E3 2014 Overview

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Whoo, buddy. E3 2014 was my first time to the big show, and what a show it was. All three companies came out swinging with solid showings, highlighting a variety of titles that seem to have a great deal of potential. For Sony, I found myself most interested in their reveal of LittleBigPlanet 3 and Uncharted 4 (though I’m really hoping that installment isn’t the end of the line for the series). Microsoft wowed me with its Master Chief Collection. That’s the sort of fan service that I’ve only ever seen come from a company like Nintendo, but I don’t think even its ever done anything as ambitious as what Microsoft is attempting. Nintendo, though, ran away with the show, as far as I’m concerned. Nearly every game on its show floor was a must-have, and the lineup was packed with both familiar faces and pleasant surprises. All in all, Nintendo had the complete package, and it was very apparent.

So, here’s looking forward to the rest of this year and beyond, and please check out my little gallery of pics, below!

 

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Intermission

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Getting tired of the semi-hiatus here at Retro(spective)? (All five of you, I mean). Me, too! I did warn everyone though, so I’m not losing too much sleep over it, but still, nothing worse than dead air. What can I say, school has been a beast lately, Nintendojo (which you all should be reading) always has something percolating, and well, I can’t write about games if I don’t play them! Summer approaches, though, so expect things to start getting livelier as we move deeper into June.

Mario Kart 8 will be getting the old review treatment, and expect the same for Tomodachi Life, too. Beyond that, E3 is going to be huge. What I don’t post for Nintendojo will be here, so look forward to hands-on time with whatever amazingness lies in wait for this year’s show. I’d also like to point out, Retro(spective)’s one year anniversary is also fast approaching! Maybe I’ll… give something away in celebration! Exciting times await, dear readers! I hope you’ll all be along for the ride.

In Defense of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes’ Ending

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Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers for all of you who haven’t seen the end of MGSV: Ground Zeroes.

“There’s a bomb in my…”, Paz trails off, as she jumps from the helicopter in order to save her rescuers from the impending explosion building within her. It’s a powerful moment, as the player realizes that Paz, who was a traitor in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, is sacrificing herself in order to save the very person she betrayed. It’s also powerful, or at least jarring, to realize the implications of where the bomb is inside her, exactly. Players had just been subjected to the sight of Snake and a medic removing a bomb from her stomach, sans painkillers. Blood, guts, and screaming filled the scene, which was brutal to watch. Thinking she was safe, it was more than surprising when she declared they’d missed another explosive hidden away. It’s this moment, however, that is stirring up controversy across the internet, because the implication is pretty explicit that the bomb is either between her legs or in her anus.

There’s really no other place for it to be, though I will grant that it doesn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t another bomb in her stomach that they simple missed. However, if it were that straightforward, I’d think that Ground Zeroes‘ director Hideo Kojima would have made it so. It is then reasonable to assume it was, for all intents and purposes, an intentionally vague descriptor. The resulting speculation has lead many to decree Kojima incapable of the mature storytelling he claimed to be striving for with this twist, that it was just more violence and abuse against women in media. Which is unfounded, for a number of reasons.

First of all, Paz had a history that exists beyond the confines of Ground Zeroes. Again, her story is detailed in Peace Walker exhaustively, and to a lesser, though no less illuminating, extent in the recordings scattered about the game. People have complained that Paz was simply female fodder, but the truth is that her actions had come full-circle that night and culminated in her death. She also goes out somewhat redeemed, too, because rather than kill everyone else on the chopper, she hurls herself into the sea, instead. Ignoring the sexual implications of her murder, the ending itself for this character was tragic, but part of a greater narrative.

To segue just a bit to the narrative of MGS, there’s also no escaping that Ground Zeroes is one of many games in the series. Just because it might be the first exposure for some players, that doesn’t excuse an ignorant dismissal of the overarching story at play. To say Paz is just randomly inserted and used as a piece of meat is ludicrous. It’s like stepping into an episode of a TV show and claiming that a story element is inappropriate or out of place without doing the slightest bit of research to see where it fits within the greater context of the series. The tapes that catch players up on the story are enough of a resource, but the player bears some responsibility to educate themselves beforehand knowing they’re arriving in the middle of a story.

