Castlevania: Aria Of Sorrow
(Castlevania Advance Collection)
I’ve never played a Castlevania, but after hearing The Resties discuss their favorite Metroidvanias (and the excellent, cheap, and perfect-to-play-with-kids Pizza Possum) and come to the consensus that Aria of Sorrow is the best of its generation, I remembered I’d snagged this collection on sale some time back and booted it up.
It starts with our protagonist, very typical Japanese high school student *checks notes* Soma Cruz, having an extremely normal day: going to a Shinto shrine during an eclipse, passing out, and waking up inside Dracula’s castle. But wait, he asks, isn’t Dracula’s castle somewhere in Europe?
Oh okay, sure, sorry, Soma was busy getting his hair dyed white to match his trenchcoat the day they taught that in school. So Dracula’s both real and still around, huh? Boy that sucks1, do we need to do something about th–
The most hilarious part of this is that as a Castlevania newbie I assumed the 1999 business was a reference to some other, presumably also-bitchin’ game in the series, but no, my reading about this game informs me that the DEMON CASTLE WAR OF 1999 is maybe the singular Noodle Incident of the entire series, never depicted or explained in any other official media. ChefsKiss dot gif, 10/10 worldbuilding.
In any event, Plante and Fruhstick weren’t lying, this game kicks ass; by this point in the series the tropes and mechanics that would come to define the term Metroidvania have really gelled, so you’ve got 2D action-combat, traversal-related abilities and upgrades that allow you to access new areas by revisiting old ones, etc. What I wasn’t expecting (and am a real sucker for) is that it’s also a full-blown action RPG, featuring stats and level-ups, dozens of equipable weapons that facilitate completely different playstyles (I love the distance and attack-pattern of the Whip Sword, but it’s hard to argue with the pure damage-output of the Battle Axe) and what’s referred to as the Tactical Soul System, whereby every enemy you defeat has a chance of dropping its soul, which you can equip to use an ability unique to that monstro. They fall roughly into Attack, Traverse, and Passive, so right now I’ve got one that unleashes a demon-cat who goes scamper–scamper-kill, one that lets me slow my fall and kinda glide, and one that lets me see which walls are destructible, it’s a pretty sweet loadout.
Aria Of Sorrow isn’t without its frustrations for the Modren Gamer–call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure labeling otherwise indistinguishable areas is what makes a map a map–but makes up for many of these with quality-of-life metafeatures such as offering always-usable, multiple-slot save-states instead of forcing you to rely on sporadically-placed save-points, instant rewind up to I think fifteen seconds, and multiple screen-ratio settings in case you want pixels the size of hams and, as a result, on-screen hams the size of Buicks.
If you’re a fan of the action-RPG, a Castlevania newbie, missed the Game Boy Advance generation of games or, like myself, all three, this is a fantastic place to start, serving both a great game in its own right and one of the best introductions to the design and play-philosophy of the platform and the series one could ask for.
So you know I’m all the time reading detective series from the 70’s as long as they’ve got some kind of hook, like they’re about a rabbi who solves murders or about a wizard who solves magic-crimes for the King of England or about Fletch; it’s maybe the most Old White Dad thing about me, considering I’m in my mid 30’s and have no children. Well, one of these series is Leaphorn & Chee, a series about Diné/Navajo tribal police trying to protect their community from threats within and without in the mid-70’s2. They are, unfortunately, written by a white dude, but at least he was a white dude who grew up in a community with a high Neshnabé/Potawatomi population, understood that they were just regular people who had been absolutely screwed by The Man for bullshit, racist reasons, and tried to use that understanding and his position to tell meaningful stories that humanized a people that Whitey has been demonizing for 600 years.
Those are the facts, and I can’t speak to how successful his efforts were, both because I haven’t read the books yet and because Hi, I’m Whitey. However! HBO went and made a dang show of it (we don’t talk about the 1991 movie starring Lou Diamond Philips and Earl from Tremors), and it is SIMPLY CHOCKA with actual Indiginous3 performers from many different tribal backgrounds AND an entirely Indiginous writers’ room, and it RULES. (I don’t know how to reckon with the fact that it takes place specifically on Diné/Navajo tribal land and only a couple of the actors are actually of that nation; I have to imagine it’s roughly analogous to when M*A*S*H* used mostly Japanese actors to portray Koreans: Not great, but at least somebody in the broader community is getting work.)
