Kusoge Advent Calendar 2018: FINALE
It always takes me a while to get around to these writeups. The elegant reason? “Writing takes time, and I want to approach these with some perspective.” The actual reason? “I absolutely cannot look at this shit anymore. Please god just give me some time. Fuck.”
Between technical issues and the mood-whiplash of the setlist, the Kusoge Advent Calendar always takes me for a ride—crossing from genuine elation to stomach-dropping dread in the space between frames.
It comes with the package every year, but somehow it still catches me by surprise. Part of that is because of the hard work of the Committee, always keeping their ears to the ground for the latest and greatest garbage. Part of it is because I’m just really fucking dumb.
So let’s put this thing to rest. Here are the final 5.
ZARI0T: Higurashi VS Touhou Universe 2: Ultimate Special Edition (PC)
We start with a gold-star Zari0t submission. Take some fuckin' anime nonsense that I can’t stop hearing about by proxy, coat it in surface-level weirdness, microwave for 3 minutes, salt to taste. A Higurashi and Touhou crossover fighter, made in Fighter Maker, seems like the perfect place to start.
Put it that way and it seems totally predictable. Arive at the character select screen blind, and it’s a different story.
These motherfuckers had the dedication to cosplay, capture, crop, and code 48-and-a-half characters, with full movelists and mechanics. Can I say anything about this? Is my input even required? Even with a rough average of two frames per move, that’s a painful and laborious undertaking. I don’t think I’ve done anything that requires that much effort in my entire life.
The actual mechanics are a solid try, too. Sadly, there’s not a lot of depth for labwork, which is what I’m typically restricted to during these marathons, but there are some creative takes on movement, including a weird sort of sliding shorthop that lets you stay flexible while you’re getting in.
Actually, I’m only realizing this as I write, but this might be the first Fighter Maker game I’ve played that didn’t destroy my ears. More than that, it even has a clever workaround for the engine’s lack of training mode support; the 48.5th character is effectively a training dummy, with a moveset of health refills, meter refills, and a single incredibly slow punch (to test counters).
Zari0t packaged this as an unmarked MEGA link, with any identifying names sanded off and strict instructions—“DON’T ASK WHAT THIS IS.” With that kind of introduction, I expected something incredibly cursed, but…I honestly kind of love this?
I don’t know how to organize my thoughts on this because I don’t know how it exists.
Zari0t: Thank you for actually going in blind on this, it added to the experience tenfold. You’re welcome, btw.
Keegan: Sometime between the conclusion of this marathon and the publication of this article, I accidentally became a massive Touhou fan.
I cannot properly describe the effect this has on my perspective of this game.
SLEEPMODE: Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (GCN)
If asked to choose a genre for Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects, I’d pick “garbage.” If pressed, I’d admit “garbage arena fighter”.
When it comes to arena fighters, sometimes it feels like the “garbage” is implied. Not many developers have tried their hand at the genre, and even fewer have tried to make something that holds up under scrutiny. The result is a genre without a lot of the experimental groundwork that’s needed to avoid pitfalls. Everyone looks at what’s come before them—Virtual-On and Gundam Versus at the front, a giant crater of wasted effort behind—and decides that the only way forward is to reinvent the wheel.
This, of course, doesn’t apply to Marvel Nemesis, which is bad simply because it’s a rushed cash-in on a popular license. It hurts a little, especially in the wake of Kill la Kill: IF and Jump Force; almost 15 years later, we are still doing the same goddamn thing. Those who do not know their history…
The common factor between terrible licensed games is rarely technical incompetence or development corner-cutting; it’s the fact that the game itself is just fundamentally boring, and there’s really no fixing it. They’re all made like one of those fake video games you occasionally see in daytime soaps, where an actor that isn’t getting paid enough to care slams away at an anachronistic controller; indistinct bleeps and bloops or vague miltary noises abound, until the real focus of the scene comes into view and the TV turns off. It doesn’t have to be a video game; it has to stand in for a video game, to symbolize a video game, because no one really cares about the difference anyway. It’s depressingly cynical. All video games are purposeless pits that you throw your free time into, so let’s not sweat the details, right? Turn off your Nintendo, Johnny, we’re having dinner.
“We want it to be darker and grittier.” Done. “We want new characters we can sell merchandise with.” Done. “We want guys to get stabbed in the head like that other one, that Mortal Kombat thing.” Done in spades, and holy fuck they are boring.
Damage is low, movement is clumsy, interactables are buggy, attacking is awkward, defending is pointless, fatalities are formulaic and forgettable. Marvel Nemesis is not bad in any way that’s important or interesting, save the impressive technical feat of running like shit even in Dolphin. It’s just bad.
TTTTTsd: This is exactly what happens when you try to make a “competitive beat em up” when even the beat em up part of the game isn’t that good.
Sleepmode: I can only imagine how disappointing it must have been going from Marvel vs Capcom 2 to this.
TTTTTSD: Best of Best (Arcade)
Fighting games are made of edge cases. It’s the way the genre is built—a thousand little things happening 60 times per second. A one-pixel difference can take a character from great to garbage; a single frame, an imperceptible fraction of a second, can rewrite a climactic victory into a crushing defeat.
In a way, fighting game fans are blessed. Despite all odds and most conventional logic, the teams behind modern commercial releases produce games that are playable, functional, and even reasonably balanced. In that way, it’s refreshing to find something like Best of Best; it’s a reminder that a single mistake in programming or design, a single misplaced bit, can render a game unplayable. Despite every complaint about the latest seasonal installment of your favorite series, despite exploitative microtransactions and questionable roster cuts and whatever is currently going on in Ed Boon’s head, it is still an unthinkable goddamn miracle that fighting games can stand up to the scrutiny of their most devoted fans.
Anyway, Best of Best doesn’t have wakeup throw invulnerability. One knockdown equals an unavoidable OTG throw loop and a round loss.
Put this shit in the garbage.
Keegan: You know, sometimes there’s just one fatal flaw that cripples an entire project. Wakeup invincibility hard.
TTTTTsd: The entire VOD has me whispering because it was late at night while I was on vacation, but let me tell you: If you can’t get wakeup throw invulnerability right, the rest of your game will not fare very well mechanically.
ABBOCK: Ultra Fight Kyanta 2
Where to fucking start with this one.
I have a long history of shitting on simplified fighting games—projects like Fantasy Strike, attempts to streamline the fighting game core loop into something that “normal humans” can get their feet wet with. Simplified controls, stripped-down systems, clarity always preferred over complexity. Something about them doesn’t sit right with me, and it’s not because I want every fighter to be a BlazBlue-esque labyrinthine clusterfuck.
Kyanta’s controls aren’t simple because of some misguided desire for mass appeal—vaguely patronizing training wheels attached to The Fighting Game Framework, graciously dumbed down for those lesser mortals who simply Couldn’t Get It. The simplified controls are a safety measure, like regulations in rally racing. They prevent your brain from exploding.
Haramaself captures the frenetic just-do-it energy of Rainbow Edition, but surpasses even that famous ROM hack in raw speed, like someone turned the framelimiter off. The tools you have are small in number and simple in usage, but Kyanta’s pace is perfectly balanced—casuals and veterans alike left grappling with the unfolding scrambles, staying barely afloat on intuition, mind-reading, nerves, and sometimes honest-to-god mashing.
It’s some of the most fun I’ve had with a fighting game in a while—but watching friends and Internet neighbors throw themselves into it alongside me, drawn in by Kyanta’s inescapable gravity, was even more satisfying. I’ve watched players of all skill levels give themselves over to the spectacle and have a fantastic time.
Kyanta’s got six different grooves, selectable supers, what feels like hundreds of undocumented or obscure mechanics, and at least one exploit-turned-core-feature, all presented with neck-breaking pace. Fireballs are absurdly strong. Kill combos are everywhere. Rounds can be wiped away in seconds, before you even have the chance to figure out what’s happening to you. On paper, Kyanta is less accessible than almost every release of the last 10 years.
In reality, Kyanta’s enjoyed some of the best casual reception I’ve ever seen, and players with no fighting game experience were giving me a fair challenge after only a few games of warmup. Sure, players with experience in fighters won more often, and players with Kyanta experience won quite a lot more often, but I never felt like I had to hold back for fear of pushing novices away, or hold a 2-hour seminar on how to beat my character before anyone had a chance at making a dent.
Everyone just…played. It was a loud, flashing, abrasive shitfest, and we had the time of our lives.
I don’t believe that people are allergic to complexity, or that they fear struggling with the learning process. When you look at the fighters that have been most successful with casual audiences, it’s really not hard to see why; Mortal Kombat X courted a massive population of all levels of skill, despite frustrating projectiles and oppressive jailing overheads, and Soulcalibur and Tekken are legendary despite (because of?) their massive movelists.
The fact is, it’s in our nature to rise to challenges. All you need, all anyone needs, is the right motivation—and Kyanta’s unapologetic weirdness, its dizzying speed and unquantifiable charm, are an irresistible spark of curiosity.
I reject the pessimism of the “baby’s first fighter” approach, and Kyanta makes a stronger case than I could ever have hoped for.
Keegan: There is a LOT to love about this game, but in particular I’d like to say that Haramaself has quite the knack for character design, with memorable characters who run the gamut from cute to cool to creepy very nicely. Keep it the fuck up.
