103 Review: Never Leaving The House

103 is a Kickstarted walking simulator and puzzle game developed by Australian group Dystopia Interactive. First person seems to be Dystopia Interactive’s marmite and toast (hacky Australian joke is hacky), as both 103 and their only other game, Make A Killing, share this predilection for protagonists without faces. Mystery should be 103’s real title, because solving said mystery is half of playing 103. Lily is an overly imaginative individual whose night out with friends ends abruptly and the player must piece together what went on, and potentially what went wrong (I went into 103 narratively blind of this premise and now you know more than I).

Playing 103 involves walking through a cozy house, filled with stylish 1910’s Alphonse Mucha posters and adverts with drinking skeletons, in order to find…something? From the beginning, after quickly turning down the camera’s sensitivity because it was giving me motion sickness, 103 does not inform the player of anything. A blonde mannequin is present, often found finding value in staring at mirrors or enjoying the rain visible through the house’s sole window (which is honestly rather calming), and only she and the game’s patchwork bear mascot are the navigational devices. Those arrows drawn on the carpet? Totally worthless.

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Have they been here long?

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Exploring Abandoned Research Facilities for Skill Points and Relaxation

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System Shock 2 is one of my favorite games. This late 90’s PC game, is a mix of low-key cyberpunk and the alright movie Event Horizon. It further combines survival-based combat with a focus on RPG style skill trees and paths created its own distinct subgenre of video game, often labeled “System Shock 2 like”. Dracula’s castle from Castlevania: Symphonia of the Night was metroidvania’s mother (father…adopted gay mom?), and System Shock 2’s spooky mega-corporation owned space ship, the Von Braun, create an iconic setting within a subgenre it unintentionally created. What sets apart, and realistically limits the amount of games given the moniker “System Shock 2-like” compared to the relatively swamped subgenre of metroidvanias is, a necessary bigger budget. Additionally, these game require an almost constant reliance on utilizing some of the original System Shock 2 staff. As if metroidvanias like Hollow Knight, Dust: An Elysian Tail, and Quacamelee! would have to invite Castlevania’s real life Dracula, creative director Koji Igarashi, to consult on each game as a show of authenticity.

System Shock 2-likes” feel as if they have at least one big hand print of System Shock 2, like a Urah-kai’s mark of Saruman, over the design document. The legacy of System Shock 2 is so impactful, that even a later game like Void Bastards is marketed front and center with the tag line “from the development director of System Shock 2 and Bioshock”. This shared creative staff creates an odd familiarity for these games set, sometimes only partially, in isolated abandoned research facilities, including Bioshock 1 and 2, Prey (2017), and the distant cousin Soma.

Active exploration is big in “System Shock 2-likes”, where certain key areas are returned to over and over. Prey protagonist Morgan Yu’s office being refitted into a home base comes to mind, similar to the frequent backtracking in metroidvanias. That compulsive need to open every drawer, filing cabinet, or bathroom stall, common in story-focused walking simulators like Gone Home, is encouraged. It’s rather amusing that a subgenre of games so fixated on creative methods for dispatching grotesque monsters or armor-plated robots feels best when every enemy is simply ignored because you are only returning to Engineering because you just remembered there was a hidden unopened safe. Screw progressing the overarching plot to find answers as to why the research facility is abandon and why everyone is dead. You have audio logs detailing how much Margret in Hydroponics dislikes Brendon from Neuromod Division because his last White Elephant gift was something shitty, like an expensive bag of whiskey stones. Soma’s safe mode even removes all direct combat with its instant death undersea monstrosities, letting the player scatter papers and coffee cups in relative peace.

The solo journey of the “System Shock 2-like” is great for providing a creepy atmosphere, where often the only non-monster met are recently-deceased crewmate set pieces. Explore a lab in System Shock 2, find a hanged researcher. Explore a train corridor in Soma, find a technician being barely kept alive by a respirator AI. Go literally anywhere in Prey, find a staff member dried of their energy by the Typhon so they now look like a tar-covered mummy. It invokes this great feeling, like in the original Alien, that while you are scurrying to  survive, creatures bigger and scarier than you are also keeping busy.

