The X Button - Voyage to Neptunia

by Todd Ciolek,
It seems as though everyone's playing Firewatch this week. That's fine with me, because it's a very interesting game.

Firewatch casts the player as fire lookout Henry, who monitors a patch of Shoshone National Forest in the late 1980s. Communicating only with his supervisor Delilah, he keeps track of a growing blaze as well as a stranger who may be following him. Like the critically lauded Gone Home, it's a first-person action primarily built on exploration. It's remarkably concerned with evoking a specific time and place, though Firewatch is wider in its reach and more frantic in its pace. You're on the edge of a forest fire, after all.

In some delusional way, I hope that Firewatch will renew interest in other games vaguely related to firefighting. To be specific, I hope it'll make more people notice Burning Rangers.

Burning Rangers springs from a time when Sega's Sonic Team stepped away from making a blue hedgehog grab rings. Many know of their first original creation, NiGHTS, but I honestly prefer their second, a futuristic firefighter action game. Burning Rangers is filled with neat ideas: randomly arranged levels, voice navigation, and flames that you shoot until they burst into crystals…which you then use to rescue survivors and absorb hits. It's also a thorough cheese-fest, with over-perky acting and characters straight out of '80s anime series.

It's a little too much for the Sega Saturn to handle, so Burning Rangers has many visual glitches and lasts only four stages. It begs for a remake, and perhaps it'll get one someday. And even in its flawed Saturn incarnation, Burning Rangers deserves another look, for it does things that no other games attempted since. After all, does Firewatch have a theme song about how its heroes have nothing to hide, so as they fight they stand side by side? I don't think it does.


Unsung Story had real promise. Playdek pitched its Kickstarter campaign as the momentous return of Yasumi Matsuno, who directed Tactics Ogre, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, and some of parts of Final Fantasy XII prior to his departure from Square Enix. He popped up in milder capacities, putting together the tabletop-RPG-simulation of Crimson Shroud while at Level-5, but Unsung Story envisioned itself as a return to Matsuno's broad and complicated sagas of medieval politics, the inescapable cruelties of war, and characters with names that demand pronunciation keys. Of course, it wasn't all Matsuno; he was aboard only for the world-building and some writing, with Playdek handling the game design and other matters. Still, it was the most we'd seen from Matsuno in a good while, and artist Akihiko Yoshida and composer Hitoshi Sakamoto, both frequent Matsuno collaborators, also came aboard.

Problems emerged when the inevitable delays set in and Playdek shied away from the traditional tactical-RPG approach that the Kickstarter showed. The developers added a player-versus-player feature, and then hurriedly clarified that the PvP mode was just an extra and that the central story-driven arc of the game remained intact. Worse news came this week, though: Unsung Story is on hold.

Playdek's latest update states that the developer “lost a few key staff members,” leaving them with only one internal team—and that team has to work on other projects to keep the company afloat. This leaves Unsung Story on hiatus until Playdek gets back to it or brings in an outside developer. As one might expect, fans are not happy.

And I'm among them. I've been lucky with my Kickstarter backing so far, in that most of the projects are on track to give me what I paid for in the most literal sense. Even if I end up hating Mighty No. 9 (which is possible) or Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (which is also possible, but far less likely), their crowdfunding campaigns will at least provide an actual game. Unsung Story, which I backed out of nerd desire for a new Matsuno game, might not even become that. I suppose this'll happen if you back enough Kickstarters, and it was my turn to throw money in the hole.

OK, who's ready for another round of Mother 3 localization rumors? These pop up like weeds several times a year, and they're usually fueled by little more than fan devotion to Nintendo and Shigesato Itoi's charming Game Boy Advance RPG and the entire Earthbound line.

Nintendo could've headed all of this off a decade ago by translating Mother 3 and releasing it in North America and Europe as Earthbound Advance or Earthbound: Pigs on Parade. This would give fans nothing to complain about today, beyond the inevitably ridiculous second-hand prices the game would command (check the eBay prices on Earthbound for a taste). Yet internal decisions, a few spots of humor unsafe for kids, and the lingering low sales for Earthbound on the Super NES likely led Nintendo to pass. Fans made do with their own translation of Mother 3, but most of them still hold out hope for validation from Nintendo.

