The World Is Open

Welcome to the Great Plateau of this post. You can read any paragraph–any sentence, even–of this article in any order you want. Of course, you could always do that, for written works are far easier to experience non-linearly compared to a video game. Well, most video games, anyway. For today we shall be discussing open world games. I don’t have a lot to say that’s interesting, and I’m really just trying to put something out there by the end of the month, and I’ve been playing a lot of Pokemon Scarlet, and I’ve been thinking about Pokemon Legends, and I’ve been thinking about Breath of the Wild, and

Movement in an open world game is the most important thing to nail. A well-designed world might be what you’d expect to be most important, but the act of actually moving has to be engaging so that the player will want to see the entire well-designed world. Movement has always been crucial since the first real-time video games. It feels really fun simply having Mario run from left to right in Super Mario Bros because the game is at a speed that is fast but not difficult to keep up with mentally. Compare that to other 2D platformers: Mega Man games feel very stiff because the titular robot has no sense of momentum–he stops dead in his tracks once the input is gone. Sonic games feel very loose because it’s even more about momentum than Mario. This translated to 3D games as well. Super Mario 64 was famously developed in a way that the devs refused to create the levels until Mario’s movement in a 3D plane felt good enough.

The three key features of Pokemon Scarlet’s open world are Gyms, Titans, and Bases. The two key features of Breath of the Wild’s open world are Sacred Beasts, and Shrines. The only shared key feature across Pokemon Legends’ areas are the Pokemon themselves–individual landmarks in the areas aren’t reused. Each game uses something different to entice the player to explore with a central goal at the end of it. Scarlet dangles the mystery of the crater of Paldea. Breath of the Wild has the central figure of Calamity Ganon to stop. Legends has a paper-thin excuse of a plot to motivate the player. These all have their advantages and disadvantages. I appreciate Legends’ uniqueness across regions but found that there really could’ve been some sort of metaprogression to find other than Pokemon. I think Scarlet might have made too many goals for their open world and thus made the world too big to compensate for the relatively less engaging movement compared to Legends and Breath of the Wild, but honestly I adored the density of respawning collectibles. And Breath of the Wild has by far the best style and movement and I really loved that exploration was usually done by the player simply because exploring was fun, but I have to relent and say it could’ve used maybe one more thing to fill some of the space.

In these three games, you are a human exploring a world. Scarlet is closest to an old mascot platformer like Spyro the Dragon in that you will do the bulk of your movement across the world on an agile animal, but you are still a human on top of this animal. Breath of the Wild allows you to use a horse to traverse Hyrule, but I say “neigh” to that because I love the freedom of controlling Link. Legends also provides steeds to ride that are generally useful, but I also rarely used them since I wanted to roleplay what it felt like to be a human in the world, and the game supported that usually. All three games allow the player to climb. However, in Scarlet and Legends, a Pokemon is climbing with limitless stamina, while Link must use his own two hands and will fall if his stamina runs out. Somehow, despite the inconvenience, climbing with Link is the most gripping experience, pun intended. I think a lot of joy from a well-designed open world comes from grappling (again, pun intended) with minor inconveniences to reach the goal. All video games are like that, actually. But open world games are usually the ones that make you tackle minutiae that most games automate. And Breath of the Wild making the player use wits and patience to climb a mountain is just more fun than having Koraidon scale it.

It’s unfair to actually call Pokemon Legends: Arceus an open world game, because it was never billed as one. People who saw the initial trailers and hype definitely felt it was going to be open world while Nintendo quietly released a statement a few months before the game released stating that it was an “open area” game instead. Open area just means that Legends has 7 or so large areas to explore that are connected by a menu rather than by, well, walking from one into another. Presumably, this is more convenient for developers since they can just build one area and not have to worry about the tectonic digital plates causing earthquakes when put together. It does make Legends feel… I don’t know, just a little less than it could’ve been. It’s very strange, but I, and presumably others, would’ve liked it more if they just… actually put the levels together. Scarlet can do it when it would’ve been easy for the devs to have all the Areas not connected and instead have them accessed via menu. Breath of the Wild is a bit harder to imagine being traversed via menu. Though I guess having the ability to teleport to specific spots in Breath of the Wild and Pokemon Scarlet kind of make them open area games in a very cynical interpretation of the idea.

Combat is in most open world games. Some open world games are also “walking simulators” with no conflict and that is perfectly valid. But Scarlet, Legends, and Breath of the Wild have combat to spice up the constant walking. The conceit of Pokemon has always been that your loving pets are the ones to fight for you which hasn’t changed. And that’s why Breath of the Wild’s combat, while flawed, is slightly more fulfilling–it’s “you” fighting. I also prefer the speed and simplicity of Legends’ fights compared to Scarlet. Battles go by super quick. Scarlet is by far the slowest of the games since it is trying to be a traditional Pokemon game, which has always placed a ton of emphasis on its battle system, while Legends was free from those constraints. I can appreciate the complexity of Scarlet’s battling, but it feels incongruous with wanting to explore the world, and the 10 seconds wasted by Koraidon crashing into a tiny Pokemon leading to animations of the battle starting before I can run away adds up and is super annoying. The game could’ve used repels and some way of turning animations off but oh well.

Stuff to do and an enticing layout are parts of an open world. But the world must also feel “lived in” else it comes across as Jolly Roger Bay from Super Mario 64. Pokemon Legends is the one that fails here. There are very few details in the environment because it is about the player being the first to really explore and interact with the world you find yourself in. Funnily enough, one of those few details is an abandoned, beached ship like Jolly Roger Bay. Legends could’ve still salvaged the feeling of a lived in world if the Pokemon interacted with each other, but, alas, they feel as they are part of another world than the people and other Pokemon around them. Scarlet has great details. While exploring part of the game’s vast ocean, I came across a rocky island with Pelipper (think Pelicans), and a Magikarp nearly fell on me after escaping a Pelipper’s mouth. I found a Raichu, an electric Pokemon, on a sandy beach in the middle of the ocean, nearby. It knew the move Surf thus showing to me how that thing got there. There’s a lot of little stuff like this that makes Paldea feel real. Breath of the Wild had very fine details in text, environments, and enemy interactions that have slipped from my mind, but also added to the world feeling real.

On that note, the core environmental narratives of the three are interesting comparisons. Legends is a pre-industrial revolution game–the technology is steampunk (down to the Poke Balls emitting steam when used), the land is unexplored, and the people are scared of Pokemon due to their mystery. It is up to the player to be the first person to positively interact with Pokemon and assuage others’ fears of the creatures. Breath of the Wild is a post-apocalypse game where the people are afraid of going out because the world has ended. It is up to you to thwart the vestiges of what ended the world so that others may gain the confidence to return. Finally, Scarlet is… set in modern day Spain. Where many people have already traversed the world before you, and it is even an officially-named and recognized process to explore the world in the universe of Scarlet. It is quite unique as an open world game in this regard. The feeling of being the first to explore an area is super enticing and a common premise for open world games. But everywhere you go in Scarlet, you’ll run into another trainer. Well, save for one place, which is the game’s promise that your character will be unique should they get there. It’s kind of refreshing.

Music and sound design. A video game is first and foremost about the sights. Ears are the easiest way to augment that. All three games have quite good sound design. Breath of the Wild’s smack of weapons as they strike their target is extremely satisfying. The sound effect you’ll hear most in Legends is of a Poke Ball hitting some poor sap in the back, and it is great. Scarlet has the weakest sound effects because it is required to carry many traditional effects over and overall it works but fails to add much. For instance, there really should be a better sound for pulling out stakes since it lacks an animation, so having the sound do the storytelling when you cannot see it would do a lot. The music in Breath of the Wild is deliberately sparse, alienating, lonely, and, well, sad. It sells the post-apocalypse. Legends Arceus kind of goes for that same vibe but it doesn’t quite jibe with the game’s tone as a pre-apocalypse, pre-explored world environment. Scarlet also has very traditional music for the most part alongside some very good new themes. It has a lot more melodies and actual songs compared to Breath’s and Legends’ tracks of “hit random keys on a piano in a discordant manner” and it fits with the atmosphere. I won’t go out of my way to listen to Breath of the Wild’s soundtrack, but it adds so much to the game’s overall package. Legends is a bland imitation that has some good tracks, and Scarlet has very good music.

This is a strange commonality, but you can glide in all three games. And it is super satisfying in Breath of the Wild and Scarlet, and quite satisfying in Legends. The sad thing about Legends is that you get the glide super late. Or, well, I got it super late because I refused to progress in that game unless I got done with the research on every Pokemon in a given area, and the glide is received in the final zone. Scarlet’s glide comes after conquering 4 titans. Both Pokemon games have you ride Pokemon to glide. Legends’ birds are great at gliding. Scarlet’s glider stars nosediving quickly which is too bad because there’s so many glides I want to make that they refuse to make. But it’s still very very satisfying to glide somewhere you don’t think you’re intended to go, like a stake that is barely reachable by gliding off a tower. Breath of the Wild’s glider is the best and most satisfying because you can glide, hit a mountain, and start climbing that mountain while the Pokemon slide off. I cannot express how fun it is to climb in Breath of the Wild. It is so rewarding. All these small things that Breath of the Wild does to make the overall open world feel full and fun to navigate are what make it the best open world game. The Pokemon games are awesome games in their own rights, but not quite as good at being an open world. But they have the appeal of the actual Pokemon to make up for it and are extremely good games as well. In short, all three games are really good and loveable. Breath of the Wild nailed a lot of things first try while Legends and Scarlet could use some polish, but they’re all extremely good.

Writing in an open world game is a tricky subject. There are many open world games that have a billion books of lore that are lying around and will each be 200 pages of backstory like “Lord Griffon came to the Veldt Core nearly 175 years ago and created the Order of Magiscribes to snuff out the Den of Inquiety” and it’s just terrible. Breath of the Wild had a little of that, but mostly balanced the depressing post-apocalyptic world you could feel every step outside a town with a collection of super cheery towns filled with happy residents. It’s a nice balance. Legends’ has a smattering of NPCs, mostly concentrated in the central town, that aren’t the most interesting to talk to since they usually say “egads! a Pokemon!” and then faint. But I love how the central town builds itself up as you progress into a more populated place with people that aren’t quite as scared. Scarlet has standard Pokemon writing to go with the standard Pokemon tone, and it’s fine. I appreciate how many of them have their vapid dialogue appear without having to actually press A and wait a second to load the dialogue.

Legends and Breath of the Wild are deliberately lonely games for single players. Scarlet is a traditional Pokemon game that is in a series that has always forced players to ask other players to play with them to complete the Pokedex. As such, Scarlet is unique in this group as a deliberately cooperative game. You can at any time connect to the internet and link up with strangers or friends to roam Paldea. I think it’s very cute but not what I look for in an open world game. I think the loneliness is important in making my character’s actions feel special. But I do understand how crucial such a thing is for Scarlet as a traditional Pokemon game and do not hold it against it.

Graphics aren’t everything. But artstyle is super important. I really like how everything that isn’t a Pokemon or piece of environment looks in Legends. It’s super sleek, snappy, and gets out of the way quick, which fits with the game’s breakneck pace. Scarlet’s look is just… boring? It doesn’t really have an artstyle. But it does have a lot more fun animations and little graphical touches compared to Legends. Like the insane designs of the Gym Leaders like Larry, or the genuinely really well-designed cities that dot the map like Porto Marinada. They all feel very unique and fun to explore because of that. The Pokemon themselves look good. But, man, every Pokemon game, people will take Gamefreak to task for how sad the animations are, the general blandness of environments, and the many graphical bugs that pop up. Scarlet is a way worse offender than Legends which has blandness but not many bugs. Scarlet has a lot of bugs. I haven’t mentioned Breath of the Wild once here but all I can say is that the game has immaculate art design. It might be the best in any game, period. It looks super good. I don’t know how they did it. As a launch Switch game, it has performance issues, but is gorgeous and has stunning locales. I especially love the Zora Domain with its mix of waterfalls, stone, and embedded artifacts with script on them–it is beautiful.

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OMORI, which I will be referring to as “Omori” from now on, represents the potential of storytelling through video games at its best, and highlights the extreme limitations the medium has at its worst. I want to be clear: Omori is a great game. It has a ton of ambition and tells a very meaningful story. I look back at this game and believe it did many things right. But one question about the game somewhat haunts me: did it need to be a video game at all?

Omori has two cores. One is its story, which is a very tough examination of a teenage shut-in, and his imagination, who has not left his house in four years. This core has special modern relevance as it’s based on the hikikomori (see what they did there?), alienated, isolated lifestyle many modern people live. The other is its gameplay, which is about as antiquated as it gets as a traditional sprite-based JRPG with a silent protagonist set in a real-worldish setting like Earthbound, or Pokemon Red/Blue. There’s also splotches of Undertale, references to Paper Mario, and a billion other predecessor video games that Omori makes homage to in its gameplay and writing.

These cores are at odds with each other. Many storytelling tricks that Omori hopes to accomplish with its tale can be done much easier in a movie or a book where the creators have complete control over how a consumer will consume their content. But a video game creator can relinquish some control of the plot over to the player. There are many games with linear narratives that do not allow this–Earthbound and Pokemon Red/Blue for instance do not let you choose to advance in the game without taking down Giygas or beating Team Rocket. There are even plot-first games that are wildly beloved by fans that also do not allow the player to make meaningful decisions in how the plot advances, like my favorite visual novel series of Ace Attorney.

Yet Omori does let the player make meaningful choices in how the plot plays out. And I think it is here where the fact that Omori is a video game rather than a movie or book somewhat lets the endeavor down. Maybe some larger context about the plot would help with what I am trying to say. Obviously, there are large spoilers ahead, so you shouldn’t read them if you have any interest in playing the game. Everyone else who is here by accident or cares enough about the game to read a review about it but not enough to consider playing it, you can continue.

I said before that Omori is about a shut-in. Omori is the nickname of Sunny, a seventeen year old boy who decided to not come out of his house ever again after some incident four years prior to the start of the game. Not only that, Sunny has gone effectively mute during this time. He does not speak during the game at any point. This is an homage to the “silent protagonist” trope JRPGs love, but makes sense in-game for Sunny to be silent. The game opens with Sunny alone in his parents’ house with everything in the house boxed up in cardboard boxes because he and his mom are moving out in three days. A light bit of psychological horror occurs to Sunny as he walks around the dark, empty house, and he falls asleep. He wakes up in White Space, a bright, cheerful imaginative realm that has the bulk of the “actual gameplay” of Omori. In White Space, Sunny goes by “Omori” and spends the time in White Space hanging out with his three childhood friends, Hero, Kel, and Aubrey; his sister, Mari, is the party’s main support. After some lighthearted fun, the last member of Omori’s core group of friends, Basil, is taken away in another psychological horror segment. The plot of the White Space in general is attempting to rescue Basil.

When the game feels it reaches a good climax in the White Space, Sunny wakes up, and this is when the player is given an extremely large amount of control as to how the game goes and where the fact that Omori is a video game is a problem for its storytelling. Sunny wakes up and hears a knock at his door. You, the player, are given the choice to either open the door or keep it closed and wait for it to go away. Reminder that Sunny has been a complete shut-in for four years. There is zero reason he would ever open this door going by his character up to this point. He has his imagination to live in with the White Space. His mother tends to his physical needs for food and shelter. There is nothing to entice him opening that door.

But you, the player, can tell him to do so. And opening the door is required to understand what happened in Sunny’s life that led him to this extreme anti-social state. This sort of decision would not work in a movie nor a book. It simply does not make sense. But a video game creator can make an extreme amount of tension between a playable character’s personality and backstory and what you, the player, can make them do. Take Pokemon as an example. Characters in Pokemon games will always, always praise the main character as a very kind individual that takes very good care of their Pokemon. But there is a stat called “Happiness” every Pokemon has that players can purposely lower by purposely feeding them bitter medicine or getting them knocked out, and there is a move called “Frustration” that does more damage the lower the Happiness stat is. And yet if you beat the Elite Four and Champion with a team of fully frustrated Pokemon, the professor will still call you a kind soul that believed in their Pokemon. It’s silly! But also demonstrates one of the very hard things game makers have to do when crafting a story: making the player’s choices understandable in context.

I think Omori fails at establishing a good reason why Sunny is even able to open this door. Heck, one of the early horror scenes is him being unable to make it down the stairs in his own house due to fear. It is purely by the fact that I, the player, could control him and make him open that door. Other indie games have grappled with this idea of the player being an active character in the game that non-playable characters (NPCs) will try to talk to (the player). Undertale is one of those indie games that does it lightly; the final boss will call out the player by whatever name they input at the start of the game. Doki Doki Literature Club goes way further in examining the NPC-player dynamic by having an NPC fully take over the game as if they were the player in control of everything. Omori doesn’t acknowledge the player’s influence in the game. The closest it gets is characters in White Space indirectly referencing Sunny as they know it is Sunny’s imagination that White Space is in. I think it’s fine that Omori, the game, doesn’t try to grapple with the metafiction of players controlling a game, but it needed something to make Sunny’s decision to open this door make sense in-universe.

