Is It All Just Fun and Games?: Shadows of the Damned



Quite recently I purchased Lollipop Chainsaw and Shadows of the Damned. Part of the reason was to play more Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda51 titles so that I can enjoy Killer is Dead this summer (I only need to play No More Heroes one and two to feel alright about this). Both of these titles are rather controversial for a similar reason, one I’ve written on before: Sexism vs Sexiness in games. Lollipop Chainsaw was enjoyable, I beat it on both Normal and Hard and got the Good Ending. I just beat Shadows of the Damned a few minutes ago, and I must say I enjoyed the game much more than I expected. I had relatively little expectations for either title going in, but I liked SotD more than LPC. This article however isn’t so much about my own personal enjoyment of the game as it is on what should be enjoyable in games.

First of all I should address a rather rampant issue on Tumblr, which is the use of the word ‘misogyny.’ As a male feminist and humanist my ideas upon sexiness/sexism/feminism differ sometimes widely from women, and most of the time I try and only listen to feminism from the perspective of women and gain understandings that way. Obviously there are factors I can never fully understand nor appreciate, as I will not experience them. My views on these subjects are more of a blend of my personal philosophies and from what I have learned from other women. Many things are acceptable in one way or another, but what is okay for one is not okay for another.

The word misogyny is thrown around on Tumblr almost without regard or restraint to its actual meaning, and is often a ‘catch-all’ defense brought up when someone just disagrees with the point (much like ‘you are offending me!’ as an end to an argument). Misogyny is, simply (and awfully), the hatred or dislike of women. Now it can present itself in many ways and the finer points are argued severely. However I often see that word used when we talk about the male-centered subject of video games, and games such as LPC and SotD really bring up this idea of female hatred, dislike, or objectification based on the humor and presentation of women and their bodies/sexuality.

In Shadows of the Damned you play as Garcia Hotspur, a Mexican demon hunter who must go into the Netherworld and rescue his lover Paula from the Demon Lord Fleming. Now there is a very interesting reveal that sort of changes things up right at the end of the game, but I won’t delve into that reveal and this article can be read fine without it. Garcia professes his love for Paula by jumping into the Netherworld without thought and sacrificing his own well-being in order to slay many demons and bring her back to himself. Paula, on the other hand, has it much worse: as owned by the Demon Lord she must ‘dine at his table’ and die over and over, in gruesome ways, while Garcia watches helplessly.

Now both of them are experiencing pain and agony, as Garcia must be attacked and hurt by demons as he goes to save his lover. As for Paula? Being constantly drowned, ripped apart, eviscerated, and eaten seems much worse to me. One question I had was: did she feel the pain each and every time? This is a chilling factor to think about. Garcia experienced much emotional turmoil, heartache, and agony having to see himself thwarted helplessly by Fleming and his minions. As far as I’m concerned, the love between Garcia and Paula is not an arguable point at this juncture and it isn’t what I mean to focus on.

It’s the humor and presentation that will bother some people. As far as I could tell, this was a ‘guy’s game.’ Not to say that many women won’t play and enjoy the game for what it is, but it is full of dick humor, sexual objectification, and general raunchiness. Paula struts around much of the time in lingerie or evening-wear dresses, and the majority of the humor from Garcia and Johnson’s (ahem) point of view is based around laughing around boners, using the word cunt without restraint, and filling out every possible moment with innuendo from the point of view of the male.

The thing about this sort of thing in games is that it reaffirms the notion that video games are just a sport for silly man-boys that don’t have better time on their hands. However anyone who has enjoyed Suda51’s games before knows he’s much more complicated than that and uses tongue-in-cheek aggravation in order to push buttons and get points across. Was there a point here that was much more than having enjoyable, ‘I feel bad for laughing’ humor? Maybe. The game is identified as ‘psychological horror.’ It is, to a point, mostly centering around what Garcia and Paula had to deal with and all the bizarre design choices of the game. I felt like this game would have been much more along the lines of Killer 7 had Suda51 been allowed to flex his wings a little more. We will never know, but there is enough weirdness here already to make a few people scratch their heads.

The issue I have in gaming (and not necessarily with this particular game) is that there is no equality in this sort of low-brow humor. Now we don’t always need to be politically correct and staunch at all times, some of us enjoy gross and raunchy humor, innuendo, and sexualization from time to time. The thing is, where is this for women? Where is the game where a woman is the protag and she has to save her pathetic boyfriend? (See LPC for that actually, and maybe Bayonetta). The thing is, it’s a rarity. Women should be able to be raunchy about who they are attracted to, put down men, and make jokes about their own bodies without someone getting up in arms or making a big deal about it. If we are continually going to have games that center on male bathroom humor, then women should get their own brand of humanly irreverent gameplay.

While Garcia Hotspur is a very attractive male who struts around topless and tattood in a few scenes, it doesn’t really compare to the fact that we see Paula in lingerie, Paula topless and dancing, Paula being sexy and seductive. Now I have no issue with sexuality, and I think a lot of these arguments about sexism/sexiness stem from a societal confusion about whether or not sex is okay (quick hint: sex is okay). Now if you operate on the fact that sex is not wrong/dirty/sinful/disgusting, a lot of these arguments change entirely. I’m just, once again, asking for equality. Who cares if it makes guys uncomfortable? We should have more scenes of topless or even nude Garcia, and there should be more episodes of Paula exchanging her own vulgarities.

And on the word cunt, we should be rather careful throwing this around, especially in gaming. Its a sore word for many and has connotations that go far beyond what you can call a man. Sadly this is part of the issue. Years ago I read a segment in the Vagina Monologues about women retaking the word cunt, lessening its damage, and equaling it with any curse word that you can use to define a male by. Lets take it one step further: I think women should take back sexuality and humor in video games. I want to see women make whatever sort of games they want to make, and they should be allowed to be low brow, objectifying, and sexual (or non, if they want) if they want. Women designers will let us see a part of gaming that we have never seen before, and it will make a lot of men and ‘dude-bros’ uncomfortable, and that will be hilarious.

So is it all fun and games? Should you feel bad for enjoying Shadows of the Damned? No, but you should critique it and voice (loudly and actively) what you like and don’t like about this sort of humor. Was Suda51 trying to be real or tongue-in-cheek? What does he really think about women, and are we supposed to expect to understand this from every director and scenario designer of each game we play? I’m not sure, but if we keep identifying these things and talking about them and asking each other what’s okay and what’s not, we will find out.

Is It All Just Fun and Games?: Shadows of the Damned

Quite recently I purchased Lollipop Chainsaw and Shadows of the Damned. Part of the reason was to play more Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda51 titles so that I can enjoy Killer is Dead this summer (I only need to play No More Heroes one and two to feel alright about this). Both of these titles are rather controversial for a similar reason, one I’ve written on before: Sexism vs Sexiness in games. Lollipop Chainsaw was enjoyable, I beat it on both Normal and Hard and got the Good Ending. I just beat Shadows of the Damned a few minutes ago, and I must say I enjoyed the game much more than I expected. I had relatively little expectations for either title going in, but I liked SotD more than LPC. This article however isn’t so much about my own personal enjoyment of the game as it is on what should be enjoyable in games.

