1720 Reviews liked by SimonDedalus

Love Is... conceiving your son Milo Casali by artificial insemination, to the chagrin of the Vatican, and announcing this proudly in your comic strip. Love Is... the Casali sons making their own staple of pop media in a similarly simple but unexpected way.
Love Is... the Plutonia Experiment, if I might be so bold. There's nothing but love throughout this entire mapset, a perennial standout among the classic Doom games for reasons debated to this day. For 1996, the mapping designs and concepts employed in PLUTONIA.WAD were avant-garde, yet seem very obvious and simple to modern Doom players. The Casali brothers were done playing by the rules and conventions fellow fan creators were bound to, from overt attempts at realism ("DoomCute" in today's parlage) to prizing adventuring and cheap thrills over exacting endurance tests of skill. For Dario & Milo, it was now or never to challenge, even brutalize their community. A kind of tough love, perhaps.
As a fanmade map pack turned second half of Final Doom, Plutonia serves as a necessary foil to TNT: Evilution's excesses and concessions. The Casalis bros. knew their community maps well, and had already been pushing the possibilities of the pre-source port Doom engine with solo releases like PUNISHER.WAD and BUTCHER.WAD. After id software witnessed their contributions to TNT.WAD—two of the most polished maps in that whole set, Dario's "Pharaoh" and Milo's "Heck"—they met and discussed making a whole new expansion pack to feature in Final Doom. The early maps they showed American McGee quickly became the start for Plutonia, which Dario & Milo had much less time to work on than TeamTNT had for their own mapset.
I could go further into The Plutonia Experiment's history, but Doomworld and Dario's own contributions paint more of the picture already. What you should know on a first playthrough is that one cannot just like this WAD. Nearly everyone I know in the Doom fandom either loves or hates this monument to mid-'90s FPS experimentation. It's more than reasonable to run through Plutonia on a lower difficulty since the maps are well-designed to retain their intensity and skill demands on Hurt Me Plenty at least. But the Casalis built this game as the kind of Japanese game show obstacle course any Doom player in '96 would approach with caution, if not trepidation. There's no remorse, little reprieve, and relatively few dull moments anywhere throughout Plutonia's alienating, jungle-laden mess of arenas, gauntlets, and set-pieces. Tough love indeed.
Not every level hits these marks. I can list some of my own pet-hate experiences, from the very poorly telegraphed "Indiana Jones" invisible bridge in MAP02: Well of Souls, to the cramped teleporting Archvile trap wrecking first-time players in MAP12: Speed. A couple of maps utterly put me off even now, mainly MAP20: The Death Domain (too many gotchas, not enough chances to take cover) or MAP30: Gateway to Hell (another needless tradition, the Icon of Sin finale). Otherwise, that leaves us with thirty difficult but rewarding maps combining Doom II's masterful combat design with more streamlined, less noodly levels to navigate. I think it's a winning combination, even if some 1996 contemporaries like the Memento Mori II mapset showcase prettier or more conceptually ambitious works.
One thing that absolutely works in Plutonia's favor is its difficult but fair approach to most combat scenarios. This is not anything like a Mario kaizo hack or masocore gaming in general. But you'll have every reason to approach fights strategically, using the right weapons and movement at the right time to survive. Both of the brothers prefer small but uniquely lethal combinations of monsters to the giant hordes you see in many popular maps today. Economy of design defines this set in contrast to not just Evilution, but other community-made packs from the time like Memento Mori. A single archvile, a couple revenants, and some cannon fodder imps...put them in a non-trivial space to travel around and you'll have one hell of a battle!
To this end, most maps shower you in higher-tier ammo for those upper-level weapons. Expect to learn the ins and outs of rocket launcher splash damage, or how to efficiently wield the BFG's invisible tracer spread fire. Practice hard enough and you'll get a feel for how to conserve super shotgun ammo as you mow down pinkies, or the basics of redirecting skeleton fireballs into other foes to get them infighting. The Casalis weren't making hard-ass shit for the sake of being hardasses. At a time when speedrunning demos were gaining popularity and the Doom community's skills and metagame were evolving, these two just wanted to gift everyone a bloody chocolate box for Valentine's. True love waits.
Funny thing is, these maps aren't as bizarre or off-putting as one might think, at least when you realize they're clever remixes of id's own levels! It makes sense how, with only several weeks to build and test their vanilla-compatible maps largely by themselves, the Casalis would chop up useful bits from Doom I & II for their own purposes. Milo's MAP21: Slayer is an obvious riff on 'O' of Destruction and other Romero levels, for instance, while Dario's works like MAP08: Realm liberally borrow ideas from Sandy Petersen's oft-maligned creations. This does mean the set can't be as revelatory or unique as it could have, despite some memorable new ideas like the iconic archvile maze in MAP11. Still, there's plenty of clever trope reuse all throughout Plutonia that had few if any contenders in the community back then. We're a decade-and-a-half off from projects like Doom the Way id Did, after all, and these time-saving homages to the original games came in clutch for the project.
Some make this more obvious than others, like the utterly chaotic, classic slaughtermap remix of MAP01: Entryway from Doom II. This new creation, Go 2 It, even seems at odds with the spare monster placement and emphasis on precision attrition Plutonia's advocated for up until now. Hundreds of baddies swarm the bones of an opening stage best known then as the main multiplayer 1v1 map. Yet applying your newfound reflexes and reactions to enemy attacks makes the original slaughter experience not just viable, but fucking brilliant to play. All these funny lil' guys on screen are just going to kill each other anyway if you can juke them into hitting one another. Simple strategies lead to satisfying successes. It's more than just "git gud", as some will profess—more so getting flexible and adapting to scary but beatable challenges as you go.
Without Plutonia, I'm not sure I'd have ever gotten into Doom mapping, let alone a ton of newer fan creations both easier and harder than Final Doom. This feels like a necessary leap in complexity and player demands, one that's often a bit too harsh and formulaic yet well-meaning with how it challenges you. If Doom II proved that id's template was no fluke, and community efforts like Evilution and Memento Mori II showcased the story-/adventure-driven possibilities of new maps, then Plutonia's a necessary course correction for its time. The Casalis loved not just how they could push the engine to its theorized limits, but how they could maximize Romero & Petersen's game design for all its worth. What others see as unfair (which I occasionally agree with), I see as ascetic and utterly focused on avoiding downtime. There's just enough negative space in these maps between encounters to give you a breather, but never too much to bore.
Love Is... a compelling mixture, a chemical reaction that keeps you invested. It might get ugly and wear you down at times, yet it keeps you coming back. Sure it can be painful, as much as life ought not to. But if it helps you grow stronger, more understanding and empathetic, is that such a bad trade? I've had a healthy relationship with The Plutonia Experiment for years now, one which taught me make simple but effective moves in combat, or fun maps for my friends to play. This kind of appreciation takes time and effort; I won't fault anyone if they can't commit to it, and I recognize the privileges one might need to get this far. In the end, I like to think it's all been worth the patience. True love waits.

