Game Diary for 6/15-6/21
Unfortunately, I moved out here to Carbondale in a bit of a hurry, and have ended up with a woefully slow laptop and an Android phone. For the last week I’ve been trying to finagle a way to get my Xbox down here, at least, but it’s fallen through, so mostly, starting this week, I’ll mostly be playing old PC games and whatever ROMs I can play on my phone – mostly PSX/GBA and earlier stuff. It’s irritating, but it will give me the opportunity to go back through the Lucas Arts adventure games I’ve been meaning to play. I played a lot of the ScummVM games as a kid, and a desire to make a modern version of one has been percolating somewhere in my brain for a while, but I never sat down and ran through them again. With the rerelease of Grim Fandango, it’ll be especially prescient, I imagine.
What I have ended up playing is mostly three games: Advance Wars 1 & 2 for the GBA, and Spelunky, a PC game.
The Advance Wars series is one of the most peculiar parts of Nintendo’s lineup, because it combines Nintendo’s personal aesthetic with the general focus on gun violence that fills the rest of the video game world – and, unlike the upcoming Spittoon, which, to some degree, redesigns gun violence in a less overtly violent and more family friendly way, there is very little work done to obscure the violence. The series, going back to the Famicom in Japan but only brought to America with Advance Wars, is a turn-based strategy game, focusing on small units – a “battalion level” game in the war game parlance – with a medium amount of story delivered in dialogue boxes between the commanding officers of the various armies, delivering the traditional “evil force invades, various nations team up to repel them” story.
This dialogue, which is insistently cheery and friendly, is in stark contrast with what happens when two units confront each other: there is an animated video of the two groups fighting, complete with bodies flying backward from the bullets. The bloodless nature of the violence only makes it stranger. Despite the fact that there is no interpretation except that every mission ends with hundreds of deaths, the dialogue of the first game never even addresses the idea that the units are human at all, and the second game only does it circuitously, never addressing death.
A later game in the series moved to a post-apocalyptic world and threw in a few swears to get it moved from E to E10+, but little else. Even as a kid, I remember being bewildered at this E rated game of mass warfare, and I can’t make much more sense of it now.
The other game I was playing, Spelunky, is a shorter story: It’s a platforming roguelike themed around the Indiana Jones movies, where you, as a shrunk version of Jones with a large red nose, pillage caves. The game shares its inspiration’s contempt for natives, as any tribesmen you come into contact with are presented as human-sacrificing lunatics, but this can be seen as much as a knowing reference to the movies as a positive act of racism. (Whether that helps or not is another matter.) It’s a game I have played entirely too many times – I’ve probably logged thousands of games over its two releases – it’s one I can’t put down, even if it’s simple enough it could have come out on the NES.
In the future, I’ll have more substantial ruminations; I’ve just been getting everything into place.
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