Why am I harping so much on this door? Well, like I said, so much of the game’s narrative hinges (door joke) on whether the player chooses to open the door or not. If you open the door, it turns out that Kel was the one knocking on it, and he drags you out of the house to do random stuff because he wants to hang out during these last three days before Sunny moves. It also triggers an in-game flag that lets you, the player, go down the route for the “best ending” to Omori. Should you keep the door closed like Sunny would probably do, you go back to the White Space. Sunny’s imagination gets a lot more disturbed. You, the player, will be locked out of the best ending and have one of four unsatisfying endings in comparison. This sort of storytelling is acceptable in choose-your-own-adventure books, but can you imagine if you were watching Citizen Kane and were told what Rosebud meant only if you answered a trivia question correctly?

But video games are really just jazzed up choose-your-own-adventure books, so they’re allowed to get away with it. In fact, they should be encouraged to get away with it even more, and at very granular levels. One of the huge limitations for storytelling in video games is exactly this. In theory, a creator could make a game that allows the player to do ANYTHING and create a satisfying set of consequences for every action made like in real-life. This is obviously very hard to do, but it hasn’t stopped game makers from trying. Detroit: Become Human is a great example of a game having that sort of ambition with every scenarios in the game having multiple endings that lead the player down very different paths. And from a game perspective, it gives a huge amount of freedom to the player in leading the narrative in a way that is impossible compared to books or movies. The main letdown is that every scenario and all the writing in Detroit: Become Human is absolutely godawful.

Omori has very good writing. As the game plot unfolds and more about the incident that drove this group of six best friends apart and sent two of them spiraling into anti-social depression that they cannot get out of, the more you really care about the characters and wanting them to heal past it. And besides the overarching plot, there is so much clever and funny incidental dialogue and situations. Just like a good Earthbound or Undertale spiritual successor should be, Omori can switch between funny and serious at the drop of a hat. You’ll go get life-saving medicine for a neighborly grandma and then meet her parody of a grandson 20 seconds later. And it works because that is the sort of tone-flipping that is expected from a Game Like This.

Going back to my overall criticism, Omori is a great story with a great gameplay hook but the two are usually at odds with each other. There are a few times where Omori being a video game absolutely works in its favor for storytelling. The first goes back to my earlier topic of the tension between the player getting to choose what the characters do, and what choices game creators provide players. There are a few times when Omori (not Sunny) is stuck in a room with nothing to do to advance the game, save one thing. CONTENT WARNING SELF HARM The player is forced to pause and make Omori stab himself with a steak knife to advance the game. It’s a lot like the trolley problem where it feels so bad to make the decision to have Omori stab himself rather than have the game go into a cutscene where Omori stabs himself with no control from the player. Though I will say the game goes back to the well one or two too many times as it gets less impactful.

Another great merge of gameplay and story in Omori, the game, is when you enter Black Space. White Space was Sunny’s imagination creating a playful area to cope with the incident four years ago, but it wasn’t the first thing that Sunny imagined in the wake of the event. Black Space is the much darker and scary version of Sunny’s imagination. Players must trudge through at least 10 or so of these horrific scenarios imagined by Sunny at his lowest with the ability to go through another 10 or so if they’d like to see everything in there. The scenarios are sick and depraved and full of very disturbing imagery and spritework. It’s a very chilling dreamscape exploration. It’s too bad that Yume Nikki did this sort of thing prior to Omori since Omori does a much better job contextualizing the dreamscapes compared to the very loose “game” that was Yume Nikki. It almost feels like the creators of Omori wanted to make Yume Nikki But With Plot. Anyway, I think that letting the player experience Black Space however they wish is what makes it a very effective storytelling device compared to similar explorations of a dark mind in a movie–it’s not that movies can’t do this effectively, it’s that the added control a player has on seeing the scenarios as much as they want and in the ways they want that makes them more personally impactful for a given player.

The last noteworthy merge of gameplay and story for me was a very small touch 30 seconds before the ending of the game. Due to a string of events, Sunny winds up in the hospital. If you chose to open the door and go out and help people in Faraway Town where Sunny lives, the people helped send Sunny flowers with personalized thank you notes detailing the impact Sunny (and thereby you, the player) had on them. This is something only video games can do. It’s truly a beautiful touch.

But speaking of things only video games can do, we are 15 paragraphs in, and only now am I going to discuss the moment-to-moment gameplay of Omori. As said a long time ago, Omori is a traditional turn-based JRPG exactly like Earthbound with quirky enemies, real-world items like Soda Pop and Jacks as your combat tools, and the standard slew of HP/MP/Attack/Defense/Speed stats. It does two slightly unique things on top of a very basic battle system. #1 is that your party builds up a heart meter every time a party member is hit by an attack, and those points on the heart meter can be used for a special combination attack with 12 unique combinations. It’s pretty cute and I liked the addition. #2 is a Fire Emblem-esque weapon triangle but with the emotions of Happy, Sad, and Angry. I never interacted with this part of the battle system. I think it was a cute idea but just not very important.

Yet I must say that the game’s biggest fault is that the moment-to-moment dream world/White Space gameplay that takes up 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the game’s time ultimately feels superfluous as far as the main plot is concerned. Again, White Space is Sunny’s imagination. It has no bearing on the real world. There’s a lot of very cute flourishes in the White Space. Basically every character in it that isn’t one of the core six in Sunny’s group of friends is a slightly-off cartoon inspiration of a character from the real world. Like the annoying Sweetheart in White Space is candy shop owner Miss Smiley. And the White Space has two pretty fun dungeons with Sweetheart’s Castle and Humphrey the Whale, but… they’re just filler. They have no bearing on Sunny. They reflect Sunny’s emotions, and the White Space gets scarier if Sunny is scared of the real world, but the White Space doesn’t contribute to Sunny’s growth. I guess that’s the point of White Space in the end, that it was a safety blanket that was doing much more harm than good, but I, the player, wasted 15-20 hours in it so it feels a little disappointing that it didn’t do much good.

The battle system feels like it was made simply to set up the old Earthbound final boss trick where the only winning move is to Pray. The game has like 5-6 fights where that’s the moral. Strangely enough, they’re all in your head, and you’re expected to beat up Aubrey in the real world rather than try to forgive her in the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I love Earthbound’s final boss, and I think every time you’re asked to spare someone in Omori makes sense, it just also gets cheaper and cheaper the more it’s done. And I think it was done 2 times too many. Bottom line, I just wasn’t convinced that there needed to be any battling or leveling up in Omori–it could’ve told the story just as effectively without it since all the setup for the “Calm Down” “”fights”” didn’t justify the entire battle system in my opinion.

My final complaints are that I think the character writing for Mari is a little weak. She’s too perfect. Which I get is why Omori shutting himself off because of what happened to her, but it stands out when the core party members of Kel, Hero, and Aubrey all feel very human compared to her. I also found the character of Basil very strange once I learned his role in the incident. He had so much guilt over an incident in which he really didn’t do much, but I wasn’t in his situation when I was 12 so I can’t judge him too much.

I want to circle back to an earlier point that the game’s biggest problem is that the choices are too limited and the consequences are too far-reaching. If you don’t open that door, you’ll play another 15 hours or so of a slow-paced JRPG and just not know why anyone did anything they did, including why Sunny shut himself off. That’s frustrating. And it’s frustrating that you’d be expected to play through the 3-5 hours of prologue to get back to that choice and then play the next 15-20 hours to see what happened, presumably with a guide this time. I am fortunate that I am very well attuned to what game makers typically want their players to do and found my way to the super secret good ending where everything is explained and everyone gets their happy ending, but the developers can’t expect everyone can get there. I think it’s great that players do have a lot of choice as to how this game goes–I simply wish it was more upfront somehow about the consequences, and also telegraphed the “right thing to do” in a better way.

Finally, to close out the review, I think it’s important to discuss the game’s music and graphics. The music is very good in-the-moment but I didn’t hear a single standout track that I’d want to go look up and listen to on my own time. The graphics are an incredible mix between sprites and hand-drawn animation. They are extremely beautiful when they want to be, and extremely unnerving when they want to be. Omori has the best graphics and animations of any game I’ve played. It is truly something special. So many little touches and animations that make it great.

In short, Omori is an extremely good game that shows some of the potential of games as a storytelling medium and runs into a lot of pitfalls that current game developers fall into when trying to make video games with good narratives. It is absolutely worth playing despite my complaints about opening a door. The animation alone is worth the $20 you’ll spend on it. Thanks for reading.

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Being Funny in a Foreign Language

No, that’s not a satirical headline I came up with while studying abroad in Paris, it’s the name of The 1975’s new album. And to be thematic with that album, I will immediately apologize for making that joke without saying I’ll trying to do better. No, I’m not saying that this album is bad (ooh, that’s twice that I’ve done this exact sentence structure in three sentences!), I’m saying this to bring up the lyrics in the album that let me down the most.

I’ve loved The 1975 since they weren’t self-aware and making simple synthrock (debut), since they weren’t self-aware and making “intellectual” synthrock (I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It), since they became self-aware and were making hyperaware, hyperpop, hyperactive music in all genres (A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, Notes on a Conditional Form), and I continue to love them as they desperately try to turn off their self-awareness, make amends, and create sincere, straightforward pop rock again for Being Funny in a Foreign Language.

This transition of creative processes is super tough. I would know, as someone who went through the same thing making this blog the past 12 years. I started off without any real self-awareness, just writing whatever, then learned that trait and struggled to write anything I was happy with, had a pretty bad moment where that all came to a head and I pulled everything on here down, and then have tried to come back and push something out every month without thinking too hard about it. Of course, I’m just projecting etc. etc. etc. But more important than knowing for sure that Matt and I are similar in that way is the fact that I think we are similar. This is how parasocial relationships start–taking shoes off in the back of my van. And there’s a joke reference to “Sex” by The 1975 to deflect from getting too personal. God I’m so good at this.

The first six songs of this album are incredible. “The 1975” once again is the first song on the album, just like every other album. This time, it’s an LCD Soundsystem hook ripoff of a manic, unresolving piano with Matt at his finest lyrically over it. He mumbles about how he has been stripping and mining his worst parts to sell, just like everyone else does in modern society, and apologizes over and over to the teenagers listening. This album has Matt’s best lyrics of all their album, but The 1975 is when he feels most personal and heartfelt.

“Happiness” follows. It was the second single off the album. It’s a really fun jam that harkens back to “The Sound” or even “Girls” from early The 1975. Jack Antonoff brings out the saxophone as he’s expected to do, but The 1975 have always liked using that instrument for exactly this kind of song. See also “Heart Out”. Anyway, not much to say about “Happiness” since the only lyric that has any sort of interest is a sample of Matt saying “I’m happiest when I’m doing something that I know is good” since it shows he knows that this type of song is what a large portion of The 1975 fans listen to his records for. It will be very fun to see it live in December on their At Their Very Best tour.

“Looking for Somebody (To Love)” is a clever song about toxic masculinity. Quite frankly, it does exactly what “Pumped Up Kicks” was trying to do in a much better way. For one, it’s fun to listen to! For two, it captures the self-image and actual image incels these days have: “The type you just don’t ****/A supreme gentleman with a gun in his hand lo-lo-looking for somebody to love”. Perfectly captures the incel right down to the chorus having the incel say “Oh they ran, oh they ran (there’s that callout of Pumped Up Kicks)/You should have seen how they all ran when I was looking for somebody to love” as if he was bragging to the rest of the incels on their private Discord server. Great song.

“Part of the Band” was the first single. It’s The 1975’s most interesting song written to date and the best song off the album. Maybe their best song ever. Definitely if you’re into “maturity” rather than “fun”. The lyrics are mostly just fun details and jokes one after the other that only get self-reflective at the end when Matt grapples with his place in the world as just “some skinny post-coke, average skinny bloke/calling [his] ego imagination”. It’s an unresolved question in the song, and really not something he’ll ever be able to resolve himself. The string hook here is beautiful. At first, I thought it was going to be The 1975’s version of Viva La Vida, but it goes for the atmospheric Bon Iver-esque chorus instead. Which I was underwhelmed by at first, but have grown to enjoy it far more as I listened to it over and over. There’s so much nuance in the lyrics, singing, and instrumental work here that you really could listen to it 10 times and hear something new every time.

“Oh Caroline” goes back to the fun synthrock that’s a little more intellectual than “Happiness”. Just like it, it’s not a song about anything really. “Caroline” isn’t the name of anyone really, it’s just the only one that Matt could get to rhyme as he admits in the bridge. It’s just a fun love song about a person too in love with someone who doesn’t love them back, like some of The 1975’s best (“If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know”, among others). And the sixth and final song on the immaculate first half of Being Funny in a Foreign Language is “I’m In Love With You”. It was the third single. The music video for it makes it the sequel to the sad “Change of Heart” off their second album, but the first lyric and delivery of “Heartbeat” as well as the groovy sound makes it the sequel to “Heart Out” off their first album. It’s a very fun song that has the simplest and straightforward chorus that I imagine every single person at this concert in December will be singing along with.

Songs 7 and 9 are such annoying letdowns on an otherwise great album. If Matt Healy wants to talk sincerity, I will have to be sincere as well. I do not like it when The 1975 try to do slow, simple songs. They can do slow moody songs extremely well. “Me”, “If I Believe You”, “I Couldn’t Be More In Love”, “The Birthday Party”, and probably others I’m forgetting are great examples of that. But “All I Need to Hear” is the sequel to “Be My Mistake” I really didn’t need, and “Human Too” is a frustrating non-apology of an apology song. You cannot say something like “I’m sorry about the bomb thing” in a song with a chorus of “Don’t you know I’m a human too?” and expect it to come off sincere. I’m sure it was. But it comes off as a classic “sorry if you’re offended” apology there. But most of all, “Human Too” and “All I Need to Hear” are really boring. And I am NOT sorry if you’re offended, Healy.

For the rest of the second half of the album, “Wintering” is very unfortunately placed between those two tracks, and is a very fun, manic family reunion of a song. It was actually written by The 1975 before they were The 1975, back when they were an emo band called Drive Like I Do. I’m not a true The 1975 historian so I can’t tell you more there. Only that this is a “postcard of Christmas scenes” that Matt experienced coming home for the holidays while at university. And the manic lyrics about having to deal with family is well-matched by the manic acoustic guitar that Matt excitedly-but-slightly-anxiously sings over. I will use manic as many times as I want to if The 1975 is allowed to write “I’m in love with you” as the only line in a chorus for a single.

“About You” is track ten. It’s a sequel to “Robbers” but really just rips off “With or Without You” by U2 as admitted by Healy himself. But it sounds really good. I don’t have much to say about the content. I do think it’s a great song that proves The 1975 still can reach back and get that self-unaware intellectual sound from “I Like It When You Sleep for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It” with songs like “Paris” or “Somebody Else”. It is definitely the true standout from this half of the album.

And finally, “When We Are Together” closes it out. Now, all my complaints about “Human Too” and “All I Need to Hear” could be regurgitated here. It’s a slow, straightforward, sappy song with questionable lyrics about Healy’s controversial figure. But before I try some mental gymnastics about those lyrics, the core of why I like “When We Are Together” and not the other two tracks is because The 1975 sound a lot better making folky acoustic guitar tracks (“She Lays Down”, “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America”) than 1950s crooning tracks (“Be My Mistake”) or whatever genre “Human Too” is supposed to be. Lyrically, I prefer “When We Are Together” is just a cute vignette of a song the same way “Wintering” was. It’s about Matty’s romantic relationship with FKA Twigs that lasted about as long as the making of this record. Coincidence? Eh, I’m not a tabloid.

Anyway, in between the cute pictures of kissing at Wal-mart, there’s an awkward couplet where he sings “It was poorly handled/the day we got cancelled/Because I’m racist and you’re some kind of a slag”. Now, here’s the important thing to me, instead of defending himself or saying “sorry you got offended” like in “Human Too”, he just moves on to the cute chorus of “You ask about the cows, wearing my sweater/It’s something about the weather that makes them lie down”. He owns up to poorly handling the criticism and then makes a cute reference to another band that was once considered The 1975’s contemporaries, The Neighbourhood and their big hit “Sweater Weather”. He doesn’t kick himself for what he did, or complain that other people got him wrong. He acknowledges fault and moves on. And he does it again later when he says “I thought we were fightin’/but it seems I was gaslightin’/I didn’t know it had its own word” before going back to the sweater chorus. Again, he’s owning up to his fault, accepts the consequences, and moves on.

I’m not asking Matt Healy to be perfect. I’m asking him to write good music with good lyrics. And 9 out of 11 tracks on here are exactly that. It’s very hard for him to thread the needle of writing good lyrics when he’s burdened with this extreme self-awareness that–okay, I’m projecting here. If I had the level of fame Matt had and was tasked to write these songs, I couldn’t do it. I’d be too self-aware to do anything but offer non-stop apologies in all 11 tracks. Heck, I’m way too self-aware to want to publish any of this review. So I truly commend Matt for being able to once again brave public opinion and put out another incredible album. 9/11, would recommend.

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Spyro: Shadow Legacy

I’ve written at length about Spyro 5, A Hero’s Tail, but it was not the final Spyro game in the original canon. Spyro: Shadow Legacy is the sixth and final Spyro game pre-reboot for A New Beginning, Skylanders, and Reignited. It was the second Spyro game made by Vivendi and, weirdly enough, only released for the DS. But there is so many other things about this game that are weird. For one, I’ve never played it. That’s not too outlandish since Shadow Legacy got basically zero marketing since Vivendi was internally preparing for A New Beginning’s release the following year, but still. I was only made aware of it from a paragraph-long review in Game Informer. From that review, I was made vaguely aware that it wasn’t a traditional Spyro game, but closer to a Zelda-like dungeon crawler. But I never got the chance to play it… until now!

