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.

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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.

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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 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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Yes This Really Happened

Yes, This Really Happened: Wolverine Finds Jesus

To observe Easter, I decided to share the most important and unlikely story of conversion in the history of the Christian religion.  Of course, I’m referring to Nightcrawler’s conversion of Wolverine in that episode of X-Men: The Animated Series. As bizarre and forced as it sounds, the episode does more or less fit with the canon of the comics. For starters, Nightcrawler has been well-established as a devout Catholic. In fact, one story from Chris Claremont’s original run in Uncanny X-Men had Nightcrawler suffer a devastating crisis of faith when the X-Men encounter a literal god-like being called the Beyonder, which is one of the very few stories I’m aware of that tries to examine what living in a universe populated with cosmic beings not at all shy about intervening in human affairs does to believers in real-world religions. Likewise in the comics Wolverine has also been more or less written as an atheist or at least a cynical agnostic, although this again raises the question of how easy it is to deny the existence of any higher power when your career often has you in the same room as the real Hercules and the Norse god of war. At the same time, out of all the angst-plagued X-Men, Wolverine probably does have the most reason to doubt the existence of a loving God. This is the guy who lived through two World Wars, had metal bonded with his entire skeleton, whose metal claws burst through his flesh and skin every time he has to use them, and is in love with a woman who is not only married but periodically dies, gets better, and dies again.

Titled “Nightcrawler,” the episode has the remit of introducing to the animated universe Nightcrawler, who isn’t yet a member of the X-Men (and if I remember right never becomes one in the course of the series, even though he wears his X-Men costume in this episode). Like in the comics, we first see Nightcrawler in a small German town, being chased by people who look a lot like the extras playing European peasants in just about any Universal horror movie from the 1930s (to be fair, they looked like that in the comics too). Unlike the comics, where Nightcrawler just happens to be rescued from the mob because Professor Xavier needs a few dopes to send on what might be a suicide mission, this time Nightcrawler is found by Rogue, Gambit, and Wolverine, who all happen to be on a ski trip in the German Alps. So, here’s a question: why is Wolverine being a third wheel? The characters’ dialogue even comments on this; Gambit makes a joke about Wolverine being their chaperone. Does a prudish Professor Xavier, possibly taking his own sexual frustrations out on his students, have a “no fraternizing” policy so strict even Bob Jones University could take notes from it? I prefer to think that Gambit forgets about the whole “Don’t even try to reach first base with Rogue because she’ll unintentionally absorb your powers and memories” thing so often that Wolverine always has to be at hand to threaten to perform an impromptu vasectomy should the need arise.

The plot kicks in when Wolverine overhears two skiers talk about demon-sightings and insists on investigating with Rogue and Gambit in tow. I have no idea it was intentional, but I like that the episode doesn’t even establish if Wolverine suspects that the rumored demon might be a misunderstood mutant. He’s so badass he’s just always looking for new things to kill! Anyway, because apparently parts of rural Germany still don’t have roads or trains the three have to ski all the way to the village. I suspect this unlikely scenario was put in just to set up something to appease all the Gambit-haters out there, a scene where Gambit accidentally slides down a steep hill and slams into a pine tree. This sets up what is easily the best line in the episode, courtesy of Wolverine: “Man doesn’t break a sweat against Apocalypse or Magneto. So what nails him? A pine tree.”

After getting on the wrong side of an avalanche to boot, the three end up in the town’s monastery where Gambit is treated by the monks. Wolverine tries to get information on the alleged demon, only for one of the monks to reply that he doesn’t know of any demon (it’s a nice touch that technically he isn’t lying). Also, just in case you are already thinking up jokes about Rogue being in a monastery, the show’s writer has beaten you to it. A monk gently insists that Rogue, whose ski suit has had its sleeves ripped off, cover herself, to which Rogue remarks, “Don’t want to make the natives restless!” There you have it; even the G-rated, toned-down animated series has to acknowledge Rogue’s hotness. Anyway, another monk, Reinhart, who overhears that conversation, tries to murder Gambit, but Rogue happens to be checking in on Gambit and gives chase. Rogue accidentally runs through a door the monks built so that Nightcrawler could climb down the monastery’s walls and falls, but Nightcrawler, not knowing that Rogue can fly, uses his teleportation power to “save” her. Once the obligatory misunderstandings and fights are over with, Nightcrawler explains and flashes back to his origins (for those of you well versed in your X-Men continuity, in the flashback there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Amanda Sefton). Wolverine is exasperated by Nightcrawler’s forgiving attitude toward his bad circumstances and the bigotry he’s faced: “We’re mutants! God gave up on us a long time ago!” To help prove Wolverine’s point, a village mob whipped up by Reinhart attacks the monastery, but Nightcrawler is ultimately vindicated when Reinhart, horrified that he and his mob’s actions have caused a fire that destroys much of the monastery, begs forgiveness from Nightcrawler. As the X-Men leave, Nightcrawler hands Wolverine a Bible. Later when they move their vacation to Paris, Rogue is surprised to find Wolverine praying and reading the Bible in a church.

