Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual Warfare Part 7: Hell Awaits

So many months and a dying computer later…we’re almost done with Spiritual Warfare!!!!  But we still have to make one final push, isn’t that right, President Bill Pullman?

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We’re going to live on!  We’re going to survive!  Today we celebrate our independence from shitty attempts at cashing in on the insular paranoia of religious fundamentalists!

Right.  Well, last time NotLink barely survived his harrowing experience lost in the ocean (and this player’s efforts to murder him) and was inexplicably rewarded by God for his incredible stupidity.  Leaving the beach, NotLink finds himself in the Woods, where he’s terrorized by purple archers, chainsaw-wielding goons, lumberjacks (naturally), and…uh, dragon-men?

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Seriously, what are those things supposed to be?

It’s at this point I started to suspect the programmers were getting as tired of all this I was.  The Woods are pretty much a speedbump.  Even the dragon-man things, while unkillable even with the sword, move back and forth in very predictable patterns, making them just a nuisance.  There’s also almost nothing to do, except loot somebody’s cabin.

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Thou shalt not…eh, what the hell.

To be fair, maybe loot is too strong a word because the only thing to take from this minimalist and unfurnished cabin with the head of some kind of deer-insect hybrid is a railroad ticket.  Like I mentioned before, the railroad ticket is basically this game’s answer to the whistle in Zelda, only – of course – not as useful.  Just as I had foreseen it, the ticket comes so late in the game it’s really not all that helpful anymore, except to backtrack to pick up keys or healing vials.  Even then, you still have to trek all the way to and from the stations, one or two of which are definitely not in convenient locations (like I noted before, the station at the Shipyards comes after a long gauntlet of death!), so it’s not like it saves you all that much by way of time or avoiding enemies, unless you’re going all the way across Dawkinsville.

Once your Christian hero is done stealing the Ticket of Infinite Uses, you can enter yet another boss fight.  In contrast to the last one, this one’s a cakewalk, but even then it managed to aggravate me.

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The citizens of Dawkinsville don’t mess around when it comes to trying to murder prepubescent boys.

See, the man on the left runs around, tossing bombs at you, which you have to hit back at him using the jawbone.  His arsenal is limited, and once he runs out of bombs you win.  The problem is, he always aims the bombs directly at you, so all you have to do is stand there and throw the boomerang at each bomb.  It’s kind of like playing Pong when the paddles won’t move and the ball just bounces back and forth in a straight line.  Your reward for this is a helmet which is supposed to protect you from explosions, which would probably seem more impressive if NotLink hadn’t stopped running into dynamite as a regular obstacle quite some time ago.  Still, the helmet is the last piece of armor NotLink has been collecting that’s available in the overworld.  If you go to the church after getting the helmet, you see…

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Spiritual Warfare: The game where young boys are advised to look for gateways to Hell in a prison at a church.

To the prison, then!  For some reason, one of the ways to get to the prison is take an underground passage directly south to the Church.

Naturally, at the prison NotLink is inexplicably attacked by both prisoners and guards.  They move faster than any other enemy, which is expected this late in the game, but it’s a real problem when you walk into a new screen and suddenly three of them are right on top of you.  But at least it makes it more satisfying when you throw your Exploding Sword of Oblivion in their faces.  Like the Woods, once you get past what dicks the enemies are, the Prison area is unimpressive.  Rather than a maze like the Warehouses, the Prison is very straightforward.

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Besides picking up a hidden Heart Container, the only thing to do here is find an entrance to the final area, the “Demon Stronghold,” but let’s call it what the programmers were clearly thinking of:  Hell.  And let’s ignore the unfortunate implications in making the entrance to Hell a part of the Prison, hm?  I mean, it’s not like this game is supposed to be about a religion founded in large part by people who were imprisoned for their beliefs.

Now it’s probably no surprise to anyone if I claim that the best part of the game is getting to go to Hell, but…it’s true.

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I don’t know if programming this area fixed the game designers’ malaise, or if they just recognized that this one part of the game had way more potential than throwing fruit at atheists in a park, but, honestly, this is the closest the game ever gets to feeling like The Legend of Zelda by far.  There are no half-assed “puzzles” that just slow you down for a few minutes.  There is a maze, but it’s challenging instead of just frustrating like the maze in the Warehouse region.  While the designs won’t win any prizes for 8-bit originality, they do show a little more thought than what we’ve seen before (although there is the occasional touch of laziness like seeing the generic door graphic right in the middle of Hell) and the designers did go through the trouble of splitting up Hell into several distinct regions.  And even fighting the enemies, which include flying demons that spawn at random in certain screens and “invisible” demons who are marked by their footprints, just feels more fun than it had at any previous point of the game.  There’s another boss fight with a demonic claw that throws fire enemies at you, but even then, it’s not yet another “puzzle fight” but an honest-to-God dodge-projectiles-and-other-enemies and fire-at-the-boss-until-it-dies confrontation.   

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Before I fall into the danger of becoming a Wisdom Tree apologist, let me point out there is a serious flaw here.  The last piece of armor you need, the shield, is in Hell itself.  That wouldn’t be an issue, except you need the shield.  It makes you invulnerable to fireballs, and almost all the enemies – including the fast, randomly flying demons – throw them. It takes a while to get to the boss room holding the shield, even more so if you haven’t figured out how to navigate the maze yet, and I think it’s possible to accidentally skip the shield altogether (I didn’t do another playthrough to check to be sure, however, because…well, I don’t get paid for this!).  Until then you’re probably going to take a lot of damage from the randomly appearing demons belting you with fireballs alone, even if you’ve become something of a Spiritual Warfare master (and God help you indeed if that’s the case).   Maybe it’s a legitimate challenge, but for me it does feel like the programmers aren’t playing fair.  At the least, it does make the God of the game into a sociopath who really is just getting his kicks off torturing this poor kid.  “So, there’s this shield you need that will increase your chances of surviving Hell immeasurably.  Oh, where is this shield?  Buried deep in the bowels of Hell, of course!”

