I always feel a bit silly when I review older games. Clearly, Arkham City has been out long enough to get a “Game of the Year” and “Armored” editions, so there are already a lot of reviews of it out on the internet. General consensus: it’s awesome – go play it. So today I won’t be reviewing Arkham City and the Catwoman DLC so much as taking a quick look at how the DLC develops Catwoman as a character, and how this affects the overall story of the game. To be up front, Catwoman is a character that I have loved ever since I watched Batman: The Animated Series on Saturday mornings as a child. I have a bit of unconditional love for her that allows me to typically overlook any faults that come with different incarnations of her character…except the Halle Berry version. I’m still not sure what that movie was. That being said, I think the Catwoman DLC was a phenomenal bit of both character development and gameplay that goes beyond my fan-worship of the character, and here’s why:
1.) The Catwoman DLC helps Arkham City pass the Bechdel Test
For anyone unfamiliar with the Bechdel test, here’s Anita Sarkeesian to the rescue to explain
As Anita points out, the recent cycle of Batman movies have miserably failed the Bechdel test. Most superhero movies/games do, primarily because they are focused on a male hero. However, even movies focused on women fail the test. For example, horrible thing known as the Halle Berry Catwoman moviet. The Catwoman DLC manages to pass the Bechdel test by focusing on the relationships in Catwoman’s life that actually don’t revolve around Batman.
Catwoman needs Poison Ivy’s help to access some goods in the game, but Ivy is mad at Catwoman for not taking proper care of the plants while Ivy was away. Clearly, since this is an argument between two comic book characters, it gets a bit out of hand. But this exchange is unique in that it has two women discussing something other than men. Taking the superpowers out of the narrative, it can be read as an argument between two roommates about killing the plants. A fairly mundane argument that probably happens once every five minutes in real life. In fact, in real life most conversations between women don’t focus on men. I appreciate that the DLC incorporated something so mundane as an argument between roommates, it made Catwoman feel more real to me as a character. This is the same reason I liked the flash-animated series “Gotham Girls” (although the girls did have to focus on boys, saving them mainly). Catwoman is depicted as a real person with her own special relationships with characters, and I think the DLC handled that very well.
2.) The Choice to Save/Abandon Batman Feels Meaningful (Spoilers ahead!)
I was reading this post by Ninety Nine Percent Gaming about why death in video games is often pointless, and it made me think about how death is handled in the Catwoman DLC. When Catwoman is killed, you have to re-start, which is clearly in keeping with most video game conventions which can be seen as slightly silly at this point. However, the decision to save or abandon Batman is made more meaningful by the innovative way they treat his death if you choose to abandon him.
If you choose the option to say “screw him” you are treated with a terrifying SOS message from Oracle, the ultimate death of Batman, and a credits sequence. Clearly the Catwoman DLC is in 4 episodes, but if you choose the abandonment route in Episode 3, you get hit with a credits sequence. In video games, death is typically not permanent, but a credits sequence signals finality. Triggering a credits sequence signals the end of the game, the end of your playtime. Having the decision to abandon Batman end with a credit sequence makes the decision, and Batman’s death seem more significant. Sure, after the sequence you get to go back and make the “right” decision (if you want to make it through all 4 episodes), but the cut-scene combined with the credits give finality and weight to the decision, that doesn’t make it feel pointless. Honestly, I think either decision is right up Catwoman’s alley as a character, and I appreciated that the player was given an option, and that the developers made the player’s decision feel like it mattered.
Overall, if you like Catwoman and appreciate the chance to play as a female character in a male-dominated genre (super-heroes or video games, take your pick), this DLC is done well from a narrative standpoint. If you dislike the gameplay of Arkham City in some way, clearly the DLC isn’t doing anything new in terms of that, so you’ll still hate it. But! If you like the Arkham City gameplay, and you’re looking to add to your experience or just fan-girl out over how awesome Catwoman is, I’d definitely recommend playing through this DLC.
