Posts Tagged ‘Video Games’

Spycraft: The Great Game

August 2, 2021

I remembered this game from when I was a teenager. I remember watching my friend play a little bit of it during a sleepover and then I never heard about it again. Cut to seeing it on GOG.com. I bought it for under five dollars and just this past weekend I decided to try and play it.

The game is a full-motion video title that came out at a time when FMV was all the rage. FMV games are typically adventure games that incorporate actual video into cutscenes and gameplay. I have only played a handful of these but I find them fascinating. In this game, you take the role of Agent Thorn, an operations agent for the CIA. You are a rookie agent who gets thrown into the field when a Russian presidential candidate is assassinated. You and your team are tasked with tracking down the killers and uncovering the conspiracy that has infiltrated the CIA. Along the way, you get caught up with the KGB, the Russian Mafia, MI6, and American mercenaries. You meet dozens of interesting characters on both sides played by decent actors in glorious FMV.

The gameplay is rather interesting and is really what I remembered from my previous fleeting experience. The bulk of the gameplay is divided into two categories: puzzles and dialogue. The puzzles are all based on forensics and analysis of data. I will give a couple of examples. The first major one is using a trajectory plotting tool to figure out where the shooter was. Then you use facial-recognition software to figure out who the killer was from a photo taken of the window where he shot from. Then you use evidence from the photographs and eyewitness reports to determine what the likely firearm used was. From there, you have to track down how the experimental weapon was stolen through an entirely different set of puzzles. As a former sound designer, one of my favorite puzzles was scanning background audio of phone message to figure out where an informant has fled to. There are plenty of really neat games to play.

Dialogue gameplay is where you question other characters and navigate through dialogue trees to get the information you need. One particular one that I loved in the game so far is an interrogation of a female agent. You are given the option to torture her by a senior agent but are warned against it and reminded of the Geneva Convention. You are presented with several different strategies as you interrogate her. You can go ahead and torture her, you can merely threaten her with torture, you can come on strong with threats, you can fake her into believing that her lover has already been caught, you can imply that this lover has already betrayed her, and you can imply that her cooperation will benefit her and/or her lover. I chose to fake her lover being caught (with a really good-looking photoshop) and then let her believe that it was in her best interest to cooperate. She did.

There is also a combat system but it does not seem to come into play a lot yet. I plan to only resort to violence when the game forces me to. So far, I’ve been able to outsmart any bad guys.

The game was made by Activision with cooperation by former CIA Director Willaim Colby and former KGB Major-General Oleg Kalugin who actually both play themselves in FMV cutscenes. This accounts for the game really feeling like you are in the CIA and faced with a lot of the moral dilemmas that they faced. It is a fascinating world but of course, they made the game a lot less morally gray than real life. The real CIA is not to be trusted. Additionally, the depiction of the easy access of any intelligence database in the world (FBI, ATF, Police, Interpol, etc.) is frightening. It can only be worse now. All of that aside, it is a really fun game with a compelling story.

Genshin Impact

July 26, 2021

I have been playing this game on mobile and I have meant to talk about it. Now that they have recently added both a lawyer character and a warrior poet, I feel like it may be time. A lot of people thought that Genshin Impact was just a clone of Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild. In all fairness to those people, the game does have several similarities. The animation style feels similar although the designs are a bit sharper. The hack and slash style of combat feels somewhat similar on the surface. Both games also use a glider for transportation. Still, I feel like they were able to make their own thing.

The game takes place in the fantasy land of Tevyat, a magical place. You play as an outsider, an interdimensional traveler. You choose whether you play the brother or the sister. Your sibling and you are attacked by a godlike figure and are separated. You are joined with a cute little impish character named Paimon who names herself your guide to Tevyat. In Tevyat, heroes are chosen by fate in intense moments. They are granted gems called Visions which grant elemental superpowers. Those powers are divided into seven elements: Pyro, Hydro, Electro, Anemo (wind), Dendro (plants), Cryo, and Geo (Earth). Your main character is able to use elemental powers without a vision which is strange.