Now we have the latest rumor, and perhaps the most solid one yet. It's backed by several insiders, including Emily Rogers and Liam Robertson, who've been right about Nintendo plottings before, and they tell us that Nintendo's planning to release Mother 3 in English on the Wii U's Virtual Console. Most of the Virtual Console catalog supplies games previously released in English, but that rule bends at times—and it did when Nintendo gave the Wii U Earthbound Beginnings, a translation of the original Mother that went unreleased in the days of the NES. A localized Mother 3 wouldn't be out of line.

It may be another false alarm, of course. Anyone interested in the game can run the fan-translated version easily, so it's not as though Mother 3 is completely beyond reach for English speakers. I sympathize with the devoted Earthbound fanbase, though, so I'll hope for the best as I tread through Earthbound Beginnings and fire up the classic fan song “Mother Mother.” It's like the video-game version of The Shaggs.

I hope that everyone knows about Shmuplations, a collection of translated interviews with Japanese developers. The title implies that it's dedicated to shooters, but that was merely the beginning of the site's library. The interview catalog covers everything from old Sega arcade games to PlayStation RPGs (including Valkyrie Profile), and the site owner has hundreds of interviews waiting for translation. It's an incredible resource for anyone curious about the history of Japanese games, and the sheer volume material is priceless. There's even an interview with the director of the Trouble Shooter games in the backlog!

The latest addition to Shmuplations is an interview with Akira Kitamura, the creator of Mega Man. Keiji Inafune sometimes gets that credit, but Inafune himself will tell you that Kitamura crafted Mega Man, and the interview offers remarkable insights into the design process. Kitamura discusses Mega Man's numerous anime and tokusatsu borrowings, describes his reaction to the challenges of early NES games, and reveals that Cut Man was originally the game's protagonist. He even explains Mega Man's tragic sense of free will, which is a pretty heavy thing to lay on a little 8-bit robot hero.


Megadimension Neptunia VII arrived earlier this month. One might think it's the seventh game in this particular series, but it's not. If you count all of the remakes and spin-offs, Megadimension Neptunia VII is actually the twelfth Neptunia title. And all of them arrived within the last six years.

In fact, Neptunia can give false impressions on several fronts. A newcomer might look at a Neptunia game and assume that it's a standard case of buxom heroines who save the world, recite awkward anime comedy, and wear revealing techno-armor. Neptunia titles have all of those things, true, but they posses another source of nerd pandering. They're games about video games. And game systems. And game companies.

Neptunia spins on an amusing idea: patron goddesses who represent game systems preside over various nations. Standoffish Noire represents the PlayStation 3, top-heavy Vert is the Xbox 360, diminutive, foul-mouthed Blanc is the Wii, and series heroine Neptune is lazy and self-centered, because she's named after Sega's never-released Neptune console. In fact, every major character symbolizes a game company or system, whether it's Neptunia developer Compile Heart or the entire Tekken franchise.

I could say that Neptunia's rampant popularity stems from it mining game-nerd references for all they're worth, but that would fool no one. Neptunia glistens with the aesthetics of "moe" design, so it's foremost about cute heroines having comical misadventures that tend toward risque setups and in-jokes. Its protagonists routinely transform into scantily clad super-warriors—and that can get downright creepy when those protagonists are childlike in appearances or behavior. In one example, the naïve and narcoleptic Plutia turns into the vicious adult dominatrix Iris Heart, thus representing...the Sega Genesis. Well, I admit that might make sense. Sega was downright mean to Nintendo during the early 1990s.

Neptunia's video-game references rarely come without a much greater dose of exposed skin and saccharine humor. In fact, many of those references are superficial nerd bait, a mere pretense for Neptunia's array of twee characters and slowly improving RPG battle systems. But this is nothing new. Anime heroines have sold video games ever since Telenet unleashed Valis on the game industry in the 1980s.

Sega Hard Girls seems cut from the same stock. It's a line of merchandise that turns Sega consoles into girls, right down to the SG-1000 II and the 32X. Yet it's best known through the Hi-sCool! SeHa Girls anime series, which focuses on three characters: Dreamcast is cheerful and clueless, Saturn is practical and a tad snooty (probably because she knows deep down that she's the best Sega console), and Mega Drive is reticent and well-read. That may seem odd when you recall that the Sega Genesis was a loud and brash success in America, but don't forget that its Mega Drive equivalent wasn't popular in Japan.

