Gamestyle Live – 4th February 2015 – SEGA Eulogy

With the trouble SEGA are having, Bradley, Steve and Andrew look back at the good times and speak about their favourite SEGA games.

There really are so many great SEGA games and moments.

 

 

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How Bayonetta Ruined Modern Gaming (For Me)

That is the sound of me trying to talk to someone while playing a game, not because I’m some illiterate fool, despite what you may think of this article, but because I’m playing a game. By game, I of course mean a videogame, but what is a videogame? That’s a stupid question to pose on a videogame site you might think, but I feel the idea of what a game is has become increasingly unclear in recent years, by which I mean perhaps the last ten or so.

In the last couple of weeks there has been some furore over Nintendo’s plans regarding people using footage of their games on sites like Youtube. ‘Let’s Play’ videos and the like appear to be under threat and the free advertising they may or may not provide, depending on your point of view, will be lost, at least for Nintendo games. I don’t know, or care, enough about the details of this to comment but the Let’s Play videos themselves are an interesting phenomenon. For those who don’t know, they’re essentially game footage with someone, usually a ‘personality’ very much of the inverted commas type, talking to you about the game as they play. I would be terrible at this, as outlined by my example above of me attempting to speak when playing a game.

Of course, if I was playing something like GTA, or Skyrim, or Assassin’s Bloody Creed I could probably have a pretty in depth conversation with you about anything you like. If, on the other hand, I was playing a tricky level in a Mario game for example, I probably wouldn’t hear a word you were saying. Now we’re about to move into that dangerous territory of the opinion piece where people will start to think I’m talking so much shit that they can’t stand it anymore, and they might be right, but here goes. I feel that some games are videogames and some aren’t. Some are just interactive experiences that we’ve come to accept as videogames. So strap in and read on to find out why, or walk away in disgust now.

When you went to that crappy media studies course that everyone does at college, before you dropped out, you probably learnt a little something about cinematic codes and conventions and, with lesser but still some relevance to this, mise en scene. These are the unwritten rules of cinema that actually have been written down in hundreds of textbooks and form the basis for most films you see today. That’s fine, they work, they’re established for a reason. Where they struggle is when they’re applied to videogames, as they have been more and more over the past decade or so. As games became more realistic their creators became perhaps more pretentious in their ambitions and attempts to rival the spectacle of a summer blockbuster. An early example, and perhaps the flawed Citizen Kane of this misguided move, would be the early Metal Gear Solid games with all the cutscenes. Some people love those games but huge parts of them aren’t games at all. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you know. If that’s what you want, and like, that’s fine, but don’t try to tell me it’s videogaming.

From some point in the early to mid 00s it became the norm for games to have open ended structures and dollops of plot, to give you time to explore and do your own thing. Everything was a ‘sandbox’ for better or worse. More and more ‘power’ was given to the player when what this actually meant was that level design became much looser and the direction much more free from traditional gameplay constraints. We were sold on the idea that linearity was a bad thing. You could do anything you wanted in whatever order you felt like but the onus was now on you to decide. ‘Here’s what we made, we weren’t sure how to structure it so you figure it out.’

As the industry grew and we got more and more lavish productions you saw all these cinematic touches crop up again and again. The problem is, things like mise en scene are there for the passive viewer to enjoy; it’s set decoration and subtle touches to help tell a story. These codes and conventions are not designed for interactivity. Videogaming needs its own rules because it’s a different medium from cinema. Trying to force things from a passive arena into an interactive one doesn’t work. It might be nice, it might add some novelty, but it’s not gaming. It’s like going to the cinema and looking at some photos whilst listening to a radio play. The core element of why you’re there is missing.

Now, before you all start to think I’m some kind of NES-era obsessed philistine, let’s go back a few years. I had, and enjoyed, all the same big games everyone else did last gen. I played through Oblivion and Skyrim, I got GTA IV and V and even didn’t mind Assassin’s Creed 2 for a bit. But let’s move along to my attention grabbing clickbait headline, let’s talk about 2010’s Bayonetta and how it ruined all these modern games I’d been perfectly happy playing.

