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Nintendo Through the Years: 1889-1983

The transition of Nintendo’s primary business focus wasn’t as simple as cards into video games.

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Having written about the latest happenings from the video game world on a weekly basis for the last six months, it was all beginning to get a bit samey. Loot box this, microtransactions that; some PR guy says something stupid on Twitter, some execs aren’t happy with their live service game’s performance. It’s all such a depressingly negative world that I felt like we all needed a break (me especially). I subsequently decided to get historical on all yo’ asses and we’re now going to take a look at the crazy ride Nintendo has been on since its inception in 1889.

These articles will follow the same formula as ‘This Week in Gaming News,’ (with all the sarcasm and swearing you come here for) but will instead cover the main stories for each year of Nintendo as a video game company. I know what you’re thinking already – this first one is covering almost 100 years. Well just hush up, yeah? Unless you really want to read five separate stories about Hanafuda cards, I suggest you thank me for glossing over the early days and ending this one with the release of the Famicom in Japan. You’d also have a semi-legitimate claim to ask why I’m bothering with 1889-1979 when they didn’t even make video games, but if I don’t get to talk about Nintendo’s sex hotels, then I just don’t want to do this at all, alright?

花札

Right, let’s talk about playing cards. Playing cards are absolutely nothing special, but if it wasn’t for them, then we’d have never played a Mario or Zelda game. Ever. Clearly, Nintendo couldn’t make video games in 1889 when they were formed by Fusajiro Yamauchi, because people were still getting entertainment out of sticks and dirt back then (Probably. I mean 1889 is, like, super ages ago. I wasn’t even born then or anything). Instead, Yamauchi-san’s company was founded on that age-old principle of making the materials that miserable bastards can use to gamble all their money away with. Truly, a noble pursuit.

Before the Portuguese pissed off Japan with all their Christianity during the Edo period and went and got themselves ‘permanently’ expelled (I assume that’s been lifted now), they had introduced the land of the rising sun to Western-style playing cards in the 16th century. Around the 1800s, Japan’s favorite game of their own making used Hanafuda cards. It was these cards that Nintendo successfully churned out, and they were legitimate pioneers in the business, becoming the first company to ever produce the cards out of plastic.

Nintendo Years 1889

Doesn’t look as fun as Metroid, does it?

As almost all of you will be aware, Nintendo basically translates to the phrase ‘leave luck to heaven,’ although in the case of Hiroshi Yamauchi, it seems he had to leave luck to catastrophic illness, taking over the company in 1949 from grandpappy Fusajiro after he suffered a stroke. It would, however, be the catalyst for Nintendo’s eventual success in worldwide markets, but we’ll get to that. Hiroshi had himself a vacation to the States in 1959 and, upon witnessing the mass appeal of Disney’s anthropomorphic critter mascots, agreed in a meeting with Disney execs to license their characters for Nintendo’s own Hanafuda cards. The mascot seed had been well and truly planted, but wasn’t ready to grow just yet.

Sex, Taxis, Grabby Hands, and Other Ventures

The transition of Nintendo’s primary business focus wasn’t as simple as cards into video games. Oh no, they tried a whole heap of mental shit before they got to the real money maker. You might be recalling that the Japanese have a bit of a reputation for taking their time making decisions and being somewhat pessimistic when it comes to wholesale change. This would, therefore, make you question whether some of the Yamauchi family may have been perfectly happy with their lot as a card manufacturer. It turns out that didn’t really matter, as Hiroshi demanded that all other Yamauchi family members (and any executives) be shit-canned before he took over from his grandpa. The business world is a harsh mistress, but Yamauchi was harsher.

Fact: this is the closest Yamauchi ever got to a smile.

With everything going his own way, Yamauchi was free to be a hard-nosed tyrannical bastard all he wanted, and he was notorious for making tough decisions with little to no remorse. Having grown up in the era of Japan’s disastrous defeat in World War II, Yamauchi would be damned if he himself was going to lose at anything. In 1962 he took Nintendo public and further pushed the company into more and more new ventures; learning from his failures with each one fueling his desire to succeed even more.

Among those failures were restaurant chains, taxi services and sex hotels – the latter ironically being something that would likely make serious bank if Nintendo decided to go back into it now, with its full branding and characters getting down and dirty with the punters. Ew, you sick bastards. Once Nintendo put its collective dick back in its pants, the focus was truly shifted into the toy market. No longer were their playing cards being made for dingy gambling dens, as the bright and colorful Disney characters were being lapped up by young lads and lasses by the bucket load.

Nintendo Years 1970

Actually, based on that red peripheral, maybe this was designed to grab penises

The company’s first proper toy was the Ultra Hand, and was another example of Nintendo leaving luck to whatever celestial body you pledge allegiance to. It was initially just a side project created by some chump working maintenance at one of Nintendo’s factories, but Yamauchi saw it in action and took a gamble. The Ultra Hand – a plastic, extendable grabbing device that almost certainly saw its way to pinching more than one Japanese lady bum in its time – went to market in 1970, launching the career of the lowly maintenance guy and changing his life forever. The man in question, Gunpei Yokoi, would later go on to create a little-known grey plastic handheld gaming device that we may or may not get to in the future.

Stupid Ape

With a burgeoning toy business now fuelling Nintendo’s rising success, they finally decide to try tapping into Japan’s video game market. They began by securing the rights to distribute the Magnavox Odyssey in Japan and eventually, in 1975, created their first arcade game – EVR Race. The company carried on creating arcade games exclusively in Japan for another six years, churning out such originally-named titles as Space Firebird, Space Fever, and Space Launcher – none of which were trying to capitalize on the popularity of Space Invaders or anything ridiculous like that…

Alongside their arcade machines, the Rain Man of the maintenance world, Gunpei Yokoi, was cooking up another hit of his own. You see, Yokoi was living in the sort of barbaric, medieval time where downtrodden salarymen would slave away in the big cities and have nothing to do on their train journeys home aside from staring at their calculators like morons. Noticing this, and assumedly after getting bored of writing 8008135 on his own calculator every evening, Yokoi harnessed the LCD screens of the math machines to create the simplistic, yet incredibly popular, Game & Watch.

Nintedo Years Game & Watch

I’m still not convinced this is more fun than writing 8008135 on a calculator

Nintendo was soon ready to go international, and Yamauchi called on his son-in-law Minoru Arakawa to spearhead Nintendo of America. After all, ‘Mino’ was living out in Vancouver with Yamauchi’s daughter Yoko, spoke English, and had a graduate degree from MIT. Mino needed to decide on the first game Nintendo would launch in the States and, having moved down to New York to set up the NoA office and realized how much of a cesspit of crime and murder the city was at the time, he plumped for Nintendo’s biggest hit of 1980 – the shoot ‘em-up Radar Scope.

The game did…fine. It broke even, but Arakawa was only able to shift a third of the 3000 arcade units he’d been shipped. Yamauchi needed some fresh blood on the ideas front, so back in Kyoto he solicited ideas from the entire company and somehow came across Shigeru fucking Miyamoto (I know, right? The luck of this guy!). Miyamoto impressed Yamauchi so much that he was set up with Yokoi to work on a new game. Initially, the two decided to capitalize on the upcoming Popeye movie, assuming that securing the rights would be a walk in the park. Well, assuming things makes an ass out of you and Miyamoto, and when Nintendo couldn’t get the Popeye licence, the assets were quite literally monkeyed with, and thus Donkey Kong was born.

Despite starting out in just a couple of Seattle bars, the future Cranky Kong quickly became a sensation. Arakawa and his team had initially hand-converted the remaining 2000 Radar Scope machines into DK cabinets, but by the end of 1981 there were 60,000 of them in North America. By 1982, 50 of them were being made a day, with the game making Nintendo $280 million over those two years.

Of course, you can’t make a fat chunk of change with a game about a giant ape called Kong for long without pissing off the rights holders of King Kong, and sure enough Universal came a-knocking with lawyers in tow on June 26th, 1982 to sue Nintendo for copyright infringement. Yamauchi, the hard-nosed bastard that he was, wasn’t just going to settle matters, so off to court, the two companies went. Future lawyers reading this need to pay attention to the following point: if you’re going to sue a company for copyright infringement over King Kong, make sure you definitely didn’t prove that King Kong was public domain in 1975 so you could make the movie in the first place. Because that would be really fucking stupid.

The Brooklyn Bros.

Of course, Donkey Kong wasn’t all big monkeys and frivolous lawsuits; there was another crucial element at play here, and his terribly literal name was Jumpman. For where there cannot be Popeye, there can be a mustachioed handyman in overalls to slayeth the beast. Despite later being cast as the villain (and now named after the manager of the warehouse where arcade machines were being built in the States – Mario Segale) in Donkey Kong Jr. Mario would eventually get his very own arcade game for his eponymous role in 1983’s Mario Bros. He even got a ‘brother’ by way of a palette-swapped doppelganger known as Luigi. I would say that only the elite amongst you will know that Mario was replaced by Stanley the exterminator in Donkey Kong 3, but he’s had such a huge and iconic gaming career since then that I’m sure you’ve all got a tattoo of him already.

Lord alone only knows what the hell was going on with the Miyamoto household’s water system if he thinks that crabs and turtles are the cause for most plumbing emergencies, but the game was set in a sewer with loads of pipes, so Mario and Luigi are plumbers now, right? Shut up. The inclusion of the green guy meant that Mario Bros. was, of course, a multiplayer title, inspired by 1982’s Joust.

Later added into Super Mario Bros. 3 as a minigame, almost everyone reading this will know how simplistic Mario Bros. is, albeit in a distinctly charming way. This, ultimately, would go some way to highlighting just how overcrowded and strong the arcade market had become. For all the success Nintendo was having with its Donkey Kong games, there was always another Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Gradius or Asteroids sequel around the corner. It was time to expand further into new markets. New players. New…homes.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Famicom Entertainment (Systems)

Moving into the home video game market wasn’t an entirely new venture for Nintendo, and it certainly didn’t appear to be the smartest idea in the wake of the infamous video game ‘crash’ of 1983. If the arcade market was over-saturated, the home market was a claustrophobic clown car clusterfuck. More bloated than my gut after a curry, Atari’s domain had seen literally over a hundred competitors emerge and nearly bleed the industry dry with countless shit stain consoles not even good enough to bury in a New Mexico landfill.

Companies were going bankrupt, gamers were going anywhere else and toy stores were going right off letting any more home consoles take them for a ride. Crucially, none of this put Nintendo off, for the video game market in Japan was actually very healthy indeed – largely because North America’s was so bollocksed. Thus, in 1983 they released the Famicom in Japan. In fact, with all these companies doing themselves in, Nintendo was free to veritably waltz in and take over. And take over they bloody well did.

This wasn’t a snap decision so much as it was just lucky timing. Yamauchi had been planning a home console for years – before Donkey Kong, even – and he truly believed this was the future of the company, cancelling Nintendo’s arcade division to pump all the company’s resources and expertise into the Family Computer. The console released in Japan on July 13th, 1983 with three launch titles: the arcade ports of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and, yes, Popeye – the licensed game Miyamoto had finally been able to make.

For the first time in this tale, it seems that heaven was dishing out bad luck rather than good. Unlucky for some it certainly was, as the version of the Famicom that launched on the 13th was…well, it was pretty fucked. A faulty chip was causing games to freeze and crash, and retailers were pissed. So, too, was Yamauchi, who definitely didn’t want his company associated with a bad product right at the beginning of their attempt at global success. He ordered a recall of all shipped consoles – including those that weren’t even broken – and offered gamers the chance to send their machines to Nintendo for a free repair.

