Thoughts on America’s Greatest Otaku: Episode #3

In which we learn that Japanese dolls are pieces of art, and American dolls are just “Meant to be played with.” Um, it’s rare that I get to say this, but if that’s the case, then I’m on Team America here.

This week’s episode was kind of let down after the actually-quite-good cosplay romp that was last week’s, but still watchable enough. The main problem was that the competitive eating contest didn’t seem to have much to do with being an otaku, or the theme of “Personality” either, really. Yeah, there’s that one famous hot-dog eating Japanese guy who’s way more attractive than anyone who shoves hotdogs in his face for a living has any right to be, but I don’t see eating contests as being a big part of otaku culture- am I wrong here? Plus, eating contests just look kind of gross in my opinion.

I do however like the trend of Dre and Diana winning hands down while Team S&S does unbelievably badly at everything, despite the fact that Stephan seems to be the most intelligent co-host; I guess being smart doesn’t help much when your quest is to imbibe lots of ramen and frozen yogurt (?) at a rapid pace. I guess the winning team doesn’t actually win anything, since this was the second time the same team won the weekly challenge but there was no mention of a prize.

I would have taken Professor Brau’s class.

Once again, the show is elevated by the guests, who are a batch of interesting folk who probably wouldn’t get a chance to star on an internet TV show if AGO never came to be. The contestants weren’t as memorable to me this week as last week (which is no insult to them personally; I just didn’t think they made strong cases for being the ‘greatest’ otaku, as opposed to several previous contestants), but the guests from academia and business were interesting.

Actually, the people at the Kansas City Art Institute didn’t say anything terribly interesting, I just know I would have killed for a kids’ manga-drawing class like that when I was that age. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it, back in the day we needed to walk fifteen miles in the snowpocalypse to get the lastest derivative How to Draw Manga book, etc. etc…..

Does anybody have a theory as to how this order was determined? It doesn’t look very fuel-efficient; doesn’t Tokyopop CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT????

Best: The segment with Dr. Laurie Brau about culinary manga- once again, Dre and Diana get to do the best stuff, and I’m so glad that someone in academia is doing something that actually seems different and interesting and not the redundant, masturbatory exercise that most academic study appears to be. Seriously.

Worst: Watching people stuff food into their mouths- wasn’t gross enough to put me off the show, but still general-purpose gross, not to mention kind of random and unnecessary. I’m also kind of annoyed by the food choices- a chance to eat five times as much of something as usual, and Team Mangaloids picks Kix cereal? Ladies, did you forget that chocolate exists? It should have at least been limited to foods with an otaku connection, like Pocky or something.

Next, the show apparently goes back to California, because spending the first week there apparently wasn’t enough (?), and I see if the other AGO co-hosts can find a way to stand out from the mini-golf playing, pancake-annihilating shadow of Team D&D, who seem to win everything.

Go, Team S&S! May you win a no-prize in the next challenge, which will hopefully be much less gross.

Tomb Raider, Level 7: Palace Midas

A Golden Opportunity, or All That Glitters is Entombed

You know, I feel like there should be a lot to say unrelated to the Midas statue and its hand of shiny, glittery-gorgeous death, but the hand of Midas kind of dominates this area. I’m trying to think about all of the other level features, which genuinely are memorable in and of themselves, but my mind keeps going back to that moment when I first positioned Lara on the hand, and magic happened- by which I mean, LITERAL magic, because that’s what’s going on with this level.

I think it was Toby Gard who said during the TR:A commentary that the Hand of Midas was the only thing in the game where magic was the only suitable explanation- all of the Atalantean hi-jinks later on can be attributed to technologically advanced aliens- and that it was a major decision whether or not to include it at all for that reason. I think this is the second moment (the T-Rex encounter in Lost Valley being the first) where your expectations of what the world of Tomb Raider is and can be are shattered, then put back together again, and it works brilliantly.

I always kind of wondered why Lara didn’t just step off once she started turning to gold, but I guess once her feet turn, they become too heavy to lift and she’s trapped.

I’m not 100% sure if this is how it went down, since it was probably fifteen years ago and I don’t remember every single second of playing this game for the first time vividly (for shame, I know), but I’m pretty sure I stepped Lara on the hand for the first time being aware of the myth, but thinking it would never happen in a million years. “Oh, and here’s a hand in a level that references King Midas, ha ha wouldn’t it be funny if Lara just turned to gold right now, except that so wouldn’t happen because there’s no way the game would be that amaziOHMYGOD IT’S SERIOUSLY HAPPENING.”

It was quite possibly the only time in my videogaming career where a Game Over produced both tremendous awe and a huge smile.

Tomb of Giant Statue Guy

If you think about it, Midas tomb seems to be designed so ONLY MIDAS CAN GET OUT OF IT. Creepy.

This is also a very pure Tomb Raider level in one sense, since the palace is clearly a tomb; it’s not one of the major plot-tombs where the pieces of the scion are kept, but an additional tomb. However, have you ever thought about the mechanics of this in regard to the magical giant hand? Stick with me for a moment, it’s a little weird.

Okay, so Midas was a king in Greek myth, who, in punishment for his greed, was cursed so that everything he touched turned to gold. With me so far? Okay. Except, Midas was a person, who is presumably buried somewhere in the palace. So, why is a giant, disembodied hand the thing that turns you to gold? Are we supposed to think that Midas was a giant, like in Gulliver’s Travels, and his hand was chopped off sometime before his untimely death? Or was his soul put into the giant statue made to honor him after his death, so his “curse” lived on long after his body decayed?

I’m partial to the second theory- it especially makes sense if you imagine he’s entombed somewhere WITHIN the giant statue, so ultimately, the statue is just an extension of him. Obviously, the reason why the giant hand came about is because having Lara stand on an actual human-sized hand wouldn’t work (and that would mean introducing Midas’ actual corpse, which is just like, eww), but I’m always kind of fascinated by these leaps of logic you make in games without even being conscious that you’re making them- I mean, I think I always subscribed to the “within the statue resides Midas’ soul” idea while playing this level without ever for a second consciously thinking about it.

I think that may be one of the reasons why I keep coming back to Tomb Raider- I’m fascinated by the mental gymnastics I do subconsciously in order to make the world make sense to me, because I must want it to so badly.

In Which Lara is Not Nearly as On Fire as I Had Expected

The notorious pillar room, which separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls and the champion Tomb Raiders from the…people who have to reload in this room a lot. This fiery gauntlet is responsible for more people getting stuck than anything else in the entire game; at the very least, it has that reputation. You can tell the developers knew it too, because they put two save crystals virtually right next to each other so you can save right before you try it and right after you succeed. Even though there’s a metric ton of save crystals in this level, that still seems rather excessive.