First of all I should address a rather rampant issue on Tumblr, which is the use of the word ‘misogyny.’ As a male feminist and humanist my ideas upon sexiness/sexism/feminism differ sometimes widely from women, and most of the time I try and only listen to feminism from the perspective of women and gain understandings that way. Obviously there are factors I can never fully understand nor appreciate, as I will not experience them. My views on these subjects are more of a blend of my personal philosophies and from what I have learned from other women. Many things are acceptable in one way or another, but what is okay for one is not okay for another.

The word misogyny is thrown around on Tumblr almost without regard or restraint to its actual meaning, and is often a ‘catch-all’ defense brought up when someone just disagrees with the point (much like ‘you are offending me!’ as an end to an argument). Misogyny is, simply (and awfully), the hatred or dislike of women. Now it can present itself in many ways and the finer points are argued severely. However I often see that word used when we talk about the male-centered subject of video games, and games such as LPC and SotD really bring up this idea of female hatred, dislike, or objectification based on the humor and presentation of women and their bodies/sexuality.

In Shadows of the Damned you play as Garcia Hotspur, a Mexican demon hunter who must go into the Netherworld and rescue his lover Paula from the Demon Lord Fleming. Now there is a very interesting reveal that sort of changes things up right at the end of the game, but I won’t delve into that reveal and this article can be read fine without it. Garcia professes his love for Paula by jumping into the Netherworld without thought and sacrificing his own well-being in order to slay many demons and bring her back to himself. Paula, on the other hand, has it much worse: as owned by the Demon Lord she must ‘dine at his table’ and die over and over, in gruesome ways, while Garcia watches helplessly.

Now both of them are experiencing pain and agony, as Garcia must be attacked and hurt by demons as he goes to save his lover. As for Paula? Being constantly drowned, ripped apart, eviscerated, and eaten seems much worse to me. One question I had was: did she feel the pain each and every time? This is a chilling factor to think about. Garcia experienced much emotional turmoil, heartache, and agony having to see himself thwarted helplessly by Fleming and his minions. As far as I’m concerned, the love between Garcia and Paula is not an arguable point at this juncture and it isn’t what I mean to focus on.

It’s the humor and presentation that will bother some people. As far as I could tell, this was a ‘guy’s game.’ Not to say that many women won’t play and enjoy the game for what it is, but it is full of dick humor, sexual objectification, and general raunchiness. Paula struts around much of the time in lingerie or evening-wear dresses, and the majority of the humor from Garcia and Johnson’s (ahem) point of view is based around laughing around boners, using the word cunt without restraint, and filling out every possible moment with innuendo from the point of view of the male.

The thing about this sort of thing in games is that it reaffirms the notion that video games are just a sport for silly man-boys that don’t have better time on their hands. However anyone who has enjoyed Suda51’s games before knows he’s much more complicated than that and uses tongue-in-cheek aggravation in order to push buttons and get points across. Was there a point here that was much more than having enjoyable, ‘I feel bad for laughing’ humor? Maybe. The game is identified as ‘psychological horror.’ It is, to a point, mostly centering around what Garcia and Paula had to deal with and all the bizarre design choices of the game. I felt like this game would have been much more along the lines of Killer 7 had Suda51 been allowed to flex his wings a little more. We will never know, but there is enough weirdness here already to make a few people scratch their heads.

The issue I have in gaming (and not necessarily with this particular game) is that there is no equality in this sort of low-brow humor. Now we don’t always need to be politically correct and staunch at all times, some of us enjoy gross and raunchy humor, innuendo, and sexualization from time to time. The thing is, where is this for women? Where is the game where a woman is the protag and she has to save her pathetic boyfriend? (See LPC for that actually, and maybe Bayonetta). The thing is, it’s a rarity. Women should be able to be raunchy about who they are attracted to, put down men, and make jokes about their own bodies without someone getting up in arms or making a big deal about it. If we are continually going to have games that center on male bathroom humor, then women should get their own brand of humanly irreverent gameplay.

While Garcia Hotspur is a very attractive male who struts around topless and tattood in a few scenes, it doesn’t really compare to the fact that we see Paula in lingerie, Paula topless and dancing, Paula being sexy and seductive. Now I have no issue with sexuality, and I think a lot of these arguments about sexism/sexiness stem from a societal confusion about whether or not sex is okay (quick hint: sex is okay). Now if you operate on the fact that sex is not wrong/dirty/sinful/disgusting, a lot of these arguments change entirely. I’m just, once again, asking for equality. Who cares if it makes guys uncomfortable? We should have more scenes of topless or even nude Garcia, and there should be more episodes of Paula exchanging her own vulgarities.

And on the word cunt, we should be rather careful throwing this around, especially in gaming. Its a sore word for many and has connotations that go far beyond what you can call a man. Sadly this is part of the issue. Years ago I read a segment in the Vagina Monologues about women retaking the word cunt, lessening its damage, and equaling it with any curse word that you can use to define a male by. Lets take it one step further: I think women should take back sexuality and humor in video games. I want to see women make whatever sort of games they want to make, and they should be allowed to be low brow, objectifying, and sexual (or non, if they want) if they want. Women designers will let us see a part of gaming that we have never seen before, and it will make a lot of men and ‘dude-bros’ uncomfortable, and that will be hilarious.

So is it all fun and games? Should you feel bad for enjoying Shadows of the Damned? No, but you should critique it and voice (loudly and actively) what you like and don’t like about this sort of humor. Was Suda51 trying to be real or tongue-in-cheek? What does he really think about women, and are we supposed to expect to understand this from every director and scenario designer of each game we play? I’m not sure, but if we keep identifying these things and talking about them and asking each other what’s okay and what’s not, we will find out.

Horror Without Gratuity: Limbo
While the title of this little article is somewhat misleading, I must say that I felt a deep sense of fear while playing this short indie title. Unlike the version of the horror genre that has been popular over this last generation (the one riddled with guns and missing, oddly enough, horror) Limbo used simple monochromatic theme, ambience, and eerie music to scare me.
In some ways, this game reminded me of Amnesia. They are similar in how they use the effects of the game to scare you more than any individual creature. While the spiders sought to maim and kill my little child in Limbo, I was much more afraid of what I could not see, of what would show up and kill me from the shadows. Traps, many of them worked by other children like me (and giving me a strange Lord of the Flies vibe) were laid about ready to kill my shadowy protag. And many of them did.
Horror, for me, has always been about what I cannot see. Fears from my childhood. Darkness, shadows, eerie noises, sexual references that seemed violent or unknown, and the unknown itself. This is how Limbo grabbed me. I played this game in one sitting, over a period of hours, allowing everything about it to reach into me and frighten me. While recent titles such as Resident Evil have done little to even elicit a jump, Limbo had me on edge and wondering what was coming after me or ahead, in only two dimensions.
This is why lately I have so preferred indie titles to blockbusters: indie developers understand how to touch a player. Some of my best experiences of late have been on Steam, and I should have played Limbo much earlier. It’s eerie, weird, and ends suddenly, leaving you to wonder about the exact experience you just had. What is the meaning of this game, of the spiders, of the other children? I felt alone, lost on an island that I had no part of, escaping from a world of darkness permeated intermittently with light. I’d love to be this frightened more often in games, and to have an experience that sticks with me like this.

