I don’t know if you heard, but this week, The A.V. Club took its annual trip back in time and celebrated 1997 Week. In the world of video games, it was a pretty solid year, and I kicked things off with Supper Club editor Kevin Pang talking about one of its landmark releases: GoldenEye 007. Lots of good times were remembered down in the comments, but there was one pretty contentious subject that came up. Do you condone or condemn the practice of looking at other players’ screens during split-screen multiplayer? It was a huge problem back in the day, and Flint Ironstag remembered one solution:
Ah yes, the game that inspired my roommate and me to put two shitty tube TVs back-to-back, acquire composite cable splitters and two pieces of cardboard for the respective top and bottom of each TV, and play each other WITHOUT SEEING THE OTHER PERSON’S SCREEN. Revolutionary.
We…had a lot of time on our hands.
LeaveTheBronx was more accepting of the practice, going so far as to believe it was just another part of the game:
It is baffling to me that people played this game trying to enforce the idea of not looking at the other players’ screens. This to me was the whole game—as an FPS, not looking at the opponents’ screen turns the game into a reflexes match, but with the ability to see your opponents’ screen, it introduced an interesting element of fakeouts and strafes, not to mention the fact that not looking was totally unenforceable.
Just Another Mortal Monday
Also for 1997 Week, I took a look at Mortal Kombat’s no good very bad year, which included one so-so game, one terrible game, and one horrendous movie that, together, all but sent the series into a five-year coma. The comments were a treasure trove of grown adults, like TheMcAlisterShow, realizing the absolute dog shit entertainment they consumed thanks to their MK obsessions:
No joke, Annihilation was my first realization as a child that a movie could be bad. I loved the first movie as a kid (and still do—its the worst movie I unironically love), and took for granted that MK:A would deliver the goods in the same way. When it didn’t…everything changed. It was the exact moment where I learned that the things that make movies watchable aren’t automatic but require some kind of skill and technique and effort. It was genuinely formative.
And Unexpected Dave (or Dave(s) 4 Goombella, as he’s known right now) filled us in on the novelization of the original Mortal Kombat movie:
I was embarrassingly excited for the first movie when it came out. How excited was I? I bought the movie’s novelization a week or two before the movie came out. The novel seemed to be based on the film’s shooting script (before its final cut). It had a fair bit of additional dialogue, which mostly served to add depth to the characters. When I saw the movie, the cuts were very obvious, but served to keep the film moving.
The novel also made the heroic characters less cold-blooded. Sonya spares Kano’s life rather than snap his spine. Johnny Cage tries to rescue Goro from falling off the cliff, rather than stamping on his fingers. And the book doesn’t even try to transcribe some of the movie’s most thrilling fight scenes. So that underground Cage-Scorpion fight in the movie came as a complete surprise, and it was ridiculously amazing. Another complete surprise was the last-minute appearance of the Emperor. The novel ended on an unambiguously happy note.
Elsewhere, Will Riker’s soggy finger remembered one of the only good things to come out of Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero:
The existence of MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero was worth it for N64 Magazine‘s fabulously brutal loathing of it, expressed not only in their review (“Although we normally take pride in completing games before reviewing them here at N64 Magazine, I abandoned MK Mythologies: Sub-Standard on level two and would sooner be impaled on a spike than play it any more”), but also in the monthly mini-reviews section (“This could only be less enjoyable if it squirted sulphuric acid into your face”) and tips section (“Creep along in that sideways spider fashion and then GET CRUSHED BY A PILLAR. Place your fist into TV screen.”). In the details section of the review, they gave the game’s price as £Too Much.
Long story short: N64 Magazine was the greatest magazine ever published. All hail Jes Bickham and his shiny head.
You can find more of N64 Magazine‘s magnificent negative reviews here, including Wheel Of Fortune (“Worse than accidentally falling off a cliff. And surviving”), BeyBlade (“Scat-encrusted”), Jeopardy! (“Less a game, more a vile disease”) and Carmageddon 64 (“Take it off the shelves, rip up the box and throw the cart repeatedly at the wall until it breaks”).
In Someone Else’s Shoes
In non-1997 Week matters, I shared my review of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, the new game from the developers at Ninja Theory. I found it to be a powerful game that attempts to communicate a distinct, traumatic human experience in ways only games can, by truly putting you in the mind and body of its amazingly realized main character. In the comments, Wolfman Jew spoke to the power of games to teach people about these kinds of topics, even while expressing some legitimate concerns about simulating a mental condition like Senua’s without veering into insensitivity and exploitation:
I’m kind of two minds on the idea of a game based around mental illness. On one hand—and I say this partially as someone who struggles with mental illness—this is something that could easily fall into pastiche or exploitation. Plus, the medium is, to put it mildly, not particularly great about presenting things like psychological conditions with sensitivity.
However, like Matt said, this is a medium about interactivity and allowing yourself to spend time with other kinds of personalities and identities is a major part of that. I think games with approaches like Mafia 3 (and oddly enough, Majora’s Mask, in a way) are much better for exploring racial discrimination than, say, Skyrim or Mankind Divided. There’s a value in developers really learning about and interrogating other perspectives, including ones they may not immediately know, and putting that in a variety of genres and kinds of games is worthwhile. Plus, there’s the ability to create mechanics or level designs that reflect or work with those different perspectives. I don’t really get a sense of how well Hellblade does with that from the review, but having that be the starting point of a game’s core design instead of a thing programmers explored on the side at their whim (like the failed co-op of Dead Space 3) would go a long way to helping give it an identity.
A few days after the game went live, Yumzux responded and gave a bit more perspective on how Hellblade handled itself:
I think I’m about halfway through the game, and it doesn’t feel like pastiche or exploitation to me. While I struggle with depression and anxiety, I’ve never had a psychotic episode, so I can’t speak firsthand on that, but I will say that the game doesn’t tend to play up Senua’s illness for shock value or horror. The overwhelming sense is one of sadness, at this woman who’s smart and strong and is living in a time when she cannot get her brain chemicals fixed, and who feels so much pain and fear that she doesn’t deserve. There’s also a good sense of realism and research, like how Senua’s mother experienced the same condition that worsened with age. Even the pulpier elements—the whispering voices, the grotesque imagery—feel like her own obsessions and intrusive thoughts. It’s a very empathetic game that really feels like it cares and wants to do right.
That’ll do it for this week, Gameologiganders. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!