Prey found body

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Muse Dash review: Start Dash!

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Muse Dash was originally released in 2018 by Peropero Games, an independent game development group from Guangzhou, China. According to an in-game loading screen tip, the game has seven devs. The game is available for mobile phones, the Nintendo Switch, and the PC through Steam.

Muse Dash is a rhythm game that borrows a few cues from action and platforming titles. One of the game’s playable girls – punkish Rin, mischievous Buro, and elegant Marija – runs through a stage while punting enemies and dodging obstacles that fly down the two on-screen lanes. The objective is simple: punt enemies, collect notes and hearts and try not to die from spikes, all to the beat of a song. If this sounds an awful lot like Game Freak’s 2013 3DS game Harmoknight, well, it is, but with more electronic music, faster gameplay and the ability to play as an anime girl in a maid outfit.

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Somehow I didn’t break my combo while taking this screencap.

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Why Town Simulators in Non-Town Simulator Games Are Better, Actually

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Harvest Moon, or the modern equivalents My Time At Portia and Gleaner Heights, ask a lot of my time. The average Harvest Moon like is close to forty-to-sixty hours long, and because video games have that pacing problem where things start to plateau after the first ten hours with nothing drastic or new happening till the very end, I have a particular itch I can’t scratch. There exists distinct merit in the limited village-building aspects of all these games that I value over the farming simulation and villager-gifting player-loop. The Rune Factory games and the mining parts of Stardew Valley are a middle ground, but that’s not enough. The key is for the village aspect to be almost separate to the core of the game, like how it’s probably worth it to do the real estate campaign in Yakuza 0, but it’s not necessary. Wait, Breath of Fire II has a town sim?

The last Breath of Fire on the SNES, Breath of Fire II, centers on rebuilding an old dilapidated cottage into the player’s home base, called Township. After being accused of stealing from a wealthy man in the town of Hometown (a lot of BF2’s translations are goofy like this), sad dog Bow goes with protagonist Ryu into hiding. While Ryu goes off in search of the real thief to prove Bow’s innocence, Bow is joined by other characters to rebuild Township. This becomes a cool subplot for Ryu, where party members, like the tough but bored armadillo man Rand, will recommend leaving them behind to help expand Township. Ryu eventually goes to the town of Capitan, the carpenter center of their world, and can  hand pick a preferred village design. Opinions include boring 12th century high fantasy brick house, treetop cabins like Fortree City from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, and the actually cool Mughal style.

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Is the party scared or embarrassed, cause they are all looking away from me? Exhibit 1.

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Maggie’s Apartment Review: Screw the Stairs!

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Maggie’s Apartment is a point and click adventure game from 2017 by designer and animator Anatola Howard and programmer Duncan Cross. The game centers on the titular Maggie Mallowne, an underwear-clad young women whose claim to fame is being the president of famous singer Randy Rosebud’s fan club. Maggie would argue her true biggest claim to fame is being Randy’s girlfriend, but she is not allowed to tell anyone this but her talking radish roommate Beauty. Over the course of Maggie’s Apartment’s short length, Maggie finds herself locked down in her 2000 story apartment, a bomb scare forcing her to really dwell on her relationship with her boyfriend Randy.

Maggie’s Apartment’s big draw is that it’s a point-and-click-adventure where the character stays in the same room for the entire game (Maggie does go out onto her patio a few times, but it could be argued that it is technically not leaving her apartment). Maggie lacks the usual point and click standard by not having a pocket/void world inventory system. Any object Maggie would normally collect instead stays fixed to the apartment floor until the plot decides, for example, Maggie no longer,  requires two T.V. antenna to perform a puzzle. However, the game maintains the genre standard wherein most of the puzzles involve combining X item with Y item to make some combination solution.

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Really wish the developers opened an Etsy shop just to sell this poster.

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Stop Children, What’s That Sound (Novel)?