You are almost instantly swept up in a crisis in Mondstadt, the City of Freedom. Mondstadt is a land that seems to be inspired by a pastiche of European cultures. It became the City of Freedom when it liberated itself from the nobility that ruled it. Now the city seems to be governed and managed between four groups. The church, the Favonius Guard, the Winery, and the Adventurer’s Guild. They worship a god of wind who is missing but there is a bit of a dragon problem. Luckily, you resonate with the power of wind and quickly make friends with the defenders of Mondstadt. Together, the dragon problem seems a bit easier to handle. You go through many missions to help to purify the dragon from corruption rather than kill it, winning the hearts of Mondstadt.

Your search for your sibling leads you far afield and you end up crossing into the land of Liyue, a pastiche of Asian cultures. You start getting involved in things when you witness the death of Liyue’s God of Geo. You start learning more about Liyue which is the City of Contracts and thus a more rigid and formal society. Liyue is ruled over by a combination of human bureaucracy and a group of demigods. You start ingratiating yourself with both groups and figuring out how they can help you. Along the way, you find yourself combatting the enemy forces from a land called Snezhnaya (probably based on Russia). You help save Liyue from a massive attack from Snezhnaya and forever ingratiate yourself to the people of Liyue.

That is kind of where the story is now. There is more investigation into your sibling and their connection to a sinister cult but that is really just getting started. The game is kept busy with constant updates of events and new characters. The game is a “gacha” which means you are constantly rolling the dice for new characters and upgrades. You can pay to get ahead but I play completely free. A lot of the gameplay derives from assembling a team of four characters. Combat strategy comes from combining their elemental strengths for more damage.

My current favorite characters are:

Razor – A young man who was literally raised by wolves and gained an animalistic Electro Vision to protect his adopted family. He wields a great sword and speaks in broken English since he mostly speaks wolf.

Qiqi – A zombie girl who spends everyday trying to keep her body and mind from regressing into true death. Her day job is at a pharmacy. She uses a sword and heals with her Cryo Vision.

Yanfei – A legal advisor who acts as a constant champion for the people of Liyue by using her vast knowledge and keen observational skills to settle disputes in favor of the vulnerable. She uses a Pyro Vision and hurls fire with the help of her spell focus.

Barbara – A nun/idol of Mondstadt who heals with the help of her music and her Hydro Vision. She is somewhat naive but caring and optimistic and is in high demand.

A Relatively Quick Summary of Psychonauts Pt. 2

June 21, 2021

(Continued from last time)

Raz rushes to save Lily by descending into the depths of Lake Oblongata in a bathysphere, throwing caution to the wind. He finds a strange bubble of air under the surface which allows him to combat the giant Lungfish in its own habitat. The Lungfish tries to kill Raz over and over but he manages to outsmart the beast. With the Lungfish temporarily knocked unconscious, Raz is able to enter its mind.

When you come to, you find that you are suddenly gigantic. In a role reversal, you are now a kaiju in Lungfishopolis, towering over tiny versions of the Lungfish. The citizens flee in terror from you and the military tries to attack you. However, you are contacted by a rebel force inside of the creature’s mind. These forces work with you to fight through the city. You arrive at a tall tower which turns out to be a mind control device. It is guarded by a personification of the device in the form of Coach Oleander as a kaiju. After destroying the Coach kaiju and the device, the Lungfish is free. Introducing itself as Linda, it offers to ferry you across the lake.

You arrive at an island in the middle of the lake and at the gates of the Thorney Towers Home for the Disturbed, an abandoned asylum. The place may have been abandoned by the original owners, but the Coach and his assistant Dr. Loboto are in control now. One of the first things that you notice is that the place is littered with jars that contain the brains of your fellow campers. At this point, you can rescue the brains and bring them back to Ford to be reinserted in their bodies, earning your fellow campers grudging respect. Back at the island, you find the gate locked but an odd man named Boyd is standing in front of the gate acting as a security guard. You enter his mind.

You find yourself in a house with Boyd who is in full-blown conspiracy theorist mode. When you exit the house, you immediately figure out that there is a huge conspiracy at play. The suburban neighborhood looks sunny and nice but it is soon clear that everything is manufactured. Everything and everyone is watching you. You encounter strange spindly men in trenchcoats and fedoras. They are obviously trying to act like normal people but failing at anything resembling ordinary behavior. You also encounter little girl scouts who seem a little too defensive when you question them. You navigate a strange mystery and eventually battle the Scout Leader and awaken Boyd’s dormant alter ego, the one Coach groomed for violence.

