Category Archives: Articles

Reviewing Cuphead

Cuphead is literally a cartoon that you get to play and control. Everything is hand-animated to near perfection, and it is by default the prettiest video game that has ever been made. I have been hyped for this game since it was first announced at E3 2014, strictly on the strength of its groundbreaking visuals. And now that I’ve finally gotten my hands on it, I can say that the gameplay is almost as strong as the visuals. So thank you, StudioMDHR Entertainment, for finally giving me a reason to plug in my Xbox One again (for a few days, at least). Read more

Book Review: Super Power, Spoony Bards, and Silverware

In a nutshell: Super Power, Spoony Bards, and Silverware: The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, by Dominic Arsenault and published by the MIT Press, examines the marketing, technology, and culture fostered by Nintendo between the ’80s and mid ’90s. The book argues that Nintendo’s practices during this era established short-term dominance over the video game industry, but these same practices were also precisely what caused Nintendo to ultimately lose its market share first to Sega and then more so to Sony over the long term. I find that this book is extremely compelling and is a must-read for those interested in the subject matter.

“Never relinquish control” is, according to this book, at the heart of everything Nintendo did in this era. (It may still hold true now.)

The Super Nintendo is remembered in video game history as the one of the greatest–if not the very greatest–home game consoles of all time. Nostalgia, in addition to retrospective assumptions based in hindsight rather than the reality of the time, has colored conversations about Nintendo’s place in that era of gaming ever since. But in his new book, Dominic Arsenault, Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Film Studies at the Université de Montréal, makes a formidable case for how every layer of Nintendo’s corporate policies during and before the 16-bit era were directly responsible for the company’s “fall from grace” in subsequent times.

As the book jacket promises, “This is a book about the Super Nintendo Entertainment System that is not celebratory or self-congratulatory.” Indeed, Arsenault examines the Super Nintendo and Super Famicom (of which he makes a distinction) with academic neutrality, presenting the cold facts and trying to offer enough context so that the data will not be misconstrued. So if you are hoping for Super Power, Spoony Bards, and Silverware: The Super Nintendo Entertainment System to be rife with anecdotes and horror stories about working with or for Nintendo, then you will be disappointed. This book features very little of that, because (1) Arsenault is more interested in how Nintendo operated at its highest strategic levels, and (2) few interviews exist about what exactly it is like to work inside the “walled garden” that is Nintendo. Arsenault instead informs this book by way of massive bibliography, including academic research, business literature, and notably hundreds of video game magazines of the era.

He ultimately breaks his examination of Nintendo down into three core components: marketing (Nintendo’s “super power”), culture (cultivating a generation of “spoony bards”), and technology (the “silverware” that is the Super Nintendo’s hardware architecture). In each area, Nintendo made choices that established short-term dominance at the cost of long-term viability. Read more

Reviewing Metroid: Samus Returns

It’s well established that I love Super Metroid and think it’s one of the finest games ever made. I never extended that same enthusiasm to Metroid Fusion or Metroid: Zero Mission. They’re both quality games, but to me, they just felt like “two games that wanted to be Super Metroid and weren’t.” By comparison, Metroid: Samus Returns never feels as if it had a goal of being another Super Metroid, and it works strongly to the game’s benefit. This is my favorite sidescrolling Metroid since Super, and a worthwhile remake of Metroid II on the Game Boy. Read more

Reviewing World of Final Fantasy

Perhaps the similarities are just coincidental, but World of Final Fantasy gave me flashbacks to 1992’s Final Fantasy Mystic Quest on Super Nintendo. Both games are light on plot but have a strong sense of humor, and both games are clearly targeting a not-so-hardcore audience. Incidentally, that also means that both games are an acquired taste.

Fortunately, it’s a taste I happened to enjoy on the whole. World of Final Fantasy is basically Pokémon meets Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. And while it’s been over a decade since I played Pokémon–and I’m also getting a little tired of Square Enix’s efforts to exploit people’s nostalgia–the combination strangely works for me. I’m not saying the game is great, but I’d definitely say it’s worth a sequel.

(Yes, this review is pretty late coming, but that’s what happens when Final Fantasy XV, Zelda, and Persona 5 all release within a few months of each other! Oh, and also: *Minor Spoilers Ahead*) Read more

On the Nature of Fandom: How It Can Enrich Your Life

A very good friend once described me as “the ultimate fan.” He meant it affectionately (I think). When I become a genuine fan of something, I want to learn everything I can about it, I’m willing to drop a whole lot of dough to support whatever the thing is, and I’m generally able to maintain high levels of enthusiasm for the thing over time. So yes, I like to think my friend was right.

But I don’t become a fan of just anything. For instance, from kindergarten through college, I never went to a single school sporting event of any kind, and the entire concept of “school spirit” strikes me as misguided. With sports in general, the closest I ever came to being a fan of anything was with the New York Yankees because Dad is an almost-lifelong fan. I was a fairweather fan at best; once Rivera and Jeter retired, I kinda retired with them.

When it comes to me personally, I become a fan of individual people and art, not huge groups or institutions. Nonetheless, I can appreciate that there are many catalysts for how and why people become fans of things. So now I would like to expound on the subject of fandom here, delineating the healthy ways that people become fans of things–and also the self-destructive habits that can develop when fans become obsessive. Read more

Reviewing Persona 5

Atlus’s Persona 5 is pure wish fulfillment for everyone who has ever felt circumscribed by society’s hierarchies and expectations. In this game, Japanese teenagers gain the mystical power to change people’s hearts and force them to confess to their crimes and misdeeds. No one is too important or too powerful for these “Phantom Thieves” to hit. And strikingly, the narrative is driven more by the heroes’ proactive attacks on villains than it is driven by heroes reacting to villains’ attacks. In other words, this is a game where the heroes uncharacteristically go on the offense, and it relays a powerful message–you are the master of your own fate, if you are willing to fight for it.

Mechanically speaking, Persona 5 perfects the formula that Persona 3 began. By removing some of the more forgiving elements of Persona 4 and tweaking many other aspects, this game feels challenging and fair in generally equal portions. The addition of several elements from Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse works out surprisingly well in the game’s favor too. And there have never been as many different ways to spend your days as in the expanded life simulation options present here. Basically, the game just works really well on every front that it tackles, and it does so with an unprecedented amount of style.

Some quirks and redundancy in the narrative leave me unable to prefer this game over 4, but if you’ve never played a Persona before and only have the time to take on one of these gargantuan adventures, you should probably make it this one. Read more

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