Now I should start off by saying I won’t snark on this episode, because honestly it isn’t that bad, and there are several areas in which it could have been a hell of a lot worse. In terms of animation, stories, and reaching an all-ages audience, X-Men: The Animated Series wasn’t in the same league as Batman: The Animated Series, but it generally managed to have solid dialogue, characterizations, and plotlines that revealed genuine creative effort, and not just people trying to siphon off what was then comics’ biggest cash cow. In fact, since through a good part of the series’ run the “X-Men” comics themselves were in a creative and editorial quagmire that spawned many go-nowhere plotlines and character derailments, one could make the argument that at the time the series was in a few ways better than the majority of the comics, not counting the series’ watered-down adaptations of classic X-Men stories like The Dark Phoenix Saga and the original Proteus story (I can get leaving out the part where Proteus attempts to rape his mother while possessing the rotting corpse of his father, but did they really have to make him into just another troubled, misunderstood teen?). This episode did have its flaws, including some Belgium-sized plot holes like: 1) Did Reinhart just not know that Nightcrawler was living in the monastery all that time? I know the animation makes the monastery look like a palace, but come on, especially since it would have been hard to explain away the door that led to a fifteen-foot drop. 2) Why did he try to kill Gambit in the first place? Possibly he was actually aware that Nightcrawler was there all along and was trying to protect the monastery from the potential scandal, but none of this is ever made clear. 3) So Gambit and Rogue are not all that concerned that Reinhart tried to murder Gambit? Granted we don’t know if Reinhart is taken to jail or thrown out of the monastery or whatever, but it’s funny that the attempted murder is never brought up again. I guess the X-Men just take that kind of thing in stride.  Despite all that, the episode actually holds up reasonably well, especially if you don’t focus on the contrived action aspect of the plot.

Of course, we’re not here to talk about plot holes, but about Wolverine’s conversion! Now naturally the whole episode will lead a bad taste in your mouth if you’re just opposed on principle to your entertainment proselytizing you. Also if you look at an interview about this episode with its writer Len Uhley it’s clear that the Powers That Be at FOX supported the episode’s message, good will that likely would not have been extended to, for example, an episode with Storm teaching someone about her vague New Age-y goddess worship religion. Still, this isn’t like Jack Chick or even like a Christian version of Captain Planet, and the episode manages to do surprisingly well with the issue of religion…until the last scene, but I’ll get to my issues with that in a minute. Even if you object to the content, for a Saturday morning action cartoon the episode does take a somewhat mature if too fleeting look at what’s its like to have bigotry and violence sour one on the whole idea of religion, and to have another person overcome such experiences through some kind of faith. Now because of the limits of the medium they can only depict these ideas with the broadest strokes, and even with the carte blanche the showrunners were apparently granted it still seems like they couldn’t get perfectly explicit (that Jesus guy is never mentioned, although Nightcrawler does get to mention the idea of original sin, and Wolverine never comes across as a bona fide atheist), but still it is heavy stuff for a cartoon run at a time when, say, Nintendo of America turned all the churches in Final Fantasy into “clinics” (leading to the nonsensical plot point where a vampire went out of its way to burn down a clinic, but I digress).

First, let me say that while I didn’t have problems with the episode itself being overtly Christian-y, I did take issue with the fact that the message did force both Nightcrawler and Wolverine to act wildly out of character and being reduced to mouthpieces. Now I know it’s not easy to get any message across in a half-hour TV show, especially one as heavily under the scrutiny of censors and watchdog groups as shows ostensibly for children, but was it really necessary to have Wolverine act like a 17-year old who just read The God Delusion for the first time? One monk brings up God, and Wolverine gets all sarcastic as if he felt provoked that God of all things gets mentioned in a monastery. Just in general Wolverine’s whole attitude to Nightcrawler doesn’t ring true to the character; not only how he’s depicted in the comics, but in at least a couple of other episodes of the show as well. Yes, Wolverine is someone who has been turned into a hard-edged cynic by experiencing first-hand more than a century’s worth of fighting, suffering, and atrocities, but his long life and being involved in just about every major conflict in the twentieth century has also made him exceptionally open to other cultures and points of view, best shown by his total immersion in Japanese culture.  So the bottom line is that the episode does work with Wolverine having a grudge against the Christian God, but it doesn’t ring true at all in how Wolverine expresses it. In fact, I finished the episode wondering why the writer didn’t just use Gambit, who would have had Wolverine’s skepticism and anger but not his worldliness, and leave Wolverine out of the story entirely. I guess having Canada’s favorite native one-man army open his heart to Jesus is much more impressive than doing the same with freakin’ Gambit, but still…

That said, how the episode distorts Wolverine isn’t quite as bad as what happens with Nightcrawler, who is unrecognizable compared to his comics counterpart. Here Nightcrawler is a soft-spoken, pure pacifist, whose every other line of dialogue is a Christian adage about love and peace. In the comics, Nightcrawler is someone who coped with his monstrous looks through not only his Catholicism, but by developing a romantic, flirtatious, devil-may-care persona. You do get one small hint of this when Nightcrawler addresses Rogue as Fräulein as he kisses her (gloved) hand, but it’s passing. To put it another way, Nightcrawler’s faith is just one facet to his character; there are other things he can talk about!  In sum, in the comics he’s like most real-life Christians (and Muslims, and Hindus, and Wiccans, and etc., etc., for that matter).

The lack of subtlety, while understandable, really comes to a head in the last scene with Wolverine kneeling in the Church. I know it’s meant to be a shocker, and it’s definitely the one image that caused me to even remember that this episode existed. Still, from a creative perspective, it’s a little too on-the-nose. Plus it reminds me a bit too much of those unlicensed “Calvin and Hobbes” prints that show Calvin kneeling before a cross. It all just screams: “Look, kids, even your favorite rebel without a cause kneels before God!” The problem is just as in his fictional universe Calvin, whether or not the reader chooses to believe that he’s saved, will forever torment his teachers, parents, and Suzie, Wolverine will only keep killing busloads of people (or, in the animated series’ case, really enjoying lots of bloodless violence). It doesn’t speak well of the transformative power of the Bible, you know? Regardless, it’s still a lot of fun to imagine what Wolverine would sound like in confession:

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I have killed 67 ninjas and dismembered 24 others. Also I have lusted after Scott Summers’ undead wife in my heart and I slept with Ms. Marvel yet again. Oh, and does killing an army of Skrulls count as a sin since they’re aliens?

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