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LET’S PLAY (And Overthink): Bubblegum Crash For The PC-Engine.

4 Mar

A couple weekends ago I finally beat Bubblegum Crash for the PC Engine, and that was kind of a big deal for a few reasons. The game was part of my massive vintage game collection (that I sold to pay for my move to Portland), and not only had I never beaten it but I never got particularly far on it either. You know, because it’s a “digital comic” text adventure entirely in Japanese.

bubblegumcrash2It was also the only reason I hung onto my “Purple Barney” converter so long

Thankfully, about a year ago a fan-translation ROM of the game surfaced. Playing through the whole thing, the translation is fantastic, with very little ambiguity or awkwardness. Which is good because the game includes plenty of that for itself. The game opens up with mysterious armored battle suits breaking into a bank. You start out playing Nene Romanova, one of the vigilante Knight Sabers, who finds out about the robbery because her day job is boring. It’s worth noting that the entire Bubblegum Crisis franchise does a pretty tenuous sexual politics balancing act between showcasing four relatively self-actualized woman protagonists (a business owner, a rock star, an actress and… a traffic cop) that are kickass robo-suited vigilantes behind the scenes but also making them ditzy, irrational, and surprisingly helpless on occasion.

bubblegumcrash3Then again, for 1980s Japan, this *was* progressive.

So anyway you go inside to talk to Leon McNichol and Daley Wong and let’s just stop there for a second because Daley Wong. Seriously, even for anime, having such an unapologetically gay male character in the mid-1980s that wasn’t, like, dying of AIDS or otherwise weighted with hubris was really badass. Even though it doesn’t come up at all in the game, they even made sure that looking at him, you just know.

bubblegumcrash4You’d be sassy too if you had a 10-inch… neck.

Like other digital comic adventures, you have a series of commands you can use on the right side of the screen. One of the things that is endlessly frustrating if you don’t have a walk-through handy is that there are separate commands for “Talk” and “Listen” (bottom left and middle left) and many interactions require you to alternate between them in a non-intuitive (read: seemingly random) manner to keep the conversation going. Anyway, you find yourself investigating the bank and immediately the fourth wall between yourself as player and Nene finds itself broken. After a brief glance in their direction, Nene resolves that the nearby garbage bins aren’t worth searching and are gross anyway. Well, turns out you can *force* her to investigate them anyway. Doing so doesn’t even find anything, except a vague sense of horror at a player/character contract the game allowed you to violate.

bubblegumcrash5The fuck kind of game is this?

 Most of the game involves investigating broken pieces left behind by the unfamiliar robo-armor of the criminals that performed the robbery. This requires going back and forth to various computer vendors, sleazy hackers, and military factory workers for bits of information. Eventually Nene just says “fuck it” and HACKS INTO ONE OF NATO’S DATABASES… WITH A POLICE HQ OFFICE COMPUTER… THAT SHE LOGGED INTO WITH HER POLICE BADGE. You know, as one does.

bubblegumcrash6Sure, ok, fuck it why not.

Shit, why not just tell rando homeless street hackers about your plans, as a police officer, to bypass NATO security? Nah that would be so impossibly reckless oh wait she does that too…

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While Nene is busy breaking international treaties, the bank robbers strike again, acquiring a total of 5 billion yen. Further investigation reveals they are also raiding the safety deposit boxes for the pieces of a top-secret super AI. At this point, Nene finally decides hey maybe this should actually be an actual Knight Sabers game…

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Oh wait nevermind, this just means you hang out in Linna Yamazaki‘s apartment while she takes a shower. At this point of the game, in another strange fourth-wall breaking moment, you can peek in on Linna in the shower if you are persistent enough. Not you as in Nene, you as in the player. The game talks directly to you the whole time.

bubblegumcrash10Yeah, like Gamergate would be concerned about a woman’s privacy.