Horror Without Gratuity: Limbo

While the title of this little article is somewhat misleading, I must say that I felt a deep sense of fear while playing this short indie title. Unlike the version of the horror genre that has been popular over this last generation (the one riddled with guns and missing, oddly enough, horror) Limbo used simple monochromatic theme, ambience, and eerie music to scare me.

In some ways, this game reminded me of Amnesia. They are similar in how they use the effects of the game to scare you more than any individual creature. While the spiders sought to maim and kill my little child in Limbo, I was much more afraid of what I could not see, of what would show up and kill me from the shadows. Traps, many of them worked by other children like me (and giving me a strange Lord of the Flies vibe) were laid about ready to kill my shadowy protag. And many of them did.

Horror, for me, has always been about what I cannot see. Fears from my childhood. Darkness, shadows, eerie noises, sexual references that seemed violent or unknown, and the unknown itself. This is how Limbo grabbed me. I played this game in one sitting, over a period of hours, allowing everything about it to reach into me and frighten me. While recent titles such as Resident Evil have done little to even elicit a jump, Limbo had me on edge and wondering what was coming after me or ahead, in only two dimensions.

This is why lately I have so preferred indie titles to blockbusters: indie developers understand how to touch a player. Some of my best experiences of late have been on Steam, and I should have played Limbo much earlier. It’s eerie, weird, and ends suddenly, leaving you to wonder about the exact experience you just had. What is the meaning of this game, of the spiders, of the other children? I felt alone, lost on an island that I had no part of, escaping from a world of darkness permeated intermittently with light. I’d love to be this frightened more often in games, and to have an experience that sticks with me like this.

Gaming Social Matters: Powerful Women and Sexiness/Sexism in Gaming, as Pertaining to Bayonetta and Lollipop Chainsaw

We now live in an interesting time of dichotomy. One person’s sexism is another person’s sexiness, and this seems to be a war in which little ground is gained on either side. In the world of gaming, this is a hotly debated issues. Video game design is largely a ‘new old-boy’s club.’ While there are many interesting and talented women in the industry, for the most part the reigns are still firmly in the hands of the male. Shigeru Miyamoto, Suda51, Hideo Kojima, Ken Levine, Hideki Kamiya, Gabe Newell, and more, these names are synonymous with enjoyable gameplay and interesting titles (while we do have phenomenal female writers and directors such as Amy Hennig). I understand that much of these games that might be feminist or sexist in one way or another were largely created by men and come from a man’s viewpoint on the issue, just as this article is written by a man (who considers himself a feminist and humanist). So feel free to disagree with anything I say here women, and please inform me on how you feel.

I should present right away my point of view on sexuality. Often we talk about how sex is used to ‘objectify’ people and things, to sell them, to make a point. This is true in a lot of ways and this is the world we live in. However, to take this standpoint is to assume no-holds-barred that sex is a dirty, filthy thing. That sex is wrong, and that to objectify someone or something with sex is to make it less than what it really is. I do not hold this point of view. I find sex fascinating, beautiful, enjoyable, and appealing, and I do not think a woman being sexy is immediately sexist. There are obviously various degrees to what counts as sexism, sexiness, or objectification, but I think if you take the rule of thumb that humans are largely sexual creatures and that sex is not bad on its face, we can get over this problem and get to the root of the issues and talk about them in a new light.

Throughout the short history of gaming, I would agree that women have been painted as little more than sex objects. Sexiness is not just looks, it is also personality and presentation. Much of the time women are forced to wear little clothing (even if they are armored or in a realistic sort of game), they are presented in a one dimensional form, and are uninteresting. Thankfully within the last few years this has started to change (though throughout the history of gaming you can see examples of fine female characters). Now we seem to be upon a new trend: powerful women who engage their sex appeal without bar.

I wish to talk more here about Juliet (from Lollipop Chainsaw) than Bayonetta, but I will touch on both. Bayonetta is burlesque; Juliet is teenage sex appeal. The difference between the two is very immediate, and I will say that I have a higher opinion and regard towards Bayonetta (character and game) than I do for Juliet and Lollipop Chainsaw. Bayonetta is a powerful woman who, while exuding sex appeal, does not seem to use that sex appeal to actually appeal to anyone or anything. In both of these games the men are put on the back-burner, in almost emasculating positions while the badass women take front and center and do the dirty work. Luka is presented as weak, slow, almost entirely useless to the story and yet Bayonetta is fond of him for her own reasons. Nick is bodyless (and penis-less, interestingly enough), and Juliet constantly pokes fun at Nick being the ‘perfect boyfriend’ because he is an accessory that can be designed towards her every whim. It is rare that we see this point of view, where the woman is allowed to objectify the man and poke fun at the fact that he is basically useless without her.

The difference of age is a big deal between the games. I mentioned that Bayonetta is in burlesque style. She is sleek, sexy, a little bit on the side of the BDSM lifestyle. It is easier to poke at LPC because Juliet is a teenage girl, a cheerleader no less, and has a few of her own airhead moments. She is a lifelong zombie hunter, but seeks to have a life as a ‘normal girl’ having friends and a boyfriend. This is where our assumptions as players come in. We take what is presented. Before starting the game we do not know that Juliet has been fighting zombies since she was six months old. We think less of her because she is a pretty blonde cheerleader (a wrong on the part of the audience, people are allowed to be cheerleaders and blonde). The interesting thing I found in Juliet is that she gives as much as is given. While characters in the game will sling insults such as ‘slut, whore’ bitch, cooze’ at Juliet, she slings them right back with ‘douchebag, fucker, asshole.’ The game and its humor is wrong and raunchy, and anyone planning to play this game should know this going in. But Juliet presents herself well, early on telling the player that she and her sisters were raised by their mother to ‘wear their vaginas with pride.’