Something in me was looking for something different, some subconscious yearning of the sort that makes you throw money at new consoles and games in the hope of filling that hole that might otherwise spark a more conventionally recognisable mid-life crisis. I saw the underground hype and the Edge review for Bayonetta and thought I’d give it a go, put off by the silly name and the action brawler genre but bored enough to try it anyway and see what that 10/10 was all about. I was grabbed instantly. Despite not normally enjoying fighting games of this type I found myself glued to the screen and concentrating, actually concentrating! I don’t think I’d concentrated on what I was doing in a game since the 90s, I hadn’t had to. All the years of casually playing football games or holding a stick up as I glided over a 3D world suddenly faded into the background and I was paying attention again. Not even because I really had to, Bayonetta isn’t a hard game to just get through, but because I wanted to. The gameplay was satisfying and rewarding to the extent that I wanted to play it well and be good at it. I was no longer just grinding through a world and ticking things off a list of chores, I was playing for the sake of playing.

Shortly after I picked up Street Fighter IV and enjoyed that game’s demanding nature just as much. These were games like games are meant to be; games that grab you and pull you in and force you to pay attention to them. You can’t put these on in the background while having a drunken conversation, not if you want to play them properly anyway. I continued to seek out similar experiences and found Vanquish and Super Meat Boy, both games that demand your full attention and respect, either due to the constant action or the apparent difficulty. I could still appreciate the grandeur of the big AAA releases and still bought them in most cases but they always left me cold and would be put to one side and left unfinished, they had no urgency. My crossroads moment, the thing that made me realise that big budget mainstream gaming might not be for me, was probably when I picked up a PS3 to play The Last of Us. It was a great game with a great story, perhaps told in the best way that any game of that sort ever has, but I still found myself holding the stick up for most of it and moving a cursor that represented a gun over targets during the action sequences, essentially the parts that are meant to be the game. I preferred the story-telling side of it but that may as well not be interactive at all. All I was doing was moving from one area to the next to activate the cutscene and progress the story, turning a virtual page in the most laborious manner. I felt that the Walking Dead games did it better by being more obviously a visual novel.

I don’t mean to criticise modern games, they are genuinely great at what they do and in many ways we’ve never had it so good. I just feel that a lot of people miss the true point of games, the real reason people play them. Maybe that’s not why they play them anymore though. Maybe it was when games started to leave that core element behind that they appealed to the masses more. Maybe the very thing I like about gaming is the same thing that had put people off for so long.

Most of the games I seem to like are made in Japan. I don’t know if that’s a cultural thing or because Japanese developers are behind the times or what, but that seems to be the case and I mention it only to illustrate more clearly the sort of games I’m talking about. I don’t think Western developers are incapable of making ‘proper’ games but I do think that perhaps Hollywood casts a longer shadow in the West. It’s consumer taste as well of course and as gaming becomes a bigger and bigger concern, with bigger and bigger budgets it’s only natural that less risks are taken and the masses are catered to more and more. Some will look to the indie developers for innovation and the upholding of old values but they too are looking for profits first and the success of less interactive titles like Gone Home suggest that’s where the money is. I want to reiterate that I have nothing against this and enjoy those experiences too, I just hope there remains to be the sort of game I’ve tried to avoid calling ‘old-school’, but I suppose that’s what it is and perhaps what I am.

I’ve come up with a little test for games to see if I might enjoy them, if they might grab me. I call it the TV test and it consists of asking yourself how annoyed you’d be if someone walked in front of the TV while you were playing. For a lot of modern games it wouldn’t matter, the second or two that they took to walk past would have no impact. But imagine someone doing that when you were mid-jump on the last bit of a secret level in Mario that you’d been trying to do for ages, you’d flatten the bastard. It’s that violent rage that lets you know a game is doing something right. I’ve recently been trying to get all the gold cups on the 150CC races in Mario Kart 8. I’d placed first in the first three of a series and was about to complete the set when I was hit at the line and Koopa Troopa’s smiley face gently floated past to win. “You fucking green shelled mother fucking bastard!” I shouted, before pausing, taking a deep breath and realising, I’m enjoying this.

Criminal Girls: Invite Only Review

It was with a sense of dread that I took on the review of Criminal Girls: Invite Only and to be completely honest with you all. I did so blindly, it’s been a while since I was able to take on a proper Dungeon Crawler and that was enough to twist my head.

Only then when I did a bit of an internet search did the fears arrive, this was going to be worse than Monster Monpiece, a game that had amazing mechanics, wonderful gameplay but was all but ruined by pointless mini games aimed at immature teens and their fantasies. But it looked very tame compared to what I was seeing here in Criminal Girls.

