A Bunch of Sicko Reviews
A new batch of hot takes from da Boys
Hello Sicko fans!
Time for the exceedingly rare moment where we use the newsletter to talk about actual news.
We have decided to become Streaming Boys (or more accurately, we will try it once and see if we like it). Tomorrow at 4pm Central time we will stream Slay the Spire at twitch.tv/animesickos (I will be playing on a fresh file with nothing unlocked, Joe will provide color commentary).
Tune in if that sounds good to you!
Tom’s Rapid Reviews
Tom here! I wanted to offer up some quick thoughts a la Joe’s rapid reviews instead of droning on for 2k words as I usually do. (Tom from the future here: I fuckin failed at it. I droned on. Oh well)
I decided to play the pretentious art game 3 years late. What can I say—I really enjoyed it! I am a sucker for lore and funky story structure in games, and Nier: Automata delivered big time. A lot of games have this shitty trope that’s like “ah, your violent actions only make the characters suffer—perhaps the ethical decision is simply not to play?” Usually I’m like bitch I was already not playing before I bought your damn game. Nier: Automata is the first game I’ve played that actually pulls it off in an affecting way that doesn’t try to shame the player, and I won’t pretend I didn’t get emotional when it happened.
My main gripe with the game is that it could use about half of the combat that’s actually in it. The writing, story, art, music, presentation, theme, etc etc is so strong that it compels me to keep playing and the actual combat gameplay is passable, but after about the second hour of fighting robots I was like “OK, I feel like I’ve seen it all combat-wise” and now that I’ve finished the game, yeah, I was right! There are so many scenes where you have to fight a ton of robots before the game gives you the next plot goodie and invariably I go like “ah, this feels like the end of the fighting section, whew, about time” and turns out nope the fight section is only 40% done. The remaining 60% of the fight section is indistinguishable from the first 40%.
This is a much milder version of the issue I had with Control, which is supposedly a game about a mind-bending story in a unique setting, but is actually a game about shooting 1,000 identical red men in a big room. I hated every second of Control’s combat, so obviously the game was like “strap in for ten solid hours of this shit bitch, it’s the only thing you do in the whole game!” so I just quit.
Another thing about Nier: Automata is that it is the robot ass game where absolute pawgs have their thick thighs on screen at all times.
Normally I despise such horniness (I’ve never been horny) but for this game I don’t mind it. I think I know why. The presence of Da Bigg Ass in this game has been publicly explained in interviews as the result of the game director liking bigg ass and putting it in because he thinks it’s good. For me the crux is: I hate it when horny in a piece of art seems to be leering at me saying “this is what you like isn’t it, you little freak. this is what gives you a boner!” I respect it when horny in a piece of art seems to be saying “this is what I, the creator (a little freak) likes, this is what gives me a boner!”
The former type of fanservice makes assumptions about me, which I find impertinent and rude. The latter type is a bold authorial choice that illuminates the work’s creator. Is this an arbitrary distinction that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny? Yes. Oh well. The robot asses are pretty cool tbh.
Sicko homie and famed gusto-mode goer Kevin Johnson sent me this video from Quintin Smith of Shut Up and Sit Down fame. Kevin understands that when a YouTube man has a British accent I will simply listen to everything he says. I do not respect the British—I find their strange ways to be disgusting and I disdain their home of “Toad Island.” But as soon as that voice gets on YouTube I become an obedient hog.
Kevin also understands that I like rules-light, easily understandable, non-Western contact sports. Long time listeners will remember I love sumo for this reason. Kabaddi fits this bill to a T and folks I have become a kabaddi enjoyer as a result.
Aside: One thing about this video is that it’s all about how much fun it is to leave your home and touch other people that was released mid-March of 2020. I love how videos like this will forevermore crackle and pulse with just the darkest energy. They don’t know yet!!!
Kabaddi is one of those sports where, once you hear it explained, it seems impossible that you ever didn’t know about it. It’s so simple and gets right to the exciting shit: speed, strategy, acrobatics, and tackling. Football has those things but also it takes forever and has a bunch of extra shit I hate. Kabaddi does not. It’s also one of the few sports that, upon seeing it, I personally want to try. It seems like it’d be such fun even if you sucked ass at it (I would)!
As the video notes, I don’t know if there’s any way that we Westerners can watch full games of pro kabaddi, but I too have fallen deep into the rabbit hole of watching highlights on Youtube. I’ve never seen a game but I do know that Maninder Singh is one of the best raiders in the game and that when a team does well a horrific animated CGI representation of their logo does a triumphant fist pump. One of the teams is the Pink Panthers and I always think they’re trying to sell me insulation.
Kevin also got me this for Christmas based entirely on the fact that it was marketed as a “cyberpunk Lovecraftian detective game,” which he figured would be my speed. Correct! It was.