Back in the real world, Boyd is broken free of Coach’s influence and is back to his destructive ways. He unlocks the gate for you, allowing you to slip inside while he starts to try to burn the place down. You discover that some of the patients are still around and one of them is guarding an elevator that will lead you up into the tower where Coach and Loboto have Lili. Luckily, this ex-patient is nearsighted so all you have to do is assemble a vague Loboto costume from items that the patients have. The first patient whose mind you enter is Gloria, a faded ex-actress who clings to her memories of show business and suffering from bipolar disorder.

Raz finds himself in a huge theater with a cast of misfit actors on stage and a long-suffering stage manager just off stage. The audience is empty except for Gloria’s inner critic, a big bully who constantly insults whatever efforts are going on stage. Raz befriends Gloria’s inner performer, the part of her that delights in acting. There is also a Phantom in the theater who ruins any performance that Gloria’s inner actress takes part in. You get the actors on stage to reenact scenes from Gloria’s childhood to help to understand her and to gain access to the catwalks where the Phantom creeps. When you finally confront the PHantom, you realize that it is the critic. You battle the critic and defeat him, causing him to shrink and allow Gloria to stop being so hard on herself, freeing her from her doubt and pain. She still has bipolar disorder, of course, but it is a little easier to shoulder now.

You next enter the mind of Fred, a hapless guy who is locked in an internal battle with his ancestor Napoleon Bonaparte who seems to represent Fred’s lack of confidence. When you arrive in Fred’s mind, you find Fred and Napoleon fighting over a board game. You are able to shrink down and enter the game in order to help Fred win. You help recruit soldiers and a carpenter to act as his army. Along the way, you convince Fred to believe in himself and give him a little push to confront his ancestor (a split personality) and gain a measure of freedom and peace.

You next enter the mind of Edgar, a hulking painter who is blocked by trauma from his past. His mind looks like a Spanish villa done up like a blacklight poster. The place seems to be one long street and a giant bull is continuously running through the level, threatening to clobber you. You must navigate alleys and sewers to find ways around the bull. You can also utilize art itself to form useful objects, doors, and ladders to continue the level. You have to fight four luchadors to obtain access to the final boss. In the middle of a bullfighter’s ring, you pierce the bull with spears. It is only then that you find out that the bull is Edgar himself and represents his own anger that he can’t move past. You find out that his girlfriend left him for another guy in high school and it destroyed him, turning him from a jock to an artist. When you defeat the personification of the guy who stole Edgar’s girlfriend, it shows Edgar how pathetic his ex and this guy were and how silly it was to fixate on all of it. He forgives them and forgives himself.

Free to continue into the tower, you travel to stop Coach Oleander and Loboto’s plan and rescue Lili. Once there, you are able to rescue Lili along with Sasha and Milla, impressing your Psychonaut heroes. Coach Oleander is not done and puts his own mind into an even bigger tank which Raz has to fight. Raz has a tough fight against the tank and defeats it, exposing Coach’s brain. Both Raz’s and Coach’s brains end up in the same tank and Raz is sent into a mixture of his own and Coach’s nightmares.

You awaken in The Meat Circus, a mix of the Coach’s childhood being bullied by his butcher father and Raz’s childhood growing up in a traveling circus. It seems they both had overbearing fathers. The two blend together to create a huge vertical level with a sinister edge which Raz much climb. Along the way, you encounter Coach as a child and repeatedly protect him against threats to allow him to be happy, something his father never allowed him to be. Finally, you confront Coach’s father but he teams up with a memory of Raz’s overbearing father to create a dangerous behemoth that takes all of your skill and power to defeat. At the last moment, Raz’s actual father mentally projects himself into the mix and helps Raz save the day. It turns out he was only tough on Raz because he was worried and protective but he is proud of his heroic son.

