Happy Monday, folks! This is Wolfman Jew, and it’s the Weekly Video Games Thread. You know, I’ve got this great prompt on asshole characters that I’ve been wanting to do, but things keep popping up. Ideas, you know? And the fantastic Nintendo Direct on Thursday put one into my head.
While it’s not my most anticipated game of the show—that would be the remake of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, since that’s my actual all-time favorite Mario game, and you all know how much I love Mario—the most intriguing and compelling was probably Princess Peach: Showtime! Peach’s newest starring role effectively gives the Mario universe an entirely new genre, turning into a sort of… 2D brawler, a genre the franchise has oddly never played with. Primarily, anyway. The game is all about using the setting, a giant theater filled with stage plays, to constantly shake up genres and gameplay styles while seemingly orbiting this Streets of Rage-ian core. It does this by having Peach wear unique costumes that let her be the protagonist of each show’s performance, whether fighting in a martial arts drama or solving a mystery. Where Mario gains powers through the power-ups in his environment, Peach is doing so by becoming the star.
The day the Direct aired, no fewer than three (three!) separate people sent me messages about how “this is just Balan Wonderworld, but good!” The reason for that is that I played Balan months ago for an article that will come out this week, and I wouldn’t stop talking about it to anyone within earshot. And it seems pretty true. Balan was also a game about theater and performance; the player did asinine platforming antics by dressing up in ugly outfits that bestowed pathetic, joyless powers. This was the thing everyone noticed after all the videos and embarrassments started pouring in. Of course, the performance aspect was limited (you’re not really particularly involved in saving the day or doing anything concrete, nor does it ever feel like you’re acting in front of anyone). But there’s still a value to this idea. In real life, we constantly take on roles that put one aspect of ourselves front and center, and that often does incorporate different clothes, comportments, and acting. So why shouldn’t video games do this? After all, your character is just one more role, one more extension of your will and energy. Putting it into an actual stage show or live performance is just a natural fit.
And it’s not just for kid-friendly theater! The series may have only one level set in an opera house, but Hitman does this just as much. Agent 47 appropriates clothes and plays a role—several, in fact, some of which are him doing undercover as explicit performers like supermodels or the world’s best drummer. Games like the apparently sub-mediocre Wario: Master of Disguise use costumes and alter egos that give you distinct powers. Characters like Viewtiful Joe take on power when they enter and exit fictional worlds within their games. Even Psychonauts does this without ever really giving Raz a different costume; the relationship he has to his mark is always different, so he’s constantly trying to figure out what that is and play it. This kind of thing adds a sense of drama and flair, and maybe some meta energy as well. And hey! The Thousand-Year Door also has this! Every battle is in front of a stage, and Mario has to go undercover at one point as a professional wrestler!
So here’s the prompt: games where your character takes on fictional roles within the universe of the story, especially ones with beautiful costumes, gameplay elements, or an actual theatrical setting. What are your favorites? If you haven’t played any, do any look interesting to you? What kinds of mechanics have you enjoyed from them, and what new ones would you like a future game to explore? And, as always, what did you play this weekend?