Nintendo Years Famicom

I’d fire my entire family from my Grandad’s company to get one of these…

The botched launched could have killed the company, but Nintendo’s acts of good faith with their consumer had impressed across the board. A tech company was taking responsibility for its mistakes – the Famicoms pulled from shelves were all rebuilt from scratch – and fixing them for free. Sales for the end of 1983 were reciprocal. Over 500,000 consoles were sold. Nintendo’s maiden voyage into the home console market had been rocky, but they’d steadied the ship for the journey ahead, and we’ll get to that next time.

Crotchety Englishman who spends hundreds of pounds on video game tattoos and Amiibo in equally wallet-crippling measure. Likes grammar a lot, but not as much as he likes ranting about the latest gaming news in his weekly column.

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Games

Junked: Coming Back to Life in ‘Detroit: Become Human’

Quantic Dream’s games have always leaned into horror, even if the chief genre might not be. Detroit: Become Human is no exception.

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Detroit Become Human

Quantic Dream‘s games have always leaned into horror, even if the chief genre might be something else entirely. Detroit: Become Human is no exception, with much of the game revolving around our android protagonists finding themselves in one horrendous situation after another. The most terrifying of all, though, is Markus’ trip to a junkyard afterlife.

After being shot in the head during an altercation, Markus looks to be dead. Since player characters could indeed die in previous Quantic Dream games, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for him to have been killed off either. What awaits Markus on the other side of consciousness, however, is one of the most horrific struggles for survival ever waged.

As Markus awakens in a junkyard for discarded androids, he finds himself immobilized and terrified. Played by Jesse Williams (the sort of chiseled hollywood hunk that only seems to exist on network TV), Markus’ destroyed facade is all the more horrendous for the juxtaposition to his previous appearance.

Detroit Become Human

As the player embodies Markus, they are thrust into a nightmare realm of discarded android dreams. Like a metallic graveyard, filled with the shambling dead, the junkyard is a place so nightmarish it nearly defies explanation. Add to this the stress of Markus’ shattered form, and you begin to get a knack for just how unsettling this chapter of Detroit: Become Human truly is.

While not everyone is a fan of Quantic Dream’s trademark QTE-filled gameplay, it is used to maximum effect here, as the player is truly transposed into Markus’ desperate situation by the control scheme. You begin by alternating L1 and R1 to slowly drag Markus’ shattered body across the tumultuous landscape. The long presses and holds of each button help to relay the pain and effort of Markus’ struggle for survival.

It only gets more horrific from there, as Markus must tear off body parts from other fallen androids in order to rebuild himself. The legs must come first, as mobility is key in a place like this, but with the added moral complications of the other androids begging you not to harvest them for parts, the struggle takes on a nasty new dimension.

Detroit Become Human

A particularly stirring, and disturbing, moment sees Markus moving between two closely stacked piles of android remains. Like sidling between two close-together buildings, Markus shuffles his way through, sidelong, as dozens of hands reach out for his help, and the cries of the dying paralyze his senses.

As mentioned above, the control scheme really embodies the horror of what you’re being forced to do in order to survive here. Whether tilting the analog stick to pop out an eye or tapping the X button consecutively to wrench a limb free, the act of becoming a self-made Frankenstein’s monster is not a pleasant process to endure.

The rain-drenched landscape and lonely darkness of the junkyard only add to the chilling horror of this world. Science fiction is often at its best when it shows us a pristine utopia, before turning it over to show us the horrific consequences that come as a result. Here Detroit: Become Human soars, showing us a world where machines can save us from destroying our bodies with manual labor and android doctors never make a mistake.

It’s a world where androids do the dirty work of the US military and undertake the home care of the elderly, freeing us from the sights we’d rather not see. The trade-off, though, is grisly, and the discarded robot graveyard is just one of the first inklings of how ugly this future can be when one looks too closely.