With the day saved, Raz is made into a full-fledged Psychonaut, fulfilling his dream. A future romance with Lili seems all but certain and his relationship with his father is on the mend. As things wrap up, they get word that Lili’s father has been kidnapped and Raz, Sasha, and Milla spring into action to save the day once again.

A Relatively Quick Summary of Psychonauts Pt. 1

June 7, 2021

Psychonauts is the story of Razputin, a young boy who was born with psychic powers but was forbidden by his father from using them. He grew up idolizing the Psychonauts, a team of elite agents with psychic powers. He decides to sneak away from home to attend a psychic summer camp run by the Psychonauts to achieve his dream of joining the team. When he appears, they decide that he can participate in activities at least until they can call his parents. He is introduced to the other weird kids at camp most of which do not initially want anything to do with the weird new kid.

You officially start the game by heading from the cabins to Coach Oleander’s treehouse for Basic Braining. He introduces the main theme of the game by pulling you into his mind. When you regain consciousness, you are in an obstacle course that the Coach has prepared in his mindscape. The course is themed after a war zone in keeping with the Coach’s seeming obsession with the military. He berates you through the entire level as if he were a drill sergeant, insulting you to get you to work harder. As you navigate the course, you get comic relief from your fellow campers and you start a rivalry with bully Bobby Zilch and meet the inquisitive Lili Zanotto. While most of the others struggle, you are able to navigate the course. You also learn the psychic power of throwing a telekinetic punch. When you are the first to reach the end of the course, you get the first inkling that something might not be as it seems. A corner of Coach’s mind reveals that he has a secret. You see a glimpse of an odd blueprint.

After that, you get to explore the campgrounds for a bit and interact with your fellow campers. You get handed a list of items scattered around the camp for a scavenger hunt. This hunt will take most of the game to complete since you need certain powers and upgrades to find some items. You meet a strange man who is the camp’s janitor, chef, ranger, and waterfront manager. You are told that Psychonaut Sasha Nein wants to see you. It seems that you impressed him while navigating Coach’s mind and he wants to put you through some advanced training/experiments.

You travel to Sasha’s lab and he officially introduces himself and shows you his Brain Tumbler machine. The machine allows you to enter your own mind. You enter a landscape that reminds Raz of the traveling circus he grew up in. However, when you enter a circus wagon, you end up in a much stranger place that does not look like your mind. Curious, Sasha asks you to explore more. You encounter Censors, little creatures that try to eliminate rogue thoughts. When the Censors become too much for Raz, Sasha pulls him out and tells him that he needs to find Ford Cruller to be issued permission to be trained in marksmanship.

At this point, you are pointed to the camp’s ancient fast travel system which leads you to Ford Cruller, former Director of the Psychonauts. He is the guy who you have seen serving in all of the odd jobs around the camp. His psyche has been shattered in battle and he is confined to his lab with various personalities slipping out to watch over the camp. Ford takes a shine to Raz and teaches him more about the Psychonauts and grants you permission to learn a long-distance telekinetic attack.

You travel back to Sasha who pulls you into his mind. His mind is very ordered and provides a course to practice your new long-distance attack. Sasha carefully lets Censors loose in his head to give Raz some shooting practice. Unfortunately, Raz gets impatient and floods the place with censors which leads Sasha to briefly lose his fastidious control. This eventually leads to the escape of the Mega-Censor, a giant beefy censor who rampages across Sasha’s mind. Sasha steps in to help out but is ambushed which leaves Raz to fight the Mega Censor alone. Once he does, he is then clear to use his new marksmanship badge outside of Sasha’s mind. Sasha sends you back into what you are sure is not your own mind now where you battle to a mysterious tower. To get to the top of the tower, you will need additional training.

You head to meet Agent Milla Vodello who brings you into her mind for training in the use of the Levitation power. Her mind is a mix of a pinball machine and a never-ending party as the free-spirit as a contrast to Sasha’s more uptight personality. This is the mind where you learn pretty much the rest of your movement tech in the game as you learn how to float on currents and move at high speed on a ball of energy. At this point, your fellow campers start to encourage you. Except for Bobby Zilch who makes a return appearance to race Raz. With the Levitation badge, Raz can reach the top of the tower.

