The 'Shroom:Issue LXXI/Critic Corner
I'll keep this short primarily because I'll be on holidays in the western Victoria countryside while you're all reading this. This, of course, means that I have no idea if someone sent their section in late, so I can't really comment on them nor would I be the one who added their sections to the fancy template below. So I'll let whoever did sort this out for me instead. Take it away, you bludger!
Critic Corner Section of the Month
Oh yeah, I can comment on this before I leave, at least. We only had three sections last month, which was a real bummer, so the results here are a bit hollow… seems we really need to advertise more if we want more interesting results!
But anyway, I won the January Section of the Month for my Crocodile Style Reviews section lambasting PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale for being a shallow attempt to cash in on Super Smash Bros. fame. Runners-up were the only two other sections; Dippy's Matilda by meself, and Caiman Gamin' by Xluidi (talk), both of which covered our respective top five games of 2012.
This is sad. If you're interested in writing any review or opinion sections, please contact me right away! I want this to be more interesting for everyone!
HI! Your bludger-ous Co-director here, since Dippy asked someone to report on what happened after he was left. This month we only have Dippy's sections, which means only two sections. And that makes this the most under-staffed issue of any sub-team, which is rather disappointing. Please sign up for this sub-team, I'm sure you will find one section that matches your interests. And with that, I leave you with an all-Dippy Critic Corner.
Non-Mario Game Reviews
Crocodile Style Reviews
Hello everyone, we're now well-established into the brand new, shining year of 2013, and not a single custard comet has yet to be seen, so all in all a fairly good start in my book. I'd love to pay tribute to this fresh lease on life with a rousing evisceration of a sparkling, innocent January video game, except the spiked neck-brace that is my schedule only growing tighter this month means that I'm unable to sink my teeth into any of the big releases as they're either sequels to long-standing franchises I can't hope to catch up with, too stupidly long on their own, or just generally shit. But I'll be damned if I start the new year of game releases on a half-assed note, so I decided to instead double-back to my old strategy of shining a light on an older release on a half-assed note, and so welcome once again to another retro review!
But instead of doing what I did with Okami and chundering up pleasantries about a game I already had a well-established relationship with, I've decided to try out an old game I've never actually played before. Or at least one I only ever played an hour of when I was six-years old which is basically the same thing, so here we are with MediEvil, a platform game set in – and you'll never fucking believe this – a stylised version of medieval times! The story takes place one-hundred years after a war between the kingdom of Gallowmere and the treacherous vizier Zarok, because that's what they always fucking do. You'd think video game leaders would learn by now, or do viziers just come free with the castles? Anyway, Zarok comes back and revives the dead, putting the player in the role of the skeletal corpse of Sir Daniel Fortesque, the kingdoms valiant, selfless her—oh wait no, he's really a coward who died on the first charge against Zarok, but seems that little tidbit was airbrushed to save face. Politics never changes, eh? He decides to make the best of his situation to kill Zarok for realsies this time and become a true hero.
I'd almost call it generic if the tone of the game wasn't distinctly comedic, although fortunately the humour is genuinely clever and paced well unlike most games that simply tip a bowl of hot noodles onto their head and strike a pose cueing the laugh track that never happens, see Kid Icarus: Uprising for more. Being designed in Sony's operations in Cambridge of all places, the game employs that distinct passive-aggressive sarcastic cynicism I so love from British comedies whilst still understanding that not everything needs to be a joke, hence why every character sounds like they're from a bad stage play of Game of Thrones. Well aside from Fortesque, as his jaw hasn't held up well against years of decay leaving him mumbling even the simplest of phrases, but at least he has a reason to keep quiet; what the hell was Link's excuse, a sore throat?
Moving on, first impressions of MediEvil show a very strong combat-focus, bizarre for a man who died in his very first combat scenario but I guess that whole being dead business probably helps out a bit. You start out with a simple sword that actually kicks ass for a starter weapon, gradually building up your arsenal throughout the game until you've become the medieval Terminator, and it's actually quite invigorating just wildly running about at high speeds hacking everything to pieces. It's like if Serious Sam only had access to épées.
