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09 November 2014 @ 11:48 am
Game Review: Chef Boyardee’s Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter One of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa  
A couple years ago, back during the Great Kickstarter Boom of 2012, I backed quite a few projects. One of them was The Magical Realms of Tír na nÓg: Escape from Necron 7 - Revenge of Cuchulainn: The Official Game of the Movie - Chapter 2 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa, sequal to the 2008 slam hit Tales of Game’s Studios Presents Chef Boyardee’s Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa...but I had never actually played the first game, or at least, not more than the first 20 minutes of it. I realized recently that I should probably rectify that before the second game came out, so a couple weeks ago I loaded it up and set out to plumb its depths.


[Caption]Ahh, console video games (or vidcons as I call them). the ultimate medium of expression, able to convey any emotion ranging from hatred to love, loyalty to fear, all in front of our eyes. Ah, and with lovingly crafted art, music, and the ability to control the action, vidcons are the ultimate combination of the high arts. While I tend to play the stoic, I will be the first to admit that vidcons haven driven me to cry, to scream and shout, to feel actual hate; such is the power of this force beyond our wildest reckoning. And here I am, before you, to temp your tongues with the taint of such a tantalizing topic.

And the Japanese, the true geniuses behind the world of video games. Pah, I throw my scorn upon such incompetents of the West who would mock the true art of the Japanese with 'games' such as Baldur's Gate and Madden. Perhaps it is that the West is not as intelligent as the East, but this is a matter for another day. Japan has given us such masterpieces as the Final Fantasy series, Star Ocean, Wild Arms, and of course, Arc the Lad. Yes, some of the finest vidcons in the world were created by Japanese. I come to you today to ask you in all earnesty, what is your favorite vidcon? I will reveal mine after the grand debate has illustriously begun, but not before the first poster falls victim to my plot of discussion.


It's really hard for me to describe what this game is actually about, so I'll quote from the website:
The Great B-Ball Purge of 2041, a day so painful to some that it is referred to only as the “B-Ballnacht”. Thousands upon thousands of the world’s greatest ballers were massacred in a swath of violence and sports bigotry as the game was outlawed worldwide. The reason: the Chaos Dunk, a jam so powerful its mere existence threatens the balance of chaos and order. Among the few ballers and fans that survived the basketball genocide was Charles Barkley, the man capable of performing the “Verboten Jam”…

Flash forward 12 years to the post-cyberpocalyptic ruins of Neo New York, 2053. A Chaos Dunk rocks th island of Manhattan, killing 15 million. When the finger is put on the aging Charles Barkley, he must evade the capture of the B-Ball Removal Department, led by formerfriend and baller Michael Jordan, and disappear into the dangerous underground of the post-cyberpocalypse to clear his name and find out the mysterious truth behind the Chaos Dunk. Joined by allies along the way, including his son Hoopz, Barkley must face the dangers of a life he thought he gave up a long time ago and discoverthe secrets behind the terrorist organization B.L.O.O.D.M.O.S.E.S.

A tale of zaubers, b-balls, and atonement; brave dangers unheard of, face spectacular challenges that even the greatest ballers could not overcome, and maybe… just maybe… redeem basketball once and for all.
Yep.

It's a JRPG that's a parody of JRPGs and parts of fan culture, told through the means of basketball--or "b-ball," as the initiated refer to it--in a world where Space Jam (90s web design warning!) is canon. I actually feel like there's a lot of the game that I missed, because I've never seen Space Jam and I'm barely familiar with the NBA. I obviously know who Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley are, but for nearly everything else I wasn't sure if it was a parody, a reference to some player I didn't know of or a movie I hadn't seen, or just entirely made up for the game. There was still plenty of humor to be found, but someone who was playing more attention in the 90s might have gotten more out of it than I did.


[Caption]It has come to my attention that in certain circles, simian-minded individuals are refering to vidcons as 'vid cons', ignorantly placing a space between 'vid' and 'con'. Perhaps their brains have dulled by years of Madden and Quake, rather than the mentally invigorating games such as Arc the Lad and Growlanser, becuase even a child could tell that placing a space between the 'vid' and 'con' in vidcon is perhaps more profoundly philistine than a certain American administration that need not be named. Placing a space in vidcon completely belittles the meaning of the word and displays the user's blatantly minuscule intellect and is understanding of the basic precepts of grammar. Vidcon is a perfect marriage of the words console and video game, creating a short and effective portmanteau that quickly and accurately labels mentions objects and anybody who does not immediately recognize 'vid con' as absolutely outrageous clearly lacks the mental faculties to correctly operate a vidcon other than perhaps FIFA Sports. I make this point becuase I have recently been belligerently barrage by imbecilic 'vid con' references that unnerve me to no end and have taken it upon myself to correct the damage that your poor Western education ( though this is a subject to be discussed on a later date) has wrought upon you. You should personally thank me that i did not see it fit to correct your preponderous mistake in Japanese, becuase I am thoroughly positive your neanderthal mind would be incapable of deciphering the Hiragana from the Katakana.


The actual gameplay is...RPGMaker quality. I don't mean to use that as purely a pejorative, because the main reason to play this game is the ridiculous storyline and the gags, but if you're looking for an engrossing RPG experience, Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is not the place for it. While there is some lip service paid to leveling and statistics, it's usually pretty obvious what item is the best choice to use at any given time. There's a ton of healing items, including the standard ones to cure various statuses inflicted by enemies, but some of the statuses are themselves jokes--there's an "aspergers" status that doesn't affect your stats or abilities in any way, for example--and all of them just cure themselves given enough time. After the first thirty minutes of the game, I had enough items that I could heal whenever I want to and the only time I was even remotely in danger was early on when I was fighting a Dread Ref, who summon more of themselves. Other than that, all the battles were incredibly easy.

There's a bit more interactivity than just "press X to win," because all of the attacks have some timing-based element. Barkley can do free throws with a meter that you have to match the basketball to, or a jump shot that requires you to hold and release the button at a certain point, for example. That alone helps prevent the battles from becoming tedious, as does the fact that enemies don't respawn and there aren't that many of them in the first place.

It also suffers from the paradox of RPG choice, where as the number of options available to you increase, Sturgeon's Law takes over and you end up just using the same abilities over and over. Each character has 4-6 special abilities and 3 basic attacks, but I pretty quickly figured out what the best ability to use was in terms of damage done and b-ball energy consumption and just spammed that over and over again. For example, Hoopz Barkley has several gun's abilities, but the best one was Gun's Slay in pretty much every context. Even when there were multiple enemies, the multi-target attacks were far too expensive for the damage they did.

I can't say that it's a solved problem, because it's possible that I wasn't good enough at certain timing-based elements to really wring the most out of the game, but considering that in the last half I was killing nearly everyone before they could even attack me I don't think the effort I would have put in to master the game would have been worthwhile.


[Caption]Among the most prominent Japanese composers (although I use the word 'Japanese' superfluously, as even the most well-known American composers are barely competent at best), one in particular stands out to the enlightened vidcon soundtrack consumer. His name: Yasunori Mitsuda. For the record, this is not to undermine the amazing worlds of other incredibly talented composers such as Uematsu-san or Sakuraba-san, but to highlight the unique, almost celto-tropic music ( the word music is an understatement) that Yasunori Mitsuda has been composing for years. It would be sheer ignorance to deny that the Chrono Cross soundtrack is anything but the magnum opus of vidcon music; its lilting and oftentime hauntingly peaceful guitar melodies soothe all but the most savage of breasts while its tense battle themes and mysterious donjon tunes ignite a blazing passion that can be quenched only by the vidcon's profound story and gameplay. It is a wonder that anyone can listen to anything besides vidcon musical compositions after listening to Mitsuda-san's immensely powerful soundtrack, but give that the primitive thuds of hip hop are America's current choice of 'music'( I use the term music liberally), one can see little hope in the mass appreciation of Mitsuda-san's work.


For most of the time I played, I was specifically reminded of Earthbound. Not just because of its weird take on JRPGs, but also because a lot Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden's tropes are stolen straight out of Onett. The enemies that wander around on the screen who you can run past if you want. The ambush state, where if you rush up behind an enemy you get a surprise round, but if they get behind you the opposite happens. The JRPG equip screens when the characters are wielding Dwarfhammers and Tupperware Armor and Volleyballs and Jerseys. It doesn't have the charm that Earthbound does, insead trading it for 90s references and mocking fan culture, but the skeleton is there.


[Caption]In the course of my career as a vidcon specialist ( my own coinage, spend it wisely), I have never seen such blatant and frankly, sickening ignorance as that exhibited by the "people"(if, in fact, they are homo sapiens at all, as their intelligence implies elsewise) that claim that Zelda is not an RPG. There is nothing that Shigeru "Shiggy" Miyamoto could possibly do to make the vidcon anymore of an rpg as it meets every single criterion for being one, particularly that it takes place in an imaginary realm with a fantastical beastiary, and that the core emphasis of the gameplay is on bedazzling all foes with impeccable swords and sorcery. Furthermore, this line of thought can be extended to all vidcons which the player controls a character(hence, role-playing), though I cringe slightly at the thought of such mundane vidcons as Madden being RPGs, as they do not even include exotic weaponry such as the tonfa.


But it suffers compared to Earthbound because of the gameplay. As I mentioned in my Earthbound review, I initially thought that I'd start playing it and end up thinking that it should have been a point-and-click adventure game, like I thought that Bioshock Infinite should have been. But as I played, I realized that actually experiencing it as a JRPG qua JRPG was one of the main reasons why it was so engaging. Without those mechanics, it would have been cute, but not nearly as memorable.

That's simply not the case here. It's a JRPG to make fun of JRPG tropes, but a parody has to also be a good example of the object of its parody and while Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden has an fun story, it's simply not a very good game. I don't actually think that there's much reason to play through it other than for the story, and if you don't want to spend the time for that, I suggest reading the Let's Play of it on the lparchive. It'll take less time and give you all the jokes in their original context, plus you won't have to worry about missing anything.

On the other hand, it won't give you Victorian Steampunk mode, so there is still a downside.


[Caption]There is, perhaps only one medium of art that matches the excellence of vidcons and that is (obviously) visually kei. Combining absolutely exquisite j-rock and j-pop, sprinkled with hints of vidcon melodies, with the pyrotechnic visual flare that the Japanese are known for, visual kei takes its viewers on a rollercoaster ride of lights, fanfare, and music that even Beethoven could tap his toes to. Would that I were Japanese, (though under careful scrutiny, it appears my genealogy tree does in fact show sign of a Japanese presence) I too would participate in this art of the 21st century and even perhaps venture onto the visual kei stage myself. It is no surprise that the impotent minds of Western society cannot fully grasp the total splendor of visual kei and instead choose to squander their time listening to rap and country "music."


The game is downloadable for free here.

Note: The image captions are all take from the game's save points, who rant at you about the superiority of Japanese video games and Japanese culture in general when you use them.
 
 
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