287 Reviews liked by LukeGirard

What is the best game?
What could the best game even be? It's hard to think of, isn't it? Maybe you would want good mechanics? A gripping story with very well-written and likeable characters? Lush environments with an atmospheric soundtrack that drags you straight into it's universe? There's many more you could want that would be more tailored to your personal tastes, which at that point your best game becomes my mediocre game and vice-versa. Arguments and debate about influence are often used as sticks of measurement as to what the best game possibly is, but influence is something that can be lost in time like many other things in life. After all, nothing is truly original, and would it be fair to give an award to one who was simply....first? I'm not entirely sure on that myself.
Metroid on NES was different from the other games I had played on that system, where as I played other stuff like Super Mario Bros. or Duck Hunt for childish entertainment, I felt a much different array of emotions. I was scared, I was curious, I was confused, and I was intrigued. It was due to this, and my sudden discovery that I enjoyed music coming from a little electronic piece of equipment, that Metroid was something I couldn't really forget, nor would I not find it's ambition to be truly commendable for such an early title. I liked it, but it wasn't my favorite NES game. Samus would notably spend a long ways away from my personal gaming timeline, Metroid II just being that Super Game Boy box was again my only memory, and in Super Smash Bros on Nintendo 64 I would play as Samus wondering where she's been this whole time, being reminded of her existence as I played as her, because she just seemed cool. She was cool, but I noticed something when I would look at her character profile in there....
What is that? In 2023 it might be a bit hard to believe, but back then I did not have internet, or even cable. The only games that were out on Super Nintendo to my knowledge were just whatever was at the local Hollywood Video and such. Maybe I saw Super Metroid at Toys r' Us and just never registered it? Who's to say? One thing is for sure though, at one point I started getting into gaming magazines, and my dad eventually had a cable package with G4 among it's listings. It was in places such as these where I would hear the combination of the words "Super" and "Metroid" a lot. I was already interested, but in these same pieces of media, many would cite Super Metroid as "one of the best games of all time" and other such words of grandeur. It knocked me off my feet to hear about it or even see footage of it, Samus was in...the best game? I... wasn't there for it.
For years, it would be a bit of a white whale of gaming for me, especially after having enjoyed games that renewed my interest in the meantime such as Zero Mission and the Prime games. I had played pretty much every major release that came about on the SNES too...
Super Mario World? Of course.
Donkey Kong Country? Was my jam.
Link to the Past? Yeah, I played it at a friend's house.
Super Metroid? Wha-what?
It wouldn't be until I started browsing GameFAQs where I would eventually learn of this thing called "emulators". What are those? One google search later, I would find it... a program that would help this penniless child play a game they had stuck in the back of their mind for what seemed like a decade. It was during a time where emulation was a bit dodgy, certain things would look off and sounds could come out pretty warbly. Back then though, we were just happy to have something work at full speed. I was thankful enough just to see that famous intro, albeit with German subtitles attached to it. I couldn't believe it, on my family's kitchen computer I was about to play it, the best game...
It seems our little friend from our adventure on SR388 has been kidnapped by familiar foes, those we hadn't seen since they were but adorable 8-bit caricatures. They have rebuilt their base, and have grown far more fearsome. It's time to visit Zebes again, our old stomping ground. We trek across familiar landscapes, recalling the memory of escaping during the countdown of the original destruction of Mother Brain and find our morph ball....right where it was last time. All too familiar, until we are spotted and suddenly we find Ridley's henchmen swarming the innards of Old Tourian. This Zebes is different, it's been expanded and they are much more prepared for us this time it seems, and Kraid has gotten.....larger.
....but we were ready, for we are SUPER Metroid!
I always thought it would be seen as odd to have nostalgia for an emulator. It's not a real system, it's a fake, a phony. A shoddy imitation of what was my little grey and purple friend I had next to my little cable-less hand-me-down TV in my bedroom. To top it all off, there is no reason to ever use it anymore, it is obsolete and has been for some time now. It's existence means nothing anymore, but it lent me a sudden helpful hand and let me experience games that I had missed out on...and allowed me to finally revisit old favorites during a time it felt impossible. Oh, Star Fox how I had missed you so. It's difficult to believe they were once so guarded from young online eyes, and now they are commonplace. It's hard for me to imagine a world without them...a world where those younger than me wouldn't be able to easily experience that of which I had grown up with.
Thank you for your time ZSNES my old chum...and thank you Nintendo for making this apparently behind my back, and thank you Zeric, maker of this map on GameFAQs.
That leads us back to the question I asked from the beginning, what is the best game? Is Super Metroid the best game? Well my friend, I've played many a "best game". Many have not survived my trials, whether it was due to factors like "I didn't care for the thing" or a simple "I just don't play well with RPGs I'm afraid", but... Super Metroid has legs. It's a horse in this race of highly-acclaimed classic titles that I would get behind. It walks that aisle, and styles and profiles. Upon finishing my return to this game that I played very much legally as a youngling, I found myself playing again right away, and my entertainment somehow doubled as I was utilizing wall jumps to find alternate quicker paths to upgrades and energy tanks. It's a rare breed of game that somehow gets better the more you play it, just like a true Metroid adventure. What was once a clunky feeling is now just second nature, no longer do I care about the controls or Samus' physics of actually feeling like a person in a space suit jumping around on an alien planet. It is all just second nature, and now I am Samus, and I fuckin' rule.