I wrote that paragraph before actually playing the game. Now that I’ve played the game, I can confidently say that this is a fascinating game. It is the most average game I’ve played. But not average in the typical sense of games that don’t try anything new like Madden ’23 or whatever. Average in that this game makes a ton of ambitious choices for a 2005 DS game that results in a con for every pro it has. And I think that makes it a lot cooler of a game than just another handheld Spyro game like Season of Ice/Flame/Attack of the Rhynocs.

I have a ton of respect for the Shadow Legacy devs for trying to pack so much into a DS game one year after the DS’s release when nobody really knew what to do with it. Nintendo was releasing mobile game shovelware on that thing in the form of Yoshi Touch and Go and Pokemon Dash the same year of Shadow Legacy, and these guys are out here making an action RPG! Absolutely incredible choice by Amaze Entertainment on so many levels. Shadow Legacy is the perfect bridge from the old collect-a-thon platformers of Spyro games 1-5 (and the GBA ones) to the new beat-em-up narrative action games of the A New Beginning trilogy in gameplay and tone. There’s still the collecting fun of old games with a ton of fetch quests you have to do for NPCs and general level exploration, but there’s this new heavy emphasis on combat where you’re required to beat up groups of enemies with an insane variety of moves to unlock these quests in the first place. It’s really cool in concept, and I think it’s also pretty well-executed.

Now, I said that for every pro this game had, there is a con. As much as I like this core gameplay of Shadow Legacy where it goes back and forth between action RPG beat-em-up segments and level exploration, the gameplay has a core problem: the DS is straight-up not powerful enough for it. There is so much slowdown in the game, especially in the introduction, that the game feels like it is moving at 75% of its intended speed. It is brutal. I do not know if it is slowdown or if by design that Spyro is this slow. I am going to say it is because the DS is not powerful enough because who would make a player suffer through the awful speed Spyro walks and charges? But I do have two unfortunate reasons that they may have designed Spyro to be this slow: 1) The levels are really really small, and they wanted to hide it; 2) Spyro’s fully upgraded charge actually goes quite fast and the animation for his melee attacks is really fast and smooth even in the areas with the worst slowdown. But, again, I will just claim it is because they were too ambitious that the DS can’t handle it, and Spyro appears to be slow due to general slowdown rather than by design.

I can also nitpick specifics of the core gameplay. You can run the same strategy for every mob fight in the game by simply mashing the melee attack button and stunlocking them to death. The level design is sometimes really unclear and it can be very hard to tell where exactly you go to traverse something, such as getting up the factory in Bear Forest or trying to glide to the tall ledge in the Skelos Badlands or (my least favorite) intuiting that the weird flat stone-looking things are actually puddles of water you can freeze and stand on to get up to a higher ledge in Avalar’s Savannah. But the levels are so small and it is so easy to teleport away and back when you want a break that I don’t have much of an issue with stuff like this. There really is only so many places the game can hide something in a zone that’s like 15 Spyros high by 40 Spyros wide.

A game design decision that I have very few nitpicks on is how Shadow Legacy uses the touch screen. When no contemporary DS game developer could figure out how to use the real estate, here comes Spyro with a masterful set of tabs. There’s a tab for using your magic spells by drawing a simple shape; I can nitpick this by saying the shape-detection isn’t perfect, but it’s fine enough. There’s a tab for looking at your inventory which lets you use healing items by tapping them and also check what crystals you have equipped. There’s a tab that has the world map that also lists all your quests which is great, even if the map isn’t detailed. And there’s a tab where you can check Spyro’s stats such as max HP, how far from a level up he is, and the levels of your skills.

Which brings me to another core gameplay thing that has pros and cons. You choose what moves Spyro learns as the game goes on. There are a few that the game railroads you into learning–gliding and teleporting–but you can choose whatever else. And there are a ton of moves for a DS action RPG where, again, you can just press one button and stunlock every mob fight into oblivion. I really like that you have this freedom. There’s three small problems: 1) again, none of them are necessary combat-wise; 2) there are some moves that actually interact with the overworld in meaningful-but-optional ways that the game doesn’t highlight (the upgraded charge moves breaking large rocks, for instance); 3) the fire and ice breaths do not work in the shadow realm, which is where you do the majority of the combat, so why would you ever upgrade them.

Ooh, that reminds me. I forgot to explain the central gimmick of Shadow Legacy. See, someone has been trapping everyone in the Dragon Realms in the Shadow Realm, a horrible parallel dimension that sucks the life and magic away from anyone that steps foot in it. Spyro is tasked with being the one to go into the Shadow Realm and rescuing all the NPCs banished there since he is the only one with strong enough magic as well as the only one with a special stone to survive in there. You travel to the shadow realm by phasing in and out of it via portals on the ground. So the first time you go through a level, you’ll go through it in shadow mode as you walk around finding the cages guarded by the nefarious shadow dwellers such as the Long Legs seen below.

I will talk more about the art soon enough. Anyway, once you save everyone in there, you use the same portal to get back to the “normal” version of the level where you talk to NPCs and get quests from them. You get experience points as well as the items that unlock bosses by doing these quests, so they are mandatory, even if the game does not do a good job of making that clear. I do all the quests anyway because it’s the right thing to do.

Quick note on the bosses. As fun as it is to fight mobs (and I do mean that; mobs get very fun as you unlock more moves; I loved the endgame groups that I easily wiped by using a Roar followed by spin attacking until they all died), the bosses are unfun in the other direction. The Fire Minion and Ice Minion are extremely boring and unsatisfying “puzzle fights” where the puzzle is avoiding one set of their moves and then figuring out where the weakpoint is… once. And the final boss is a snoozer where you use a spell to reflect his attack six times and are never in any danger otherwise. Awful bosses.

Now, back to the NPCs. I said at the start that Shadow Legacy is the 6th and final game in the original Spyro canon. It uses a ton of its history to make up the game. For instance, you start in the Dragon Realms (Spyro 1’s home), travel to Avalar (Spyro 2’s home), and end in the Forgotten Realms (Spyro 3’s home). You are under the impression most of the game that Red (Spyro 5’s antagonist) is the one behind everything here. You see and rescue Hunter, Bianca, Blink, Zoe, Moneybags, and a bunch of Spyro 1 Dragon Elders. There are a TON of callbacks in this game. Which makes the characters that aren’t strict callbacks stick out like weird sore thumbs.

For instance, you rescue longtime staple of Spyro games Moneybags in the Bear Forest. But in this game, Moneybags is now somehow married with children, so you have to rescue his wife and kids as well. He is also written as a racist businessman who doesn’t want to sell to Armadillos rather than the shrewd businessman who played both sides of the conflict in Spyro 2 and 3 in order to maximize profits, which is odd. Then, in Avalar’s Savannah, you rescue Hunter. But now Hunter is the son of the leader of a tribe of cheetahs and the rest of the tribe throw him and Spyro in jail because they think he is the cause of the issues. My main problem here is that you have to get Hunter out of jail, when he should be locked up forever. Bianca is again an adept and intelligent spellcaster, but you rescue her as well as her cousins… who are all hicks who work on a farm??? Very odd. Finally, Blink from A Hero’s Tail is shown living with The Professor, who is his uncle and was part of his backstory the first time he was introduced, but now it comes out that The Professor has a super-intelligent sister named Sis who adopted an albino mole? So freaking weird. But honestly I’m glad that the game went for the weirdness with this sort of character writing. Like everything else in the game, the developers are very clearly trying to do something interesting, it just has mixed results in practice. I didn’t even mention how they changed Ember’s character from being creepily into Spyro into loving an Armadillo named Bandit who sent her one love letter AND THEY HAVE NEVER MET AND NEVER MEET IN THE GAME.

I’ve got to wrap this up soon, but I cannot finish talking about this game without talking about the art. It is really bad. Well, that’s unfair. The 3D models actually look somewhat decent. Like look at this action shot of the Ice Minion fight.

That’s pretty good looking for 2005 DS! No, it’s really the 2D portraits where the quality hits the absolute nadir. Look at this amazing still from the final cutscene in the game when you find out who has been pulling all the strings (it is the Sorcerer, not the Sorceress as you might expect from a game filled with callbacks, but instead some new villain that you beat and then the ending drops a sequel hook claiming he’ll be back stronger than ever but of course they never made a direct sequel to this game, they just went to A New Beginning and the reboot)!

Incredibly haunting. Bianca is forced to look up slightly while getting zapped with a lightning bolt. But, hey, it’s kind of cool. You can kind of get behind the quality of this one. No, it’s really the character portraits where the true direness of the game’s artstyle lies. I’ll give you the entire sheet of character portraits, then pick out my two favorites.

Find yours? Well, here’s mine.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR ARMS AND LEGS CHILD? This is supposed to be an armadillo. I am 1000% sure that the artist heard the name “armadillo” and thought that they were named that way because they were mostly arm.

This is one of Moneybags’ children. They all look like this. The poor sick man neglects his family for profit so badly that they all ended up malnourished and cross-eyed. The funniest part about the whole Moneybags saga is that you rescue him and his family… and then never see Moneybags again. He just walks off for a pack of smokes. His children set up the shops that you use! What a jerk. I am glad that they never made a direct Shadow Legacy sequel so that we never had to see Moneybags again.

All in all, I am glad that I played Shadow Legacy. It is such a weird game on its own merits, let alone as the sixth and final game of the original Spyro canon. I really like what the game did as a bridge between the old lighthearted level exploration of past Spyro and the “dark” combat-intense gameplay of New Beginning and Skylanders Spyro. It deserved to be made for the GameCube or PS2 or any system that could handle its intense artistic style because the general slowness of Spyro at the start of the game drags this game so far down. I think Spyro 4 could absolutely be a direct sequel in terms of mechanics to Shadow Legacy, but it’s too different from the Reignited Trilogy that I don’t think there’s any chance Spyro 4 will crib anything off it. Which is fine. It’s a decidedly average game. But a cool average game, not a boring one, and I am truly glad that I gave this overlooked piece of Spyro history a try finally.

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The Best of the Second Half of Subpar Season XX

And here’s the rest of the game recaps I liked from the Subpar Season. Feel free to comment, like, subscribe, hit that bell, etc.


Tadashi woke up to his house being on fire. “Guh!? I can’t believe the incivility of our nation has burned my house!” he said, nonchalantly starting to save things from the flames while the crowd cheered. Suddenly, the doorbell rang. “Who could it be? My new neighbors, the Burninators?” he asked, as the crowd laughed. He opened the door. “Hello, it is I, your new neighbor, the Burninator,” said Robert Deadford as the crowd applauded, recognizing the cameo. “Excuse me for being rude, but have you noticed that MY FREAKING HOUSE IS ON FIRE?” tadashi exclaimed as the crowd laughed. “Oh, yes, terribly sorry about that. My barbecue accidentally tipped over while I was grilling some spicy kielbasa, and it spread over to your property,” said Robert Deadford. “Well, I’m gonna kielbasa you if you don’t help me BBQ-lean this place up!” said tadashi as the crowd laughed. The screen faded to black as a bassline played.

As the shot faded in, Tadashi walked into the living room to see it was on fire. “Guh?! The clowns in Congress have torched my couch the way they’ve torched the Constitution!” he said, as the crowd laughed. Once again, a doorbell went off. “It better not be the freaking Burninators again!” he said, opening the door. “Greetingz, it ees I, Mr… uh, Rotaninrub, your friendly neighborhood watchman,” Robert Deadford said while wearing a trenchcoat, sunglasses, and a fake beard. “Mr. Rotaninrub? Sounds like a foreigner. Talks like one too. We don’t take too kindly to your kind here in Americaland, friendly or not,” said Tadashi as the crowd cheered. “But sir! Your house! It ees on fire!” said Robert Deadford. “Yeah, well, in Americaland we have a little saying. ‘Clean up your own fires’. Why don’t you go see yourself out and learn some idioms, idiot?” said Tadashi. Robert Deadford shrugged at the cameras as the crowd laughed and the screen faded to black.

The shot faded in, and Tadashi walked into the kitchen to find that it was also on fire. “Man, this just isn’t my season. Clearly, this is the work of globalists who are conspiring to keep the common man down in favor of critical race theory!” Tadashi said. The crowd laughed, and the doorbell ringed again. “Oh, I will deport that Rotaninrub myself if that’s him!” Tadashi said as the crowd laughed. On the other side of the door was a dragon. “Uh, can I help you, Mr. Dragon?” Tadashi asked. “Yeah, you can help me if I use your house for tinder,” the dragon said. “Well, sir, in Americaland, we believe in things called ‘property rights’ and it is my right that you—“ Tadashi started to say. “And it’s my right to torch your house down with all your outdated ideas,” the dragon said, as he continued to breathe fire on the place.

Tadashi proceeded to run away screaming. The dragon turned back into the human form of Robert Deadford as he shrugged at the camera and said “It’s a living!”

Game Notes: Please, both of you, get some defense. 6 errors in a game combined is unacceptable.


Eddie Collins has felt like an outcast on the Bastards since day one. KungFu Grip and the rest of the team kept calling Cocky “Steady Eddie”, which especially hurt when the consistency Collins was providing was below-replacement level batting and fielding. That, in turn, caused his performance to drop further, and he was stuck in a negative feedback loop going into the series against Les Royales de Montreal.

Meanwhile, kalensc had been taking a hands-off approach to moderating his baseball team, only making one move all season: drafting Alex Rodriguez. Though not quite as poor as Eddie Collins had been for the Bastards, A-Rod had been far closer to A-Fraud (USER BANNED FOR RIVALS.COM PUN) than the 12th overall pick in the Super Draft. And with the Royales drifting further and further back from contention since the selection, the rabid fans of Montreal have blamed basically everything on Rodriguez, flipping cars, starting fires, and doing all other fun Montreal sport rioters do to protest A-Rod. He too was a man isolated in a team sport.

And so it was in the bottom of the 5th that the two of them found themselves near each other. Eddie Collins slapped a single, and stole second base. “Hey, nice wheels, Cocky,” A-Rod said to Collins. “Finally, someone around here that knows my actual name, A-Rod,” Collins replied. “What’s a guy gotta do to get as fast as you?” A-Rod said. “Oh, you know, the usual sorts of things. Rolling barrels, lifting imaginary pianos, lying on the floor while moving your legs like a wheel. And, of course, smoking three packs a day,” said Collins. “Huh. I never tried any of those. What do you say we hang out after the game and swap exercise tips? I’ve got some very useful and very legal substances that would give you a boost,” said A-Rod. “I’m already taking enough heroin for my asthma,” Collins said.

The game ended with little incident in a 6-4 win for the Bastards. At the Buntsville Tavern, Collins and A-Rod were sitting at the counter. “You sure your teammates don’t care if you skip out going to the bar with them?” Collins said. A-Rod shook his head. “Nah, my teammates don’t care even a little about me. Unless I carry them to the division, everyone in Montreal will blame me for their collapse,” said A-Rod. “I know exactly what you mean. The mean folk of Buntsville keep calling me a bastard and ‘steady Eddie’ and just generally not being nice. Do they think I want to go out there and hit like Bill Bergen?” said Collins. “Yeah, I can’t go one at-bat without hearing ‘merde’ from the crowd or even my teammates. Heck, some of them have accused me of injuring Pedro Martinez, who started our little spat by saying I have no personality!” said A-Rod.

“Oh, your team’s fans and teammates do that injury blaming thing too? Every week, someone new on the Bastards gets hurt, and they blame me for it!” said Collins. “That’s pretty awful. What actually happened to them?” said A-Rod. “Oh, I don’t know. For instance, I saw that Mel Ott didn’t have his humors properly balanced, so I got the team doctor to bleed him a little. And now I’m the bad guy for looking after my teammate’s health?” said Collins. “Yeah, I get you. I tried offering some Clear to Ken Griffey Jr., and he punched me in the face saying ‘this is for the Seattle Mariners!’ What a bunch of goobers. I’m so glad I could finally find someone who understands me,” said A-Rod. “Me too,” said Collins.

Suddenly, KungFu Grip and kalensc burst in through the Buntsville Tavern doors. “Heard a Bastard of mine was hanging out with the enemy. Can’t abide that,” said KungFu Grip. “I must ban any who would use a parachute account to avoid probation,” said kalensc. “Oh no! It’s our awful owners! We got to get away, Cocky!” said A-Rod. “I’m sorry, A-Rod, but I can’t let the team down. I must turn myself in,” said Collins. “No! Don’t do it! They’ll tear you to shreds!” said A-Rod. “And while they’re doing that to me, make sure you get yourself out of here and pretend you were with the rest of the Royales all along,” said Collins. “No! I can’t just abandon a friend like this! Wait, I actually can. I’m freaking Alex Rodriguez. HEY KUNGFU GRIP, I FOUND YOUR BASTARD,” A-Rod yelled. “Thank you, mysterious friend! Hey, I think I recognize you. You’re a baseballer! How would you like to be a bastard?” said KungFu Grip. “Oh… he’s definitely a bastard. I’ll remember this, A-Fraud,” said Collins. “I’ll remember your team getting relegated, Steady Eddie,” said A-Rod as he walked away. “Yeah, you’re still getting banned, A-Rod,” said kalensc.