So for those of you that pay attention to video game news, you probably should have heard that the Wii U is going to have an “armored edition” of Batman: Arkham City. If you haven’t, here’s the gameinformer, kotaku, and comicsalliance versions of the story. To sum it up, the Wii U Version of Batman: Arkham City
Armored Edition features a new skin for both Batman and Catwoman, and go figure, it adds more armor to them.
Catwoman is one of my favorite female characters of all time, and I completely realize how problematic a character she can be. When I heard they were adding “armor” to her I got a bit down in the dumps. Why? Because frequently in video games when a character’s defense goes up aka they add armor, they get more naked. In his article “Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits” Ryan from the Mad Art Lab points out that
For those of us that aren’t math inclined (me) this typically means that the higher the armor quality, the more skin is exposed, and the larger your character’s cup size is, even more skin is exposed. Sure, I like my character’s to be good looking (hey, fantasy world) but this type of armor can be a bit obscene and breaks the fantasy for me because of how unrealistic it is. If you expect to be shield by incoming arrows, fire balls, or lightning bolts, you should probably expect to wear full armor much like male characters do. The tumblr Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor is dedicated to providing images of women in proper armor, and this article by Beck Chambers over at the Mary Sue argues that yes, women can wear real armor just like the big boys. Coming from this sort of background, I fully expected to see Catwoman completely naked (even though the Wii U is a family oriented system). Low and behold, Catwoman’s new armor actually covers up her skin!
Rather than unzipping her cat suit, the armored edition covers up the cleavage that Catwoman is clearly known for , and glows to boot. While this isn’t my favorite Catwoman costume ever (I’m fairly partial to the costume in Batman: The Animated Series), the armor does what it is supposed to do: cover her body.
So this post from Terra Nova brought to my attention that Guild Wars 2 developers are answering user questions about why accounts have been banned. They have a huge thread on Reddit. So, if your account has been banned, and for some reason you believe that it wasn’t gold famers, you can ask the Guild Wars 2 developers exactly why your account was banned. Here’s one of my favorites
“Not OK: ‘GET THE FUCKING CAVERN SCUTTER ENERGIES YOU FUCKASSES.'”
“Name: OK Chat: Not ok — Neurologic: “the worm IS fucking hard if you’re a fucking mentalpatient no we fucking dont you can take a keep with 5 people if you’re not a fucking dickhead”
If you read through the Reddit thread you can see quite a few good responses. I think this is a great tactic from the developers to demonstrate early on in the game where they stand on offensive language. This opens up a dialogue where gamers for once can see what exactly is okay and not okay. I personally wonder how many of these people realized that what they were saying was offensive. Also, it is slightly disheartening how many troll comments there are after the developers explain some of the language offenses. Overall I think this is a really positive move, and I’m glad that it is on Reddit where it can be documented for all internet posterity. Some of the comments that got players banned make absolutely no sense grammatically, in that it appears as if random offensive words were just strung together lacking any sort of verb or noun to properly guide the sentence. Also, the confusion of some of the people with banned accounts is priceless. “It’s not okay to call people fucking mental patients?” Here’s a screen shot of the thread if you think it’s too ridiculous to be real (click for a bigger pic):
If you typically play single player games you can read the threads for a better idea of what online gaming can be like. If you play online games, hopefully this step by the Guild Wars 2 developers will start making it and other online games a more pleasant place to inhabit. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go mine that thread for troll gold.
So, Pokemon conquest has been out for a little over a month now. As a Pokemon fanatic (I primarily use Tumblr to look at adorable pokemon pictures all day) I pre-ordered this game well in advance and devoured it the second I picked it up from GameStop. For those of you who may have been iffy about the whole Pokemon + Nobunga’s ambition cross-over, you were right to follow your instincts.
Story: The story of Pokemon Conquest goes like this: you are a warlord, you need to beat all the other warlords in battle and bring all of Ransei under your command to before Nobungas, the evil warlord does. Why must you do this? Because it has been foretold that once a warlord unites all the kingdoms under one command, the creator of Ransei (spoilers: It’s Arceus) will appear and bend to the Warlord’s will. Nobunga wants to use Arceus to destroy Ransei, while your Warlord strives to stop this. Compared to the Pokemon plot of “catch all the pokemon and beat the elite four” this Pokemon Conquest story should win a nobel prize. However, like most video games, the story is simplistic, but serviceable.