To explain the significance of traversing this room to me, I have to explain something about myself: as much as I like video games, I don’t think I’m very good at them. Other than the Tomb Raider series and a few other third-person adventures, most of the games I play are RPGs- partially for the aesthetics and stories, and partially because they generally don’t require what you might call “reflexes” whatsoever. If I have to press a particular set of buttons in a timely fashion to avoid death, chances are my character is dead.

I don’t remember how long it took me to do this section when I first played the game eons ago, but I’m pretty sure I was stuck on it for at least a few days. I think I eventually used the “take damage whilst sucking down medipacks whilst on fire” technique to complete it. Needless to say, I was kind of dreading getting up to it for this playthrough.

And yet, when I first played through it again a couple of weeks ago, I was able to traverse this section using all running jumps (no pauses) in about three tries- no Lara on fire to speak of. The last time I played it just now, I did it on my first try.

I looked at Lara safely ensconced on the far platform (and, this is important: not even SLIGHTLY on fire), and wondered: How is this possible? The guys at the Tomb Raider Traveler’s Guide wrote, like, a full dissertation on how to get passed this part without having to do running jumps, because it was supposedly so difficult, and I just did it in ten seconds? HOW CAN THIS BE??

Friends, it may seem arrogant, but I think at this point I’m going to have to call it: after playing these games on and off for fifteen years, I am finally not that bad at Tomb Raider- in fact, I seem to be rather good at it. It is now my intention to bake myself a cake in honor of actually being good at a video game.

Pierre Takes a Holiday

There are no Stupid Pierre Tricks for this level, because everyone’s favorite littering Frenchman doesn’t make an appearance. Since my “Pierre is a Sorceror” theory is clearly the most promising new area in Tomb Raider Scholarship since the seminal thesis “Atalantean Culture: Natla and the Marxist-Feminist Imperative,” it seems only logical to assume he’s doing something properly magical- like sacrificing gorillas to his dark gods to renew his teleportation powers.

In all seriousness, I like the randomness of Pierre just not showing up for this level for some reason. I don’t know if it was an oversight, or they thought his presence was totally unnecessary due to the grandness of this level (in which case they were right), but it’s a check in the win column nonetheless. Of course, that almost makes it even more annoying when he shows up in The Cistern.

Running around the top tier of the level= somehow much more fun than it logically should be. It’s like you used the fly code, only you didn’t- it’s just great level design! Yee-haw crocodiles!

Best: On first blush, turning Lara to gold is the best because it’s the most instantly memorable- however, if you’ve turned Lara to gold, that means you’re dead. I’m not sure if dying should ever be the “best” part of a level. Fortunately, running around the topmost story of the level is a blast- it almost feels like you used a code to cheat and get somewhere you’re not “supposed to”, even though there’s no cheating involved. At least for me, I spend the first half of the level thinking “hmm, it would be awesome to stand there, but it doesn’t look like I can get there,” about several areas and then, TA-DAH.

Worst: Having to go back and forth between the doors with the symbols and the platform with the switches so many times. In theory, you shouldn’t have to do it that much, but something often goes wrong for me even when I’ve memorized the symbol. Sometimes I’ll memorize the combinations, have the door fail to open, then reverse all the switches positions and it will work. Then I’ll think “ah-hah, now I have this switch silliness worked out,” only to get it backwards in the other direction, somehow. Odd quirk of the game, or early-onset Alzheimer’s? You decide. I’m also not at all keen on that secret switch behind the trees- great idea, but it’s so well hidden I almost didn’t find it even when I knew it was there. Plus, why is there a death trap in a SECRET? It’s supposed to be a bonus!

Rating: Five Uzi clips out of five; it would be an extremely memorable level just for the hand of Midas gimmick, and yet, there’s so much going on here that it would be a great level even without it. Admittedly, I probably would have been tempted to lower the score if the flame pillars had actually frustrated me.

If I may be so bold as to say anything even slightly negative about this level (other than the fact that the switches annoy me, but I don’t blame the level for my stupidity), isn’t this spike-room kind of an afterthought? “You know what we haven’t seen for a while? Spikes. Mysteriously bloody spikes. Let’s put in 50,000 of them.”

Next: The Cistern, where I can’t even make a bacteriological infection joke because Scott Lee’s been there already.

(Screenshots in this post have been taken with permission from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots.)

Thoughts On America’s Greatest Otaku: Episode #2

Diana made an adorable Chi, but what was Dre dressed as? For some reason I kept thinking of the Reapers from The World Ends With You, but that seems way too obscure...let me know in the comments what incredibly obvious thing I'm missing here.

Okay, before I do anything else, what is up with that Hulu commercial with the Adrian Brody lookalike with the huge nose singing in the bar while all the women cry? I have now seen that commercial three times in the process of watching and getting a few screens from this episode, and I still have no clue what’s going on there. Are we supposed to gather that the wine is what hideous-yet-inexplicably-sexy French people drink or something?

Anyway, I thought this episode was a massive improvement over the first one. Not only did the Otaku 6 show that they do in fact have personality (once their boss isn’t looking over their shoulder), but some of the people interviewed were just really interesting, even more so than last time. An Iraqi woman who was exposed to anime through Arabic dubs and now studies Japanese and publishes her own adorable doujinshi? A Japanese Aikido instructor with a sense of humor who also works as a chef at the restaurant next door, serving “country style” Japanese food of yore? Those are the kinds of characters I would perhaps make up for a story and then say “nah, too unrealistic,” so I think it’s awesome that these guys actually exist.

I-I don't understand this equation. This is one of those cases where "Please show all work" would have been helpful.

Meanwhile, since I wrote about the first episode, the manga-focused internet has seemingly exploded with hate for Tokyopop after some recent layoffs. I don’t know what to make of it; as far as I can tell, the people who are irritated with the company have some valid reasons for being that way, but there seems to be an element of people projecting any sort of dissatisfaction with Tokyopop that they have ever had since the days of Mixxzine in the ’90s onto AGO, and that doesn’t seem very fair to the people on the show, most of whom do not have much to do with Tokyopop.

I’ve seen a lot of comments to the effect of “How dare Tokyopop make this show that I have now decided to hate when they should be finishing my favorite series/not laying off people/re-translating that one title I think they screwed up ten years ago/ etc. etc.” and it’s like, guys, that’s like forty different issues that the contestants and Otaku 6 have nothing to do with. Once again, I’m not saying that the concerns about the way Tokyopop does business aren’t valid (and I’m not enough of a regular manga buyer to feel like I have an educated opinion there, honestly), but that’s an awful lot of baggage to saddle a little otaku-culture show with.