Oh, there is one more big problem here too.  The music doesn’t change.  It’s still the same cheerful, awful track that’s been playing throughout the rest of the game.  Please tell me at least they put in new music for the final boss fight (spoiler: they don’t).

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Just imagine millions of people who didn’t happen to believe in exactly the right version of Christian dogma in that lava.

Then there’s the fact that there really isn’t even a build-up to the final boss.  Hell’s sub-boss gets an intimidating entrance to its lair, but he doesn’t.  It’s like they just ran out of room to keep designing Hell and dumped the final boss’ lair in.

So who is the final boss?  The god Odin, fighting for the pagan cause?    Christopher Hitchens’ soul, driven insane by fury at the knowledge that there is an afterlife after all?  Or…

That’s right!  It turns out God really is stacking the deck with this kid, sending him up against the Prince of Darkness himself.  Okay, so the game never actually names its final boss as the Devil, but come on, it’s kind of obvious.

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So how does a small boy stand up against the First of the Fallen?  Satan fires flying demons at you constantly while a moving rock in a river of lava blocks your attacks.  The necessary strategy is to try to stun the rock shield with blasts from your sword and when Satan stops, laughs, and changes color, you hit him with your fruit.  It’s…actually not a bad challenge, and certainly more enjoyable than the tedious boss fights that came before.  The one odd spot is that if you land a hit on Satan his arms and claws fly around chaotically.

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The Devil really hates fruit.

Okay, I get that this whole game is an allegory about saving souls by converting people to Christianity, but, seriously, by ending the game with you fighting the Devil himself, NotLink is kind of topping Jesus here.  How dare you have such a subtle yet outrageous message of  blasphemy, Spiritual Warfare?

Anyway, what do you get for beating the Devil?

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That’s it;  just this one static scene.  The game does reward you also by finally playing a different music track, but if you pause the game, it will revert back to the original infinite song of death.  You don’t even have the option to restart the game from there.  It just freezes on this screen.  To be fair, though, it’s really not any worse than a lot of endings from licensed Nintendo games.  Hell, this is poetry compared to the ending to the NES Ghostbusters.

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Well, let’s end by thanking God for giving us Wisdom Tree and proving that pandering to demographics rarely does anybody any good. Also I sincerely thank God that this game didn’t take another page from Legend of Zelda by giving us a second quest.  Hallelujah!

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Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual Warfare Part 6: Bodybuilding Gives You Satanic Powers

Well, I did it.  It took me a long time, perhaps too long.  But I love all the people who read this blog – all eleven of you – so I did it;  I played through Spiritual Warfare a second time.

I tried to actually hack the game’s password system, but since just about anything involving numbers is not my forte I couldn’t get it exactly right.  The best I could do was use a walkthrough to easily fill the gaps in my memory and speed through the game.  It turns out that I didn’t miss out on all that much;  just one or two extra Heart Containers and it turns out that you actually can talk to the kid with the basketball.  He’s just…not that useful.

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He’s pretty nice considering that I once spent five minutes of the game trying to murder him.

Anyway, to pick up where we left off months ago, the next place you go after “hotels” is the shipyard.  It’s around here that I think the programmers really lost interest in what they were doing, if they had that much to begin with.  Why not a mall, or a university campus?  Lots of godless souls there!  In the shipyards, you just have fairly slow-moving sailors and hellhounds and lots of overlapping docks in the most convoluted, dysfunctional shipyard in history.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s actually a nice breather next to the Hell that was the Warehouse section, but still let’s  just add “inconsistent challenge” to our list of issues with the game.  Honestly so far the game’s two modes of challenge have been either “as easy and engaging as stripping wallpaper” or “trying to draw a line through a kids’ maze puzzle while driving a car at 60 miles per hour.”   Well, okay, maybe not that bad, especially by old school Nintendo standards, but…well, we’ll see.

Shipyard

Dawkinsville’s shipyard happened to have been designed by the same man who was the city planner for Raccoon City.

As for the hellhounds, like the other animals in this game they’re apparently soulless so you can’t “kill/save” them, which is a missed opportunity to bring up some daring theological questions.  There is one area in the shipyards patrolled by a few hellhounds, and the only way to pass them is situate yourself in a nook as they go by.   After that there’s a tunnel and more enemies.  Every instinct you have as a gamer tells you that there is something worthwhile past all this, something like a new weapon or some other Power-Up, but…no.  It’s just a train station, before you can even use the ticket to teleport around Dawkinsville.  That’s a pretty big “Screw you” from the programmers.

Hellhounds

And, yes, naturally the third dog is virtually impossible to get by without taking damage.

In fact, only thing that matters in the shipyards is you have a chance to “buy” Samson’s Jawbone, which is the game’s rather weird substitute for Legend of Zelda’s boomerang.  Unfortunately, unlike in Zelda, you can’t even use it to stun enemies, just pick up items that are out of reach.  This is probably the only video game I’ve ever played, if not the only video game in history, where they give you a weapon associated with a one-man genocide in real-life legend and it turns out to be less deadly than a squirt gun with tepid water.

While the Jawbone does not help you undergo an old-fashioned biblical killing spree, it does let you pick up what’s probably the most blatant “borrowing” from The Legend of Zelda yet, which is really saying something.

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Look familiar?

Oh, and it was around this point the creepy Bible quiz guy said this…

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Trust me, it’s from a really trippy section of the New Testament.

Anyway, past the shipyards is the beach, where this time the deranged atheists out to kill a small boy include skateboarders who throw beer bottles and bodybuilders who move really fast and run around in a random pattern.  Hilariously, they’re completely immune, and they’re the only enemies in the game your fruit weapons will actually bounce off from.  So, yes, according to this game’s take on Christian theology forklift drivers and bodybuilders are irredeemable.

