Assassin’s Creed: Pirate Simulator

I started up this game of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and I felt unsure. I was unsure of how this game would be after a four year hiatus from the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Would I get the same product I got time and time again from this franchise: a slightly different “cool” hooded protagonist with slightly different weapons in a slightly different plot loosely grounded in somewhat historically accurate characters? Probably. I knew what I would get when I played this game; this is a series whose successes are built on slight tweaks of a recycled formula. However, the location and characters would be brand new for me to free run tall buildings, assassinate nameless guards, and take in the virtual views of an old famous city. In a way, each Assassin’s Creed game is a mod of the previous one: changed visuals with mostly unchanged game mechanics.

(top: Assassin’s Creed III; bottom: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag)

Though with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the game doesn’t immediately place the player in an old city or futuristic hideaway. It immediately introduces us to our protagonist, Edward Kenway, who is a pirate because he wants to be free from an oppressive class-based economy and naval structure. The designers smartly encouraged me to align with this pirate character as soon as possible. Who doesn’t want to be a rebellious pirate? Then, the game cut to a battle at sea between pirate ships. I was suddenly firing cannons at 18th century ships and steering a pirate ship. Then, the ships exploded, and I was washed up on an island chasing an assassin, who I ended up murdering. I have to commend Ubisoft for knowing what gamers want out of Black Flag: to be a pirate and assassinate people as soon as possible. 

Yo-ho-ho

However, the new pirate pleasures do not really justify passing this game off as anything new. This begs the question of why these games keep getting made and bought? Why do people basically want a nicer version of a game they already have? I suppose it makes sense for players new to the franchise to play this game, but if I already have Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed III, why do I need this game? Why don’t I just play those games again if I really want to instead of shilling another $60 to Ubisoft? Ultimately, I was unsure about playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag because I had hope amidst my cynicism. I had hope that this game could be potentially something different and interesting, especially after the series abandoned Desmond Miles’s weird alien-unveiling story arc. My hope was not really met; instead, I got the same game but with pirates. Don’t get me wrong, Caribbean pirates are awesome. Yet, even that different style choice is not new or fresh. It’s a safe bet on what the popular conscience deems cool. Which is all this game series will ever be: a series of safe bets siphoning ideas from popular culture and movies, inhibiting what could be a one-of-a-kind game experience. 

Who says pirates are overdone? Wait…

Images Cited:

Cloud_imperium. “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review; ARRR !!!” Gamespot, 31 Jul. 2014, http://www.gamespot.com/assassins-creed-iv-black-flag/user-reviews/2200-12602699/.  Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.

“Featured Video.” Disneyhttp://pirates.disney.com/. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.

“Screen 621262.” Assassin’s Creed III Gallery, gamershell.com, 8 Apr. 2012,http://www.gamershell.com/ps3/assassin_s_creed_iii/screenshots.html?id=621262. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.

Usher, William. “Assassin’s Creed 4 PS4 Gameplay Trailer Seeks Out Hidden Treasure.” CinemaBlend, 2013, http://www.cinemablend.com/games/Assassin-Creed-4-PS4-Gameplay-Trailer-Seeks-Out-Hidden-Treasure-57742.html. Accessed 22 Nov. 2016.

The Nostalgic World of Pokémon (Ryan Rotella)

When I got Pokemon: Alpha Sapphire from my parents last Christmas, I was surprised. I didn’t ask for it; in fact, I hadn’t picked up a Gameboy of any kind in at least 5 years. Davidson’s time-draining combination of a rigorous workload and a buzzing social life makes playing videogames an inefficient, occasional luxury (except when you play for them class, thanks Dr. Sample). I decided to dedicate time to this Pokemon game because I wanted to re-examine a series that took up so much time in my childhood. I am not exaggerating when I say that I played Pokemon everywhere growing up. I played it when I ate breakfast, waited on the bus, sat on the bus, sat at dinner while eating too much bread, you name it, I was playing a Pokemon game (usually Blue or Sapphire). I had to be pried away from my GameBoy Advance SP often, just so my parents could socially interact with me. I inhabited the world of Pikachus, Caterpies, and Gyradoses daily, trying so hard to be the very best like no one ever was. So, with any video game HD remake, I wanted to step back into that world through a nostalgia-filled commodity and find out why this game took such a strong hold on my young life.

