Nine Months with Kratzen
The month of January for yours truly was a concentrated effort to be less ignorant of the things I care for and to be more educated regarding what many consider to be some of the greatest pieces of media ever made. After spending several weeks in a haze of mediocrity, low expectations, bad intentions, a filled hard drive, and good old – fashioned Artist’s Angst, I have finally earned the right to express strong conclusions, such as: fuck education, ignorance is bliss, and all opinions are equal no matter how much you know!
I’m being cheeky of course. After looking at many year – end awards shows from YouTubers I like, and not other writers because there are no other video game writers and if you think there are you are wrong, I’ve come to understand just how left out of the loop I am over such concerns over what games are popular nowadays, what games were popular way back when, and what mainstream titles I am able to shill in order to artificially inflate my knowledge of a medium that is driven entirely by hit titles and throws away all other games to garbage bins like Kratzen. You don’t need to have an opinion of what a good video game is so long as you regurgitate the standard titles of Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time whenever someone asks. Who needs independence? Who needs controversial opinions? Just join the Hive! We have free cookies!
If you’re wondering why someone who has frequently lambasted the concept of popularity as a whole and has stated in no uncertain terms that his opinions is his alone and is unaffected by what some random assholes on the Internet think, as there is only room for one random Internet asshole and that asshole is me, then you’re right to wonder. You see, during the brief period of time between January 10 and January 20, I had gotten the idea lodged into my brain that I would become a more learned and intelligent individual if I were to stop reading trash like Leo Tolstoy, Marcus Aurelius, and Niccolò Machiavelli, and started filling my head up with some real philosophical shit, like anime and video games.
So that’s how I spent my month: seeking out the most popular titles for me to take a look at, gain some appreciation for the sheer variety and intrigue that the medium of games and animation can provide, and to become a better person by virtue of mindlessly consuming media that I didn’t make and was produced solely for commercial purposes. I have since learned first – hand that every typical “good” title that has been recommended to me, even by people I allegedly support the opinions of, turned out to be not so good after all and in fact lead me to become even more convinced that I am the last sane man in an insane world, and that if I’m the only person whose opinion can be trusted, then the video games industry is fucking doomed. Also anime, but nobody gives a shit about them.
There was also a one – hour window where I decided to give The Beatles some room in my collection. After listening to their music, I immediately ejected them from my collection. I would explain to the two or three remaining Beatles fans why I failed to be blown away by such incisive and insightful lyrics as “all you need is love, love is all you need”, but then I’m pretty sure nobody actually likes their music. It’s like Bob Dylan and Grateful Dead: brands you throw on a T – shirt to show how much more cultured you are than the Common Man, but when you sit down and listen to them it makes the Top 40 charts seem like a glittering oasis in a gravel desert.
Looking back on the “Months with Kratzen” series, I’ve begun to realise how much I enjoy having those micro – reviews of things I’ve watched and played all there for me to peruse. It gave me an outlet that was free of the typical indie games smog, and allowed me to bitch about things that are more popular, and for that matter, aren’t even video games. Never mind that it’s been nearly eighty days since I’ve written a damn review, and even the games that I’ve downloaded off Itch all end up dud after dud. I will say that mistakes are made, and not updating Kratzen is a big mistake on my part. My personal projects seem to be the one excuse I have in pretending that I matter in this large world we live in, and though it is silly to demand wealth and fortune from the world when you have no control over those factors, I would say that I will appreciate very much the day when I come across someone who I have influenced in some small way, and for that, I will appreciate writing these things.
Froge watched these things
I’m not the type of mentally unstable cretin to say that he’s lost his faculties about sixty years before you can reasonably have that excuse, but due to the fundamental failings of human memory you can assume that this is only the rough order in which I watched these in, or even if they were watched in the past month, or even if I remember anything at all about them. Of course the only people who care about such exacting details are the same type of academic twats that I have spent much of my writing career attempting to assassinate, so don’t assume that this is serious business.