Game Notes: Collins and A-Rod went a combined 5 for 8 with three runs between them. Good for them!


“Neva thought I’d be back in da ring again afta dose days,” PASS THE MASH thought to himself. Yesterday, he received a letter of challenge from title-holder Beet for a four-round fight to close out the first half of the fighting season. It had been years since PASS THE MASH competed on the comma separated circuit, but, now, he was finally invited back, and by the title-holder no less. It was time to train. He ran up and down stairs, he punched the rosin bag, he broke bats over his knee, he deadlifted buckets of baseballs; heck, he even squeezed a baseball until it burst, all set to the cheapest cover of Gonna Fly Now money could buy. PASS THE MASH had been broke since his title days, you see.

But the singular day he had to train for his showdown with Beet was over, and, the next day, it was time to step into the ring. PASS THE MASH couldn’t even ask his old towel boy for one more go at it since it was on such short notice. “Not to worry, I believe that she’ll be perfectly adequate for the job,” Beet said, as he introduced the temporary coach he hired for PASS THE MASH before the bout. “Kid?!” PASS THE MASH said incredulously. “Hello, PASS THE MASH. Yes, it is I, Clown Fundamentals. The police have allowed me to continue my undercover work in trying to bring you to justice for your petty breaking and entering, but I want to help you beat this guy,” Clown Fundamentals said. “But why?!” PASS THE MASH asked. “I have to play this guy 23 times in the next three months, I could use him broken,” Clown Fundamentals said.

“Listen, I’ve read the scouting report on Beet. Nicknamed ‘The Machine’, he doesn’t break. But that’s why you got to hit him when he bends! Here, have this special energy drink,” Clown Fundamentals said, offering PASS THE MASH a water bottle. “Nah, I truly appreciate it, kid, but da only thing I can have in a fight is some mash,” PASS THE MASH said before taking out a bottle of mashed potatoes that he began to drink. “Gross. Whatever. Anyway, you have to make sure to get to Beet early—once he’s locked in to a lead, he’ll keep you down,” said Clown Fundamentals. “Thanks, kid, but I think I know what I’m doing,” PASS THE MASH said as the two of them stepped onto the ring for round 1.

Beet got to an early striking lead in the round and, despite PASS THE MASH turning on the aggression later and scoring some hits, fended off the contenda’s punches long enough to outlast him for a round one victory. PASS THE MASH went back to his corner. “Man, it’s been so long since I been out dere… how da heck did I eva do this?” he said to Clown Fundamentals. “That’s not what the contender I idolized growing up said! The PASS THE MASH I know would always dig deep and do whatever it took to win,” Clown Fundamentals said. “You’re right, kid. Pass the mash,” he said, and Clown Fundamentals gave him his mashed potato bottle.

Beet and PASS THE MASH returned to the ring for round 2. It was another close round, but, once again, Beet simply outworked and outstruck PASS THE MASH for the judge’s decision. PASS THE MASH came back to the corner exhausted. “The judges robbed me! I clearly hit him with tha uppacut!” he said. “Yeah, once. Beet hit you with that string of punches halfway through so fast that you didn’t even react. That immediately blew the round for you,” Clown Fundamentals said. “Well I ain’t letting the judges decide the next round. I’m gonna go out there and show dis Beet what a real vegetable looks like,” said PASS THE MASH, once again drinking his mashed potatoes.

PASS THE MASH was correct that the judges didn’t have to decide anything in round 3. It was a slaughter. PASS THE MASH was barely saved by the bell after the severe beating he took, and came back to the corner bloody and bruised. “Hey, you sure you can still go?” Clown Fundamentals asked, wiping the blood away. “Of course I can, kid, yougotta just work through dese dings as a contenda,” PASS THE MASH said. “Look, no one will blame you if you just forfeit this fight. You’re clearly on the ropes, and it seems inhumane to throw you back out there. You’re already a former shell of yourself due to all your concussions, and you’re only going to get more if you try to stick it out,” said Clown Fundamentals. “Pass the mash, kid,” PASS THE MASH said. “But–!” “Pass. The. Mash. I gotta do it for da family,” PASS THE MASH said, drinking again from his mashed potato bottle.

The fourth round was much different from the previous one. PASS THE MASH fought through his bloodied face and delivered blow after blow on Beet. He had built a decent lead to win the round, but knew that his only hope of winning the match at this point would be by knockout. So he continued to take risk after risk. And then, with twenty seconds to go in the round, he saw Beet in a vulnerable position and went in to strike. Beet counterpunched PASS THE MASH, and delivered the knockout blow. “Enjoy the taste of canvas. The taste of the Royal Division will be mine. The Machine, this one was for you,” Beet said as PASS THE MASH lied knocked out on the canvas. Clown Fundamentals silently walked up to PASS THE MASH with his mashed potato bottle. “Kid… was I a contenda?” PASS THE MASH asked. “Yes,” Clown Fundamentals said, with tears in her eyes. “Don’t cry for me, kid… smile… for da world,” he said, before passing out.

Game Notes: Felix was set up to fail, and deserves no blame for this loss.


Tadashi woke up on a boat. “Huh, I thought I was just snoozing, but I guess I was cruising as well,” tadashi said as the crowd laughed. He walked out of his room and came to the deck. He noticed something was off, even more so than waking up on a boat after going to bed at home. “Guh?! Why’s the boat not moving?” tadashi asked no one in particular. “Oh, yeah. Hey there. It’s Chamale again,” Chamale said. “Chamale? I thought you were never going to be heard from ever again!” tadashi said. “Nothing is Ever Given,” Chamale said, looking straight at the camera. “Dang, I thought the crowd was going to eat that one up,” Chamale said.

“Look, pal, you’re the straight guy, and I’m the funny one. Capisce?” tadashi said. “More like, ‘capsize’,” Chamale said, looking at the camera again. No response. “Man, it’s not like anything you say is actually funny,” Chamale said, and the crowd gasped. “Now, now, this is my show,” tadashi said. “And this is my boat. And your show got cancelled,” Chamale said. “And you were never heard from again,” tadashi replied. “Touché. I suppose we might as well call a truce, since we’re just filler teams right now in the grand scheme of things,” Chamale said. “And your boat is definitely a filler!” tadashi said and the crowd laughed. “Ugh, it’s like they’re all robots programmed to only respond to your voice,” Chamale said. “Nonsense! They’re a live studio audience that only laughs at what’s funny. Of course, paying them seems to open them up to finding more things funny than not,” tadashi said.

“Anyway, we’re all getting distracted from the real issue. Why am I on your boat?” tadashi asked. “Oh, you don’t remember? I was going to do some 999 stuff by kidnapping 8 people and having them go through some stupid convoluted bullshit murder mystery game, but I chickened out after kidnapping you,” Chamale said. “Uh… why?” tadashi asked. “Every game is boring for me. I’m too good at everything. Take the Super League for example. I won the Expansion Cup on my first try. I need some entertainment, and I figured kidnapping 8 people would make things interesting,” Chamale said. “You have a weirder definition for interesting than my ex-wife,” tadashi said, as the crowd laughed. “I wish I could kidnap this crowd,” Chamale said.

“So, now that you’ve got me and have given up, what are you planning next?” tadashi asked. “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll get this boat unanchored and sail off into the sunset. Not much else for me to do around here,” Chamale said. “You could try to win the Sub-Par League, you know,” tadashi said as the crowd laughed. “I wasn’t even joking!” he added. This time, Chamale laughed. “It’s a bit late for that. I already have switched to playing the, well, Switch, and trying to find good co-op games. Do you have any recommendations?” Chamale asked. “The only co-op game I play is called real life,” tadashi said, as the crowd broke out into a huge standing ovation. “Alright, going back on the boat murder plan,” Chamale said as he shot tadashi.

Game Notes: The winning run was scored on a wild pitch by Joe Nathan with the bases loaded. Probably would’ve been an infuriating loss if I was a Centrists’ fan.


“Attention personnel. Landing aircraft in 5… 4… 3… 2…” The Luna Lander shook as it impacted the Earth’s surface. “You know, I really should recalibrate the damn thing to account for 4/4 time instead of 13/8. Ah well, it’s good to be back… wait, where the hell did we land?” mrnoun asked his ship. “We have landed at Christmas Island, mrnoun. There is little known about the Island recorded here in the database. I need you to fill out this exploration guide with samples of every rock, plant, animal, and especially music,” the robotic voice said. “That’s so right. There’s no point exploring a planet that doesn’t have good music,” mrnoun said. “Please, mrnoun, remember. Christmas Island is part of Earth. There is not likely to be any music with alien time signatures here,” the robotic voice said. “Fine…” mrnoun grumbled, as he put on his astronaut suit and left the ship.

Immediately, one of the locals found mrnoun. “Uh, greetings mrnoun. I knew you’d visit the sunny shores of Christmas Island again,” the local said. “I have no memory of you nor of this place,” mrnoun replied. The local rolled their eyes. “That’s what you said the last time. Once again, I’m the holy poopacy of Christmas Island, pleasure ‘meeting’ you,” the holy poopacy said. “Computer! Search all records for this ‘holy poopacy’. I need to know how to deal with these primitive locals and their religion,” mrnoun said into his suit. “You know I can hear that every time, and it upsets me every time. Why don’t you remember visiting Christmas Island? Or at least remember to avoid it?” the holy poopacy said.

“I am but a simple passenger of fate. Destined to float from one beacon to the next in search of a home that will accept me and my ways. And, I guess the Sub-Par League team kind of forces me to go here too,” mrnoun said. “If you can somehow remember the existence of the Sub-Par League, you should be able to remember the Seagoats. We’re in the Gentoo League together, you know,” the holy poopacy said. “That can’t be right. There are only nine teams in that league. I would definitely remember a team as alien-sounding as the Seagoats if I had ever played them before,” mrnoun said. The holy poopacy sighed. “Great. Looks like I’ll just have to unleash what you called the ‘Christmas Island Curse’ back on you again to get rid of this annoying harassment. Guards?” the holy poopacy said.

mrnoun didn’t know why, but he began to get chills. “Computer! I am afraid. Have any of the rock samples turned up anything?” mrnoun asked. “You never got a rock sample,” the computer replied. “No!” mrnoun slammed his fist into the ground as a musical band surrounded him and the holy poopacy. “You know, I still am unsure of whether Fear of Music or More Songs About Buildings and Roads is the best Talking Heads album. Maybe we’ll just have my friends here play the entirety of both albums and have you decide,” the holy poopacy said. “No! I cannot listen to such uninspired 4/4 pop drivel! It pretends to be alternative but is just as vapid as My Sharona! Computer! Do not take any musical samples from this hellhole, I need to burn it to the ground!” mrnoun shouted.

And so he did.

Game Notes: Sending out Dennis Eckersley two innings in a row is brave, but perhaps not wise.


“Grr! I’m a Misanthrope!” Faustoan Bargain said as he attempted to look menacing. “Uh, arf! Arf! I’m a corgi!” Jampact said while mimicking a dog’s paws with her arms. “And, scene. Great job getting into the characters, you two!” the improv teacher said. Faustoan Bargain and Jampact went and sat back down. “Wow, I never thought improv would be this tough!” Jampact said. “Yeah, it really requires you to improve yourself to fit in! Get it? Improve? Improv?” Faustoan Bargain said. “You’re going to need to improve on your jokes if you want to get me to laugh,” Jampact said. “Ooh, great one! I’ll write that down for the next scene,” Faustoan Bargain said.

“Wait, writing stuff down for improv? That completely goes against the spirit of improv! It’s all supposed to be improvised!” Jampact said. “They’re a little like stage magicians, professional improvers. They’ll use some sleight of hand to distract you, like asking the crowd for a word or a place, and then simply put that word into a pre-written scene,” Faustoan Bargain explained. “I don’t know, I’d like to believe that they aren’t fake. At the last improv show I went to, I went with Hype. One of the members of the troupe asked the crowd who the best boy in the audience was, and everyone easily picked Hype,” Jampact said. “Well, what was the sketch they did afterwards like?” Faustoan Bargain asked. “That was the best part! They invited Hype on stage and used him as a character in a murder mystery… where the damning evidence was buried… hmm. I’m starting to think that they pre-buried that bloodied bone and would’ve ‘found’ a shovel to dig it up or something if Hype wasn’t there,” Jampact said.

“See, now you’re getting it. Improv that is full improv is extremely tough. Coming up with something funny on the spot is asking a lot. But it is great to practice improv as a way of practicing real-life social situations,” Faustoan Bargain said. “What, you’re trying to be more misanthropic?” Jampact said. “Maybe. At the very least, I’d like it if my team took an improv class where every sketch was about playing baseball better,” Faustoan Bargain said. “And I’d like it if there was an improv class where every player who got hurt for the Corgis magically got better,” Jampact said. “Both of these can be easily arranged. We’ve even got 7 games against each other in a row scheduled!” Faustoan Bargain said. “Perfect! I’ll meet you in Minneapolis where we can do the theatre of our Sub-Par dreams!” Jampact said.

Sometime later, the Faustoan Bargain and Jampact had gathered their teams at Misanthrope Meadows, where each of them attempted to use the power of improv to save their seasons. “Alright, number one rule guys, is ‘say yes’!” Faustoan Bargain instructed. “Listen, when we go out there, I don’t want to see anyone being vague and noncommittal. If you think of it in the moment, just say it!” Jampact said. “Alright, begin scene!” they said in unison. El Shaddai was the first to move. “I’m God, and I will smite all nonbelievers,” El Shaddai said. “Cut! Come on, don’t negate other people’s existences in the scene. Especially if no one else joins you first!” Jampact explained. “Alright, let’s try again people. Begin scene!” Faustoan Bargain said.

No one else moved an inch. “This is stupid,” a voice in the back of the group said. “Who said that?!” Jampact yelled. “It’s just me, Teddy Roosevelt,” Jesse Burkett said as he walked forward. “Alright, great job, Jesse. We have an actual character here that people can interact with! Now, someone else, help him out!” Faustoan Bargain said. Rube Waddell got up. “I’m Abraham Lincoln, and I think slavery should be legal again, and I hate your hippy New Deal socialism BS,” Rube Waddell said. “That is appalling, Rube. President Lincoln would have no idea what socialism was!” Jampact said. “That’s the part of that you take umbrage with?” Faustoan Bargain said. “Look, you can’t just make everything up for improv. There has to be some agreed-upon reality for a scene. And the fun of it is finding those boundaries. But temporal ones like that should be called out immediately,” Jampact said. “This is extremely stupid. We might as well play the actual game of improv we were gathered here for: baseball,” Faustoan Bargain said. “I agree, though, after our last conversation, comparing baseball to improv makes me think you’ve somehow pre-written this game’s outcome…” Jampact said. “Uh, end scene!” Faustoan Bargain said as he guiltily scurried away.

Game Notes: Rheal Cormier with the save! How about that.


Honk! Honk! mks5000 honked the Hague Hautomobile. “Let’s go Volk Hammer! Time to honk the heck out of the Tugboats!” mks5000 said. “Sir, please, I’m trying to drive. Don’t take the Hautomobile out of H, please,” Volk Hammer replied, having been resigned to driving duty after struggling to find any consistency in his bat. “Quiet, Volk. I’m trying to have a good time,” mks5000 said. “What, beating the Marmosets 3 out of 4 times in South Dakota to ice the division wasn’t good enough for you?” Volk Hammer said. “Volk, we just had to spend 4 days in South Dakota. No, it wasn’t good enough for me, and I hope it wasn’t good enough for you because that is even more depressing than your slashline this year,” mks5000 said. Volk Hammer grumbled as the Hautomobile approached the Suez Canal.

The Hautomobile swerved into Sinister Stadium’s parking lot and proceeded to crash into one of the ballpark’s walls. “Heck yeah! Nice driving, Volk!” mks5000 yelled as he got out from the roof. “You know very well that you took control of that wheel and are very much responsible for—“ Volk Hammer responded. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. We’re in the building and ready for this filler series against a filler team. But… something seems off,” mks5000 said. Despite driving a hole in the building, no security, staff, nor really anybody came to greet the Honkbalers. “Volk, this is the right place, right?” mks5000 asked. “First of all, did you see any other baseball stadiums around here? Secondly, yes I’m fucking sure. We played here a month ago!” Volk Hammer said. “Was no one here then, too?” mks5000 asked. “Yeah, there were people here. Specifically, the Tugboats. The final game was pretty memorable. The Marmosets were on a hot streak, and we weren’t doing as good against the Tugboats as we should’ve been. We actually lost after one of the Mariano Riveras couldn’t record an out and gave up 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th,” Volk Hammer said.

“Huh, I don’t remember that all. How did you remember it?” mks5000 asked. “Because you actually put me in the lineup and I hit a dinger. Anyway, I heard the Tugboats had been struggling with their absentee owner, but the players and staff weren’t absentee until now,” Volk Hammer said. “Time to explore!” mks5000 declared. And so mks5000 and Volk Hammer started walking through Sinister Stadium. “I’m pretty sure Pander’s Southpaws played in a stadium with this name, though that was definitely a sinister ballpark in the true sense of the word. This just feels like one of those abandoned amusement parks that Jake Paul decided to record a vlog in,” mks5000 said. “You mean Logan Paul,” Volk Hammer said. “Why the heck do you know which Paul brother did that?” mks5000 said. “There is a lot of free time down in the minor leagues when you’re as good as Jarred Kelenic,” Volk Hammer said.

The two of them continued to walk all over the stadium, except for the visitor’s locker room since the rest of the Honkbalers were there. “Woah, check this out. The Suez Canal Tugboats Kids Club!” mks5000 said. “’Take a picture with the Tugboats’ mascot, the Never Given’,” Volk Hammer read off a sign. Next to the sign was a cardboard cutout of a picture of the Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal with a hole that a kid could stick their head out of at the front of the ship. “You know, I’m going to say that this is more than a little tasteless between the pun and the incident it’s punning off of,” Volk Hammer said. “’Kids can drive the Ever Given every Sunday after the game as part of kids’ day’. That’s kind of cute, there’s a mini-pond over there where kids can drive a boat,” mks5000 said, pointing out said pond. At one end of it was a mini-Ever Given. The duo quickly noticed something was off. “Is it just me, or is the ship the kids can drive—“ mks5000 started. “—Is too wide to ever move down the river?” Volk Hammer finished.

mks5000 and Volk Hammer continued walking down the public concourse of the stadium but still found no Chamale nor any of his Tugboats. “Did we get the schedule wrong? Maybe we’re playing in The Hague,” mks5000 asked. “No, we’re supposed to be here… hang on, did you hear something?” Volk Hammer said, startled by a noise. “Yeah. Huh. Sounded like a door opening,” mks5000 said. Suddenly, a voice behind the two of them shouted “Boo!” mks5000 sighed. “Chamale, I appreciate the effort that went into your weird scare tactic, but trying to turn Sinister Stadium into a ghost house is not actually going to make your baseball team better,” mks5000 said. “~Ooh!~ I’m not Chamale, I’m Bropotkin! OooooooOOOOOOhhhh!” Chamale said. “Yeah, Chamale. Like I said,” mks5000 said. “Aren’t you scared? You’re in the most haunted building in the Sub-Par League, filled with souls of the danged!” Chamale asked. “Yeah, because 26 of those danged souls are you and the Tugboats. Gottem. Honk honk!” mks5000 said as the Honkbalers easily defeated the Tugboats.

Game Notes: I wonder if the Mariano Rivera that gave up 2 runs in this game was the same one that gave up 2 runs in the last Honkbalers @ Tugboats game. I also wonder if they pull a Daniel/Henrik Sedin and just constantly switch which Rivera they’re pretending to be.


“Aw man, I’ll never big the big girl on campus,” Clown Fundamentals said to herself yet again. “Why stop at the campus when you could be the big girl of space?” a voice boomed down to her. “What the? Who said that?” Clown Fundamentals asked. “It is I, master of the universe, prince of prog-rock, and sometimes-owner of the Luna Landers, mrnoun!” mrnoun said as he beamed himself down to Camden. “How the heck did you do that, mister?” Clown Fundamentals asked. “All is possible with the power of prog. Now, I believe you had a problem? Or should I say, progblem? Which is that you don’t listen to enough prog?” mrnoun asked. “Wait a minute, I talked to you before! You’re the wacko that left in a huff after I said that the Talking Heads were a good band!” Clown Fundamentals said.

mrnoun grimaced. “Hmm, are you sure it was me? There are a lot of princes of prog after all,” mrnoun said, trying to pretend that didn’t happen. “No, I am like 100% sure it was you. Although that guy didn’t say they were the master of the universe…” Clown Fundamentals was no longer as sure of her deduction. “Exactly! It couldn’t have been me. It was just… an imitator of me. Like all the prog rock imitators,” mrnoun said. “No one would ever pretend to be a prog rock band. It’s way easier to pretend you’re a trap artist to go viral on TikTok or whatever,” Clown Fundamentals said. “Tick Tock? What does a metronome have to do with a virus?” mrnoun asked. Clown Fundamentals rolled her eyes. “The master of the universe doesn’t know about TikTok, going viral, or really anything about the internet? Huh, I guess that tracks with a guy stuck in the 70s,” Clown Fundamentals said.

“Listen, I am the master of the universe, and the universe has yet to be remastered. Not my fault moronic youths have decided that triplets and hi-hats are the peak of music instead of flowing symphonies. You know Beethoven would’ve loved prog-rock,” mrnoun said. “Guh? I’m a stupid millennial that buys avocado toast, kills Circuit City, and bloats the Sub-Par League with anti free market teams. What is this ‘Beat Haven’ you are referring to?” Clown Fundamentals said with heavy sarcasm. “He was the Ninja of his time, I suppose. But that’s neither here nor there. I came down here because you asked for help becoming the big girl on campus,” mrnoun said.

Clown Fundamentals sighed. “Yeah, but I’m running out of time. Homecoming is right around the corner and I still don’t have a date nor a spot as royalty,” Clown Fundamentals said. “Have no fear, the prince of prog-rock will easily earn you royalty once those foolish ASB members see my visage,” mrnoun said. “Uh, not to deflate your confidence, but, again, we’re dumb millennials that listen to ‘crap’ music and the Applebees’ song instead of true intellectual stuff. They don’t care about your princehood in the slightest,” Clown Fundamentals said. “Maybe not my princehood itself, but I’m sure they’d be impressed by my future tech of the Luna Lander,” mrnoun said.

“I’ve got a great idea. How about you tell the organizers that they can throw Homecoming on your Luna Lander if they elect me to homecoming royalty!” Clown Fundamentals said. “Brilliant, let’s go right away to the student council president!” mrnoun said and the two of them flew over to Camden High School. “Greetings, student council president, I see that you have scheduled this year’s homecoming in an abandoned warehouse. Here is my proposal: you throw homecoming on this guy’s ship, the Luna Lander, in exchange for me being homecoming royalty!” Clown Fundamentals said. “And I get to pick the music,” mrnoun added. “And what music would you be playing?” the student council president asked. “Prog-rock,” mrnoun said. Clown Fundamentals buried her head in her hands. “Absolutely not,” the president said. “I’ll never be the big girl on campus…” Clown Fundamentals said.

Game Notes: Wanderlei Bolton can only do so much. Six runs given up with just three of them earned means he still would’ve gotten the loss with perfect defense, but still.


“Mwahaha! Finally, the plan has come fully to fruition!” Faustoan Bargain laughed to himself in a dark room. Monicro entered, and a set of candles lit up surrounding Faustoan Bargain. “Gasp!” Monicro said. “It was you all along!” she continued. “Ah… the precious hero finally makes her appearance. Well, you’re too late! The plan is already in motion!” Faustoan Bargain said. “No! I won’t allow you to bring the great evil back into the Super League!” Monicro said, as she got her sword ready. “Ah… so quick to go to violence,” Faustoan Bargain said. “It’s what anime and JRPGs taught me—the only way to stop the great evil is with swords and friendship,” Monicro said.

Faustoan Bargain looked at Monicro. “Uh, you seem to be missing one half of that equation,” he said. “Look, the season is very long, and I might need my Megalixers later. I can’t risk using them on Eddie Collins, Steve Reed, or Rube Waddell in case somebody more important dies! Like me! What if I die? How then will we have enough Megalixers to stop the great evil?” Monicro said. “Well, if the party leader dies, it’s game over. You know that, right?” Faustoan Bargain said. “I hate that game mechanic. Tris Speaker should be able to revive me easily!” Monicro said. “Alright, sure, but there’s also just four weeks left and your team is three games down in the division. I think now is exactly when you should be using your revive items,” Faustoan Bargain said. “Never! What if there’s a postgame dungeon with a superboss that wipes half the party every attack?” Monicro said.

“Listen, I don’t mean to sound rude, but you’re quite far away from the Macho Men with this party. Plus, that team uses an even more nefarious JRPG tactic of brainwashing your party members,” Faustoan Bargain said. “That wouldn’t work on my team because we have the Beacom of Light guiding us together as friends!” Monicro said. “The impression I always got from Smasher was that friendship was basically impossible in the Super League. Especially when it came to trying to win. Remember when the Cancun Tornadoes used an envelope they drafted to skip playing against the Somali Pirates? That’s basically cheating all levels of friendship and honor that your anime and JRPGs love so much,” Faustoan Bargain said. “Wrong! They simply completed a sidequest to do that!” Monicro said. “I can’t tell if I’d be annoyed or impressed by being able to skip the final boss if I completed some random sidequest. It’d have to tie into the story a lot better than ‘draft a blank envelope’ was,” Faustoan Bargain said.

“Which reminds me. I think I came in here to stop some great evil you were trying to summon,” Monicro said. “What? Oh yeah. Sorry. Uh, let me check the script… wa ha ha, hero. You’re too late. The inevitable will happen, and you will be doomed to this world below while the great evil, craigk, will be resummoned back into the Super League to cause havoc once again,” Faustoan Bargain said flatly. “You could’ve at least tried to sound more evil,” Monicro said. “I don’t really care. I’m just some filler mid-boss at the end of a dungeon 75% of the way through the game that you never saw before this point and will never see again,” Faustoan Bargain said. “Hey, I know I’ll see a palette swap of you as a regular enemy in the final dungeon!” Monicro said. “This does not make me feel any better,” Faustoan Bargain said.

And so the hero and the filler midboss dueled to the end while the great evil, craigk, continued to grow stronger and grow his division lead in the shadows.

Game Notes: Probably don’t need to 100% overreact to a seven game sample size, but scoring 2 runs a game at home and 8 runs a game on the road might be a sign to switch the stadium up next year.


“Man, this sucks! I’ll never be the big woman on campus here! But… what if… I were to try and get myself reincarnated in another world where I could be the big woman on campus?! Clown Fundamentals: this is so crazy, it just might work! Now, how do I get reincarnated… hmm, everywhere I look, they say you have to get hit by a truck. But that sounds painful. Can’t I just die tragically in an easier to access way? Like overdosing on antidepressants?” Clown Fundamentals continued to monologue to herself when shepard.shouldgo walked up behind her. “Hey,” shepard.shouldgo said. “Gah!” Clown Fundamentals fell back over her chair and passed out due to the shock.

When she woke up, she found herself in a strange forest. “Woah… where am I?” Clown Fundamentals asked. “Claude! I hear a voice over here! Maybe it’s another one that the bandits caught!” a voice said from the woods. A man who looked like shepard.shouldgo but cel-shaded and twelve years old as well as the man he called Claude came into the clearing with Clown Fundamentals. “Shepard? Is that you?” Clown Fundamentals asked. “How could some wild child like you know the honorable Shepard of House Shouldgo?” shepard.shouldgo replied. “That’s a silly question, we’re in the Sub-Par League together!” Clown Fundamentals said. “Shepard, is the Sub-Par League one of those stupid organizations that ‘appears good’ but is actually the host of the final boss?” Claude asked. “Of course not. I’ve never heard of the Sub-Par League. It seems like she hit her head bad, we should take her back to heal her,” Shepard Shouldgo said.

And so Claude and Shepard escorted the lost Clown Fundamentals back to Garreg Mach, explaining to her along the way where exactly she found herself. “Wait, you’re telling me that we’re going to a school?!” Clown Fundamentals asked. “Uh, yeah. Garreg Mach Monastery is home to the best military school in Fodlan. And like all good schools, there’s random stragglers living here with mysterious pasts. You can blend in with the masked weirdos until we figure out what’s going on with you,” Shepard said. Clown Fundamentals shook her head. “Nuh uh! I’m going to be the big woman on campus all this time!” she said. “Shepard, do you have any idea what a big woman on campus is?” Claude asked. “Uh, I’m not sure. But as the instructor for her class, I can teach her muscle building, I guess?” Shepard said.

“What? You guys don’t know what the big woman on campus is? Actually… that’s perfect! Then I can be the first big woman on campus, and everyone will look up to me!” Clown Fundamentals said. “That sounds sacrilegious. I can’t see Sothis being pleased with this,” Claude said. Clown Fundamentals didn’t hear him as she sped off into the dining hall. “Heyyyyyyy everyone! I’m Clown Fundamentals! I’m new here but I’m going to be the coolest person in Garreg Mach! Just you wait!” she yelled into the crowded cafeteria. Students stared at Clown Fundamentals, but she didn’t mind. Over the next few weeks, Clown Fundamentals did everything she could think of to boost her reputation. She hung out with the other popular kids, she let everyone borrow her notes, and she practiced military exercises harder and longer than anyone else. Soon enough, the students of Garreg Mach did know and look up to Miss Clown of House Fundamentals, despite her weird habit of calling herself the ‘big woman on campus’.

Clown Fundamentals awoke in her bed and found herself back in reality. “Wha–… no! This can’t be! I was finally the big woman on campus! Why am I back here?!” she yelled. A man sleeping in a chair beside her bed woke up. “Oh, you’re finally up? That’s good. I was very worried. You hit your head falling out of your chair when I came over, and didn’t wake up. I was just making sure you were alright,” shepard.shouldgo said. “No! My perfect life! All my dreams! Give them back! Take me out of the Sub-Par and put me back in Garreg Mach!” Clown Fundamentals said. “Oh yeah, that’s why I came over. Here, you can borrow Three Hopes now,” shepard.shouldgo said as he handed over the game’s box. “…Fine, I guess this world is fine enough,” Clown Fundamentals said as she booted up her Switch.

Game Notes: You can never trust Matlock.

And there you have it. Hopefully I never do this again.

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The Best of the First Half of Subpar Season XX

I’m running the Sub-Par League again this year. Instead of trying to put every update of the league on here, I’m just posting the games of the week I am most proud of writing. Enjoy!


Eddie Collins has felt like an outcast on the Bastards since day one. KungFu Grip and the rest of the team kept calling Cocky “Steady Eddie”, which especially hurt when the consistency Collins was providing was below-replacement level batting and fielding. That, in turn, caused his performance to drop further, and he was stuck in a negative feedback loop going into the series against Les Royales de Montreal.

Meanwhile, kalensc had been taking a hands-off approach to moderating his baseball team, only making one move all season: drafting Alex Rodriguez. Though not quite as poor as Eddie Collins had been for the Bastards, A-Rod had been far closer to A-Fraud (USER BANNED FOR RIVALS.COM PUN) than the 12th overall pick in the Super Draft. And with the Royales drifting further and further back from contention since the selection, the rabid fans of Montreal have blamed basically everything on Rodriguez, flipping cars, starting fires, and doing all other fun Montreal sport rioters do to protest A-Rod. He too was a man isolated in a team sport.

And so it was in the bottom of the 5th that the two of them found themselves near each other. Eddie Collins slapped a single, and stole second base. “Hey, nice wheels, Cocky,” A-Rod said to Collins. “Finally, someone around here that knows my actual name, A-Rod,” Collins replied. “What’s a guy gotta do to get as fast as you?” A-Rod said. “Oh, you know, the usual sorts of things. Rolling barrels, lifting imaginary pianos, lying on the floor while moving your legs like a wheel. And, of course, smoking three packs a day,” said Collins. “Huh. I never tried any of those. What do you say we hang out after the game and swap exercise tips? I’ve got some very useful and very legal substances that would give you a boost,” said A-Rod. “I’m already taking enough heroin for my asthma,” Collins said.

The game ended with little incident in a 6-4 win for the Bastards. At the Buntsville Tavern, Collins and A-Rod were sitting at the counter. “You sure your teammates don’t care if you skip out going to the bar with them?” Collins said. A-Rod shook his head. “Nah, my teammates don’t care even a little about me. Unless I carry them to the division, everyone in Montreal will blame me for their collapse,” said A-Rod. “I know exactly what you mean. The mean folk of Buntsville keep calling me a bastard and ‘steady Eddie’ and just generally not being nice. Do they think I want to go out there and hit like Bill Bergen?” said Collins. “Yeah, I can’t go one at-bat without hearing ‘merde’ from the crowd or even my teammates. Heck, some of them have accused me of injuring Pedro Martinez, who started our little spat by saying I have no personality!” said A-Rod.

“Oh, your team’s fans and teammates do that injury blaming thing too? Every week, someone new on the Bastards gets hurt, and they blame me for it!” said Collins. “That’s pretty awful. What actually happened to them?” said A-Rod. “Oh, I don’t know. For instance, I saw that Mel Ott didn’t have his humors properly balanced, so I got the team doctor to bleed him a little. And now I’m the bad guy for looking after my teammate’s health?” said Collins. “Yeah, I get you. I tried offering some Clear to Ken Griffey Jr., and he punched me in the face saying ‘this is for the Seattle Mariners!’ What a bunch of goobers. I’m so glad I could finally find someone who understands me,” said A-Rod. “Me too,” said Collins.

Suddenly, KungFu Grip and kalensc burst in through the Buntsville Tavern doors. “Heard a Bastard of mine was hanging out with the enemy. Can’t abide that,” said KungFu Grip. “I must ban any who would use a parachute account to avoid probation,” said kalensc. “Gah! It’s our awful owners! We got to get away, Cocky!” said A-Rod. “I’m sorry, A-Rod, but I can’t let the team down. I must turn myself in,” said Collins. “No! Don’t do it! They’ll tear you to shreds!” said A-Rod. “And while they’re doing that to me, make sure you get yourself out of here and pretend you were with the rest of the Royales all along,” said Collins. “Dang it! I can’t just abandon a friend like this! Wait, I actually can. I’m motherfreaking Alex Rodriguez. HEY KUNGFU GRIP, I FOUND YOUR BASTARD,” A-Rod yelled. “Thank you, mysterious friend! Hey, I think I recognize you. You’re a baseballer! How would you like to be a bastard?” said KungFu Grip. “Oh… he’s definitely a bastard. I’ll remember this, A-Fraud,” said Collins. “I’ll remember your team getting relegated, Steady Eddie,” said A-Rod as he walked away. “Yeah, you’re still getting banned, A-Rod,” said kalensc.