And she does, really. Gratuitious panty shots due to the cheerleader outfit and sexy posing moments aside, Juliet felt like a real character to me. She argued back and forth with her boyfriend, she had moments with her sisters, she had moments with her father, and she aggressively saved the world from the zombie invasion. Instead of being an almost silent and completely airheaded presentation of the male gaze, I almost felt like Juliet was an appropriation of mockery, sitting on a throne of typical insults and objectification and actually using them in her favor. She wields a chainsaw against vile foes and wears her boyfriend’s head on her hip. She talks about her likes and dislikes, she bickers with her family, she loves her (rather perverted) Sensei, and she’s excited about her birthday. While none of the writing in the game should be praised, it still felt like I was controlling a character.

I think this sort of role reversal is really powerful. And while we can argue about whether or not the sexiness is necessary (once again, there is nothing wrong with sex and if you wish to see a realistic non-sexualized female character, look towards Parasite Eve for PS1 or characters in the Final Fantasy series, such as Princess Garnet) it still exists. People largely enjoy sexuality and titilation, and I think the point we should get to is where we are not ashamed about the presentation of sex on either front. There should be equality. Most of us love to pine after unobtainable sexy people and bodies, and the point is to have them both in male and female terms. If we are going to have prancing cheerleaders, we need to have sexy shirtless males (but not the testosterone-addled versions like in God of War or Gears of War). I maintain that sexiness is entirely desired and wanted on a person to person basis, and while some people may not desire it at all, they are in the minority and must deal with that as it is.

So, are Bayonetta and Lollipop Chainsaw filled with sexiness or sexism? Both, to varying degrees. The point is for us to talk about it, to write about it, to tell developers what is okay and what’s not okay and not be ashamed to talk about sexuality and how we wish to see it. Sometimes we want to see sex objects, its fun that way. But it should not be the majority. We should see character, and realism, and men and women that assert their sexuality and accept it as a part of themselves and not a weird tacked on trait by a male geek majority.

I find both Bayonetta and Juliet not only appealing because they are sexy, but because they own this sexiness and could readily kick my ass. I am a male. That means in Bayonetta I am the useless Luka. That means in Lollipop Chainsaw I am the emasculated (and lacking of penis) Nick. I do not mind being presented this way at times because it alloys a new look at sexuality in gaming and gives women a moment to be the heroes. And honestly, women need more damn time to be the heroes. They are really good at it, and we cannot deny the awesomeness of characters like Samus Aran and Aya Brea. As long as we can figure out a way to approach sexuality and not immediately labeling it as ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ we can engage in conversations about its necessity and equality, and how everyone (no matter their gender or sexuality) can see themselves in games and have many choices readily available about seeing themselves presented in their favorite medium.

Opinions on Game Design: The Bizarre Distribution of Party Members

Since I first played Final Fantasy IV oh so many years ago, a curious question has cropped in my head: Why does it seem, in RPGs, that party members are not catered to the storyline? I understand that in some cases the progress at which you attain new and different party members depends on how the story is written, but the point between story and game design still does not feel streamlined.

In many RPGs, there are cases where you will get party members quite late in the game. I experienced this most recently with Ni No Kuni, where you receive the party member Marcassin near the final few hours of the video game. Since you only receive four party members all throughout NNK, and three of them are with you for the majority of the game, this just feels like a jarring design choice. The player might be tempted to use this new player (who you must level) in lieu of one of your other party members, but why shake up the tried and true?

Other video games have this feature with severity. In Chrono Cross, you have a three party member maximum (and Serge does not leave your party) and there are something akin to 30 party members in the game. While Chrono Cross urges the player to experience New Game Plus and continue on, the average player will not be willing to immediately run back through the game again and shift things around. While it was interesting to have so many party members, there was no system in place to easily swap them out, and it felt sort of like a missed opportunity.

My biggest gripe with not well-thought-out party distribution and character swapping is in Strategy RPGs. In games like  Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, you have rather massive parties and yet can only bring a few of them into each fight. This stretches out the amount of hours the player plays the game for leveling, but once again the swapping of party members almost feels like an afterthought.

Final Fantasy X is a good example of the party done right. While you don’t receive all your party members right at the start of the game (you gain Auron and Rikku later on) there is an interesting mechanic that makes the party work much better in battle. The ability to switch party members in and out during battle is a fantastic option that makes the player feel like they are gaining the use of their entire party, instead of being forced to pick and choose favorites and then waiting until subsequent play throughs in order to try out the ‘other party members.’

I would find it interesting in the future of RPGs if either A) The story was written in such a way to allow the player to access all the party members at once (through either them always being together or POVs to the other party members a la FF IX) or B) there was always an inclusion like in FF X where you can switch party members within the battle, or always have access to the party members so that leveling and equipping them is easier.

I’m not sure why party member management is so overlooked in a genre that is over 25 years old, but it always feels like a stagnant trend to stick to the ‘tried and true’ when it’s not worked out so well. I would love to see my RPGs treat their parties as more as a highly functioning family, not one where you leave the weirdos out and the cool kids get to have part in the adventure.

My Short Impression of Lollipop Chainsaw
Short on money during its release last year, I let this title slip by while I enjoyed many other games in the meantime. After purchasing this game early yesterday afternoon and beating it earlier today, I have to say my opinion of it was not at all what I expected. I wasn’t particularly moved one way or another as everything I learned about it was second-hand, but I am quite glad now that I played it.
In the vein of the hack-and-slash styles of gaming’s yesteryear, Lollipop Chainsaw reminds the player that they are actually playing a video game, and not some attempt and moving the medium in leaps and bounds. At times, this can be a good thing. The game was solid fun, simple as that. The combat was simple and easy to get used to, the characters were fun, and the style was bright and colorful. I enjoyed the quirky soundtrack (a mix of many different genres) and the hilarity between Juliet and her body-less boyfriend.
After not being sure of what I thought at first, around the third level is when I really started to enjoy it. Counting the Prologue, there are only seven levels in the game but they are quite varied and interesting. The gameplay of decapitating zombies doesn’t change much through the course of the game, but you are given interesting detours and weapons besides just the chainsaw in order to dole out the pain.
One of the things I found most fascinating was Juliet herself. While the game (at first glance) appears to be some sort of pandering to the fetishes of young boys, there is actually a bit of substance here. The reality of it remains that you are playing as a tall, beautiful, badass teenage girl, and this time the male (boyfriend) must tote along and be mostly helpless. While the sexuality of the game is ramped up quite a bit, I have no qualms with the presentation of sexuality and don’t believe it’s ever ‘negative,’ and I did not feel that Juliet was simply a sex object. The humor was raunchy and cool, and Juliet stood up against every foe she came across and asserted herself.
I bought this game for $20, and it’s worth at least that. Not one of Suda51’s finer examples of game design, but its worth the fun of play. I would say I’m glad that I gave the game a shot, because there was just something unique about it that will have me remembering it long after playing. Plus, I still have to get the Good Ending and the rest of Juliet’s costumes.