I am upset! I am so, so upset over how this anime turned out! Well, not really upset. Just disappointed. Then indifferent. Then a black hole in my memory, where it wasn’t even the sixth anime I thought I watched this month despite being the first. I want you all to know: don’t believe the hype! This is not a violent show — well, okay, it is violent, excessively and questionably so. But it’s not the same type of go – fuck – yourself ultraviolence that you expect from something like the games Hotline Miami or DOOM, where it’s all gore all the time. Most of the anime is some dudes talking to each other with animation that ranges from gorgeously exacting to laughably cheap. For the first half this is fine, for the second half it’s confusing, and by the final episode, all you end up thinking is: “What the FUCK did I just watch?”.
This anime doesn’t have a plot. It pretends to for the first half, then it gives up after that and peters out into some random bullshit with characters that don’t do anything important for a few episodes before dying in ways so melodramatic that I couldn’t help but laugh. It builds and builds into an anime of some intrigue, giving you that rising action featuring gratuitous blood, sex, gore, rape, moral dilemmas, tragic characterisations, and then never going anywhere with any of these themes before dropping the ending on you in a climax that is never explained and features characters that we’ve only seen less than a minute of for the whole anime. To say that there are loose ends that needed to be tied up isn’t exactly accurate. By the ending, everything is tied up, probably because the Earth gets nuked by fucking God. But the way that the story goes about completing its various ideas is so lazy and insulting that it gave me balls bigger and bluer than Devilman himself. And that’s just disrespectful to him.
One Punch Man
I had just come out of watching Devilman, gave my all into trying to interpret it, and then came out of it just feeling drained. I needed a pick – me – up, something simple that you don’t have to concentrate so hard on, and don’t have to feel totally invested in to appreciate its values. And what anime is more simple than One Punch Man? A show about a guy who defeats all his enemies by having an open and frank discussion about each other’s respective cultural values and how to most appropriately settle their disputes given an attainable and actionable framework of goals and resolutions.
Yeah, you already know this show. But it is a rather good one, for the first six episodes, until it stops being an overt parody of typical shōnen action tropes and starts being a typical shōnen action show that uses the exact same tropes it had successfully parodied beforehand. I don’t know what it is about the anime I watched this month with being really good for the first half and then rapidly dropping off in quality thereafter like the producers realised the overtly exploitative and capitalist industry they have found themselves in and instructed all the writers to produce shit plots until they could negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with their corporate masters before being fired wholesale because the country they’re in is so cartoonishly right – wing it makes the United States seem like fucking Denmark, but what I’m saying is that nothing lasts forever, especially not good shit like this.
The first six episodes offered up a lot of intrigue and opportunities to take the piss out of a medium and genre that is so trope – driven and formulaic that even doing something mildly original is enough to make hundreds of thousands of neckbeards praise it as the “Best Thing Evar!!”, see all the palette – swapped versions of Gintama and Monogatari. Then the final six episodes took all those tropes, dropped any pretense of them being a parody, and then petered out with the exact same overly – long multi – episode anime battles that the show was supposed to be a parody of. When your entire gimmick is having a man who can defeat any enemy in one punch, and then having the final battle take more than one punch to end, then you have fucked up. You have fucked up beyond repair.
If you want a more consistent version of One Punch Man that suffers no dips in quality and has a greater variety of ideas and characters, then just watch Mob Psycho 100 you fucking dope. They were both made by the same guy, too! You know what his name is? ONE. That’s it — just fucking “ONE”. I thought I had a monopoly on vague and mysterious one – syllable names, but ONE just nae – naed Froge faster than it took for the nae – nae to stop being relevant. Sadly my attempts to force “nae – nae” as a verb must now come to a close, for a meme one year after death can still be funny. But after two years? Then it stops being an intelligent and dignified reference worthy of an ironic chuckle by the hand of a self – aware gentleman’s publication, and starts getting featured on Family Guy.