After some story exposition, you find yourself playing as Linna. During this interlude you head to the stock market to hear buzz about Zone Co, the company that manufactures the stolen Super AI. Then you get sexually harassed in an alley be the same guy that harassed Nene earlier in the game. And then you call Nene. And that’s pretty much it.

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Nene then uses the police computer she already committed international espionage on to stalk and harass an old man into telling her more about the Super AI. Because apparently Internal Affairs isn’t a thing for the AD Police. And then this happens-

bubblegumcrash12Oh, Leon. You suck so hard.

Priss (who suddenly becomes a thing in this game) then pursues the escaping battle armor with her motorcycle, which moves about as smoothly as trying to play shuffleboard with a Christmas ham. I cannot emphasize how awful the controls are or how infuriating this motorcycle stage that just appears out of nowhere is.

bubblegumcrash13At least it looks cool when you die. Which you will. A lot.

Once you manage that (takes surviving through three to seven stretches of road) this ridiculous bullshit happens. It’s a 3/4 view grid board game where you chase the mobile suit and manipulate the board to trap it. Seriously tho, apparently somebody thought this was a good idea, and worth adding/keeping in the game. They took the time to program a top-view movement engine, and created these cartoony RPG sprites in a style that appears nowhere else in the game. For this. I’m half-convinced parts of this game were just bullshit unused shovelware hobby projects they had lying around that they inserted the BGC characters into and shoehorned in. Look at this and try to convince me otherwise.

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Then, after investing so much energy into keeping her motorcycle intact through the chase, Priss just shoves it right up Armor Suit Guy’s ass.

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Then we go back to following Nene around, showing some of the pieces of what was left of the armor suit to various folks until she gets a note from Sylia Stingray, which she immediately misinterprets.

bubblegumcrash16Oh God shut up, Nene.

At this point, finally, after what is likely around two to three hours of gameplay, the four Knight Sabers get together in the same place and this thing turns into something that actually kind of looks like an actual Bubblegum Crisis/Crash game. Sort of.

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The remaining part of the game is in Stephen Lab, and if you die you have to play the whole thing over. The gameplay here is like a standard first-person RPG maze game. It’s a three floor maze where you have to trip three levers to get the main service elevator (which takes you to the final battle) to work. While wandering through the maze you will be attacked by the traditional boomers from the series as well as more men in armored battle suits. With each battle all chars HP starts at full, so you don’t have to worry about that, but other than that the fight themselves is like a bare-bones RPG. You’ll wanna switch out characters to keep them from dying. Also, Nene has a “Scanner” tool that will increase your defense while weakening the enemy’s attack, so you wanna use that each battle. Other than that, all four characters have the ability to use physical combat or shoot, which you will also alternate for effectiveness.

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After sludging through the generic “dungeon” of Stephen Lab you fight the leader of the battle armored criminal gang, and it is actually kind of boring as shit. To be honest, after wanting to beat this game for like 20 years, I feel a bit ripped off by how corny the ending is.

bubblegumcrash19seriously that’s it

Like, I think there were elements here that could have made a much more solid game. Literally everything taken care of in the digital comic scenes could have been accomplished as a standard RPG if they’d just developed that aspect. As they were, the RPG elements did offer a challenge and a change of pace, but one that wears off quickly because the elements were so rudimentary and lead to dreary repetition.

That said, it’s an interesting eclectic conceptual grab bag. The graphics are mostly rendered gorgeously and it stays true to the source material. However, the gameplay is clumsy and non-intuitive. Depending on how much of a fan you are of the source material, the latter may be forgivable to an extent. I just happen to be one of said fans, so your mileage may vary.

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Rayon Is A Punk Rocker: Arcade Fire’s New Video Fucking Sucks.

