Tag Archives: review

Tomb Raider II, Level 2: Venice

So my last Tomb Raider-related blog post was, uh *checks watch,* seven years ago. Look, you can see this as me being lazy and abandoning a project for too long, or you can see it as me valiantly attempting to combat the view that popular entertainment is disposable by refusing to bow to the quiet tyranny of time; the choice is yours.

The Urban Problem

I have a lot of problems with Venice, in fact with this whole Venetian level set, and it makes me feel kind of bad. I know these levels are largely beloved by fans, and I wish I could feel the same. But from the first time I played this level, back in 1998, I found it tedious and frustrating, and I’ve never been able to shake that feeling. Even now, when I have the level mostly memorized and can zip through it pretty fast, I still find it frustrating.

The first problem is that urban environments present practical problems for Tomb Raider, as a franchise. If we’re supposed to be in a city, where are all the people? Well, there are lots of gun-toting Bartoli henchman, but where all the non-packing, non-insane people? Putting in neutral NPCs would probably create as many problems as it would solve, but it still feels weird to be running around a city where no one lives; it’s kind of antithetical to the whole concept of the series, really. The whole set up of Tomb Raider implies that you don’t run into any people, because they all died thousands of years ago; when you’re in a modern city, and there’s still no people, you’re reminded of the artificiality of the situation pretty bluntly.

Yes, in the back of your mind, even in the first game, you always know you’re playing a video game; it’s not like making TRII Venice look more populated would really change that. But I think it’s safe to say that Tomb Raider achieves a higher level of immersion when set in, err, tombs, versus modern environments. Interestingly I think they pulled this off better with the London levels in Tomb Raider III, since in that level set, it felt like it was about 4:30 A.M. there and Lara was exploring mostly abandoned buildings anyway, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first vehicle you can ride in all of Tomb Raider and I…don’t like it too much. Maybe this is just me, but I feel like I’m constantly getting on an off the damn thing when I don’t want to, and it happens a lot less with later vehicles.

The second major problem is I think the level’s primary puzzle is a bit too clever for its own good. Maybe I’m just mad that I blew up Lara about a zillion times on the mines trying to clear this level as a teen, but I still think the boat puzzle is too hard to figure out without the aid of a strategy guide. I mean, this is the first TR level in history where they even give you a vehicle, and you’re supposed to figure out a)that you can completely destroy it and b)you can jump out of it at the last second before an explosion? My memory is a little hazy, but I think at the time, I thought you were supposed to improve your speedboat piloting skills to the point where you could navigate between the mines; obviously, this didn’t work out so hot for me.

On one hand, I complain that this puzzle is too unintuitive. On the other, I know that if this game were made today, NPCs and in-game prompts would probably give you about 47 hints about what you were supposed to do, and there would be no satisfaction when you solved it. Maybe I’m just never happy?

Eventually I destroyed one boat pretty much by luck, and forgot the second one existed, so I completed the level the wussy-way; swimming through the gate and completely missing the harried boat ride through half the level. Imagine my surprise when I started the next level and Lara was in yet another speedboat.

Is it possible that very few players were stymied by this puzzle, and I was just being dense? I guess it’s possible. Besides, I have to admit, when you do know what you have to do and you succeed with the timed boat challenge– complete with taking your boat to places where boats are definitely not meant to go– it is pretty darn satisfying.

The Joy of Awning Hopping

It’s hard for me to see past the negatives with this level, mostly because of bad memories from 20 years ago messing with my perception. However, if I give Venice a fair shake, there are some really nice elements here. Jumping from awning to awning is much more fun than it should be; same with jumping up to the fancy glass windows, shooting them out and then running inside. Somewhere out there, there is custom level that’s all about jumping on awnings and shooting out fancy windows on raised overpasses, and I really need to be playing it right now.

I also like the secret placement; sure, burying two little dragons in the black depths of an underwater catacomb is a little harsh, but if you haven’t figured out by this point in the game that they’ve been handing you buckets of flares for a reason, that’s on you.