No. I didn’t like it. I watched the first episode of it, and there were but two good parts that somewhat endeared it to me: the scene in the beginning where the totally random and incredibly cool motorcycle chick did some rolling around and played with her animation a bit, and the scene where the anime became a manga for a few minutes where I could look at the typography and realise how, buried underneath all the troth, the team behind this OVA series has some talent within its walls, and how they are not getting paid enough for this shit.
Being a GAINAX production, whose chief innovation in anime is finding new and novel ways to treat women as sex objects and idols rather than the damn human beings they are, fans of FLCL find themselves at home in the overwrought animation, uninteresting character designs, dialogue that is generic while having too much of it, nonsensical plot (although I hesitate to say this show has a plot, and not just a series of clips you would throw on YouTube five years later) that you’re supposed to “interpret” rather than be enjoyed as is the case with stories that are traditionally considered good, and just being hot gas that conglomerated into the shape of an anime for your viewing pleasure.
If it was an ironically shitty anime, like the new Pop Team Epic show, you could at least enjoy it for being a guilty pleasure. If it was just a plain bad anime, you could look at it and be grateful that you did not create it. But the main failing of this show is that it expects you to take it somewhat seriously, as if the melodramatic teenage angst titty and the high – octane inexplicable mecha fight scene titties complement each other like they at least had some claim to be in Neon Genesis Evangelion’s 800 – pound rack. Instead it flatlines, pretending to say something for a few seconds and then fucking it up the next scene, and I pity the self – appointed spin doctors who take this work even remotely seriously:
“FLCL is as close to a piece of literature as you’re ever going to get with an anime series. Fast paced as it may be, the story beautifully presents a theme of growing into maturity, and accompanies it with stunning visuals I’ve yet to see surpassed. Many comments have been made on how plot is very difficult to follow due to both its speed, and also because of all the symbols, motifs, and dialogue that doesn’t reveal its meaning until the very end. Never in any anime have I seen foil characters like Amarao and Ninamori played as such a beautiful literary supplement to the main character Naota’s journey into adulthood. To me, this series is the perfect balance of seriousness and humour. It makes you laugh, it makes you think, it pumps you up, its aesthetics impress you, it tells an eloquent story with a great mixture of science fiction and real life, it does everything a good story should do. Add to the mixture a soundtrack comprised almost entirely of music by The Pillows, and you have yourself and incredible piece of film work.”
And incredible piece of film work, indeed.
Fuck, I actually liked this show. And how I did want to like it. Picture this: I had just come off the bender of three disappointing anime. I had just played some disappointing games and had slacked off doing any writing at all. My characteristic cool wit and dry humour failed me, and throwing Kratzen into a more cheeky version of myself, though a rare treat, exhausted me and made my passive confidence break just a little bit. Imagine my situation. But then: I throw on Space Dandy. I’m no longer in my bedroom sitting on my ass. I’m on the Aloha Oe, I’m traveling with the Dandy Guy in Space, I’m visiting all those planets, I’m suddenly a part of these mystical worlds filled with both beauty and absurdity. For but a moment, I’ve stopped being some dipshit twink with a bad blog: I’m Space Dandy, baby.
But it was a fleeting pleasure: oh, by the hand of Chaos, was it a fleeting pleasure! For all that I was amazed by the boundlessly creative animation and the twisting and turning variety of stories and ideas, never having any pretensions of being anything greater than a good time, I find that this is both its strength and failing, for although you can be blown away once, it is never as good the second time. Its plots are silly and distracting but at the same time too often fails to have any story with substance, and like the funniest episodes of The Simpsons it provides a good distraction, but unlike the best episodes of The Simpsons, you don’t want to come back to them more than once.
I watched all of season one and the first six episodes of season two. I struggle to remember exactly what happened in most episodes, beyond just a series of scenes and quotes you would have already found on Tumblr in 2014. Even after trying my hardest, I still only remember the vaguest of plots from the best episodes of Space Dandy: “the zombie episode”, “the ramen episode”, “the race episode”, “the multiple dandy episode”, and “the Groundhog Day episode” are all the best in the show. And although all the episodes in season one are as varied and creative as what you would find from the obvious influences like Cowboy Bebop, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the golden age of sci – fi stories, they just flew right over me. It’s like they were so weird that they have no reference point in my brain, and so are irretrievable until I look back on the plot summaries.