“Alright everyone, let’s get started,” SCRUM Master Moleboy said to his Beaverton Bonafides over the Teams meeting. “Today is the first day of sprint 1 of what the higher ups are calling Subpar Season XX, or SSXX for short. Whenever you’re talking, writing, or thinking about SSXX, remember to use that acronym instead to avoid confusion. Don’t get it confused with SSX, the mid-2000s extreme snow sports games, or SSXXX, the designation for Subpar Porn. As always, we’ll go around the room and ask everyone to give us their status. Starting with our starting pitcher. Juan?” Seconds passed in silence. “Juan, you’re on mute. Please, take yourself off mute,” said Moleboy. “Sorry, guys. A little distracted by my dog playing fetch with my wife and kids where he throws the ball and then they all cha—“ said Juan Marichal before Moleboy interrupted him. “Juan. Just your status, please,” said Moleboy.

“Oh, yes. Sorry. Uh, let’s see. Uh, sprint 1 is going alright. I’ve made it 5 and two thirds through the allotted work. On track to finish with at least the game tied if everyone does their job. I’m expecting a fly ball to be hit to left field soon. Anyone have the bandwidth to try and take that?” said Marichal. Moleboy unmuted himself. “Sounds like something for Rickey. Have you put in a JIRA ticket, or put this on the Kanban?” asked Moleboy. “Oh, jeez. I don’t think I did. I, uh, wasn’t anticipating Brian Giles of all people to hit a fly ball there, to be honest. Can’t we get the work done untracked?” said Marichal. “No. We need a ticket, or we’re going to go over our budgeted hours. Please put in a ticket for the fly ball explaining the task, and then I’ll decompose it for Rickey to get a hold of. Provided he has the bandwidth. Rickey, you in here?” asked Moleboy. While the other cameras had been turned off for this meeting, Rickey’s camera had been on the whole time, and had shown him attending shirtless. “Yeah, Rickey’s here. Rickey can’t make any promises—Rickey’s got 6 at-bats Rickey gotta focus on in this sprint,” said Rickey. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to let this go, and release this fifth inning with an error. Hope it isn’t too catastrophic,” said Moleboy. The Misanthropes would score 4 unearned runs in the inning due to the unticketed work. “This is why we have daily standups!” exclaimed Moleboy in frustration.

“Whatever, what’s done is done. Let’s try to close the game out strong. Big thanks to Robin Yount for taking on that work to get us from down 7-3 to 7-6 with that three run dinger. You’ve been awarded 10 Good Job Points, redeemable on the Beaverton Employee Website for all sorts of things,” said Moleboy. Yount came off mute. “Can you please just pay me more instead?” he asked. “No, this is psychologically proven stuff for better retention,” said Moleboy. “You know what else is psychologically proven for better retention? Teammates that can actually catch the freaking ball!” said Marichal. “Look, Marichal, at the end of the day, it is what it is,” said Moleboy. “That doesn’t freaking mean anything! I’m taking PTO for the next month,” said Marichal. “Well, guess that means the rest of you will have to start pulling more weight,” said Moleboy. “Or, you know, you could hire somebody else instead of forcing us to work unpaid OT to do it,” said Rollie Fingers, who had just given up the go-ahead solo home run to Vladimir Guerrero in the top of the 11th. “No,” said Moleboy.

Faustoan Bargain was quite pleased at his team’s hot start. “First, we plundered the coffers of Beavorton Bonafide Corps, and soon we will finish our pillaging of the great Camden and all of their construction equipment! It might’ve cost us Vladimir, but what’s one soul when you can have a ticket to the Super League? This deal with the devil was a true bargain. One might even call it a Firstian Bargain. Because we are in first. For being good. At least, I think that’s what’s the phrase is. Maybe it’s a Fastian Bargain? A Fistian Bargain? Ooh, a Feistian Bargain! That’s probably it. The Misanthropes will Feistian Bargain their way to the top!”

“tadashi, I told you to wake me if my alarm doesn’t!” Clown Fundamentals pleaded as she stumbled out of their bedroom, late for school. “Well, champ, maybe you should try pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and not give up three runs in the top of the first inning next time,” said tadashi in his classic deadpan delivery as a laugh track plays. A funky bassline plays as Clown Fundamentals starts trying to eat breakfast, a normal spread of cereal, milk, fruit, and… a Kit Kat bar? “tadashi, why is there a Kit Kat bar left out for breakfast?” Clown Fundamentals asked in bewilderment. “Heh, I love my Jim Kaat so much that I got the fun sized version of him for you. It’ll bend, but doesn’t break. Or is it the other way around?” tadashi wondered as a laugh track played and Jim Kaat pitched 8 innings giving up 7 hits and 2 runs.

The scene transitions from morning to evening as a tired Clown Fundamentals comes home. “Man, I’m so sick of school. Every one of my batters can get a hit, and I still can find a way to lose the game anyway! I’ll never be the big girl on campus now,” said Clown Fundamentals as the live studio audience awwed. She went downstairs to find tadashi watching a baseball game. “What are you watching and will it make me feel good?” she asked. “Oh, this? This is just a re-run of the earlier Centrists-Buzzsaw game. I’d turn something else on, but there’s nothing good on TV these days,” tadashi said as a laugh track played. “Well, whatever. Baseball is just an extension of school. You’re either the biggest girl on campus, or just some loser relegated to Ds and Fs,” Clown Fundamentals sobbed. Tadashi came over and put his arm around Clown Fundamentals. “You know, champ, sometimes, the truth is in the middle,” tadashi said, and the crowd applauded. Al Simmons then hit an RBI single up the middle to make the game 4-1. “Art imitates life,” he said, as a laugh track played.

“This game sucks. Why aren’t the Buzzsaw winning?” Clown Fundamentals asked as Mike Piazza hit a solo shot in the 7th to make it a 5-1 ballgame. “Patience, champ. See, life is like baseball. Sometimes, you gotta go for the small ball instead of the long ball, and be happy with what you have,” said tadashi as the Buzzsaw scored two runs in the bottom of the 7th off a ground out and a two out single. “Yeah, but I want to hit a home run and win at life by being the big girl on campus,” Clown Fundamentals said, annoyed that the Buzzsaw gave up another run in the top of the 9th. “Well, champ, maybe take what Al Simmons did there for inspiration. He’s just a catcher, a cog in the wheel like all of us. But when he hit that single in the top of the 9th, he decided to be the best cog in the wheel he could be and hustled to second for an extra base. Clown, you could be the best cog in the wheel if you wanted to be,” tadashi said as the studio audience cheered.

Clown Fundamentals thought about it as she watched the bottom of the 9th. “Maybe I could be the best cog in the wheel ever?” Her feelings gained conviction as she watched Chipper Jones score on a one-out double by Ernie Banks to make it a 6-4 ballgame. “Maybe I’ll be the biggest cog in the campus?” Clown Fundamentals thought in a voiceover. Then those feelings grew more after Hank Aaron hit a two-out RBI single to bring the Buzzsaw within one. “No more maybes. I WILL be the biggest cog on campus!” Clown Fundamentals thought. But just as she was about to tell the know-it-all tadashi that, Yogi Berra grounded out to end the game, and the Buzzsaw had lost 6-5 to the Centrists. Deflated and angry, Clown Fundamentals stormed out of the living room while yelling “Life is crap!” “Don’t you dare use that language, young woman! Or else mom’s gonna know and you’re really gonna get it!” tadashi yelled back. Clown Fundamentals stuck out her tongue and blew a raspberry. “That’s it! No wins for a week!” yelled tadashi, and the episode ended.


“Welcome to Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq HQ, mr. Oystertoadfish. Where the software is you, and the hardware is we!” said the front desk secretary of the Beaverton Bonafides to oystertoadfish. The owner of the San Juan Senadores was on another tour of the world. Last year, his mission was the world’s barbecue. Unfortunately, his assignment from the San Juan government this year is far more boring: modern business practices. As such, he traveled to Beaverton, the most forward thinking business capital in the world, to meet with the SCRUM Master: Moleboy. “Thank you,” oystertoadfish replied to the secretary as they started to walk through the building to Moleboy’s office.

The facilities in Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq HQ were a little odd, and oystertoadfish must’ve shown it on his face as the secretary chimed in during the walk. “Oh, the workers here love their open floor office where every desk is a ping pong table. Most of them take breaks by playing ping pong with their laptops! And I know the drip feeds are a little odd-looking, but it provides everyone the nutrition they need to live without ever having to move!” the secretary said. Oystertoadfish decided not to look around anymore and instead spaced out until they arrived at Moleboy’s office. “And here we are!” the secretary said. “Thanks again,” oystertoadfish replied, as he opened the door shaped like a man’s face with very well-groomed facial hair.

“Oystertoadfish! My man, or oystertoadfish,” Moleboy said as the ambassador walked in. “Secret handshake!” Moleboy continued. He walked up to oystertoadfish and put out his hand. When oystertoadfish put his out to shake it, Moleboy instead started what appeared to oystertoadfish an odd dance and clearly expected oystertoadfish to do the same. Oystertoadfish instead let the moment pass, and said “Pleasure to meet you, CEO Moleboy.” “Please. CEO Moleboy was my father’s name. Er. I mean, I built Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq HQ with nothing but my dreams, hard work, and fun! Can’t forget the fun,” said Moleboy. “No offense, Moleboy, but how does fun build a good business?” oystertoadfish asked.

“Heh, fun is why companies like Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq HQ are taking over the world. See, the hot thing right now is what’s called a ‘work-life’ balance. Where you balance the amount of time and energy you spend on your job with the time and energy you spend on your life. Most people want that to be 50-50 at worst, and ideally 100-0 life-work at best. So what we try to do is make work SO fun that our workers want their work-life balance to be 100-0 work-life! After all, in prehistoric times, humans had to work 100% of the time in hunts and survival, so we’re naturally born to find work fun!” said Moleboy.

Oystertoadfish struggled to come up with a response. “Again, I truly mean no disrespect, Moleboy, but that sounds dangerous. If no one has a life outside of work, how do you expect them to have kids, or enjoy their hobbies?” he asked. “Oh, no need to worry about the kids part. We force all employees to sire as many children as possible in our special Romp Rooms. We completely support all LGBTQ+ employees, but anyone that comes to work for Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq HQ knows that they have to have kids one after the other. They can have whatever sexual relationships they want outside of work,” said Moleboy. “Even asexual employees? And how do they find a relationship outside of work if the work-life balance is 100-0?” asked oystertoadfish. “Ha ha ha, well, oystertoadfish, it’s getting pretty late, and I gotta go back into the SCRUM to make sure our team can complete their sprint and the comeback against the San Juan Senadores. If they don’t, well… let’s just say they’ll be taken off of their drip feeds for a week and leave it at that. Secret handshake!” Moleboy offered his hand again, but oystertoadfish had already left Beaverton as fast as he could with a 12-11 victory.


“It’s just not my day.” Clown Fundamentals was feeling down. She had just flunked the test, and now her fantasy fantasy baseball team had the worst record in the Subpar League. “I’ll never be the big woman on campus at this rate,” she glumly said while kicking a rock. “Hey, kid, wanna be a contenda?” a mysterious voice asked Clown Fundamentals. “Wha? Zuh? Golly gee, me? A contender?” Clown Fundamentals replied. “That’s right, kid, a contenda,” said the mysterious voice, now coming out of the dark alley. “But you’re—“ said Clown Fundamentals. “Thassright, it’s me. Da ol’ champ,” said PASS THE MASH.

“Gasp! You were the biggest man on campus ever! I bet if I trained under you, I wouldn’t flunk the test, or have the worst fantasy fantasy baseball team, and I’d finally be the big woman on campus!” said Clown Fundamentals. “Is gonna cost ya, kid. I don’ do nuttin’ for free,” said PASS THE MASH. “I didn’t think you did much of anything after the big incident 25 years ago,” said Clown Fundamentals. “Youse remember dat? Hoo boy. I guess my reputashon proceeded without me,” said PASS THE MASH. “Youse and errybody else don’t undastand. I was set up! Hoodwinked! Robbed!”

“Really? I seem to remember that you got into hard liquor and harder drugs, which was the cause of the incident. But I’m totally fine with that if you can just make sure that I’m the big woman on campus!” said Clown Fundamentals. “Now dassa what I like ta hear,” said PASS THE MASH. “You’ll go far, kid.” An hour later, the two of them were in a nearby park with baseball gloves and a baseball. “Now, kid, in order ta be da big shot on campus, you gotta be willin to take a shot,” said PASS THE MASH. “I understand, Mash Sir! But, uh, what does that have to do with playing catch in the park?” said Clown Fundamentals. PASS THE MASH shook his head. “Kids dese days… listen, when you flunked the test, what happened?” said PASS THE MASH, tossing the ball to Clown Fundamentals. “I, uh, didn’t study for it?” replied Clown Fundamentals, tossing it back. “Wrong. You didn’t study for life. See, tests are like playing catch. You gotta come with a glove,” said PASS THE MASH. “Gosh, Mr. Mash, I’m already feeling better already!” said Clown Fundamentals as they continued to play catch.

The game of catch continued to last for a while as it started to get dark. “Mr. Mash, I think it’s about time for me to get home. I really appreciate you helping me take my mind off flunking the test and my fantasy fantasy baseball team, but I can’t be the big woman on campus if I keep running away from my problems forever! Thanks for everything,” said Clown Fundamentals as she walked up to PASS THE MASH, giving him the baseball back. “No problem kid. Hey… wanna see a glimpse of when I was da big man on campus?” said PASS THE MASH. “I would love to, Mr. Mash!” said Clown Fundamentals. PASS THE MASH threw the baseball straight into the window of a closed shop, instantly shattering it. He proceeded to then steal the shop’s merchandise before running away. “So long, kid! Hope ya get to be the big woman on campus!” PASS THE MASH yelled as sirens wailed. “Gee, it’s just not my day,” Clown Fundamentals thought as the police proceeded to arrest her.


Clown Fundamentals wasn’t able to prove that she wasn’t responsible for the petty vandalism that cops had arrested her for back in week 5, but the cops let her go if she was able to bring in the real criminal. She only had three weeks to work with, and had to run her sub-par baseball team, AND try to be the big woman on campus, AND prepare for the big dance that was coming up. Life was tough for Clown Fundamentals, and it was about to get tougher as her sub-par team continued to perform well below their talent level. But it was about to be her big break: the Buzzsaw were about to play PASS THE MASH’s The,Fightin’,CSVs in Camden, and she knew that she would have her chance to bring the once-contender to justice.

And she knew exactly how to find PASS THE MASH: by kicking a rock. “Gee, I’ll never be the big woman on campus,” Clown Fundamentals said, while kicking a rock. “Hey, kid, you wanna be a conte—oh it’s just youse again,” said PASS THE MASH. “Golly gee! It’s PASS THE MASH again!” said Clown Fundamentals. “Whaddaya want? I’m sorry for wat happened da last time, but it worked out pretty well for da both of us, I’d say,” said PASS THE MASH. “Yes, your team shot to the top of the Royal Division while mine, uh, started to get a better Pythagorean record. But, golly gee, mister. I’m still not the big woman on campus! I’d really appreciate it if you could somehow find the time to train me again. Please?” said Clown Fundamentals.

“Awright kid, but only because I got such a soft spot for da undadog,” said PASS THE MASH. “This is totally tubular! What do you have in store today?” said Clown Fundamentals. “Well, uh, this is a little embarrassing to say, but I only know how to play catch,” said PASS THE MASH. How on earth did this guy become a contender only by playing catch? Clown Fundamentals thought to herself. “No, that sounds great! I’d love to catch yo—I mean, play catch! I’d love to catch, uh, your spirit,” said Clown Fundamentals. “Ey dat’s what I like da hear!” said PASS THE MASH.

The two of them were once again at the park, playing catch. “Ey, I gotta ask, why you want to be a contenda so bad?” asked PASS THE MASH. “Well, Mr. PASS THE MASH sir, it’s because my great grandma was a contender, my grandma was a contender, and my mother was a contender. We have a contender lineage, and I’m the first one that’s in danger of failing to keep that going,” said Clown Fundamentals glumly. “Ey, don’t worry about it kid. Family is thicker than water. They’ll still love ya,” said PASS THE MASH. “I hope you’re right. They certainly don’t like their kid being a criminal,” said Clown Fundamentals. “Oh, jeez. Sorry about dat. I really needed that stuff though—no hard feelings?” said PASS THE MASH.

