Friday, 24 January 2014

Watchmen with Space Animals

5 Reasons Why Star Fox 64 Is Darker Than You Think

Star Fox 64 tells the tale of a group of anthropomorphic animals who defy the odds (and their natural desire to kill and eat each other) to defeat a monkey who threatens the galactic peace. There is some darkness on the surface of this story, Andross (the aforementioned monkey) is responsible for the supposed death of Fox's father and during the course of the story, the team encounter a pig called Pigma Iscariot, who betrayed the original Star Fox team to Andross. But if you delve deeper, you find a much darker layer to the game that is only hinted at.

1: The Cornerian Army is Dangerously Dependent on Freelancers

This one is the most obvious, in fact, one of the first lines of the game is "you're the only hope for our world". According to the Star Fox Wiki " In earlier times the original Star Fox team, led by James McCloud, protected the world as mercenaries, with the help of the Cornerian Army." Surely a team of mercenaries should help an army, not the other way around. In the first level, robots appear to knock over entire skyscrapers and it’s suggested that the whole planet of Corneria is under attack, yet there doesn't seem to be a force on the entire planet capable of fighting the invaders off. In another mission, they need Star Fox to defuse a bomb, in their own base. 
It should also be noted that the military force necessary to turn the tide of every single battle witnessed in the game consists of four Arwings one of which is piloted by Slippy Toad, another by an aging veteran. The bar is pretty low and they can't even reach that. When General Pepper implores you to "be reasonable" about going to Solar, his concern is if anything understated. Fox's decision to take an extremely risky route to Venom simply because his map allowed him to endangers not only himself, but the safety of the entire system.

2: The Army's Leadership is Shockingly Incompetent

In the prologue we're told that years ago, General Pepper sent a team to Venom to investigate strange activity. This team was promptly captured by Andross and Fox's father James sacrificed himself to help Peppy escape. To summarise, the team were sent to investigate strange activity and found it. Pepper proceeds to do absolutely nothing with this information. As a result, a few years later, Andross launches his attack. Well done General, well done. The fact that at the end of the game he still has his job is something of a miracle. Maybe his personal relationship with the only three capable pilots in the system, and Slippy, makes him too valuable to lose.

Another question raised is why Andross was on Venom in the first place. Apparently, Andross was once a scientist who wanted to help others before developing an insane thirst for power. Whether or not he genuinely wanted this power for himself or just wanted to take it away from the idiots who held it is unclear. Andross destroyed a large amount of Corneria city with an explosion resulting from one of his experiments. This proves to be the last straw for Pepper, who had been suspicious of Andross for some time. Andross' punishment is to be sent to Venom. In other words, death by exile. It later turns out that Venom wasn't quite as desolate as everyone assumed allowing Andross to build an army. Had they taken time to research the planet where they intended to send one of the most dangerous individuals in the system, the entire Lylat war could have been averted. Or they could have just thrown him in jail, which raises the question of whether or not the Cornerians are so stupid that they don't actually have jails.
Of course it's possible that the Cornerian army simply have other matters to contend to. That's because:

3: Corneria is Clearly a Military Dictatorship

Signs that Corneria is a dictatorship are everywhere, from the literal signs showing pictures of Pepper's face on Cornerian buildings (in the 3DS version at any rate) to the absence of any figure of authority other than the General. Pepper is described as having authority over science and research as well the military. Whether or not you can have authority over a military that doesn't exist is up for debate. It's just as well the camera cuts away at the end after Team Star Fox turn down Pepper’s offer to join the army, the following scene in which Pepper explains that in his Corneria, when someone is asked to sign up, they sign up, and has his goons rough up Slippy would have ended the game on a very dark note. The army are so busy keeping civilians in line that they can’t protect against outside threats. But how could the oppressed population be so large that they occupy the army's attention so fully. How could there be that many people on the planet? This leads me onto my next point.

4: This Dictatorship Oppresses a Race of Tiny People 

The buildings in the opening Corneria level visually resemble skyscrapers, but are obviously too small for Fox and Co. to enter. As mentioned earlier, these buildings are knocked over by robots and no-one shows any concern. In fact, apart from a quick remark by Falco, "this is horrible", the death and destruction doesn't seem to have any effect on the team, hell, it's entirely possible that Falco was simply talking about the number of enemy ships the team would have to deal with. Firing at buildings by mistake goes unpunished. I ask you, what sort of monsters could cause and witness so much damage to skyscrapers and their inhabitants and be unaffected? Who could do that?
People/animals who have grown up in a culture where the tiny people are treated as second class citizens, that's who!
I just remembered alt text is a thing
Pictured: Anti-establishment protest posters from Corneria

Maybe this is why they couldn't just execute Andross on Corneria, they sent him to Venom to die after all, so killing him was obviously the goal. They had to give the illusion that they were exiling him, removing him as a threat, but without infringing on his rights as a "big person".
Team Star Fox are obviously a part of this horrible culture that permits them to use smart bombs in a highly populated area, it is the norm for them. But that is not the only troubling thing about the team.

