I had a dream the other night, and in it I found myself wandering and drifting throughout the cosmos with two of the most beautiful unnamed women I’ve ever met in my life. I should be happy, it’s everything I could ever ask for and yet, I can’t help but think if this is worth my time? I glance out to the giant blue planet where I cultivated some of my best friendships and relationships and feel empty inside knowing that I left it all behind. Was it out of obligation or perhaps fear? Maybe a bit of both with a side of social pressure on top of it? Definitely the last one. It’s funny, I always considered myself the most mature one of the lot but I feel like my inner voice is giving me conflicting thoughts. I want to be independent but I don’t want that to come at the cost of sacrificing all that I care about. I’ve invested so much time in my relationships because I know that is what I care about the most. I don’t want to be driven by the sensual pleasures of life as my means to get out of bed on a daily basis. I was initially so happy I was given the chance to be welcomed aboard the ship but is it wrong to feel that my calling lies somewhere else? I don’t want to disappoint those that care and I don’t want to disappoint myself yet it feels like I’m in a war. A war that has my heart in pain. I can no longer see the sun anymore, only the faint planets in the distance. It’s funny because aside from the money I loved my old gig, it provided me some of the most comforting mental stability around. I love earth, yet it feels like at times it doesn’t want me to be there. I hate the idea that I feel like I need to chase happiness by seeking out new planets. It just, doesn’t seem right. I love what I had, and I love it so dearly… “You alright there?” Said both of the ladies simultaneously. I stayed silent as I continued to pilot the spaceship.
A powerful wave of anxiety has crept up on my aching heart. It twists and consumes me and I can’t help but wonder why? Have I done something wrong to upset the cosmic gods? I must have angered some divine being. Or perhaps I was destined to have hateful and ignorant people in my life. I hate my… well you can fill in the rest. I thought there was someone I looked up to many moons ago but I can see now that I was more naive than them. I think the real issue is the toxic masculinity stigma that is so prevalent within them. I can’t sympathize with someone who claims they care but when push comes to shove they really don’t. We needed them but you could tell, you could just tell it was by mere obligation rather than a desire to help. How would you feel if you tried to open up to someone, going so far as to say you’re on the verge of hanging yourself, and then have them completely dismiss your feelings and thoughts? Don’t you dare tell me to not express my thoughts and feelings. Don’t you dare consider being condescending while I’m trying to talk to you about our situation. This same situation that “we” are living through not you. Don’t censor me. Don’t preach to me about compassion when you yourself clearly lack it. Don’t tell me I’m not a man because I don’t agree with your twisted world view. Don’t try to tell me I don’t matter because you lack any sense of self-worth. Don’t try to change me. You are not my parent and you never were. I can not sleep. My insomnia, stress and anxiety are starting to get the best of me and I simply can’t handle it. I need help. I’ve needed help for 25 years. Right now I am clutching my heart in pain as my left arm convulses. I am having a heart attack.
There was once a world covered in the veil of night, where people used to roam free for eons. Now we have become complacent with our lives, we have become one with being indoors. I can’t stand it. People should be free. We shouldn’t be incentivized to spend more time in isolation, in comfort, in shallow entertainment. We are better than this. We have proven our worth time and time again that we are creatures capable of evolving, of creating. Yet here we are, actively destroying any semblance of progress we have by being complacent with apathy. Am I angry at this? Truth be told I fall victim to these habits too. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t upset with myself with my own complacency. How does this happen really? Is it simply just growing accustomed to not being lazy? Or perhaps it is insecurity and unwillingness to try something new? Why would someone be scared to try something new? Don’t people naturally try to see out positive new experiences rather than clinging stubbornly to older ones with a negative stigma attached to them? I hate that I will never know. I hate that we fall victim to this. But above all else, I hate complacency.