I think having a weekly theme does help the show overall, but maybe they could have picked a better expression? I don't really get what holding a toothpick has to do with it.

Pride and Prejudiced Mormons

I was kind of wondering what would happen if the cast ended up in a city where there wasn’t much otaku stuff to do, so it’s good we’ve gotten that out of the way with Salt Lake City. Personally I was kind of hoping that they would end up in North Dakota, just because I think the idea of traipsing around sparsely-populated North Dakota looking for cosplayers or something is hysterical, but that’s just me.

The cosplay challenge took away the biggest problem that I had with this show initially, which is that the Otaku 6 seemed pointless- the theme and challenge gave them a reason for being other than as automotons to ask questions in Stu Levy’s place, and Dominique certainly looked much better as Sailor Mars than Levy would have. However, I’m still confused about the structure of this show somewhat- so team D&D “won” the cosplay challenge, right? I know they’re not the AGO contestants, but it seems like they should have won SOMETHING for the challenge, even if it’s only a box of Pocky. I think the benefit of winning any of these things should have been described from the beginning.

The Post-Its give us some credit for being culturally aware this week and don't bother to tell us what Naruto is. The producers have realized that there is no one on earth lucky enough to be unfamiliar with Sasuke.

As far as the contestants go, as noted above I thought Shireen from Salt Lake City was awesome, and Di-Khiem from Denver certainly had the enthusiasm aspect down pat. I wasn’t too impressed with his song, but then he got the part about just wanting Ichigo and Rukia together and hating SasuXNaru, and then I decided he was a cool guy.

PREACH IT, my friend. You is okay.
Also, I know it's only two character portraits on shoes, but that's pretty darn good- he even got Nia's eyes down perfectly.

As far as Todd is concerned, I’m not sure if it’s fair to be including professional voice actors among the contestants. It seems that everyone we’ve seen so far is mainly a hobbyist, so including professionals seems to be skewing the focus of the show a little bit. That said, some of the contestants do seem to do art professionally (Di-Khiem mentioned that he has clients for his shoes), and it would stand to reason that some of the biggest otaku around would pursue anime-related professions. So I don’t know- it’s less that including a professional strikes me as strictly wrong, as I wish I had a better idea what their selection criteria was in the first place.

A Hetalia Cosplay group? Well, I never got on the whole Hetalia train, but whatever floats your respective boats, kids. Now what would be just insane would be if they found ANOTHER Hetalia cosplay group in a different city, hahahahahah that would never
Really, Team S&S? You had to go stealing the Mangaloids idea and interview a Hetalia group? Go find some real Persona cosplayers or something (YEAH I WENT THERE.)

Best: Next to the whole story of Gaku Homma, who was just an all-around awesome guy who is not above slicing onions with a katana, Dre and Diana’s whole segment was the best. Watching them walk around the temple talking to otaku Mormon nuns and playing whacked out, Dada-ist mini-golf while in full cosplay was unique, but the two had sufficient chemistry that they were still watchable even when they were poking around behind dumpsters and basically doing nothing. Dre’s steadfast refusal to believe that they couldn’t find any otaku weirdness in SLC was amusing.

Even if you hate this show, consider watching this episode for this guy, because he might be the world's coolest Aikido instructor.

Worst: Sully’s cosplay. Really, if you’re going to be a Pocky Elf, you have to explain where the elf part comes from, or at least what inspired the costume. We sorely needed the origin of the Pocky Elf, and we never got it. Plus, it just looked like he was too lazy to dress up like a proper anime character. Stephan’s half-Persona, half-whatever cosplay wasn’t much better; yeah it’s hot, SO WHAT? Do you think Dominique enjoyed walking around town in that itty-bitty skirt? If you can’t take the heat, dress like Luffy.

Also going to call out the Funimation segment, not because it was bad but because it looked like they were dubbing Sora No Otoshimono, and that’s just a waste of absolutely everyone’s time.

Next time: The Otaku 6 visit more cities that are not in North Dakota (boo), and maybe I’ll get closer to nailing down whether or not the Otaku6 actually win anything for having to be weird in public repeatedly. Seriously, I am really curious what venues they’re going to pick when they get to my neck of the woods in NY.

Thoughts on America’s Greatest Otaku: Episode #1

I wasn't too into this show, but then there was a lady dressed as Sailor Venus with wings and it was all good. Anybody can dress as Sailor Moon with wings, but it's rare for Minako to get the angel wings she deserves.

Just so you know, the last reality show I watched was an episode of Top Chef where Cookie Monster, Elmo and Telly showed up to judge a baking Quickfire, and Padma totally talked to the Muppets like they were real people. For me, this was the pinnacle of reality television; they can stop making it now.

Nevertheless, I decided to give Tokyopop’s new reality show (or whatever it is) a shot, and while it certainly wasn’t stellar- five minutes in, I was considering turning it off out of boredom- it was better than I expected. I decided that I wouldn’t blog about it if it was really bad, because then all I’d end up doing is mocking the show, and that’s kind of a horrible thing to do when real people are involved. It turned out that it’s good enough that I can talk about it without mocking it, but not good enough that I’m not tempted to at points.

Otaku Who?

Right now, the biggest problem with the show is that the so-called “Otaku 6” have no personality, other than perhaps Stephan. That’s not to say they don’t actually have good personalities; maybe if I knew them, I would think they were the most charming, sparklingly effervescent otaku shut-in con-goers I knew, but that’s the problem- I don’t know them. At all.

I used to snobbily avoid all reality TV, but lately I’ve softened to some of the shows that have actual content other than “watch these people live in a house.” After watching many episodes of Top Chef, Cake Boss, and Next Great Baker (notice a theme?), I know that the one thing you can usually say about reality shows is that you get a strong feeling of the personalities of the various contestants- sometimes, you hate their guts, but you definitely know who they are, even after only an episode or two. The main thing the Otaku 6 did in this episode was stand around and try not to look too awkward when host (and Tpop founder) Stu Levy asked their guests questions. What’s the point of having them, if we’re not getting to know them?

Of course, the Otaku 6 aren’t the contestants- the four people in this episode who are in contention for the “Greatest Otaku” title are, and the interviews with them were actually interesting. Supposedly, the Otaku 6 are going to come into their own next episode and start doing more interviews, but I don’t know- as of right now, I would be having pretty much the same experience if Levy were just walking around and interviewing people single-handedly.

Also, the five or ten minutes at the beginning of the show spent introducing the 6 were by far the most boring part- I almost turned it off in a until they started interviewing the guy with the massive toy collection. Speaking of which…

I want this Sailor Moon figure this guy has so badly...and thanks to this show, I now KNOW WHERE HE LIVES.

A Definition of Otaku After My Own Heart

They seem to be using a rather inclusive definition of otaku- one contestant’s American comics collection is counted as part of his otaku swag, and some of the venues aren’t strictly Japanese or J-culture related; I couldn’t figure out what the otaku connection with that game company was, other than the fact that the art in their games was MAYBE a little anime-inspired.

This doesn’t bother me- the girl who puts Tomb Raider analysis on her otaku blog- but expect J-culture snobs to bitch and moan about this like there’s no tomorrow. At the very least, I promise that if I stop watching it, it will be for a much less stupid reason.

Chance of anyone watching this not knowing what "Jpop" means: .0000000001%. It's like the Oni system (and I bet you're such an otaku you got that reference too.)

Split Focus

The last thing of note is the fact that the show seems to be somewhat ambivalent about whom it’s targeted at. Every otaku-related term is described in an on-screen post it, which I suppose is nice for people who don’t know squat about otaku culture, but how many of them are actually watching this? Furthermore, how many people who know about this show really need WoW explained as “a popular online role-playing game”?

If it was just the post-its I could let it slide, but it seems like everything is over-explained just on the off chance that someone grew up in some wasteland where even Pickachu’s adorable face never graced their TV screens, and it’s annoying. I thought this was supposed to be a show by-otaku, for otaku, at least in theory- why are they catering to the 1% who discovered this site through something other than an enthusiast website?

Best: -The interviews with all four of the Greatest Otaku hopefuls. Not only was it fun seeing those massive collections, but they seem to have tried to pick people who have some kind of talent in addition to just buying everything under the sun.

-That little moment when Levy picked up that girl’s Nia dolfie, and though she was smiling you could tell she was thinking “if he breaks my $700 doll I will absolutely set the Tokyopop offices on fire.”

Part of me is almost sorry that he didn't just drop it, just to see what would have happened. Does that make me a terrible person?

Worst: The really poor play-acting Levy and the guys did a few times. If you’re going to do an obviously rehearsed “hey, what are THESE doing here?” sort of bit, you have to go so far over the top that it’s hilariously cheesy, not just kind of throw it out there and hope for the best. Those were perhaps the only moments when the show started to cross the line into “I can’t believe I’m watching this” territory.

Overall, it was definitely not a total waste of 40 minutes of my life. But would I bother if I didn’t have a blog called Otakusphere? I’m really not sure at this point, but I’ll give it another episode or two at least.

Tomb Raider, Level 6: The Coliseum

Screenshots for this level taken from TombRaiderChronicles.com, since Katie's TR site doesn't have screens from this level for some reason.

Because Greece and Rome are Clearly Right Next to Each Other

On some level, I always assumed that the reason there was a coliseum at this point was because Lara had somehow passed- on foot- from Greece into Rome. Now in my regular, non-Tomb Raider life, I’m well aware of the fact that Greece and Rome are not within easy walking distance, but it never bothered me until I came back to this game for this project. Somehow, while playing Tomb Raider, my brain has protected me all this time from the crushing tyranny of geography.

The official Prima strategy guide tries to play it both ways: “Here’s a real treat! A Greek Coliseum complete with maniac lions roaming around.” No, strategy guide, we know coliseums are not Greek; don’t try to be clever (although in fairness, the guide does point out a major shortcut in this level, so maybe it is a bit clever.)

There's a lot of fighting to be had, but that's pretty much neutral as far as I'm concerned. Shooting the lions and gorillas in the middle of the coliseum from the stands is fun, in a totally unfair, shooting-fish-in-a-barrel sort of way.

I think I must have played this level about ten times over the past week or so while trying to figure out what I was going to say about it. It’s another one of those levels that people tend to remember, but I’m honestly not sure how much I like it; once you’ve reached the main section of the level and have that “oh cool, it’s a coliseum,” moment, the level empties its bag of tricks rather quickly. The traps are fairly pedestrian, running around the “stands” gets repetitive (and disappointing, due to an inexplicable lack of pick-ups there), and it’s actually one of the more simplistic levels in the game.

Part of the problem here is probably me, since the concept of a coliseum doesn’t speak to my imagination as much as a lot of the other concepts in the game do- I never bothered to see Gladiator, and never really had much of an interest in Roman culture, period. I think some people probably played this level soaking up the atmosphere, thinking what it must have been like to live in Roman times and watch actual gladiators battle actual lions for their actual larynges, but my mind doesn’t tend to go in that direction, and that’s really not the game’s fault.

There's a shortcut to the lower balcony here- you can backflip onto the rock, jump forward and grab the ledge. It requires such precise placement that it's not really much of a shortcut, although I still feel awfully proud of myself when I pull it off.

All that said, this level does have some rather interesting touches. They totally fake you out with the ending- it seems so obvious that the goal of the level must be to get through the giant double doors on the balcony, since, like trained seals, by this point we have learned to associate large doors with progression. It’s actually kind of a surprise when the level ends with Lara underwater.

We also get a save crystal about one minute before the end of the level (behind the aforementioned double doors), which is quite odd. In theory, you could die in the underwater passage before you complete the level, so the crystal isn’t entirely useless, but it still seems out of place.

Stupid Pierre Tricks

On the plus side, for people who enjoy messing around with Pierre (and I hope that includes you and everyone you know), this level happens to be a particularly fun place to play around with his wacky disappearing-mechanics. Since the stands of the coliseum are long straight-aways, Pierre can have a hard time finding a decent corner to slip behind for his ninja routine, and as a result, spends a tremendous amount of time getting shot. I think I shot at him once for five minutes straight.

Interestingly, he will often run far away from Lara, and then loop around back for some more punishment- as though he suddenly decided “No, I’m not going to be a sissy-man and run away, but rather be an HOMME about this and finish off ma petite* once and for all! ,” then changes his mind again sixty rounds later.

I think if you keep him out and about long enough, he will basically teleport away from you- at one point, the camera angle changed when Lara rolled, and by the time I reoriented the camera, he was gone. Poof. Bam. Like Nightcrawler or something.

Based on this indisputable in-game evidence, I have now concluded that Pierre Dupont is a  sorcerer.

If you have another explanation, hey, knock yourself out.