Although the game does require you to earn your equipment through brutally slaughtering monsters without remorse first, which is the best fucking way to give the player new items in my book. Killing enemies fills up a magical chalice located in each level, and collecting them allows you to acquire new equipment or extra health bars or even a few gallons of money, as if you bloody needed the spare income. Yes, this game employs a monetary system, but all it seems to be used for is buying ammo for your long-range weapons or enchantments for your magical equipment. But I guess it's a matter of supply and demand, and you'll certainly have the demand for long-range supply during the boss fights, although the ludicrous amounts of money you're bound to find throughout the game inflates the economy.
The issue with MediEvil is that it does itself a great disservice by trying to be a platformer given the generally bodgy at best quality of that era. I know this was just the awkward transitional stage the genre was forced to go through when mainstream gaming moved up to the big 3D leagues, but the platforming in this game is complete tits. Too many times would Fortesque end up falling to his death because depth perception isn't something that comes naturally to a skeleton missing an eyeball, particularly aggravating in one of the latter levels taking place on a flying pirate ship that I had to replay from scratch at least four times because of the rubbish Dutch perspective.
Add to this that Fortesque's jumping distance is either a pathetic little hop whilst walking or akin to escaping from demonic spiders when running, this can make precise leaping along small platforms more arduous than scaling Mt. Everest with a honey badger taped to your back, and that's when the camera doesn't randomly suffer Alzheimer's episodes and forget to give you a better angle on the scenery. Not to mention a decent inventory system would've been nice, given that MediEvil takes the hoarder approach of just dumping all the equipment into a single menu with no structure, and it's not getting away with this one when its classmate Ocarina of Time was being such a model student.
But the odd thing is that even when the game managed to shit me up the wall with its crapshoot platforming, actually beating these levels filled me with an odd sense of accomplishment that retroactively rendered all those frustrations a genuinely enthralling experience. I think it has to do with the levels possessing some truly nice aesthetic design, the kingdom of Gallowmere feeling every bit as rich as the characters within it; when you're not tearing the heads off kamikaze pumpkins or pushing fat corpses into pools of muddy water, you're riding a train through a time machine or surviving ridiculous undead gauntlets in an insane asylum, placing me in the same mindset of Psychonauts or Pandemonium!, look it up. There's actually a level taking place in a township filled with mind-controlled civilians where the chalice starts out half-filled and depletes if you kill the townsfolk, which I can assure you is really fucking hard to keep yourself from doing when the little shits with axes try to re-enact a Benny Hill sketch with you at all times. But this kind of gameplay and story integration, however minute, is exactly the sort of thing that gets my heart fluttering, even if it is a little bit aggravating.
But for all its faults, I'd certainly recommend MediEvil; it's fun, clever, memorable, and you get to catapult yourself out of a collapsing burning castle, so all in all a fairly perfect mix. It harkens back to a simpler time when a game would have to feature everything the developers thought was a cool idea or it'd be laughed out of every publishing office from here to Jerusalem, and that alone is reason enough to try it out if you haven't already. Or you could always buy the PSP remake, but I'd wager that staring at Fortesque's exposed bony torso for ten hours would end with a very confused and scared gravedigger.
Hey everyone, welcome to another Dippy's Matilda. Having done a retro review of MediEvil for Crocodile Style Reviews this month, I decided to look up the remake on Youtube and noticed that the game was changed to such an insane degree that it wasn't really MediEvil anymore, it was more like a sequel or a reboot. It certainly looks like a fine experience in and of itself, don't get me wrong, but it's not the same experience many people would have from the first entry into the franchise. Which has made me think about a broader issue in the gaming community of Game Preservation, and how complex an issue it is.