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An ode to the sound novel. The once-popular medium for Japanese adventure games has sadly fallen into obscurity after being mostly replaced by the contemporary visual novel, with its character sprites and dating sims. While sound novels never really took off among English-speakers (07th Expansion’s works aside), there are a few significant sound novels that have ties to otherwise fairly popular/well-known works.

So, first off, what the heck are sound novels? Early in the 90’s, game developer Chunsoft (well before merging with company Spike and being here fore known as Spike Chunsoft since 2012) pioneered sound novels with their title Otogiriso. Sound novels are technically a precursor to visual novels and are characterized by the usage of text fully overlaying still backgrounds with emphasis on sound design through music and effects. Sound novels also employ the typical visual novel gameplay by means of multiple choices with branching story routes and multiple endings. Many sound novels were mystery or horror-flavored, though according to this Giant Bomb list, there was also a period of anime-spinoff sound novels landing on the Nintendo DS. Nowadays, sound novels are a rarity and visual novels have largely overtaken them as a medium.

With that intro out of the way, let’s get to the focus of this article: weird sound novel spin-offs (and one that isn’t a spin-off but led to one more well known than the parent game). The games I’ll be covering include Radical Dreamers, Play Novel: Silent Hill, and 428: Shibuya Scramble.

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Quoting Hip-Hop Lyrics from Sega Games

The best hip-hop lyrics, like other forms of poetry, are easily quotable. For example, lyrics can be a quote useful for summarizing a situation, often swapping a single word given the context. KRS-One’s My Philosophy is a touchstone for much referential potential; for instance “I just produce, create, innovate on a higher level” (quoted while making hand raising gestures on “higher level”) works as a useful statement on one’s attitude towards their own creative output. Wherein “It ain’t about money cause we all make dollars” conveys a helpful attitude about how creative work’s true value is not always dependent on its direct monetary value. Sometimes, the quote can just act as a non-sequitur between friends “but as you know, Boogie Down Production is made up of people [actual lyric is “teachers”, so it is a modification]”, similar to how people will quote movie lines to each other. Sega games have a history with hip-hop music and with that history comes tons of quotable lyrics.

Burning Rangers for the Sega Saturn main theme has two different versions. The original Japanese version entitled Burning Hearts Burning ANGEL features some catchy vocals by Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, the Daytona USA composer known for his distinct voice, the English theme We Are Burning Rangers hits harder. While singer Arif St. Michael substitutes Takenobu Mitsuyoshi to bring the funk, the lyrics of Robin A. Small really stand out. Small’s lyrics  “The Rangers have nothing to hide/ So as they fight they stand side-by-side/ For what’s right they tangle with pride/ Protectin’ the people from all sorts of evil” sounds  like he’s both their hired PR guy or in fact secretly a member of the titular Burning Rangers. It’s like the Bop Alloy’s song Save the Day where lead MC Substantial name drops himself and producer Marcus D flexes with lyrics like “Our name’s catching on, we’re so contagious”. Both Smalls and Substantial are hyping people up to convey how cool both groups are, like how great they are at putting out fires and rescuing civilians or simply getting attends pumped at a concert. Though Small takes the Burning Rangers far more seriously than Substantial with Bob Alloy, contrasting Small’s awesome but  overblown lyric “Giving Nightmares, like Wes Crave” to Substantial’s humble “Got a license to kill, but it’s missing the k”.

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Noah’s Rayark: An Appreciation for Rhythm Game Aesthetics

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A specific struggle I’ve had over the past few years getting immersed with rhythm games is finding others who are as invested in the games’ aesthetics as they are in gameplay and track selection. Since rhythm games are skill-focused like fighting games, I suppose the focus on scores and ability should be expected, but I feel this does a disservice to the games themselves especially when certain rhythm games go out of their way to be more distinctive. Some of the more ‘hardcore’ rhythm games, like Beatmania or DJMax have some aesthetic UI attempts (I’m not talking solely about song selection art, by the way), but they mostly seem to be window dressings to catch the eyes of would-be players. I’m also not specifically referring to the ‘weirder’ end of rhythm games like Gitaroo Man or Gal Metal, which push for more general eccentricity, but games like my ever-favored IA/VT Colorful and the Taiko no Tatsujin series which aim for a fun aesthetic design AND challenging gameplay. One company that hits a strong aesthetic design point is Rayark, a Taiwanese game development studio formed in 2011.