My Short Impression of Lollipop Chainsaw

Short on money during its release last year, I let this title slip by while I enjoyed many other games in the meantime. After purchasing this game early yesterday afternoon and beating it earlier today, I have to say my opinion of it was not at all what I expected. I wasn’t particularly moved one way or another as everything I learned about it was second-hand, but I am quite glad now that I played it.

In the vein of the hack-and-slash styles of gaming’s yesteryear, Lollipop Chainsaw reminds the player that they are actually playing a video game, and not some attempt and moving the medium in leaps and bounds. At times, this can be a good thing. The game was solid fun, simple as that. The combat was simple and easy to get used to, the characters were fun, and the style was bright and colorful. I enjoyed the quirky soundtrack (a mix of many different genres) and the hilarity between Juliet and her body-less boyfriend.

After not being sure of what I thought at first, around the third level is when I really started to enjoy it. Counting the Prologue, there are only seven levels in the game but they are quite varied and interesting. The gameplay of decapitating zombies doesn’t change much through the course of the game, but you are given interesting detours and weapons besides just the chainsaw in order to dole out the pain.

One of the things I found most fascinating was Juliet herself. While the game (at first glance) appears to be some sort of pandering to the fetishes of young boys, there is actually a bit of substance here. The reality of it remains that you are playing as a tall, beautiful, badass teenage girl, and this time the male (boyfriend) must tote along and be mostly helpless. While the sexuality of the game is ramped up quite a bit, I have no qualms with the presentation of sexuality and don’t believe it’s ever ‘negative,’ and I did not feel that Juliet was simply a sex object. The humor was raunchy and cool, and Juliet stood up against every foe she came across and asserted herself.

I bought this game for $20, and it’s worth at least that. Not one of Suda51’s finer examples of game design, but its worth the fun of play. I would say I’m glad that I gave the game a shot, because there was just something unique about it that will have me remembering it long after playing. Plus, I still have to get the Good Ending and the rest of Juliet’s costumes.

 Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

 Rated M for Mature, Available for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, Developed by Platinum Games and Published by Konami
"Nanomachines, Son!"



A game that started out being a link between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 back in 2009, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance became its own creature when Kojima Productions was not able to design a game based solely around swordplay, and so the project was given to the above-par action developer Platinum Games, where the gameplay was retooled and the story was overseen by Hideo Kojima of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. This game is highly-stylized action to the finest degree, an unrelenting tour-de-force of adrenaline pumping gameplay courtesy of the team that has brought us fine experiences such as Bayonetta and Vanquish.





Gameplay:


After a few cut scenes, the player is given control of Raiden only a few years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4 has wrapped up. Immediately the cyborg Jack is thrown into turmoil in Libya, where the player must fight against other Cyborgs and even a gargantuan version of Metal Gear Ray that serves as both a tutorial and a ‘look what we can do’ boss fight. Not all the components of the battle system are revealed right away, as Raiden meets with a new foe and is brutally dismembered and removed from action. Fast forward a few scenes, and we see the Raiden on the cover of the game, in a new body and wielding a fearsome new sword that can ‘cut anything.’ 

 The action in this game is frantic and wild, and yet also feels wonderfully satisfying. Each strike and movement of Raiden is solid, and while he moves very quickly he is still easy to control. Strikes are relegated to small and fierce, where Raiden either swings his blade or uses his feet to deliver incredibly powerful blows. Over the course of the game Raiden can use many different sub weapons and other main weapons, such as a pole-arm made out of the arms of smaller AI creatures, a heavy blade that works like a pair of scissors, and a tactical Sai. While sub weapons such as grenades and the rocket launcher jarringly break up the smooth combat, these are largely unneeded over the course of the game. Raiden has enough moves and abilities at his disposal to dispatch enemies and bosses with ease.

 One of the more interesting parts of the gameplay is the inclusion of ‘Blade Mode’ and the ‘Zandatsu.’ When entering Blade Mode, Raiden slows down time around himself and can dismember his foes into hundreds of pieces by using the analog sticks. This allows Raiden to gain a higher score and to cut the Left Arm off of some cyborgs, one of the many things to collect throughout the game. When Raiden is low on health, the player can use Blade Mode on a weakened foe to enact Zandatsu, a skill that allows Raiden to crush the spinal core of his foes and absorb their ‘nanopaste,’ fulling healing himself and his Blade Mode bar. 

 One of the things I enjoyed most about MGR: Revengeance was how streamlined everything felt. While you can go into your menu a la Metal Gear Solid and equip sub weapons and use healing items, this is largely unnecessary. The Zandatsu allows Raiden to heal on the go, and stay within the fray continuously. On top of this, the game has a very interesting ‘parry system’ instead of a traditional block or dodge, allowing Raiden to intercept enemy moves upon seeing a flash of red, causing the player to not have to break combat in order to be on the defense and further string together a devastating combo. When in the hands of a knowledgeable and skilled player, the parry is incredibly fun and creates some very interesting moments against stronger enemies, mini-bosses, and bosses.

 The bosses in this game are as extravagant and epic as they come, back-lit by an adrenaline pumping musical score and inlaid with a variety of interesting moments that shake up the gameplay. Like Zone of the Enders 2, MGR: Revengeance is incredibly short (think 5-6 hours) and has such a variety of moments and gameplay that it makes the time pass by in a flash.



 Music and Sound:


I won’t play around here, MGR: Revengeance has one of my favorite gaming soundtracks. The music is a varied amount of heavy metal, industrial rock, and techno that brings together both male and female singers. Every song seems to capture the moment of battle perfectly, and greatly enhanced my overall enjoyment of the game. There’s nothing that will get my blood pumping like a good soundtrack as I dismember my foes and take down colossal bosses, and MGR: Revengeance did not disappoint in this regard. I am still listening to the music days later, especially the song from the Mistral boss fight.



 Story:



While not quite in the vein of political intrigue that a Metal Gear Solid fan is used to, the plot in MGR: Revengeance is interesting enough. It’s not what motivated me as a player through this game, but I did quite enjoy Raiden’s fight with his child soldier past and his desperation to stay moral on an increasingly immoral battlefield landscape. The many bosses and characters challenge Raiden’s sensibilities throughout the game, offering their own twisted standpoints on the change of war and how Artificial Intelligence and Cyborgs is making war less humane. I have a few issues with the campiness of the last boss, but to be honest I did not play this game for the story in the first place (as I have for MGS in the past). I always enjoy Kojima’s dialogue, and there are enough Codec Calls to keep you entertained. The moments with Sunny and Raiden’s AI Cyborg pet ‘Wolf’ were some of my favorites.



 Presentation:


This is a Platinum Games title overseen by Hideo Kojima. If that doesn’t instill the word ‘quality’ on you before even picking up this game, you might want to broaden your gaming horizon a little. As far as I’m concerned, Platinum Games was king of action-adventure titles even before they became Platinum Games, and the majority of my most favorite action titles have come from the members of this talented team. Hideo Kojima made sure the story was enough to motivate the player, and that we would continue to find interest in Raiden. The colors, sounds, landscapes and soundtrack of MGR: Revengeance all come together wonderfully, and the graphics are outstanding.