The three console-girls attend a school that puts them through familiar Sega games, be it brawling in Virtua Fighter, piloting a mech in Border Break, or stacking up little Puyo Puyo blobs. It's awash in references and nonsense, but there's some thought behind it all. It comes from director Sota Sugahara of gdgd Fairies notoriety and co-scripter Masayuki Kibe. If you watch Shinya Arino's wonderful Game Center CX TV series, you'll remember Kibe as the staff writer who often introduces Arino to pieces of game history…with a slight bias toward Sega stuff.

In Kibe and Sugahara's hands, SeHa Girls finds an undeniable charm for game nerds. It's littered with obtuse wisecracks about everything from mobile games to Virtua Fighter's crude polygons, but it all smacks of genuine nerd affection and that underdog appeal that Sega's exuded for as long as they've been in the game industry.

SeHa Girls won't win over those who ignore video games on the whole, but it's made with a genuine fondness for its subject. It even comes through in the show's ending. SeHa Girls wisely avoids a realistic finale in which Saturn gathers dust in a closet, Dreamcast is traded in for a PlayStation 2, and Mega Drive sits among battered Madden NFL and NBA Jam cartridges in a garage-sale box with “$10” Sharpied on one flap. Instead, the three heroines transform into real-world systems in the hopes of bringing joy to the masses and letting parents and children bond over nostalgic pastimes. And isn't that what video games are all about? Well, besides showing the world your highest Pengo score.

Naturally, these two worlds could not stay apart, and Idea Factory assembled Neptune's Platoon Vs. Sega Hard Girls for the PS Vita. It's a Neptunia-style RPG with slightly more interactive dungeon exploration, and it covers four different eras of Sega-accented history (though it starts with the Genesis/Mega Drive and skips the Master System). The title is typical misleading crossover verbiage, since the Sega Hard Girls befriend the Neptunia cast without much trouble. Idea Factory hasn't announced an American release for the game just yet, but nearly every other piece of Neptunia made its way here.

Neither Neptunia nor Sega Hard Girls originated the whole idea of turning game systems into anime heroines, of course. Mine Yoshizaki drew a line of similarly personified consoles back in the 1990s, before Sgt. Frog made him a big wheel in the manga industry. Indeed, the whole idea falls in line with the broader trend of imagining everything from fully automatic rifles to World War II battleships as wide-eyed girls, rarely without suggestive results.

If their ideas aren't new, Neptunia and SeHa Girls fascinate me for their ouroboros tendencies—it's not so much a snake eating its own tail as it is a snake chewing itself up, Kirby-like, and changing into some weird new form. Video games expanded rapidly as a subculture and industry in the last decade, and nowhere is that more apparent than games that draw upon themselves. And I don't mind. Sometimes it brings a dose of lazy comedic inbreeding, but sometimes it's a reminder of why people play these games in the first place.


Developer: Intelligent Systems / Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 19
Best Route: Join a Convent on an Island
MSRP: $39.99 (basic edition) / $79.99 (already scarce special edition)

Thank you, Fire Emblem: Fates, for giving us the first video-game controversy of 2016. The latest in Nintendo's line of strategy-RPGs, Fates is a game with a hard choice at its core: do players side with the warlike royal family that abducted and raised them, or with the more placid birth family that they've never really known? Nintendo also faced a hard choice about the game's character-bonding scenes, in which the player taps the lower 3DS screen to stroke and prod an ally's face, inducing blushes and vows of friendship. Nintendo's decision was to remove the face-touching option while keeping the dialogue and portraits largely intact, and this led to debate and palaver.

That aside, Fire Emblem: Fates presents a great deal else to do. The player picks sides by choosing which edition of the game to buy: the Conquest version of the game leans toward your (abductive) stepfamily in the kingdom of Nohr, while the Birthright version sends you back to your rightful family in the nation of Hoshido, no matter how this upsets your Nohr kinsfolk.

Though the conflicts take different paths, both allow the player to build an army from various allies, manage a castle, and control just who will befriend and marry who. Such unions produce children who inherit their parents' skills, and even the player's avatar (named Corrin by default) can wed and sire new soldiers. And yes, the romantic element remains suggestive. Fates doesn't shy from ribald humor, whether it's a mishap in mixed bathing or a run-in with the protagonist's Nohr stepsister Camilla and her low-cut armor.