Beach

What is behind this game’s anti-powerlifting agenda?

Like all of the game’s invulnerable enemies, the bodybuilders like to attack in narrow areas, but luckily you can just dodge all enemies by sailing your raft into the sea.  Unfortunately, there are sharks swimming around, as per just about any video game that involves braving the ocean, and there is a risk of getting lost at sea.

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A good enough ending for the game as any.

Naturally I tried to see if there was a way to get a “bad ending” where NotLink dies of dehydration, but no such luck.  Instead NotLink stumbled across an island that contained this…

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…Hooray…I guess.

Dammit, it figures I’d find the helpful bonuses in a game I have no investment in whatsoever.  And, if the game’s whole currency system is just a metaphor for faith, what is the reasoning here?  NotLink does something suicidally idiotic like get lost in the sea on a raft and thus he’s proven that he has maximum faith?  And God just put a random angel out in the middle of shark-infested hellwaters just on the off chance someone would do just that?

Regardless, NotLink and I did need all the help we could get, because I was about to embark on one of the worst boss fights in Nintendo history.

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Behold, the exact opposite of fun.

Honestly, the boss fight is so surreal and complicated I’m not even sure how to begin to describe it.  Like pretty much all the boss fights in the game so far, it’s a puzzle fight, because a traditional “dodge projectiles and fire back at the boss” fight wouldn’t be aggravating enough for this game’s standards.  There are five rows.  The bottom one remains vacant, the top one has the real boss who looks like a janitor armed with a broom or a mop, and the other three rows has mooks who run back and forth.  There are ladders between the rows, but you have to blow up certain sections of the walls to reveal them.   The mooks occasionally and at complete random push out – from where I don’t want to know – three barrels, but they quickly disappear.  The only way to kill the mooks is to push them against the wall with one of their own barrels, but I simply could not figure out how to do this without getting hit.

See, the barrels only appear briefly.  There seems to be a way you can push them while the mook is…shooting them? Whatever…but a least in my case most of the time I ended up just running right into the mook and taking damage.  The only safe way was to open up the ladder to the next row and wait until a mook pushed a barrel down the ladder (keep in mind that not only when but if and where a mook creates the barrels is completely random).  Only by falling down a ladder into the next row does a barrel actually stick around, rather than disappear.  And even then, if you try to push the barrel on a mook and he decides to create a barrel, all the barrels cancel each other out, so you have to start all over.  On top of all that, the pissed off janitor is rapid firing some balloons at you, which deal almost as much damage as some of the bullets you faced.  Got all that?

You could appreciate the whole surrealness of the scenario.  For one thing, how does any of this make sense from NotLink’s perspective in the game world?!  Are the mooks really just pulling ghostly barrels out of their asses?  But it’s so damn frustrating.  After going through 30 save states and reading the walkthrough as closely as the Constitution, just trying to figure out how to kill the mooks, I just gave up and went after their boss.  Of course, the only way to damage him is with the bombs, and when he’s hurt he just teleports to another row, but it’s still much simpler than the deranged chaos that’s the rest of the boss fight.

However, just this once the game decides to make the reward proportional to the challenge.  You’re no longer playing with fruit, kid…

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The game is pretty explicit about the fact that you have to use it only in “the stronghold,” but of course I had to test it out to see if it would work on the demonic bodybuilders of Dawkinsville Beach.

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You better start praying.

Of course, in another *cough* homage to Legend of Zelda, you can throw the sword.  Thankfully, though, you don’t have to be at full health to do that and, even better, it explodes on impact.

Join us next time, when NotLink is ready to go all biblical on Dawkinsville!

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Spiritual Warfare, Video Games

Spiritual Warfare Part 5: Bananas Are the Ultimate Weapon

First, a confession:  I cheated a little.

Maybe cheated isn’t the right word, but I did break my own promise to myself that I’d come at this game raw.  I ended up looking at a walkthrough on GameFAQ, to spare myself the horror of trying to find another key.  Luckily, I found out that, in a rare instance of the lazy programming working in my favor, the keys respawn after a fairly short period.  This is a bigger deal than you realize, for reasons I’ll get into below.

For now, though, I want to address something mentioned by Adam, author of the walkthrough, when he said he went ahead and wrote the walkthrough (which to date is the only one on GameFAQs) because he thought Spiritual Warfare was a pretty good game, if only because the – to put it kindly – source material is so good.

I can’t really agree.  After all, here’s a game where the programming is so obviously flawed there’s no rhyme or reason to the way enemies drop items, where characters bleed into the backgrounds like they’re transparent ghosts, and there’s more than a couple of areas where the only way to progress is to suck it up and take damage.  On the other hand, it does at least meet all of the basic criteria for a game, and it is playable.  I’ll admit that on any list of Worst Video Games of All Time Spiritual Warfare should be down from, say, the infamous Plumbers Don’t Wear Tieswhich was about as much of a video game as the chapter selection menu on a DVD is  a video game.  But I will say, in defense of Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties, it did give us this:

As for Spiritual Warfare, I think you can make a defense that it isn’t bad, but at the same time…if you want to play it, there’s just no reason not to play Legend of Zelda instead.

Anyway, the last time we joined NotLink for his adventures in Dawkinsville, he was frustrated by coming to a locked door without a key after having to run through a hurricane of bullets.  Now I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal, especially if you’re going through a Zelda model, but of course in Wisdom Tree fashion this game takes a simple idea and turns it into another lash on the cat-o’-nine-tails.  Keys are few and far in between in this game, and they’re not at all contingent on the area you happen to be exploring.  Let me explain:  in Legend of Zelda, while late in the game you did have the option to buy keys and you could use different keys in different labyrinths, for the most part you were expected to be able to use the same keys in the same labyrinth.  Not so in Spiritual Welfare, where for example there’s a key but no locked door in the Airport area, while there’s a locked door but no key in the Warehouse area.   So obviously you can’t rely on finding a key to that locked door you came across anywhere nearby.  Here’s a pro-tip:  exploit the hell out of the key respawning thing and just grab two or three keys from the same room.  As an ancillary to that, here’s another pro-tip:  play a Zelda game, or just about any other game, instead.