The high I get from seeing that small amount of inventory I start with getting larger, and eventually taking up all that space on the top of the screen? Unfathomable.
Imagine making something that was so good that developers didn't want to even follow up such a game. That begs the question, could you in fact make a better Metroid? What is the next step for the series then? If Sakamoto could not imagine a way to utilize the Nintendo 64's controller, then what hope is there for the Dolphin console? There is maybe one way...how about, now bear with me on this...two fantastic games, at the same time. Would that be sufficient? Hrmph, unlikely that such a thing would be done. Regardless, it seems we would need to wait a while to go on another adventure with our favorite bounty hunter. I suppose another round of matches with the boys would be okay in the meantime. Until next time Samus, take care.
See you next mission.
Save the animals.

Recommended by Akkusativ as part of this list Checks notes …over a year ago. Oops!
The Evil Within may be a mishmash of transcendent highs and miserable lows, but at the very least it’s always interesting. The completely hollow cinematic ambition of a modern AAA experience blended haphazardly with the refined action mechanics of a Namco arcade cabinet. Say what you will, but there simply isn’t anything else like it. Is the sprint mechanic stupid? Yes. Does it make literally no sense contextually? Also, yes. But does it kick ass? You know it brother. Not only is it in perfect keeping with the survival horror spirit of strict resource management, but further highlights the combat’s focus on careful movement and enemy manipulation. The game is littered with these kinds of bold choices, from invisible enemies to an unlockable difficulty level where every single attack kills you instantly. The implementation of these ideas aren’t always perfect, but I still love them immensely.
The match mechanic is the real standout in this regard. Its area of effect can be too unclear at times, but regardless it recalls the best decision making moments from the Resident Evil remake while adding a nice bit of Resident Evil 4 flavor. Once enemies are downed, dropping a match ignites and kills them, and crucially will also take out any other enemies within a close range. Combine this with environments filled with boobytraps that can be used either for or against you, and you have a combat system that directly builds off the spatial awareness that made RE4 so compelling while still altering its foundation enough to keep the two games feeling distinct from each other.
While a few of the setpieces are a little half-baked, the penultimate double box man boss fight really goes to show how incredible this combat can be when all the pieces fall into place. The fight has everything: Intimidating enemies roaming a looping level design with moving spike walls that keep you running around and trying to use the hazard to your advantage. The box men’s attacks play into the core mechanics beautifully as well, they throw out traps which can stun you if you’re not careful, or alternatively you can set one off with a well timed bullet while the boss is nearby to get some free damage in. It’s very easily the richest boss fight in a horror game and one of my favorite boss fights in general.
The Evil Within is really just a series of these kinds of logical and consistent interactions which reward player creativity and give the action a scrappy, improvised feel. It’s a game less concerned with being legitimately scary and more concerned with serving as a greatest hits of horror which sacrifices narrative coherence in order to meld Shinji Mikami’s body of work into one unified whole. It’s a deeply imperfect game made up of striking design choices that are bound to rub players the wrong way, but shows nothing but confidence in its weird, occasionally misguided vision. Great stuff.

In one sentence: The Big Bang as recounted by a 14-year-old whose most anticipated movie is The Matrix Reloaded, and whose primary relationship with underwear is being forced to wear it like a monastic robe.
[Hey there. Despite being an action game fan, DMC as a franchise has been a massive blind spot in my backlog. I’m fixing that now, and I figured the insight of fresh(ish) eyes into a storied set of games like this would be interesting to work out with longer reviews. The reviews will be divided into multiple sections, each notated by difficulty and completionist goals set by myself for each playthrough. It’s long, so big thanks for reading!]
I. (Playthrough 1, Normal mode, Any%)
While Character Action (or Stylish Action, or Hack-and-Slash, or what the fuck ever) has the privilege of being a fusion of two genres that saw contemporary success and innovation in their primes, it would be underselling Team Little Devils to imply that anything in Devil May Cry would’ve been possible to achieve through mimicry. After all, the entire conceit of the genre was to, in this stage at least, shift the beat-em-up arcade design into a 3D space, using the only camera technique that unabashedly worked pre-millennium. Similar goals were set for games before this, but all of them that I’ve seen are... shackled, let’s say. While I would argue that a few games, Soul Reaver and Fighting Force as examples, are worthy of a seat at the table (a booster seat, maybe), to my knowledge, DMC is a first in that its action is coherent and stable enough to be the foundation with which the rest of the game rises up in expectation. The limitations set in by its history as a rogue Resident Evil sequel surely had a hand in this, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
There’s no denying that a game released in 2001 looks, talks, and behaves as expected, but the idea of a genre progenitor keeping some kind of pace with the contemporary is so outlandish in the medium of games that rewarding it on this basis alone is understandable. For reference, Yie Ar Kung-Fu had its 20th birthday the same year Tekken 5 released, and Battlezone shares its 20th with a Quake III expansion. With all this said, I’d like to keep the legacy talk at a minimum, as DMC is worth discussing on its own merits.