So before I get into the main aspects of the game, let me first talk about ‘those parts’. Sometimes the girls will slack off and become unmotivated to fight for you, so it is up to you to find ways to motivate them. Which pretty much sees you needing to titillate each girl to bring her back to her best.

This is in the form of a poking, prodding and rubbing type mini-game very similar to that in the aforementioned Monster Monpiece. Your girls have a thick pink fog over them and if you follow the onscreen instructions correctly, you will make the fog disperse and reveal more of your girl on the screen, in a very provocative position and all of a sudden in not much clothing.

It doesn’t go as far as literally masturbating your Vita, as it does in that other game, but visually it is just as you’d expect. You are rewarded fully for your actions too, as your girls can earn bonuses to then use in battle.

Again, it really must be a culture thing, because I really cannot see the appeal in this part of the game, so I am not going to condemn it completely, but for how often it is needed throughout the game, it is clear that the developers didn’t think the game could sell without forcing these parts down our throats. It would have been much easier to swallow, had it been a bit less frequent. Because in the end it is taking away from a very, very solid game.

I won’t delve into the story, because at Gamestyle, we don’t like to ruin anybodies enjoyment with spoilers, but what I can say, is that the characters themselves and the general premise is rather entertaining and makes you want to carry on despite the oddity of the mini-game sections. But that is something these games always seem to be able to produce…Very good, if nonsensical stories and characters.

The mechanics too are pretty damned good, but don’t do much to deviate from the tried and tested formula. You have a party, with each character having their own strengths and weakness, you move around various dungeons engaging in battles with the enemy.

Once in a battle you find yourself using a turn-based mechanic, with various basic attacks, heavy attacks, defensive moves, special moves with every calculated using the traditional HP and MP methods.

As much as this doesn’t do much to push the boundaries of the dungeon crawler, it does make it accessible to most players, experienced or not and also allows for players to enjoy the story and concentrate on progressing, rather than getting bogged down in overly complicated battles.

It really is a shame that the ‘motivation’ parts are so frequent, because aside from being overly sexual, they just aren’t very good. It could have been pushing bales of straw around a field and it would still be a bit rubbish, which again seems to back up my opinion that this is only here to create a little controversy and get certain crowds to buy the game, rather than selling it off its own strengths.

Which is a shame, because other games do this much better, looking at something like Demon Gaze, which again tries to play to male fantasies, but keeps that away from the gameplay itself and contains it within the story, making it much easier to cope with.

That being said, for the most part Criminal Girls: Invite Only is a really well crafted game that does all the basics right. It is just up to you as to whether you can get over certain aspects.

The Bunker Diaries: January

January is usually a time of reflection in the bunker. With the last of the mince pie capsules gone, all that’s left is to look over the games of the last year – the unplayed and the discarded – and give them a once-over.

And so this January started. Others in the bunker were keen for some distraction from the arctic conditions that prevent so much as a foraging expedition in this season, so naturally I opted for a game specialising in local multiplayer: Mario Kart 8.

It was everything I had expected. Designed to make the Wii U sing, it’s a beautiful game with crisp, colourful visuals and absolutely rock-solid animation. It has a wide range of courses to race through, plenty of characters to choose from, and offers full split-screen local multiplayer. And it plays…

…well, it plays like every other sodding Mario Kart since Double-Dash. With the exception of the addition of anti-gravity strips turning the game into an occasional low-rent version of F-Zero, you might as well just be playing a Mario Kart from two generations prior.

And yes, that means the game offers the same low-points you remember: the woefully unbalanced power-ups rendering single-player mind-numbingly tedious and necessitating immediate disabling for friendly play between moderately skilled opponents; the handling forcing players to use ridiculously tedious techniques in order to succeed – goodbye snaking, hello fire-hopping.

Only now all of that comes with even more bumf. Which of the ridiculous number of pointless characters do you want to play as today? One of the myriad indentikit Princesses, perhaps, or maybe one of the three different Marios to choose from – four if you purchase some DLC? Oh, and speaking of DLC, boy do Nintendo have some sweet Mercedes tie-in bullshit to feed you. Enjoy! And all of that’s before you get into the mind-numbingly tedious stream of uninteresting cosmetic parts you unlock for every minor achievement, thus undermining any sense of achievement you might get for managing to do anything genuinely challenging in the game.

