“Don’t Get a Virus” Review
A scene from the Bullet Hell Bar. A group of washed – up old shooters wander around a dimly – lit Japanese establishment, drinking draft beer and talking to each other about topic that make you roll your eyes. Stuff like conspiracies, men who abuse welfare, and when they’ll finally get their cut in. Undertale, hiding its fidget spinner under a booth, stared into the eyes of Cave Story, ready to kill.
“I got my cut in”, said Undertale, “and I made my money… but nobody’s taking me seriously!” He wiggled his neck a little, shaking his head. “I don’t get it! I have this simple story laid out, I got characters that everyone loves, gameplay that’s nice and simple, a developer of some mystique, and yet I’m still seen as one of those ‘stupid meme games’ that only exists to be made fun of.” Cave story sat silently and nodded. He’s been around, you see, and though 2011 was a banner year for him, being an indie veteran means one gets their fair share of criticism. “I don’t get it,” Undertale went on, his spinner at a steady clip. “Is it the difficulty?”
The wrinkled barmaid halted by their table. “Difficulty?” she scoffed. “That’s cute kid. Maybe even a little green”. She turned her body towards them. Nametag: Touhou. “You wanna talk about meme games, you talk to me and my cousin.” She pointed over to the corner where the lost and forgotten write graffiti; a desperate attempt to leave some legacy. “Yep, old Ikaruga hasn’t been the same since AGDQ came around and gave him the spotlight. Just sits there and keeps on chugging, five glasses a night.” She nodded, and sighed. “Of course, he’s lucky. Hard to draw porn of a spaceship, you know what I mean?” She gave a knowing smile to Undertale. Cave Story looked down. “But difficulty? I reckon there hasn’t been a real bullet hell since…”
The doors flung open with a bang. A shadowy figure waltzed in, foot first, trenchcoat all around him. He gazed at the bartender, Recca staring with ice in her eyes, and spit out her cigarette. She opened her mouth, but out came a raspy voice, bitten with mucus and a dried throat, only from Don’t Get a Virus: “I heard ya’ll were talking about… difficulty?”
This is a very cheeky game, full of imagination in a mundane way, with writing that amounts to what you would find from JRPG villians. Of course, all indie games suffer from the idea that if they make their characters bigger, larger, and (faster, too) turn them into caricatures of what might be a reasonable idea for a villain, then it will make them more endearing in our minds. Perhaps to the green – as – a – string – bean Joe Six – Pack who has never tasted the brilliant subtlety of what an actually menacing villain sounds like, such as Andrew Ryan (Bioshock), Buzzo (LISA), Porky (MOTHER 3), and Dusknoir (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon). But to the rest of us who have matured as human beings and have the ability to infer personality traits, rather than have them pushed in our face in the least subtle way we can, the typical routine of “cocky bad guy gets defeated begs for their life then yells a lot” gets old really fast. As countless artists, engineers, life coaches, and marketers have said: “Less is more”. Also, “The audience is not an idiot”, which I have yet to see evidence of.
But enough about the cliché stuff; the actual game – game is a clever little thing. You play in a blatantly genericised version of Windows 98, during the dark ages where there was no good free software, and words like “UNIX” were a pipe dream in the populace. Now we’re educated enough where “Windows” is not a synonym for “Computer“, and instead we have “Facebook” as a synonym for “Internet”, oh joy. The operating system is a functional illusion, where you can click on actual icons and have little windows show up. You get one to adjust the settings, one to get a help menu, and even a file browser including a picture of cats. Why? Because it’s fun, I suppose. Imagine that: video games being fun. I thought we cast that aside in favour of [gritty realism, overwrought stories, blatant furbait, insert zeitgeist here].
For a developer to put in the extra effort to create this sort of environment shows somebody who is dedicated to their craft. In game development, even the stupidest of things take effort to implement, and so making this little operating system is commendable. Because we aren’t in the dark ages, developers have engines that are easy – to – learn, take a minimum of effort to program in, and can be deployed anywhere — and also LÖVE. Even under these circumstances, anything a developer takes that ranks above “zero” on the required effort scale, typically won’t get done. For one, most software is “good enough” without all the bells and whistles: take out all the easter eggs from the majority of games, and they’ll be the exact same game. For two, it generally helps that a game is finished before it is published, and so efforts must be made towards finishing the game before adding in such things as fun little titbits for the gamers who love games. But given that the PC games industry has no quality standards whatsoever, I might be wrong on that bit. I cannot praise the corporate censorship that goes on in Nintendo’s walled garden, but at least everything on the eShop is an acceptable product. Except for Meme Run, obviously.
More copyright clusterhecks
Fun bit of Internet trivia: Meme Run was taken down because the creator of the Trollface meme sent a DMCA notice against it. Yes, that idiotic drawing a sufficiently talented toddler could have scribbled out, forced into our culture through the Hand of Chaos, can be copyrighted. It also means the creator of the Trollface can arbitrarily censor any piece of artwork featuring the Trollface, such as with the Payday 2 Baitface mask, forever stopping the spread of culture. Shitty culture, but still culture. The wonders of the copyright monopoly not only allows for broad, unchecked removal of any work that might contain even a trace of what a monopolist had created, or otherwise “owns” should some simpering fool sign away their monopoly as many artists do to conglomerates, it allows this unlimited power to be abused at any time and with no punishment whatsoever.