There’s an almost-cheap totality that this era of Capcom was capable of displaying in their pastiche-y level architecture. The castle is immediately established as an entity in and of itself, groaning out haunted songs and surrounding Dante with unreliable machinations before you even fight an enemy. It would all be exposed as arbitrary level design if it weren’t for 1. the aforementioned wholeness of it all, but much, much more importantly, 2. the pacing this game works in, which is close to perfection?
Granted, the beginning is helped by a string of cheekily short levels with quick capsules of “good job, bud” feedback, but the grip with which you are seeing new things and being given room to stretch your legs is shocking given the lack of trodden genre ground (though paradoxically familiar given the ResiEvil legacy). Not only does this game have good backtracking, it is a thesis on how to imbue familiar spaces with life to match, if not exceed The New (again, RE all day). That said, the last third of the game is lined with some fatiguing content, the height being a stack of sequential boss fights outlined by the one fool that overstays its welcome, Nightmare, totaling to a lot of repeated exposure that could’ve been truncated. Given how some of the early boss fights have outright skips and cheese strategies, it doesn’t seem absurd to imagine a world where Nightmare 1 or 2 is as skippable as Phantom 2 or Griffon 1. This could just be the me that has played this game four fuckin’ times in a month talking, by the way, so take it with a grain of salt.
Fluidity is the name of the game in both pacing and combat itself, as Team Little Devils astutely recognized that giving a massive increase to space also meant an increase to potential aimlessness. The stylish rankings are an obvious solution to this, though I’d also include the soft lock-on (as obnoxious as it can be) and barrier-based level design as helping out too. The stylish ranking is really tight in this game - even my little knowledge of future entries knows that the one-and-a-half second window is minuscule by comparison. I thought this was limiting at first, thinking there was some absurdity in knowing that a near-perfect High Time was worthy of punishment despite it still working in the machinations of the game as effectively as one that did fit. And while this is still true, there’s a risk it runs in being too loose that future systems don’t (the game simply lacks the breadth to uphold the stylish combos we eventually see in DMC3 on); besides, with enough time and experience in the game, the system ends up serving its role as an incentive to forego safe spacing and work through mobs of enemies with a purpose, especially as devil trigger becomes a core part of your moveset. Maintaining Absolute! or Stylish! through a crowd is incredibly rewarding given the circumstances, so I’d say it equals out to “worth it” even if you do occasionally reset anticlimactically.
While on the topic, if there’s anything that a passer-by will inevitably call into question, it’s the pool of moves. While it is lighter than future titles in the genre, there’s an assumption that it’s lacking which I think is simply untrue. I mean, think about it: when embarking on a new frontier of design, the main mission is always one of self-contained purpose - you have to answer the questions yourself.
So, if the question is, “why is Dante’s moveset this way?”, the answer lies in the enemy design. As much as I imagine Team Little Devils mourns the lack of intermixed encounters due to technical limitations, they do about as well with single enemies as one could ask for. Each brand has strengths and weaknesses, especially with late-game mobs asking for their share of respect. Luckily, it is rarely a binary system, but instead a gradient of encouragement that, upon discovering either through experimentation or reading lines of enemy dossiers, becomes a reward in and of itself. You coooould fight a frost with Alastor, but busting out Ifrit to lay heavy, rubatoesque chains into an enemy designed around mobility and space control makes for arguably the best feeling moments of the entire game. There’s a call-and-response of sorts with correcting your playstyle for a given encounter that would be much tougher to juggle with a larger pool, so by the end of the game, you do end up using just about everything, minus one or two purchased techniques which feel stubborn in their applications; but hell, even then you could still justify their inclusion with that nebulous “style” you’re after. All this is, besides the pacing, the crowning achievement of the game, so I’m really curious to see if/how future entries continue this alongside the added weapon / character variety and mechanical ornamentation.
II. (Playthrough 2, Normal Mode, S-rank Only, All Blue Orbs & All Secret Missions (I missed one...))
Lofty ambitions for a second playthrough, I know, but I’m no novice to the genre and I wasn’t shying away from external help at this point. Ultimately, the goal was to have a save file up to snuff for DMD Mode, which would be only a short Hard Mode playthrough away considering how the game unlocks difficulties. I had already been exposed to the bullshit-linchpins that are Grenade Rolling and Shotgun Hiking, so hitting par felt like it was more a matter of personal restraint to not hand the game its own ass. However, I immediately hit a blockade at Mission 2, getting A’s and B’s several times in a row despite clearing the requirements that the internet had told me. I did some further research, and discovered the true nature of this game’s ranking system, an act that felt like opening up the ark of the covenant.