At the top of the tower, Raz finds himself inside of the blueprint that you glimpsed in the Coach’s mind earlier in the game. It was a blueprint for a tank and you witness a fellow camper get his brain sucked out and placed into the tank which makes it a robot with psychic powers. After beating the tank, you realize that a man named Loboto has teamed with the Coach to create these tanks to take over the world. You head to rendezvous with Lili who has been conducting her own investigation only to watch her get kidnapped by a giant Lungfish.

Journey to the Savage Planet

May 24, 2021

I had been wanting to play this game since I had previously seen gameplay. The goofy tone of it really resonated with me and I like a game with a lot of movement tech. The plot of this one is that you have been hired by Kindred Aerospace who tout that they are the “4th Best Interstellar Exploration Company”. The company seems shady from the get-go and their CEO is a bit too excited about the planet you have been sent to. In fact, he seems very unstable in general. You have signed on to a deal to launch you into space at planet ARY – 26. You are to see if the planet is suitable for human life. If possible, you are to either refuel and return with data on the planet or die on the planet (after a long life or not). If you return, you will receive your pay. If you do not return, well, their investment did not work out and your family will mourn.

Of course, the story really begins with your ship crashing on the planet. It does not look too bad but materials will be needed to fix it and replacement fuel must be found. The alien world is not immediately hostile but it does not take long to realize that you are outmatched and outnumbered. Luckily, your ship comes with a sarcastic robot sidekick and two 3D printers. The sidekick is your only real interaction with Kindred technology and your “guide” on the planet. It really does not know much more than you but it can scan local flora, fauna, and technology. This allows you to utilize the first 3D printer to upgrade your technology. The second 3D printer is for when you die. It “reprints” your body and gear back at the ship in the event of your death. There is also a fast-travel teleport system that makes it clear that it’s killing you every time it works. Yay!

The main mechanic of the game is to use the unique plant life on the planet to combat lifeforms and access new areas to collect resources. There are many plants that give you useful projectiles like bombs, acid, and electric shock. You also have a somewhat trusty sidearm and various high jump and double jumps. Some of the lifeforms on the planet are dumb and easy targets but the rest want you dead as soon as they see you. The game is really fun to move around in and the environments are pretty stunning even on a low graphics setting. There are quite a few fun puzzles but a lot of it is moving and dodging various hazards. You can go heavy combat or you can run away a lot until you’re forced to fight. Either way, you’ll find the resources you need and the mysterious secrets of the planet’s history and culture.

You also get absolutely crazy cutscenes like this:

The Green Tunic Squad – A Legend of Zelda Game Idea

April 8, 2021

The idea of this game is obviously inspired by the 3D Legend of Zelda games. It would be a spinoff game because it would not star Link or Zelda. It would be set after yet another victory by the Hero of Time, Link. It would follow a group of young people who are inspired by Link who are sucked into their own heroic quest.

The mechanics would be a little different since you would be playing as three characters instead of one. You would be able to switch between characters at will and each would have their own specialty. In dungeons, you could split the team up to accomplish goals and to complete puzzles.

The Heroes:

Arim – A stocky boy who is the team’s main fighter. He is the one strong enough to carry a sword and shield like their hero. He also is responsible for wielding any items that have to do with strength like the hammer, the titan’s mitt, and the shovel. At some point, Arim would start to get skills based on Gorons like a shield bash and a rolling attack. He is a farmer from the plains of Hyrule.

Icia – A scholarly tall girl who is team’s magic expert. She wields a magical staff that starts with a glittery firework attack but she later would get the fire rod, the ice rod, the lens of truth, and the pegasus boots. She would be the one to obtain the Zora flippers which would give her Zora powers like swimming and sliding. She is the daughter of the Kariko Village librarian and a major bookworm.

Mozi – A tiny young girl who is the team’s specialist at long range. She starts with the bow and arrow and is good at striking from stealth. Later on she would also get gadgets like the boomerang, the hookshot, and bombs. She would eventually start to get skills based off of the Deku like a ghillie suit and a gliding cape. She is an orphan who lives among the Deku in the forest.