The quasi-messianic character of Markus is only one facet of this troubled world, and while some of Detroit: Become Human may lack in subtlety, it manages to create an effective, evocative look at what could be our own future one day. This sequence is just one striking example.

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Game Reviews

‘Shovel Knight: King of Cards’ and ‘Showdown’ Review: Really Spoiling Us

It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise.

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It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday season, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with, not just one, but two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise. Not content with just releasing another new character’s twist on the original formula, Yacht Club have also developed their own fighting game in the Shovel Knight universe. It’s to the developer’s credit that two simultaneous releases can be of this quality, but valid questions can also be asked as to whether the original formula has gotten stale, and whether Showdown’s new concept does the series justice. Fear not, for both questions will be answered in this bumper, two-for-one review!

Shovel Knight: King of Cards

King of Cards is the latest re-tread of Shovel Knight, and this time the emperor’s new clothes are the regal duds of King Knight, who is on a quest to become the greatest player in the kingdom of the card game Joustus… without really having to beat that many people at it. After the stoically heroic Shovel Knight, the dastardly cunning Plague Knight, and the broodingly enigmatic Spectre Knight, King of Cards’ protagonist embodies an enjoyable dose of pompous entitlement. His quest isn’t all that noble, and he really can’t be bothered to do a lot of hard graft to reach his goal. Thanks to the typically witty script, King Knight shines as a loathsome oik who doesn’t pay attention to any advice he’s given, and would rather have a fight, or cheat, than actually get better at Joustus.

Shovel Knight
This a late-game bout of Joustus, which shows how complex it can get.

Joustus might not really be all that important to King Knight, but it adds an entirely new element to the traditional Shovel Kinght gameplay. Those players who are a sucker for a built-in card games (myself included) will find a lot to enjoy when stepping away from all the platforming and fighting to engage in a round of Joustus. The game is played by placing cards, one at a time, onto a grid with the goal of having more of your cards placed on top of gems than your opponent.

All cards contain abilities and can be used to shove opposing cards out of the way (and off the gems), with advanced cards used to blow up, slam or recruit those of the other player. It all starts off simple enough, but can get really brain-taxing as the story progresses, and grows to be a real highlight of the game – and one of the better card-games-within-a-game I’ve played. Cheat cards can be bought to give you a leg up for trickier opponents, especially as the winner of each game gets to take one (or three if you control all gems at the end of the round) card from the loser.  

Shovel Knight
Platforming at its satisfying best. Y’know, without actually touching the platforms.

Outside of Joustus, King of Cards will feel pleasingly familiar to fans of the series. As in previous entries, the levels all share the same look and gimmicks as the original Shovel Knight, but are reshaped to adapt to the new abilities of King Knight. He has a shoulder barge attack that launches him forward, across gaps if need be, and will send him into a spin on contact with enemies or certain types of walls and blocks. This spin move acts very much in the same way as Shovel Knight’s shovel pogo attack, and allows King Knight to bounce around levels with impressive finesse. Anyone who’s played Shovel Knight before knows the drill now – try and clear every screen by chaining together as many bounce attacks as you can. It’s the law.

Shovel Knight
Familiar foes return, but the way you deal with them is the same!

It also wouldn’t be a Shovel Knight game if there weren’t a ton of unlockable moves and buffs. Amongst the best unlocks for King Knight are a Tazmanian Devil-esque tornado spin that allows him to climb walls and smash up enemies, a hammer that produce hearts with each wallop for precious HP, throwable suicide bomber mice, and the ability to stand still and have a big ol’ cry to regain HP. Something we can all relate to.

The world map returns, and is in its best guise in King of Cards. Levels are now a lot shorter than you’d expect – there’s typically only one checkpoint in the non-boss levels – but there are a lot more of them, and a large number have secret exits to find. They’re interspersed with the multiple opportunities to play Joustus, and with the seemingly random appearances of traditional Shovel Knight bosses who show up, Hammer Bros. style, on the map to block your progress. It makes for a really tight campaign that’s filled with a ton of variety.