Okay, I have to give credit where it’s due.  When I went back to the airport to get a respawned key, I did notice that there’s an area in the Airport where you can get a heart container by climbing into the airport baggage carousel.  Even here it’s a little buggy – it’s pretty obvious the programmer or programmers didn’t know how or didn’t want to bother with making the conveyor belts actually work against the player’s own movements – but it’s actually a pretty clever way to hide a bonus item in a game that takes place in a modern setting.  Another thing I noticed is that you can heal without the use of items or going through those annoying Bible quizzes.  There’s an option on the menu for “Prayer,” which lets you heal at the expense of your “spirit” – those dove thingies that are the game’s equivalent of Rupees.  It does raise the theological question of why God is sending you out to face flying demons and toughs armed with guns that shoot bullets as big as the human body, and you still have to beg him not to let you die…yet it is a decent game mechanic that actually uses the game’s Christian motif in an original way, rather than slaps it over something else.

But what Spiritual Warfare giveth, Spiritual Warfare taketh away.  Hence the forklift drivers that want you dead, who are such hardcore atheists they can’t be converted.  Also they’re pretty fast, they move at random, they can move blocks around allowing them to block your path of escape, and they attack you in the narrowest spaces possible.  Now I’ll admit I’m not as good a video game player as I was back when I was 13, but I hope this helps you understand why my life is so low in so many of these screenshots.

Also for a while now I’ve been noticing that the game has its equivalent of the teleporting whistle from The Legend of Zelda:  train stations.  Try to use them and you’ll be told you need a ticket.  Admittedly I haven’t really been putting my whole ass into this game (although as you may have noticed I’ve been finding the heart containers alright, but honestly they’re easier to find than they were in any of the Zelda games I’ve played), but I’m pretty sure I haven’t overlooked it.  So here’s a prophecy:  it will turn up near the end of the game, when the ability to teleport to the game’s different regions will no longer be useful. God help me, I have become psychically attuned to this game.

Even the Bible quizzes, which just inherently sucked to begin with, are getting worse.

Yeah, I’m playing a crappy Christian video game;  the answer could totally be one of the guys from the other major world religions!

But I didn’t know then that NotLink was in for another crappy, overly difficult boss fight.  For, in fact, that’s what was behind the sealed door in the Warehouse.  Like most of the other boss fights, there’s a puzzle element:  here you run at the bottom of the screen while the boss runs in and out of the room and fires  heat seeking bullet-bomb things (really) at you.  When the bullet-bomb thing is fired, one or two sections of the wall separating you from the boss will glow purple.  You’re supposed to run to a spot under that brick, so that the bullet-bomb will hit it and explode.  When part of the wall is blasted away, it reveals ladders that you can eventually use to climb up to where the boss is.  While where the boss fires the bullet-bomb and where the bullet-bomb lands is determined by where you’re standing, where the bricks glow is completely random.  This means that sometimes a section of the wall will glow near the top of the wall where it’s literally impossible to get the bullet-bomb to go, and it will glow there, in the exact same spot, four times in a row.  Worse if you’re running to catch a glowing section on the far left of the screen or just trying to dodge one of the bullet-bombs, it’s really easy to accidentally go through the door and leave the boss room, which means you’ll have to start over again completely…and, yes, it happened to me.  Weirdest and most frustrating of all, you can blast some of the bricks with your own bombs to clear a path, but you’re not given any indication of which ones.  The game only lets you know when enough of the wall has been cleared that you can blast the rest of the path away with your own bombs by the fact that the boss just doesn’t show up again.  That’s nice of him.

So, in sum, what starts out as a puzzle-based boss fight quickly turns into a test of patience based on pure luck.

Also, as with all the other boss fights, there’s an angel right through the door.  What, so it was the angel who was shooting heat-seeking missiles at me?  I don’t remember any biblical patriarchs or apostles having their faith tested that way.  “Peter, thy faith shall be tested, by me running back and forth above you, and firing magic explosives that shall follow the heat of your flesh, and you must lure the explosives toward the bricks that glow.”  -John 22:3-4.

Well, whatever sadistic plan the angels had in mind (as if Bible quizzes for NotLink’s right not to die horribly was not enough), I did get the Boots that let me walk over the lava spilling out onto the streets of Dawkinsville.  Conveniently enough, one such nightmare street linked the Warehouse to a new area, creatively titled Hotels.  To be honest, this is my favorite part of the game so far.  For starters, it’s not a maze of madness and despair like the Warehouse zone.   For another, NotLink and every enemy with any red on them in the region looks more maroon than they did elsewhere in the game. It’s not bad programming, it’s a deliberate aesthetic choice!  And finally, it just featured this building:

If this building doesn’t show up as the game’s final boss, I’ll be disappointed…well, more than I already am.  Also the game tries to help God pull an Old Testament on you all over again, but I’ve learned my lesson.  Enjoy Hell, casino goers!  God’s okay with me getting shot at, but not okay with me going anywhere where there’s drinking or gambling no matter how many souls I can save by slapping them with fruit.

There really wasn’t much to this area, sadly, except I did uncover the best weapon in the game:  the banana.  It actually reaches across the room, unlike any other weapon in the game.   How convenient…and it means I’m nearing the end of the game!  

I don’t get why it’s the banana, though.  Unless…

I guess the banana is so much the “atheist’s nightmare” that it just literally flies across the room, whacks atheists in the face (in a totally non-sexual way, of course), and turns them into evangelicals immediately.  It all makes sense now, especially if it turns out this game was in fact programmed by Kirk Cameron.