The three would start separately but would be drawn together to quest to stop the ressurection of Ganon. Hyrule has just been through so miuch and the Hero of Time is nowhere to be found (again!). Nobody will listen to them so they have to do it themselves. The three of them bond as a team and grow closer and stronger together.

I am drawing on games like the Dark Cloud franchise, Genshin Impact, and The Lost Vikings.

Video Game Lore: The Super Mario Dating Scene

March 29, 2021

The other day, I was writing about Bowsette and I realized I had more to say about Nintendo. It is not exactly a meme but is instead about the ongoing lore of the two biggest properties that Nintendo controls. Those properties are the Mario games and the Legend of Zelda games. This is going to get pretty nerdy and does not really mean anything but it is something that I have grown to like contemplating sometimes. I suppose it is the writer in me. Anyway, I want to discuss specific parts of both of these franchises. Both have a ton of lore but, to varying degrees, both franchises require their fanbase to fill in a lot of the gaps.

The Super Mario Dating Scene

As most video game nerds will point out pushes up glasses, Mario first showed up in Donkey Kong. In that game, he tries to save his then-girlfriend Pauline from the giant ape Donkey Kong. Fewer people remember that Mario was actually the antagonist of Donkey Kong Jr. who was just trying to rescue his dad from Mario’s who kept his old foe in a cage. Mario would eventually end the generational feud by befriending Donkey Kong the 3rd. At this point, he had broken up with Pauline. Side note: Mario eventually met up with Pauline in Super Mario Odyssey where she is the Mayor of the democratic kingdom of New Donk City.

Anyway, Mario would go on to team up with his brother Luigi and the two would pretty much be inseparable from then on. Well, unless one of them was kidnapped and the other had to save their brother. Mario and Luigi first got involved with Princess Peach when rescuing her the first time Bowser kidnapped her in Super Mario Bros. They would go on to have a routine of rescuing Peach whenever Bowser kidnapped her in pretty much every game. They eventually met Princess Daisy, a princess of far off Sarasaland (exclusive to the Nintendo Game Boy). At that point, people figured that Luigi did not have to be a third wheel and the two princesses and two plumbers could double date.

However, Nintendo has always been pretty coy about these relationships. Official word is nestled in little easter eggs and ambiguous scenes in spinoff games. Notably, when Mario saves the day in many of the games, he is rewarded by Peach baking him a cake and not giving him a kiss. If he does get a kiss, it is the same chaste cheek kiss that his brother Luigi gets. It seems a lot of people read too much into Mario and Peach’s relationship and Daisy x Luigi as well. In fact, while Mario and Peach (and Bowser) seem to be inextricably linked by fate and politics, Mario and Peach do not act like a couple.

This apparent disconnect between fanon and canon caused a big ruckus from the MRA folks. In Super Mario Odyssey, Mario spends the whole game trailing after Bowser, Peach, and Bowser’s wedding planners as Bowser tries to prepare to marry Peach whether she wants to or not. Mario finally catches up at the wedding chapel on the Moon where he soundly beats Bowser Punchout-style. At the end of the game, Bowser and Mario both offer Peach flowers but she rejects both of them and leaves them both stranded on the Moon. Finally, a definitive statement (possibly?) that Peach may not be into Mario. More importantly, it was a great message to MRA types and young impressionable boys that helping out a woman does not mean that she is obligated to date you.

Time will tell if they ever go all in on the relationship or whether the four remain platonic friends who like to hang out and play sports together.

Bonus: This awesome music video from Starbomb where Luigi makes a play for Peach.

This got long so tune in for part 2!

Meme Tracer: Bowsette

March 22, 2021

I was reminded today of the story of Bowsette which happened almost three years ago now. It is really fun to watch things catch fire on the Internet so quickly. This is why I love memes so much because they are a fun game to play with the rest of the Net but also kind of fun to trace.

In September 2018, Nintendo revealed to the world a new concept connected to New Super Mario Bros. U for Switch. Though, to understand it (as much as you can understand it) you would have to go back to Super Mario Bros. In that game (the third to feature Mario), they introduced Toad (the character and the species). The little mushroom-headed guy was a loyal subject of Princess Peach. You could first play as one of the Toads in Super Mario Bros. 2. He became a well-known character and his race appeared in every game after that, often getting huge roles. He was once again playable in spinoff games such as Mario Kart, Mario Strikers, Mario Tennis, Mario Party, and so on.

