I Got My Thrill In Foggy Silent Hill

Welcome to Silent Hill. The Welcome Center is located at the next exit. Oh wait, that road just ends and casts you off into a firey pit of oblivion. NEVERMIND.

So last weekend, we here at Ms. Game and Watch had the...experience...of playing through Silent Hill: Homecoming. I'd like to just present a few (hopefully) non-spoilerish things about the game. LT is here, offering her own insights as well. Her comments are in green.

-Silent Hill has finally gotten another POC. Did it really have to take putting this game into the hands of an American developer to get a black man in Silent Hill? Guess so. You're right. For a game series that clearly takes place in somewhat-present America, colored folks were conspicuously missing in this series. However, I would posit that out of all survival horror games you can think of, how many franchises can boast multiple plots inextricably tied to themes of motherhood and feminine protective forces (i.e. the town's "God" and that whole ball of crazy).

-Without giving too much away, I'll say that the bosses were a disappointment. If you don't read up on the boss analysis online or become a meticulous clue-hunter in the game it will be really hard for you to see the connections between the bosses and the things they are supposed to represent-- and even then some things about the bosses will still just not make sense. In some cases it seemed the developers were going for "what looks cool" or "WWSD (What would Saw do?)". I agree, the bosses looked "cool" but fed into my main criticism of this game, and that is relying too much on a 'monster hunter' angle (rargh! rust, dried blood and pointy shear-things!) instead of the deliciously addictive eerieness (why is there no sound? who keeps leaving these pages from a diary? why is that doll sitting on the steps with its hands fol--) that pervades the best survival horror games and --for me-- the best horror films.

-Silent Hill: Homecoming has too many characters. I'm not saying that the cast can't expand, but the game has to expand to fit the cast. How many characters have there been in the previous installments? Usually the cast is kept small for a reason. SH:H just can't accommodate the cast that it has--about double that of the usual number in Silent Hill titles and the game is only 8-9 hours long. If you haven't played it yet, expect to be confused at some points and uninformed at most points. The supporting characters tend to be a let down. You will learn more about the supporting characters from the manual in the game case than you will from the game itself. It was kind of like a creepier version of "Our Town", except with more murder and occult activity.

-This game is not scary. At the very least it is not scary in the same way as other Silent Hill titles. At all. I actually think that it lost some of the aesthetic in the transfer to an American Developer. And again, I'd like to rehash what I said earlier about what really scares us--what can make a game 'pull it off' well: everyone's different and is scared by different things but there will always be those most primal of fears that exists in all of us. Until now, I've thought the series did a sometimes so-so and sometimes spectacular job of toeing the line-- of putting a player inside the game. That is to say, few have experienced the shame and self-hatred of spousal murder and certainly very few of us know what it's like to be the "good" half of a particularly unlucky girl with a crazy mother, drawn back to an evil place for evil purposes. I'll even argue the game doesn't want to bring you right there, at the line. The game wants to pull you in like an invisible hand but drop you at the very edge of where you as a player end and where the mindset and emotions of the protagonist begin. And there you are, with a letter from a dead (maybe she isn't?) wife in a depressing town or on the rooftop fighting something that doesn't even look human, under the control of who you think is just an evil bitch with no eyebrows, your father's corpse still bleeding on your bed, since you didn't have the time to bury him properly. I'll ask: is it really so unfair to compare Homecoming to games past? Partially yes, partially no. Silent Hill 3 shouldn't have been compared to Silent Hill 2; Silent Hill 4 shouldn't be compared to any other game since blah blah blah. It's part of a franchise, Konami signed off on it and considers it canon. Of course I'll compare it to its predecessors. On the other hand, so many things changed when developers changed that it borders on an Apples/Oranges comparison, in which case it's best to quarantine this game and rate it as its own island of a game. What to do, what to do. I'll try to do both, but when I do, I can't help but feel like A) I'm lying to myself and B) There really was something lost in the change of hands.

-The transformation effects are awesome and I'm glad that they carried over the transformation styles from the movie.

