El Shaddai: Ascension of the What The Eff

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is the most interesting game I have played in some time. It loosely follows the first part of Book of Enoch and sets you on a mission to go out and dispose of some fallen angels (called Watchers) who are doing bad things to humanity. This sets up one of the most gorgeous and inspired games I have ever come across. The combat is simple but not boring and moves you smoothly through a wonderful journey of colorful surreal and abstract art.

The game is ostensibly an action title, and so there is plenty of combat. It is extremely simple but not boring. You fight with rhythmic presses of a single button, and there are three weapons you can grab off creatures and a happy little weapon triangle. That’s about it. The boss fights involve weapon matching and quick thinking but in most situations you’ll use whatever your favorite is. I mostly used the ranged weapon because it had a quick dodge, but there’s also a swift light melee weapon and a heavy melee weapon that does heavy damage and shields you.

While El Shaddai is billed as an action title, I feel that it is much more of a platformer in terms of the gameplay because of how it is incorporated into the art and design of the game. The platforming elements are used to showcase certain areas in 2D and give you a feel for the environments, and there are also some very advanced and challenging 3D platforming levels that help shape the otherworldly feel of the Watchers’ Tower.

The core of El Shaddai is its approach to art and presentation. I think that to the general gaming public “beautiful game” is equated with one that emulates real life pretty well, but that is a very narrow way to look at things. El Shaddai throws this out the window and takes its queues from the world of fine art. I’m not going to get into an argument about whether games count as art here or not, but the design work in El Shaddai is amazing and deserves tons of praise. Every floor of the Tower is distinct in style, color palette and feel and clearly influenced by the world of fine art. You can really feel and appreciate the effort that the design team put into the world they created.

A random scene from El Shaddai

Most importantly, there is an extremely well-crafted nightclub scene that segues into a fight with one of the Watchers. It is bizarre and actually fits right in with what’s going on in the level.

As I mentioned earlier, the story in El Shaddai is based on a part of the Book of Enoch. I had a vague understanding of what was going on thanks to taking Theology in college, but if you haven’t read it you won’t really understand a whole lot of what is going on. I don’t want to give the impression that I followed along exactly, either, but I got the gist of things.

Once you get past the introductory cut-scenes much of the story is related by God’s right-hand man Luciel (voiced by Jason Isaacs who does a real bang-up job) and done in two ways. There are exposition sequences where you control Enoch in a 2D environment where the background shows you the events being related and you catch bits of conversations Luciel is having with God about your mission progress.  It’s hard to follow beyond the base story, but I took it as a weird surreal experience and I don’t think it takes away from the game. If you play ugly games for the story, why not play a beautiful game for the design.

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metraton is a conventional game hidden in an unconventional shell. It has some of the most amazing art direction and graphics I’ve ever seen in a game, and is worth playing through just to take in the experience. The platforming and hitting things with weapons won’t blow your mind but it all comes together in a nice package if you don’t try to think too hard about the story.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Lords of Shadow is Konami’s third attempt at a 3D Castlevania game that makes people go “Whooaaa it’s Castlevania but 3D!!!“. Previous attempts were very concerned with feeling like Castlevania–which I thought Curse of Darkness did very well–but with Lord of Shadows they threw this out to make something different. I think is the right approach with a franchise like this, but the problem is that MercuryStream didn’t actually make something different–they lifted a bunch of elements from other successful games and smushed them together. This leaves us with a very derivative game that is tied together with a story that ranges from inconsequential to completely ridiculous.

The platforming elements are lifted from Uncharted, but dumbed down. There is no skill or problem solving involved. You are led from point to point by shiny objects. Rather than looking around trying to find that pesky ledge you need to grab you head towards a highlighted object. When you need to jump from Ledge A to Ledge B you don’t need to find it or aim at it, just press the button. The game does it all for you. The reason the platforming in Uncharted works so well is because it’s a puzzle you need to solve (this is also true in the Tomb Raider titles done by Crystal Dynamics). By taking you by the hand and doing everything except pressing the button for you, the game destroys any fun you normally find in jumping and climbing around a level. In Lords of Shadow the platforming felt the same as pressing forward on my analog stick.

Combat is lifted from God of War when you use the Blades of Chaos, complete with grabbing enemies and tearing them in half when they’re stunned (because it’s so totally bad ass or whatever) and quick-time events. You hit button combos to execute moves that you buy with experience points. It’s good enough, but obviously nothing groundbreaking. Sub-weapons are present and handled in a pretty typical manner, you are allowed to carry X type by default and can find upgrades hidden in various places around the levels. I didn’t use any other than the Holy Water (which acts as an area attack) very often. The hitting things aspect of the game is competent if not world-beating, and other than it being derivative there’s nothing really to complain about outside of my general hatred of quick-time events.