A lazy rehash whose charming aesthetic belies its cynical core, even when you do have access to sufficient numbers of other survivors to have a game of the raucous local multiplayer, any enjoyment is undermined by the fact that you’d be just as well playing its 12-year old Gamecube predecessor. Or hell, just go the whole hog and play the best Mario Kart ever made – the venerable N64 release.

No, that wasn’t the most auspicious of starts to the month, and things got even worse when it turned out that our power generator doesn’t like being fed Wii U games as its fuel source. While waiting for repairs to be carried out options for gaming were limited, and so it was that for the very first time I thought to test out the gaming capabilities of my Android phone.

“Smartphone games?”, thought I, “Surely they’ll be rubbish!”. And so a few proved to be – notable disappointments including quirky twists on the stealth genre Hitman GO and République, whose fun premises were dulled by tedious levels in the former, and a complete lack of challenge in the latter. A look at some ports of classic PC titles got off to a bad start when it turned out that King of Dragon Pass is a bug-riddled mess, and though Knights of the Old Republic and Little Big Adventure balanced things out somewhat by successfully emulating their truly wonderful progenitors, the pleasure of experiencing them on the small screen was tempered by their hamstrung touchscreen controls.

But then the device turned out to also possess a game of superlative quality.

80 Days is a uniquely beautiful game, despite being almost entirely text-driven. Racing around the world in 80 days as Phileas Fogg’s trusted manservant Passepartout, gameplay is limited to choosing your route across the world while managing your finances and Mr Fogg’s wellbeing, supported by making the occasional choice within the variety of short-stories and conversations that you are pulled into along in your travels.

The former are neatly intertwined, with different routes costing different amounts and offering both different timeframes for travel and comfort levels, thus affecting your time (you are trying to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, after all) and your master’s health, meaning that the most economical route isn’t always viable. But then, a canny Passepartout plans ahead, and purchases items that will be of great value a few trips down the line, thus covering the costs of the trip without having to make time-consuming trips to the bank or take the cheapest routes around.

But neat as they are, those systems are secondary the meat of the experience: the short-stories that every new city thrusts upon you, and the choices you make within them. These choices come thick and fast, and frequently have huge consequences, if only within the confines of yet another fantastically written 5-minute vignette. You’ll ache to go back and change a decision you’ve made, knowing you have unintentionally brought about the death of a rebel fighting for the freedom of India from its British oppressors. But moments later you’ll thrill as you find yourself sitting upon the wing of a plane, chatting to its stout engineer about matters trivial.

Populated with wonderful characters and beautifully described places, it’s just one of the most fantastic interactive narratives I’ve had the pleasure to play through, transporting me to an evocative world brimming with life, and all the tragedies of life. I would be lying if I said it hadn’t brought a tear to my eye on occasion (a function which, incidentally, I had thought lost following an ill-advised blunder into a mutant rat horde’s radioactive lair last year. So that was good to discover).

At around 3 hours to get from start to finish it’s also a svelte game, albeit one with huge amounts of replay value – with every route and location offering different stories, often bleeding into and affecting other stories, not to mention all those decisions you’ve regretted on previous playthroughs, you’ll want to go back again and again.

80 Days is quite simply the greatest choose-your-own-adventure ever made. If you happen to scavenge a compatible smartphone on your next trip through the wastes, you owe it to yourself to play this game.

Life is Strange: Episode 1 – Chrysalis Review

To be honest, any episodic game in a post Walking Dead world is going to be compared, especially when said game is all about story and examining every item in the environment. That’s not to say Life is Strange doesn’t bring its own ideas to the table.

Its main twist is the use of time travel. Playing as Max, a socially awkward photography nerd, after witnessing someone getting shot in the toilets of Blackwell Academy (where she’s studying) she discovers she has the ability to turn back time. Rewinding time causes everything to move backwards around Max as she stands still. Only the game is very loose with its rules of time travel. For the majority of the game Max stands still as has already been said, yet the first time she discovers her power she’s also moved back in time to the classroom. To be honest though, surely that’s how it should work. I mean, if everyone is moving back in time with the exception of Max then wouldn’t it break certain moments, like interacting with people? Whatever, my brain is now hurting, time travel is a hard thing to get right whether it’s in a movie or game.

