The Cuphead Runneth Over Dean

GamesBeat writer Dean Takahashi, @deantak, recently had some trouble playing Cuphead:

This new video has, in many ways, brought back the game journalist competency debate that last reared its ugly head when Polygon’s Arthur Gies played Doom and didn’t do it very well.

The emergent arguments and accusations levied at the person in question have been as various as they are dubious: That Mr. Takahashi’s specific position, as a video game journalist, requires him to be good at all games, or flatly refuse to touch anything and everything that he is not “good enough” at; and that his incompetence at one game now renders him entirely incompetent on the whole, furthermore throwing his entire review history under question. In addition, his performance has not only at once “embarrassed” him, but also the entity he works for.

Finally, it was to be noted, Takahashi’s flub had once again illustrated – nay, revealed – the review charade, calling into question the entire premise of not only games journalism, games journalists, but also journalism and the media on the whole!

This is to say nothing of the dismaying meanness directed at Takahashi, which quite obviously relates, in large part, to a collective psychosis, an osmosis into social media -based outrage culture, wherein any and all faces protruding from the otherwise ubiquitous and oblique mass media diet are instantly bandwagoned upon, to be smitten with holy anger for daring to err, in public, or in private. There were also those that simply tried throwing further fuel on the fire, like @stillgray, who chose to abandon professional courtesy in favour of blatant populism.

In this post – which is, by the way, not a defense of Takahashi, or in favour of any other specific person – I discuss the idea of whether we can have, at all, a shared criterion of competence that can be applied uniformly, and fairly, to video game criticism. I also discuss the unique – and very, very difficult position – that games journalism, and especially reviewing as one of its sub-sections, occupies amidst different types, or forms, of the objects of aesthetic analysis.

If you, in your heart of hearts, think that Mr. Dean Takahashi is a bad, or a flawed, person because he’s bad at Cuphead, and that as a journalist, this would then imply that he essentially fakes his his way through reviews (also discussing game endings), then I guess that’s fine, too. Takahashi makes for an easy target for criticism, after all: One can easily bring up some of the more indefensible things that he’s written, even discounting all the PR release talk, like his claim that a Warhammer 40 000 game ripped off Gears of War.1

That being said, I think it might be pertinent, for this article, to read and attempt to understand his personal response to the debacle, which unfortunately ran with the same clichéd headline I had prepared for my own article.

The essential point of this article is simply this: If you at all believe that occasions such as these are clear-cut, open-and-shut cases in favour of the idea that “games journalists are all bad and should feel bad,” then I want to present an argument to the opposite. I also detest the idea of intentionally avoiding the complexities, difficulties, and ambiguities of the topic and believe that does a great, great disservice to all of us: To those writing reviews, and to those reading them.

There is nothing simple at all about the constant negotiation and balancing act that a games journalist does, between the three terrible pillars of competence, objectivity, and public servitude.

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  1. I do actually, personally, think the addendum to the original Space Marine article makes it a fantastic read. It actually encapsulates many of the problems that I discuss in this article. []

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Full Mojo Rampage Review

Over the Top Games’ new roguelike-lite, Full Mojo Rampage, is quite the voodoo soup, one that has been slowly bubbling away in Steam’s dangerous “Early Access” section since late 2013. The game, having finally reached its boiling point in May 2014, is now out, and we are about to find out just how tasty this crazy concoction is.

In the game, players are cute, big-headed voodoo apprentices, performing tasks for their chosen voodoo gods, Loas, by fighting against hordes of things that go bump in the night. The game is what you’d call a ‘twin-stick’ shooter on the consoles. Here on The Slowdown, of course, we don’t have to use dirty words like that, as the game plays perfectly well on a mouse and a keyboard, too.

From the get-go, it’s clear that the game’s gotta lotta mojo to it. As soon as the outrageous, monochrome cartoon intro starts playing, and the background music strikes the ear as both catchy and personable, players are no doubt being served with a helping that is both charming and funny. In-game, then, Full Mojo Rampage is simple and approachable on the one hand, and challenging and varied on the other. (more…)

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Gone Home and The Reality Effect

Gone Home.

Gone Home. This was The Fullbright Company’s famed “Story Exploration Video Game,”1 a game that I had been aching to witness, to dissect, and to analyse.

This, I already knew, were a Critic’s Kinda Game – one that would absolutely speak both to my ludological and narratological interests… only, the increasingly massive amount of criticism (reviews, articles, critiques, and commentaries) had begun to pile and fill up my Pocket feed, my RSS subs, and my Twitter timeline; first, to the point of my hesitation, then, to mild discomfort, and finally to a kind of destitution.

I really did feel, for a moment, ashamed of not having tackled the popular game on this website. We seemed like such a good match.

I guess you could say that I think we both owe it to each other.

Minor spoilers below.

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  1. http://thefullbrightcompany.com/gonehome/ []

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Shipwreck Review

I recently stumbled upon a really good video game trailer:

The above video, then, is a launch trailer for Brushfire Games’ new indie game Shipwreck. It is as WYSIWYG as you get! In buying this new game, you get the following:

  • Neat and tidy pixel graphics
  • Atmospheric console-style ‘retro’ music
  • Well-balanced, honed gameplay
  • Fun mechanics and a good difficulty curve
  • Zelda! Zelda! Link! Link!
  • I.e., A solid little game.

Interested? Read on, for more commentary on the game’s mechanics, qualities, and genre:

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Inescapable Review

Magnetic RealmsInescapable is a Metroidvania-style indie game of admirable constraint and deliberateness. Even for a one-man Amiga homage, it never overreaches in its pursuit of a specific type of gaming minimalism. In this day and age, this in turn creates a style, and atmosphere, that is much its own.

(It helps that Amiga-style platforming is seldom imitated these days. If you can still remember, Amiga games were often half-arsed ports from other platforms, with terrible palettes and clunky controls, bogged down by the constraints of the Atari ST.)

Inescapable 03The keys to understanding Inescapable’s aims are the arts of 1) imitation and 2) limitation. Here, what was once a sheer necessity (say, a hardware constraint), is now a choice, or a decision, that enhances the game’s retro aspirations. Japan-based developer-designer Matt Fielding characterizes the game as being “…inspired by a wide range of classics of the genre such as Exile, Gods, Switchblade, Flashback and even the Dizzy series.”1

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  1. http://www.magneticrealms.com/press/sheet.php?p=inescapable#description []

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