Kirby Super Star (1996)


About a month ago, I asked my Twitter followers to pick a Nintendo Virtual Console game I should play and write up for my blog. Blogger Pixel Bubble was the first to respond, and chose Kirby Super Star. You can read Pixel Bubble’s thoughts on the games and the games industry on the Pixel Bubble blog, Geek Force Network, United We Game, and Twitter.

Kirby Super Star is not so much a collection of minigames as it is a collection of mutations. Masahiro Sakurai, at once the most eccentric and restrained of Nintendo’s ’90s game designers, never strays far from his core idea of how a Kirby game should play. Sure, Super Star offers two (very tertiary) timing-based challenges, but the main package swaps out Kirby’s objective while keeping his controls stable and recognizable. Even in his furthest flights of fancy, Sakurai stays true to Kirby mechanically as well as spiritually, a unique decision when compared to other genre-hopping mascots of the time. When Mario wanted to race, he took to the track in a go-kart. Kirby races as he does all things: Walking on a 2D plane, inhaling obstacles and enemies, and chowing down on loads of pastel sweets.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , ,

What I Want from the New Console Generation


The reign of the launch-day killer app is over.

The launch line-ups for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, both due out by month’s end in North America, include no game-changers, no Halos or Mario 64s. New consoles are now sold more on the promise of innovation and multimedia integration than they are on a single game any self-respecting manchild simply must own by Christmas Day. Perhaps that’s for the best, the thrill of the console launch replaced with appreciation for the medium’s continual evolution. Yet here we are, weeks away from newer, more powerful gaming devices, and I’m still not sure what gamemakers hope to achieve with them beyond making things bigger and shinier. Perhaps we’re at the point where games are a robust and diverse enough medium that console generations are no longer indicative of their evolution. Perhaps AAA developers just didn’t have an innovative way to shoot people in the face ready for launch day. Whatever the case, new tech and rapidly changing distribution methods will undoubtedly alter the games industry; here are a handful of ways I think those changes could be for the better.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Metal Gear Solid (1998)


Before we discuss Metal Gear Solid, we have to talk about why Showgirls is actually a good movie.

When most people watch films, they are not first and foremost watching for technical craftsmanship. This is not meant as a slight, because it’d be a pretty bonkers world if they did, one that would completely undermine film’s century-long history as a populist medium. So, I think it’s safe to say — with no snideness intended — that most people watch films for stories, for relatable characters, for themes they can extrapolate onto their own lives for their own benefit and self-fulfillment. These are the elements we as human beings have deemed the very basics of “good” art and storytelling, the simplest building blocks that explain why applying our empathy to something abstract and stripped-down like the plot of a film is a vital and life-affirming experience. These are also the elements which Showgirls fails to communicate, and why most people reject it upon first encounter. Showgirls is a movie about shallow, stupid people doing shallow, stupid things, and unlike something like Seinfeld — where the characters’ awfulness is always winking at you, and the winking and relatability are the whole point — director Paul Verhoeven has all the sympathy for his creations as the blinding sun harassing hungover strip club denizens at dawn.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , ,

Don’t Worry About Half-Life 3


Prepare for foreseen consequences.

Last week, digital distribution giant and IRL Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium Valve Software unveiled three announcements about their plans to hurtle PC gaming into the living room. These reveals included a brand new, Linux-based Steam OS; a variety of hackable “Steam Machine” gaming computers available at different price points; and finally (and perhaps most intriguingly), a state-of-the-art controller, supposedly compatible with any game on the Steam service. The controller especially looks like the sort of forward-thinking experiment in play we’ve come to expect from the billion-dollar, flatly organized tech behemoth; it uses sensitive trackpads instead of joysticks, and contains an unobtrusive touchscreen. Developers from across a variety of genres have playtested it, with mainly positive results. But one conspicuous thing stood out about the controller, the last of the highly secretive reveals: It wasn’t Half-Life 3. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Catachresis: A Way Too Scary Game (2013)


After “Where is the Citizen Kane of video games?” and “Who is the Roger Ebert of games criticism?”, the third most cliche question to ask about the critical state of games is, “Where is gaming’s Cahiers du Cinema?” The implication of this quandary is that gaming’s smartest thinkers should get together and create a coherent language and theory through which one can discuss games. While I agree it’d be beneficial to see a coherent critical community that was more willing to build on the work of its own members, I also can’t help but think the longing for a united manifesto ignores some of the great, singular work going on in the gaming underbelly. What truly fascinates about the original Cahiers collective is that so many of its luminaries articulated what they thought to be the language and meaning of cinema, then built upon it and experimented with those values in their own work. I’ve barely begun delving into the budding indie games scene — and I’m talking about the truly independent games, made by starving experimentalists programming largely alone — but one thing I’ve already noticed is that most of these fringe critics are also avid game designers. Writers as diverse as Tim Rogers and Anna Anthropy aren’t afraid to put their principles into practice when designing games, and going forward, I’d like to devote time to these works along with more mainstream titles. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , ,