Weekly Update: Hyper Light Drifter, Macross II, Futurama

What I’m Playing: Hyper Light Drifter

I am, as must have become apparent by now, an excessively casual gamer. I have little patience (and this reflects more poorly on me than on the games in question) for demanding games like Hollow Knight or Oxygen Not Included. I’m not opposed to them on principle, and I understand on an abstract level that the thrill of such games is in part the process of becoming better, the struggle to “git gud,” but I don’t play games to get good at games, I play them to relax.

So when I gave Outer Wilds a try, and found its (realistic!) physics and space navigation frustrating and demanding, and learned that several even of my more dedicated friends had given up on it, I felt justified in dropping it. The premise seemed interesting and well-thought-out, but I just had no desire to log in and keep playing.

Award winning game, interesting ideas, not my speed.

Instead, I decided to try another game which I’d long held off on for hearing it had similarly demanding gameplay–Hyper Light Drifter, a hack-and-slash game described with phrases like “lightning-fast responses” and “complex combos” in the combat. The art looked beautiful and I wanted to like it, but I worried it would be too frustrating and that, in turn, I would drop it.

And it’s… not? I’ve just started to play it, admittedly, I’m only in the first couple zones. But the combat is no more difficult than many a top-down hack-and-slash I’ve played before. Perhaps it’s more complicated than, say, Bastion, but the gameplay is smooth and accessible. I can only guess that this is a sign of when it was released, in 2016, after the Dark Souls series was out, but before the wave of “Souls-like” indie games was really underway.

(Since starting this blog entry, I’ve run into the Undead Raccoon Samurai King. THAT guy is difficult)

Mostly, the game reminds me of Link to the Past and other Zelda titles. There’s the different zones with different enemies, the dungeons, even sort of a Triforce, though here it is actually a four-sided diamond. There’s more combos, and the protagonist has a gun, but otherwise there’s a lot of similarities.

Of course, the hero IS a blue-skinned creature with a chronic condition for coughing up blood. And there are the skeletons remaining from various genocidal atrocities scattered about the landscape. Along with giant horrific skeletons of some massive human-shaped monsters that destroyed the world back in the day. Stuff like that.

It’s like if Legend of Zelda were set in Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind.

The graphics are fairly simple. There’s an unusual pallette to them, but they’re not hugely intricate–which is fine, and actually helps with the immersion on some level–again, this feels like a zelda game, complete with the low-res graphics. Details of the setting are… disturbingly macabre, given this tone. There are dead bodies of cat-people floating in the water, bird-people impaled on spikes by their own cultist countrymen. It wouldn’t be too unusual in a higher-res game, but given the deliberate homage to Legend of Zelda, it hits differently.

I’m enjoying it so far, which means I’m likely to see it to the end. Maybe I’ll post an updated review then. For right now I’m curious why the protagonist keeps coughting up blood and having visions of dark blob monsters.

What I’m Watching: Macross II

Have I talked about Robotech? I’m pretty sure I must have. (Goes and searches own blog) Ah. Yes I did, waaaaay back. Good. It’s the reason I got into anime. Found an art book at the library that was really more of an “episode summary” book. Three animes jam-packed together into one series, helped to popularize anime in the US. The only one any good is the Macross section of the anime, which is a quirky show that parodies various 1970 anime conventions without really being clear about the joke.

Anyway, the rights to the series are a mess and basically prevent any sort of actual sequel series with the same characters–one studio owns the rights to Robotech and another owns the rights to Macross, etc, etc. But because the series WAS sort of popular back in the day, they keep trying. Invariably, they’re weird with completely new characters that barely reference the original canon, and they end up being very weird.

I don’t even really remember where I picked up Macross II–I think it was when the Hastings movie store was going out of business and selling off all their inventory. I picked up a lot of weird stuff then. Still haven’t watched some of it. What with streaming and everything, the best movies to get, arguably, are the weird obscure ones that you can’t find anywhere else.

I got this at the same sale. Is it terrible? Yes, but I wanted it since I was 15 AND NOW IT’S MINE.

Macross II is, as I said, weird, and because of the licensing issues it can barely reference anything from the original franchise. Thus the new aliens are quickly clarified to be not exactly Zentraedi, but a variety called “Marduk” aliens, and while one of the heroines is named “Sybil Gena,” it’s never actually said that she’s the daughter of Max Genius, only that she is one half “Meltran” (female Zentraedi). Even the famous “Space Battleship Macross”, which the movie is named after, is largely referred to as “The ship of Axul” and only very rarely actually called “Macross.”

The movie hits a lot of the same beats as the original–love triangle between hotshot pilot (in this case also a reporter), singer (here an alien one) and military officer lady (in this case a pilot). The ridiculousness of the aliens being helpless in the face of pop music is sort-of-but not really present, as the aliens have their own singers, rendering the humans’ brilliant “Minmei defense” where they project holographic dancers into space utterly useless. Sadly, this does not result in an epic dance-off, but merely involves teaching the alien singer to feel love.

Macross II ultimately is hampered by having to fit into a movie, and spending all of that on a forgettable and generic love story, losing the larger scope of the original with its cast of characters. The plot is less interesting, there’s no sense of discovery or strangeness, the battles are faceless and impossible to keep track of. It’s sort of fun as a fanfiction of the original series, but not much more.

What I’m Also Watching: Futurama

Pretty sure I don’t need to introduce this, right? Ordinary schmuk gets cryo-frozen and wakes up in a retro-futurist(is that a thing? Like a 1950’s vision of the future) world. Weird and wacky hijinks abound. I only really started to watch it in my last few years of grad school when my roommate and I found it on Netflix. Still haven’t watched it all–I can’t bring myself to watch “Neutopia” or “Big Green Yonder”–but I’ve enjoyed it a lot over the years.

Futurama is a mixed bag to be honest. I love the show, but every time I want to watch an episode (I bought all the discs) I spend fifteen minutes just looking at the different episodes and remembering how that one isn’t very good and that one’s not very good either etc. etc. A lot of the episodes have thin or even uninteresting plots, especially when it’s based around an issue like global warming or “robosexual marriage.”

The show instead thrives on its individual moments, tiny little bits of insanity from the bizarre setting and characters. There are more one-liners than you can shake a stick at, hilarious little inversions like “I chose to believe what I was programmed to believe!”, inside jokes like “What’s in the box, Schrodinger?” and just absolutely ludicrous moments where Zoidberg is again put down.

There are some absolute gems of episodes. I love “Reincarnation,” which experiments with different animation styles, and “Prisoner of Benda” gets into some fun ideas about how your body affects your mind, while also giving lots of characters hilarious new angles.

The episodes that people really comment on, though, are the gut-punch ones, which are all the more impactful because of how unexpected they can be. The episodes are wacky, goofy, and will seem for the vast majority to just be more light-hearted bizarre hijinks as normal–and then suddenly, the episode will knee you directly in the feels with a poignant revelation about Fry’s past or Bender’s origins.

Genuinely, Matt Groenig does not give enough credit. He pioneered the crass irreverent adult cartoon, but Simpsons has a surprising amount of heart hidden in places (certainly compared to imitators like Family Guy) and Futurama has it in spades. People talk about “Jurassic Bark” and “Luck of the Fryrish”, but oddly enough “Game of Tones” is the one that gets me to tear up. I’m not sure why. The plot is stupid, the chief “conflict” the flimsiest excuse for the “dream travel” device, and the central dynamic between Fry and his mother wasn’t really indicated before. But it gets me every time.

I started watching it again this week when a renewal of the series was announced. It seems unecessary? Like I’m not as in love with the finale as most people seem to be, but it was a fine ending for the series and to bring it back after that seems like crass commercialism. Then again, it was resurrected twice already, and it did fine with those–some of its best episodes are after its second revival. Maybe the best is yet to come.


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