Yakuza 0: trying something different

The Christmas holidays are a great time for gaming. Whether it’s spending time with a game received as a gift, treating yourself to a title in the Steam sale or trying something completely new, it’s the perfect time of year to curl up on the sofa with your controller.

My other-half and I managed to complete several releases we’d never played before. Sea of Solitude was a lovely puzzle-platformer with a sincere message at its heart; Greyhat: A Digital Detective Adventure kept us guessing at what was going on right until the end; and Call of Sea was a beautiful escape-room type journey. Then there was Quern – Undying Thoughts, a game I’d purchased after a recommendation from Darkshoxx and which felt like discovering Myst all over again.

It wasn’t all about video games though. Being aware of just how much I enjoy a good detective thriller, Kevin from The Lawful Geek very kindly sent us a murder-mystery-in-a-box to solve. Post Mortem: Death in La-La Land was a choose-your-own-adventure with physical evidence that kept us bust for around six hours trying to find out whodunnit. It made us feel as though we were the middle of our very own noir story and I can’t wait to start the next case, Lucha Muerte, very soon.

This would be a good pick for January’s EXP Share but it’s not the experience I’ve chosen to talk about today. This community event is hosted by DanamesX over at Tales of the Backlog and has been designed to get us all sharing our gaming tales, with the current topic being: “Share a story about a game that you played for the first time this month.” I know I’m cheating a little by selecting something from December but, with bonus points available if it’s in a genre you wouldn’t normally pick up, I’ve got something that’s perfect.

Although I’d vaguely heard about Yakuza previously, I’d never tried an entry myself because the series just wasn’t something on my radar. I quite like watching others play action-adventure releases and seeing how their narratives develop, but I often don’t take the lead on the controls because I’m so uncoordinated. It’s also the case that I don’t usually enjoy Japanese RPGs or releases set in the country because their storylines tend to be a little too over-the-top for my taste.

But watching Nathan from Gaming Omnivore play part of Yakuza 0 during one of his streams made me kind of curious. What the hell were we doing following two strangers into a restaurant and then helping them solve a crossword puzzle? And how on earth was ‘soy sauce face’ the opposite of ‘sauce face’? Although I get it now, at the time the Crossed Words substory was perhaps one of the weirdest side-missions I’d seen someone play through on Twitch.

And now this absurdity is the main reason why I’ve been having so much fun with the game since downloading it from Xbox Game Pass a few weeks ago. Obviously I’m terrible at the controls and prefer to mash the buttons while sticking to a single fighting style but that’s ok – because Yakuza 0 doesn’t take itself too seriously, I don’t feel the need to either. There’s no pressure for me to perform perfectly during the combat sequences and so instead I can concentrate on simply enjoying myself.

Just when you think the substories couldn’t get any more outlandish, they do. I’ve saved someone’s daughter from losing all her money to a doomsday cult and reunited her with her mother. I’ve won several cuddly toys from the UFO Catcher at the SEGA Hi-Tech Land for a child and then had to listen to her call me ‘Daddy’. And I’ve incorrectly given someone a pizza when they actually wanted a visa, and then celebrated with her and her pimp after they decided to get married.

On that note, I must admit that some of the depictions within Yakuza 0 do leave me cold. The sexes feel as though they’re handled rather differently: while positive traits have been written into male characters and some even subvert stereotypes, the women come across as being unable to do anything without the help of a man, and are expendable. I may understand that the game is set in a different era and culture but it doesn’t mean I have to agree with it – and that’s where I’m going to leave that subject for the time-being.

The other negative I have with the title is its use of character-switching. This isn’t a mechanic I like because I find it breaks my immersion in a story; I know many people like seeing a digital world through multiple protagonists’ eyes for different views, but I prefer to stick with just one throughout a playthrough. Saying that though, it’s not so annoying here because you get to spend several chapters with either Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima before switching over to the other.

These aren’t the reasons why I’m not sure I’m going to be able to finish Yakuza 0 though. This is actually due to its long length: with 17 chapters, 100 substories and a bunch of mini-games that can take around 140 to complete, I’m just not sure I want to put that much time into it. The past few years of blogging have taught me that I don’t like spending so many hours on a single game, and I get more satisfaction from shorter releases which can be finished in several sessions.