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Spiritual Warfare, Video Games

Spiritual Warfare Part 4: Our Darkest Hour

In my first installment of this seemingly neverending series I joked about how easy Spiritual Warfare was.  Of course, that didn’t last, and almost immediately the game cranked up the challenge dial to near “Screw You” levels.   This being a Wisdom Tree game, naturally, the challenge mostly comes out of built-in unfairness, like a Math exam where almost half of a word problem has been cut off by sloppy use of the copier but the teacher is sadistic enough to deny you automatic credit for it anyway.

No, it’s not about love. It’s about a pretty obvious allegory for the Roman Empire that deranged morons interpret as being about the UN and nuclear war, which someone in the second century AD would have totally been able to understand.  But I don’t think this is what they had in mind by making the answer “false.”

At least I have been able to totally kick-ass with the biblical questions, which is important, since I’ve been needing the health points and the odds of an enemy dropping a heart is about one million to one.   It also gave me an unintentional ego boost.  See, one of the questions asked…

…the “correct” answer is false.  However, Jesus does say that divorce is acceptable in cases of “sexual immorality” (Matthew 19:9).  I know more about Scripture than the people at Wisdom Tree!  That’s…not much of a victory, honestly.

Anyway, once you get to the tougher areas of the Slum, and more so when you start out in the Warehouse region of the map, you start to see what the programmers had in mind when they were told to increase the difficulty for the kids.  For one thing, instead of mazes in Labyrinths, the game presents mazes that involve going through buildings and passing through insultingly easy “puzzles” that consist of nothing more than pushing obstacles out of your way.  The kicker, which only a truly bad video game publisher like Wisdom Tree can deliver, is that sometimes you go through all that trouble, fighting and pushing obstacles through two or three whole buildings in a row, only to find that you just end up at a point in the overworld that you could have accessed just by walking a few screens over anyway.  Sure, you might pick up a cache of bombs on the way, but that’s it.

The game had been building up to this style of “challenge” and “fun” for a while, but it really comes to a head in the Warehouse area, which is at least 90% wandering around buildings and underground tunnels that mostly lead nowhere. It would be nice if the game gave you any indication of whether or not you’ve cleared an area, or if you had a separate map for each of the special regions, but they don’t, so the game becomes less of a “game” and more of an “infinite abyss of existential despair.”  There are even points in the Warehouse region where you seemingly have no choice but to take damage.

See that tunnel where the thug is shooting bullets (as big as he is but whatever)?  And that he happens to be shooting from the other end of where I’m climbing down?   The thug does fire in a very predictable pattern, but NotLink definitely does not move fast enough to get to the other ladder before a bullet gets to him.  Nor is any of NotLink’s weapons capable of reaching the thug from that distance.  You could try to run over, get in firing distance, and run back to your original position before a bullet catches you, but that doesn’t work either since the bullets are faster than NotLink.  Really the only option is to take the damage, count on the one-second invincibility that you get from being damaged, and use that to get to the ladder.  The game just doesn’t leave you with any other option.

So, after dealing with things like that, I think I’ve finally worked out which buildings just lead to other easily accessible buildings (which is apparently most of them) and which ones actually lead somewhere.  While again Spiritual Warfare doesn’t deign to inform you of your goals in any given area, the Warehouse region, while hard and annoying and frustrating and despair-inducing, is one of the few spots where you are mercifully given a clue as to what you’re supposed to do:  find the Boots that let you walk on lava (yes, there’s lava just bursting through the streets in this game;  I think this city has many more problems than just homicidal atheists).  I get excited as I start to reach rooms and spots in the region I don’t recognize.  Unfortunately, another sign is that the game ups its dickishness even more.

Case in point:  a tunnel where apparently a squad of thugs have just been waiting around, just for a chance to see NotLink dead.  The picture doesn’t quite convey the hopelessness of this scenario.  The bullets are all but impossible to dodge, especially because the enemies fire them almost simultaneously, and you have to climb up and down three ladders until you’re anywhere close to the right distance needed to retaliate.  It’s at this point that I no longer believe this is a game made for a Christian audience.  No, it was a nefarious plot by Richard Dawkins to make Christian kids so disgusted with Christian video games they’d give up their religion, if not faith in any divine being entirely.  “How could Jesus give his name to anything this unholy?” they’d say.

With such theories buzzing in my mind, I still made it, even though my almost full life bar has been reduced to a heart and a half.  However, as I go through the exit my heart skipped a beat.  I wouldn’t have put it past the programmers of this game, out of sheer sadism or incompetence, to create such an unforgiving area and have it result in the player just looping back to the main Warehouse region.  As soon as I make it to the other side, I breathed a sigh of relief.  It’s a new area!  And given how hard it was just to get this far, the Boots must be just a couple of screens away.  With the Boots, I can finally say I finished one more “level”, putting me one step closer to finishing this Old Testament-style plague on the human race.  So I walk a couple of screens over and…

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Spiritual Warfare, Video Games

Spiritual Warfare Part 3: From Gangland to the ‘Burbs

This game suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks.

Can I leave it at that?  No?  Oh, very well…

Last time, NotLink couldn’t make it past the warehouse area and was punished for walking into a bar (which wasn’t even a bar) by having his “Belt of Truth” taken away and put in the slums, which was apparently an area he was supposed to go to in the first place.  See, this is another way the lack of direction from the game itself is a huge problem.  True, The Legend of Zelda doesn’t give you step-by-step pointers on where to go either, not to the extent that a plot-heavy RPG like a Dragon Quest would anyway, but you are given an indication of what order the game expects you to go places.  Each of Zelda’s labyrinths are numbered like normal video game levels, so you can usually guess if you’re stuck because you don’t have an item you need to progress.  Here, though, you have no idea if you the special items you need.  To be fair, the game will give you a NPC  who tells you that you need something to move forward, but you don’t know that until you’ve already had to fight your way into hostile territory.