There are a few huge monster style bosses in Lords of Shadow, and they are done in the style of Shadow of the Colossus. Climbing around and hitting the weak points of the enemies is one of the more challenging parts of the game, although it only really comes across as a really fantastic fight once when you fight a giant undead dragon. I found that this battle, done mostly in the air, was executed very well and required much more problem solving than all of the platforming and boss fighting in the rest of the game.  It was a really super fun part of the game, definitely the best bit.

Lords of Shadow looks very nice, but unfortunately MercuryStream is very in love with how good a job they did here and a lot of the game is devoted to showing off their achievement. The camera angles are fixed during platforming (a cardinal sin of platforming) and there are lots of sections where you just walk in a straight line for what feels like forever for “look at our pretty graphics” purposes. For an action/platformer there is a lot of downtime. I also want to take a moment to give them props for the realistic rather than basketball breasts they gave Carmilla.

Before the end-game of the title, I am not sure that I could tell you much about the specifics of the story in Lords of Shadow. Your girlfriend (or wife maybe?) has died, you have to go kill the three Lords of Shadow to get a magical artifact and bring her back to life. A buddy of yours from the Monster Killing Corps is traveling with you and some stuff that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and honestly doesn’t matter much happens along the way. If a game is fun enough the story doesn’t really matter all that much unless it’s completely horrible in my opinion. Then suddenly there is a mega twist!!! that comes out of nowhere and is lame and the story goes from background noise to “What the eff is this crap?” Twists are fine if they are set up well but when they are done with no real setup they are pretty worthless. The actual ending of the game after the final boss further spirals downward into crazyland in what I think was an attempt to completely reboot the Castlevania franchise in five minutes or less. It…doesn’t work.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is the video game equivalent of a movie that apes popular trends competently but has nothing to say. If you like the elements that are being copied enough, you’ll probably have a good time for a while but it feels like an empty experience once it’s all over. There’s nothing wrong with a derivative game, especially one that is looking towards some of the best out there but when you take great things and make them boring that’s just sad.

Games I Hate, Part I – Devil May Cry 2

I don’t normally play through games that I find myself hating as I usually have a gigantic backlog waiting to be played. However some games are different and reach a special level of hate where I feel like I must beat them or they will have beaten me. Because games like this are rare, I have decided they are worth chronicling. Learn from my pain and don’t play them.

I beat this crappy game and all I got was an ad for expensive jeans
I had never been so excited for a game as when I ran to pick up Devil May Cry 2 after my shift at the comic book store. I really thought there was just no way I would dislike the game. I’d watched trailers and lots of video and I just knew it was going to be amazing. I was so wrong that I could not believe how wrong I was.

I haven’t played DMC2 since I first beat it, and I will never play it again so I’m not going to give a big detailed rundown but it was disappointing in pretty much every way possible. The combat was boring, the story was completely nonsensical, Dante went from being an endearing smartass to a silent guy with no personality and the boss fights that had looked so big and great in the preview videos were actually really tiny and boring.

One boss, specifically, that I won’t forget is the monster-building thing. In the completely misleading preview videos it seemed like it was a massive, multi-part battle against an effing building that was going to kick so much ass and be so much fun it was ridiculous. When I got to this boss myself, however, it was a “stand next to this thing and press X a lot and dodge sometimes” affair.  Extremely disappointed is a light way of describing how I felt.

I finished DMC2 because I was waiting for something to happen that would make it fun or interesting or just maybe alleviate my hatred levels a little bit. Instead I ran through a lot of brownish areas, hit some things, was bored and irritated that this Lucia chick wasn’t as cool as Trisch from the first game. When I beat the game it made a big woop about how I unlocked some special Diesel apparel for Dante to wear the next time I played through (which I had already decided would be never).

The only time the DMC2 disc has been anywhere near my PS2 since then was right before DMC3 came out. My boyfriend wanted to play through before we picked up the third installment since he had loved the first a ton. I warned him about how bad and boring a game it is, but he wanted to see for himself. He played for about twenty minutes before returning the game to its case.

Jasper Batt Jr Is Going To Drive Me Insane

I realize the point of the final boss battle in No More Heroes 2 is to be completely crazy and hard, but I am going to lose my mind before I beat him. The bosses before him are often quite challenging but there’s a trick to beating them that is somewhat easy to decipher if a bit difficult to execute, which is something that isn’t present in the last fight.

Batt Jr’s first form is easy peasy, same with the second. But when he turns into Pizza Batt Man it just becomes ridiculous, especially when he spams the nearly undodgeable three teleport combo move. He once performed that particular move six times in a row, needless to say I didn’t get a word in edgewise.

It’s definitely a winnable battle–I got PBM down to almost no health every time I faced him so far–you just need to get lucky and I haven’t yet. My next plan of attack is to see if I can trigger the AI to try and do close range moves and dodge away quickly but I have a feeling that won’t work.