But still, I’m glad that hanging out with my blogger-friends in a stream led to me trying something I’d not considered before. Having an action-adventure divert my attention away from my beloved point-and-clicks resulted in a few fun days during the Christmas holidays – and it even reminded me why I adore the adventure genre as much as I do. A big thank you to Nathan for persuading me to download Yakuza 0 (and for sticking with the Gabriel Knight series for his streams!).

Thank you to DanamesX from Tales of the Backlog too for another great topic this month. If you’re interested in joining in with January’s EXP Share, you have until the end of the month and can find all the details in this post.

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Lost control: weird gaming accessories

Last week I shared a guide to provide inspiration for buying Christmas presents for the gamer in your life. The big day is now only a couple of weeks away and we all want to give our loved-ones thoughtful gifts they’ll treasure forever, and that will potentially be the subject of blog posts about festive gaming memories in years to come.

What we don’t want to do is to give them a present that will cause them to say a half-hearted ‘Wow!’ before it’s shoved into the back of a cupboard and sits there gathering dust. You’ve therefore got to feel sorry for the people who gave the items in the list below to their partners and children – and possibly even more sorry for the partners and children themselves. Here are the some of the weirdest and worst gaming accessories.

1984: Atari Mindlink

The promise: “An exciting and unusual new way to operate Atari home computers… the state of the art for the stage of your mind.”

I know what you’re thinking but no, this wasn’t a controller that allowed you to play video games using only the power of your mind. It was simply a wired headband that enabled the player to control their onscreen character using eyebrow twitches. During product testing however, volunteers reported massive headaches from furrowing their brows in exactly the right way – and that was when the device actually worked. This stopped the Mindlink from ever being officially released (so I probably shouldn’t have included it in this post but I thought it was funny).

1985: R.O.B.

The promise: “R.O.B, the extraordinary video robot (batteries not included). He helps you tackle even the toughest challenge.”

Following the video game crash in 1983, Nintendo wanted to rebuild faith in the industry and went about it with their Robotic Operating Buddy (R.O.B.). Unfortunately though their attempts to give everyone their own Johnny 5 were unsuccessful. The little guy only worked consistently with certain CRT televisions due to receiving instructions via light flashes; he could only be used with two games; and he couldn’t do much apart from picking up blocks and flailing his arms. The fun kind of stopped there.

1989: Power Glove

The promise: “The Power Glove for your NES. Now you and the games are one.”

Another item from Nintendo now and one most readers are likely to have already heard of because ‘it’s so bad’. The Power Glove took a some setting up before use, with sensors that needed to be attached to your television and game-specific codes that had to be input using the buttons on the arm – and after all that it didn’t event work properly. It’s therefore no wonder the device had a short lifespan: it was discontinued about a year after release and not even The Wizard could save it.

1989: Roll & Rocker

The promise: “You become the directional control pad!”

Who on earth thought it would be a good idea to put a platform on top of a ball, get gamers to step on top of it and have them rock around the unit in order to move the D-pad for a NES? LJN Toys, that’s who – the same company that published titles for the console which were largely slated by critics. It seems like an injury and a lawsuit waiting to happen rather than a great way to control a video game; imagine playing Super Mario with the device and you’ll understand why nobody bought it.

1989: LaserScope

The promise: “Take yourself out of a tough situation… The amazing voice activated firing system for Nintendo.”

The Konami LaserScope was designed for use with Laser Invasion on the NES and consisted of a light-gun on a headset equipped with a microphone. It was supposed to allow gamers to look through its crosshairs and shout ‘Fire!’ to activate the trigger, but all it did was make the wearer look incredibly stupid. The technology was so bad that not only you could say anything in-game to shoot the gun but background noises would make it fire also, meaning that there was no way in hell you were ever going to be able to conserve your ammo.

1993: Sega Activator

The promise: “Some kids won’t see the advantage of Activator. Then it will hit them.”

The idea here was to make the player feel part of the game and have your character onscreen replicate your actions in real-life. The reality was however that you had to move in one of eight directions while standing in the middle of a plastic octagon on the floor. Here’s an example: if you wanted to do a special attack in Street Fighter you had to punch to the left and right simultaneously while also kicking backwards. An Activator player’s only hope was to flail their limbs wildly and hope for the best – before switching to a normal controller.