The Arena calls to me. I can feel my body sweat with nerves as I consider what my best options are against my opponent. Do I go for a quick jab to try and throw him off? How about a lightning fast sweep to knock him off his feet? No that would be too easy. I need to think about what HE would do rather than what my offense should be. I need to anticipate whether he’ll try to rush me down and pressure me into the corner. I need to figure out what to do when pushed out of my comfort zone. Do I keep blocking and pray that he’ll let up? Perhaps try to find a moment in between where I can deliver a fatal blow? That could put me in even more risk though and with how many hits I’ve already taken I don’t think I can afford that unless I’m 100 percent sure. The time grows steadily shorter as the looming presence draws closer to my being. I wait and hesitate. The ominous shadow looms toward me. It strikes me, my life slowly drains. “I WON’T let you defeat me!” I scream out. As I stand up and slowly get back to my feet I notice the inky shadow lunge toward me. I wait… and time itself comes to a momentary standstill. Everything is frozen, I can see it’s visage in front of me. It’s me, and everything I hate about myself. My shoulders tense and I channel all of my strength into the most violent uppercut of them all. I screamed the loudest scream I’ve ever screamed in my life as the ominous shadow absorbs into my body. As my vision faded I could hear the announcer scream about my victory of conquering my opponent, “Ion De Press”.
It’s funny, valentine’s day used to make me feel pretty sad. I would think about how so many people have it much better than me in their interpersonal relationships. I always thought that “wow they must be so lucky to have someone care about them.” I’ve had my heart broken by people I thought I could trust and it hurt. I closed myself off to others and it was so scary. I was caught in that negative thought pattern for so many years, but this past year has made me realize how fortunate and lucky that I really am. I’ve been able to meet so many people who have been incredibly supportive and helpful on this journey. The most important person I’ve met, however, is you! You’ve been supporting me from the very start since I started taking up my new career and have given me so much.
Happiness, motivation, and a reason to get out of bed and be my very best. These are all the wonderful things that you provide. You give me your time, your positive energy and have made my life and others better just by being you! It’s the little things that I appreciate the most, like when you check up on me after not being on for a while, it tells me that you care and it makes my heart warm up. It’s the little things like when we watch each other play games and laugh at all the silly moments and make our own little jokes that only we get that make me appreciate our humor. And yes, I’m still laughing and blushing that someone considers me sexy! Your kindness is a warm blanket that consoles me when I really need it. Whenever I have a stressful day and talk with you I feel at peace. I am at peace knowing that there is a human being out there who’s as kind, charismatic and as caring as you. I am at peace knowing that I have met one of the coolest and nicest ladies in my life.
This journey has been a long one and I can’t help but express how grateful I am that you have had my back since the very start. My life has been changed for the better after meeting you. I’m convinced that if me pursuing this path has brought me anything to be grateful for, it’s that I’m just so_so genuinely happy and blessed to have met you.
Lisa: Apocalypse Economics 101
Lisa might just be one of the most bizarre role-playing games I’ve ever played. It’s rare to find a game in this genre that approaches its’ story and gameplay mechanics and completely making the player rethink basic concepts like currency, party members, and in-game items as well. These three aspects tie into this sort of twisted economy, and if you want to make it to the end you’ll need to become an entrepreneur of the apocalypse.
Magazines as money?
The key to becoming a world-class entrepreneur is to first understand what you’re dealing with regarding currency. The apocalypse has no need for simple paper money, and for good reason too, it doesn’t serve a purpose. It’s important to keep in mind that the world within Lisa is a world without women, well there is technically one woman and you as a player are trying to rescue her. With this in mind, the currency within this world happens to be adult magazines rather than paper money. My initial first impression of this was bewilderment followed by immediate laughter at the absurdity of the idea. It clearly made sense from both a gameplay and plot perspective but the more I thought about it the more horrifying it became. As if learning of some Eldritch truth, I realized this might actually be some sort of social commentary the developer may have been trying to get across. Money is considered something neutral by nature, it has no implied meaning on its own. With magazines representing money, we see that it quite literally represents lust in its most explicit manner. It’s understandable within the context of the game because we are dealing with the fall of society, but it echoes back to the real world in a rather uncomfortable manner. The game objectifies women by showing their only portrayal within the game as a physical object and it shows an unhealthy standard. We however still do this to some degree within certain industries by imposing some sort of model standard that women are expected to achieve. Maybe I’m looking a bit too into this earthbound inspired RPG but I do think it’s hard to ignore this unusual type of currency after playing the game for so long.