I’ll try to keep the explanation simple: besides the obvious requirements of red orbs and time, there are several invisible markers which tally up to a final, also invisible score. Some of these extra conditions make sense even without them being explicitly referred to (damage taken), while others are less immediate in their clarity (entering rooms multiple times). Over the years, I’ve settled one definition of games as a space to take rules, things people usually dislike, and uphold them for their artistic sake. Well, here you go - here are those rules you ordered.
I mostly mean it as a joke, but ranking systems in games like this do hold the risk of backfiring, or at least becoming numbing attributes. Seasoned Character Action-ers already know that *A* playthrough is rarely enough, as the game’s early judgments are bound to be the equivalent of a teacher scolding you before you hand your homework in. And while DMC’s is far from bad, my read on it is one of a hungover teacher. I would get strange rankings both positive and negative, and even with an internalized knowledge of how it works, I’d still have to occasionally assume one to two things in order to justify the letter on the screen. If these Character Action grading systems are performance tests, then my performance had, at the final step, been rendered inert. While I have since gotten over these requirements, accepting their nature and even enjoying the trek to all S-ranks, I can’t help but think of the legacy of this game’s ranking system as being ineffably lenient, a sentiment that is briefly untrue until, well, it ends up being true again.
As for the rest of the conditions I set for myself, the secret missions vary in quality, though I did find some of them to be absurdly funny for a man like Dante to waste time doing (the sargasso staircase is an interesting way to teach enemy stepping, but also the image of 20+ skulls chattering their teeth at you when you fail is perfect video gaming). I always find some respect for something that’s earned the “Secret” title in a game, so needless to say these missions get some incredulous stares followed by a salute for the brave soldiers that rubbed up against everything Doomguy-style to find them. Lord knows I’m not in those ranks - I just read their memoirs.
III. (Playthroughs 3-4, Hard & Dante Must Die Mode, Any%)
After two playthroughs, one an attempt at genuine perfectionism, I had grown pretty resilient to the game’s standard set of challenges. Hard ended up feeling a little passé, in all honesty - once you learn the optimal strategy for every enemy type, they’ll very rarely cause problems. Another unfortunate side effect of the game’s single-enemy encounters is that the same schtick works regardless of the external pressures. Of course, not all was lost - this playthrough probably ended up being the most fun purely due to the range of options I had unlocked finally narrowing down into usable tools. It was here that the game became about mastery, and I like to think I- Oh fuck.
Hard is the setup, Dante Must Die is the punchline. Emphasis on “punch.”
Though the structure of DMD resembles Hard Mode, no-one can properly anticipate how the little changes end up feeling until the moment arrives and a single marionette becomes threatening. The DT timer is a genuine stroke of genius, as the tension missing from Hard for me had skidded into the driveway at the thought of a Blade becoming a mini-boss in its own right, super-armoring its way through every move as I struggle to conjure 3 blue runes into existence to stand a single chance. However, this was exciting, and in a strange way, felt like the final missing link between this game and the Survival Horror roots it was indebted to.
Of course, anyone familiar likely knows that the DT timer is a red herring. The true namesake of this difficulty lies in the newly bolstered boss fights, each of which is simply embarrassed with health. Nearly every fight, with the exception of Phantom 2, has transmogrified into an endurance run now, pinning the meter completely into defense. You simply cannot sustain offense perfect enough to deal any appreciable damage to them, so you’re left to resort to turtling. Give me the best pattern, as often as you can, while I thunk grenades for 3 and a half minutes. Please, God, do not do that move. I want to go to bed happy.
I’m on the other side of it now, so I can say with full-throated confidence that playing Devil May Cry 1 on DMD Mode this early on in my experience with the game was a flat-out terrible idea. It is clearly asking for absolute mastery of every move, pattern recognition that could only be gained through legitimate study, and, worst of all for me, a level of zen that rivals that of a monk. Nightmare 2, Nightmare 3, and Mundus are collectively some of the most excruciating experiences I’ve had in games, and barring the occasional bullshit pattern, it was self-inflicted. Kamiya played me, fair and square. Excuse me while I block myself.

When I finished the first half of Shenmue 1 & 2, I felt no desire to move on to the next installment. The idea that there are 5 or 6 or however many more planned entries in this saga seemed ludicrous to me. Not because the game was bad, the opposite in fact: Shenmue 1, on it's own, already told a genuinely powerful, succinct, and standalone story of a boy who gives up his girlfriend, hometown, and life to pursue a meaningless quest for revenge that will destroy him.
It's been two years since I played this, and I still don't really want to play the sequels. Everything I've heard about them tells me that they are just elaborations on what was already here. Shenmue makes you fall in love with it's town, a space better realised than any game up to this point, so it can make you understand what Ryo is throwing away when he finds those sailors and gets on that boat, but also why he does it. The game is both celebratory and revealing in it's mundanity. When you're spending an hour on a forklift, knowing that this was your life if you were to stay here, wouldn't you go on a quest to escape it?