Space Dandy warrants special elaboration because of how, as an anime, utterly unique it is. None of the stories are connected, and nothing that happens from one episode to another has any consequences. In the very first episode, Dandy blows up, literally, an entire planet with himself and his two crewmates within it, and the next episode they look for some ramen and nobody brings up what happened before, despite a cheeky “To Be Continued” sign at the end of most episodes. This makes it very good for the type of serialised television you could watch if there was nothing else that interested you, but it’s bad for any sort of investment, and though it is a refreshing type of irreverence to throw the characters into plots that are never brought up again (or are never resolved in some cases), it does make for an overall shallow experience and one you aren’t rewarded for thinking too hard about.
The unique part isn’t this type of pump – and – dump serialisation, because a lot of anime does that, especially slice – of – life shows like Nichijou and Lucky Star. The twist is in how it plays with the format, expecting no investment on the audience’s part and yet treating every episode like it’s a part of a long – running series with its own history and culture. Pretty much every episode follows the format of Dandy searching for an alien species, token antagonist Dr. Gel showing up late to the party and getting his ass handed to him, the crew getting out of Dandy’s bullshit through a series of on – the – fly events, and then going to the next episode like nothing ever happened.
Nobody learns anything, no characters ever develop, each episode is so formulaic you can predict what’s going to happen with an 80% probability, and yet the show maintains an irreverence about itself that is part sincere parody of the same trappings it falls into episode after episode, and part manipulation of it to produce unexpected and amazing results when it decides to drop the format altogether and do something different for a while. A lot of the time it screws the pooch on storytelling and end up with a half – baked plot that sacrifices good writing for novelty, and sometimes the anime can’t make the most out of its 22 – minute runtime and leaves a lot of ideas dead in the water. But the results, with few exceptions, are always interesting, and it certainly holds your attention the whole way through.
I haven’t watched the whole series, but I’m going to bet that the very best episode of it is season two, episode three, “Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Baby”. This is one of the most tightly – written episodes I have seen, not just in Space Dandy, but in any other piece of media. In most Space Dandy episodes, ideas are introduced and then quietly forgotten about by the end of the episode where there’s no more room to elaborate on them. But all the ideas here need no elaboration: every concept is simple, the struggles of the alien species is serious and easy – to – understand, the story moves along while still making sure how it moves is sensible and interesting, and the resolution ties together in a way that is both dramatic and jocular, leaving that sense of bittersweet catharsis that one gets when they know they have seen a piece of art that is truly great.
Space Dandy, in sum, is like a rich man’s Rick and Morty (as in very rich, like Medici rich), and though it leaves a lasting impression like a lucid dream in that there are bits and pieces you may appreciate, on the whole it is disconnected and is something you can never hold onto before it slips away from your skull.
And finally comes this slap in the face, this insult to my intelligence, this hyperbole – inducing Bigass Robot Anime, comes the first episode of Guerren Lagann, and technically two minutes of the second episode before I got tired — or what the cool kids might call a “ResidentSleeper”. I gave this show a try because it’s a popular show that’s just outside the normiesphere, beloved by none other than DigiBronyMLP himself, and had some character designs that — though by the book — looked somewhat decent if you looked at them from the corner of your eyes and didn’t think about them too hard.
I was deceived! I was tricked! I was — oh, who am I fooling? I don’t hate this anime. I wasn’t even disappointed, as I didn’t have any expectations at all. The show just flatlined for me, as one by one I saw unimaginative tropes pop up, I heard dialogue that’s plentiful but says very little, and I could peer through the screenplay and predict the following things: the worthless pantywaist pussyfooting twat that is the main character will do an about – face and become a badass Action Boy through the power of friendship and brotherly love, the gigantic – tittied sixteen – year – old girl (thanks, GAINAX) will hook up with the legal – in – japan Action Boy by virtue of said Power of Friendship event, there will be several revelations of mysterious paths which will no doubt be shocking – and – unexpected – guys – we – swear, and there will be more shots of Big Tiddy’s big tiddies than there are tits in hentai. And also ass. Big ass.