 Replay Value:


MGR: Revengeance is very fun to play, and at its short length many players may feel compelled for an immediate replay. There are multiple difficulty settings, VR Missions for extra challenge, and many collectibles to find. With DLC coming out through April, there is more than enough reason to play through the game again or take a little break and come back for more later.



 Overall:


I’ve been curious about Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance for years, and I am so glad I played it. While I was a bit bummed about the length of the game, the quality of it speaks for itself. This is an incredibly fun experience that every gamer should try out. Plus, Hideo Kojima has said that he found Platinum Games so talented and wonderful to work with that there might be a sequel in Raiden’s future. If you want to experience a game that is no-holds-barred action, with highly-stylized comments and constantly jaw-dropping moments of size and scope, try out MGR: Revengeance. It just might be the most enjoyable action title yet.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Rated M for Mature, Available for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, Developed by Platinum Games and Published by Konami


"Nanomachines, Son!"

A game that started out being a link between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 back in 2009, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance became its own creature when Kojima Productions was not able to design a game based solely around swordplay, and so the project was given to the above-par action developer Platinum Games, where the gameplay was retooled and the story was overseen by Hideo Kojima of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. This game is highly-stylized action to the finest degree, an unrelenting tour-de-force of adrenaline pumping gameplay courtesy of the team that has brought us fine experiences such as Bayonetta and Vanquish.

Gameplay:

After a few cut scenes, the player is given control of Raiden only a few years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 4 has wrapped up. Immediately the cyborg Jack is thrown into turmoil in Libya, where the player must fight against other Cyborgs and even a gargantuan version of Metal Gear Ray that serves as both a tutorial and a ‘look what we can do’ boss fight. Not all the components of the battle system are revealed right away, as Raiden meets with a new foe and is brutally dismembered and removed from action. Fast forward a few scenes, and we see the Raiden on the cover of the game, in a new body and wielding a fearsome new sword that can ‘cut anything.’

The action in this game is frantic and wild, and yet also feels wonderfully satisfying. Each strike and movement of Raiden is solid, and while he moves very quickly he is still easy to control. Strikes are relegated to small and fierce, where Raiden either swings his blade or uses his feet to deliver incredibly powerful blows. Over the course of the game Raiden can use many different sub weapons and other main weapons, such as a pole-arm made out of the arms of smaller AI creatures, a heavy blade that works like a pair of scissors, and a tactical Sai. While sub weapons such as grenades and the rocket launcher jarringly break up the smooth combat, these are largely unneeded over the course of the game. Raiden has enough moves and abilities at his disposal to dispatch enemies and bosses with ease.

One of the more interesting parts of the gameplay is the inclusion of ‘Blade Mode’ and the ‘Zandatsu.’ When entering Blade Mode, Raiden slows down time around himself and can dismember his foes into hundreds of pieces by using the analog sticks. This allows Raiden to gain a higher score and to cut the Left Arm off of some cyborgs, one of the many things to collect throughout the game. When Raiden is low on health, the player can use Blade Mode on a weakened foe to enact Zandatsu, a skill that allows Raiden to crush the spinal core of his foes and absorb their ‘nanopaste,’ fulling healing himself and his Blade Mode bar.

One of the things I enjoyed most about MGR: Revengeance was how streamlined everything felt. While you can go into your menu a la Metal Gear Solid and equip sub weapons and use healing items, this is largely unnecessary. The Zandatsu allows Raiden to heal on the go, and stay within the fray continuously. On top of this, the game has a very interesting ‘parry system’ instead of a traditional block or dodge, allowing Raiden to intercept enemy moves upon seeing a flash of red, causing the player to not have to break combat in order to be on the defense and further string together a devastating combo. When in the hands of a knowledgeable and skilled player, the parry is incredibly fun and creates some very interesting moments against stronger enemies, mini-bosses, and bosses.

The bosses in this game are as extravagant and epic as they come, back-lit by an adrenaline pumping musical score and inlaid with a variety of interesting moments that shake up the gameplay. Like Zone of the Enders 2, MGR: Revengeance is incredibly short (think 5-6 hours) and has such a variety of moments and gameplay that it makes the time pass by in a flash.

Music and Sound:

I won’t play around here, MGR: Revengeance has one of my favorite gaming soundtracks. The music is a varied amount of heavy metal, industrial rock, and techno that brings together both male and female singers. Every song seems to capture the moment of battle perfectly, and greatly enhanced my overall enjoyment of the game. There’s nothing that will get my blood pumping like a good soundtrack as I dismember my foes and take down colossal bosses, and MGR: Revengeance did not disappoint in this regard. I am still listening to the music days later, especially the song from the Mistral boss fight.

Story:

While not quite in the vein of political intrigue that a Metal Gear Solid fan is used to, the plot in MGR: Revengeance is interesting enough. It’s not what motivated me as a player through this game, but I did quite enjoy Raiden’s fight with his child soldier past and his desperation to stay moral on an increasingly immoral battlefield landscape. The many bosses and characters challenge Raiden’s sensibilities throughout the game, offering their own twisted standpoints on the change of war and how Artificial Intelligence and Cyborgs is making war less humane. I have a few issues with the campiness of the last boss, but to be honest I did not play this game for the story in the first place (as I have for MGS in the past). I always enjoy Kojima’s dialogue, and there are enough Codec Calls to keep you entertained. The moments with Sunny and Raiden’s AI Cyborg pet ‘Wolf’ were some of my favorites.

Presentation:

This is a Platinum Games title overseen by Hideo Kojima. If that doesn’t instill the word ‘quality’ on you before even picking up this game, you might want to broaden your gaming horizon a little. As far as I’m concerned, Platinum Games was king of action-adventure titles even before they became Platinum Games, and the majority of my most favorite action titles have come from the members of this talented team. Hideo Kojima made sure the story was enough to motivate the player, and that we would continue to find interest in Raiden. The colors, sounds, landscapes and soundtrack of MGR: Revengeance all come together wonderfully, and the graphics are outstanding.

Replay Value:

MGR: Revengeance is very fun to play, and at its short length many players may feel compelled for an immediate replay. There are multiple difficulty settings, VR Missions for extra challenge, and many collectibles to find. With DLC coming out through April, there is more than enough reason to play through the game again or take a little break and come back for more later.

Overall:

I’ve been curious about Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance for years, and I am so glad I played it. While I was a bit bummed about the length of the game, the quality of it speaks for itself. This is an incredibly fun experience that every gamer should try out. Plus, Hideo Kojima has said that he found Platinum Games so talented and wonderful to work with that there might be a sequel in Raiden’s future. If you want to experience a game that is no-holds-barred action, with highly-stylized comments and constantly jaw-dropping moments of size and scope, try out MGR: Revengeance. It just might be the most enjoyable action title yet.