The floor is literally lava!

It seems almost arbitrary to say, but if you like Shovel Knight and you’re not tired of the standard gameplay, there’s so much to enjoy with King of Cards. He’s probably not the most fun character to play as (for me, that’d be Spectre Knight), but his game is easily the most diverse. He’s just such an enjoyably unlikeable idiot that you’ll constantly be playing with a smile on your face, bopping along to the classic Shovel Knight chiptunes, pogoing around levels and pausing for the occasional game of cards. Who could ask for more?

Shovel Knight Showdown

Who likes Shovel Knight boss fights? Everyone does, right? How about fighting three of them at once in an amalgamation of Smash Bros. and Towerfall? It’s as chaotic as you’re imagining, and seems like a total no-brainer as a second genre for Yacht Club to transpose their blue, spade-loving hero into.

What seemed like an obviously smart move doesn’t necessarily play out in an ideal way. The one-on-one fights in Showdown are as tightly-contested and entertaining as ever, but the multi-man rumbles are absolute mayhem. There are a few different stipulations applied to fights, and these typically involve simply whittling down your opponents’ lives, or depleting their health bar to briefly kill them off and steal any gems they’ve collected from around the level, with the winner being the first to an assigned number.

Shovel Knight
I found it best to just try to escape in every multi-man level.

Standard fights are more enjoyable, as the simplicity of smacking seven shades of snot out of the competitors keeps things manageable amongst the cacophony of onscreen visual noise. The gem-collecting levels, especially with multiple opponents, are frankly a bit of a mess that I rarely found enjoyable.

Perhaps I’m just not very good at Shovel Knight boss fights, but the game felt overly difficult even on the normal setting. Playing story mode often sees your chosen character up against three opponents on the same team, and when it comes to collecting gems from around the level, they’ve got way more of the space covered and you barely get a chance to breathe with them swarming you from the word go. It’s basically an exercise in getting wailed on while you try to run away and scramble for gems, and it’s just not that fun.

If the whole game were 1v1 I’d have more fun, but it’d be a bit pointless and unsubstantial.

What does add a layer of fun to the game is the chance to play as the complete ‘Knight’ roster of Shovel Knight characters, and the best part of Showdown is learning new moves and trying to find your ‘main’. Perhaps, with more time to sit down and learn the move sets in the practice mode, the game would feel more rewarding than if you just jump in and try to slog through the chaotic story mode like I did.

With a four-player battle mode as the only other gameplay option, Showdown was clearly never meant to be anything other than a brief little curio to give fans of the series’ boss fights an overdose of what they love, but as a complete experience I found it lacking in both modes and reasons to keep plugging away at the arcade fighter-style story mode. It turns out that the boss fights in Shovel Knight are more fun at the end of a platforming level rather than in the middle of enclosed space filled with flashing lights, random effects, environmental hazards, and three bastards all chasing you down. If you can handle all that stress, you’ll have a much better time than I did.

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Game Reviews

‘Disco Elysium’: A Thought-Provoking Mystery

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Disco Elysium Review

For the most part, the majority of games are easy to classify, but from time to time a game is released that defies conventional rules and resists simple categorization. Disco Elysium is just such a game. On the surface of it, it’s a topdown, isometric RPG of the oldest of old schools. It draws upon long-established systems, structures, and mechanics that make it comfortably familiar. However, beneath that patina of tradition lies something completely unexpected and utterly unique.

Developed by the small, independent studio ZA/UM, with a story penned by Estonian novelist, Robert Kurvitz, and a painstakingly detailed world crafted by artist Aleksander Rostov, Disco Elysium stands apart from most RPGs in that it is startlingly realistic whilst simultaneously being grimly fantastical. Set on an isolated archipelago in the wake of a failed communist revolution, the game casts players as a detective sent to solve the murder of a man found hanging in the backyard of a rundown boarding house/cafe. It’s a simple setup made all the more complex by the fact that the player character is suffering from a severe bout of alcohol and drug-induced amnesia. The mystery that needs to be solved concerns piecing together exactly who the player character is, as much as it involves reconstructing the chain of events that resulted in a brutal death.

