Deadshirt is Playing brings you a look at the best, newest, and strangest of what the wide world of video games has to offer. What are our staff and contributors playing this month, you ask?
Kyle is TOASTY!
Mortal Kombat X
NetherRealm Studios, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
When the first Mortal Kombat game landed in arcades all the way back in 1992, there was seemingly no end to the controversy raised by its gruesome visuals and fatalities, which by today’s standards are a little less violent than, say, a Simpson’s “Treehouse of Horror” special. With the latest installment, Mortal Kombat X, well, let’s just assume that more than a few of those angry parents would be popping some head-veins.
In this almost comically gory installment (the tenth in terms of main series releases and the twenty-first overall release), we find our heroes teaming up to stop an evil god from regaining his power and destroying the world, blah blah. I’ll be frank, the story wasn’t so much of a draw this time. This is kind of a shame, because the last game, 2011’s Mortal Kombat, had what I consider to be the gold standard in fighting game story modes. Think of that game as a reboot in the style of the first Star Trek reboot, in the sense that, thanks to wacky time travel hi-jinx, the series split into an alternate timeline where fans could relive the events from the three classic installments with modern technology, new mechanics, and different plot outcomes. This time we get the same structure, but with an all new story that just lacks the spark of the previous installment.
Fortunately, story is not the reason that most people (including myself) play fighting games, and what Mortal Kombat X lacks in the story department it more than makes up for with its additional content. This includes a cast of over twenty characters—including the best new characters that the series has introduced since the third game—a robust set of challenges that change on a regular basis, and a treasure trove of unlockable finishing moves, costumes, and other odds and ends.
While I’ve noticed some problems with the netcode in the form of unstable servers, weird ping issues, and general lag, I’ve generally been having a lot of fun playing against friends and strangers alike. There’s also an ongoing “faction war” online, where players ally themselves with a group and battle for domination, but it’s somewhat unclear what they’re actually battling for and at the time of this statement, it’s very lopsided and unevenly skewed towards a specific faction.
All that said, even after losing match after match, there’s something satisfying about getting that win and tearing your opponent in half, or covering their head in flesh eating bugs and watching it stripped to the skull. There’s even a new type of fatality called a “Quitality” where your opponent’s head just explodes in the event of them leaving mid-match.
Sure, Mortal Kombat X doesn’t reinvent the wheel like it’s predecessor did, but it’s certainly an amazing upgrade.
Jen is connecting the dots…
Two Dots is a minimal puzzle game involving grids of colored dots. Dots drop in a set pattern from the top to bottom of the screen. Dots may be eliminated by creating vertical or horizontal connections to dots of the same color, the objective being to connect as many as possible in one turn in order to eliminate many dots in a finite number of turns. Connecting a square causes all the dots of the same color in the playing field to be eliminated. Connecting a square around other dots turns all the contained dots into bombs, which eliminate all the dots immediately next to them. Anchors are dots that can only be eliminated by eliminating all dots beneath them on the playing field. Objectives and playing fields vary, setting the difficulty and unique challenge of each level. Daily challenges applicable to all levels win you supply crates, which can be applied at the beginning of any level. These crates enact a random action to the start of course, with varied levels of usefulness; for example: turning all the dots a single color, creating squares, or creating bombs.
It’s a fairly straightforward puzzle game, but with an odd quirk. Usually, puzzles imply a set solution—that given the starting conditions and the correct approach, the objective of the puzzle can be solved. The challenge, then, is to figure out the logic of the puzzle to reach that solution and try to solve it better and faster. The levels in Two Dots, however, start off with a layout of dots that seems to be partially random. This suggests that levels are NOT necessarily beatable given the opening conditions, and there is a certain level of blind luck involved.
I’m currently stuck on a level where if you don’t get a square within the first two moves you may as well just give up. Even using a crate to start off, it seems entirely random whether or not the objective is possible to reach. When you run out of turns, a dialogue pops up to allow you to buy a package of more moves and a bomb, and I have more than begun to suspect that this is a plot to irritate me into making in-game purchases. A limited number of lives regenerate over a period of time, and can also be refilled for only 99 cents if you’re too impatient to wait.
Two Dots has cute, colorful graphics, and cheerful music that you can, mercifully, turn off when it starts to feel like the game is actively mocking you for not being smart enough to beat its possibly rigged games. It connects with Facebook to show how you stack up with friends’ scores, so they, too, can taunt you with their success. Add in the old-timey wharf aesthetic, and Two Dots feels more and more like playing the ring toss at a carnival: it draws you in with the appearance of ease and compels you to keep trying, again and again.
Jake is reevaluating his childhood…
Army Men: Sarge’s Heroes
It’s generally considered to be sort of risky to revisit things you enjoyed in your childhood. Nostalgia vision is powerful, and it can sometimes make things from your past look an awful lot better than they actually were. I still do it regularly anyway, either because I’m still mentally an eight-year-old or because I want to escape from the despair and crushing responsibility of having to get up before noon once a week. I can’t really say. But regardless, I do spend a lot of time revisiting the Dreamcast and PS2 games I grew up with. Occasionally the games actually still hold up pretty well and are a joy to revisit. I still play a lot of Hydro Thunder.
But for every nostalgia victory, there has to be a bummer or two in there. I have fond memories of both of the Sarge’s Heroes games from my youth, though I don’t recall ever beating them.
The premise is simple: Green and tan plastic armies are fighting out an extremely vague conflict, the same ones I used to hold with my friends, except I added Hot Wheels cars and spray paint to mine. You, Sergeant Hawk of the Green Army (voiced by the legendary Jim Cummings in a fun turn) are tasked with leading your squad to take down General Plastro (also voiced by Jim Cummings and pretty funny), and in the process stumble through several portals into the “real” world, where the plastic soldiers wage war in bathtubs and refrigerators as opposed to more tropey battlefields of the plastic world.
On a lot of levels, the game is really fun. The voices are fun, the music is fun, the environments are sometimes inspired, and the concept itself is a blast. That’s what I remembered most when I was walking through the game store recently, trying to stuff Sonic toys down my pants, and that’s why I picked the game up. All the fun stopped when I actually started playing the game. It’s not fundamentally broken in any way that I can see, and it works reasonably simply, but it just…isn’t fun. Shooters from that era have a habit of aging poorly, and this one has aged worse than most. It’s clunky and lacks feeling, and for all the inspiration that’s gone into the aesthetics, the overall presentation feels cheap and half-finished. The cutscenes are all rendered in-game as opposed to pre-rendered, and they suffer for it. It’s very clear that it was developed for one of the older consoles and ported forward to Dreamcast, which leaves it looking a hell of a lot worse than most Dreamcast games.
It’s also fuckin’ hard, which isn’t usually a bad thing, but it’s not hard in a compelling way like, say, Hotline Miami 2 or FTL. It just pisses you off and then you drink like four Dr. Peppers and watch Andy Griffith with your mom. This is ultimately harsh to say, but the game wasn’t even very well put together for its time, and I can see why 3DO eventually shut down. Perhaps it was poor design decisions, perhaps it was budget constraints, I don’t know. But it bums me out that such a fun concept and a fond memory isn’t all I had built up to be.
That’s what we’ve been playing this month—we’ll be back in four weeks with another installment of Deadshirt is Playing.