Disposable party members and you
Now that we know the backstory of our currency, how do we find a way to practically use this to save the last woman within Lisa? Simply put we can buy some party members to aid us in our quest. Not everyone, however, needs to be properly compensated for their services, some just happen to tag along. A customizable party isn’t really treading new ground when it comes to gameplay, but what Lisa does differently is that there is perma-death for your compatriots. Imagine doing the self-imposed nuzlocke challenge from pokemon as the main gameplay gimmick and you basically have a fiendishly difficult RPG. What’s cool is that the game plays with that concept pretty nicely. Your teammates are only instakilled in battle by these horrendous looking mutants that you encounter every now and again. All of them possess an attack that involves biting off your teammates head (gruesome is putting it lightly). You’ve also got to worry about something as simple as resting. Here your party members can either depart permanently by their own volition, or they can be kidnapped. In the event that they are kidnapped, you’re usually presented with some sort of moral dilemma. Do I pay the bulk of my magazines to bring them back, or were they pretty weak to begin with and not worth my time? After a point I found myself shudder when I thought of this because these aren’t virtual monsters you’re working with, they’re humans. It’s unusual to even consider this line of reasoning but Lisa incorporates it rather well with its’ hard-hitting moral choices. There are times in the game where you need to decide whose well-being is more important, yours or your friends? By the game’s standards I was considered selfish because I chose to invest in the one constant in my party rather than be altruistic and help the other teammates. I paid the price for it eventually too. The has over 20 plus playable characters, and because of my mistakes, there was a long portion of the game where it was just me exploring the apocalyptic wasteland. If there were ever a feeling of genuine loneliness and isolation to be felt within a video game, it would have been right there. In my tunnel vision to save the last woman on earth I realized at some point I would have to go at it alone.
Joy: invest in yourself
I thought at some point, “going alone might not be so bad right? I’ve just gotta pull out all the stops, but more importantly, I’ll have to use something I was hoping I wouldn’t have to.” Throughout Lisa, we learn about our main characters addiction to this pill known as “Joy”. It’s an experimental drug that is known to make its user feel nothing, however, it comes at a cost. The mutants I mentioned earlier happened to be people who transformed because of their addiction to the drug. Joy has more than just a plot purpose, it is actually an in-game item you can use as well if you choose to do so. Perhaps it’s because of my selfishness toward my party members, but at some point in the game, I felt as if I had no choice but to submit to Joy. It was a strange process, it gave me guaranteed critical hits in battle but it also made the withdrawal my character had much worse. When I wasn’t using Joy I would consistently be hitting 0’s in battle, making the turns where I wasn’t Joyed up much less effective. It is not necessary to use these to beat the game, in fact, you’re even punished for it. If you ever take Joy, then it locks you out of a bonus epilogue cutscene in addition to the harmful effects in game. It is actually to your benefit to sell Joy as well, as it gives you the most magazines compared to other items. Similar to how I was terrified whenever I fought the mutants, I was scared of what I was turning my character into and how it reflected my thoughts as well. My desperation felt tangible as I trudged closer and closer toward the end of my journey. In the end, I did save the last woman on earth, but similar to the protagonist’s thoughts I also asked myself, “Did I do the right thing?”
Conquering more than just a mountain
I’ve never been too keen on the idea of consistent failure as a learning concept when it comes to platformers. Games like the recent The End is Nigh drove me to unparalleled fits of frustration, despite the tight controls and level design. There’s just something about the difficulty that can drive even the most level-headed men to insanity after enough attempts. In spite of my thousand plus deaths, by the time I reached the credits, I was actually blown away with how much I genuinely enjoyed Celeste.
When I first saw the trailer for Celeste, I was immediately sold with its presentation. I’m a sucker for pixel art, despite how it has become a more common trend in recent gaming years with hits like shovel knight. The art within the game is clean and at times serene, matching the grace and beauty of a dangerous mountain with its delightfully simple character sprites and expressive portraits. Levels themselves are also displayed with all the key info readily available, without screen clutter at all. As almost a pseudo sort of reward for completing a chapter, you are shown various detailed splash arts showing the end scene of the chapter, which only adds to the sense of accomplishment. The same attention to detail that the art has also carries over to the games excellent soundtrack, which carries with it some haunting piano pieces, ambient music, and some electronica that gets the blood pumping in the harder areas. It’s a great medley of different pieces that just click with the areas you’re put in, and they only enhance the experience.