Clown Fundamentals smirked as she caught the ball back from PASS THE MASH. “Not anymore. Boys, I found the real criminal! He’s at the only park in Camden that’s not on fire!” she yelled into the baseball. “Wuzzat? What’s going on? Why you talkin’ to a ball?” PASS THE MASH asked. “Heh, this is a special baseball/microphone that’s specially wired to the police. You’ll be going to prison for your breaking and entering, I’ll be fully cleared, my family will love me, and I’ll finally be the big woman on campus!” said Clown Fundamentals. “Hey, kid. Real contenda’s neva squeal,” said PASS THE MASH. “Real contenders never steal!” said Clown Fundamentals with a smirk.

As sirens started to close in around the duo, PASS THE MASH didn’t look too worried. “Why aren’t you running?” asked Clown Fundamentals. “Why should I? I told ya that I became a contenda through my catch skills, didn’t I?” said PASS THE MASH. “What on earth does that have to do with anything?” asked Clown Fundamentals. “Well, youse and the cops ain’t ever gonna ‘catch’ me!” said PASS THE MASH, as he bolted from Camden. “Drat! I was this close from finally clearing my name. But he didn’t escape with the win. Perhaps I couldn’t ‘catch’ him this battle, but I may ‘catch’ him in the war. The division war! Hmm, that might’ve been too strained,” said Clown Fundamentals.


Monicro awoke at the bottom of the 9th inning. She found her team was playing the Beaverton Bonafides. A decent team that appeared to be tanking for a high sub-par draft pick, not unlike her own grand ambitions. As such, she was not surprised to see her Bokononists carrying a 5-4 lead when George Brett walked up to the plate. Billy Wagner missed with his first two pitches, and served up a 99 MPH fastball that George Brett swung at, but as he made contact, Monicro had passed out again.

Monicro awoke in the top of the 6th inning. She found her team was playing the team owned by the only man who read every Super League update. With her team down 5-0, she realized just how much of an advantage actually reading the updates gave to those who read. Though Monicro knew her pitching core was key to her team’s success, her offense was no slouch either. She saw her core of Speaker, Sisler, and Gehrig load the bases. Then Johnny Mize hit a two-run single, Willie Keeler smacked an RBI single, and Enos Slaughter came up with the bases loaded, two outs, and the Bokononists down 5-3. “Slaughter…” Monicro thought to herself, as Enos made contact with the ball, and she passed out again.

Monicro awoke in the bottom of the 11th inning. Her Bokononists had been locked in an endless struggle against the hipsters of the Super League, and yet she had somehow slept through all of it? That couldn’t have been right. A little groggy, she braved the bizarre Portland corporate jungle that the Beavertons played in. Moleboy deliberately set up his team’s ballpark in a breakroom of Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq. HQ so his employees could have some fun entertainment to watch when taking a break (of only 15 minutes before being forcibly led back to their workstations by handlers). She started looking around for the best-groomed man in the building, Moleboy, when Orlando Cepeda struck a one-out single. Rickey Henderson advanced Cepeda when Monicro found Moleboy at the top of a staircase with a cheery sign saying “There are no elevators to success, you must take the stairs”. Moleboy saw her, and appeared to start hurriedly packing up. Seeing this, Monicro sped up. But George Brett made contact, and Monicro passed out again.

Monicro awoke before her team’s scheduled game against the Bonafides. She ate, got dressed, and drove over to Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq. HQ to meet up with Moleboy for the customary pre-game gyro lunch. When she got there, Moleboy had already set up the banquet. “Hey, Monicro! Great to see you. Hey, super funny story: You’ll never believe this. So, I was trying to set up a meeting with a new client for Bonafide Corp. Ltd. LLC Esq. HQ, and, being the nice guy I am, I let the client choose the time. So, get this, he schedules a Teams Meeting at 8:30 PM! PM!” Monicro realized at that point that there was a punchline, and politely laughed. “So of course I immediately responded and asked if they meant 8:30 AM, but they didn’t get back to me. So the day of the meeting rolls around, and I send them a Teams Meeting invite at 8:30 AM, and you know what the client responds with?” Monicro shook her head after a few seconds, clearly having spaced out. “’Sorry, I’m unable to attend at 8:30 AM, can we please meet at 2 PM?’ Bwahahahaha!” Moleboy said. Trying to understand how any of this was funny or interesting, Monicro passed out.

Well, that’s all of the “good” ones for now. I’ll probably put up the best of the second half as well if I don’t get cold feet. Or think of anything better.

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Mario Strikers: Battle League

When reviewing a piece of art, you can split up your determination into objective and subjective. Some forms of art are mostly subjective–an abstract painting has very little appeal to it that can be qualified as “objective”, for instance. Some have a bit more objectivity to them: a book that has constant misspellings or improper grammar can cause a reader to lose their immersion. But even then that sort of objective theory falls by the wayside if the author is using those “objective” errors for a larger purpose, such as denoting a character’s accent or causing the reader to doubt the narrator. Similarly for movies, some cinematography techniques may make the watcher very uncomfortable or make the film hard to watch, but have their place in advancing the director’s vision.

Yet, when it comes to reviewing video games, the objective is most important. In two senses of the term. First is the objective we’ve been referring to, where a trusted reviewer is expected to list off facts about the game–i.e.: how much is the game, what platform is the game on, when does it come out, what sort of content is in the game, etc. The second objective that is important is that of a goal. What is the goal of the video game in question? What and how many objectives are there in it? And it is in these two objectives where Mario Strikers: Battle League, Mario Golf: Super Rush, Mario Tennis Aces, and other Mario sports games have been cut down by reviewers.

Let’s look at the objectives of Mario Strikers: Battle League. From a goal standpoint, you have one goal to finish the tutorial, one goal split into 12 in conquering the 12 cups (6 easy, 6 hard) against the AI, and one goal to be on top of the online-play-only Battle League. The 12 cups are especially deceiving in terms of length because each one can be completed in a minimum of 3 games, and only a maximum of 5. I finished them in 39 games as I am very good at Strikers and only lost three times, each in the final cup. This constituted 3.5-4.5 hours or so of game time. I had already completed the tutorial in the demo, which was about another half-hour of game time. I cannot adequately say anything about the Battle League as its first week-long season doesn’t begin until June 20th, and I cannot climb the ranks in it until that starts. So. In one day of game time of about 5 hours, you can absolutely say that I have conquered each of the possible objectives in Mario Strikers. This has fairly earned a lot of ire from the gaming community as the game is currently $60 for 5 hours of objective-based gameplay. Let’s leave this type of objective here for now.

In terms of objective facts, here are the charged ones: the game comes with 10 characters, and does not have Daisy on the roster–a character who has been playable in both of the first two. There are only 5 stadium halves to choose from, and they are all cosmetic–no differences in gameplay come from choosing any of the 5. I have already discussed the objectives in the game’s objectives in that there are few and easily accomplished in a short period of time. Here’s an objective fact I don’t remember seeing mentioned, but is something that irks me personally: you cannot quickly chain games against the CPU outside of cup battles. You can only do one game at a time against the AI before having to go into another menu to choose the settings for a follow-up match. Last and most important: they removed the Waluigi crotch chop.

And so, with all of these objective facts piling one after the other on top of Mario Strikers: Battle League, it is very easy to dismiss it as a poor cash-grab. Something done with no love, no budget, and as quick a turnaround as possible for Nintendo’s summer party game. Next Level Games and Nintendo are spinning the upcoming DLC with additional characters and stadiums as some positive when past games had more characters playable at the start. In addition, those past games had much cooler unlockables with the Super Team and new characters in Charged compared to the lame unlock of additional gear in Battle League. How can this game possibly be good with all of these glaring objective problems?

As I said at the start, there is the subjective piece to enjoying art. For any individual, the subjective opinion is all that matters. I have played Super Mario Strikers for 16 and a half years since its release in December 2005 despite fulfilling all objectives in the game many times over, and it not having anything to offer other than playing the AI over and over and over and over. I love it. I do not care that reviewers at the time gave it average to below-average scores. It is my favorite game of all time. Battle League, unsurprisingly, doesn’t quite hit “favorite game of all time” status for me. But also unsurprisingly it is far, far better an experience than the below-average to average reviews give it credit for.

And that’s because the developers of Battle League, Mario Tennis Aces, and Mario Golf: Super Rush spent an extremely long amount of time refining the core gameplay of their respective games. This came at the cost of all of those objective problems against them that reviewers cite. I want to be very clear here: if you want a game that you can play for 16.5 years against the AI only, or a game with a lot of variety in characters, or a game with any sort of extensive single-player, do not get Battle League. I do not think you’re a worse person for not getting the game for any of these reasons. They are all very justifiable reasons to not spend $60. But if there’s one thing I want to be equally clear about: the gameplay of Battle League is extremely fun. It’s got a super-high skill cap, it’s very fast, and it just is flat-out fun. I have complaints with the core gameplay for sure–I don’t like how important items are, how hard it is to actually retrieve items from the boxes thrown on the field after earning one, I think hyper strikes are an awfully balanced mechanic that shouldn’t give 2 goals automatically for a timing minigame, it’s very hard to aim your hits especially when past games had you home in people as soon as you pressed the button, and it’s very hard to switch to the right person AND know who you switched to on the fly with the difficult-to-read player markers.

Yet, despite this: I love the game. It is the game I waited 15 years for since Charged. I did not love the core gameplay of the other maligned Mario Sports games, such as Mario Golf: Super Rush or Mario Sports Superstars, and didn’t play them much. Battle League is a game I expect to play for a while since it is a worthy successor to the Strikers series in terms of gameplay. The only problem is that I can only play the game as long as the online mode is active enough for constant games since, as I said, you cannot easily chain matches against AI. Only when you do quick play online do you get games in a row without menu action. And it is here where the objective problems will both hurt the game now as the negative reviews and lack of content will drive a good amount of potential players away, and will eventually kill the game compared to the original Super Mario Strikers or Mario Strikers Charged. It will simply have too much friction between games when I can play 16 games of Super Mario Strikers with having to navigate 20 seconds of menus and loading screens between them.

In terms of the other basic subjectives such as graphics and music, I think the game has fun graphics and pretty good animations. They’re very Punch Out!! inspired rather than Mario Strikers Charged inspired, so I, as a long-time fan, am a little underwhelmed with them compared to MSC. The music has a lot of great remixes of old Strikers and other Mario game music, but the character themes all blend together which is a real shame after how good the character themes in Mario Strikers Charged were.

Overall, I really love Battle League, and am deeply saddened that its objective flaws will hold back the titular objective of conquering the Battle League from being as fun as it should’ve been. I will still enjoy the online for as long as I can stomach it–I got very quickly too upset playing Charged’s online and had to stop after about 2 months because I cared too much. And then I will likely go back to playing the original Strikers. But that’s not this game’s fault.

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The Nuclear Family in EarthBound

Two years ago, I wrote about nuclear families in video games. In case you don’t remember the conclusions or want to read some 10,000 words on the subject, I went through every game I owned and asked a simple question: does this video game have a nuclear family? A nuclear family was defined as a father, mother, son, and daughter all living together under one roof. Of the 125 games I examined, there were 7 nuclear families, and only two of them were “normal” nuclear families (the other 5 were brought together via time travel).

I’ve played more games since, and none of them have had nuclear families, until I started EarthBound. EarthBound is a game for the SNES published by Nintendo, initially released in Japan in 1994, and then came out in 1995 in America. Literal books have been written about the localization of the game which is a pretty incredible tale. To cut it short, most video games back then were very self-contained. As in, all you needed to know in order to understand the dialogue, plot, themes, or any text/subtext in a game was in the game inherently. EarthBound was unlike any other game at its time in that it was set in the “real world” (America known as “Eagleland”), during a real time period (199X), and full of jokes and puns that referenced that real time and place. And even though the game was a commercial failure, EarthBound resonated with people who played it. Many indie game developers credit it as a main inspiration, kind of like The Velvet Underground for video games. I think the importance of family in EarthBound is a big reason for why it touched so many hearts.

The game was initially written mainly by a famous Japanese writer, Shigesato Itoi, and, despite the extreme amount of changes the head localizer, Marcus Lindblom, had made to Itoi’s original script, certain things about Itoi’s initial script were kept as unchanged as possible. Namely, the family dynamics in EarthBound are the same in the Japanese and English versions of the game. As an outsider writing about American culture, Itoi latched onto America’s idealization about the nuclear family, and used that iconic American dream as a major thematic element in the game.

EarthBound is about a young boy named Ness saving the world from an alien named Giygas who is attempting to invade and conquer the planet. Ness lives in the suburbs of the town Onett in his nuclear family with his mom, dad, and younger sister (Tracy). The mom is the homemaker while the dad is the breadwinner, and Ness and Tracy are both in school–you know, the perfect idyllic nuclear family in roles. And in practice? This is an idyllic nuclear family that loves and supports one another strongly.

I say idyllic, but the father never shows up in EarthBound. You never see Ness’s dad in person. Every time you call, he says how much he’s deposited in your bank account and then asks you if you want to take a break. If you don’t turn off the game for a while, he’ll call you and ask if you want to take a break–if you say no to this offer, he says “It doesn’t make me happy, but I understand your point that the fate of the world is at stake”. He is a very caring father that is stuck at work the entire time, as a parody of Japanese fathers in the 1990s who would never be able to get off work.

The mother seems a little aloof when you start the game. She’s obviously cranky that the meteorite crashes just by Ness’s family’s house, waking her and everyone else up, and it comes across in her early dialogue. But as soon as Ness gets the mission from Buzz Buzz to stop Giygas, she is instantly supportive of him going off to save the world. She covers for Ness when his school asks where he is. She answers every time Ness calls. She even prepares Ness’s favorite food and his bed whenever he visits home after leaving the house. Just look at this quote before she sends Ness off on the fateful night: “

No matter what anyone says, you're a courageous, strong boy.
'You're my very own natural born fighter...You'll go far...
'Remember to "Go for it!"
'But, I think you should change out of your jammies before you leave.

She does some quirky things, but she is an immensely supportive mother, and a great testament to the series titled “Mother”. Tracy is a supportive younger sister, but she definitely gets the least amount of dialogue. She is also an eleven year-old, so her support is the classic sarcastic sibling support where you know your sibling loves you but says things that are annoying as heck. She’s mostly supportive gameplay-wise rather than dialogue-wise.

Speaking of gameplay, well before cell phones were a major part of our daily lives (even in Japan where cell phones were ubiquitous by 2000 or so), EarthBound made phone calls a major gameplay mechanic. You can call your father, mother, or sister at any regular or payphone, and doing so is important! Calling your dad lets you save your game. Calling your mom cures you of homesickness (a very annoying status effect that causes Ness to waste turns in battle). Calling your sister who is working at a storage company called the Escargot Express lets you store and take back items. Ness’s nuclear family is a great support network for Ness as he goes all over in his quest to save the world, and the gameplay mechanics reinforce how important and valuable a family that can provide said support network can be. Without his family, Ness could not fulfill his mission. But even though Ness’s nuclear family shows how perfect the ideal can be, EarthBound does not shy away from the potential darkness in a nuclear family gone wrong.

The second set of characters you meet are the Minch family. They live right next door to Ness’s family, and are also a nuclear family with the father (breadwinner), mother (homemaker), and two brothers, Pokey and Picky. Pokey is the classic annoying kid in elementary school. The one that pretends to be your best friend and nice, but not-so-secretly stabs you in the back all the time. EarthBound gives a look behind the scenes as to how kids turn out that way. Obviously, naming your kids Pokey and Picky means you don’t actually care about your kids, but EarthBound is very unsubtle when it comes to what the Minch parents do to their children. On the night the meteorite crashes, Pokey forces Ness to go look for his brother Picky outside–though he knows that regardless of if he finds Picky or not, “when my dad comes back, we’re really going to get it!”

Ness and Pokey find Picky and bring him home to the Minches, which is right when Pokey’s father gets home. His mother was always there, but didn’t bother going to find her son Picky, and instead complains about her sons if you have Ness speak to her before this. Instead of letting either of them talk, Pokey’s father immediately says to his kids “both of you are really going to get it!” and Picky and Pokey run right upstairs knowing what’ll happen. Pokey’s father then blames all his troubles on Ness’s family by saying:

'By the way, I would be happy if you left sometime soon.
'I'm tired of your family living next door.
'We've loaned your father a lot of money.
'It may have been a hundred thousand dollars or more...
'Well, I guess it really could have been less,
'but because of the loan, my family and I now live in poverty!

Pretty awful guy, right? And the mom isn’t just passively letting her husband abuse her children–she encourages it. “My husband is too lenient with the children. Oh well, nice guys finish last! The story of our life…” she says. If you go upstairs after the incident and talk to Picky and Pokey, they both talk about how much pain they’re in. Picky seems to have “accepted” his situation while Pokey seems to have this bubbling ambition to get out of this awful family. Soon enough, he is able to, but is drawn to the absolute worst replacements for families because he grew up in the absolute worst family.

The first time Ness sees Pokey after beginning his quest in earnest is when he is attempting to rescue Paula from becoming a sacrifice to the Happy Happyist cult (a pretty obvious Ku Klux Klan “parody”–child abuse and the KKK in the first few hours of a Nintendo game rated Kids-to-Adults, wouldn’t expect that (though of course they changed the bar to a coffee shop with no alcohol)). Pokey taunts Ness by telling Ness to call him “Master Pokey” and that the leader of Happy Happyism has made him an important person. Pokey is clearly drawn to power, but specifically the power to “make” your own family in a sense.