Hotline Miami: Flash review/impression
Steam, $9.99


Hotline Miami is one of many examples of why the truly bizarre can only happen on small scale. Indie games allow a platform where wings can truly be spread into the psychologically disturbed, and you don’t have to worry about blowing a million dollar budget over it. The game is fun, intense, difficult, and creative. It’s also so fucking messed up that it will stay with you, especially if you are the type to puzzle after vague story lines.

Psychologically disturbed stories in games are usually hit and miss, because it’s not as easy as people think to write up a story where you truly feel the subject matter is disturbed, and with a backbone. Hotline Miami begins by introducing you to the neon-washed color palette that is 100% hallucinogenic, and then drenches you in enough blood and brains to always feel a great pseudo-combination of utterly disturbed and fascinatingly rewarded. It’s the kind of game I rarely get to play on the big screen these days, but I can’t think of a single developer that would take a gamble on something like this, save for Suda51’s crazy moments.

 Speaking of the great Suda, Hotline is obviously inspired by the notoriously cult title Killer 7. It becomes apparent almost immediately if you’ve played that trip of a game, and doesn’t let up. The psychological nail-on-chalkboard feel, the colors, the violence, the disturbing phone calls, they are all as unsettling as playing Killer 7. But just like Killer 7, you don’t mind being disturbed when it feels this good! Especially when you know that there are no hard game overs in Hotline Miami, and even if you die twenty times on a stage, you know that twenty-first time you are just going to get it, and everyone will be on the floor dismembered by shotgun blasts and crowbars, and because you were so strategic (or utterly chaotic and aggressive) about how you decided to tackle that particular bathroom or phone company building.

 The other major inspiration for this current brilliant indie title is the movie Drive. The atmosphere, the Joe-cool jacket wearing murderer, the vehicles, they all reminded me of when I watched that brilliant movie. The colors too, man. The 80s lived for their colors. But finishing each mission by setting off in my Delorian was almost reward enough, and watching as the story devolved into a more disturbing backdrop filled with anonymous disturbing phone-calls and part-time mini-mart grocers standing in pools of blood telling me ‘Well none of this is real’ really set home that I was engaging in an experience that I haven’t had with games in a long time.

 Hotline Miami is more than worth its $10 price tag, and Steam has sales all the time, so you’re missing out if you don’t try this adventure. There are enough masks for everyone to wear.

Hotline Miami: Flash review/impression

Steam, $9.99

Hotline Miami is one of many examples of why the truly bizarre can only happen on small scale. Indie games allow a platform where wings can truly be spread into the psychologically disturbed, and you don’t have to worry about blowing a million dollar budget over it. The game is fun, intense, difficult, and creative. It’s also so fucking messed up that it will stay with you, especially if you are the type to puzzle after vague story lines.

Psychologically disturbed stories in games are usually hit and miss, because it’s not as easy as people think to write up a story where you truly feel the subject matter is disturbed, and with a backbone. Hotline Miami begins by introducing you to the neon-washed color palette that is 100% hallucinogenic, and then drenches you in enough blood and brains to always feel a great pseudo-combination of utterly disturbed and fascinatingly rewarded. It’s the kind of game I rarely get to play on the big screen these days, but I can’t think of a single developer that would take a gamble on something like this, save for Suda51’s crazy moments.

Speaking of the great Suda, Hotline is obviously inspired by the notoriously cult title Killer 7. It becomes apparent almost immediately if you’ve played that trip of a game, and doesn’t let up. The psychological nail-on-chalkboard feel, the colors, the violence, the disturbing phone calls, they are all as unsettling as playing Killer 7. But just like Killer 7, you don’t mind being disturbed when it feels this good! Especially when you know that there are no hard game overs in Hotline Miami, and even if you die twenty times on a stage, you know that twenty-first time you are just going to get it, and everyone will be on the floor dismembered by shotgun blasts and crowbars, and because you were so strategic (or utterly chaotic and aggressive) about how you decided to tackle that particular bathroom or phone company building.

The other major inspiration for this current brilliant indie title is the movie Drive. The atmosphere, the Joe-cool jacket wearing murderer, the vehicles, they all reminded me of when I watched that brilliant movie. The colors too, man. The 80s lived for their colors. But finishing each mission by setting off in my Delorian was almost reward enough, and watching as the story devolved into a more disturbing backdrop filled with anonymous disturbing phone-calls and part-time mini-mart grocers standing in pools of blood telling me ‘Well none of this is real’ really set home that I was engaging in an experience that I haven’t had with games in a long time.

Hotline Miami is more than worth its $10 price tag, and Steam has sales all the time, so you’re missing out if you don’t try this adventure. There are enough masks for everyone to wear.

The Unfinished Swan
Rated E for Everyone, Playstation Network, developed by Giant Sparrow
“Of all his creations, the greatest was himself.”
A game that started its life as nothing more than an XNA prototype, The Unfinished Swan had a development time of two months and was backed by Sony’s Santa Monica Studios. This is an art book of a game, an experience more than anything else, akin to Flower or Journey. You play as a young boy named Monroe who can’t sleep and has recently lost his mother, a kind lady who spent her life painting but seemed to never be able to finish her works. So Monroe enters the dream that she began, armed with nothing but the ability to throw balls of ink at a world that starts as a completely white expanse…

Gameplay:
In minimalistic style, you are given nothing more than the ability to move around, control your camera, throw balls of ink (or water) and jump. There are slow additions to this as the game moves on, but you start in a completely white space which after throwing a few inkballs, it shows to be Monroe’s home. Creating shapes and contrast by throwing ink down on the white surfaces, you eventually make your way out into a small farmland, and then a pond, and then find your way into a castle and beyond that even more creative and expansive locations.
While the game starts out with only giving you the ability to make out your world by contrasting black with white, there are four Chapters in the game, and each one is rather different from the other and incorporates a new way to interact with your environment. The world gains shape and form in the second Chapter, allowing you to throw balls of water instead of ink, and do creative things such as force ivy to grow into handholds for you to explore more areas. Then what you can throw becomes even more creative in the later chapters, where you use mathematical dimension to create shapes that you can use to jump on and move through areas.
I beat the entire game in about two hours, and just like with Journey and Flower I highly recommend making this a one-sitting game. While it can be really neat to come back to and unlock some of the Toys and play levels over, the overall experience is much better if ingested all at once.
Music and Sound:
The musical score in this game was beautiful and calming while never becoming distracting from the scenery or my goals at hand. I found myself really enjoying it if I stopped to focus on it, but outside of that it does its job to frame the emotions of a moment since there isn’t too much dialogue in this game (until closer to the end). The sound was very fitting as well, with everything sounding like it was supposed to. The plop of ink on the ground, the sound of rapidly growing vines or the creak of a wooden boat sailing through water, it was all very fitting and purposeful.