Celeste accurately showcases the difficulty of climbing a mountain with no experience, which is reflected within the plot and the gameplay. The game opens up with our incredibly stubborn protagonist Madeline at the base of Celeste mountain, with the sole intent of making it to the top. Along the way, you meet a charming cast of characters from the loveable selfie-taking Theo, to the odd Mr. Oshiro who manages the local Celeste mountain hotel. Most of them try to dissuade you from climbing the mountain not just because of Madeline’s lack of skills, but because there are supernatural implications behind the mountain. Throughout the game, the supporting cast mentions strange happenstances with the mountain and how it shows its climbers what lies within them. Celeste mountain without a doubt had this sort of silent hill vibe to it that was in the back of my mind as I kept playing. You experience these weird hallucinations and flashbacks into Madeline’s past which give some wonderful insight into her reasons behind climbing the mountain. Seeing Madeline coping with all her past troubles by trying to challenge herself to this extreme turned out to be rather poignant. She is clearly battling her inner demon in both a literal and metaphorical sense which I won’t spoil the specifics due to how powerfully it is represented. Whereas certain games lose their steam towards the end, Celeste hits you with one final stride of sheer glory when nearing the summit.
While the plot was deceptively good, how does the gameplay hold up you might ask? To put it bluntly, pretty damn good. What initially sold me when seeing this game was the pure simplicity behind it. The game focuses on a few simple concepts and using the clever level design to show how these mechanics flourish. Madeline’s primary abilities consist of an omnidirectional dash that she can do once in the air, as well as climbing a vertical surface for a brief time. It takes mere seconds to get a grip with the controls and most of the time I didn’t feel like my deaths were cheap because of how the levels were laid out. A bulk of the levels are made of single-screen challenges with some bigger rooms thrown into the mix for good measure. It’s great that the bigger stages offer a lot of screen real estate, which is something that is a necessity for these types of “hard” platformers. Many of the stages are going to take a reasonable amount of attempts to tackle per screen. Yes at times I got peeved, thinking that the timing for this is ridiculous, because it can be. The game expects a fair amount of inputs out of a player at any time in a small window. I had such an instance in the third chapter where you’re expected to do some almost unreasonably tight diagonal dashes with a small margin for error with a checkpoint and stage gimmick that was aneurysm-inducing. When you finally understand how and when to jump, dash, and climb your way through the stage, you’ll feel an incredible sense of flow and joy after crushing something that may have caused you 20 plus deaths. Each of the games’ chapters also offer some sort of gimmick as well and thankfully none of them overstay their welcome. Early chapters have you dealing with these sorts of traffic blocks that move at what feels like mach 2 once you grab or stand on them. Even better is that you can use the momentum from them to reach new heights and discover secrets which there are a lot of. The games primary collectibles are strawberries and hearts. Strawberries act as more of a completionist sort of checklist rather than a specific reward which I found disappointing, but still obligated to snag. The most they do is have a slight impact on the ending. The hearts however act as the games “super” secrets if you will, and you’ll need every last one of them if you want to see the late postgame content. Some can be found in more obvious parts of the levels, but figuring out how to exactly do them can be a real head-scratcher. The only one that immediately clicked for me was around the halfway point of the game where you see a block that looks REALLY out of place. The block looked like it was out of Super Mario bros. 3, and lo and behold, it was a reference to one of the secrets within that game. Needless to say I was pretty overjoyed when I grabbed the heart because of some old school gaming easter egg. In addition to the hearts, the game also features some even crazier alternate versions of levels called the B-sides. Once you find the mixtape in each chapter, you’ll get access to these. Expect more spikes and much more tricky jumps going into these because they can be an absolute doozy to deal with. The main games difficulty curve is rather reasonable with a few spikes here and there, but the B-sides amps it up considerably from the get-go which is only recommended to those with patience and dexterity.
On paper, there is a lot to be skeptical about Celeste. It was another hard pixel platformer that was probably going to make even seasoned gamers rage at times. When I did finally pull the trigger on the switch’s eshop I was glad I did. I was treated to one of the most engaging platformers I’ve played in quite awhile. I recognize that it takes time to let games kind of settle into their throne of being considered a classic, but to me, this game just absolutely nails it in a lot of regards. Celeste is not a game for everyone because of its high challenge, and that’s okay because, despite the deaths and the difficulty, the game accomplishes its goal of being a damn good platformer.