5: Team Star Fox are Deeply Troubled Individuals

Behind the jovial (perhaps too jovial?) "do a barrel role", "get this guy off of me" banter something is rotten at the core of this team. We'll go through the more subtle examples in a moment, but I'll start with the most obvious sign of the rot. The team member who most clearly demonstrates the messed up dynamic of the team, the weakest link, the one most likely to get his team killed. Most of you probably can guess who I'm talking about.

The ol' bait and switch. Classic.

Falco is the team's weakest link because he doesn't know how to be in a team. He's a lone (Star) Wolf forced into working with others. His bad attitude and lack of respect for authority threatens the future of the team at every moment. If you rescue him he'll sometimes say "oh great I've been saved by Fox" in a sarcastic tone which suggests some kind of death wish. Can someone like that be trusted? Falco is too unstable to be a part of the only competent military team in the Lylat system.
Slippy is the second biggest problem with the team, but at least he thinks about the team. His team-mates, and whether or not he's safely within their range of vision are constantly on his mind. But Slippy shouldn't be in combat, he's the team's engineer and its weakest pilot, shouldn't he be, oh I don't know, working on a G-diffuser that won't malfunction after running for a few minutes? That Peppy in particular, who has lost comrades before, allows Slippy to join the fight suggests he and the rest of the team are very callous individuals. On the subject of Peppy, his constant comparisons between Fox and his father have an air of manipulation about them. These arguments about how the team willingly endanger Slippy would be mere speculation were it not for the existence of ROB 64.
As a robot, ROB 64 would be well suited to combat, but instead controls the great Fox, despite the fact that as the mechanic, Slippy could do the most good if stationed in the base with quick access to the repair bay. There must be a reason that ROB is kept safe from harm. The members of Star Fox must be replaced if and when they die, because due to military incompetence, this is the only way for the galaxy to be kept safe. The team needs to be structured in such a way that in the event that all the Arwings are destroyed in combat, the member stationed on the Great Fox, i.e. the one most likely to survive can fulfill this task of rebuilding the team. The death of your colleagues and destruction caused by the galaxy's most disturbing individuals would affect even the relatively cold and detached members of Star Fox after a while. But not ROB 64. ROB 64's cold robotic nature reflects the lack of empathy or remorse that piloting the Great Fox and convincing others to join the team, knowing they will die, entails. When Fox is  barrel rolling with the angels, ROB 64 will passively note a vacancy in the team roster and make plans to seek out another adrenaline junkie to take his place.
The team are obviously very damaged individuals, because that is the only type of person who could do what they do, yet they are lauded as heroes across the galaxy. This brings me to my final question, is Star Fox 64 basically Watchmen with space animals?

Or it could just be that Star Fox 64 is a 3D scrolling shooter whose trope heavy plot is there purely for entertainment value, but where's the overly analytical fun in that?

Still haven't scratched the procrastination itch? Then why not read my Star Fox 64 3D review (comes with a free Kid Icarus Uprising review), Super Mario 3D Land review or Steam World Dig review?

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Star Fox 64 3D Review (sort of)

In which Eye Moustaches writes a glowing Kid Icarus: Uprising review as he tries to write a Star Fox review
*You don't have to read the footnotes, they're mostly throwaway jokes*

Nostalgia is an odd thing. When others play (deep breath) Star Fox 64 3D I suspect it fills them with fond memories of Lylat Wars1. However when I play Star Fox 3D 64, I feel nostalgic for a game that at the time of this game's release hadn't even come out yet; Kid Icarus Uprising. This is not a comparison that works well for Star Fox 34 6D2. Put simply, Pit knocks Fox's biscuits out, and no doubt yells "yayayaya" annoyingly as he does it.

But before we go into the negative, there is one key area in which Kid Icarus Uprising could learn a thing or two from Star Fox 63 4D: storytelling and voice acting. When Jaz Adams set about recording the now immortal line "Can't let you do that Star Fox" delivered by Wolf O'Donnell (the sort of multi-layered villain Shakespeare wishes he could create3) the preparation he had done was evident in his performance. What couldn't Wolf let Star Fox do? What were his reasons? These were clearly questions he'd grappled with extensively. Equally, his delivery of the under-rated line "what the heck" was so real, one might almost believe that Mr. Adams himself had witnessed his adversary figure out how to do a somersault and deploy it at a randomly timed moment on the battlefield. When Edge magazine writes an article about video games as a storytelling medium, again, they would be remiss if they did not mention this game. The game's story of a talking Fox's battle against his father's killer 4is truly a classic5.
Every morning, when Nolan North wakes up, the realisation that he is not this man causes him to tear up