Story:
Of course the storyline is very simplistic and presented almost entirely through actions, but there are many ‘storybook pages’ that can be uncovered by throwing ink or water on a wall that contains a capital letter. Then the backstory of the King as revealed, as well as Monroe’s introduction and ending. Everything comes together in a very roundabout way, and I found myself more than a little impressed by their use of simplistic storytelling to bring forth a story that was actually quite interesting in the end. I’m sure subsequent plays will flesh out the story even more, but I really got a ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ vibe from the whole thing, which felt very fitting and satisfying. I found myself rather attached to Monroe and the King, and his mother by the end of the game.
Presentation:
The Unfinished Swan IS presentation. The entirety of the extraordinary experience is because of the strange way it brings traditional first person gameplay to you, and each new are is gorgeous and mysterious in equal doses. The areas are very complex and beautiful to look at, and none of them drag on in length. In fact I found myself wishing each level was longer, and I stopped more than once just to examine the scenery around me. I’m sure I’ll play the game again very soon just to look at the levels in more detail, and with more experienced eyes. I think the game is worth buying for the experience alone, and for sharing the experience with others if you can.
Replay Value:
The aesthetic experience is enough to get at least two plays from this game, but there are also Balloons that you can collect in each level, and use them to buy ‘Toys’ from the game’s main menu that Monroe can use. These range from Concept Art to tools that help you find more Balloons, to silly items like a Hose or even a Sniper Rifle (really it’s just a way to throw the ink or water in a straight line, and kind of a poke-in-name at other FPS titles).

Overall:
I knew I wanted to try The Unfinished Swan the moment I first saw it unveiled, but I kept myself mostly in the dark about the title until release because I wanted to be surprised. I know I already made reference to Thatgamecompany’s titles, but it really feels like that’s the experience they were going for. It’s video game minimalism at its best, and is the sort of experience that should change the minds of those who don’t understand that games can represent the best available storytelling in our current lives. The Unfinished Swan felt to me as if I was interacting with the kind of story book from my childhood, and looking at the concept art showed me that it was definitely a point of the developers to instill that sort of priceless nature into the player. As I said, The Unfinished Swan is worth the pricetag even for one play through as far as I’m concerned, because these sorts of gaming experiences only come along once in a while and they should be cherished as examples of video games as an art form. I’m very glad I played this game.

The Unfinished Swan

Rated E for Everyone, Playstation Network, developed by Giant Sparrow

Of all his creations, the greatest was himself.”

A game that started its life as nothing more than an XNA prototype, The Unfinished Swan had a development time of two months and was backed by Sony’s Santa Monica Studios. This is an art book of a game, an experience more than anything else, akin to Flower or Journey. You play as a young boy named Monroe who can’t sleep and has recently lost his mother, a kind lady who spent her life painting but seemed to never be able to finish her works. So Monroe enters the dream that she began, armed with nothing but the ability to throw balls of ink at a world that starts as a completely white expanse…

Gameplay:

In minimalistic style, you are given nothing more than the ability to move around, control your camera, throw balls of ink (or water) and jump. There are slow additions to this as the game moves on, but you start in a completely white space which after throwing a few inkballs, it shows to be Monroe’s home. Creating shapes and contrast by throwing ink down on the white surfaces, you eventually make your way out into a small farmland, and then a pond, and then find your way into a castle and beyond that even more creative and expansive locations.

While the game starts out with only giving you the ability to make out your world by contrasting black with white, there are four Chapters in the game, and each one is rather different from the other and incorporates a new way to interact with your environment. The world gains shape and form in the second Chapter, allowing you to throw balls of water instead of ink, and do creative things such as force ivy to grow into handholds for you to explore more areas. Then what you can throw becomes even more creative in the later chapters, where you use mathematical dimension to create shapes that you can use to jump on and move through areas.

I beat the entire game in about two hours, and just like with Journey and Flower I highly recommend making this a one-sitting game. While it can be really neat to come back to and unlock some of the Toys and play levels over, the overall experience is much better if ingested all at once.

Music and Sound:

The musical score in this game was beautiful and calming while never becoming distracting from the scenery or my goals at hand. I found myself really enjoying it if I stopped to focus on it, but outside of that it does its job to frame the emotions of a moment since there isn’t too much dialogue in this game (until closer to the end). The sound was very fitting as well, with everything sounding like it was supposed to. The plop of ink on the ground, the sound of rapidly growing vines or the creak of a wooden boat sailing through water, it was all very fitting and purposeful.

Story:

Of course the storyline is very simplistic and presented almost entirely through actions, but there are many ‘storybook pages’ that can be uncovered by throwing ink or water on a wall that contains a capital letter. Then the backstory of the King as revealed, as well as Monroe’s introduction and ending. Everything comes together in a very roundabout way, and I found myself more than a little impressed by their use of simplistic storytelling to bring forth a story that was actually quite interesting in the end. I’m sure subsequent plays will flesh out the story even more, but I really got a ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ vibe from the whole thing, which felt very fitting and satisfying. I found myself rather attached to Monroe and the King, and his mother by the end of the game.

Presentation:

The Unfinished Swan IS presentation. The entirety of the extraordinary experience is because of the strange way it brings traditional first person gameplay to you, and each new are is gorgeous and mysterious in equal doses. The areas are very complex and beautiful to look at, and none of them drag on in length. In fact I found myself wishing each level was longer, and I stopped more than once just to examine the scenery around me. I’m sure I’ll play the game again very soon just to look at the levels in more detail, and with more experienced eyes. I think the game is worth buying for the experience alone, and for sharing the experience with others if you can.

Replay Value:

The aesthetic experience is enough to get at least two plays from this game, but there are also Balloons that you can collect in each level, and use them to buy ‘Toys’ from the game’s main menu that Monroe can use. These range from Concept Art to tools that help you find more Balloons, to silly items like a Hose or even a Sniper Rifle (really it’s just a way to throw the ink or water in a straight line, and kind of a poke-in-name at other FPS titles).

Overall:

I knew I wanted to try The Unfinished Swan the moment I first saw it unveiled, but I kept myself mostly in the dark about the title until release because I wanted to be surprised. I know I already made reference to Thatgamecompany’s titles, but it really feels like that’s the experience they were going for. It’s video game minimalism at its best, and is the sort of experience that should change the minds of those who don’t understand that games can represent the best available storytelling in our current lives. The Unfinished Swan felt to me as if I was interacting with the kind of story book from my childhood, and looking at the concept art showed me that it was definitely a point of the developers to instill that sort of priceless nature into the player. As I said, The Unfinished Swan is worth the pricetag even for one play through as far as I’m concerned, because these sorts of gaming experiences only come along once in a while and they should be cherished as examples of video games as an art form. I’m very glad I played this game.