The main problem I had with the story was the way it abruptly ended. Going into the last fight, you should be aware that it is the last fight. However, once you defeat Nobunga, the game is over. You don’t get to continue playing as your Warlord and any assets you had (warriors and pokemon) disappear. I expected to be able to keep playing in Ransei with my warlord while I continued collecting pokemon and warriors. This is not the case. Instead, there are several end-game quests, where you typically control one of the Warlords you fought during the main storyline. The quests can be fun, but they get repetitive. If you complete all of them, then “The Two Heroes of Ransei” episode is unlocked where you get to play as your hero again. As much as I wanted to go back and play as my hero, playing through all of those episodes just wasn’t worth it.
Gameplay: Battle system in Pokemon Conquest resembles that of previous strategy JRPGs like Final Fantasy: Tactics. You can control up to six pokemon on a grid. Like a traditional pokemon game, these battles take type strengths and weaknesses into consideration. Psychic can’t hurt Dark, Dragon falls to Ice, etc. The majority of kingdoms favor a specific type of pokemon, reminiscent of Pokemon Gyms, which makes larger battles easy to prepare for. In these battles it is necessary to micromanage your pokemon and think beyond action/reaction to play well. You must carefully think about pokemon types and the scope of your pokemons attacks. Some pokemon can only attack one square ahead of them, while others can attack through three squares. If you like strategy games, than you’ll probably enjoy this type of combat. The merging of Pokemon with Nobunga’s Amibition worked particularly well here to create a unique and enjoyable rendition of strategy RPG combat.
While the majority of the game is focused on combat and conquering new kingdoms, there is a secondary emphasis on collecting warriors and pokemon. Within each kingdom there are locations where you and your warriors can travel to fight wild pokemon and warriors unattached to a kingdom. You must defeat “wild” warriors within three turns to be able to draft them to your side, although with certain warriors there are other conditions that must be met. To obtain pokemon, a warrior must link with themWarriors can link with any pokemon, but most warriors favor specific types and have one pokemon that they form a perfect link with. The higher the link the stronger a pokemon can become. For instance if my link with a pokemon can only go up to 50%, then once 50% has been reached, the pokemon stops growing. Perfect links are are links with the potential to get to 100% which theoretically means those pokemon should be pretty powerful. If a warrior has a 100% link with a venipede, it still doesn’t work out that way.
There are over 200 pokemon to collect, and almost as many warriors to recruit. If you really want to catch ’em all, then you have a patience for tediousness only rivaled by John Goodman:
Luckily, the episodes at the end of the game give you a lot of opportunity to obtain pokemon and trainers, and collecting them all is much more doable than getting 649 pokemon (number will probably change soon with Pokemone Black and White 2 coming out so soon).
Gender/Race/Sexuality: You get to choose which sex you want to be at the beginning of the game, hooray! Regardless of what you pick, your warlord gets saddled with a loveable warrior named Oichi and her jigglypuff. Judging from the fact that the first woman you meet owns a jigglypuff, I feel justified in saying that there are some slight problems with the depiction of women in this game. Most of the women are either weak like Oichi, or very sexy. There are some depictions that are fine, but considering OIchi is the first woman you meet in the game, and the one you spent the most time with (you have to put up with her through the entire main storyline) I find the game’s representation of women to be kinda sexist. You could make the argument for historical realism since the game is in a feudal setting, but its that involves pokemon which invalidates all arguments of realism. There isn’t any diversity in terms of race, all the characters are the fun white/japanese hybrids that we typically see in JRPGs. As I mentioned in a previous post, Japan has a homogenous population and typically produces games with homogenous populations. LEARN TO DIVERSIFY!