In addition, Star Fox 46 D3's levels are quite short, making them better suited to handheld gaming. The game is pleasant to look at, although when Slippy says "I don't see the enemy fleet" that may have less to do with the enemy's deployment of genius tactic of "sneaking up behind them" and more do with a draw distance the length of Fox's nose. And with that I'm clearly through being positive.
It's difficult to convey the way that enemy ships suddenly pop up into view when you get into range with only one picture, so instead here's a picture of Magnitude

The difference that stands out clearest to me is the difference in responsiveness. Kid Icarus throws lasers, eggplants and more lasers at you at a hectic pace, but provides you with the tools you need to respond promptly to these threats. In the aerial sections in particular, Pit instantly goes where you need him to go. Stax For 3D 64 feels slow and sluggish, almost as if Fox is slightly drunk as he pilots the Arwing. Given how psychologically damaged most of the team are this wouldn't be all that surprising.
Some people will tell you that you need photoshop to do this kind of work but they're just shysters looking for a quick buck

Having aiming and movement mapped to the same analogue stick seems like a bad choice. The barrel role move in particular seems to require too much time to be of any use in combat. Whether or not you'll hit objects seems hard to determine, this is especially noticeable in the sun level, where giant waves of... sun... stuff rise up and block out the way forward, leaving you no choice but to brake and just hope. 
This sense of disconnect is most noticeable during the all-range mode battles against Star Wolf. Whether or not you can find them, let alone hit them seems to be based on luck, so most of your time in these sections is spent drifting through the sky or making painfully slow 90 degree turns. I realise that making such turns is difficult with real aircraft, but we're talking about ships that have brakes so realism is clearly not the order of the day. Also: TALKING ANIMALS.

Having to rapidly press A to fire, while it may be the only way, is frustrating.

 Finally, the Landmaster sections are a frustrating experience that really take the fun out of repeat playthroughs. All the complaints about sluggishness are amplified ten-fold when Fox inexplicably decides that in this mission, he won't use his Arwing. The ghost of Kid Icarus yet to come, with its enjoyable ground sections, is especially hard on the Landmaster.

In conclusion, Kid Icarus Uprising is an excellent game, Star Fox D3 46 is enjoyable, but not in the same league.

Score: 7/10

1: Or Star Fox 64 for those of you who aren't required by law to carry a supply of helium on your person. Third ever blog post and I'm already making in-jokes. This bodes well...
2: The sixth dimension denotes the variable insincerity. It describes the insincerity of an inanimate object and is conveyed by mathematicians by piling their pencils and other materials on top of their graph of computer screen.
3: That should probably say wished...
4: The Star Fox wiki describes Andross as a scientist who specialises in bio-technology and space warps, showing a poor understanding of the word specialise. Even from my limited knowledge of biotechnology, it's pretty clear that plasmids and lac operons have very little to do with "space warps". There's no way someone could specialise in these two completely unrelated fields unless "space warp" technology is powered by ethanol and recombinant insulin
5: Incidentally, that paragraph would have an insincerity value of 9, denoted by arranging three biros in a triangle.Cheap jokes aside, the story of Stad Fox 64 3r doesn't take it self too seriously and the actor's performances have a fun, cheesy appeal.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

I can actually spell

According to the Blogger statistics, my last post was read mostly by Americans so I'm starting to regret using the English spelling of "moustache" in my user name. That's just how we spell it on this side of the Atlantic. It's crazy over here, we spell colour with a "u", do all our side walking on "pavements" and you can be arrested for not having a supply of helium on you at all times.

Friday, 10 January 2014

3 Games that Deserve Sequels

In which Eye Moustaches is let down by something on the internet, but out of that darkness starts a blog
While browsing the internet 1 I came upon this. I clicked on it and what followed were three minutes of crushing disappointment. All but one of the games on this list have numbers in their title and crucially are all successful franchises. I'll cut you in on an industry secret: Skyrim was something of a big deal, they're probably going to make another one. The article had no fight, no argument to win. To say you want sequels to games that are or were enormously popular is the equivalent of white noise. With that in mind, I present the article I thought I was going to read, a list of games that deserve sequels but probably won't get them. These are the games, if you find them in a store, you put them at the front of the stack when the manager isn't looking because people need to play them and damn their filing system. Fight the power. 
The oppressors of generations who kept you down with myths of... alphabetization!

Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure

Yep, I'm one of those people.
 Zack and Wiki was a puzzle game in the purest sense in the world. The Legend of Zelda is a puzzle game interspersed with unnecessary monster battling to pad out the run time, Professor Layton is a puzzle game embedded within aimless wandering and fetch quests. Tetris isn’t a puzzle game, whoever gave you that idea? Zack and Wiki is (with a handful of exceptions) simply puzzle after puzzle for the entirety of the game. Your objective in each level is clear, use the objects at hand and some outside the box thinking to survive and reach the treasure chest.

Sadly the game itself never brought in much treasure and so a sequel seems unlikely. This is a shame as Zak and Wiki’s particular style of gameplay was and still is a rare thing. The game involved manipulating objects and planning out the result of your actions in a way that only Portal seems to resemble. Like that game, Z&W is very suitable for co-operative play. In the game’s best puzzles once your solution is planned out, putting it in motion is quite straightforward, the real fun is to be had plotting out these sequences of events.

When it worked it was a deeply satisfying game, but when it didn’t it was quite frustrating and these moments, that perhaps a sequel could avoid, sullied an otherwise excellent game. As suggested earlier, the game does best when it keeps things cerebral, once you know what to do, the doing shouldn’t pose a problem. Occasional (badly implemented) combat scenes, sections involving genuine dexterity, that awful thing with the tennis racket and certain puzzles based purely on magical rules (the Barbaros’ castle levels are notorious for this) betray this ideal. Having to sometimes restart the longer levels from the start was also annoying. 
No, not that awful thing with the tennis racket
Zack and Wiki: Quest For Higher Sales is a game that deserves to be made although to say that is hardly original. Before and after the game came out, previewers and reviewers were notably more direct about telling people to buy it2At the time, they knew that the fate of what had the potential to be a fantastic, unique series rested on a game with a cringe worthy name and cover, that what they had was an incredible game that people were unlikely to buy. Unfortunately, it seems they were right. 

Also, most of the cast are rabbits. Didn't seem relevant earlier.

Red Steel 2

This suggestion may surprise you. In a moment, you'll probably find yourself thinking: "wait a minute, that game has a number in the title, the very thing you were annoyed about earlier". My response to that accusation is to make that accusation myself before you get the chance3. Before you have time to reflect on that, let me confuse you with a paradox. While I believe Red Steel 2 deserves a sequel, I never would have said the same about Red Steel 1, a game which actually did get a sequel. The original Red Steel was an ugly and hard to control mess that forever damaged Matthew Castle's credibility. The guns were hard to aim and the motion controlled sword fighting was an awkward, shoehorned in feature. The grey, dark multiplayer levels weren't up to much either.

The motion-plus enabled sequel was a far better game. The setting was an interesting addition to the well trod the-wild-west-but-with-samurai-and-the occasional-robot-drone genre and most importantly, bright especially when compared to the Winter solstice set original. The controls were tight and the transition between sword and guns was smooth and natural. The guns themselves were satisfyingly varied  and the customisation options kept them fresh.
The trouble was that the combat was pretty much the entire game. Red Steel 2 consisted of combat sections that led into quick time events that led into dull training sections that rewarded you with more combat events. The streets you explored had not a single NPC and aside from the absurdity of its setting the game had little humour. Over time, the repetition gets to you. The overly effective kneecap option in fights didn’t help matters.
This is why Red Steel 2 needs a sequel. Its team got so much right in terms of controls and combat4 but didn’t do anything else with these ideas. The resultant game was a series of combat arenas with enemies that gradually increased in strength. While enjoyable, Red Steel 2 taunts you with the game it could be. The man with the ridiculous coat and eye moustaches deserves another chance.
Just look at tho- YES I know it has the Eurogamer watermark on it. Is the fact that this is on blogspot not enough of a clue that this isn't a well funded operation? 

Infinite Space

Infinite Space was a game with great potential and a combat system that offered slightly more depth than you might have first assumed. It offered to show you the stars like Doctor Who5 but in the end you were the gamer who waited, waited for the dialogue you’d read before to finish so you could move onto the next block of dialogue you’d read before, so you could advance the plot. Infinite Space was a fine game when it was in space, the menu heavy port sections were the problem.
Unlike the other games in this list, Infinite Space is not necessarily a game I really liked, but a game I wanted to really like. It promised me the freedom to explore space in a way that was an end in itself, not simply a way of getting from one planet-based level to another6.


1: Which sounds much more sophisticated than "while procrastinating"
2: Reports of IGN home invasions later turned out to be unfounded
3:You just got 8-Miled
4: And the equally important field of making shooting explosive barrels satisfying
5: : It’s not the characters name….. but if you say the Doctor, no one will now who you mean…. But it’s… wrong…. But you need to be accessible to the reader, on that note, transcribing an argument with yourself about how to refer to a fictional character will not help matters
6: Also, I needed a third game for the list. Ironically, Infinite Space is included here to fill up space