It's just really good. A classic, but not really in the ways anyone told me it would be. Know when to leave well enough alone, Suzuki.

Intermittently torturous, always detached, and Shenmue only improves in this regard two decades on. It is often cited as the open world urtext, but where Shenmue works in alienation the games it influenced put the player-character at the centre of the universe. In the Grand Theft Auto series the player moves in a reckless, fluid way, in stark contrast to the rigid and wandering NPCs — every frame explodes into being through our freedom, of movement, of decision, of infinite variety and eternal recurrence, and yet we are never allowed access to the patterns or behaviours of those around us. The very absence of an 'talk' button along with the sheer number of people spawned across the game environment has us intuitively accept that the world is that which we do — we are its God, its conductor. With Shenmue however, Ryo's body moves in this blocky, unwieldy way, and must fit into the whims and schedules of those around him. The game's day-night cycle seems to actively close rather than open opportunities, such as in cases where we are tasked with waiting tens of hours to meet certain people at certain times of day, and all Ryo's options for time-killing actively feel like time-killing (in the sense of time we know we will never get back) — throwing darts, visiting noodle houses, patting cats, watching the trees. There is no way to accelerate time's passing, and the only way to endure it is to actively make the time to enjoy the small things, which is to say reframing the story as the distraction and not the other way around. Still, as Zen as this all sounds, however beautiful the sunsets and poignant the broken swing by the stairs, Shenmue makes it so the player never feels as though they belong in it.
Every day begins and ends at the Hazuki Residence, in a curious disciplinary move that has us clumsily navigate a house that never becomes a home, waiting as Ryo puts on or takes off his shoes, before venturing into a world that similarly never opens up to him. The anonymous faces in Grand Theft Auto are props until they're activated by player action, reflecting the scale of cause and effect, but in Shenmue we are always trying to act according to the dominating logic of the world, making the people in it both obstacles that are necessary to progress the game, and ever-present reminders of our not belonging. If we see an 'interact' prompt appear near a stranger, Ryo is just as likely to receive some valuable information as he is to be, in the most polite way possible, called a creep and asked to leave. He can't jump or skip or even run through a door. He checks over his shoulder to make sure he's alone before exercising in the park. When Ryo sees someone else is using the stairs, he will wait until they get to the top before he even begins is ascent, one gets the sense out of discomfort rather than politeness. They have their routines and we don't have ours. This doesn't make us free, it makes us perpetually alone. An old woman asks Ryo for directions and says she'll wait at the park to hear from him. If the player forgets, the old woman can never be found again. How long did she wait? Did she find the place on her own? Is she okay? It's always like this, he's impossible, nobody knows who he is and neither does he. Even those who know Ryo's name expect something of him that he's failing to embody, and this sense of quiet failure permeates Shenmue in both the way the world is painted and the way it plays.
Interactions with friends and family remain at the level of surface courtesies, veiling a great sadness and isolation that hints at impossible rifts between each and every person. Nobody knows Ryo — he's always falling just short of being what others think they know of him, and on an entirely different course from what's expected in the long run. And looking to him for answers leads to an even more penetrating sense of absence, a passive neglect of others and a dead eyed embrace of tangible actions and information pathways where the insignificant is given significance, and significant actions are always underpinned by the mundane. He confronts gang members like a kid buying a toy, and he buys toys like he's finally found meaning in this world. The central ambiguity in Shenmue, and what makes it so affecting, is whether this suffocating sense of loneliness is inherent to the world or just Ryo, who as the game's protagonist paints the way it appears to us. Is there a difference? When he is showed great generosity by Fuku-San, Ryo's unreadable face casts a cold negation of the gesture, making the other person seem comically, embarrassingly over-expressive. But it's Ryo who is embarrassing — his straightforward detective questioning, gullibility, and tonedeaf approach to human interaction make his journey less a myopic descent into obsession than a sort of hobby or project, a convenient opportunity for something to do. At one stage Nozomi asks Ryu about school, and we realise all this free time he has is the result of shirking a role that could give him some structure; some direction. In every sense he is out of sync: like Kyle MacLachlan's character in Blue Velvet no matter how successfully he works through the underbelly of his town he's only ever met with bemusement and confusion by the people he finds there. He can't be here, but he can't go back either. Once again the mechanic of Ryo's return to the Hazuki Residence reinforces every morning and every evening that there is no home for him. Shenmue is affecting because it forces us to play through, to physically enact this discomfort, while reading around Ryo that it is he who is the stranger.