19 May

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Arcade Fire is one of those bands that everyone used to try to get me into for years and I was like “naaaaaaaaaaaaaaah”. Probably for the best, because it probably would have bothered me more to have a band I actually like churn out yet another piece of what Kat Blaque totally nails as “trans pity porn“. As I have admitted more than once, I’m kind of a guilty-pleasure sucker for the genre. But this campy paint-by-numbers bullshit just hit all the wrong buttons in the wrong order for me. I’m already willing to say this is the second worst music video I’ve seen all year.

So like first of all, as a trans woman born and raised in Texas, I am sick to fucking death already of the whole “gender-non-conforming person in redneck hell” trope. Like there isn’t homophobic and transphobic assholes all over “enlightened” big cities, but no we gotta keep that self-righteous white liberal boner going because you know what those dumb hicks are like. And it’s like, I’ve lived this and women in my community have died this way, so it leaves a bad taste in my mouth to see yet again a watered-down version of what some jackass imagines life is like for someone like me in the south. Just, ew.

But hold on a second, lemme tell you a thing or two about what I actually like about this video. Andrew Garfield manages to make little pouty faces at some interesting points that kind of hit home… invoking sad mirror feels while trying on clothes you have no practice wearing-

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-those awkward first times out in public where you have to unlearn male social posture defense mechanisms to fight off your own uneasiness and sense of vulnerability, convinced everyone is looking at you disapprovingly-

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-and just invoking this sort of wordless sorrow and desire to fit in somehow to a world where it feels impossible to do so-

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But like, when it comes down to it, this video is ultimately more an exploration of gender performativity/expression than identity. None of the characters, including the protagonist, is given exposition past the flimsiest of stereotypes. Even this fucked up Thai love song manages to give some (kinda creepy and busted) backstory to it’s trans character, but then it’s also like three times as long.

Basically what happens in the video is that the protagonist makes a bunch of sad faces into the mirror while deciding what to wear until she decides to go with what appears to be a Leg Avenue costume of Jessica Simpson in Dukes Of Hazard-

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She walks to the nearest bar, where she pouts a bit and then she’s (probably) beaten to death.

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Seriously, that’s her entire story. She’s sad and she’s dead. Also, jazz hands.

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Then, everything gets stupid. She finds herself alone in the bar, doing an interpretive Flashdance, because why not. And then this bullshit happens:

weexist11ARE

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YOU

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FUCKING

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KIDDING ME

So like I have to imagine that the thought process that went behind the scenes of this video went like this:

VIDEO DIRECTOR: “Transgender stuff is trendy right? Let’s make a sensitive portrayal of their lifestyle to look like hip LGBT allies!”

*awkward homerotic dance number intensifies*

VIDEO DIRECTOR: “NAILED IT”

So like then the gay cowboys lead the protagonist THROUGH AN ACTUAL RAINBOW DOORWAY OH MY FUCK.

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Where she comes out at an Arcade Fire concert lo0king like a pallette swapped Twiggy Ramirez and oh christ I’m so fucking bored and done with this.

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Avril Lavigne Suddenly Remembers Japan Exists, Forgets How To Music.

22 Apr

If you’re like me, when you hear that a song is a collaboration project between Avril Lavigne and the songwriters from Nickelback and Evanescence, you think “wow that sounds like something too awful to actually exist”. Except, alas, it totally does.

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Yep, that’s Avril Lavigne standing in what appears to be the stock room of a Party City with four Japanese pallette-switched Oompa Loompas. But why tho? From every angle you can approach it, the song and video for Hello Kitty is just awful. It dives into some awful strip-club version of a dubstep break at exactly the places you’d expect the songwriter for Nickelback to have a song break down into an awful strip-club version of a dubstep break. It even has an extended break while Avril literally loses her mind over having sushi prepared for her.

avriljapan3C’mon, girl. It’s just sushi. Please get a grip.

At least when Gwen Stephani was approaching 30 and had a sudden annoying weaboo phase a decade ago, she name-dropped Harajuku and brought attention to performers and fashion designers. She even did the “me photo-opping with 4 identically dressed Japanese women that look positively bored with my white Asian-fetishizing bullshit” thing better.

avriljapan4I’m not even joking.