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Ninja waifus are cool and all, but that’s not really why you’re playing Beatmania, right?

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Super Suda 51 Brothers

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(Relatively abstract spoilers for Killer is Dead and the first two No More Heroes games. Honestly, these are hack-and-slash games, so knowing about certain story details does not detract that much from the actual game.)

Killer is Dead was everything I love and hate about what video game director and writer Suda 51 touches. I expected a hack and slash action game. I got it. I expected tons of assassins. I got it. I expected character’s winking at the camera. I got it. I expected catchy rock music. I sort of got it, as Killer is Dead’s soundtrack feels different, but none of the tracks stayed with me. I might be a Killer is Dead stan, but I won’t defend it too hard. One of the earliest missions features government assassin protagonist Mondo Zappa on a job to kill a man living in a mansion on the moon. Nonplussed like a parent reading a magazine in a dentist’s office as their kid gets a routine check-up, Mondo walks along the moon’s surface with a space helmet but no space suit. His target, owner of the moon’s sole mansion named David, ends up being the game’s full-of-himself villain, and also Mondo’s long lost older brother.

Wait a minute, Mondo’s an emotionless automaton affixed in a fancy suit and David is an egotistical smug bastard dressed like a golden bondage king. Did Suda 51 just pull a fast one and simply take Travis Touchdown and his older twin brother Henry Cooldown from No More Heroes and swap their personalities and roles?

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Dungeon Dice Monsters’ Rogues Gallery of Yu-Gi-Oh! Manga Villains

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After debuting within Weekly Shonen Jump, Kazuki Takahashi’s original Yu-Gi-Oh! manga would quickly receive Konami-developed videogames. The games in question areYu-Gi-Oh! Monster Capsule: Breed and Battle for the original PlayStation and Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters for the original Game Boy in 1998, only two years after the manga’s 1996 start. It seems fitting that a manga so focused on games would lend itself to videogames, especially during the early parts of the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga where children’s toys were often platforms for dangerous Shadow Games. The US would not see a Yu-Gi-Oh! game until the 2002 Game Boy Color release of Yu-Gi-Oh! Dark Duel Stories (the far less interesting title of the original Japanese second game in the Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters series, instead of using the metal-as-hell Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters III: Tri-Holy God Advent title). While that was a continuation of Yu-Gi-Oh’s long tradition of video games based off the card game, a more interesting game arrived in 2003. Yu-Gi-Oh! Dungeon Dice Monsters, based off a mini-arc, showcased heroes, school friends, and villains from an almost-secret segment of Yu-Gi-Oh!, and those villains in particular deserve some attention.

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Based on this tile layout, this match is going to take a while.

Having started reading Viz’s English magazine of Shonen Jump by the time Yu-Gi-Oh! Dungeon Dice Monsters was released, I was already familiar and surprised with the manga’s schoolyard violence. Ha ha, no, I was actually more surprised by how horny manga Joey (Jonouchi) and Triston (Honda) were (potentially throwbacks to Tooru Fujisawa’s Great Teacher Onizuka’s prequel Shonan Junai Gumi manga and its delinquent leads Eikichi Onizuka and Ryuji Danma), and how no one would stop harassing Téa (Mazaki). This era of the manga is often known for Yami Yugi’s (Atem/ Dark Yugi) screwed up Shadow Games and penalties. From getting a high school hall monitor to stab himself in the hand or blowing up an okonomiyaki chief with an ice hockey puck containing an explosive chemical, Yu-Gi-Oh! was more Kakegurui or As The God’s Will than children’s card game.

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