For better and mostly for worse, Metal Slug 3 is the height of arcade excess. This is a game with a final stage longer than some entire arcade games, and while the pixel art is stunning and the presentation has a surprising cinematic flair, nothing this series has ever done is all that mechanically impressive. Metal Slug has always been too simple in its scoring, too static in its enemy placements and weapon drops to really inspire much in me, even when compared to games that came out over a decade prior.
Metal Slug 3 is everything people criticize arcade games for: Style over substance design that exists to wear you down and keep you pumping in quarters. And whereas games like Battle Garegga can take on entirely new lives when divorced from the scummy business models that spawned them, Metal Slug 3 remains an exhausting experience whether you’re playing it inside the arcade or out. It’s littered with some of the spongiest enemies and bosses you’ll ever see, you’re bound to completely exhaust the possibility space of an encounter before it’s even halfway over, the challenge is based almost entirely on execution and endurance rather than complex decision-making. Even with the auto-fire enabled, the game remains one of the more physically tiring arcade games I’ve played, I honestly can’t imagine completing it in anything less than 20 credits. The ambition of its presentation is admirable, I just wish the gameplay was even a quarter as interesting.

the beauty in saga frontier is in its encouragement of the player. it's an endlessly charming mercurial experience that prioritizes experimentation and has you playing excavator rather than completionist; to finish even one scenario is to chisel out your own place in the world with your own party and progression, guided by the character's goals and arc but never held hostage by them
with the exception of a couple more relatively guided scenarios you're often left to your own devices to choose where to go, what to do, and how to do it across the entire gameworld. exposition is almost non existent, story is told with a dreamlike pace and abruptness, and a lot is left to inferences and imagination to fill in
character progression is peculiar as well, with each race and technique determining how and what stats increase and what abilities unlock. building can be as linear as you'd like or far more nuanced and complex if you choose to mix and match from the pool of guns, swords, martial arts, and the six schools of magic. and that's without getting into the completely different rules for monsters, mystics and robots
best recommendation I have is to go in without worrying about how everything works. pick a character and see their scenario through to the end and along the way you'll figure everything out and create your own experience. there's a lot of grainy minutia involved behind the scenes, but it's ok -- there's a lot of room for failure here
after you bungle your way through the first character you'll be better suited for the next one. and on and on if you so choose to continue through each of the seven scenarios. personally I'd recommend starting with a goal of finishing two and seeing how you feel after that; each has enough significant divergences and peculiarities to warrant seeing them all, but they share a lot in common too, so don't feel obligated to finish all of them at once. though each story adds texture to the greater whole, they all have their own beginning, middles and ends and can be enjoyed on their own terms independently
one word of caution tho:
don't listen to chumps telling you avoid battles constantly to preserve a low battle rank; it's the least fun, least engaging way to play the game and will likely make it much harder on you than the battle rank scaling ever would
just explore, enjoy the amazing character art, backgrounds, and monster sprites, listen to the wonderful kenji ito soundtrack, and try to figure stuff out on your own terms without stressing over doing everything, finding every party member or unlocking all the optimal gear/arts
there's always another playthrough, unique and familiar in equal measure