Eventually, Nintendo wanted to create a new variant of Mario Kart called Mario Kart Double Dash. The conceit of this version was that the cars would be driven in teams including a driver and a weapons specialist. This would allow for co-op play where two players could control the same car as well as drive separate cars. Nintendo obviously wanted iconic teams for people to choose from. Teams included Mario and Luigi, Princesses Peach and Daisy, Bowser and Bowser Jr., Wario and Waluigi, and Yoshi and Birdo (see note). They wanted to include Toad but he did not have an established partner. Now, up until this point, Nintendo insisted that Toads were nongendered beings. They just were Toads. However, instead of just making the team be two Toads of different colors, they decided to create Toadette.

As you can see, Toadette was a new clearly feminine form of Toad who could join them on adventures. She never really showed up outside of Mario Kart and other party games but she was always around. A hyper pink, eternally optimistic character. Very cute. Her art was everywhere and the fans embraced her pretty much immediately just like every Mario character ever. However, flash forward to New Super Mario Bros. U in 2018. Remember I mentioned it earlier? They revealed a new item called the Super Crown. The Super Crown was introduced solely because Toadette would be a playable character in her first “course clear” Mario game. The purpose of the Super Crown would transform Toadette into Peachette, a transformation which sparked a lot of new theories about how Toad culture worked.

The Super Crown transformed Toadette into a character very similar to Princess Peach (and sort of like Princess Daisy). Does that mean that if you took off Princess Peach’s crown she would transform back to a female-gendered Toad? Is the Toad sociological/biological situation similar to bees? There is one Princess and only a few other females as backups to rule over the genderless masses? It boggles the mind. Nintendo has not really gotten into any clear explanations. We are left to speculate.

Anyway, an artist known as Ayyk92 seems to be the first to wonder what would happen if other characters got a hold of the Super Crown. Namely, they posited that if Bowser touched the Super Crown, he would genderbend to Peach-like character named Bowsette. Bowsette is a little buffer than Peach and generally wears a black strapless dress with spikes on it. Bowsette retains Bowser’s horns and spiked tail but mostly looks like a sassier, edgier Peach.

Artist Credit: poderosoandrajoso on DeviantArt

The Internet seized on this new concept and fanart of this new unofficial character flooded DeviantArt and other corners of the Web. Notably, the original comic (seen here) depicts Mario and Bowser both giving up on ever dating Peach and Mario decides to date Bowsette instead. This followed the actual canon attempted wedding to Peach by Bowser in Mario Odyssey. Artists also started to give the Super Crown to other Mario enemies creating new characters like Bulette, Booette, Goombette, and so on. The Internet is a wonderfully weird and creative place.

A Quick Note on Birdo:

Birdo was a character that first appeared as an enemy in Super Mario Bros 2. As you can see, Birdo is decidedly coded as feminine what with the bow on her head and being bright pink. However, in the manual, it said that Birdo is a “male who thinks he is a girl” and would prefer people to call them “Birdette”. In all later references, Birdo is referred to as female leading many to continue to think of Birdo as the first transgender video game character. Birdo has a similar silhouette to Yoshi (a dinosaur friend of the Mario gang) but is an entirely different species. So, it is kind of weird that they were paired together in Mario Kart Double Dash.

Mods

March 1, 2021

I have started to mess around with mods (short for modifications) for a game that I love called Stardew Valley. Mods are usually fan-made programs that you somehow attach to a game to change the content inside. Most of the mods that I have seen are merely cosmetic changes. This is the first time that I have really messed around with mods as I usually just play games as they were designed. I have mostly cool with whatever game designers give me and also I was always afraid that I was going to crash the game accidentally. Lately, mods have become more accessible so I decided to jump on the train with everybody else.

To remind people, Stardew Valley is a cute little game that starts with simulating farm life and then continues on to other gameplay. You run the growing of crops, raising livestock, foraging, fishing, and chopping lumber. You also descend into the mines to locate ore, jewels, artifacts and also fight monsters. It is also a social game with a full town full of people who you can get to know bit by bit. There are ten different love interests (5 female, 5 male) who you can date, marry, have a child with, and divorce. There is a calendar full of events to attend.