Regardless of whether or not I’m right, it’s a bad sign for the story when I can so easily make assumptions about what’s going to happen and have a reasonable chance of being correct, all this is in the first episode, and a bad sign for my engagement with the work when it dawned on me that I’m going to have to spend the next nine hours of my life watching Big Tiddy’s big tiddies, and if not her big tiddies, then her being a totally awesome Action Girl sniper hero guys it’s cool we swear. Half of this show is desperation, half of it avoids inspiration, and there’s a 1% margin of error which is filled in by more tiddies. Guys, I don’t mind tits. But when all you have going for you is tits? That’s when you fucked up. You have fucked up now.
Froge played these things:
My experience as a games critic has taught me a few things about life: one, everybody’s wrong but me. Two, lowering your standards makes you a prole. Three, you’re either completely ignored, hailed as a god, or end up in more pointless pissing contests than the amateur watersports recreational league. It is therefore that I apply these valuable criticisms to video games that you have either already played and fell in love with due to the endorphins in your brain being smarmy little bastards, or have not played at all and so my disparagement of them will not change your non – opinion further. For these simple reasons I have determined that criticism as a whole is a pointless art form, and I have therefore decided to go into the perverted arts and create the world’s first bisexual pornography that features entirely bisexuals, as opposed to one straight dude and two straight girls pretending to like each other. Sometimes three.
In reality I’m taking the piss. Art criticism has many varied and intelligent justifications for its existence as a discipline, all of which are important not just for becoming better artists and more informed audience members, but also for becoming better human beings who appreciate the textures of life as a whole and not as part of a narrow subset of the entire sum of human experience. I will therefore state none of these reasons and instead rant about some dumb furry games that nobody cares about, except for Spyro the dragon, but only becuase we all want to fuck the dragon and make him earn his sweet little gems like the twink whore he… sorry, I’m projecting. More than usual.
But now for something tangentially related
Recently I wanted to get into the PlayStation Nation through Emulation Appreciation, but I found myself at a conundrum. Console games usually require console controllers, featuring an incredibly limited subset of controls that assume that you would never use anything other than the first – party controller bundled with the console itself. Using keyboard controls work under some circumstances (ever play Super Mario Galaxy on a mouse and keyboard? you can never go back!), but most of the time is a janky setup with a lot of compromises. The same for other controllers: I have faithfully used a GameCube controller and adapter for all my PC gaming needs, and it has worked reasonably well, but it is no match for the sheer amount of buttons required by a console as powerful as the original PlayStation, whose graphics are like a child’s first papercraft project as projected through stop – motion video.
So when I decide to emulate my favourite PlayStation titles through PlayStation emulation with a PlayStation emulator like Beatle PlayStation X, I choose none other than the best PlayStation controller for the PlayStation play station of my choosing: the Xbox One S wired PC controller. No, that’s not a joke, and yes, I know, choosing Sony and Microsoft is like choosing whether to enroll your preschooler in Child Molester Daycare or the Baby Rapist Nursery. But between two evil megacorporations with equally absurd profit margins and with equally deplorable sweatshop conditions that is essentially serfdom for the 21st century, Microsoft happened to make the better cheap Chinese crap, as Statesians know best how to exploit the Chinese, while the Japanese only know how to exploit themselves.
The controller is good. Anybody who believes the GameCube to have the best controller will be pleasantly surprised to find the Xbox One has much the same ergonomics, only without the notoriously awful D – pad and the cancerous tumour that is the Z button. Unlike the 360 controller, which can be charitably described as “functional”, the Xbox One features analogue sticks that feature some weight to them without being intrusive, unlike the GameCube sticks being a tad heavy and the Joy – Cons being fucked – up. Working the Nintendo Switch is like trying to use the nipple mouse on a Thinkpad, only you have to shake the thinkpad every five minutes, the battery life is half as long, and Lenovo will brick it if you install anything other than Windows.