All this video/song seem to express is HOLY SHIT GUYS HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF THIS THING CALLED JAPAN THAT JUST CAME OUT. Except that it’s not even really about Japan, just washed out shots of them awkwardly dancing in that generic cupcake room-

avriljapan5but why tho

-and washed out shots of her walking through some generic candy shop

avriljapan6but why tho

and washed out shots of her on some generic street in Japan(?) waving off camera like a harvest festival queen in the loneliest parade ever-

avriljapan7but why tho

The video debuted today and has already been pulled from Youtube, presumably because of the collective groan it recieved from everyone with the slightest bit of taste. I know it’s sort of trite and pointless at this point to refer to a piece of pop music as bland or generic or soul-less, or to have any sort of social expectation for said pop music entities, but this is just bad.

#retrogaming Famicom Camera Is Pretty Dope.

3 Mar

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Been playing around with 8-bit camera apps lately, and my favorite free one so far is Famicom Camera. It’s pretty straightforward, with only options to change between 27 and 64 colors (most of the pics on here were taken with lower color rate), some retro borders, and the thickness of scanlines.

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I’ve had a chance to play with it with multiple subjects, and it works great for creating dramatic chiaroscuro but loses a *lot* of detail, even for 8-bit art. Still, it lends a very distinct look to photos, resembling more the graphics of, say, a PC-99 graphic adventure game. Really cool stuff.

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Flappy Bird Versus E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Which Is Worse?

5 Feb

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On Superbowl Sunday, I was at a chili cookoff at a sports bar, because why the fuck not. Thing is tho, I… can’t even try to get into the sports. Not even a gender thing (maybe) it just never did anything for me. So despite stuffing my face with near-limitless delicious spicy free food and understanding the team I was supposed to be rooting for was *annihilating* their opponent, my attention span was drifting. So, like the glutton for punishment I am, I decided to take on this game that goddamn near everyone is wailing about.

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This unholy affront to God and nature is Flappy Bird, a game that’s exploded into popularity so fast even the developer is baffled and terrified by it’s success. It’s an excruciatingly repetitive afterthought of a game where you have to give a bug-eyed bird constant screen-tapping reassurance or it falls into lethal despair.

ETflap3Um, bro, you seem to have forgotten how to bird.

Combine that with the actual worst collision detection I’ve seen since Master Chu And The Drunkard Hu, and you get the picture. It combines all the fun of Balloon Fight with… oh wait, Balloon Fight sucked and was the opposite of fun. Twenty years ago, a game like this would have been stuffed on a cartridge with at least 40 other abortions and had a cheetah on the cover. In this first post-Luigi year, a game like this is considered an effective standalone. How times have changed.

ETflap4Come the fuck on. Are these pipes solid or not?

I’m pretty sure high scores on this game could be used as a measurement for masochism on a fetish dating site.

“Oh, does this riding crop scare you? But you reported a high score of 150 on Flappy Bird, so you obviously enjoy pain more than you’re willing to admit. Bend over.”

Aaaaaanyway…

It makes me think of the downright elusive fickleness of what counts as a “good”, or at least successful, game. Speaking of poor collision detection, repetition, and brutal, unforgiving gameplay, I found myself rethinking the Atari 2600 game E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, widely regarded as the worst game ever made. Like, millions of copies buried in a New Mexico landfill-level awful. It’s a reputation that’s never sat well with me because I always loved it since I was little. It was one of the first “quest” style cartridge games, and one of a handful of Atari games one could actually “beat”. Remember, this game was created by the badass that designed Yar’s Revenge, for fucks sake.

ETflap5It was basically Zelda 4 years before the first Legend Of Zelda.

It had it’s flaws (some of which people more devoted to it than I have worked on fixing), but it really wasn’t all that confusing, especially once you’re familiar with Legend Of Zelda type games. Pre-Zelda, I was addicted to the Apple ][ version of Rogue, which is pretty much the same thing.