Still, going back to the real crux of the issue, it’s the notion that Paz suffered some form of rape or sexual abuse prior to her death that’s primarily stoking so many people’s ire. The popular sentiment being that it’s more of the pro-male, anti-female dogma so common in today’s video games. While I strongly support the initiative by those who would prefer to see stronger female leads and characters in the industry, I don’t see what happened to Paz as a blow against that. To repeat, her story isn’t limited to Ground Zeroes. Paz is, to a degree, paying for her own past transgressions. Paying, I fully acknowledge, in one of the worst ways possible, but to address another criticism of the game, audiences have no entitlement to see a narrative end as they please. Like a movie, TV show, or book, sometimes the ending doesn’t feel justified, but that doesn’t mean the creators did something wrong.

There’s this odd opinion that because Ground Zeroes‘ gameplay was fun and compelling, that to kill Paz so horribly at the end didn’t feel earned. That by virtue of playing the game and going through all that trouble to save her, she should have lived. I myself noted much the same thing in my own review of the game. There’s a difference, though, between being letdown and something being inappropriate. From a pure enjoyment perspective, the ending of Ground Zeroes is a letdown. It’s a killjoy. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, though. It’s like the ending of Inception, wanting to see that top stop spinning, and it never does. It’s frustrating, but it’s not out of bounds. Sometimes, things don’t work out the way we want them to, and that includes narratives. It happens all the time in entertainment, so I see no reason to subject Ground Zeroes to a different set of rules.

It’s awful if Paz was sexually abused before dying, but as Kojima himself noted, video games have to be able to broach topics like this in order to proceed further as a viable outlet for narratives. In execution, Paz’s potential rape and/or molestation might be a bit grating compared to previous MGS games, but really, the series has always been edgy and pushed narrative boundaries. Ground Zeroes clearly is a step in a new, grittier direction for the series, and while there were plenty of winks at longtime fans, the overall experience upheld that vision all the way to that final scene. I don’t want to think that Paz was attacked in that way, but there a lot of things I don’t want to have happened in stories I’ve experienced and read over the years, but they did.

I think it’s a healthy response for people to debate the ending of Ground Zeroes, but ultimately I think that it was handled well. I’d like to also point out that Hideo Kojima is no slouch as a director. MGS’s story is very dense and layered, to put it mildly, but the wide array of characters, both male and female, that Kojima has depicted over the years is staggering. Kojima’s run the gamut of character personality types and portrayals in his years with the series, and I’ve never once felt like he treats women any differently than men in his games. Ground Zeroes is a compelling game, and it’s ending is only as offensive as someone wants it to be. I think it deals with Paz’s situation as gracefully as it can and look forward to the rest of the adventure in The Phantom Pain.

Graphics Don’t Get Worse With Time

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I was reading a review for NBA Live 14 back when it launched where the writer described what he considered to be a poorly rendered crowd of fans. His descriptor for this poor representation was “[t]he crowd looks PS3-ish”. It was a pretty odd choice of words, considering that PS4 and Xbox One were barley out of their boxes. at that point. Clearly, by comparison there are some notably big differences between last-gen’s systems and today’s current boxes, but when I look at my PS3 and 360 games, I still see some beautiful, intricate graphics. I also feel the same way about GameCube, PSOne, Nintendo 64, SNES, Genesis, NES, and every other system’s graphics that has ever come out. What was good will always be good, so long as a person knows how to appreciate what’s on the screen in front of them.

The easiest way to think about this is remembering that when any system is in its prime, there are good looking games, and bad looking ones. No console has uniformly spectacular graphics across the spectrum of its titles. Twilight Princess on Wii looked a thousand times better than M&Ms Racing, for example. Particular titles represent the pinnacle of what can be achieved graphically on a console. Yet, the vast majority of video game journalists and critics are quick to dismiss what came before because of how shiny and new the graphics look on the latest generation of consoles. To say that game A doesn’t look good anymore because game B came along on the new system is a ridiculous oversimplification.

Video games suffer from this mindset in particular because of the industry’s ties to technology. Tech moves forward, always, with the idea to make the next new device far more advanced and better than the old. This leads people to categorize what’s old as inferior or lacking, which is totally unfair. Other mediums of art and entertainment embrace what came before. No one is slamming cave paintings or Jane Eyre in their respective communities, yet with video games there’s always some upstart ready to come along and say how a particular classic game isn’t all it’s made out to be.