The strangest and most subtly moving decision made is that the game's final act begins with Ryo taking on a job at the dock, driving forklifts. Where Ryo's physically cumbersome body spent weeks running around Dobuita, mangling interactions and finding ways to kill time, Ryo's dock work finally gives him purpose, a routine, and targets to meet. Throughout the rest of the game it is impossible to know whether one is making progress or floundering, but the dock work gives instant feedback in the form of quotas and bonus cheques reflecting efforts made. The forklifts also control with a fluidity uncommon in the rest of the game and reach speeds he can't on foot. Lunch breaks begin at the same time every day with a shot of Ryo sitting with his colleagues and eating; he could almost belong here. And because we're not waiting for time to pass but rather trying to do things in time, the way the skies change during the afternoon shift can at the docks be appreciated for how beautiful they are. Time becomes valuable, and as it passes it fills the scene with warmth before it leaves. Despite the routinised action or perhaps because of it, it is clear there will never be another day exactly like this one. One afternoon Ryo sees Nozomi at the docks taking photos and there is this confronting atmosphere because Ryo for the first time sees himself in the face of someone who recognises what he's doing — not for what his family represents or what anyone thinks he should be doing, but for what he is doing as he works at the dock. This is followed by a strange and beautiful sequence where Ryo's and Nozomi's photograph is taken twice, and Ryo must pick one to take away. One makes it appear as though they are lovers, the other, total strangers, and clearly the truth is somewhere in between. This moment of self-presentation to someone who matters is immediately turned into a fiction, or perhaps memorialised as a future that can never be between two people, one who doesn't know who she is but knows what she wants, the other a blank surface reflecting back everything indeterminate, everything unsure, everything anxious about the one unfortunate enough to look. He is in short a negation.
As the year wraps up, the uncaring faces increase in volume, and many of the familiar ones say they're going away. Ryo's neighbourhood, already a quietly lonely place, comes to feel like a ghost town of dead end interactions and suspended time — a place simultaneously too big and too small to sustain life. Ryo's dispassionate movement through Yokosuka is curious, because he is not the one feeling these things. Everything to him is information, and if that information leads abroad, so be it. He doesn't care one way or another, but we do. That Yokosuka is framed as a place that is already dead and in the process of being remembered must then belong to somebody else, someone who is remembering the story as Ryo tells it. Indeed as others try to reach out for him it becomes clear that it is not the town that is the ghost, but Ryo, that figure once present and well liked but who died one day and now glides through with blank eyes, forever out of time and place.
Without the language of Chinese cinema the story is simplistic and weird, but its grandiose animated dreams and talks of fate cut an effective threshold between the exhaustingly quotidian world of Shenmue and its mythic aspirations. Its textures are uniformly dingy and wet looking but this adds to Ryo's sense of claustrophobia, and the alienating temporality of the game that insists we shouldn't be here. Indeed the construction of the New Yokosuka Movie Theatre that will never be finished, and dig site and Sakuragaoka suggest the world will keep moving once we leave but can't start until that happens. The ability to talk to people who will only offer 'Sorry I don't feel like talking' leads to disappointment before its themes of isolation become clear. The animations haven't aged well but the offbeat rhythms of the game work its visuals into an uncanny space both otherworldly and uncomfortably familiar. It's also occasionally gorgeous by any standards: in one scene on a motorbike Yu Suzuki manages an extended reference to Wong Kar-wai's Fallen Angels and, short a bloom effect to mimic that director's blurry expressionism, simply layers brake light colours across the screen. I'll admit I lost my breath for a full minute: the absence of a bleeding light for a strange, rigid, suspended rendering of abstract human emotion might be the game in a single wonderful image.

dmc3 lies in the center of a hinge point in action game design, wedding the linear structures and rigid scenarios of before to a novel, thrillingly expressive combat system. much in the way the original dmc opened the door for nuanced and free-flowing aggression divorced from the three-hit combos of the past, so too did dmc3 give birth to staggering flexibility in combo composition and approach. the buttery smooth interruptible frames on each attack, the instantaneous weapon switching mid-combo, and the subtle additions of so many cute pieces of kit (the crazy combos! riding enemies! swinging on the pole!) comprise just the basics for how rich dmc3's combat can get.
of the updates to the first two games, the most innovative is the style system, which undergirds much of that aforementioned flexibility. this mechanic lets the player select a set of contextual actions to bind to the circle button, where each set fundamentally upheaves dante's capabilities. while the early-game toolkit for each style is restrictive, the fully-upgraded variants of each of the core styles offers a wealth of fresh options to those willing to dig. of these the most interesting are swordmaster and royalguard, the former of which gives dante a full secondary button of attacks (including aerial raves, blessedly rescued from dmc2) while the latter imbues dante with a powerful parry and rage mechanic. what separates dante's parry from many modern implementations is the stricter timing for successful parries versus blocks with chip damage, as well as the ability to release all stored rage at once with strict timing in an extremely potent "just release." the trickster and gunslinger abilities are also equally interesting, although I personally did not invest a lot of time in gunslinger, while trickster mainly serves as additional evasion for those who want to supplant dante's built-in dodge roll and jumping i-frames (which is not to say I didn't use it! I used it plenty, and air trick is cool af).