Despite needing my “Belt of Truth” back (apparently), I stopped by the suburbs first, or “Houses” as the game calls it.  It was a weird place, where you can run out into the middle of a busy highway and yet getting hit by the cars doesn’t effect your health (really)…

And spraypainters turn the sidewalks different colors…for some reason.  It doesn’t hurt you;  I think it slows you down, but since NotLink moves like he’s got an ice cube up his ass (that’s the opposite of having a fire up your ass, right?) it’s hard to tell.

Oh, and there are ninjas!  Well, actually, since it’s the Suburbs…I mean, “Houses”, I guess they’re supposed to be ski-mask wearing robbers, but I prefer ninjas, dammit.

While I did find yet another area I couldn’t access because I didn’t happen to have the right item, I did get a new and better weapon, the Pomegranate, which in the game represents “love.”  That it does, but in pagan European tradition it represents the sort of love that I don’t think the game’s designers were thinking about…as well as fertility.  Also, in a couple of versions of the Garden of Eden story the fruit that leads to the Fall is a pomegranate.   That brings a whole new dimension to the concept of “forbidden fruit.”

Besides getting the evil fertility fruit that I can whack people in the face with, there was also a church where a true miracle occurred, one that would truly bring faith to even the coldest of hearts.  That’s right;  the game actually gave me a hint about where to go.

While I’m grateful that I finally got some kind of damn direction, this only raises more questions.  Is God telling me to find the “Boots of the Gospel”?  Did the kid just glimpse at the Bible and the passage happened to say that?  If so, does that mean God gave some poor Jewish scribe in ancient Babylon this hint to put in the Bible?  Could the Book of Revelation be an elaborate if confusing FAQ for some future kid who has to go around hitting atheists with pieces of fruits?  So many theological questions…

Also, really, “Boots of the Gospel”?  What comes next – “The Revolver of Easter”?  “The Grappling Hook of the Book of Job”?

Anyway, after finding the church I hit another dead end, so I took off to the slums.   even though I had to go there because of the game programmers’ weird morality, the slums have been the highlight so far.  It looks like someone dropped an atomic bomb on Andy Capp’s home city, and that’s kind of awesome.

Of course, because this is Spiritual Warfare, there are a few things that are distinctly unawesome.  For one thing, NotLink can’t even climb through piles of trash, and you have to blow them up (although sometimes that doesn’t work either).  For another, you get attacked by dogs, and since dogs actually do not go to Heaven you can’t kill-convert (killvert?) them like everything else (the “bombs” don’t work either and, yes, I tried).  The whole slum is so disconcerting even creepy pedophile quiz guy is disturbed:

If the whole “cars not killing a small fleshy boy” counts, I think this brings the Programming Error Count up to two.  That’s high quality by Wisdom Tree standards!

Finally, the slums made me realize that this game’s idea of a “dungeon” is to put you in a room with a number of bombable and pushable obstacles.  I suppose they’re meant to be puzzles, but it always takes about two or three seconds to figure it all out.  Getting through them – especially since most of the time you have to go back through it and all the obstacles respawn – feels like it takes ten years, especially when one has to go through them just to get an item taken away from you.

However, the game did surprise me, and surpass all my very low expectations.  In the slums, you’re warned about a real gang war and soon come across them.  In order to progress, you must carry out a couple of missions, which the programmers made symbolic of the complex social and economic problems facing inner city youth…

Nah, just kidding;  you only whack them with fruit.

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Spiritual Warfare, Video Games

Spiritual Warfare Part 2: Sin City

If there’s one thing I’ve gotten out of this game, it’s a heartfelt appreciation for what reviewers of bad video games go through.  With a bad book or movie at least you have a general idea of when it will be over (with exceptions like Tree of Life, which can miraculously turn ten minutes into a century), but a bad video game has no visible end on the horizon.  Also, while a great movie or novel can be in their own ways just as immersing as a great game, bad video games draw you into their own twisted, depraved universes in a way uniquely their own.  Yes, sitting through Halloween 4 : Return of Michael Myers can be painful, but at least you don’t have to play through a tedious mini-game where you have to form the lynch mob that tries to chase down Michael Myers.

Sadly, by now I am genuinely curious how Spiritual Warfare ends.  Plus…I can’t let it win.

Anyway,  in the last episode we saw NotLink get a belt that gave him superstrength and allowed him to push aside the boulders inexplicably blocking the only path from the park into the city, which is also infested with murderous atheists.  As soon as you go downtown you run the risk of getting trampled on by businessmen stomping back and forth.  Also trying to kill you are…construction workers.   Some of them are badass enough to leave behind dynamite, which at one point caught one of the businessmen in the blast, causing him to convert.  That’s a great message for a Christian video game:  converting to Christianity is equivalent to being blasted into a pile of guts on the ground.  But then there are the ones who instead of leaving behind dynamite they erect barriers in the path to the next screen.  They don’t really accomplish anything except delay your progress for a minute or two while you have to leave and re-enter the screen to make the barriers disappear – and of course generally adding to the game’s anti-fun/pro-suckage factor.

There are a few things I forgot to mention last time, too.  One is that something else they forgot to steal from Legend of Zelda is the map function.  Now the map from Legend of Zelda is pretty crude, but it still tells you where you are in the overworld and helps give you some idea where you’ve already been.   Here you got nothing, and it’s made worse by the fact that the game never gives you a clear overall objective.  Sure, once in a while you run across a kid with dead, soulless eyes who tells you that you have to pick up “x” item to get to “y” area and every now and then there’s a boss fight (but nothing that can be called a “dungeon”), but while The Legend of Zelda told players to look for the eight labyrinths for the pieces of the Triforce, as far as I know in Spiritual Warfare the storyline is just some kid who is going around killing as many people as possible but is hallucinating that he is saving their souls.  The ways of the Lord may be  mysterious, but the ways of Spiritual Warfare doubly so.    The music only makes figuring all this out even worse.  Like any crappy video game from the 8-bit era, it’s just one terrible, ear-shredding song, and it never stops, no matter where you are or no matter if you’re just in the overworld or fighting a boss.  At least it gave me an excuse to switch in some music that better complimented the game experience.