In any case, to be a bit more forgiving to Flappy Bird than the Action 52 comparison, it definitely resembles titles from the Atari 2600 in terms of gameplay/difficulty/replay value. I stuck with it long enough to get a personal high score I can live with, and have already deleted it. I guess my masochism has limits.

ETflap6Oh my fuck I hate this game so much. Bye.

 

Let’s Talk About Negativland’s “TRUE/FALSE” tour; Spring 2000

26 Jan

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THESE GUYS ARE FROM ENGLAND AND WHO GIVES A SHIT

Lemme tell you about one of the most important formative experiences of my adult life. It was May 16, 2000, at Stubbs BBQ in Austin, Texas, where I was to finally experience the band Negativland for the first time. I was almost 23,  living in Copperas Cove, putting together the 7th issue of my comic Why I’m Not An Artist, and working as a flow solder operator. It was also about a year into my first attempt at living full time as a woman. It was a pretty exciting time period in my life, all things considered.

Before then I’d had sporadic attempts at doing live music with a short, chaotic noise music project called DEVIANCE that I performed in with my brother and a high school friend. That’s an entirely different story that may get explored next time I get nostalgic. At this point, I was satisfying my urge to do performance art by being a drag queen, and rarely recorded, much less performed, music. Little did I know this show would change damn near everything I thought I wanted to do with myself as an artist.

Keep in mind, I’d never had a chance to actually hear their music before. I’d only heard of them a couple years before from a review of their album Dispepsi, a concept album about advertising oversaturation, which simultaneously sounded like the stupidest and most brilliant thing ever.  I was only aware of their reputation: booted from Black Flag’s SST label, nearly sued to oblivion by U2, etc. I visited their website regularly, however, and found out about the show there.

The show itself was amazing on a level I still have trouble describing. From the moment they started, they got a couple hundred people to sit the fuck down in the dirt and shut up for two hours straight, with a short puppet show intermission in the middle. There was simply no choice, the whole experience was so overwhelming it was impossible to concentrate on anything else. The entire stage was draped with white sheets where dozens of videos played at once behind, in front of, and on top of the band.  Most of the songs they performed were from Dispepsi, but there was also stuff that wasn’t released until “No Business” and a few tracks that were never released in any format I can track down (such as the “Loop That Goes On Forever” song, as well as “Breathe In, Breathe Out”).

I was completely stunned. I’d never seen anything like it. I recall thinking “I don’t know what the fuck that was, but that’s what I want to do with my life.”

I stayed in contact with them through email and at one point even exchanged letters with them-

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Their whole aesthetic of seeming chaos and indifference covering such heavily-calculated intricacy redefined my approach to, well, damn near everything.

8-Bit App Review: 8-Bit Command Window

25 Jan

So one of the (many) things I wanted to start getting into on this blog was writing reviews of 8-bit retro-themed phone apps, so here we go on that. For our first shot at this, I wanna chat up the 8-Bit Command Window, a handy-ish $1.26 app I’ve been using on my phone for about a month now. It’s a set of menus that interacts with your other apps and is designed to resemble the command screen for the NES RPG series Dragon Warrior. It’s actually a package of several different size widgets (I’m currently using 2 of the 7 total).

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Most of it is pretty customizable, with some limitations put in place that are theme related (four-letter names like in the original Dragon Warrior being one of them).

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Functionally, it’s pretty straight-forward. “Talk” pulls up the phone, “Party” pulls up your contacts, “Status” shows battery charge, used/remaining memory and OS version, “Take” is your camera, and of course “Tweet”-

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The rest of the functions require “equipping” or “learning” your other apps like weapons or spells.

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It’s pretty fun, and if you’re bored to death with your phone’s normal OS it makes a clever shell, though I couldn’t imagine using it all the time. Definitely worth the buck and a quarter to pick it up.