It is now my intention to gather more evidence to back up this exciting new theory in the realm of Tomb Raider scholarship.

Best: It’s really satisfying the first time you get to the elevated room with the chaise lounges, I mean the Emperor’s Balcony, according to the strategy guide. Climbing on the rocks to get to the balcony is fun in that Lost Valley I-love-jumping-on-stuff way, and it’s just cool looking out at the expanse of the coliseum once you’ve ascended.

Worst: The first minute or so of the level is boring. You might be thinking “hey, it’s the FIRST ROOM, why be so harsh?” but think about it: we just did HOW MUCH work to open that door in the bowels of St. Francis Folly? I don’t know about you, but I was expecting more from the other side of that uber-defended door than a room full of sand and a disoriented crocodile. Plus, I find the lack of pick-ups in the stands area to be truly disappointing.

Rating: Three Uzi Clips Out of Five. The idea of the coliseum, geographic switcheroo aside, is probably great, but the execution could have been better as far as I’m concerned.

Next up: Palace Midas, or I no longer care about the whole Greece/Rome mix-up because OMG SHINY THINGS!

*Yes, all of my knowledge of French comes from Gambit of the X-Men. Why do you ask?

Edit: I just realized that Katie’s TR Screenshots DOES have screens of this level, I just missed them- considering I’m working on Palace Midas now I think I’m going to let it slide, however.

Parasite Eve Playthrough, Part 1

I confess: I love Parasite Eve. Objectively, I’m not even sure it’s that good.

But some things are deeply influential to a specific individual, and it’s not because they’re great –quality has nothing to do with it. It’s a certain alchemy of personality, timing, and some x-factor that I’ll never be able to nail down. Parasite Eve was one of the first games I played, and it had a huge effect on my personal aesthetics.

Come to think of it, between this and Tomb Raider, I seem to have a thing for games featuring young women spelunking in dark places. What does this say about me? That I wish I was a spelunker? Where does one go to spelunk these days?

Keep in mind, I’m not encouraging everyone to go out and pick up a copy of the game. PS1 games from that era have aged poorly in the graphics department, and while I think the writing in PE is actually underrated, there’s nothing about it that’s sufficiently high quality to make it especially worth playing compared to more recent fare. However, as a startlingly ambitious combination of cop show, psychological thriller, Doctor Who-esque Science Fantasy, dungeon crawling, character building, gun collecting, and techno music put together in an RPG that celebrates an empty Manhattan that never was, it’s a unique piece of gaming history.

The protagonist of Parasite Eve is rookie NYC cop Aya Brea, proficient with every firearm under the sun and totally the women I’d fall for if I played on the other team (and err, if she weren’t fictional I suppose. I sometimes forget that part.) However, I’m straight, and it does have to be said that Aya can be a little dense– her dialogue is littered with exclamations like “What? How can that be!?” and “No!” and “What do you mean my mitochondria are evolving at an unusually accelerated rate?” People have knocked the character for that, but to be fair, I kind of like that about her. We can’t all be Rhodes Scholars. She’s already gorgeous, can handle a rifle as well as Solid Snake, and soon enough, will also have superpowers. There’s a fine line between idealized and insufferable, you know?

This hilariously awful date is probably much more hilarious if you happen to be a woman and have had this experience.

Note on the Screens: In years past I have always, always kept the default character names in RPGs out of respect for the writers’ intentions, but in some of the following screens you will see that Aya’s name is Karen for this playthrough. Is this an attempt to tag all of my screens so they aren’t easily stolen, or a sign of my growing megalomania? You decide.

The game starts with Aya on a hilariously awful date, with an escort who says things like “I had my Dad get me the best seats for us tonight!” Y’know, I wonder how much the average guy gamer likes this opening, because being a woman probably makes it about ten thousand times better. It’s like, we’ve all been on this date, but unfortunately unlike Aya, we weren’t packing heat…well, actually I was once, but that’s a story best left for another day.

Fortunately possessed Opera Singer Melissa (known from this point on as Eve) brings a

You know, maybe this is just sour grapes because I never got the hang of playing the violin, but I would be totally cool with it if more games opened with Carnegie Hall being set on fire.

premature end to Aya’s date by lighting Carnegie Hall on fire. I used to just pretend that I had cramps.

While the other occupants of the theater are busy burning to death, Aya’s all business; she draws her gun and orders her mysteriously-not-burning date out of the theater. If I were some kind of fancy internet guru, I would make an animation of Aya body-checking her date out of the way, because that’s exactly what she does here. Minor plot hole: It’s repeated many times that Aya is the sole survivor of the Carnegie Hall Incident, only her boyfriend mysteriously escapes the theater and is never mentioned again. I guess some of her special mitochondria must have rubbed off on him when he was helping her off with her coat.

I can't help but feel that Aya is kind of happy to have a reason to get rid of her date prematurely, carnage or not.

Aya approaches Eve in the name of the NYPD, and Eve starts starts demonstrating some of the problems with Japanese-to-English translation that plague this game. The Japanese use the word “body” much more often than English speakers, but a too-literal translation will often keep the word, leading to awkwardness. “I’m burning up!” has a very different connotation then “My body is getting HOT!” Guess which version this game goes with.

Localization Team: I BLAME YOU.

A pathetically easy boss fight ensues, during which Aya’s “Parasite Energy” awakens due to her proximity to Eve, meaning she has a green PE bar under her health from now on and will start learning spells to cast as she levels up. Technically I guess they’re not “spells”, they’re more like “benevolent mutations” or “super-evolved mitochondrial abilities”, but I’m going to use the word spell from now on because it’s shorter. Anyway, Eve babbles something about a connection between her and Aya (Nooo? REALLY?), and Aya has the first of about forty flashbacks to a time she was in the hospital as a small child that she barely remembers. Eve floats offstage, and Aya follows.

At this point, the story sequences start to dwindle and you begin to experience the actual gameplay of PE–in the past kiddies, opening non-playable sequences used to last for about five minutes as opposed to three hours– which I will save for the next installment. The main event is that Aya starts ransacking the basement of Carnegie Hall while looking for Eve, and mysteriously finds lots of ammo instead. Illogical perhaps, but I kind of like the idea that all of the musicians who perform at Carnegie Hall have been stockpiling bullets just in case that first-chair violinist needs to be put in their place….actually, that’s not as far from the truth as you might at first think.

Next time on Parasite Eve: Spelunking in the rat-infested sewers beneath Carnegie Hall is no reason not to look fabulous. In the interests of full disclosure my next blog entry will probably be another installment of the Tomb Raider project, but you know what I mean.