The D – pad is damn good — maybe even better than Nintendo’s patent bullshit thanks to bullshit patents — as you can hold down two buttons as once and not have the inputs mysteriously drop like on the 3DS D – pad, though granted that’s usually only in poorly – programmed games. For a single piece of plastic, unlike the separated pieces on the PlayStation controllers, it is responsive, and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt which button you have pressed. The positioning of it so close to the center means that those with small hands will find it a hassle to use exclusively for any length of time — thanks, Microsoft. But for a famously neglected piece of hardware, I appreciate the attention given to the D – pad.
The ergonomics of the Xbox One controller is especially impressive given how it’s taken us twenty to thirty years to develop the innovations that this controller has, such as a textured tactile back grip (but not too textured! not too tactile!), concave analogue sticks (the PS4 controller is still slightly convex), having the top triggers extend to the edge of the controller so you can press down on them no matter where your fingers are, and — most importantly — not having a gigantic cunting wiggly touch bar taking up half of the fucking real estate on the fucking games controller for the sake of a dipshit fucking gimmick that no fucking games fucking use anyway! Sony! What the fuck was going through your heads? Also, why do all the official DualShock 4 controllers look plastic pieces of shit that still cost $69.99 before tax? Sure, the Minecraft creeper controller is a lazily – designed cash – in for a popular brand, but at least it doesn’t look like something you’d fish out of the back shelves of a locally – owned used games store.
So onto the flaws: all of the flaws. There are few. The analogue sticks are shoved in a perfectly circular encasement; for anything that isn’t the 3DS Circle Pad, I prefer an octagonal casing representing the eight cardinal gaming directions, but that’s just a preference. The face buttons are better than the GameCube’s, but not the Switch’s or the 3DS’, and are somewhat mushy in that the pressure required to push a button is slightly less than the pressure to release it. This affects the BAXY and two menu buttons, but not the shoulder paddles or the D – Pad. The top – right casing of my unit depresses slightly when I put pressure on it, and the battery cover at the back is easy to push in, which brings back the good – old – fashioned Microsoft Build Quality in an uncharacteristically not – shitty product. It’s telling when the biggest issue with the controller is how the damn Xbox button glows too brightly, which is like Apple’s glowing logo in that it acts as a virtue signal for twats.
Overall I would say that this exorbitantly expensive piece of first – world claptrap is well worth the price of however the hell much I paid for it, and that my opinions of the following games are not due to any hardware issues arising from Microsoft’s part (as they have a tendency to make even products they’re even tangentially in significantly worse), but because they’re just kind of shit.
Spyro the Dragon
Let’s keep things uncontroversial with the first entry — hang on, I’m getting death threats faster than my inbox filter can process them. Yes, it’s the 1998 video game classic, featuring bad controls, frustrating level design, touchy game mechanics, a slapped – together plot, too many nonsensical interruptions, and a tendency to treat the gamer like the little baby he probably is: Monopoly for the PlayStation! Sorry, I read that wrong, I meant Metal Gear Solid! Wait, Ocarina of Time. Grim Fandango! Look, every game we like is shit; we just have lower standards and less reason to innovate than Soundcloud Rap.
Oh, Spyro, the dragon… What a reputation you’ve gotten over the past two decades, having malformed the sexualities of hundreds of kids who now want to fuck you. But it is you who has fucked me, for although I don’t know you, I never met you, and I’ve never had any contact with you, my tears say more than real evidence ever could: you’ve made a bad game, and though it looks pretty, I feel the same numbness that I feel when it comes to these sorts of pretty – though – bland games, the same conflict I feel when I understand that something I liked is something I no longer like, and the sad opinion that, though your waifu may not be shit, the things they come from most certainly are. To all you dragon fuckers: congratulations. You fucked yourself.