-Pyramid Head looks fantastic! However, PH wasn't utilized very well in the main game. Agreed, and this was one of the most disappointing things in the game. This is also a move that I promised myself I wouldn't compare to the "orginial" apperance, that of SH2. I had read comments on forums saying things like 'don't worry there's a reason for PH to be in this game and it fits' so I contented myself with knowing the designers and writers would not stray too far in PH's role, appearance or meaning. That being said, I wish now for a "new" Pyramid Head that isn't Pyramid Head. It's hard to wish for abstracts to materialize in games, I know but the original reaction we all had to PH in the game... that's something that can be re-created, folks! Whatever he symbolizes, whatever he did and whatever was controlling him... this can be replicated! I'm not saying it's as easy a formula as pulling one of humanity's more negative emotions and personifying it in a weird-looking mask with a humanoid appearance but that same response is something I think is an endless, blank book. Pyramid Head is the first page.

-The plot was safe. It was solid enough to make sense, but not solid enough to be satisfying to the die hard fans of Silent Hill. There isn't much there to analyze and what is there to analyze doesn't take much thought or research (and some of it will never make sense no matter how much you try). The first three games have much more interesting things going on, but SH:H will slightly satiate SH fans. It's like a SH snack. It's like a SH fruit roll-up instead of an SH submarine sandwich (with all its yummy layers, smothered in secret sauces, and pressed between two slices of pure mindfuck). This was like Silent Hill Bros. canned coffee, compared to the unique and not-for-everyone tastes of earlier Silent Hill Premium Roasted Spewing Twitching Blood in a Cup. It did the job, but wasn't as engaging and left a huge something-to-be-desired taste in the mouth. I despise number ratings, except for things like olympic events and earthquakes. Letter grades are the way to go, and I give this game a B. It didn't outright suck, but it didn't dazzle like I was hoping it would.

Uh. That's all I have for now. I might come back with some boss analysis or some plot questions later. Chao. Goodnight my droogs. Sorry this wasn't the HORRORshow you were all after!


Because Normal Guitars Are For Boys

Disney youngins Aly and AJ are here to rescue our tweens and teens from playing those icky normal looking guitar controllers that all the boys play with. Instead, they (with peripheral maker PDP) have designed something pinker for our young women to use so playing guitar on video games (which happen to feature predominantly male-created music anyway) won't offend their adolescent feminine sensibilities with masculinizing colors like black, or red, or sunburst.

Now, I'm not saying that people (PEOPLE, not just girls) can't have pink guitars. I have never personally had an inclination to buy a pink instrument (though I've owned two basses and a guitar), but I fully support people's basic freedom to buy whatever they want in whatever color they please. What I hate is that it's always girls who are marketed pink anything. And in video gaming, stuff made for and marketed for "gurlz" is almost always pink. It's sickening. It's this kind of novelty which continues to perpetrate the notion that gaming is for the boys.

A century ago (and centuries before that), it used to be that it was red (pink) for boys and blue for girls. Now, even though that's been reversed, we never see the "for boyz" crap happening where things that are usually marketed to women are made a pastel blue and then marketed in some obnoxious way to make boys feel like they are anomalies in that particular interest.

If this crap is going to continue, I want to see some male Disney stars create some obnoxious blue peripheral- like Wii-mote spatula attachments for Cooking Mama or something else I would find equally as ridiculous and objectionable.



Proof of Identity

Captain Rainbow was released for the Wii last week in Japan. The story revolves around a young man named Nick who has lost his popularity and goes to Minmin Island (where all your dreams come true TM) to gain it back. He also has the ability to transform in to Captain Rainbow and fight with a yo-yo.

But this post is about Birdo. Birdo is a character from the Nintendo universe (one of many) who is included in the game. In this context, Birdo has come to Minmin Island so she can be popular with the boys.

Some Americans don't actually know this, but Birdo (who originally appeared in Doki-Doki Panic! and what became Super Mario Bros. 2 in America) is male. I believe the American instruction manuals for games with Birdo tend to try to avoid the whole gender identity issue by making Birdo female, but Birdo is a male character who identifies as female.

In Captain Rainbow, Birdo is imprisoned (see above) for using the woman's restroom. You, as Nick, have to find evidence to prove that Birdo is female so that she will be let free. (After this, I think she declares Nick her boyfriend or something.)