Ocarina of Time is still every bit as nuanced and visually fascinating as it was in 1998. The vivid pinks of the sky as it transitioned to night, the serenity of the Forest Temple, the frightful depths of the Bottom of the Well, and a hundred other locations and experiences are timeless examples of what Nintendo 64 was capable of. The reason being that within the confines of the limitations of that hardware, Ocarina remains a work of brilliance. There were a hundred Superman 64s, but Ocarina was in a class of its own. Saying Ocarina is ugly now demonstrates a complete and utter lack of appreciation for what made the game so beloved to begin with.

Classic games shouldn’t only be playable if they’ve been upscaled to HD or completely remade. These games resonated with players for a reason when they first launched, and there’s no reason someone shouldn’t be just as absorbed playing them today. So go and bask in the waters of Wave Race 64, feel the rush of air as you swoop through the skies in Ratchet & Clank, and feel the chill of the snow in Metal Gear Solid. The good games will always be beautiful, because art never goes bad.

The Video Game Comics You Need to Read

I finally told my local comic shop to cut Ultimate Spider-Man from my pull list. Ultimate Spider-Man, for you staunch gamers not in the know, is an alternate universe take on Spider-Man that has evolved over the years since its inception to now feature a half Puerto Rican, half black young man named Miles Morales under the webs. Miles is freaking awesome, and I’ve been with the book through thick and thin for years now, but the latest impending relaunch, along with some other nauseating changes to the line, have finally prompted me to cut ties. As a result, I started reevaluating everything on my pull list of comics, and came to realize that some of my favorite comics on the stands today are Archie Comics’ three video game-based series, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Universe, and Mega Man.

Yes, for those of you in the know, I’m still picking up must-haves like Batman (and I’m digging Superior Spider-Man, naysayers!), but in all honesty, the most fun and freshness are coming from these three series. As I’ve been going through my back log of comics as of late, it got me thinking about the various video game comics that have come out or are still being published that really deserve more love. Here are the top five video game-based comics you should track down and read!

5) The Legend of Zelda Manga

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Publisher: VIZ Media

Nintendo might be reluctant to return to TV and movies when it comes to its core franchises, but one area that the company has been more outgoing with is comics. The line of Zelda manga translated and published here in the US by VIZ Media (under its VizKids imprint) feature very fun, energetic retellings/reinterpretations of the stories from the games. What makes them special is the combination of intricate, beautiful artwork and little story details not present in the games. Some might be pickier about pulling the stories straight from the source material, but I’ve always found some of the small alterations to be welcome injections of personality that only serve to expand and enrich the Zelda mythology. There are ten volumes in total, with a very handsome collector’s edition out there that bundles them all together. Easily worth a read for fans of the series.

4) Kingdom Hearts Manga

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Publisher: Yen Press

Originally published by Tokyopop, the Kingdom Hearts manga are very handsome recreations of Sora’s epic games. Fans will be blown away by the stunning artwork, and the story is just as engaging/maddening on the page as it is on a TV screen. To date, there are volumes based on KH, KH II, KH: Chain of Memories, and KH: 358/2 Days available to read. Keep in mind, Tokyopop lost the rights to publish the manga and it went away for years before Yen Press came along, so it’d be best to add this to your collection sooner, rather than later!

3) Street Fighter Comics/Manga

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Publisher: Udon Entertainment

The fine folks at Udon are responsible for some of the most robust and comprehensive video game art books to ever be published here in the West, so it’s only fitting that they’d put out some excellent comics, too. The publisher has translated some of the more beloved Japanese manga stories and also produced some of its own, original comics, too. The quality for both is very high, and are offered in a number of formats, including massive coffee table editions! Keep your eyes peeled for other Udon published comics, including Darkstalkers.

2) Mega Man Comics

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Publisher: Archie Comics

Mega Man might be in limbo in the world of video games, but he’s alive and well in comics. Archie’s been producing the series for over two years now, and the quality has yet to dip. From issue one to now, the writing and art have been consistently high, establishing a unique take on the character’s world, friends, and enemies. Aside from Udon, Archie is one of the few publishers to make video game comics that aren’t just translations of material from other territories, and the time and effort the company puts into Mega Man is readily apparent on every page. I also have to point out, Udon has translated some excellent Mega Man manga, as well, so be sure to give those a look, too!