however, dmc3 still resides within the classic character action structure of item puzzles, interconnected areas, and hidden secrets strewn throughout the demon tower central to the game's narrative. like I mentioned in last year's ninja gaiden black review, this structure still dominated the burgeoning character action genre up through the end of the ps2 era. this essential contradiction between stiff scenarios and loose gameplay systems both makes dmc3 a fascinating relic of its era as well as a harder sell for someone first exposed to the genre through metal gear rising revengeance or one of the bayonettas.
the first place this becomes apparent is in the enemy design. dmc3's main popcorn enemies (the hells) help buoy the game's reputation as a combo showcase while also being formidable foes in their own right, especially the lusts with their hectic pace and dashing slices as well as the teleporting, lumbering sloths. however, the remaining foes veer into requiring stricter strategies for their defeat. the blood-goyles, for instance, mandate that the player shoot their intangible forms repeatedly until calcifying into a hardened form that dante can damage. the soul eaters are another good example of this, where they exist in an gaseous mist until dante turns his back to them, allowing them to gel into a demonic squid and charge at dante from behind. these enemies change the combat from being very player-driven to rather enemy-driven when they appear. the encounters themselves also often avoid being pure combat arenas in favor of including specific objectives, such as fighting on the runaway temperance wagon while enigmas take potshots at you from a separate rail, or the late-game hourglass fight that reverses the flow of time if you fail to clear the room in time. these areas further predicate the player's success on their ability to adapt to a specific context rather than twist the pace of the fight to match their preferences.
this is not necessarily an appealing proposition to those hoping to spend the entire game freestyling to their heart's content, and I sympathize with this point of view. however, because dante is restricted to two guns, two weapons, and a single style, the ordering of fixed encounters with predictable enemy arrangements and locations creates an interesting dilemma for the player when selecting a loadout. the desire to use comfortable tools clashes with the need to select optimal arrangements to deal with these more puzzle-like enemies, but with the vast variety of options at dante's disposal, the choices rarely feel prescribed. the soul eaters may be quickly dispatched by the handguns' backwards shot in the gunslinger style, but the player could also find spots in the environment to trap them in order to combo off of (such as the balcony railing in the altar of evil room), or they can use a few of their devil trigger orbs for a powerful devil trigger explosion. exploiting the environment and synergizing a build to match whatever encounters you're struggling with adds a mindfulness to the otherwise-impulsive combat.
exploring different loadouts for different scenarios becomes even more important when it comes to the game's many bosses. each of the bosses runs the gamut in terms of what skills they require from the player, and with that comes exploring the separate tools that work best with each. beowulf, for example, has a three-hit combo in his first phase that can easily be air parried to store up a massive just release, taking off an excessive amount of health (nearly a third on DMD difficulty!). alternatively, I found that beowulf's powerful phase 2 attacks frequently crushed my guarding, and thus found myself using trickster more often to evade the frequent wooden cages he brings crashing from the sky. cerberus at first glance seemed apt for switch canceling between the rifle and the handguns, but I also found merit in maximizing DPS with the swordmaster style, alternating rebellion and agni & rudra in the air to take out each head as quickly as possible. admittedly these are two of the more robust bosses; fights like nevan and vergil err more on the side of call-and-response, where the player can use basically any tactic as long as they can respond to the movesets of each, while the late-game doppleganger centers environmental interaction with lights on the field that are used to stun the boss. while these bosses rely less on loadout experimentation, they still require attention to detail by the player in order to maximize damage output, locate weak positions, and learn proper spacings.
dante must die, the penultimate difficulty mode, pushes the element of loadout creation and room routing to both its highest and lowest points. unquestionably DMD's balancing is far too skewed in favor of buffing up enemy health to pure sponge levels. when it comes to rooms primarily consisting of the hells, this gives the player some room to breathe in terms of constructing more elaborate combos, but at the same time the length of these encounters and the diminished stagger on enemies that have entered their devil trigger makes repeated jump-canceled moves a safer option. enemies such as the fallen go from tests of aerial mastery to slogging through the same repeated inputs in between waiting for their sword spin to finish. the tedium approaches agony in the latter half of the game, where a boss like geryon with an interesting multi-phase moveset and time-slow traps transforms into a claustrophic nightmare where the only reasonable way to approach it itemless is by stunlocking it in a loop. the chessboard scenario late in the game takes the awesome concept of fighting off a full set of chess pieces (including pawns that respawn as other units if you let them reach the board's end) to an obnoxiously long war of attrition repeatedly spamming killer bee on the king. dmd heightens the contradiction between rigid scenario and expressive gameplay to such an extent that I don't necessarily think it's worth pursuing for most people.