Fire Emblem's battles retain the same grid approach as prior games, with an interlocking system of warriors, archers, mages, heavy knights, and other classes determining just how damage is meted out. As in Fire Emblem Awakening, players choose between a classic mode where death is permanent and a more lenient option where characters can be revived after falling in battle. I suggest playing classic, but with the modest difficulty setting. You know, just in case enemy archers really hate your favorite character.

You can buy the Conquest and Birthright versions of Fire Emblem: Fates separately, plus a third route in the digital Revelation version. Once you finish one version, you can buy the other at half the price from Nintendo's eShop…or you can get all three versions in one big box set that no one seems to have right now.

Developer: Monolith Soft
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 16
Missing: The Rabbit From Don't Pull
MSRP: $59.99

It's entirely appropriate that Project X Zone 2 arrives the same week as Fire Emblem Fates, and on the same system, no less. Fire Emblem Fates is what you play if you want a spacious fantasy tale of tortured loyalties and personal growth. Project X Zone 2 is what you play if you want Morrigan to flirt with Phoenix Wright while Segata Sanshiro, pitchman for the Sega Saturn, pounds a Resident Evil zombie into a Shibuya shopfront.

Project X Zone 2 is a crossover game and perhaps one of the most ambitious ever attempted, at least in its roster. Characters from Sega, Namco, Capcom, Bandai, and even Nintendo join up in a tale where video-game worlds carom off each other, depositing heroes and villains at random. Reiji and Xiaomu, interdimensional cops and Monolith's recurring crossover stars (and backhandedly loving couple, it seems), join up with the stars of Mega Man X, Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, Sakura Wars, Tekken, .hack, Resonance of Fate, Virtua Fighter, Yakuza, Ace Attorney, Streets of Rage, Summon Night, God Eater, Star Gladiator, Shenmue, and a ninja foursome that spans Strider, Shinobi, Nightshade, and Soul Calibur. Yes, some of the original's selections are missing, and Nintendo's contributions are puny, consisting of only Fire Emblem warriors and Fiora from Xenoblade. I'm also not sure I like the idea of Darkstalkers characters B.B. Hood and Lord Raptor being bad guys here. I assumed all of the Darkstalkers were friends behind the scenes.

Naturally, Project X Zone 2 dangles constant references in the player's face, confident that such simple allusions will stoke pure nerd passion. It may be right. Valkyrie from The Legend of Valkyrie and Space Channel 5's Ulala summon waves of classic Namco and Sega characters, Captain Commando draws from Legendary Wings and Battle Circuit, and Xiaomu drops an honest-to-God reference to Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom. I really wasn't expecting that.

The original Project X Zone combined the same sort of mashup with a battle system that invited much button-mashing and combo-arranging. The sequel has the same system, but with less tedious downtime. Enemy attacks play out much quicker while player combos are improved, even if the game may not be significantly harder. And let's get down to the matter: it's not the gameplay that's powering Project X Zone 2.

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PC
Release Date: February 16
Still Missing: Sodom
MSRP: $59.99 / $99.99 (Collector's Edition)

Street Fighter V makes me long for the old-fashioned methods of stringing along fighting-game fans, even though I shouldn't. In times past, you'd pay for the latest properly numbered Street Fighter game, knowing full well that there'd be an expansion, a Super Street Fighter IV or a Street Fighter II Turbo, along in the next year and that you'd probably trade up for it. Street Fighter V does away with that by dolling out enhancements and new characters bit by bit, in an effort to avoid forcing early adopters to buy entirely new games.

That may well make things cheaper, but it also leaves Street Fighter V less than complete. For example, the game's story mode won't be available next week, but rather as a free update in June.

In some respects, Street Fighter V seems an expansion in itself. The roster meets the contractually mandated inclusions of Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Zangief, and others while adding characters who never got around to reappearing in Street Fighter IV: tastelessly attired pro wrestler Rainbow Mika, elegant rich girl Karin, chain-swinging thug Birdie, and once-dead Special Forces agent Charlie, now sporting skin grafts like Tezuka's Black Jack. The game also follows the tradition of four new characters: Middle Easterner Rashid summons wind gusts, Aztec wildman Necalli brute-forces his way around, Brazilian Laura Matsuda (yes, Sean's older sister) wields electric jiu-jitsu, and self-appointed Shadaloo villain F.A.N.G. poisons his opponents. And the first round of downloadable characters is already known: Alex, Juri, Urien, Ibuki, Balrog, and Guile.