It’s not a police procedural like a Law & Order or similar, being closer to True Detective with maybe 40% less nihilism; each season has an arc-story, with the characters and their relationships being the through-line between seasons. The show does an excellent job of making it feel like a real time and place, and walks the line nicely between not feeling the need to explain every aspect of Indigenous life to us4 and using the white characters as audience surrogates to explain things that are actually important.
Additionally, just from a storytelling and production perspective, I think the decision to base the first season on the fourth book was an excellent choice; all of the characters and relationships feel much more fleshed-out and real, and the setting seems alive and like it has its own stories going on that we aren’t privy to. Early books in a series are sometimes shaky, and I think there’s value in realizing when they don’t represent a setting or characters as well as later installments.
Dark Winds is no substitute for, say, actually meeting and talking to Indigenous people or using many of the free resources available to educate yourself, but as a gripping crime series created by and starring marginalized people, it’s both a great way to support realistically diverse storytelling and enjoy bad guys gettin’ caught.
The Fall Of The House Of Usher
Okay so last month I told y’all how much we were enjoying Succession; little did we know that this month would feature Succession: Spooky Szn by one of our favorite creators.
Like Succession, TFOTHOU is about an obscenely, truly sinfully rich family, this time in pharmaceuticals. We are introduced to the family patriarch and only survivor, who has buried all six of his children in the past week; without getting into spoilers, it becomes clear that in the past he made a Deal with someone, and that debt is being called in.
I’m no Poe expert; my experience is limited to rereading the Great Illustrated Classics Tales Of Mystery And Terror collection until it fell apart, doing a paper or two for a friend in college, and the Alan Parsons Project album Tales Of Mystery And Imagination, which is awesome but was inspired by Poe’s stories in much the same way that a can of LaCroix is inspired by the concept of lemons.
TFOTHOU takes much the same philosophy; it’s both a rough retelling of the titular story and an enormous Poe pastiche, or Poestiche5 if you will, where Mike Flanagan slarbed a reference on everything he thought would bear the weight and many that wouldn’t. The effect is a little jarring in what is supposed to feel like a fairly grounded world, but you get used to it once people start melting.
A final note that I must make only because it would be conspicuous by its absence if I didn’t, is that it’s raunchy as week-old ranch dressing in a way that I don’t believe is supposed to be enjoyable or titillating, and it has to walk a pretty fine line in saying that most of the family is non-heteronormative and that’s just who they are, it’s a neutral fact like their shoe sizes, but that the sexual extremes to which they are driven are clearly meant to serve as a symbol of their depravity6.
The Fall Of The House Of Usher: Terrible things happening to terrible people. 👍
Honey Roasted Almonds
(Your Local Nut Hut)
For your consideration:
High-protein, naturally sweetened but not enough to give you heartburn unless you ate as many as I just did as late as I just did, go cronch, a class act all around. A++, no notes, shut up and hand me the other bag.
No One Will Save You
A largely-dialogue-free horror movie that asks: What if the aliums from Signs7 didn’t wait until the last twenty minutes of the movie to get down to business and just got right to work terrorizing a rural homeowner? And also me, because holy shit I’m scared of aliums and these are some good ones, who start like the Signs jerks on trucker pills and quickly become something else entirely; movie has strong bones and knows how to do some genuinely surprising stuff with them without trying too hard and ruining it, which would be a difficult balance in a picture that could still rely on its script if its story flopped.
The artistic choice to have exactly one line of spoken dialogue in the picture was a real gamble, but even She Who Is My Wife8 agreed that it intensified the sense of isolation without feeling gimmicky or getting boring.
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines
Listen, and I sincerely don’t mean to be unkind, nobody asked for this. Is it a prequel to the 34-year-old original movie, or the movie from a few years ago that was Fine9? Unclear10Although given the differences from the canon. Was it originally supposed to be a series, as many believed and which would’ve made sense given the amount of narrative, new worldbuilding, and character shoe-leather the plot goes through? Maybe, but if so, why the hell is it not even ninety minutes long? Unknowable.
This movie’s Fine and well worth watching for a direct-to-streaming prequel to a movie that was only made to keep the film rights from reverting back to Stephen King; it’s very fast and short and has some great spooklepations in it, the performances are perfectly competent CW-network-star’s-first-movie fare, and it’s got some really interesting ideas about its world that it briefly mentions and then never really does much with, or the opposite, structurally important ideas that came out of nowhere and act as if the rest of the movie supports them, presumably the result of fucky editing.