by comparison, very hard was incredibly enjoyable and allowed total flexibility in approach, and its status as the american hard mode and lack of enemy DT made decision-making and routing less of an issue. that's totally fine! the game bursts to its seams with combat features that getting to freestyle more often isn't a detriment in the slightest. however, it must be said that getting to fight for my life through dmd, balancing issues aside, did satisfy that unique sense of routing and pre-planning that few others in the genre can attest to. the sheer difficulty and bulky enemies led me to incorporate techniques I would otherwise ignored, from guard-canceling reverb shocks with nevan to experimenting with artemis' upgrades in the gunslinger style; I still have so much to learn in terms of experimenting with each aspect of dante's toolkit. managing devil trigger as a resource also becomes so much more essential on dmd given the massive power of the DTE and its usefulness both for quick health and as a shield of sorts when mitigating an unavoidable attack. reading and watching the sheer variety of strategies across the game has become a meta-feature of the game's depth that has enraptured me since I began delving more into the game myself over the last few months. even the chessboard has a reasonable quicksilver strat, though to say this makes the fight significantly more interesting may be overselling it. dmc3's status as the harbringer of player-driven combat expression while still remaining entrenched in enemy-driven scenario solutions gives it a unique mechanical blend that cements it as an iconic pillar of the genre.
I certainly wouldn't hold it over anyone if they wanted to try the switch port and how it allows the player to use their entire arsenal simultaneously; the mayhem you can get up to is astonishing. hell, if I play dmd again it might be on that port just to see how it fundamentally changes the experience (I've heard that it evens out much of the annoying shit, especially regarding bosses). there certainly is something worth investigating here in its original form though that hasn't been replicated since; newer titles like astral chain that lean into the adventure elements are doing so having absorbed over a decade of AAA tropes since dmc3's release, and fresh titles like bayonetta 3 compartmentalize their setpieces while dmc3 makes them part and parcel with the combat. although the contradictory nature of this particular flavor of 3D action has unsurprisingly gone out of style, I still feel affectionate to the way it ushered in our modern conception of stylish combat while paying tribute to the RE-derived scenario design all these games owe so much to.

SICKENINGLY SATISFYING but a 'mega' lack of polish leads to some choice jank moments and real funny instant death shit with a couple untelegraphed OHKO's here n there. But ahh... like the anime fan on prom night - nobody's perfect~~~




Unequivocally the best video game ever made, though that has to be cheating, right? After all, you wouldn’t say your Raspberry Pi loaded with ROMs is itself a video game. An official compilation already stretches the definition of a video game, much to the chagrin of any dweeb trying to weasel their way out of providing an actual list of their favourite games. Yet this unofficial potpourri does what a mere compilation cannot, what your ROM library fails at. Multibowl! puts these games on equal footing with one another, contextualises them, renders their objectives concrete, and synthesises them into a new, greater whole. It is the wet dream of the games historian, the archivist, the obscura-seeker, the high-score-chaser, the competitive gamer, the informed, the ignorant, and the creative.
Bennett Foddy and AP Thomson have unenviably plumbed the depths of numerous ROM sets to scrounge up treasures both noteworthy and forgotten, presenting them all as equals as games and micro-competitive arenas. Obvious mainstays of games history, Mario Bros., Gauntlet, Metal Slug, and NBA Jam operate as immediately recognisable artefacts with goals and control schema that are already familiar to many. However, they are just as likely to come up as titles which are not generally considered competitive and oppositional: Lemmings; Maze; Bonanza Bros. Though lacking internal mechanisms for confrontational gameplay, clever use of save states and memory analysis allow Multibowl! to check for some change in some variable to grant one player a point.
One of the greatest joys in Multibowl! is its deep cuts, its pulling up of games you have never heard of, the sort of title your eye skips over in your search for that SegaSonic Bros. ROM, titles bordering on the uncanny in their near-familiarity, games that make you quickly jot down their title out of befuddlement or glee. Games you would never reasonably play. In a vacuum of playing them on their own, those works might not hold your attention long enough to grasp their purpose or gameplay. Within the rapid pace of Multibowl!, within a framework of having no choice, they demand attention, dissection, and comprehension. The coercion for the players to stick with these titles for a mere thirty seconds acts as a microexposure to the realities of most of games history, namely the lack of anything else to do. When these games necessarily compete for your attention in backlogs and ROM sets with hundreds, if not thousands, of games, there is no reason for most players to approach an understanding of them. Why expose myself to the dregs of history when Pac-Man is right there?
A games historian, archivist, or obscura-seeker has some secondary goal for their play here, that of context and exposure. Someone like myself is not necessarily playing these for their worth as fun experiences, but to come away with a fuller understanding of games as a whole, games as a cultural expression, games as a reflection of a zeitgeist, games as escapism, games as political tools, games as violence, games as transgression, games as collaborative, games as competitive, games as more than just games. Games as a means, not an end.

real purpose is not as a game, at least not to me, but as some smörgåsbord of curatorial excellence, diversity, and inversion. It demonstrates how games have always been inventive and worthy of attention in some capacity, while still remaining semi-boundless in and of itself, conveying the unceasing work of history. Histories are forever rewritten for new contexts. The once irrelevant becomes critically important with changing tides. The once foundational becomes a historiographical assumption. With vast shifts in the goals of games histories, there will always be more to uncover, more to connect.
Here's to 1,000 more.

sometimes i switch on my dreamcast just to hear what a real one gotta say

i NEED to smoke a blunt with this fish