Friday, 10 February 2017

Castlevania Judgment Redux

This is an edited/updated repost of an old blogpost I made over at my Castlevania 64 Hi-Res page (Original). Since I feel the content is pretty much in line with the rest of what I do here, I might as well has it here as well.

My Problem With Castlevania Judgment
A Rant About Maria Renard
But not about this version.
She's cool.

If you followed my progress on my old Castlevania 64 retexture project (which has since more or less stopped due to all the technical difficulties that popped up that I became unwilling to deal with) you might have noticed that I took a fair share of visual influence from Castlevania Judgment (2008) for the Wii. So let's talk about Castlevania Judgment. Mainly the biggest problem I have with the game.

You see, screw complaints about the odd fighting engine, the characters being redesigned by the artist of Death Note (which resulted in Shanoa looking like a nun so they didn't have to render her hair and Dracula somehow sporting udders), the good guys being bigger jerks than the forces of evil, alternate costumes just being palette swaps and the overall game not feeling overly polished. Those things didn't bother me that much and being given the opportunity to play as Cornell from Legacy of Darkness made up for a great deal.  No, for me the greatest evil in this game isn't represented by Dracula, Galamoth or the Time Reaper, but by Maria Renard.

Yes, 12-year old Maria Renard from Rondo of Blood.

Her character design (what's that supposed to be anyway? Pink BDSM loli?) and high-pitched voice acting alone make me want to scratch her entire existence from the disc, but then there's her moveset. Most of the time she's just randomly flying around the screen, being lunged at her opponent by the owl in her staff. Her special attack has her falling to the ground so her owl can do all the work for her. Every hit she makes sprinkles Microsoft Clip Art all over the screen, and she NEVER EVER SHUTS UP.

So it's a fighting game and in fighting game fashion there's a story mode which details the motivation of why each character in question is there. We are introduced to newcomer Aeon who provides the plot device as to why people from different time periods can interact, and from there they just kind of have a go at each other until the most powerful warrior is chosen who will attempt to defeat the Time Reaper, thus saving history itself.

Now Simon Belmont takes the opportunity to test his abilities against the legendary three warriors from Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. Shanoa just wants to get out of the Time Rift as fast as possible to continue her mission to hunt down Albus. Cornell seeks someone to help him control the werewolf form. A Golem who has gained sentience fights for his right to exist. Dracula obviously seeks revenge for his many defeats (yet because of the greater threat of Galamoth he also seems to be the most reasonable and practical of the playable characters).

Maria Renard's story and motivation? Beating up the other Castlevania girls because they have larger breasts than her. No, really, that's her story mode. We have the most annoying 12-year old on the planet running around seeking fights with both allies and enemies because she is insecure about her body image.

vs. Sypha Belnades

vs. Carmilla

I mean seriously? Who thought this was a great idea for a Castlevania game? Did we really need to ruin a beloved Castlevania character (... even more, YMMV) for this game just so we could have some more extreme close ups of Sypha and Carmilla's boobs? Nothing about having to find Richter or Annette. No tie-in with either Rondo of Blood or Symphony of the Night. Just a 12-year old girl throwing a tantrum over tits.

There's a lot of Castlevania characters that I would have liked to see in this game (Carrie Fernandez being my #1, although I love that her game was at least acknowledged at all by having Cornell) and it didn't have a ton of features anyway, but I would have seriously preferred just not to have Maria Renard at all. At least not like this.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Jack in the Dark

It's Halloween night (yet oddly also Christmas), Grace Saunders is trick or treating dressed as a witch when the lights of a toy shop catch her attention. She knocks on the door, enters, and is subsequently locked inside. Led by a malevolent Jack-in-the-box modeled after Alone in the Dark 2's One-Eyed Jack, the toys have come alive and kidnapped Santa Claus.

Jack in the Dark

Jack in the Dark was a small promotional game (like floppy disk small) distributed Christmas 1993 to advertise the upcoming Alone in the Dark 2. It's also so short you can easily finish it in about 5 minutes if you know what you're doing, the tank controls are rather sluggish and the graphics of the 3D models haven't exactly aged graciously. Also unlike the original Alone in the Dark, it doesn't exactly seem like a tale that could have sprung from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft.
Basically the map of the entire game.
Nevertheless the game has its charm. You get a catchy festive tune and dated though appealing pixelated graphics for backgrounds. Then there's the atmosphere of an old toy shop during Halloween that's about to get ready for the Christmas season, and there's just something about being alone in a toy shop that captures the imagination of our residual inner child.
Jack in the Dark is not a huge landmark in the history of video games (although it achieved a bit more than you'd think, you'll see in just a minute), but it's just a charming little game. If you ever feel like checking out the old Alone in the Dark games, be sure not to skip this one. It's not that long anyway (it usually comes attached to either AitD 1 or 2. AitD 1 in the GoG version).

Grace Saunders as a Protagonist

Though the roots of the survival horror genre itself go much deeper, it is accepted that Alone in the Dark in 1992 was the first survival horror game in 3D, even before Resident Evil named the genre a few years later in 1996 with the iconic words "Enter the survival horror". There's no shortage of female protagonists in the survival horror, with Resident Evil's Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield and Silent Hill's Heather Mason being some of the more well known.
Emily Hartwood
While Alone in the Dark as a series favors Edward Carnby as its protagonist, female options aren't all that rare here either. However Emily Hartwood and Aline Cedrac are merely optional choices next to Carnby, while Grace Saunders is the sole protagonist of Jack in the Dark. Meaning the first female protagonist of the 3D survival horror genre (and first solo protagonist) who stars in her own game ... is little 8-year old Grace Saunders going up against haunted toys. And that's just kinda funny.

Grace Saunders would go on to become an important supporting character (as well as being briefly playable) in Alone in the Dark 2. When she rescued Santa and closed the toy shop doors, she left behind the world of haunted toys, only so Kirsten Dunst could become the scream queen of nineties malicious toy movies.
Jumanji (1995) and Small Soldiers (1998)
... Okay there's probably no actual connection going on here, but a Netflix binge after having finished Jack in the Dark spawned the odd realization that, not only did Kirsten Dunst have a tendency to show up in nineties movies that somehow involved evil toys, Jumanji is also set in a de facto haunted mansion except by way of Edgar Rice Burroughs rather than H.P. Lovecraft (Small Soldiers is just about super-intelligent military hardware carelessly being put into children's toys which predictably goes wrong). 
Maybe that would have been a cool idea for a video game based on Jumanji (rather than the Mario Party clone we got for PlayStation 2): lock the player character(s) inside a Resident Evil-ish mansion with the board game. Each roll of the dice opens a door or spawns a challenge in the form of jungle-themed enemies or hazards to overcome. Maybe Van Pelt as a Nemesis-like boss who steals the game.

But now I'm just thinking out loud...