1994: Aura Interactor

The promise: “Enter the virtual reality world of the Interactor, where all the action jumps of the screen and into your gut.”

The Interactor isn’t actually as useless as some of the items on this list. It was a big plastic backpack you’d put on and then plug into the audio feed of your console, so sounds below a certain frequency would be converted into vibrations you could then feel while playing a video game. The problem was however with its configuration: having the power on maximum would vibrate far too much while turning the filter high took away the game’s music. And as the device heated up pretty quickly, you’d soon find yourself in a puddle of your own sweat. Eww.

1998: Game Boy Camera and Printer

The promise: “With the Game Boy Camera, you can turn pho-tography in to fun-tography!”

The Game Boy Camera was great if you loved taking grainy, heavily-pixelated, black-and-white photographs of family members and friends. The Printer then allowed you to print all those terrible pictures using six AA batteries, reams of thermal paper and money to throw away. The thing I hate most about these devices however was the Camera advert; whoever thought it was a good idea to use bullying, group hugs, pubescent leching and extreme goatees to market products got it so wrong.

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Who needs Santa (a QotM answer)

December’s Question of the Month is brought to you by Daniel from Home Button: action-adventure fan, Nintendo aficionado and photo-mode lover. To find out more about him and his site, as well as how you can get involved, take a look at this post.

A lot of Later Levels visitors will already know just how much the Monkey Island series means to me. I’ve written about the reasons for this on several occasions: I first played The Secret of Monkey Island after receiving an Amiga 500 for Christmas as a nine-year old back in the very early 1990s and have loved adventure games ever since. This memory was the subject for my contribution to The Games That Define Us collaboration over on Normal Happenings last month.

I’ve also written about the time I gifted a PlayStation 4 to my other-half and stepson in 2015. I’d been doing my best to put them off for months before so my plan wasn’t spoiled but the lads made things tough: for example, Pete would continuously point out adverts showing Minecraft on the console and send Ethan into overdrive. I managed to pull it off though and the reactions on their faces were worth the effort. We spent the majority of that Christmas playing video games and streaming them on Twitch so friends and family could watch.

Ethan, Pete, Christmas, PlayStation VR

Then there was last year which turned out to be one of the best Christmases we’ve had despite not being able to spend the big day together. At a party, Ethan was asked what he was hoping to find under the tree and he said he’d love a PlayStation VR but wasn’t expecting one because it was ‘such a big present’. Little did he know that Pete and I had already been speaking to our families to organise everyone in clubbing together to get my stepson a single gift that he absolutely adored.

Thinking about these events makes me feel all warm and fuzzy but, as I’ve already shared them in past posts, I wanted to write about a different festive gaming memory for December’s QotM. It’s one I think I’ve mentioned on several occasions although have never dedicated an article to. Let me take you back a few years to when my other-half and I first met…

In 2014 I moved to a new part of Essex for a fresh start and, after a few months of living in my own town, I had the pleasure of bumping into Pete in a local pub. During a long conversation over a couple of beers we discovered that we’d grown up in the same city and on parallel streets, shared a similar sense of humour and both played video games. When he told me he’d made the trophies for Games World, that was it: I was hooked and there was no way he was getting rid of me.

We spent our first Christmas day together at his parent’s house (back on one of those parallel streets). I remember sitting on the living room floor with Pete and his brother, all of us frantically building LEGO sets for Ethan because he wanted to play but didn’t have the patience to put them together. Unfortunately the day was over far too quickly; being a step-parent family means splitting your time between two homes, and in the early evening we had to return him to his mum.

Pete and I headed back to my apartment afterwards, both feeling a little down about not being able to see the kid again until the following weekend. We needed something to distract ourselves and so we decided to turn to be best answer we could think of: video games. Instead of doing traditional Christmas things such as watching cheesy films or dozing on the sofa, we spent the night creeping around the Sevastopol space station in search of Ellen Ripley with nothing but a tub of Quality Street for company.