what specifically makes heisei compelling to me is that the material it's working with is novel for video games and successfully mined for thematic depth with very little held back or obscured from a player. it presents gay desire and death in ways most contemporary queer games are too blinkered and personally involved to approach in the tone this takes. that isn't to demean working artists or to suggest that nothing like this has been made since; in terms of directly approaching queer sex work, something like taylor mccue's he fucked the girl out of me exists in obvious conversation, but functions as more directly memoiristic, rather than embracing the associative and surreal flights of fancy that parun's detachment from the material allows here (sans the punpun sprite in HFTGOM, which is also like a strategy i don't think is additive anyway). it takes the tragedy of its premise and, unlike many comparable stories, gives it some puckish vibrancy. much more new queer cinema. to point–the musical numbers coexist alongside narratives not so unlike jack king-spooner's side monologues from beeswing, here depicting the work of yoshiwara, of geishas and oirans, and contextualizes heart's gendered play and own sex work in a historical tradition that does not belong to him precisely, but nonetheless attaches a history, an oral tradition, from which parun develops meaning. nothing stays in monotone. everything is front-and-center but very little is interpreted for the audience. parun likes to flaunt his own cleverness; the ending where he describes audiences not getting it would be less funny in a more sober, realized medium, but in a medium that was still intellectually, academically, exists in an infancy, it's not totally unfair–doubly so for the time of its development. likewise, the intentional anachronisms and incoherence of the spaces you navigates is cute, referential play with the toolset; this was his second to last game, only succeeded by re:kinder, so his comfort with the engine is obvious, but so too was his desire to play with it. it's a lot of fun to me! very few devs let themselves loose like this in a way that doesn't come across as cynical or ironic, but parun's experimentation with rpgmaker, even as his tone warbles between thereabouts-maudlin-sincerity and dryly sardonic wit, never gives in to cheap shots. the sourced audio and sprite assets are as loving placed as anything. in this way it's a lot like higurashi; there's an earnest amateurishness to the production that belies how considered the thematic and narrative work is here. but this swaps out the "i'm selling this at comiket" fanservice hijinks and slice of life prose with the same kind of humor that would give us the salsa music queues of re:kinder. i'm not saying parun was a once in a life time talent but parun was a remarkably singular voice working with material largely unapproached in the medium at point of conception. he made work with real vitality and earnestness; to read this as autobiographical would be silly and disrespectful, and i don't want to rely on language like honest or real or sincere, but he was clearly a man with a plan, and the work i think speaks for itself. for the ways in which its crassness or vulgarity are not always conducive to the text, or the ways in which gameplay progression is sometimes a biiiit obtuse and perfunctory, i think what is here largely works and has the capacity to move and to provoke. it’s like scott pilgrim but good :3 kill all the evil coworkers/exs you know.

"faggots let me hear y'all make some noise" - ariana grande
"That’s real. Even though she’s fictional, it’s real. And that’s important to me." - jamie lee curtis
"pressed" - nicki minaj
truly possibly the only vital work of queer art in video games ever produced. idgaf. there's been maybe twenty games since this was released that matter even half as much.

a game so relatable superficially but it may not be as you get deeper into it, since the game explores a lot more of topics instead of just being a "lover's betrayal". such an amazing and beautiful piece of queer media. heart is wonderful and very complex protagonist and the final moments of it hurts a lot, almost made me cry. one of the greatest of all time. for real.