Spyro the Dragon, the game, is one of those collect – a – thon games where you pick up a ton of arbitrary objectives to meet an arbitrary goal in order to advance to the next slightly – less – than – arbitrary level and then eventually get to the end and sit there in your dark basement realising how ultimately futile this “gaming” thing really is. But if one is playing a game simply to complete it, then they’re playing the game incorrectly! Unless you’re Bioshock or Deus Ex, the plot of most games amount to “pick up the Seven Magical MacGuffins and beat the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy!”, and grinding through each level for the sake of getting a non – climactic ending is a disservice to both you as a person and as a Gamer.
The joy of games is in the progression, not in the completion. If the gameplay is good enough, then the story matters not, for games are meant to be played and to neuter the greatest strength of gaming — its interactivity — for the sake of expressing a story that could have just as easily been told through prose or comics is to castrate yourself to appease those who never had balls to begin with. At the same time, if the story is clever enough to be engaging despite its being trapped in a medium where, as John Carmack puts it, the story is as nonessential as the story in porn, then one can forgive the lack of gameplay just so they can see what’s so damn interesting about the plot. Or perhaps one can go the environmental sim route and throw some Oneiric Gardens at us, embark in all its weirdness, and then wonder why we felt anything at all.
But this being a PSX game in the 1990s developed by corporate interests for the sake of producing an easily – marketable piece of prolefeed to give to the kids to addict them to entertainment and make them their subservient bitches for life, you can infer there is nothing interesting whatsoever about the story, and the gameplay itself is… not good. In addition to the banalities of the collect – a – thon genre, where one makes up for the silly and inherently frustrating premise by creating worlds of some interest and movement tech of some entertainment such as what Banjo – Kazooie has done, there is also the banality of the too – small levels, the dialogue being the type of content – free kids stuff you’d expect from a kid’s game, and the challenge wavering between “not even a thing” to “a thing”, denoted only by you losing all your health and trying to fly over a gap for the tenth time in a row because the developers didn’t want to remodel the entire map just so you can have a go at traversing a chasm.
The controls are a bit of a pisser. Although I enjoy my games using only eight directions for the sake of simplicity, because the PC is my bitch and WASD is my YHWH, navigating a 360 degree 3D space using only eight different degrees requires a bit more precision than what is offered in the traditional third – person platformer experience; the need to make characters feel “animated” causes developers to forgo responsive controls so their corporate mascots can have their legs jiggle a little bit and their body lurch to a stop like they’re approaching a four – way intersection just as the lights turned yellow. What the designers believe to be a clever piece of technology causes the customer to become frustrated quickly with the unresponsiveness of what is allegedly a video game, designed to be played, as opposed to a video, period, designed to be watched.
And the “collecting” part of this collect – a – thon is needlessly frustrating as well. I have given praise to this series for its innovative mechanic of not needing to be directly on a gem in order to pick it up. Your dragonfly slave boy (“dragon” – fly, eyes with tears of joy emoji) comes slurps it all up for you, which would be a great convenience and take away the frustrating and unnecessary precision of needing to manually readjust your position to individually collect each and every gem, as Spyro has all the grace and mobility as the Trojan Horse, and with as much personality to boot. Would be, if the range wasn’t smaller than Elder Titan’s passive — or for those of you who are thankfully ignorant of this reference to an online casino, smaller than circle formed by the “OK hand sign” emoji. Spyro gives us his gifts, and then he takes it away on the very same day.
Look, it’s a very good – looking game, even barring the ludicrously short render distance where polygons turn into bad papercraft if you’re ten metres away from them. The colour palette is that smooth – mint Altoids punch of having just enough contrast to make every locale distinctive, though not bright enough to be alienating cartoony. Every enemy model is expressive with their own unique ways of interacting with the environment, Spyro himself has more visual attitude in a few idle animations than most protagonists get in an eighty – hour game, and every level is instantly – memorable with its ability to make the most out of the limited graphical capabilities they’re given just by making creative use out of the fundamentals of 3D world design: textures, models, and particles.