In other respects, Street Fighter V sets itself apart from Street Fighter IV. The earlier game's Focus attacks are gone, and Street Fighter V adds new elements: V-Skills unlock special abilities for each fighter, V-Reversals counter an opponent's attack, and V-Triggers enable new powers, such as Ryu's chargeable Hadouken or Karin's increased combo potential. And all of them have extensively damaging Critical Art moves that unfurl like climactic movie moments. The game seemed easy to grasp in beta tests, though I might have been swayed positivd by Charlie's moves being conventional rolling motions instead of charge-back maneuvers. That always bugged me in earlier games.


I previously mentioned that I'd run the rest of the games-as-art contest entries this week, but I'm a liar. Due to the high volume, I'll run half of the remainder this week, and the rest the following week. That way you'll have time to digest the arguments that follow.

To start off, we have Chaps, who won the deliberately Worst Entry category and didn't do so bad in the main division either!

Captain Jack's Mandolin: Dancing to the Beat of Oppression in DDR SuperNOVA

JFK once said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." In the case of Dance Dance Revolution SuperNOVA (Playstation 2), it's a violent torrent of arrows that paves the road to PEACE(^^)v with blood. Other installments in the series follow the pattern of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness where the Dance Master mode has players subjugate J-Pop music and pop song covers in imperialistic jouissance.

What sets SuperNOVA apart is the "Stellar Master mode” which takes the series' colonialist fantasies to new heights by having players dominate planets within a peaceful solar system inhabited by the PiX race. The PiX are designed to justify colonization by cheering on the player to conquer the challenges needed to dominate their planet and harboring simple desires such as pizza and card collecting.

In addition, the method the player must take to conquer their planet is to stomp all over their culture to the tune of the songs they enjoy, subverting their original meaning by redefining them as challenges that must be annihilated. SuperNOVA is a cautionary tale of a revolutionary's addiction to the colonialist fantasy of Manifest Destiny through a crusade to rob nations of their land and culture.

Ryan Powell probably went the furthest afield of all the entrants. And hey, it ties into this column!

Hyperdimension Neptunia for PS3 is clearly a metaphor for the frustration of the dropped Darth Jar Jar theory that has only come to light in the last couple months. Neptune, the protagonist, is representative of Jar Jar Binks, using idioms and humor to let other peoples guards down, only to unleash hell when they least suspect. Her case of amnesia is representative of the dropped concept of Jar Jar's reveal as the ultimate Sith lord. Jar Jar Binks is universally hated in all of Star Wars fandom, which is represented by the three goddesses in the games that constantly try to destroy Neptune. Blanc (original trilogy purist), Vert (all expanded universe), and Noire (all movies and tv shows). The main villain, Arfoire, is representative of George Lucas and trying to hide everything away to keep the secret hidden. Only when Neptune and the other goddesses make peace with each other and work together to thwart Arfoire is when everyone was free to move on. In this case, when fans accept Darth Jar Jar as the puppet master will George Lucas finally see the error in trying to bury it, allowing him to accept it for what it is, and everyone will be free to move on.

Alison Nieves skims the text and gets a passing grade anyway!

Half-Life *the first 13 minutes

It is said that art is defined by the viewer's personal, wildly individual reaction to a work. The response drawn from the audience is proof by itself of the work as art. Half-life is one such work of indisputable art to me. From the initial monorail ride, the game makes a bold political statement regarding its underlying Randian philosophy. It invited me to draw stark contrast between a utopian luxury commute, run by a private corporation working for the good of mankind, with the widespread decay of the government funded Northeast Corridor Infrastructure. Once given this seductive glimpse of what could be, I was introduced as the ultimate brunette hero, Gordon Freeman.

Such was the power of Gordon's personality that even an elderly, low-refresh rate monitor could not contain it. When instructed to look at my surroundings, I was overcome with presence. Hand slipping from the trackball, I fell ill on the fainting chaise, followed by the carpet, and the hall closet.

In conclusion, the immediate, visceral, hours-long response so clearly denotes Half life as a work of art, one does not even need to play the game to recognize it. I know I certainly didn't.