As an actual detective game it’s not amazing, by which I mean the gameplay mechanisms for actually doing the work of solving the mystery are a bit limp. The game does a neat job auto-sorting evidence into little sub-sections which makes it easy to review what you know, but you don’t have to do much logical heavy lifting. The game makes a lot of connections between information for you, and very often the solution to uncovering a secret isn’t to puzzle over the evidence, but to find more evidence until the solution is obvious. It’s by no means unpleasant, and the actual nature of The Main Crime is a thrilling one to uncover, but this never had my brain working at full capacity like Return of the Obra Dinn did.
But fuck that. That’s not why Paradise Killer kicks ass. Paradise Killer kicks ass because it’s fucking rad. Only half of the game’s mystery is the actual crime you’re solving. The other half is, why is my character 8,000 years old and why do they live on a weird island full of occult statues of fucky elder gods and a floating gem that makes a huge whooshing sound, and why are my friends all a pantheon of immortal perverts named “One Last Kiss” and “Doctor Doom Jazz” and why is there a slave caste of ritual sacrifices whose blood bathes The Opulent Ziggurat, and why is there a 100-foot alien named “Crying Grudge” who lives in a pyramid, and why is there a dumbass fox demon who keeps talking to me to say dick jokes, and why are there PA systems around the island that pump the ultra-slick citypop soundtrack diegetically throughout the actual game world? The game dripfeeds you answers to all this and more, and it’s honestly. unraveling the nature of the setting and its inhabitants is worth the price of admission. Even if Paradise Killer’s gameplay didn’t blow me away, I want a sequel set in this universe so bad—it’s that interesting!
This all works because the game has absolutely psychotic confidence in its aesthetic. It is objectively silly to have your thicc-thighed character emerge from millenia of exile and walk up to your old friend Crimson Acid and be like “oh my god Crimson, your head turned into a goat head!! Congrats!” and have her go “thank you, but unfortunately it means I can’t do any more genocide :(((“ and you’re like “:( no!!!” But they don’t blink. There’s no hedging. There’s no “yeah, it’s silly, but play along.” The game looks you right in the eye and says “this is actually really badass.” And what, like you’re gonna say no?
I’ve heard this game described as a collectathon platformer but instead of gathering gems you gather clues. Honestly that’s pretty close. You do kind of just hop awkwardly around the open world until you find all the info. But if you slap a coat of paint this stylish on top, you won’t find me complaining. If the developer’s next game builds off this foundation, it’s going to be some truly amazing work.
THE FLOWERS OF EVIL
Sicko listener @NASCARArafat, whose spouse donated the Anime Trivia Quizbook we discussed last episode, recently recommended I watch The Flowers of Evil, which he described as “about a boy who got horny and a girl who threatens to tell the paper.”
Well, it’s true! Flowers of Evil is a sickeningly tense psychological thriller that drips with stomach-churning suspense even as the actual problems the characters are dealing with are utterly meaningless to anyone else on earth. The main guy stole his crush’s gym clothes (not even underwear) and immediately felt awful and didn’t even do any perv shit with them (the crush finds out later anyway and she’s not even mad)! Nakamura, a girl with the dead heart of a poster, sees him do this and blackmails him lest she reveal how truly sick he is in the depths of his pervert’s heart. The main guy is a fucking teen idiot so obviously he thinks everything is insanely important and permanent and so this scenario is so hellish he can barely function in it.
It speaks to the strength of the execution that this series pulls it off, because the plot would immediately fall apart the second any character realized that you aren’t Forever Defiled And Rendered Wholly Evil by doing dumb shit as a teen. Luckily they never do. The main guy believes with all his soul that if anyone ever learned that he looked at a boob that he would have to become a drifter.
The show is rotoscoped, which is awkward and kinda muddy-looking, as rotoscoped animation always is, but it sorta works! The uncomfortable marriage of realism and animation sells how the characters are in realistic scenarios but experience them with way more warped intensity than they warrant. It also allows for much more expressive facial acting from the main cast, which is crucial to selling the suspense of it all. The series only works if you buy that our main guy’s every moment is pure hell and the thought of his deviance being exposed would be worse than death. That wouldn’t be possible with normally animated faces but the rotoscoped actors make it work. I have to especially call out Nakamura’s actress here because holy shit what a gut punch of a character she is. She really doesn’t do anything except go up to our main guy and go “you really are sick. You’re a deviant, just admit it”—he could literally just walk away from her at any time! But she comes off as this inescapable dark presence through the power of the performance.
Overall a solid, dread-soaked little series, though it sort of ends mid-thought. Might have to read the rest of the story in the manga (which was officially translated by Sicko guest Paul Starr)!
That said, the next series I watch is going to be about fighting teens—I’ve earned it.