This isn’t the silly part… the silly part is that Joe Six – Pack will actually defend this behaviour, saying that it’s the “artist’s right to be compensated”, as if by virtue of me making something other people are automatically obliged to spend money on it. Notwithstanding that copyright is not a “right” as we know it, instead being a government – granted monopoly that is automatically applied and with absolutely no way to opt – out, it shows a special kind of contempt for the arts when one believes that 99% of a work should be censored just because 1% of a work contains what somebody else had created. Not only is it selfish to detriment the whole of society for the intangible, ill – defined benefit of the individual, but it is morally wrong to even give anybody the capability to do so. Nina Paley was right: copyright is brain damage. It’s draconian, and to the point, just a bloody mess that ruins everything it touches. The only way to free yourself of it is to dedicate all your works into the public domain, so you may never do evil, and no evil may be done to you.
This is related to the game, of course, in that the developer of “Don’t Get a Virus” specifically states their game as having “all rights reserved”, incidentally another example of the “rights” language that serves to alter the way one thinks about the copyright monopoly. Goodthink, anybody? Anyway, disregarding that such a disclaimer is completely unnecessary under current law and simply serves as a middle finger to anybody who might even consider using the artist’s publicly – available work in a different publicly – available work, the developer is aware enough of the monopoly to know how to apply public – domain licensed songs and sound effects to his work, but doesn’t care enough to make his own work free software to match… not to mention how the entire operating system is based on that of the proprietary Windows 98.
It’s like a developer who uses the code from a public domain GitHub and inserts it into their proprietary software. They take, but they never give, and they damage the arts because of it… like the developers of Cemu keeping their code under lockdown because they would rather earn Internet Welfare than ensure the good of the emulation community for decades to come. We call this “profiteering”, Chris. It is a practice that taints everything you do, everything you will do, and causes me to think less of you for engaging in this parasitic relationship.
So how is this abomination of legal injustice? Well, on the gameplay side, pretty gooooood. The gameplay has a really great gimmick right here, where your big spaceship is a window you have to drag with your mouse, and the enemy’s bullets do things like force – stop your window and make it bounce around a lot. It’s one of those mechanics which are so simple that you wonder why nobody has ever thought of it before, and lends itself to a gradual assumption of skill where it’s not difficult at the outset, but you better get good if you want to survive the harder difficulties. There’s even a bit where you have to manually close pop – up so the virus doesn’t make enough money in time. That actually has been done before… in Neopets.
I suggest not getting coy with the “impossible” difficulty setting, because I was having a heck of a time even getting past the “hard” setting. Look at me, in 2017, talking about difficulty settings! It’s like I’m actually reviewing games again, and not just stupid meme projects someone cooked up in a week. But to wit, not to say that impossible is actually impossible (as Lou Reed says: “Impossible doesn’t mean very difficult. Very difficult is winning the Nobel Prize; impossible is eating the Sun.”), but good luck trying. I need to clarify that I’m not bad at video games, even if my best friend can allegedly whoop me at Smash Brothers. But try getting me to move my mouse to close six different popups in three seconds, and I’ll gladly bow out and play some baby games, like Kirby and Pokémon.
There are only two fights against two bosses, but they’re so intimate (barring the JRPG villain complaint) that they remain memorable. The high difficulty means that one never takes an advantage for granted, where one is never cruising through the game, but instead must remained focus on dodging at all times. Making matters worse is you only getting one bullet every few seconds, where the boss can shoot bullets that drain your gun energy, leading to situations where you’re helplessly dodging waiting to charge up your single attack. My big complaint is that you miss. The boss moves in an unpredictable manner, meaning half the time getting a shot off is a matter of luck. My little complaint is the ship being too hecking big; it’s not a matter of if you get shot, but when, something a slightly smaller window would alleviate.
In sum, it is an excellent and innovative Bullet Hell that clowns on all the others ever released, showing tonnes of potential even in this early demo, with a developer that respects the player enough to amp up the challenge and respects games enough to add in things that are fun for the sake of fun itself. Unfortunately all of this is shadowed by the developer not caring enough to release anything that isn’t proprietary, innately putting the player in a helpless position where they may not learn from, take from, or even own the game they have downloaded. This is an obvious injustice, and because of this I am forced to give them Kratzen’s lowest rating: four stars out of five.
Footnote: apparently Chris is a “big fan of open source software”. So was I, back in the day, using programs like VLC, Firefox, Libreoffice, GIMP, and Blender, all on the cancer that is Windows. So much of the world is based on free software without anybody realising it, and since free software never advertises and is simply made popular through osmosis, it’s hard to feel any real attachment for it. Everybody has to start somewhere before they realise just what proprietary software can do to your machine, and it took me years before I switched to exclusively free software, and I wouldn’t ever want to switch back after the dream that is Linux. To talk to Chris directly: practice what you preach. If you enjoy open – source, give back to the community and make your own projects such. That’s what I do, and I’m a cult classic because of it.