Keeping the games of our past alive for newer generations is beyond important. It helps everyone interested in the medium to get a clear view of our history, illustrating the standards, attitudes, and imaginations of the gaming community of the time, as well as all the struggles this industry has faced, and all the failures and accomplishments that came of it all; it goes without saying that without a clear documentation of our history, we shut ourselves out of a very big part of our sub-culture and who we are as gamers. Same goes for all mediums, but while books and paintings have been around long enough for us to realise adequate means to preserve them for hundreds, even thousands, of years, more contemporary digital media suffers many hurdles that make salvaging them for future generations a more complex challenge to work out.
Technology is rapidly changing today at a pace many people in the gaming community are struggling to keep up with, constantly rendering video game hardware obsolete every few years. Emulation through online distribution services like PlayStation Network and Steam has done a good enough job at keeping many older games available, but that's a largely selective process that tends to overlook many lesser-known games that the copyright holders haven't much interest in. Some might say ROMs and Abandonware sites cover that niche, but the legality of those is iffy at best they typically cover software not officially discontinued by the copyright holders, and that's coupled with website funding issues and the necessity to update all the required software to work on new OS' or even completely new hardware which many fans just don't have the time or patience for. All this creates an uncertain environment for historical documentation.
But games are somewhat unique in the preservation debate because of one key factor that films, music, paintings, literature, and television don't have; the interactive element. It's not just a matter making sure all the code still works on modern systems and ensuring nothing has been lost in the importing process, it's also keeping the original feel and input of the game as true to its original conception as possible; translating a game from the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis into a touch screen interface on an iOS device, or an arcade racer with wheel or handlebar controllers onto a PC… well, it's just not the same, and typically much inferior to the original release. It's a shallow caricature that doesn't do a good job reflecting the standards and experiences of that era, and that's hardly honouring our past culture.
Adding to this is the technical worries of online gaming and services, since once the developers and/or publishers are ready to move on and leave their servers to rot, what will happen to all the games attached to those servers? MMOs, multiplayer games, and even many single-player titles with DRM in them – all of these will be left unplayable once the servers go down, requiring a pain-staking process for fans to go in and keep them afloat; and even if you keep those servers going for decades to come, what good is a multiplayer game without a community, without other players to interact and communicate with? Or for the single-player DRM games, many people are going to have to hack open the games to remove that always online necessity, which will inevitably lead to piracy for many people unable or unwilling to do the job themselves. And the last thing an industry needs to continue being sustainable is more reasons to pirate.
Publishers themselves generally have a short-sighted, overdefensive position on their intellectual properties which puts even more restrictions on those hoping to keep the games alive for as long as possible. Aside from the aforementioned online problems, many publishers cling to licenses they no longer have any desire to use; yet refuse to allow people to document them for the ages. This isn't universal, but it's common enough that it becomes a problem. I understand that's just business, since if a game didn't sell well during its initial release, it's really not good business sense to blindly re-release it as it always was just because a few people are saying it's important to the history of the industry. But allowing a few historians with a genuine interest in the preservation of gaming's history the right to keep at least one copy of the game in a comprehensive archive, perhaps offering displays of the games in a museum setting, surely isn't too much of a sacrifice; heck, it may gauge enough interest to coax publishers into breathing new life back into their more obscure titles.
But the costs of licensing and all the technical upkeep required to keep such an archive working would be ludicrous. Software rot, battery life, server collapses, hardware damage; these are just some of the hurdles that archivists would need to constantly give their attention to, and I can't even begin to think how much dedication and funding that would require given how expansive the industry is.
Honestly, though, I don't know what sort of measures could even be taken to solve the problem completely. It's such a difficult question to ask, that it's just impossible for one nerd on a Mario newsletter to even begin discussing broad solutions. Maybe there isn't any way to overcome the problem, at least not at this stage, but nothing accelerates progress quite like awareness, and I guess that's all I'm hoping to do here.
Hundreds of games have just disappeared from our history, never to be seen again, and many more could fade away at any minute. The thought that this could happen to many of the games of the past few years that I hold close to my heart is one I find horrifying. Much of our culture and history is going away, so I hope that everyone in this community – the publishers, the developers, the historians, the archivists, the average gamers – holds on to our past and collectively discovers an adequate, viable means to keep that past alive. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next month.