TTTTTsd: I got to see a bit of this before I had to sleep on vacation. Haramaself you are a god and also holy shit all of the grooves in this game are actually really interesting ideas. This was a cool experience.
Abbock: It’s actually pretty obvious which gameplay systems came from Haramaself’s observation of the genre and which systems just came from his own creativity and experimentation. It’s this outsider perspective that really gives Kyanta its charm. In a way, you can see Kyanta as a fighting game viewed through the lens of someone that doesn’t play them. We look at Kyanta and wonder what the fuck is going on, both visually and mechanically. A casual gamer that mostly plays big AAA games probably looks at something like Marvel vs Capcom in the same way.
Sleepmode: During the finale of last year’s Kusoge Vacation Calendar, we suggested that one may find God inside of a Power Rangers Legacy Wars loot box. Well, we found him, but it turns out he was actually on itch.io and calls himself “Haramaself” for some reason
My boyfriend has informed me that Capoiera Fighter 3’s “Money Game” is, in fact, based on a real capoiera thing—though no one jumps 200 feet in the air. I don’t know what to do with this information, so I’m giving it to you. Have fun.
KEEGAN: Astra Superstars (Arcade)
I’m not an expert on photosensitive epilepsy. Fortunately, I don’t have to be; Astra Superstars is so visually exhausting and disorienting, it’s obviously a health hazard to everyone on Earth. I played this in a well-lit room, on a monitor set to reasonable brightness, and came away with aching eyes. In your average arcade environment, it probably just kills you.
That video looks like a cherry-picked example, but I swear it’s not. It’s not just that super, it’s not just that character, it’s not just that situation.
It is the whole goddamn game.
The fullscreen strobing rainbows are the big, obvious offender, but there are a lot of other visual touches that contribute to the dizzying fatigue. Both characters have flickering outlines (presumably to make them easier to track on the backgrounds), fly-in text flashes bright red and white, certain cancels flash your character bright colors, projectile supers invert every other frame, and your lifebars have a cinema-marquee kind of sparkle to them. Almost every element on the screen is animated like a slot machine. It’s actually kind of horrifying.
But what is Astra Superstars? Well, it’s a Sunsoft project, and you can tell because of the heartbreakingly beautiful spritework. When you can see it. Or anything at all.
The focus is on aerial combat; you can “jump” in both directions, up or down, and control your aerial drift as you gradually ease back to the center. With dash and “jump”-cancels allowed just about everywhere, and combos consisting mostly of “jab dash jab” ad infinitum, the focus is clearly on managing the aerial movement, not on any kind of complex system mechanics. It works, and when I wasn’t focused on my bleeding eyes, it was a good time.
The game is so infatuated with its flashing effects that it decides timeouts not by life lead, but by who played “cooler”. The higher Star Rank takes the round; aggressive actions raise it, everything else lowers it. Want to take the round by decision? Strobe that monitor like it’s a goddamn rave.
But honestly, besides the strobing, this game is pretty fucking fun. So what is it doing on a marathon of awful fighting games? Surely in a video-based event, structuring the last leg of a month-long marathon around “HAHA FLASHING LIGHTS” wasn’t the plan, right?
You got us. Astra Superstars is really here because you can play as Small Santa, and every one of us agreed that it was enough.
Abbock: I think that was a cool fighting game but I’m not entirely sure. I’ll get back to you when I stop seeing remnants of UI and flashes of red every time I close my eyes.
Keegan: I would love this game so much if I could show it to people without endangering their health.
I mean, the mechanics are dangerous to your mental health but that’s not quite what I mean.
So…it’s done. August is an acceptable time to release a writeup on an event in last December, right?
This was the hardest Advent Calendar to run, and it was the hardest Advent Calendar to write about, just because of how incredibly fucking…powerful every game was. I feel like I could dive into every one of these and write a 15-page academic essay, with the exception of Wu-Tang. (God, what even was that.) I had to stop myself in places just to end up with something that could be feasibly finished.
T is a new member of The Committee, and I have to say, he fucking went for the THROAT. Every single one of his games were just unapologetically awful in every possible way—but almost all of this year’s ASS ratings, his included, were fantastic spectacles. I don’t even know how you guys find these, but please make sure you bring protective gear while you’re dumpster-diving.
Kyanta, if you couldn’t tell, was my absolute favorite of the bunch, but even with T’s nuclear garbage bomb decimating the lineup, there are a lot of games I think I could go back to. I’m already late on other stuff, though, so it’ll have to wait.
Instead, let me just promise that I’ll see you all again soon for another round. And it’s going to be something.
Thank you for playing.