To Play or Not To Play: If you’re a huge fan of Pokemon or you like strategy RPGs, I would say go ahead, pick up the game, but maybe wait a few months for the price to go down. The game is a really fun mash-up, but the abrupt ending of the main storyline, and the endless end-game Episodes drove me up the wall. Since you’ve been forewarned now, the game might be more enjoyable. Now here’s your reward for reading through this review (as if the review weren’t reward enough)
So, today we’ll be looking at some of my favorite video game heroines, Alice (yes that Alice) from American McGee’s Alice and Alice: Madness Returns; Chell from Portal and Portal 2; and finally Faith from Mirror’s Edge. Unlike last week where I didn’t choose a winner, I think one of these women will emerge victorious over the others.
Who Would Win In A Fight: I included three women in this week’s feature because I honestly wasn’t sure who would win in a fight between Chell and Faith. Chell has the portal gun which would allow her to forever run away from Faith, while Faith is usually unarmed and is trained to run from combat. If they met in combat, I feel like they might take one look at each other and GTFO. They each probably have better things to worry about.
Alice, on the other hand, is quite literally insane! And she carries a knife. A big knife. Did I mention there was a knife? If you compare their images above, clearly Alice is the only one covered in blood. Confronted with each of these women, I would probably high-five Chell, move out of Faith’s way, and scream and run if I met that particular image of Alice. If the movie/book Carrie has taught us one thing it’s that girls with slight mental problems should not be toyed with lightly. Alice carries the only offensive weapon, and she would hands-down win in a fight with Chell or Faith. And with the weird physics of Wonderland at her disposal, she could probably catch one of them too.
Who has the best personality? Chell is clearly at a disadvantage in this competition due to the fact that she NEVER EVER TALKS. I know the whole ‘silent hero’ thing has been around a long time in video games, but it gets old. It’s hard to determine who Chell is other than just a shell for gamers to imagine themselves in. Chell is obviously intelligent and nimble-bodied, she has to be (for the sake of science!), but it is much less clear what drives Chell, and what goes on in her head.
Faith, on the other hand, is much more fully fleshed out. Faith is concerned for her sister, Kate, and proving her sister’s innocence is one of Faith’s key motivators. She is intelligent, driven, spunky, everything a successful protagonist needs to be. She also has to make hard decisions as some of her colleagues become implicated in the conspiracy she’s trying to solve. As an added bonus, we get to see more of her through the cut scenes of Mirror’s Edge than we get to see of Chell.
Alice Liddell is of course mad. Through both games we see her dealing with the death of her parents and survivor’s guilt. In American McGee’s Alice, she is drawn back into Wonderland which has grown dark and tainted. Caterpillar explains to her that her mind is what has tainted the land. In Alice: Madness Returns she finds herself back in Wonderland, and oh gosh, it’s still a dark place. We get to know Alice through her memories and through items collected in the game.
What Alice clearly has going for her is her imagination. If Wonderland is all in her head, then the beautiful and horrific images of the game must stem from Alice. Players get to see the surface of Alice through her interactions with others, but we also get to see deep into her mind. Faith might be the girl you’d want as your friend, but Alice’s imagination can’t be beat.
Who is the most objectified? None of these characters is particularly objectified, a statement I don’t often get to make about female video game characters! If you ever troll through the top 100 lists of beautiful game characters, Chell, Faith and Alice typically don’t make the lists (well, Faith does occasionally but I’m assuming that’s because of the whole fetish for Japanese looking things).
Both Chell and Faith are games that employ 1st person perspective, we only see the world through their eyes. This means that the player is given very little opportunity to stare at the character and comment on their “fuckability”. When you do see Faith or Chell, they are wearing clothing appropriate to their environments (unlike Lara Croft wearing shorts in the snow). Their proportions seem average, and neither is presented as a sexual object.
Alice, who doesn’t quite look legal, is also presented in a fairly non sexual way. You see her stockings and dress which are all covered in blood. She’s so crazy that no one wants anything to do with her, romantically or otherwise. However, as this picture shows, cosplayers get up to all kinds of things as Alice (Also, this is just an amazing picture).
There’s something about Alice that taps into the whole ‘sexy schoolgirl” fantasy, which often gets exploited in cosplay and halloween costumes. So while Alice isn’t particularly objectified in-game, outside of that game people have managed to make her quite the seductress.
Who would YOU choose?