I'm not sure how to feel about this. Birdo, to me, is female regardless of her actual biological sex if only because she believes she is female (she calls herself "atashi", the girly form of "I"). There is a distinction between biological sex and gender identity. So on the one hand I am happy that I get to help out Birdo in the game from being wrongfully detained. On the other hand I am slightly unhappy that I have to have tangible proof outside of Birdo herself to prove that she's female. This dismisses Birdo the "person" entirely and tries to find some "objective" proof of womanhood- and I ask you: what, essentially, proves womanhood? In the game video I saw it was "onna no akashi" which is "proof of woman" loosely, so it's not that the game gives any particular piece of proof, but just proof in some unspecified form. But still, the principal of having to find evidence for this propagates a notion that gender identity has to be proven through biological sex or through external means and it is not up to the person themselves what gender they identify as.

I'll probably be returning to Captain Rainbow in the future here to look at some other characters in the game and also just because I think the whole thing is really fun looking despite what issues I may bring up with it.

Dissidia: Equal Opportunity Heroes?

Shock and glee! Kefka is in the new Final Fantasy: Dissidia trailer! And he's just as crazy as I imagined.

Best part, the scene they show in the trailer hints at something even better! While talking to Cloud of Darkness, he stops her and basically tells her to play carefully because the woman she's targeting is a "very special friend" of his.

Does this mean we could have Terra or Celes joining the all male cast of heroes in Dissidia?

Trailer via GameTrailers.


Braid. Go play it.

Just wanted to say that I finished Braid on Saturday. If you haven't played it yet, you should. Braid was a great game with a great twist on the 'Princess in distress' type of video game. I would have written about it here but I would hate to spoil the story for those who haven't seen it yet.

However, if you have played it and want to talk about it, you are welcome to leave a comment.


Why I Already Love 'Left 4 Dead'

For those who haven't heard of it, Left 4 Dead is a co-op survival horror shooter coming out later this year. Players of the game will be randomly assigned the role of one of four survivor characters who they will use to help the other survivors traverse the infested surroundings.

I'm not a fan of shooters or co-op play. In fact, I may never play this game. But I still love it.

Let me give that statement some background: Last month I was looking through the August issue of EGM (I get it for free, so don't hold my subscription of EGM against me). Paging through the previews section, I noticed that at least 4 or 5 games had something terribly similar about them. After thinking about it I was at last able to put my finger on what bothered me: Each cast had one male black supporting character and they all looked nearly the same. Unfortunately, they probably all have extremely similar personalities and roles.

Black men in video games often end up as a soldier type, a gangster type, or a combination of both. They often have shave or nearly shaved heads, some sort of fierce facial hair, and many stereotypical traits that embody the hypermasculinity and brutality that is so often attributed to black men. See: Gears of War, Battlefield: Bad Company, Mercenaries series, Metal Gear Solid series, Grand Theft Auto series, 50 Cent series, etc. etc. etc. True, there are exceptions to the rule, but those are too few and far between. Most black characters I can think of are supporting characters (the most notable exceptions being Crackdown and GTA: San Andreas), and that's not a good sign. There are plenty of male main characters who were made white but could have easily been black without affecting story (but the default white hero is another rant altogether, and don't get me started on the lack of women of color in main roles). Basically, I think the way black men are portrayed and cast in games is disappointing at best.

So why do I love Left 4 Dead? Because in their recent character redesign of the survivors the black male survivor, Louis, is now a dude in a suit instead of the large, muscular, intimidating man that they had originally shown in the first screens of the game. The fan reaction to the redesigns of the characters has been about equally negative and positive, though I think many of them missed the significance of a character like Louis- he's a businessman who happens to get caught up in a life or death battle, and the fact that he's black hasn't caused the usual stereotypes to be coded into his appearance (granted, his head is still shaved, but sometimes you can't win them all at once). There's still the chance that there will be some stereotypes put into his movements, speech, etc., but we'll have to wait for the release of Left 4 Dead to find out if he's been voiced like Chris Tucker or something.

It's just nice to see that video game makers get the concept that black men aren't all the same.

R.I.P. GitM

One of my favorite video game blogs, Girl in the Machine, has decided to stop its activities.

Thank you, GitM, for your awesome work. I will miss it.