The Return Of The Living Dead
Yo did you goons know Blurays got bonkers cheap at some point?
With streaming services getting bloated and expensive to a degree comparable with cable at its worst and digital ‘purchases’ becoming ‘yours’ in an increasingly tenuous sense, I’ve started putting a little work into rebuilding the ol’ physical media library and apparently Big Lots (sort of the Target version of KMart I guess) is the Promised Land for this. I snagged these beauties and booted up classic punk horror-comedy The Return Of The Living Dead, my favorite trashy 80’s horror movie, because She Who Is My Wife had never seen it! Can you imagine! She had never seen THIS:
SHE HAD NEVER HEARD THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO TARMAN:
SHE…fell asleep almost immediately. #OnBrand.
Man I love this movie. And if you love zombie movies, you owe quite a lot to it, specifically the genre-staple trope of zombies eating brains, which originated here for absolutely real-life terrifying reasons I won’t spoil.
Now you may be asking, are these at all related to George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead and its surprisingly prolific sequels? The answer is complicated! So THIS movie claims to be a direct sequel to Night Of The Living Dead and explicitly references its events; it’s also based on a screenplay that was adapted from a sequel novel to Night Of The Living Dead that was ALSO called The Return Of The Living Dead (not to be confused with THIS movie’s novelization, also also called The Return Of The Living Dead…and written by the same guy who wrote the other novel with the same name). The Romero legal collective says none of this gross, hilarious garbage has anything to do with their ~works of cinema~, which as I just laid out is patently untrue, there’s obviously a lot of shared DNA and cross-pollination, and honestly all of it just makes it seem cooler and more mysterious in-world to me. Go watch this, it rules!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
Holy shit what a fun movie! I watched it in the way that God and Paramount intended: laid out on the couch like a prizefighter fallen, half a jazz gummy struggling to keep the new Moderna booster from turning my bones into salty, red concrete-glass. It was not a good time to be generous to a picture, is my point, and I still managed to enjoy the hell out of this! It’ll probably take a second, non-zooted, non-radioactive-muscled viewing to get a more nuanced take, but until then I’ll just say it looked amazing, the music was great, the performances were some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen in animation (especially the Turtles and Splinter’s dynamic), and even though I was made of pain-jerky and sleepy hate for this wretched waking world and everything in it, this got a huge, out-loud, jackass laugh out of me:
Okay, it should be safe down here at the bottom of the post, Hilarious Fate won’t find us. Good news gang I got a job! I’ma be a case manager at a law firm! Me!
I get to help people when they have problems, and use my degree, and continue to work from home, and a million other things; I haven’t started yet, so it doesn’t feel quite real and I sustain a readiness to escape should it prove to be a pyramid scheme, ziggurat strategy, or yet another attempt by Michael Bublé to swap our bloods, but we live in hope. Updates to follow, and my genuine gratitude to all of you who wished me luck or at least like, the funny kind of disastrous failure; if you or a loved one should be in similar straits you have my sympathies and support, and I wish you luck. To quote a robot from a video game, “We must persevere; after all, what else is there to do?”
So say we all,
- Heh, ’cause it–you get it, youuuuu get it
- There is, of course, always the ACAB Problem to contend with; it’s complicated, and I’m erring on the side of Indigenous communities having more legal and jurisdictional control over themselves instead of white police having it, I dunno man. I certainly wouldn’t call it copaganda, at any rate.
- As always, my understanding is that the preference for ‘Native American’ has waned in favor of ‘American Indian’ or ‘Indiginous American’, though specific tribal reference is best if available. If I’m mistaken in this, I’ll happily amend.
- For example there’s quite a lot of unsubtitled Diné dialogue and many small gestures and rituals go completely un-commented-on
- Mmm, Poestachios
- Kind of like how in Dune, Frank Herbert is sometimes accused of homophobia for Baron Harkonnen preying on his servant-boy, when the ‘child’ and ‘enslaved’ parts of the dynamic were what the reader was meant to be repulsed by
- Y’know, the ones that scared me so bad when I was twelve that I didn’t sleep facing a window until 2029
- Who, need I remind you, asks “How did he learn all his lines?!” when Walter White drives for five minutes without saying anything
- Hey here’s an idea, if your remake makes huge, fundamental changes to the story, that are really interesting and bursting with potential, maybe put those before the last scene in the movie