I was watching Deerbits play the game with the new multiplayer mode with a ton of mods and I really had to look into it. The first one I picked was a mod that turned all of the male potential love interests into young women. I have dated the guys in-game but I was intrigued to have almost a whole village full of women and to see how their storylines felt with them being women instead. Their portraits, sprites, and all dialogue options for all references are changed and the men all transition into women seamlessly. It also changes both Willie (the grizzled old fisherman at the docks) and Rasmodius (the mysterious old wizard in the woods).

So far, nothing I had done had really changed the game beyond how I looked at certain characters. I tried out a few more options, getting bolder with each choice. The second one I picked simply muted the rooster that cries out at the beginning of each day. I don’t know how anybody can stand that noise in real life much less in a game. I made it so my character could wear eight stat-boosting rings instead of just two, making combat a little easier.

I finally buckled and got a mod that subtly changed dialogue and story options. There is a character named Clint who comes off as a sadsack man who is plagued by both toxic masculinity and shyness. He has a crush on one of your potential love interests and spends most of the game pining after her. Even if you marry her, he will mention his crush on her. This mod subtly changes his dialogue to keep his anxiety but has him being a little less clingy on poor Emily. I have been messing with some odd stat-changing stuff as well.

However, the main one I have been thinking of is a mod that allows for poly romance options. You can date a lot of people at once and then marry multiple people. It’s something that I support in real life (although would never do). It is something I would be intrigued to see in-game. I do not know if I want to complicate gameplay at this point with it but I might try it out in late game.

Darkest Dungeon

February 8, 2021

I downloaded and started playing Darkest Dungeon recently and it was a rough adjustment. This game is designed to be difficult and scary. The game borrows heavily from cosmic horror and the darker corners of fantasy. You play as the heir of an ancestor’s Estate. Your Ancestor relates to you in writing that they accidentally unearthed a horrible monstrosity and numerous other horrors that now infest the area around the estate. You must operate from a nearby hamlet and hire adventurers to travel around the area to cleanse the place of monsters. There is no shortage of people stepping up to the plate to help you destroy evil and recover your family’s treasure (both material and sentimental).

Each mission allows four slots for adventurers to take along with you. Two things are very important to achieve success. First, you have to pay attention to party composition. There are 17 different classes who all have somewhat different yet overlapping roles in battle. Some are heroes and some are rogues just looking for fame and fortune. You have to balance damage, defense, healing, damage over time, and other abilities to get the most out of battle. Second, each character you pick has a preferred physical order in battle. Combat is only in two dimensions with characters on the right being closer to the threats and the people on the left being further away. Some characters are only able to perform certain abilities from a specific spot in the order.

The thing that was hardest for me to accept was that your characters are going to die. They are going to die a lot. The first time it happened, I got a knot in my stomach but soon it was something that was expected. I have gotten better at keeping it from happening but things can still go downhill really quick and somebody is just gone. They don’t just die. There is a vastly complex system of stress and physical ailments that can afflict your characters. Getting hit, traveling through darkness, missing attacks, and other things cause stress. If a character gets enough stress, they come to a breaking point. At that point, they can either gain a positive trait from it or a mental condition. If they receive enough damage and stress in battle, they could simply have a heart attack and die instantly. On top of that, they can catch all sorts of nasty diseases.

The key to keeping your crew intact enough to keep advancing is to provide them with plenty of support. When they come back stressed, crazy, and sick you have to take care of them. The tavern and the abbey are places where your crew can relax and drink or meditate away their stress. The sanitarium will try and cure their new mania and physical afflictions. Luckily, you have a whole group to choose from so you can stash some in town and have enough ladies ad gents to play with back in the dungeons.

The artwork is fantastic. It uses a comic book style with thick outlines, plenty of shadows, and grimy textures. Every hero looks troubled yet defiant. Every monster looks absolutely disgusting and threatening. The attack animations are really satisfying to let loose on your enemies. The dialogue and lore you uncover definitely puts you right in the middle of this horrible world and makes the game both stressful and fun.


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