Once you get this mysterious door open, that’s when the fun starts. I can never get enough of scouring dark catacombs for shiny things, especially when there are lots and lots of shiny things.

Have I mentioned that love collecting flares in this game? I feel like they’re the closest thing to money in the game, so my hoarding instinct takes over;  I’m pretty sure I’ve finished the game with 60+ flares in my inventory. It’s like a game-within-a-game to see how well I can get along with stumbling around in complete and total darkness without using the obvious tool. Hey, did you know that in a pinch, you can use your pistols instead? Lara’s pistols illuminate the area around her briefly, so if you fire them like they’re tiny little machine guns, you can almost see where you’re going for a little while there. Sadly, this does not work underwater, which is where you tend to need flares the most, but oh well.

Speaking of the swimming element, it’s cool to be swimming along, pull up on a dock, shoot some henchmen, jump back in the water and get on with your day. In practice I always get Lara shot about twice as often as she needs to and end up getting frustrated, but that doesn’t change the fact that the idea of it is cool.

Is there some kind of theme park attraction where you’re in an entirely floating city, and you can climb up on the dock to buy ice cream or something, but then jump back in the water to swim to the next attraction? Because that sounds like it would be insanely fun. I may have to stop playing Tomb Raider for a bit and petition all my local waterparks to implement this feature.

Best: Hands down, the best part of the level SHOULD be doing the timed boat race, which is really innovative and feels exhilarating when you pull it off, but as you now know, I have a love-hate relationship with that puzzle. So instead, I’m going to say that the best part is the whole sewer-like area you enter after getting the first speedboat; you may burn through flares like mad, but it’s a blast finding all of the hidden items and secrets. Those uzi clips nearly buried in the sand in a dark corner underwater…*chef’s kiss*

Worst: The excessive number of enemies in the first area, especially the one that pops up after you pull the switch in the boathouse. We’re just getting used to fighting human enemies in TR2, and you throw like five of these bozos at us? Plus mean dogs? No thank you.

Rating: Two Uzi Clips Out of Five

This is my honest opinion; please don’t hurt me.

Coming Next: Bartoli’s Hideout, where I’m going to try to put aside all my issues with Venice as a whole and just play the damned level.

(Screenshots from Katie’s Tomb Raider Screenshots; used with permission.)

Fall 2017 Anime Impressions

Since I’ve been watching more anime than usual lately, I figured I may as well take advantage of it and talk about the new shows like a proper Aniblogger. Here are my takes on some of this season’s offerings; keep in mind I only watch shows that are available on legal streaming services. This is less of an anti-piracy stance, and more of a “I am too goddamned old to be dealing with malware on my computer from dling torrents,” stance, but let’s all pretend it’s because of my unimpeachable moral compass.

Urahara– This show puts me in a bind; I really like what I think it’s trying to do, but it’s just not working. The washed-out color palette, the intentionally wonky hand-drawn backgrounds, the surrealist feel, the enemies that turn into candy when defeated? I love all of that. But somehow the designs and the art style just don’t seem to work together, and the story has all the urgency of watching paint dry. It’s just so nonsensical that it’s impossible to care about anything that’s happening; it also doesn’t help that the magical girl designs are the absolute worst part of the show.

Right now it feels like a half-baked version of Flip Flappers, a show that often felt surreal but managed to maintain a sense that what the characters were doing actually mattered on some level. I’m probably going to stick with it, just because I like some of the things the show is experimenting with, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for bailing out; it’s pretty much an incomprehensible, silly mess right now.

Anime-Gataris– There was something off about the art in the first episode that made me wonder if this was the studio’s first anime, but it turns out Wao World, the studio responsible for Gataris’ animation production, is prolific. The production company, DMM Pictures, is new, but I’m not sure how much that actually matters. The director, Kenshirou Mori, has relatively few credits, but one of them is the first episode of Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. So, not exactly a newbie.

Normally I stay away from this kind of inside-baseball approach to anime, because I don’t know much about what goes on in production, but something about this show really made me want to try to figure out what the hell was going on. It looked like the show was made by people who had watched anime and taken a lot of notes, but had never actually made it before; there was something just slightly off-kilter about the colors, the shading, the backgrounds, etc. Even the piece of stock animation that Arisu uses to summon her butler looks like it was made in 1998. By the second episode, things had smoothed out a bit, but I’m still wondering if the weird look the show started with was a real phenomenon, or if I’m just hallucinating.

In terms of the story, there isn’t much to discuss. It’s a show about people talking about anime, so it runs on in-jokes and nods to otaku culture. The main thing it has going for it is that it’s making nods to very recent shows, so it’s more topical than these in-jokey shows tend to be. I’m going to keep watching it, but it doesn’t have a lot to offer unless you’ve been actively following anime for the last year or so.

The Ancient Magus Bride– I have to admit, I was distracted during this show because I couldn’t help wondering what Anime Feminist was going to think of it. A young girl sells herself into slavery, to a huge monster dude who calls her pet names and treats her like a dog? Including forcibly bathing her? How could the show itself possibly compete with the entertainment value of feminists having a complete meltdown over it?

Turns out, the person who reviewed it for AniFem has read the manga, so was able to reassure feminists that the sundry “red flags” in this episode are not truly indicative of the story’s overall quality. You would think this experience would lead AniFem to question their policy of “Screen all first episodes for problematic content and judge them accordingly,” but apparently not. Remember, I may defend AniFem’s right to exist, but that doesn’t mean I have to think that anything they publish is any good.

Oh right, I just wasted time talking about another anime blog and not the show itself. So far, it’s high quality overall, but it’s a bit of a cypher to me…I need to see more before forming an opinion, which is rare for me because having opinions tends to be one of my strengths, really. I think I was just too distracted by wondering about how this show was going to be perceived to pay enough attention to the substance of it, and that’s on me, not The Ancient Magus Bride.

Blend S– One of the Immutable Laws of Karen is that I will watch any anime that takes place in a coffee shop; keep in mind that I have watched not just one, but both seasons of Is the Order a Rabbit?, making me quite possibly the only straight woman on Earth who has done so. Maybe it’s my love for coffee in general, maybe it’s pure nostalgia for Polar Bear Cafe, but this is The Law; I must watch all of Blend S, because it takes place in a coffee shop. It doesn’t matter if it’s terrible.

Fortunately, it’s not terrible. The premise sounds like it’s going to be toying with some S&M vibes (since the main character is roleplaying a sadist as part of her gig at the cafe), but right now it’s very reminiscent of the lighthearted workplace comedy of Working! and its sequels. The whole S&M hook is really just a tease so far, since the humor is about as adult, as err….well, Working! The only slimy thing about it is how Maika’s boss continually hits on her, which is only really objectionable if you’re on the “anime must never depict anything that would not be acceptable IN REAL LIFE” train. I don’t know why anyone gets on that train, it’s a boring-ass train.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie– Another anime about people who spend much of their lives inside an MMO, although this one has an unusually adult take on it. Instead of teenagers and college students, the characters on this show are definitely old enough to drink, so they can drink screwdrivers in front of the computer while they wonder why they’re wasting their lives grinding for levels. (No one has actually done this one the show yet BTW, but it seems like something they would do.)

It’s gender-swapped, with the female character playing a male avatar in the MMO and vice versa, and it looks like it’s mainly going to focus on the romance between the lead characters. Normally, I would expect betrayal when they find out about each others’ true identities, followed by inevitable reconciliation, but this show is sophisticated enough about MMO culture that I trust it to go somewhere more interesting with the relationship. It would be really cool if after the reveal, both players just went “Oh, well that’s not surprising,” and just continued playing as normal.

A Sister’s All You Need– This show turned people off with an introductory scene that tried to portray little sister fetishism as disgustingly as possible, and succeeded, with stomach-turning results. Some concluded that the show was simply gross, but I think I get what they were doing by taking the little-sister trend to it’s logical (if unsettling) conclusion. And the show features interesting relationships between insecure writers, who are all insecure for different reasons, and that’s right in my wheelhouse.