We stayed up until the early hours of the morning and ate way too much chocolate while trying to get as far through the game as possible. That damn Xenomorph just wasn’t having any of it though. We got to a certain point where we were trying to make our way through a dark corridor and every time the beast would drop though a vent in the ceiling and onto our heads. We started laughing when we realised how frustrated we were getting and decided to get some sleep – so we could return to the Sevastopol and try again the following day.

Alien: Isolation may not be the thing that immediately springs to mind when you think of festive activities, but it’s reminded me of this time of year ever since. And it must have done something right because it’s now several years later and Pete and I are getting ready to spend our fifth Christmas together. Who needs Santa when you’ve got Xenomorphs?

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Guilty pleasure: The Typing of the Dead: Overkill

Wikipedia defines a guilty pleasure as ‘something, such as a film, a television program or a piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard, or is seen as unusual or weird.’

That statement doesn’t mention video games but all gamers have one: the title you love to bits but are too scared to admit in public. Maybe it’s that annual EA Sports release you’ve denounced as a blatant marketing ploy but then go home to play and win the World Cup. Or perhaps that new release you’ve joined in with the bashing of on an online forum before quietly collecting every hidden item throughout the remainder of the evening.

The House of the Dead: Overkill is a first-person rail-shooter developed by Headstrong Games and originally published by SEGA in 2009. The story takes place in 1991 when Special Agent G is sent to Louisiana to investigate a series of disappearances and hunt down crime lord Papa Cesar. Just when you think it can’t get any more clichéd, along comes partner Detective Isaac Washington who’s out to seek revenge for the murder of his father – and don’t forget about the infestation of mutants.

What if you kept the B-movie plot and zombies, but replaced the guns with a keyboard and bullets with random (and often crude) words? It sounds pretty bizarre but what you’ll end up with is Modern Dream’s 2013 release The Typing of the Dead: Overkill, and my very own gaming guilty pleasure.

Opinions of the game are somewhat mixed and it currently has a user score of 7.7. Some people praise it for its sense of innovation and comical wisecracks, but others criticise it for its juvenile humour, excessive use of the F-word and lack of gameplay. For example, take a look at some of the negative comments on the Metacritic page:

  • “There is no setting to alleviate the constant barrage of F-bombery. There are single sentences with three or four curses. It’s really just a lack of imagination.” – ebinary
  • “Having made it through the first two levels, I’ve already been exposed to tasteless cripple jokes, completely unnecessary levels of swearing, and a vomit-inducing fight against two zombified strippers. I’m no stranger to adult content in games, but I was quickly overwhelmed by the exploitative tone of this game.” – titlebreaker
  • Animations are poor, environments bland and uninspired and its just a whole bunch of horror clichés being thrown together. Meh.” – DFCZE

  • I really shouldn’t like The Typing of the Dead: Overkill as much as I do. It features Varla Guns and Candi Stryper as two of its protagonists, described as ‘the hottest stripper on the Bayou City club scene’ and portrayed as the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype respectively. Bosses such as mutant strippers Coco and Sindy bring the tone down even further – and I haven’t even mentioned the gratuitous boob shots yet.

    Considering all of this, I should be shouting ‘Sexism!’ from the roottops. But I love it because it’s just so damn camp. The B-movie grindhouse style and vintage soundtrack encourage players not to take the title too seriously and I can’t seem to stop myself from laughing at the parade of scantily-clad mutants and F-bombs. I know that’s possibly a little hypocritical of me considering my thoughts on females in gaming – and yes, I can laugh at some pretty immature stuff – but I just can’t help but get sucked into this game.

    The Typing of the Dead, Overkill, video game, boss, cow, Meat Katie, cleaver, food preparation

    I mean, come on. You’re fighting a boss called Meat Katie, a grotesquely-mutated butcher woman with a cow skull and udder attached to her body who uses a giant meat cleaver in battle. You’re confronted with phrases such as ‘udderly delightful’, ‘sirloin surprise’ and ‘food preparation’ until she’s forced backwards into a meat grinder and dies with a moo. How can you not laugh at that?

    Nintendo Power apparently once called The House of the Dead: Overkill ‘one of the Wii’s greatest guilty pleasures’, so The Typing of the Dead: Overkill is worthy of being mine. There may be a stream coming soon…