(Note: Just like the Tomb Raider Project, this was originally posted as a Destructoid Cblog; I am moving my game playthroughs over here for posterity. These entries are edited slightly differently than they were in their first posting.)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Episode 5 Thoughts

I roughed out a concept for Sayaka preparing to do her own version of "Unlimited Blade Works", but decided not to do a finished piece. I kind of like it as a rough sketch, though.

Well, Puella Magi Madoka Magica has moved up in the hierarchy from “Things I might want to mention once and a while,” to “things I must blog about NAO!”

I figured I’d just jot down a few of my thoughts and questions about the show at this juncture, rather than recap it. Well, okay, here’s your recap: Two magical girls fought. Kyoko is a bitch. There, done. Needless to say, spoilers abound.

Thoughts on Episode #5:

1.I’m glad Sayaka has regenerative powers- leads me to believe that they’re not looking to bump her off so quickly; I don’t think I could handle losing another sympathetic character at this point. However, nothing seems to be off-limits with this show, so who knows.

2. I was really confused by what Homura’s power seemed to be, until @Rangoric pointed out that it seemed to be like the property of Gae Bolg in Fate/Stay Night: An inversion of cause and effect. Everything somehow misses Homura, because the effect of her power is that everything will miss her. I thought after her battle in episode #3 (against Charlotte) that she had some sort of weird displacement thing going on, but his explanation makes a lot more sense to me. It really makes me wonder how she’s going to handle fighting Kyoko, since it seems to be such a defensive power. How can she damage her?

3. Oh, and speaking of Kyoko, I know I’m like, SUPPOSED to hate her, but uh…yeah, mission accomplished there, guys. Why can’t a witch come and eat HER head?

Of course, with this show, I should be careful what I wish for- they’ll probably only kill her off after they’ve done some huge redemption arc and revealed that she was actually abused by her older brother at a young age, leading to her callous attitude, and inside she’s the sweetest little girl there is. Dammit.

4. I’m surprised no one on the show has even mentioned the possibility of bringing Mami back through wishing. I know a lot of fans were pleased that the series didn’t immediately go that route, but it seems odd that it wouldn’t occur to Madoka. I don’t think Madoka will use her wish to bring Mami back, because I’m pretty sure she’s going to use her wish in a more interesting way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone did. I may not normally be keen on characters coming back from the dead, but I’d be okay with it in this instance, since I’d trust the show to do something interesting with it.

However, the fact that Mami’s silhouette is the only one depicted sitting down in the ending leads me to believe she’s not coming back:(.

5. Speaking of wishes, what would happen if a girl wished for there to be no more witches? According to Kyubey (um, assuming he can be trusted, which is increasingly doubtful), NOTHING is off-limits for the wish. I will be a little disappointed if the series never addresses this question (or something similar), even if it’s just Kyubey pointing out the limitations on wishes he can grant; it seems like such an obvious Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card.

6. Do you think “Unlimited Blade/Musket/Whatever Works” are an inherent property of Puella Magi, or was Sayaka just doing it because she’d seen Mami do it? I had assumed it was the former, but Rangoric thinks it’s the latter- he assumed that the fact that Sayaka did an attack that was derivative of Mami’s was meant to show that she was still inexperienced, copying instead of creating her own attacks.

7. I would like to bet someone a box of Pocky that Kyubey will be revealed to be Satan, or some close associate thereof, before the end of the series.

8. At this rate, I don’t see how Madoka could possibly become a magical girl until at least episode 12 or 13, if even then. What would be a bigger subversion; if she ends the series without becoming a magical girl at all, or she becomes one, but her outfit is different than it is in the OP? Come to think of it, I honestly think giving her a completely different costume would be more of an upset to the genre. Like, “What do you mean I can’t even trust the OP?”

Tomb Raider, Level 5: St. Francis’ Folly

I have a fear of elevators in general, so Lara’s stunt in the cutscene that precedes this level has always, always freaked me out just a little. Scenes like this push her firmly over the line from “adventurous free spirit” to “batcakes insane adrenaline junkie,” and I am not keen on it. That said, I do like this cutscene overall, since it features the interesting excerpt from the monk’s journal. Like Tihocan’s epitaph later, I like the gentle reminder that people actually once lived in these places Lara explores.

I like how absorbed Lara appears to be in the book; I've always been partial to the idea that she spends most of her non-tomb raiding time reading and studying ancient languages.

I’m still confused about the line “my toes sweat at such possibilities,” though- is that supposed to be a joke, or is that something people actually say and I’ve just never come across it? I feel kind of sorry for this character we only experience in a paragraph of text: powers, beyond the creator himself, locked beneath his monastery! And all he can do is ponder the condition of his toes! Poor troubled monk, I hope he had a good, long life and spent none of his time in St. Francis’ Folly anywhere near that abysmal second secret.

Innovating Against the Clock

This level is a conundrum; on the one hand, it’s incredibly daring and inventive, but it also shows just how rushed the designers were like no other level does. First, they swap a Roman god’s name with the proper Greek one (Neptune for Poseidon), and include a Norse God, Thor, for no apparent reason. I mean, Neptune was an oversight, clearly, but THOR? If you were thinking “Greek Gods” and “Lightning,” how could you NOT think of Zeus, exactly? I’m still puzzled by that omission.

And why Neptune, Thor, Atlas, and Damocles? How arbitrary is that?

Really, monks? REALLY?

Second, the challenge rooms are mostly one-trick ponies, and of them all, only Damocles and Thor are really memorable, and Thor mostly for the wrong reasons (although the hammer trick was admittedly cute.) That said, I found the additions they made to the challenge rooms in the incarnation of this level from Tomb Raider Anniversary extraordinarily tedious, so it’s probably just as well.

I guess I feel there’s an element of wasted potential here: can you imagine if you actually had to go through a pantheon of 12 Greek Gods, each with their own trial, in an even larger vertical room? Sure, it probably would have been broken up into two or three levels, but that would have been mind-blowing. As it stands, it’s still amazing for the time, but the choice of the Gods (even aside from the mythology-switcheroos) always made it seem more like the monks just slapped together a bunch of trials than anything else. Didn’t they care about protecting the Scion?

The Case of the Disappearing Frenchman

This level is also notable for introducing Pierre Dupont, a bane to those trying to conserve health packs. Back in the day, when I incurred a lot more damage to Lara and actually needed all the health packs I picked up, Pierre’s creeping out of the woodwork and shooting at Lara several times per level was a real problem.

