Over in this week’s What Are You Playing This Weekend? thread, Gameological’s resident avant-garde Let’s Play artist, Staggering Stew-Bum, gave us an update on his latest challenge run: The beat all four Uncharted games using only headshots. It’s an insane proposition, but he’s already onto Uncharted 2 and has provided a heavily edited video of his headshot-only run through Uncharted 1.Enjoy.
This week, I wrote a bit about my experience with the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, a very pretty remake of the first three Crash Bandicoot games. I came away from it thinking these games were a messy artifact from one of gaming’s rough transitional periods, but the tremendous reaction to this collection got me thinking about nostalgia and ultimately convinced me that maybe, just maybe, it’s okay if people just want to have some fun enjoying something that struck a chord with them at a very specific point in their lives. Down in the comments, Captain Internet got to thinking about how gaming nostalgia is tougher to experience than other media.
I find it interesting that nostalgia hunting or simply experiencing older forms of the medium is so much more of a trial with games than with other media. With films and books, you’ll only find something jarring if it contains a reference to an idea of the future—usually a character using a computer with a text interface or a dedicated videophone and so on. With books, there might be some old language or concepts to look up, but films aren’t nearly old enough to require that yet.
With games, you usually have to find something capable of running the thing, then a TV with the correct input, then something to remove the dead skin and Nutella from your yellowing controllers—and then, after getting it all working, you may find that you just can’t put up with the shit that you used to. Having to turn your character in the direction you want to walk before walking that way. Instant deaths, three lives and limited continues. Manual saves. Obscure puzzles that require a notebook. Repetitive music that loops after 16 bars. Horrible, horrible early 3-D graphics. The 4:3 aspect ratio. CGA. Unexplained hot keys. Requiring a manual. Requiring a physical joystick.
I tried replaying the original Fallout earlier this year, and by God was it a slow and painful experience. I still love it to bits, but I’ve reached a point where I’m happy just to remember these things rather than put myself through them again.
Elsewhere, The Golden Eel took me to task for my criticisms of the games, mentioning that they hold up “with the caveat that they do have that early ’90s difficulty still left over from the 2-D days.” [I do want to mention that high difficulty and frustration isn’t an inherently bad thing—I’ve gushed about Spelunky and Bloodborne and fighting games all over this damn website. Difficulty and frustration become a bad thing when a game’s design makes them feel unfair, and that’s my beef with Crash.] This prompted an interesting conversation about what we expect and get out of games, and how that’s changed over the decades. Here’s Unexpected Dave:
Expectations have changed. In the ’80s, it never felt like we “needed” to see a game’s ending in order to get the full experience. A greater number of games continued indefinitely, like arcade games. And we tended to rent games more often than we would buy them in those days, so our time with a game was often too short to beat it. In that context, setting new personal bests for our progress was enough. Beating a game felt like a rare and special achievement.
But by the ’90s, beating a game had become increasingly more important. Games were more story-based, so players would get more frustrated if they couldn’t see it play out. Battery saves had become the norm, so players no longer needed to start from scratch every time. Developers or publishers apparently decided that making games a little easier and more accessible would make them appeal to a wider audience. Excessive difficulty attracted a stigma; it was seen as a “crutch” that developers used to hide the fact that their games were short, shallow, or just poorly designed in general.
And Wolfman Jew followed up:
Probably because it was the seminal 3-D platformer, I keep thinking about Mario 64. Because that’s a really challenging game, but it’s also satisfying from more than just raw difficulty thanks to how great the movement itself is. Games are more than just a mechanical challenge, and I think it’s only a net positive that they evolved from that being their primary value. A lot of the JRPGs from that era aren’t really that difficult, and they really didn’t need to be. They had stories and unique kinds of challenges and experiences, which might have been more satisfying to achieve through harsher challenges, but I don’t really think so.
And while we remember the games that did challenge well—Zelda 1, Super Mario Bros., the better Mega Mans—we forget that the vast majority of games of the ’80s really didn’t. It was a crutch more often than not, and it led to games where beating it was more about rote memorization than anything else. Seeing Contra or Castlevania played through to the end is amazing, but they were less about learning systems than recognizing a long pattern and following it to the end.
This week, I reviewed the four-episode “first season” of Netflix’s new Castlevania animated series. I made a point of noting the show’s intense gore, something its creators have been touting for a long time. In my mind, it crossed a bit into try-hard territory. For Jakeoti, it was all that out-of-place swearing that was the biggest problem.
The show’s indulgence in its R-rating is both my favorite part and the most cringeworthy. The gore is over-the-top and kind of wonderful. It’s what you always imagined the gore in the Castlevania games was actually like. Messed up creatures like Medusa heads flying about, spiked traps dropping from above—it’s all menacing not because of the 8-bit graphics but because your mind fills in the blank. Castlevania‘s creepiness relied on imagination. The show even keeps this going. The part where Trevor whips out the dude’s eye, for example. If they’d wanted to go as graphic as possible, we could have seen the whip actually rip his face open. But rather, we see the whip, we hear the crack, and there’s an eyeball floating there. We don’t need to see the guy’s face to fill in the blank.
On the other hand, the language was less satisfying. There are some fun moments (“Could you please leave my testicles alone?” Or the part where Trevor says “shit” in response to the Speaker’s story and the Speaker replies “exactly”), but a lot of it feels more like the writers putting it in because they can. It’s not like the swearing is goofy fun; t’s just vulgar to be vulgar. Compare that to the aforementioned violence, where, even though we can see someone get ripped in half, entrails flapping about, it’s almost more laugh-inducing. It’s funny, in a sick sort of way.
Urzaz enjoyed the show more than they expected to, especially its characterization of Dracula:
I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, but I wanted to like the series, and I ended up *really* liking it. The ending was a bummer, as it feels like just a really long pilot, but it left me craving more, which I guess is an inarguable success.
The way Dracula is handled is great, and while it makes him somewhat sympathetic, I think it’s done mostly to give him motivation, to make him a more interesting villain and give him a reason to be the enemy of humanity. They can go a lot of interesting directions with his setup, while still keeping him bad guy numero uno. I also really liked Trevor’s characterization. He felt like a mix between Spike from Cowboy Bebop (a confirmed early influence) and…Jimmy McNulty? I’m not entirely sure why, so maybe I’m just crazy, but any performance that can elicit that comparison from my brain has to have something going for it, right?
That’ll do it for this week, everyone. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!