Finally, there’s the fact that you get Bible quizzes. Instead of fairies you occasionally run into an angel, and sometimes there’s dozens of them flying around and sometimes they never show up at all, another sign of a well-programmed game.  Anyway, when you touch one, you go right to this screen where a creepy pedophile with a bowtie asks you questions about the Bible.   Because it’s not enough for fundamentalist parents that their knock-off game shoves its religious themes down not just your throat but every orifice, no, the game also has to try to capture all the excitement of a Sunday school lesson.   Now even with my failed religious education I could answer about 90 percent of the questions;  if you knew that “sin” and “salvation” had something to do with why Jesus getting crucified was a good thing and about the whole “son of God” thing you already got half the questions covered.  Still, once in a while you’ll get a question like “Was the person the sorcerer Elymas tried to corrupt a proconsul or a tetrarch?” and that’s when you ironically take the Lord’s name in vain when the pedophile frowns at you like a smug, self-righteous ass.  See, doing well on the quizzes actually kind of matters, because answering all the questions right in one go restores your health and since the game is usually stingy with the health power-ups dropped by enemies, more often than not you need to get a perfect score if you just give half a damn about whether or not your character dies.

(Gee, maybe the answer is Satan!  This game certainly feels like it’s the Word of Satan, at least.)

I had a lot of this in my mind as I had to run across the whole downtown area – construction workers blocking my way and all – because I went to a locked room first and the key was way on the other side of the downtown map.   I was hoping that I finally came across a dungeon;  instead it was more side-scrolling rooms with easily killed enemies and then, suddenly, one of the most frustrating boss fights I had in my entire experience as a gamer.  It starts out as another side-scrolling room with ladders, but there are these blocks that obstruct your way that randomly appear and disappear across the room.  Meanwhile this guy wielding a wrench or something, who looks like one of the regular enemies, shows up, but you can’t harm him with your normal attack;  instead you have to blow him up with your bombs.  When you blow him up, another shows up, and in the end you have to kill three of them.  Now I swear, I went through five lives fighting them and both where the bosses go and how the blocks move are all completely random so it’s really mostly luck whether or not you survive, much less if you can pull off blowing up the bosses.  And it doesn’t help that the bombs take forever to explode.  At least this is the only point in the game so far where the enemies don’t just start praying;  you really do kill them.

After all that, you meet another angel who gives you the Breastplate, which like the armor from Legend of Zelda reduces damage by half. In addition, it lets you get into the Airport area.  I was hoping you end up fighting a Catholic or Hindu pilot who tries to kill you with a plane, but what I did get actually surprised me – an Airplane! reference.

I mean, yeah, it’s one of the more obvious references you could make, but…kudos, Spiritual Warfare!  Here’s hoping that the programmer who put that in there wasn’t forced to do penance for acknowledging the existence of an evil secular film.  Also, believe it or not, in the Airport area and the next area I stumbled across, the Warehouse area, enemies start showing sings of actual AI, rushing directly toward you or targeting you with projectiles.  Now, one of the enemies are these annoying gangsters who fire bullets that knock you backward and can reach much further and faster than any weapon you have so far, which means that in one area you have no chance of getting through except by depending on that temporary invulnerability you get from being hit, but still…actual challenge!  The game is finally reaching for the stars.

Of course, since this is a Wisdom Tree game after all, my good will was short lived.  First off, the Warehouse area is just a confusing mishmash of stairways and buildings you have to run through, and for all that I still didn’t seem to find anything important.  Figuring that maybe I skipped an area I was supposed to go to first, I backtracked to the downtown area and found…a Bar.  Because this game isn’t about the religion whose founder was known for reaching out to prostitutes and other outcasts, just going into a place that serves alcohol is enough to get the game to actually punish you (well, punish you beyond the experience of actually playing it).

First, it isn’t enough that you’re a kid sent to fight a whole city of murderous sinners on your own;  you have to go to a slum to reclaim one of your items.  Plus, you have this game where the whole premise is that you’re supposed to be saving souls, even the souls of all these crazy atheists who inexplicably want you dead,  but you can’t go looking for lost souls in a bar!  That’s Great Lesson #2 for the Christian kiddies.  Third, you don’t see anything else but the empty room and the angel.  Did the angel set up this whole bar just to trick you into doing something he punishes you for?  That’s some Old Testament-style dickery there.  To be fair, though, maybe the game designers were getting their theology from the Book of The Adam West Batman.

Well, that was all I could take for now.  Will I recover the Belt of Truth from the slums, or will I end up stabbed by a crack addict?  Tune in next time, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!

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Spiritual Warfare, Video Games

Spiritual Warfare Part 1: Surviving the Christopher Hitchens Memorial Park

There is one historical figure who really ought to appreciate this blog, and that’s Jesus. Think about it: no single figure has had more trashy, sub-par, C-grade, disposable culture dedicated in His name. Of course, it wasn’t always like this. Christianity used to produce things like the Sistine Chapel and Johnny Cash and Wise Blood, but in more recent decades here in the United States it’s unleashed a garbage island’s worth of shallow, forgettable imitations of popular music, TV shows, video games, etc., etc. It’s not just that Christians have become a demographic to be pandered to and told what their tastes are by our consumption-based society, but that some Christians have declared that they are a demographic apart, segregated by choice from the other decadent, corrupting, and secular demographics. Unfortunately, this has made Christians terrified of secular contamination the golden goose. After all, why should anyone bother producing anything original or, well, good when you’ve got an audience that won’t even look at any alternatives outside their own moral quarantine camp? Let ’em eat the crappy, distaff version of cake!