Now, however, I find him more interesting to mess with than anything else; there seems to be a remarkable amount of variation in terms of how many times you can shoot him before he’ll run away. I believe there is a technical amount of damage that you need to do, but if he doesn’t happen to be near a good column to disappear behind when you finish inflicting it, he’ll run around in circles like a chicken with his head cut off and soak up a ridiculous amount of bullets, to the effect of three or four times the amount of damage he’s “supposed” to take before he runs off.

I will say this for him though: at least he knows to get the drop on Lara and start shooting at her from behind, which puts him in the top 99th percentile of Tomb Raider villains, intelligence-wise. It may not have worked out for him, but at least he had the right idea.

Speaking of his Houdini act, I know that Pierre disappears as soon as he leaves your line of sight due to technical limitations, but I always thought it was kind of cool; I like the idea that Pierre is aware of all sorts of shortcuts through the level that Lara isn’t. I mean, imagine that when you play as Lara, you see everything through a kind of “Lara-filter”, meaning you’re only aware of the routes she finds. Now in theory Pierre, who won’t have access to all the same keys and whatever Lara finds, has to find his own way, and sees parts of these venues that Lara doesn’t get anywhere near.

Seriously, a cool idea for Tomb Raider Level Editor wizards: Make a Pierre’s-eye-view of

Cool thing about Pierre's verison of this level: Does NOT include Atlas room.

these levels. Same levels, but with new areas and different puzzles, and you periodically get to sneak up behind Lara and scare the daylights out of her. Actually, since he doesn’t show up in Palace Midas, you can assume he takes a completely different route and goes through, like, five additional Greco-Roman levels. I suppose you could do the same thing with Larson in Egypt, although I can’t imagine Larson figuring out very difficult puzzles.

Oh, and awesome TRLE people? While you’re at it, do the full-on Greek Pantheon version of this level I was talking about above; people will be impressed. Although lord knows what kind of trial Demeter will spawn; maybe something Harvest Moon inspired.

Secrets: The Medipack Ain’t Worth It

By the way, this level is the reason why I decided against doing an all-secrets run; I have never gotten the second secret on this level, and I think it’s evil incarnate and have no intention of doing so. I’m also not keen on the last secret of this level, which requires you to lose more than half your health.

I know some people like truly difficult secrets that you have to work for, and I can definitely understand that, but I like to be rewarded for exploration, not repeating the same ten minutes of a level over and over again, or trying a death-defying stunt. I might have a different view of these things if I was playing the PC version, however I will always think of the Playstation incarnation as the “real” version.

Best: Nothing beats when you first walk into the main room and take in the view. Also, the game is generous enough with save crystals in this level that you can afford to jump around a lot without worrying about having to repeat fifteen minutes of progress- or maybe it just seems that way to me after having experienced the relative paucity of crystals in Tomb Raider III. Also, if I may be so bold as to include several bests for this level, the gorillas are very cool- it’s really a shock when you discover that an enemy actually follows you to higher ground, and for that reason they’re actually more intimidating than many more powerful enemies.

Worst: I almost want to give worst-honors to the incredibly tedious level of Tomb Raider Anniversary that this level made possible, but that’s setting a bad precedent. The true worst aspect is the Thor puzzle which, while it can be bypassed harmlessly by doing a forward roll, appears to be a random death trap, and usually is in practice. I only found out about the forward roll trick after reading about it online, because there’s no indication of how you’re supposed to pass it. It’s especially bad since you can get nailed with it on the way back, and have to do the rest of the puzzle over again.

Rating: Four Uzi Clips out of five; it may be blasphemy to give this level anything less than full marks, since it’s one of those levels from the first game that people tend to remember, however I just don’t find it as fun to play as Lost Valley or City of Vilcabamba. Maybe it’s the prospect of falling to your death so easily, but it’s not as fun to explore. I guess I could give it a 4.5 out of 5, but what do you do with half an Uzi Clip?

Next, it’s time for the next Greek level, a Roman Coliseum-um, make that the next Greco-Roman level. I foresee issues trying to explain this.

(Screenshots in this post have been taken with permission from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots.)

Otakubites: Puella Magi Madoka Magica and DRRR!! dub

1. Late to the Party: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

I like this new policy; rather than actually watch a whole bunch of first episodes to determine what’s good, I wait a few weeks into the season until it’s been determined what the one show everyone absolutely cannot shut up about is, then just watch that one. Obviously to anyone who’s been on Twitter in the last month, that show currently is Madoka Magika. Beware, those who have not seen through episode 4; spoilers abound.

I’m hesitant to call it “The Evangelion of Magical Girl shows,” because that somehow sounds awfully pretentious, but it’s certainly an apt comparison. Mami’s last stand in episode 3 reminded me very much of Asuka’s final battle in The End of Evangelion; both fought in a state of kinetic euphoria, realizing for the first time that they were no longer alone, and the end came as an extremely brutal shock. Also, the soul searching Sayaka does before deciding to become a Puella Magi reminds me of what Shinji would be like if he ever took his head out of his ass for the five seconds it would take to think about somebody else for a change.

It probably is doing a disservice to the show, however, to just keep pointing out the Eva parallels, so I’ll just leave it at that- I think the show is ultimately going for something different. The deconstruction of the genre is obviously similar, but I don’t think the themes necessarily are.

Madoka is currently the weakest link in the show, which would bother me were it not for the fact that I think it’s very much intentional- I’m wondering if the fact that she’s actually considering using the wish she gets by becoming a magical girl, in order to become a magical girl, will create some interesting divide-by-zero sort of situation, hence the “potential” everyone keeps talking about.

I hope her potential isn’t just latent magic power that she was born with or something, because that’s REALLY boring; I’m interested in the idea that she could end up being the best magical girl because there’s nothing else in her personality to compete with it.

Also loving the ultra-modern aesthetic of the architecture on this show, it makes the “real world” look strangely cold and sterile compared to the reality marbles, complicating the good/evil dichotomy. I’m not going to say the witches are good- last time I checked, making people inhale chlorine gas is rather bad- but don’t you think it’s funny that those creatures in the reality marbles are so cute, and the colors are so warm? Meanwhile, Madoka’s house and school look like they’re part of the same giant, impersonal hospital. I’m not sure at this point whether or not that’s the result of the art direction going off and doing it’s own funky thing, or if it’s something deeper; I look forward to finding out.

2. On the Durarara!! Dub

With the first Durarara!! DVD collection hitting shelves now, the normal reviewer-type thing to do would be to say whether or not I recommend it. However, I’m currently sitting here surrounded by my full set of Durarara!! mini-figures, sipping coffee out of my Shizuo-emblazoned mug. I also have my very own “Certy” pencil case, and have written one of the wordiest blogs about the show ever. I think it’s safe to say I’m a fan of this show: do I think you should buy it? Hmm, y’think?

