doki doki literature club!

Legendary Gary Review — Meta-Masterpiece

by Jed Pressgrove

Metatexual independent games have become more popular over the last few years, but the works of this movement — The Stanley Parable, Undertale, Pony Island, and Doki Doki Literature Club!, among others — have been more egotistical and shallow than humanistic and insightful. Evan Rogers’ Legendary Gary rejects the cynicism of this trend by daring to have players empathize with a stereotypical unemployed gamer who lives with his Bible-thumping mom. In showing how video games can serve as both escapism and inspiration, Rogers offers a mature cultural perspective that transcends the manipulative tricks of his too-cool-for-school indie peers.

As Gary, you always wind up playing an RPG called Legend of the Spear. This game allows Gary to forget the commentary of his mother and girlfriend and to exist in a world that, while challenging to survive in, lacks the more serious problems of real life. But responsibility soon demands Gary to get a job to support his mother, and as he navigates the very dubious politics at his grocery-store gig, he starts to notice that the events and people in Legend of the Spear mirror those of his everyday life.

Every day after work, you move Gary into his room to resume gaming. The sense of isolation is initially freeing, but when Gary’s worlds start to clash or reflect each other, wake-up calls abound for the protagonist. During one session with Legend of the Spear, Gary abruptly quits the game when he learns his friend has had an overdose. And when Gary begins to see similarities between his boss’ questionable orders and the quests given to him by a reptile queen in Legend of the Spear, his sense of integrity is doubly called into question. Through such occurrences, Gary learns how to care about people other than himself.

This story of coincidental redemption might sound sappy, but Rogers infuses wit throughout Legendary Gary to underscore the silliness of the game’s premise and the hilarity of human behavior and thought. At one point, Gary, tired of his mother’s constant references to her faith, declares that God doesn’t make video games. His mother’s response is sharp, believable, and ridiculous: “How do you know what God makes? Are you his accountant?” In a later scene, Gary’s boss has been fired for her unprofessional approach to management, and Gary is interrogated about his dealings with her by two corporate stooges labeled Serious Man and Other Serious Man. The sliminess of the situation is beyond palpable when one of the men advises Gary, “Just remember to keep it profesh’ from here on out.”

The audiovisual approach of Legendary Gary is a perfect fit for Rogers’ blend of humor and drama. The hand-drawn art of Legendary Gary is cartoony but exquisitely detailed, highlighting both the absurdity and complexity of Gary’s life. The soundtrack is an unusual mix. When Gary engages in turn-based combat in Legend of the Spear, you hear songs that seem like they were composed by a Talking Heads cover band. At first, it feels as if you’re listening to the most unorthodox score for RPG battling ever, but the music complements the dance-like movement of the characters when they all take their turns simultaneously — half spectacle and half nonsense.

Legendary Gary’s conclusion implies that life and video games are better when they have cathartic value, as opposed to when they only seem to suck away our spirit and our time, reducing us to human shells. The final scene is in a graveyard where Gary’s father was buried. Both Gary and his mother come to grips with the massive hole in their family unit, and the newfound bond between them suggests a sense of hope for the future. At the very end, the game visually confirms that every character in Legend of the Spear is an analogue for someone in Gary’s life. Legendary Gary is as meta as they come, but more importantly, it’s far wiser than the norm for imagining a more positive relationship between art and humanity.

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Game Bias’ 10 Worst Video Games of 2017 and Play-Instead List

by Jed Pressgrove

Although 2017 has nothing on 2015 in terms of its overall share of terrible games, several works this year showed a special hatred for rural folk and places. This trend shelters the political egos of fools that think people who live outside of cities are largely deranged, clueless, and hopeless. The biggest monsters in one’s mind will always be the biggest monsters in one’s world, regardless of the diversity that spans all of humankind.

You’ll notice I’m doing something different this year with the list. For each of these reprehensible choices, I will suggest a game you should play instead. The catch is I’m only going to recommend alternatives that are far from perfect but nonetheless do more than enough things right to rise above the following junk.

1. Resident Evil 7

Many in the gaming world said this embarrassingly unoriginal sequel was a return to great horror for the Resident Evil series (note: Resident Evil has always been more corny than disturbing). More than one reason can explain why this questionable claim was made: virtual-reality hype; the bizarre sentiment that a first-person perspective is automatically revolutionary; and a conscious or unconscious feeling that we all should be very frightened of people who live in the country. Resident Evil 7 has sexist and racist ideas, too — just more crap often accepted as classic horror.

(See full review of Resident Evil 7 here.)

Play Instead: Prey

Like Resident Evil 7, Prey is a first-person shooter influenced by horror movies, but Prey has a less discriminatory perspective on humanity and, in stark contrast to the dull inventory of its urban-snob counterpart, features one of the most inventive weapons of the year: the Gloo Cannon.

2. Doki Doki Literature Club!

Dear Dan Salvato,

I realize you think portraying girls as out-of-control lunatics somehow subverts anime, manga, and dating cliches. Unfortunately, horror movies have been portraying the female sex in this way for decades. Back to the drawing board.

Sincerely,

Game Developers’ Favorite Critic

(See full review of Doki Doki Literature Club! here.)

Play Instead: Little Nightmares

While Little Nightmares doesn’t try to reject conventions or go meta like Doki Doki Literature Club!, it earns its tension more honestly with technically exquisite imagery.

3. Troll and I

The bugginess of Troll and I is what horrible legends are made of. Publisher Maximum Games should go to confession, if not to prison, for the monstrous sin of releasing this poor excuse for a game.