*Attached is a note from my web physician excusing me from completing the assigned game due to spontaneous innerearplosion. I also watched most of Gary's mod, which I feel should factor into my grade.

John J. Sears tells us what's really going on when we milk those cows.

Released in 1996, a mere seven years after the collapse of Berlin Wall, Harvest Moon bravely attempted to reclaim ideological space for the Left in the field of historical fiction simulation. In sharp contrast to earlier examples like Populous, with its divine right interpretation of Bronze Age Greece, or ActRaiser, which was never shy about its nearly fascist viewpoint on the early Middle Ages, Harvest Moon analyzed a previous era from the perspective of a Marxist historian.

Set in pre-Modern England during the worst ravages of the Inclosure Acts, Harvest Moon puts the player in the position of a newly minted ‘farmer’, thrust from the safety and comfort of his traditional peasant community into a bold new world where one's freedom is directly tied to one's individual, not communal, productivity. To avoid incarceration in a workhouse or soul-crushing labor in the hell of a Dickensian factory, our protagonist must eke out a profitable living on a small freehold, avoiding the vices of drink, indolence, and predatory capital extraction from the rapacious bourgeoisie and their rentier class masters. With success comes a modest income, the possibility of romance, and of course, a future generation free from capitalist oppression. Failure brings only hunger and time in the gaol."

Is that really what Lufia is about, Ian Cain? But what of the Game Boy Advance title that no one likes?
Lufia & the Fortress of Doom as Artistic Parody and Critique of North Korea

A lone hero travels until being defeated by a superior foe. He manages to survive as if selected by providence to fulfill a greater role, a comment on Kim Il-Sung's selection by Joseph Stalin no doubt. The hero collects comrades, travels, and has numerous adventures. For instance, a shopping scene in Lorbenia is a less than subtle remark on the loans North Korea received from Morgan Grenfell. A hallmark of the game is the Old Cave. The hero periodically raids this cave to acquire treasure, much like the infamous "raid" for Shin Sang-ok. Ultimately, the hero's sweetheart Lufia leaves and joins the Sinistrals. Obviously a reflection of the Soviet Union's turn toward capitalism. Although Lufia returns before the final battle against the Sinistrals, the battle results in a loss of her memories. This is perhaps a warning to Russia that the old days are gone, and it's best not to get too cozy.

Ultimately the North Korean response was to declare Kim Il-Sung the Eternal Leader as a rebuff to the vile imperialist video game culture of the Americans and their Japanese allies. To what degree this video game attack contributed to his death almost exactly one year later cannot be known. But one thing is certain. This game is eternally burned in effigy at the International Friendship Exhibition.

Jason knows that missing parents are the key to great literature!

Yoshi's Island details the struggles that young couples deal with in finding the right babysitter for their kid. Every level ends with the babysitter being replaced but every so often a babysitter will be given a second chance. Some babysitters live in bad areas and have to deal with child kidnappers (Enemy: Bandit). Some babysitters do drugs like LSD (Enemy: Fuzzy) and become very inept at their job. In fact, the entire premise to the “Touch Fuzzy Get Dizzy” level is to show that doing LSD makes you a worse caregiver. (Remember: this game is from the 90's when real winners didn't do drugs.)

If the babysitter is too neglectful, they can have the kid taken away by DHS (Kamek). Each boss represents some big hurdle that the babysitter has to deal with. Burt the Bashful is a child predator that the babysitter must confront. Roger the Potted Ghost came from the baby knocking over the pot of ashes containing their parent's mother and you swept it under the rug.

And all those eggs the Yoshis throw? If they don't take steps now, the babysitters might be out of a job in another 5 years if you know what I mean.

Quinn Quip75 judges a game by its cover, which is brilliant.
A skeleton zapped by lightning, a muscular old soul tallying forth, and a unicorn-pegasus hybrid sporting a collar of blue stones which intrinsically match the hue of the beast's eyes. These elements combine to produce cover art of what can only be described as sheer giddy madness bent upon devouring the minds of those who dare delve into the world of Pryzm Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn. The depicted world screams true hyperbole.