If you’re actually unfamiliar with the show and and are genuinely wondering whether or not to buy it, then I would direct you to Mr. Huber’s review. What interests me, and what I’ve been curious about ever since this show was licensed, is the English dub.

I was initially going to write up some impressions of the dub based on a five-episode screener, generously provided by Aniplex, but my first watch of the dub left me so ambivalent, I didn’t know what to say for a good while. Now that the show is actually, well, RELEASED, I think I’ll wait until my copy arrives and I can watch the full nine episodes properly before I get into analysis-crazy mode.

From what I’ve read, the general consensus is that the younger cast (Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri) are poor and/or miscast, while Celty, Shinra, Simon and Shizuo are good. Generally speaking, I agree with this- although I think there’s something interesting going on with Bryce Papenbrook’s performance as Masaomi that some fans may not have picked up on. Anyway, I think the problems with the dub are indicative of what happens when a dub is made for a hyper-specific, enthusiast audience; they let Izaya say “Shizu-chan” because they know everyone watching knows what honorifics mean, but he has to call Rio “Ms. Mazenda” in episode 2 because GOD FORBID he use her first name; Japanese people just don’t do that! Even though he’s speaking English!

Meh, I’m getting ahead of myself- more dub musings after my copy arrives.

3. Otaku USA Conclusions

Remember last time, when I was trying to decide whether or not to continue subscribing to Otaku USA? Well, I think I have my answer; the latest issue has a cover story about Evangelion by…RevolutionofEvangelion.org. Really? Without getting into my concerns with that particular site, they’ll just run an article that a fansite sends them? More importantly, they run it as the cover story?

Dropping a magazine because of one article is silly at best, but I haven’t really been enjoying it in general; their article on Excel Saga was of little interest to me, because I’d actually seen the show, and too much of their stuff seems to be like that- either “Hey, this anime exists-check it out!”, or something critically suspect like the Evangelion article.

I wish I could remember whether Animerica, which I loved to pieces, was actually much better back in the day, or I just wasn’t completely spoiled for otaku coverage yet. Rightly or wrongly, I certainly remember it being better.

4. Zettai Hero Project- Dropped, sort of

Dropped for now- currently replaying the early Tomb Raider games on my PSP after getting them through PSN. I do plan to eventually get back to it, but I also want to eventually play Disgaea 2 and Persona 3 Portable, both of which I have yet to touch in their console iterations. I don’t dislike ZHP, but it may be hard to get back to it with that kind of competition around.

Tomb Raider, Level 4: Tomb of Qualopec

Before I delve into ToQ, a note about a change to the TR project; due to the fact that I’ve switched over to playing these games on my PSP, which is about fifty times more comfortable for me for some reason, I’m not taking screenshots anymore. Fortunately, with a game this well-known that’s been out for this long, you can bet that someone else has taken great screens already, and that person is Katie. From here on out, unless I note otherwise, all screenshots come from the excellent Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots; Used with permission.

Oh, and it just sort of hit me the other day that since Tomb Raider is now owned by Square-Enix, there’s an otaku-connection there that I didn’t even realize. Go blog-cohesiveness!

Would You Like Some Tomb in Your Tomb Raider?

Level 4, Tomb of Qualopec, is actually the first tomb in all of Tomb Raider-dom; that sounds awfully significant. In fact, that makes me wish I liked it more.

Really, there’s nothing wrong with this level- it’s a respectable puzzle level 95% of the way through, if a little short, and the last 5% is remarkable due to actually exiting the temple and backtracking into the previous level (which is actually a lot more novel and exciting then it probably sounds) but it seems lackluster coming off of the Lost Valley high.

Last level: traverse vast distances, find loads of goodies tucked away in hidden alcoves, take in scenic views, and finally, meet lots of interesting dinosaurs and kill them all. This level: there are switches. Pulling them accomplishes things.

Still, the rampaging raptors add a bit of excitement to the otherwise dull proceedings; they’re a bit intimidating in these cramped surroundings.

Now, does anyone understand what’s going on with that one mummy whom Lara targets in this level? It would be one thing if you could shoot all the mummies, but the fact that only one of them can be targeted leads me to believe that he’s a special mummy- i.e., this is HIS tomb. Like, Qualopec himself sees what Lara’s about to do and isn’t keen on it. I like indulging the idea that some of the plot-related moments in this game are more subtle. EDIT: I have since read on the internet that this is widely believed to be the case by many TR fans; I guess I don’t get any analysis brownie points for this one.

This level also features a “boss” fight (a generous use of that term if ever there was one) with Larson, everyone’s favorite Southern stereotype dude. Stereotypes generally don’t even bother me (I just think of them as offensively hilarious), but I guess it’s worth pointing out that he is one nonetheless.

I find the conversation between Larson and Lara here more interesting than the rest of the actual level; not the bit about the scion, but the fact that Larson is threatening to shove something up Lara’s unmentionables, and she APOLOGIZES for interrupting him. I think this is what I initially loved about Lara’s character, and what’s been missing pretty much ever since; that absurd level of politeness, a relic of her prim and proper upbringing, that clashes tremendously with her day job. I don’t know, there’s something charming about a woman who will apologize to a cursing southern redneck (that she’s holding at GUNPOINT) because interrupting other people is just rude.

Showing his southern spirit, Larson cheerfully walks off the thirty or so rounds Lara introduced to his redneck hide. The first time I played this game, someone told me that Lara actually kills Larson here by snapping his neck with her kick; you can imagine how surprised I was when he started shooting at me later.

Best: Revisiting the previous level; revolutionary for the time, still surprising. The fact that there’s a new secret there is just icing on the cake. Of course, that means the best part of this level is technically STILL Lost Valley….

Worst: The spike pits that crop up all over the damn place. Okay, I understand the need for some challenge, but there’s something surprisingly gruesome about those primitive-looking spikes; yeah, you don’t see anything when Lara dies to them, but in some ways that just makes the idea of impalement worse.

Umm, why are they bloody? Do they actually get much use? If other people were impaled on these things, why are there no bodies? Wait, I’m just as happy they didn’t put in any bodies, that would be gross and I would have thrown down the controller, screaming. Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean….

Rating: Three Uzi Clips out of five; it would be two Uzi Clips, however the last two minutes of the level elevate it considerably.

Next up: St. Francis’ Folly, or Let’s Get Vertical.

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