But then I got bored pretty quickly into this game. I remembered that literally every mainline Pokemon game (that is, ones made for Gameboys that weren’t dungeon explorers) is essentially the same thing. I choose a character that’s either a boy or a girl, I have a rival, I choose a starter, I say goodbye to my mom, and I venture off into the world of Pokemon and gym battles. The only differences in the games are different items, different Pokemon, and better graphics. There are some competitive stats that get added throughout the series for the serious, online competitive players, but I never cared about that when I played. In this remake, there are no new Pokemon at all. By definition, it’s the same Pokemon from the original Sapphire in an updated game. I moved through a prettier, 3D animated Hoenn region with running shoes automatically on this time around, and it was nice…for like 20 minutes. I was walking around and playing the same game I already knew. I will say the turn-based mechanic of fighting and managing Pokemon is still addictively fun. Pokemon, with its customizable four move set and item management, has a very unique take on combat. That and its art design have made it into the success it is today and might be the reasons I loved these games so much. Each battle was an achievement in strategy and management with cool creatures, even if it was essentially animal fighting. I, nor most other 10 year-olds, typically don’t pick up on the animal-fighting bit because we didn’t know it existed and the cute fantasy of Pokemon masks the gruesome reality of animals maimed and killed for idle sport. So you could say the nostalgia has worn off greatly, but I still appreciate the fun I had in this weird, uber popular game. As with most media rooted and marketed in nostalgia, I don’t regret playing the remake of a game that made me happy, but I’m really glad I don’t anymore. I can’t really enjoy making wild creatures my possessions and fighting for my glory and image as a masterful trainer while sitting isolated staring at a screen for hours on end anymore. Thanks, Davidson, for giving me a life and making sure I never see the world the same way again.

A New Challenger Approaches! (Intertextuality) – Ryan Rotella

Intertextuality, an oft used literary term, finds its digital home in a game series that most people don’t associate with literature: Super Smash Bros. This game is one of the most well known fighting games in existence. A large reason for Smash’s popularity (aside from being contagiously fun) is due to the unity of so many different video game characters from so many different kinds of games on one simple game. Super Smash Bros. has a history of having famous and lesser known Nintendo characters included. The first iteration (Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64) had 12 playable characters (four of them having to be unlocked during the game), having famous flagship characters such as Mario and Pikachu to characters such as Ness from the quirky SNES RPG, Earthbound (source: http://www.ssbwiki.com/Super_Smash_Bros.) In this latest version for the Wii U, the game has 58 playable characters (7 who are only available as downloadable content) with a variety of non-Nintendo characters like Mega Man, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Solid Snake. A majority of these characters have stages (where the game is played) that reference other characters and imagery from that world’s series. The sheer range of the players available (and games referenced) emphasizes how Smash functions as a space unlike any other, where characters from very different universes can interact with each other and worlds of different games can communicate with each other. 

Bowser (Super Mario Bros.), Link (Legend of Zelda), Village (Animal Crossing), Fox (Star Fox), Mario (Super Mario Bros.), Pikachu (Pokemon), Donkey Kong (Donkey Kong), Kirby (Kirby’s Dreamworld) on a stage in homage to Super Mario Galaxy

Now, the main point of intertextual communication in this game is twofold and both folds are not what is thought of as “literary.” First, the large roster of characters and video game worlds represented reward experienced video games with allusions and references to all these other games. This gives the dedicated gamer a chance to show off all his video game knowledge in front of his friends (thanks, Nintendo). Second, all these characters participate in the age-old question: who would win in a fight? This question has been discussed in most other mediums with any character tied to power or violence: for books, who would the gods favor in a one-on-one match up: Achilles or Aeneas; for comic books, Superman and [insert any comic book character]. The list could go on indefinitely.

Primitive version of Super Smash Bros. on a Grecian urn

With video games being such a diverse and sprawling horde of action-oriented games and genres, the question of who the most powerful/best/awesome character acquires a special weight. It has this weight to it because in a game like Smash, players can answer it for themselves in a way that ultimately rewards one player’s skill and opinion. Unlike the function of intertextuality in literature which uses another text’s ideas as auxiliary support or contrast with a text’s ideas, intertextuality is a main foundation of Super Smash Bros. In a way, this representation celebrates all the different kind of characters and games the gaming world has to offer. All sorts of games unite under one fun fighting game to see which characters the players (AKA the audience) can relate to, despise, laugh at, or love. Also to see who can strike the best pose (hint: it’s King Dedede).

(Soft jazz plays)
(Soft jazz plays)