(See full of review of Troll and I here.)

Play Instead: Destiny 2

Destiny 2 waters down the very idea of shooting a target and trying out new firearms, treating almost every gun as an opportunity to make consumers feel comfortable and smooth. The jumping in the game feels like something out of a rejected Nintendo Entertainment System platformer. And its ramblings about Light make its morality more superficial than that of Star Wars. But at least the product works.

4. Outlast 2

Games can be understandably critical of religion (see The Binding of Isaac and Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia), but Outlast 2 hatefully portrays people of faith in incomprehensible, psychotic terms. The game’s shallowness is particularly noticeable given that the protagonist, despite having gone to a Catholic school, shares no clear opinion on matters of providence and religiosity. And of course, all of this madness is possible due to backward rural savages, including women who think murdering their children is righteous. What a shocker.

(See full review of Outlast 2 here.)

Play Instead: Stranger Things

This free mobile game, evocative of NES and SNES games, is little more than a nostalgic way to market a supernatural television show, yet it’s still more inventive and less reliant on trial-and-error challenges than Outlast 2.

5. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

This first-person shooter recreates adolescent 1990s ultraviolence, but it’s also a kind of political commentary that paints idiotic ideas, such as anonymous KKK members walking around in a Nazi-dominated society, as profound. Don’t be fooled by the blaxploitation stereotype, the naked pregnant woman gunning down bad guys, or the half-baked portrayal of a half-Jewish protagonist: this game upholds the indestructible white-hero formula with a degree of stupidity that must be seen to be believed. You certainly have the right to buy into the notion that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus functions as some cathartic, telling spectacle, but you’re going to wake up the next day with the same level of insight into the world, and you can’t just shoot the troubles away.

(See full review of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus here.)

Play Instead: The Surge

Both The Surge and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus involve a hero leaving a wheelchair thanks to advanced technology. The difference is The Surge understands that competition, not phony-baloney heroism, drives the culture of capitalism, and that’s something we have to resist.

6. Night in the Woods

In a society where the gap between the rich and the poor seems to grow as we speak, the treatment of the privileged millennial protagonist in Night in the Woods is especially insulting. With a smart-ass vibe, developer Infinite Fall allows Mae Borowski, the central figure of the game, to go hog-wild in a deceptive depiction of a working-class community and attempts to pass off this story as indicative of something real. It’s one thing to examine an obviously flawed character; it’s another thing to try to make someone believe that almost everyone around the punk would ultimately put up with her. The implication of the grave-digging sequence — that no one would care about a boy’s corpse being defiled — shows a disgusting level of incoherent “progressive” cynicism.

(See full review of Night in the Woods here.)

Play Instead: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Imperfect protagonist: Chloe Frazer > Mae Borowski. Believable outraged friend: Nadine Ross > Bea Santello.

7. South Park: The Fractured But Whole

If this game represents the satire of our time, may Jonathan Swift rise from the grave to mock us. South Park: The Fractured But Whole’s cowardly, trite approach to comedy is immediately apparent. The opening tries to make fun of the political framing of the Zack Snyder film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but the attempt falls flat because a superhero movie, of all things, has more to say about the current disarray of the United States than South Park creator Trey Parker, who helped direct and write this game. Even if you ignore the recycled shit jokes and lazy racial humor, this RPG fails to be engaging. As in the 2014 predecessor South Park: The Stick of Truth, exploration is a bore because the environment is too familiar and standardized. And if the combat in The Stick of Truth was an uninspired take on Super Mario RPG, the battles in The Fractured But Whole suggest an idiot’s perspective on tile-based tactics.

Play Instead: Dujanah

Jack King-Spooner has made far better games than Dujanah (Beeswing, Will You Ever Return? 2, Sluggish Morss: A Delicate Time in History). Yet the fictional arcade within it alone is more clever than The Fractured But Whole, with experiences that effectively lampoon pop hits (such as F-Zero) and even a decent juvenile spoof called “Pie or Anus.”

8. Valkyria Revolution

If nothing else, Valkyria Revolution proves that a game can’t make a serious statement with flippant dialogue and incessant loading that destroys the drama and pacing of a story. This disaster by Media.Vision offers another lesson, too: if you forget video-game history, you’re unlikely to surpass or even match superior work. For anyone who has experienced the measured real-time action of the 1990s games Secret of Mana and Secret of Evermore, Valkyria Revolution’s cruise-control approach to battle is unacceptable.

(See full review of Valkyria Revolution here.)

Play Instead: Cosmic Star Heroine

This independent RPG knows history better than Valkyria Revolution. Developer Zeboyd Games acknowledges its influences and builds on them, delivering one of the most fascinating takes on turn-based combat this year.

9. Everything

David OReilly continues to pretend like he has a grasp on the nature of existence in Everything. And just like they did when OReilly released Mountain in 2014, some people continue to eat it up because they think whimsy equals wit and insight.

(See full review of Everything here.)

Play Instead: ATV Renegades

ATV Renegades shows that being down to earth, and making people laugh in the process, is underrated.

10. Tekken 7

No pop game confirms the sorry conservative state of fighting games more than Tekken 7. Namco’s allegiance to Capcom is obvious in the camerawork, the “new” mechanics, and the inclusion of boring bad-guy Akuma.

(See full review of Tekken 7 here.)

Play Instead: Arms

Leave it to Nintendo to try something distinct within the fighting-game genre. Even if the game isn’t always fair or focused, its weirdness is offset by how uniquely it articulates the importance of footwork and orthodox/southpaw dynamics.