Now this might sound like an exaggeration, but let’s consider today’s case study, Wisdom Tree, formerly Color Dreams. A maker of mediocre and badly received games like Crystal Mines and Menace Beach (as Wikipedia diplomatically put it, they had a “…reputation for releasing poor games”), Color Dreams renamed itself Wisdom Tree and began making Christian-themed games…mostly by just changing this and adding that to their old unsuccessful games. I don’t want to cast doubt on the sincerity behind whatever caused the people at Wisdom Tree to so drastically change course, but really they had found what was at the time untouched territory: Christian fundamentalist parents and their kids. In fact, virtually all the religious-themed games for the Nintendo were from Wisdom Tree, as the Angry Video Game Nerd’s hilarious series on Nintendo religious games reveals:

I really don’t have much to add to the AVGN’s analysis, except to say his review made me curious about one game, Spiritual Warfare. Like even the Wisdom Tree games that were not dressed up leftovers from their Color Dream days, it was a slapdash rip-off of a popular Nintendo game, in this case The Legend of Zelda. Yet the sources I found agreed that it probably was the best game done by Wisdom Tree – although admittedly that’s like saying being pickpocketed is the best kind of crime to happen to you – and, worse for me, I was genuinely curious how one would go about turning The Legend of Zelda into a video game that would make even Carrie White’s mom say amen. And so I did play Spiritual Warfare, and, lo, it was a very awful game indeed…

For starters, the game doesn’t even make an effort to disguise the fact that it’s a Zelda clone. There’s a top-down view, stairways leading to dungeons, a landscape divided into single screens, occasional underground side-scrolling parts, the ability to equip two different items or weapons that you use through the A and B buttons, an inventory screen, and items like a raft and a special item that lets you push boulders. Even when you start out, there’s a room where someone (in this case an angel) gives you your first weapon.

The only big difference is the plot. Instead of taking place in a fantasy world (or ancient Palestine or whatever), Spiritual Warfare is about a modern city where all the people are not Christian and therefore they do nothing but go around trying to kill your character, some random boy God picked because for no other reason than it’s funny to pit a twelve-year old against an entire city of sociopathic atheists.

Your only defense against these God Delusion-reading marauders is…fruit. When you throw the fruit at an enemy, they begin praying and disappear. Sometimes a demon will pop out of them and make a beeline for you, but it moves so slowly it’s never a threat. Okay, I get that it’s a metaphor – in the inventory screen they even say the different fruits represent modesty and patience and whatever – but isn’t it disturbing that you convert people by just hitting them with pieces of fruit? Don’t most Christian arguments about why evil exists in the first place and salvation boil down to free will? Oh well, I guess when you’re evil because you have a demon stuck up your ass free will doesn’t even enter the equation.

You start the game in a park – at least, the game claims it’s a park. It just seems like a random assortment of black spaces and grass that, thanks to the stellar graphics, looks like it stabs through anybody that walks over it. The enemies are guys wearing sunglasses and carrying switchblades, thugs running around with baseball bats (I guess?), and bicyclists who aren’t really out to get you – they just ride back and forth in a demented pattern – but you get to kill…I mean, “save” them anyway.


There’s also this random guy playing basketball. Naturally because this is a Nintendo game my first thought was, “How do I kill this guy?” Sadly I couldn’t find a way to get past the bleachers that inexplicably surround the basketball court. I guess his soul is just damned forever because my character can’t get around some inexplicable bleachers. You can’t even blast your way in with bombs. Okay, they’re not bombs, but “vials of the Wrath of God.” This opinion might surprise you, but they’re not nearly as much fun as the bombs in Legend of Zelda. For one thing, there aren’t even any mountain walls you can try blasting an entrance into. For another, they can blow up boulders but the bicyclist who rode right into the blast radius just started praying, instead of having his little 8-bit head blown off (I’m just repeating the experience of everyone who ever played this game).

Well, anyway, you also start off right next to what I assume is the first “dungeon.” I use the term “dungeon” loosely because there are no puzzles or mazes, it’s just climbing up and down stairways in a side-scrolling stage and facing off against these slow-moving enemies. There is a boss at the end who you fight for the “Belt of Truth,” the item you need to push boulders, but what the hell the boss is even supposed to be I have no idea. It’s just somebody hiding behind a big garbage bag and shooting demons at you. It’s so easy a fight that it took more effort to kill myself just to see what happens when you die. Naturally, the one thing they don’t steal from The Legend of Zelda is the save feature. Instead the player gets those infamous long passwords that were the bane of many a Nintendo player.


I’ll probably have more to say later (assuming I don’t get so bored with the game I give up on this series), but there’s nothing like playing a badly designed game to make you understand what makes a great game great. In The Legend of Zelda, almost every screen seems like it might a secret stairway or cave hidden under a tree or behind a mountain wall and it’s not long before you’ve got Octorocs spitting stones in front of you and Zolas shooting fireballs from the water on the side. With Spiritual Warfare, most of the screens are empty except for the occasional boulder blocking a path that you just have to blow up – you know there’s nothing hidden because there isn’t even anything it could be hidden behind – and slow-moving enemies that would only pose a threat if you’re a really bad player or if you just get so bored you don’t care whether or not the brat on the screen gets to see his intestines thanks to a knife-wielding thug (which was my case). It’s hard to explain unless you’ve played both games for yourself, but comparing the two makes it obvious that there’s much more to making a fun video game than just filling screens with enemies. You have to make it engaging and fun without making every screen a death trap. It gets depressingly clear very soon what makes Spiritual Warfare the perfect example of the entire species of Christian knock-offs; the body is there, but ironically the spirit is completely missing.

In other words, I’m in for a really boring and pretty crappy ride.

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