wholesale with another bloody cutscene attached to the end; no bosses or even gameplay to justify the time wasted trying to press the shiny buttons at just the right moment to get a completely arbitrary high grade. And if that waste of time wasn't bad enough, it ends on a fucking cliffhanger, as if one game of this bullshit wasn't already bad enough! Presumably the sequel will have you doing nothing but watch Asura screaming at his comrades; occasionally giving you dialogue options to decide which way he punches something.