Beginning with the hybrid beast which provides viewers a rare sight as the ungulate is neither white nor dark yet the title implies it must be one or the other. The muscular old soul meanwhile, who is seated upon the beast's back, is also a puzzle for he is not a man, but rather a troll. Clearly the bearded one has skills in multi-classing and has been shone the ways of wizards. Least we not forget the poor skeletons for, despite their horned and hooded capes, bare the naked truth: they will be smited and are but a prelude of the remnants of which could have been. Finally there is the circular gem which gracefully catches the viewer's eye, is of a subtle shade of yellow, and affirms there is but yet more to come. Fore beneath the insinuation blazon upon the insignia it declares, “Bonus! Przym ™ Comic Inside! Created by DC Comics.” Thus one is lost and encumbered in the hypnotic infatuation of the artwork only to be left writhing in agony as game play commences.

Rita Smith tells us something interesting about Pac-Man and, by extension, the Pac-Man cartoon.

Never has a game so completely captured the feeling of bleak failure and defeat as Mr. Toru Iwatani's chilling abstract masterpiece “Pac-man”.

To start, the composition is quite dark, mostly black and a deep purple, and is quite sparsely laid out. Pac-Man stands out against the pervading darkness, a lonely figure traveling down dark, repeating hallways.These corridors provide the first big hint to the internal desolation of Pac-Man's mind. The hallways lead nowhere, double back on each other, and lack windows, doors, stairs or any other notable feature. They paint Pac-Man's life as one that has no purpose, ending or goals. This is all further reinforced by the small white dots that illuminate the empty walls.

The dots are liars.

They are far kinder looking then the emptiness they punctuate and line up in a way that suggests guidance, yet they too lead nowhere, disappearing as he attempts to follow them, plunging him further into darkness. Leading him astray with their fake promises.

The most obscure part of this work is the presence of the ghosts, what significance do they hold for our Pac-Man? They are as striking as Pac-Man himself, yet he never attempts to approach them, instead fleeing whenever they near. Do they symbolize old regrets for things that never were? Or broken dreams of things that never will be? Only one thing is clear, there is nothing alive in Pac-Man's world.

Rene Lapizco picked out an NES game I've never heard of before. Or perhaps that's supposed to be “The Lone Ranger.”
The Lone Rider (NES)

This game is the precursor of the feminist movement in teaching us that we need to be nice with women or else you lose money and in some cases your life. All depicted in a historical setting so we can learn about the past of USA and foment our morals. With scenes in 3D to feel the action very real and know that bullets can be dangerous. I can argue that even goes so deep that teach you how to navigate a dungeon without getting lost.

Truly a masterpiece of the past.

Tetris speaks to us all, and especially to Tamara Hudson.
Tetris, the embodiment of Body Issues

When we think of perfection, we think of the perfect "I" looking block. Fit, beautiful, the master image of the human body. We are stuck with imperfections like "L" block, "T", square, and the most offensive...the "Z"(Seriously, what IS that?!). One would think we must eliminate the others, as they are of unhealthy specimens and lead us to the top of a game over situation for our species! But its just not attainable for all the human race. When we see the random birthrates of body types falling upon us, we see that we must cherish each body type. As their bodies can give us insight that could lead us to that unexpected combo victory that we may have not seen, had we only looked out for the perfect body.

If Elias B is right, Shadow the Hedgehog was trying to tell us something. Well, something beyond “the Sonic franchise is doomed.”

Shadow the Hedgehog as an Indictment of American Exceptionalism and The US Military-Industrial Complex

Today, it is quite trendy to make films critiquing the United States and its jingoistic patriotism that lies at the heart of its military conquests. But over a decade ago, Sonic Team's Shadow the Hedgehog did it in a profound way that trumps any potential Oscar-bait. The military, subtly called GUN, is led by an older white man who clearly is a stand-in for militaristic presidents of American past. Their attempts at repelling the invasion of the alien Black Arms forces are ultimately for naught, and end up wreaking as much havoc as the invaders themselves. Their forces are depicted as grossly incompetent and shown murdering a little girl, and yet, GUN refuses to trust Shadow, an anthropomorphic hedgehog who is their only hope for stopping the invasion. This speaks to the government's idea of Western exceptionalism, as it demonstrates a clear bias against a darker-skinned potential ally, not to mention a lack of intersectionality when it comes to working with other forces to take down a common foe. To GUN, their way is the right way, even if millions of innocent lives are lost in the process.

That's all for now! We'll have more next week!
Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter if you want.

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