In its defence though, the puzzles rely on the game being fast and loose with the time travel laws. One early encounter has you attempting to move the school bully from the dorm steps, to do so requires some use of time rewinding and altering the environment slightly to reach your goal. While situations like this are required to progress the story, others are almost like side quests, such as warning a girl before she gets hit by a football.

The time mechanic is also used to alter choices you might make along the way. Not happy with the outcome of a decision? Then simply rewind and choose the other option. While this may seem like it’s easy to choose the “good” option, pretty much all the dialogue choices aren’t simply black and white. A lot of them, whatever choice you make feels like it has just as much a negative reaction as the other. Time will tell if these choices affect the story in any meaningful way.

There’s actually a surprisingly lot of stuff to find and interact with in the world, some of which just produce little throwaway pieces of dialogue, others feel like you’re actually getting to know the characters a bit more. This is more apparent with the many photos you’ll find, photography being a key pillar in the game world.

What is really striking about Life is Strange right from the beginning is the art style. Graphically, the first two areas aren’t anything special, but then you reach the games climax (it is only a few hours long), jaws will drop. What’s most impressive is the almost, indie movie like aesthetic. Right from the opening, after leaving the classroom Alex pops in some headphones, the noise from the corridor drowns out and music just envelops the scene as the opening credits begin. Then when you’re looking at various objects in the world all options appear like they’re drawn on with pencil. Even with graphics that might not wow, Life is Strange goes to show that with a good art style you can make it stand out from the crowd.

The acting and dialogue fares a little worse. Performances aren’t bad, but are pretty mediocre and the dialogue teen speak jumps between good and excruciating. While the interaction between Max and her former best friend is mostly decent (awkward David Cage dance scene aside), the occasional lines of “epic win” and the like creep in. It at times feels like adults writing for teens whose only research was watching Juno.

If you treat this is like a pilot for a new TV series, then Life is Strange can be considered a success. While the vast majority of episode 1 plays out like an extended tutorial, it does end with a great cliffhanger that ensures my return for the second episode.

Bayonetta: Bloody Fate

Before I put the disc in I thought to myself, “hang on, what exactly happened in Bayonetta?” I then blankly stared into space for a minute trying to remember and coming up blank. Because as amazing as Bayonetta was, the plot was absolute bobbins. And somehow, in trying to tell it in a coherent fashion, Bloody Fate comes off looking worse.

The movie does try to welcome you into this weird world with an opening monologue telling of the battle between angels and the umbra witches. The angels trying to obtain two eyes which in turn will resurrect Jubileus who is going to destroy the world, or something like that. Our hero Bayonetta is awakened after 500 years and is on a quest to regain her lost memories by killing everything with her magical hair powers. Like I said, it’s all a bit baffling, but like the game the movie is really a showcase for the action.

The Bayonetta: Bloody Fate trailer

The opening action scene from the movie is similar in tone to the game, only now it’s taking place in a church as opposed to a cemetery. Despite being an adaptation of the first game, there are a few slight differences like this scattered throughout, none of which affect much. It almost feels like they had to change something so they could add their own stamp to it, but did so little it almost becomes pointless.

What isn’t different though are the voices. All the games voice cast return to lend their talents and jumping straight to this shortly after completing Bayonetta 2 made it all feel official.

While the action sequences are spectacular and really hold the movie together, the problem is that’s really the only thing it has going for it. So much so that while watching all I wanted to do was turn the Wii U on and play the actual game and that’s a massive problem. As excellent as the fight scene between Bayonetta and Jeanne is, I remember it being just as fantastic when I had a controller in my hand.

What Bloody Fate does double down on is the rather gratuitous shots of Bayonetta in various stages of undress. As her hair acts as her weapon (and is also her outfit) it means with every use of it, it comes off, until it’s only covering the more intimate parts of her body. There’s also a bath scene (because it’s an anime), where the camera lingers for a little too long as the hapless Luka stands there gawping.

It’s hard to know who they’re aiming for with Bloody Fate. As it’s a straight up adaptation of the first game there’s very little here that people who’ve played the game wouldn’t have already seen. And if you’re just looking for a good anime action movie then you’ll be left confused by the indecipherable plot. I could only just about follow it because the game was still fresh in my memory.

With some thought the director/writers could’ve come up with a more unique and interesting story set apart from the games, but unfortunately what we get is a rather underwhelming re-tread of the first game.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play the real thing.

VERDICT: Nay