1) Sonic the Hedgehog Comics

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Publisher: Archie Comics

Like I said, I’ve dropped Ultimate Spidey and a few other titles in recent months, but Sonic’s wonderful adventures from Archie are some of the best stuff I’m reading from month to month. Both Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Universe exist in a world unique to the comics and different from the video games, but what Archie has crafted is so nuanced and entertaining, it’s no surprise why Sega has maintained as long a relationship with the publisher as it has. From the art to the writing, I’ve fallen head over heels for the Blue Blur and his pals, and you should, too.

Well, folks, I hope you can find the time to peruse the interwebs (or better yet, get to a comic shop) to pick any/all of these titles. Each one is worth your money and time, and it’s important to keep quality titles like these on the stands. Forget picking up the next #1 relaunch of the month; support comics and creators who put quality over gimmicks!

Building a Better Final Fantasy Game

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Lightning Returns, the third and final (a pun!) installment of the Final Fantasy XIII epic, has been met with mixed reactions to say the least. It’s really quite interesting to think how the once unflappable franchise is now a great, big question mark in the eyes of its fans. It’s not that FF is a bad series, these days, but it certainly feels like a misguided one. Let’s figure out how to get Square’s flagship franchise back in fighting form!

No More Project Runway

Why Square decided that all of its characters need to look like they stepped off of a fashion runway is confusing, to say the least. Simplicity is king, and it’s been years since any FF game has featured a cast that wasn’t garishly outlandish looking. As mimicked as Final Fantasy VII‘s cast might have become over the years, there’s no denying how iconic and clean their designs remain to this day. XIII was a step in the right direction, but its subsequent sequels strayed back into the realm of hyper-weirdness. Future installments would do well to take a more balanced approach to character design.

Focus the Narrative

Some of the most poignant narratives ever committed to pixels and polygons come from Final Fantasy games. Sadly, we’re far removed from the days when the death of Aerith shocked fans to a standstill. Where Square once dominated in terms of storytelling and building character relationships, FF has become more about spectacle and grandiose exposition. While the cinematics in recent years have become more and more stunning, there’s just not enough substance behind them to really suck players in. Let’s get back to the more heartfelt tales of FF’s past.

Shouldn’t Take a Textbook

I really don’t think it’s farfetched to say that the more recent FF games can be incredibly mentally taxing just trying to figure out how all the different battle and upgrade systems work. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun with the paradigms in the FFXIII trilogy, but there’s no ignoring that the accessibility of the series has taken a huge blow over the years. The tutorials can be useful, but too often it feels like the screen is a jumble of boxes and numbers that’s more convoluted than it needs to be. I suggest simplifying things with a little bit of reservation, because I know that many fans have a lot of fun learning the ins and outs of each game’s unique quirks and nuances. Regardless, a little streamlining wouldn’t hurt, and can be done so as not to alienate longtime fans.

FF XV is supposedly deep into development, so hopefully it won’t be long before we learn whether or not Square has learned from its mistakes. Perhaps more than anything else I listed above, Square can make FF supreme again by not being so hung up on its past. FF used to be all about marching boldly into the future, not slavishly trying to replicate what came before. If XV can be half as brave and creative as the best FF games, hopefully Square will be able to restore everyone’s faith in the brand.

The PlayStation Platforming Treasure Trove

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I’ve said it before, but I can be late to the party. Like, really, really late. Like, the janitor is gone late. Case in point; Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter, and Ratchet & Clank are some amazing platformers that I never had bothered to get into before. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway (more on that in the future) on my Vita these past couple weeks, but I wanted something a bit different. I’ve been staring at the Sly Collection sit on the shelves in my local GameStop for eons now, and I figured, what the heck, time to give it a try.

Wow. Not perfect, mind you, but the Sly games are just so dang pleasant. The controls are solid, the graphics are pleasing, and the characters are fun. It feels very much like the antithesis of what Nintendo does so well with its Mario platformers, but it still works. Playing Sly made me realize I had to be misjudging Ratchet and Jak, so I quickly snatched up the respective HD collections of those, too, and was even further surprised by their quality.

I know a lot of people enjoy the three of these series, but it feels like they’re deserving of more praise than they’ve received. I’m loving the look and feel of all three franchises, and I’m only getting into their PS2 origins. Outside of Ratchet, it’s a shame that Sly and Jak didn’t get more exposure in the PS3 era. I know that demographics and players’ tastes have changed over the years, but, well, these games are fun! Fun should be embraced, fun should get sequels. If you have yet to try any of these games, please go pick them up; you won’t be disappointed.