Arriving at conclusions to both conundrums requires navigating complex webs of social and political intrigue. Along the way, players will encounter union bosses, disgruntled workers, war veterans, and all manner of extraordinary and mundane citizens just trying to go about their daily lives in a place that seems designed to thwart their ambitions at every turn. More than that though, players will be required to engage in continuous internal dialogues that involve the protagonist gradually putting themselves back together. The result is character customization in a quite literal sense of the word. Rather than the standard array of physical options that most games of this type present players with, the options are entirely psychological. Player actions and choices determine the overall structure of the internal workings of their character. Whether they decide to be a high-minded idealist trying to better themselves and the world around them in whatever way they can or opt to descend into anarchic, hedonistic self-obliteration such choices determine exactly who and what their version of the character is.

The foundation of stats and skills that are usually inert background components that all RPGs are based on is firmly in place. However, rather than being a numerical bedrock upon which all gameplay is based, Disco Elysium takes those sets of modifiers and statistics and makes them an active part of character progression and world development. As you progress through the game, skills points can be used for a variety of purposes. They can be used to upgrade core character stats, of which there a total of twenty-four covering a whole range of mental, physical, and social attributes, that govern player’s ability to immediately interact with the game world. However, they can also be used to learn or forget particular thoughts These thoughts develop depending on how players decide to approach situations and solve problems and can unlock semi-permanent bonuses and even penalties.

Disco Elysium Review

Much as in reality, the things the character is capable of are largely dependent on their frame of mind. If players opt to make a character that is brash and uncouth then they will find it difficult to subtly manipulate interactions to their benefit or arrive at unobtrusive solutions to various situations. On the other hand, if they elect to play a character that is more thoughtful and introspective, or cunning rather than crass, then they will find it difficult to emerge unscathed from more physical challenges. It’s an interpretation of character development and player progress that feels much more organic than in any other game of this sort. This is probably where Disco Elysium does the most to stand out from other such titles. Such a flexible approach to progress is hopefully something that other companies will emulate going forward, as it allows the character to develop a true personality that goes a step beyond the mathematically-oriented, incremental statistical increases that are usually the norm.

Disco Elysium Review

The ways in which player action, character interaction, and game reaction combine together is probably the closest it is possible to get to a truly curated dungeon master-guided play experience in an RPG. There is such a wide and unpredictable variety of moment-to-moment options that players can never be certain what exactly is going to happen next. This sense of improvisational unpredictability is a quintessential element of any RPG, but it is often lost in translation from tabletop rules to computer game mechanics. This pitfall is avoided thanks to the fact that the world of Disco Elysium was conceptualized as a tabletop game but doesn’t actually exist as one yet. As such the developers were able to implement systems without the expectation of adhering to pre-existing mechanics. This expectation has often been the downfall of many such games in the past, such as the much-maligned Sword Coast Legends which was lambasted for its apparent butchery of the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons ruleset. It will be interesting to see if Larian Studios can avoid similar problems with Baldur’s Gate 3.

Disco Elysium Review

As intriguing and unconventional as Disco Elysium is, and no matter how deserving it is of the accolades it won at 2019’s Game Awards, it’s hard to recommend it as something to play if you’re looking for fun. It’s relentlessly grim even when it’s trying to be funny, and its stream of consciousness style makes even the most basic of interactions a minefield of potential disturbing possibilities. With its biting combination of continental existentialist ennui, pseudo-Lovecraftian undercurrents, and socio-political critique it isn’t a game that you play for the sheer joy of it, but rather for the esoteric and unusual experience that it offers. That being said, in a market that’s full to bursting point with crowd-pleasing blockbusters and oftentimes strictly by-the-book sequels or carbon copy titles, it can be incredibly rewarding to delve into a game as intricate and nuanced as Disco Elysium.

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