Lovingly crafted and strongly directed. It's both confusing, weird, funny as much as it is heartbreaking, heart-on-sleeve honest and bleak. A game built on the juxtapositions between love and hate; life and death; and dream and reality, that also begs for one to understand the happiness that exists in the space between them despite it all

combines the interpretive mythology (and often misogyny) of god of war with cyberconnect2's unmatched aesthetic direction. very curious game, quite unlike the other original works from cc2, trading the gentleness and sometimes melancholy of little tail bronx or .hack for an unrepentant wrath, as reflected in the title. the musclemen punch dude interpretation of hindu-buddhist... aesthetics (it would be a little too much to call it theology) calls to mind a current wave of nationalist-leaning historical-mythological action cinema in india, stuff like RRR or Bhramastra, and in some ways a view into what art and aesthetics would be like in an alternate Japanese Empire-led Pan-Asia (though this is perhaps complicated by the idea of State Shinto and shinbutsu bunri, how much a continually fascist Japan would care about its relationship to Buddhism, but tbh, too complex an issue for me to really discuss in relation to this game). don't think the game leans too hard into that kind of celebration of this hypermasculine hyperchauvinist reinterpretation of Asian aesthetics that I would call it as a work fascist, it is somewhat critical of that stuff on the textual level even if you are meant to celebrate how cool Asura is by pressing B and RT a lot. and unlike, say RRR, this is a full on interpretive fiction using recognisable aesthetic codes rather than rewriting a history so the musclemen punch dude coolness of it doesn't conjure any demons in a contemporary public sphere. also, the final boss is one of the coolest gamification of cinematics i have seen.

It's honestly fucking wild how hard I ended up falling in love with this game and what it was doing by the end when in the beginning it genuinely wasn't doing too much for me.
The over the top battle shounen vibes, which can work for me on occasion (Jujutsu Kaisen, recently got into Hunter x Hunter), don't generally hit for me. The story wasn't doing much for me, more man pain save the daughter god killing wasn't doing a ton for me.
But there's a point in this game where it finally just all clicked correctly into place. The way the game uses QTE's to better cement you within Asura's perspective. Every weighty punch and fluid blow landed or received absolutely felt by how much you hammer on those fuckin buttons.
The gusto and fucking aspirations towards making this shounen power trip about the angriest motherfucker alive doing his best to protect those he cares for. It just fuckin clicks. The setpieces get better and better. The QTE's become more personal and hard hitting. I was rooting for Asura and doing my best to help him. I wanted to get my synchronicity rating as perfect as I could because I felt the weight of every missed QTE.
It's corny to say but genuinely this game makes you FEEL like you are Asura. It makes you feel like you are throwing those punches, crunching your own hands to dust by mashing the fuck out of that circle button. And the intense varied ways a person can punch a dude are represented perfectly with the wonderfully expressive and beautiful art direction and animation. This is absolutely one of the better looking games of that gen while also being one of the better showcases I've seen of Unreal 3 on consoles. It looks fuckin excellent. The watercolor palette, the shimmer, the wonderful reds, greys and harsh black lines. It evokes every inch of its inspirations and then some.
The final boss (within the DLC) is genuinely one of the greatest uses of QTE's I think I've ever seen in my life. I'll go more into that in the review of the DLC specifically but holy fuck it's wild as hell.
I think what finally brought it into focus for me was thinking of it less as a character action game, because honestly while the combat is serviceable it's more a bridge to the setpieces than actually all that great, and more as a evolution of games like Dragon's Lair, Space Ace and Time Gal.
Once I looked at it more in that light, played much more aggressively with the combat and let the game take me onto it's wild ride it completely fucking hooked me. Some of the sequences, shots, compositions absolutely deserve to be immortalized in some fashion.
It couldn't really work the same at all within any other medium. While described as "interactive anime" I would say it's trying to pave its own footprint into cinematic gaming as a whole and changing the players relationship to QTE's themselves. It does its best to make you apart of the spectacle and it realized it's lofty ambitions with absolutely flying colors.
Asura's Wrath made me appreciate how systems we can take for granted as fairly basic in principle can be used to great effect when given more attention and focus and when working within the framework/narrative presented. MGR does similar but it don't hit in the same way this does with them. It's just so excellent.
I really gotta play more Cyberconnect2 games.

This review contains spoilers

If Asura's Wrath had ended where it had with nothing to follow it up it would've been good with some fun ideas and ambitions but lacking the final punch that I think an action series, film or story really needs to end on.
This DLC is that punch.
This DLC goes harder than anything else within the main game. Using QTE's in interesting and extremely creative ways. The QTE final punch with Yasha that never ends, extending your hand to god, the final QTE fight where the game itself is trying to out-QTE YOU. It takes the entire form of the entire thing. All of its ideas and ambitions and lofty goals and elevates them to such a degree that it feels like you're punching the developers in the face in order to give Mithra a happy ending.
It sucks total ass that they locked this behind DLC you have to pay for, that shit is genuinely criminal because this DLC is what makes Asura's Wrath (as good as it gets before this) the best shit it could possibly be. This cemented it in the same place for me as something like Redline or something. Playing with the medium and the form to do something fucking bombastic. To go all the fuck out.
If you play Asura's Wrath you HAVE to play this it's non-negotiable. Not only because it's the real ending but because it's a stellar way to end a game like this. Absolute masterclass shit.