This show actually reminds me of The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, which also received some early backlash for having a “gross” premise, which turned out to be entirely overblown. Now, it may turn out to be just another forgettable show trying to earn some points with shock value, but it could also be the little sister show that actually examines why people develop this obsession, which would be interesting. I would call it “a deconstruction of Oreimo and it’s ilk,” except A)I don’t actually know what ‘deconstruction’ means and B)that sounds so pretentious I would have to slap myself. Let’s just say that this show has the potential to do something different with its premise, and hope that it does.

Konohana Kitan– This feels incredibly bland to me. I think it’s trying to be that kind of episodic occult show where the supernatural-creature-of-the-week is the focus, and the main characters are more there for consistency than anything else. (See: Mushi-Shi, The Morose Mononokean.) However, too much attention is given to the little fox girls in the foreground for the show to have that kind of oblique feeling, which would be okay if the fox girls weren’t such boring characters.

It’s cute as hell, and if you like anime girls with fox ears and/or tails, this could be your Show of the Decade, but I’m not sure if it has much to offer besides moe/fetish appeal; it doesn’t have the sophisticated appeal of an occult anthology show, nor does it have strong enough characters to work as a slice of life show.

Love Is Like A Cocktail– As a big fan of I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying, I was anticipating this one; anime about stable, married couples are rare and intriguing. However, it’s hard to get excited about something that’s three minutes long. I get that these kinds of shows are designed as shorts, and they’re not meant to sustain full 22-minute episodes, but I still think three minutes is a little lean; I would prefer half-length episodes, like Muromi-san and Encouragement of Climb.

It’s cute, and having each episode themed around a drink works nicely, but it makes me wish there was more to it.

March Comes in Like A Lion, Season 2– So, hahahahah funny story, I thought I had completed the first season of this show, only to realize that I somehow stopped watching it towards the end and had no memory of doing so. That may sound like it bodes ill for Lion, because if it were a good show, surely I would remember whether I had finished the season or not? However, I think of this show as being kind of like the Marcel Proust of anime: it’s very artfully done and nuanced and everything, but sometimes you just can’t take it anymore and need to put it down for about five months.

Anyway, now that I’ve had a nice break, I look forward to catching up on Lion and finding out what’s new with Rei and his deranged sociopath of a stepsister.

Food Wars! The Third Plate– By now, you probably know whether you enjoy the Food Wars! brand of attractive and talented people having elaborately illustrated foodgasms over curry, or not. I found the formula was getting a little stale for me by the end of The Second Plate, but it’s still amusing enough to keep up with, for now. I find myself beginning to genuinely dislike Soma though: like, why you gotta challenge EVERY chef on the show to a duel? Can’t you just be secure in the knowledge that you cook good food,? Did you watch too much Top Chef as a toddler and it totally distorted your view of eating meals?

That’s all for now; I may pick up a few more fall shows, in which case I’ll write an Impressions: Part Deux post. However, it’s entirely possible that that will never happen, in which case I would like you to forget that we ever had this conversation.

Spring 2013: Red Data Girl

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So, I decide to get back into anime blogging a bit, and what’s the first series I pick at random? Red Data Girl, a spring series about a meek shrine maiden who’s the human host for another shrine maiden, only with nicer clothes. And she needs other people to use Google for her because computers break around her– especially when she cuts her bangs.

Look, they can’t all be winners. Continue reading Spring 2013: Red Data Girl

On Strip Search

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A screen from episode 10. You can’t tell from this still, but Mike Krahulik is freaking out just a little bit because he might have to eliminate someone based on her Twitter habits, for some strange reason.

**Spoilers for Strip Search Episode 10**

I was thinking of recapping Strip Search (the online reality show for webcomic artists presented by Penny Arcade), then right around the time the first episode was posted, Otakusphere went down for weeks. Now it’s up to episode 10. Oh well, better late than never. Continue reading On Strip Search