You don’t need to slather every single model in Vaseline, throw in lightmaps and shadows every which way, and have a million different polygons and models cluttering up the map for the sake of adding in detail that overloads your brain and causes you to lose focus of the gameplay itself. Ever since games had the ability to add in unnecessary crap for the sake of unnecessary crap, game design itself has been dying a slow and painful death for the sake of throwing in more set dressing, more fog effects, more scripted cutscenes, more animations, more of fucking everything just so they can make the claim to be “next – gen” without having innovated in any substantial area beyond rendering at higher and higher resolutions that most gamers can’t even afford the hardware for, costing thousands of dollars just for a 4K monitor and a powerful enough PC.
All Spyro the Dragon does is create a wide – open map, make some structures out of simple polygonal constructs, fill it up with well – designed entities that communicate their purpose in game design while at the same time being distinct, and skins this world in textures that makes every location worth examining for the sake of appreciating all the graphic design work that went into game proper. You don’t need a development team with ten designers and two – hundred code monkeys lurching along at a pace that would make even a one – man indie operation seem more prolific than Werner Herzog. You need talent. You need discipline. And you need the conviction to know when enough is enough — conviction that, for you rats in the mainstream, does not exist.
Perhaps the best argument I can make as to Spyro the Dragon’s quality is to play the damn thing — especially if you haven’t played it in a very long time, such as the ten or so years I’ve gone. The music, the looks, and all the voice clips will cause you to feel some sort of strange nostalgia for a game that has been gone from your memory, and yet shows up in mobs of resurrect ideas, half – formed recollections of themes and icons that have been eroded by the years, now connecting to each other in a series of neural synapses that pop and flare into your brain. We never really “forget”. All that we have experienced is in there somewhere, and all we need is a trigger to have ideas come back from the grave.
But it’s the mutual incompatibilities of memories and realities that has caused this title to have a great reputation, but damns its reality down to Hell’s gate. The ultimate meniality of Spyro the Dragon is made all the more apparent by how its sequel is much the same, its threequel is unplayable due to copy obstruction that has not been fully – cracked in seventeen years, and the rest of which being quite bad — facsimiles that resemble games, but feels off, like a bootleg San Andreas where CJ is replaced with Wolverine, or an Android game featuring store – bought assets and popular copyrighted characters.
Although Spyro the Dragon is a series which resembles games quite nicely, it is flawed on several fundamental levels which relegates it to an entry in gaming history that deserves to be studied, but not to be enjoyed. Perhaps being in the academic ghetto, notorious for a zombie franchise that, unlike all of Nintendo’s series, has died fully instead of embarrassing itself and pretending to have any sort of cultural value whatsoever, is the fate that it ultimately deserves. Of course, there’s that whole Skylanders business, but it’s really an excuse for Spyro to shake his cute little butt and show off for the kids. And, really, isn’t that what we all want?
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
It was okay.
Well, given how the Months with Kratzen series is an excuse to post opinions about titles that aren’t even related to the purpose of the blog proper, and given how you’re a crazy enough bastard to actually read this drivel, I suppose I have the opportunity to share some more strange and disconnected ideas to you, for so long as I have enough audience retention to claim that this blog cum online magazine cum promotional effort cum propaganda machine cum thinly – veiled act of desperation is of any value whatsoever, then I can keep on living inside my insular culture and drive the outside world far away for just another day.
I suppose, given the extraordinary length of the article thus far, it’s only fair to end it on a note that is the opposite of everything thus far. Which is to say, with no proper ending, no bad ideas, no jokes, no irony, no anime, and nothing of entertainment whatsoever. Because although it’s nice to have the opportunity to self – publish, there is also danger in having a voice, for if you say anything, you can be criticised. And if you can be criticised, your feelings can be hurt. And that’s no good.
So to combat all those meanies out there who want to strip yours truly of his well – earned reputation, in the following paragraphs I will now create a dissertation that will ruffle no feathers, raise no ires, pull no boners, or do anything of any consequence that may cause harm to me in any way. Folks, allow me to present to you: The Inoffensive Kratzen Dissertation.