My bias in this article has hopefully been pretty clear, Alice wins this competition for me hands down. She is an interesting character, she has a wicked knife, and the dark portrayal of Wonderland that her mind generates is amazing.
Disagree? Have Suggestions for future features? Let me know in the comments!
So, usually Wednesday is devoted to the series “Would you rather” which I am postponing until tomorrow. Today, I would rather look at Skylander’s: Spyros Adventures and the way it combines collecting and gaming.
Clearly, the Pokemon video games were some of the first video games that integrated an aspect of both collecting and gameplay.
This was a highly successful model because it enabled the game to be more social by necessitating player interaction if they wanted to obtain all of the pokemon, while also featuring normal gameplay for those that didn’t give a damn about catching em’ all. This has clearly been a popular model with games like Digimon and Fossil Fighters and Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker presenting variations on the original Pokemon model.
Skylander’s: Spyro’s Adventures is on more game that follow suit, however, Skylanders are not collected in game, but must be collected in the form of figurines.
As you can see from the picture, there is a portal that comes with each copy of Skylanders. A player must put a skylander figure on the portal to introduce the character to the game. This has been a savvy business model as the release of the skylanders figurines has been staggered in waves, inflating the value of some figures. In addition to the normal figures, there are special editions of each of these characters. There are legendary skylanders which have better stats than the normal versions, and there are gold and silver versions (very rare) of some characters. The figures are important to the game, but have also triggered a secondary market in collectors who just want to own all of the various skylanders figures in all their iterations. In this way, Skylanders taps into the same market that Beanie Babies exploited in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
For those of you who don’t quite remember, the Beanie Baby craze hit the United states driving prices of hard to get beanie babies upwards of thousands of dollars. They sold books on the projected pricing of beanie babies, and at my school beanie babies were banned from the playground because of high incidences of theft. Skylanders figures taps into this collector’s market, which has also seen the prices of certain figures skyrocket exponentially. A few weeks back, the Skylander figure Camo sold for almost 40 dollars, typically an individual skylander retails for 9.99. As supply finally caught up to demand, the price returned to normal, but now certain other figures prices are up as they become hard to find.
Considering the upcoming realease of Skylanders: Giants clearly this model has worked out very well for Activision. While Skylanders initially relied on ties to the Spyro franchise to sell copies, the game is doing well enough on its own currently to warrant a sequel and the addition of new skylanders figures. However, there is one thing that I think that Skylanders has missed in its appeal to children as collectors.
For those of you who have played Pokemon, you will remember that each time you catch a new type of pokemon for the first time, the pokedex entry (a brief sentence or two of flavor text) pops up to tell you about the nature of whatever pokemon you just caught. For example, catching a Zubat (yes I hate them too) would tell you that “It has no eyes. Instead, it relies on its ultrasonic cries for echo location to flit about in darkness” a brief entry that tells you a bit more about the nature of Zubat. For Beanie babies, each came with a four line poem. Continuing with my apparenty obsession with bats, Batty the bat’s poem reads:
Bats may make some people jitter
Please don’t be scared of this critter
If you’re lonely or have nothing to do
This Beanie Baby would love to hug you!
Both Pokemon and Beanie babies provide a small back story on each character. When you are purchasing a skylander character, they do not come equipped with a story of any sort. You receive the figurines, an online code, and a card of the skylander, but there is nothing that comes in the packaging to make the characters relatable.
Online, the official skylanders website provides some background information on each character, but the failure to attach these stories to the skylanders in the packaging, I feel, is a failure to engage Skylanders younger audience, and to get children to relate and play with the skylanders figures in and out of the game. Clearly I don’t want to underestimate children’s imaginations, but I think that adding a line of backstory for each character would enrich the gameworld, and also make the characters more engaging for the intended audience. Again, considering how successful the sales have been so far, I don’t think Activsion will consider changing any aspects for the release of Skylanders: Giants. However, I think if Activision had studied its market a bit more beyond just recognizing that “Omg, people like to collect things in video games” it would have made Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure a more enriching game narratively, and the figures more interesting to a younger audience.