After the cult, you next see Pokey in Fourside, the game’s equivalent to New York City, where he gets cozy with the richest man in town–Geldegarde Monotoli. Pokey again wants to be called “Master Pokey” and becomes the second-richest man in town. He has bodyguards and all sorts of money with which he uses on a power trip to “make” his own family. He even uses the money to give his father a neighboring solid gold office where his father never has to work again, presumably out of some hope that his father will love him for it. But if you talk to his father, all he has to say is that he finally got what he deserved as “every dog has its day”. He doesn’t care that Pokey gave him the wealth.

Ruining Pokey’s plans in Fourside has him turn to the final available alternative family in EarthBound: Giygas’s. Pokey becomes Giygas’s direct right-hand man. You don’t see what he does directly to hinder Ness’s quest until Ness confronts Pokey and Giygas at the end of the game, and Pokey explains everything he did. He explains “I only assist the strong and able” but that’s not true. He was so traumatized by the abuse he suffered from his parents and his lack of a true family bond he could trust that he flocked to even bigger bullies than his parents. And when Ness’s gang confronts him, he gives a very telling taunt that belies all his insecurities about family and trust:

'Do you want to scream for help here in the dark?!
'Ha ha ha ha ha!
'Why not call your mommy, Ness!
'Say, "Mommy! Daddy! I'm so frightened! I think I'm gonna wet my pants!"
'I know you have telepathy, or something, so just try and call for help,
'you pathetically weak heroes of so-called justice!
'No one will help you now!

I will come back to this taunt later and explain just how perfectly it backfires in EarthBound’s gameplay, and how perfectly it reinforces the themes of family and trust that EarthBound is built on. Again, very much like a novel in how EarthBound works, rather than a normal video game’s plot where people arbitrarily do things because it makes for an interesting game to play. Here, Pokey becomes the right-hand man of the literal embodiment of evil because he never had a family he could trust, not because he simply wanted to take over the world. He wants to take over the world so that everyone is forced to be a part of his family. When that doesn’t work with the Happy Happyists or with Monotoli, Pokey decides to destroy the world instead. But, as EarthBound is a surreal coming of age story, the children at the core of it must be given the chance to come of age in a world that still exists, so they succeed. But not everyone in Ness’s group are a part of a nuclear family like Ness and Pokey.

The main three other characters are in alternative families than the idealistic nuclear family. Ness’s first companion, Paula, is from a single-child family. Her mother and father run the pre-school in Twoson, and are a little strange. The mother is too focused on her work at the pre-school to chase after Paula when she is kidnapped by the Happy Happyists, and the father is initially advertising her to the city as a curiosity because she can use magic. He doesn’t even realize she’s missing until Ness visits the house hoping to see her since Paula used her telepathy to contact Ness where Paula’s dad finally checks her room and doesn’t see her. He immediately implores Ness to help. Suffice to say, they make very bad first impressions.

However… reading into what Paula’s parents say and do puts them into a much better light. During Ness’s first visit, Paula’s father asks if Ness is a part of a TV station. If he says yes, Paula’s father shoos Ness away, not wanting media monkeys or leeches. When Ness explains he’s not, Paula’s father says Paula will only meet with Ness, showing that he does respect his daughter’s privacy. Then he realizes Ness is Ness, and is very happy and wants Paula and Ness to meet immediately. When Ness saves Paula and you bring her back home, he is proud to send his daughter off to go save the world. He is very supportive… but not perfect. But at least he is supportive. Paula’s mother doesn’t get nearly as many lines, but she is also very supportive of her daughter when Ness brings Paula home. And the other kids in the pre-school have a huge amount of respect for Paula, which wouldn’t happen if Paula’s mother was badmouthing her child to them like the Minches might. So through context clues, it is clear that the single-child family of Paula’s household is a tightknit, supportive one, even if they might not seem like it.

Jeff is the second companion of Ness and Paula. The genius inventor is contacted by Paula in his dreams to rescue the Paula and Ness from Threed. At the time he is contacted, Jeff is in a boarding school. But even though he doesn’t have his parents around, he can rely on his roommate Tony and fellow classmate Maxwell for support. Tony gives him the literal boost over the boarding school’s front gate so Jeff can sneak out as well as the metaphorical boost to have him follow what Jeff heard in a dream, and Maxwell offers Jeff the same support Ness’s father does as the person to call if you want to save the game as well as the support in preparing for Jeff’s journey by giving him a machine to get stuff out of lockers. The boarding school also has a birthday party for Tony that you can crash and take all the cookies from, which would be a horrible thing to do, but is further proof that the kids in the boarding school are close.

Jeff makes it out of the boarding school and visits his father’s laboratory. Jeff’s father, Dr. Andonuts, does not recognize his son when he first sees him. But as soon as he does, Dr. Andonuts says

'I'm so glad you're such a healthy boy.
'Uh, those glasses look good on you.
'How about a donut?

Clearly, Dr. Andonuts is not father of the year. He sent Jeff away 10 years ago because Dr. Andonuts is a famous scientist and busy man without any time, he no longer is in contact with Jeff’s mother and you never hear about nor see her in the game, and he ends their first conversation with “Let’s get together again in 10 years or so”. But Jeff still managed to find himself a family at the Snow Wood Boarding School. And Jeff does get the support from his father in that Dr. Andonuts doesn’t force Jeff back to the boarding school but instead his father fixes a UFO for Jeff to ride in to rescue Ness and Paula with the machine that gets them all out of the locked dungeon they were in.

The final main party member of the group is Poo, the prince of Dalaam. We end up knowing the least about Poo compared to the other three. But, knowing he’s the crown prince, he’s obviously got some important parents. Too important to tell Poo that he must complete his training before anything else. If you use the phone while playing as Poo in his introductory segment, he’ll call Ness’s dad, who offers normal gameplay support after convincing himself that Poo is Ness disguising his voice. What a nice dad.

As you talk to NPCs in his segment, you find that Prince Poo used to be one of those princes that did nothing but sleep around with women (though they say he simply “played around” and you can play patty-cake with one of these aforementioned women because it’s a Nintendo game) but has since started taking meditation and his life seriously. So, really, Poo swapped out one way of trying to find a supportive family (by sleeping around) with another (a monk lifestyle), probably because his blood-related family couldn’t meet his needs. In his harsh ascetic training, he is asked “Are you sad? Are you lonely?” And while his family’s riches, women, and training helped temporarily fill the void in Poo at different, it is only as part of Ness’s group that he finally feels he has his family. Well, maybe not at first. He says this upon meeting the group:

I am the servant of Ness. I will obey Ness.
Ness! My life is in your hands

Poo doesn’t really see Ness’s group as anything more as a chore at first. But! Later in the game, Poo re-meets his old teacher during his monk training who says that Poo needs to go back with him to finish his training to learn the ultimate PSI. Poo doesn’t hesitate in doing so as you’ll see in the below quote:

'It is important that I study and learn the "Starstorm"...
'It will be most helpful to us.
'Once I learn it, I'll meet up with you, Ness.
'Trust me... I will see you again.

But as you can see, he doesn’t hesitate because he wants to leave the group. He goes and does it because he wants to help the group, and hopes that Ness and friends can trust him to carry this out. And because Ness’s group has felt this trust from others, they are able to confide their trust into Poo and wait for him to come back to support them. And in a dark moment, Poo returns and blows up an important bad guy with his new abilities. Poo’s final lines in the game show how much he’s grown as a person, and how fond he’s grown of his newfound family.

'Our travels together end here.
'I must return to Dalaam, and use this experience for the good of my country.
'Ness, Paula, Jeff...
'Let me demonstrate a strange power before I go. I realized this power as a
'PSI Farewell! Now!
'I'll see you again someday!

Poo and Pokey weren’t so different. Both of them never felt love or trust from or towards their families (Poo being shown distant from his family and they are never mentioned in-game, Pokey being physically far too close). Both of them tried to fill their emotional voids with materialistic debauchery (Poo filled it with women, Pokey filled it with money). Both of them then tried to fill their emotional voids with more substantial changes to how they live (Poo started learning asceticism, Pokey started helping the literal embodiment of evil spread that evil). And both eventually found their family (Poo had Ness’s group, Pokey had a bunch of minions and Giygas). It’s just what crowds they fell into that ultimately determined their fates.

Fortunately for the people of Eagleland, Ness’s family built on love and trust is able to defeat Giygas’s family built on fear and loathing. That, to me, is one of the big reasons why EarthBound and the Mother series as a whole resonate so much with the people who play them. There are many video games that have this as a moral, but none do anywhere near as good of a job as EarthBound does in portraying the message in a way that isn’t ham-handed, over-the-top, and ultimately kind of hollow. With EarthBound, you see the perfect ideal of a nuclear family with Ness, the absolute worst demons of a nuclear family with Pokey, the difficult-but-supportive tightknit young couple with a single child household with Paula, the boarding school raised kid that was able to make a family with those that surrounded him and not begrudge his father with Jeff, and the detached well-off kid that fell into the family he craved with Poo. All of these households are forced to literally fight because it is a video game, but ultimately the group that loves and trusts each other triumphs in the game as you wish it would in real life.

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Q&A: Under a Ladder, Over the Moon!

It’s been three years since the last Q&A press release–I don’t think that’s how the Barenaked Ladies song goes. And it’s been two years since they finished their most recent Q&A mix CD. Because of, uh, supply chain issues, yes, the duo hasn’t been able to put together their usual buffoonery. I’d say it’s pretty UNusual buffoonery if it’s taken them this long. Alright I admit it. I ran out of things to write about for this month, so I’m putting this together now.

He--he oh. I’m sorry. You go fi–you go fi. Oh man. It’s been a while. And using videochat to try and put this together is just making it–so dang hard. That’s right, A. It’s been a tough three years. Very little good music has come out since our previous mix CD. And we’re not saying that because we’re old! Music has definitely gotten worse as the bad guys have been getting driver’s licenses! I’m so grateful I don’t need to drive, living in a city, where you know you have to survive. You wouldn’t survive a Texas city. And proud of it! Alright, enough stalling, let’s talk about this.

So, the weird title. “Under a Ladder”. This is our 13th mix CD, and we didn’t want to just call it “Unlucky” to mirror our 7th mix CD being called “Lucky”. So I started thinking about “what is considered unlucky” for inspiration. At the time, I didn’t have own the black cat named Kitty that I own now, so it didn’t come up. And other unlucky things are just weird. Breaking a mirror, not knocking on wood (rest in peace Mighty Mighty Bosstones), stepping on a crack, just a lot of weird things. Including walking under a ladder, which is unlucky in the same way that it’s not kosher to eat pig meat: it’s to get you out of trouble. Anyway, it felt like the best superstition because…

This Ladder is Ours – The Joy Formidable

This ladder is ours! And we’re “going under” by listening to this mix CD. I don’t know, it’s very flimsy justification. Yeah. Not like any of our other mix CDs have good titles that make sense. Looking at you, Feist the Geist’s Heist. I’m very glad that mix CD was only ever played once, and I wasn’t there. Let’s focus on this mix CD. Always love to start with high energy stuff, and the loudest band in Ireland since U2 brings the energy. Elevate my soul, as they say. I found what I was looking for, and it’s this song. Though I would’ve liked to have Whirring on here. Too bad it’s 8 minutes long and impossible to edit. Ooh, good segue. This is the first mix CD that there has been “post-post production”. In order to fit everything in here, I had to cut some intros and outros. Like 30 seconds of this song’s intro was cut. Which I kinda regret, but, whatever.

Me & You Together Song – The 1975

Sticking with the early United Kingdom theme is this nostalgia bait track. I’ll admit that I never heard any songs from the 2000s that sounded like this. I was too busy listening to good Maroon 5 which doesn’t exist. Sorry? The videochat cut out for a second. Nothing! I was just mentioning the dream I had where we went to Winter Wonderland. This CD came out in the summer! Who can possibly remember anything that happened two years ago? You apparently remember this sound! Wrong The 1975 song.

Quarter Past Midnight – Bastille

What time are you writing this? 8 PM. Why? Oh, no reason. Yeah, I like UK music. So what? U OK? Boomer? Heh. Now that’s a topically funny reference. Bastille’s relevancy is only slightly older than that joke. I still liked Doom Days, even if I didn’t really like anything since. Ah well. This early part of the mix CD is just fun pop songs. Not much to say. There’s never much to say. Just listen! So can we just send the rest of this blank? No one would care.

Headlights – Morning Parade

Hey look! Another British pop song! Now this is a throwback. 2014 was only 50 years ago. Not that long. That’s the 90s. Close enough. This band never even qualified as a one-hit wonder, but they were close to breaking through with their debut album. Anyone signed to the same label as Coldplay got close. Hope they aren’t dealing with that morning parade all the time that the band was ironically named after. Morning parade is traffic, for the record. And it’s time to continue driving through this mix CD!

Magic – Wild Cub

Finally an American pop song that sounds like every other song on this mix CD! We did it, Reddit. The narwhal bacons at midnight and all that. Are there stairs in your house? Man, maybe we really should just leave the rest of this blank. But then what will you read late at night when you’re sad? Uh, poetry? Maybe? You hate poetry. Maybe. But I like poetic song lyrics, like “true words are fire, fire”. I’m 100% sure the songwriters on that Wild Cub album recycled the same 5 words for every song there. Not a problem if it was good, like this song was.

Gloria – The Lumineers

This is the first real tonal shift on the CD. We go from synthy, sleek guitar pop to acoustic, sleek guitar pop. Enough is enough, I said. At this point. Which is why I cut the song like 10 seconds or so. I’m cutting this segment 10 seconds or so! You can’t do that! This is text

Church – Coldplay

I thought you don’t like putting Coldplay on these? Yeah. Well. Whatever. You’ll see from this segment that I just wanted some slightly moodier songs, and I felt that transitioning from The Lumineers into them made the most sense. This isn’t even that moody! It’s a very upbeat Coldplay song that doesn’t use guitars! That’s very moody. It’s Coldplay, they’re the moodiest band ever. I guess you truly don’t know Coldplay after all. I always knew you were a fake fan. Yes, I am. If you’ve gotten this far, congrats. You know my dirtiest secret.

The Walker – Christine and the Queens

As someone who walks everywhere, I think about this song a lot. Specifically the part where Christine says she offers her chin to anyone who thinks she looked at them funny so they can retaliate. That is very weird. Uh, not as weird as you! Gottem. Is France part of the United Kingdom? I feel like it is. Oh dear. We’re actually going to start world war three by saying stuff like that. Well, it’s like they always say: make a cover of Love by Kendrick Lamar, not war.

Love – CHVRCHES (Cover of Kendrick Lamar)

Great saying. Love this cover. It was only done live once on a radio segment and never again by CHVRCHES. But that’s fine. We got the recording so it can last forever. Like the Echosmith song! Or the Naked and Famous song! But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Plenty of time for those two bands soon enough. Let’s stay focused on Kendrick Lamar. The original is great, but man I love this cover. Just the way Lauren screams “love me” is so good. And the swelling synths–perfect. When I was trying to get through the early parts of the supply chain issues, listening and re-listening to this song got me through.

Push Pull – Purity Ring

And this song got me through a different tough time in my life. Two very strange throwbacks on this mix. Especially now that we’re two years of music since we put this out so there’s way less room for old stuff like this. But I like old stuff. Heck, I might put Tarzan Boy by Baltimora on the next mix CD. But you hate 80s music. All synth music is 80s music. Including this track. Also surprising you’d ever admit you liked a Purity Ring song. Yeah… but here we are.

The Water Beneath You – The Naked and Famous

And this ends the trilogy of synthpop with female vocalists. What an epic trilogy. Way better than the new Star Wars trilogy! I’ve seen one Star Wars: the final Star War. The one everyone loves? Nice. Yep. And everyone loves The Water Beneath You, the huge hit by The Naked and Famous. Not much else to say.

The City We Grow – Atlas Genius

I really like how we laid these songs back to back as we once again transition back to sleek synthguitar pop songs. Yeah, Naked and Famous don’t have guitars but Atlas Genius does while also having synths and a structure similar to The Water Beneath You. Pretty great sequencing by me because I am smart. I like it more than our weird narrative mix CDs. Yeah…


Today’s blog post is sponsored by Baltimora and their debut album “Living in the Background”. The next time you think of Tarzan, don’t think of Disney: think of Baltimore, Italy. Oh oh oh oh oh.

If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know) – The 1975

Speaking of the 80s, The 1975. Pretty much the 80s in sound according to people who listen to 80s music. Which I do, but I know you don’t. Except for Tarzan Boy. Man, I think my next mix CD is just going to be Tarzan Boy for an hour and twenty minutes. What a song. But if you’re too shy to do that, let me know. Oh, right. This song. Had to cut out two minutes of intro and outtro on this one. Worth it!

Red – Pale Waves

Oh, and I know red is your favorite color. And I know you can’t see red. But I forget it all the time. Yeah, that’s just how it is for people who live with these hidden disabilities. I may look and act normal, but there’s always something a bit off with me compared to normal people, and there’s just not much I can do other than deal with it. Can’t really expect society to change for me, sadly. Yeah, I’ve gotten a lot more sympathetic to these hidden disabilities after reading Katawa Shoujo, a visual novel about dating disabled women. We are so far off track. Great reference to the literal English translation of “katawa shoujo”, which means something close to “a woman who is like a cart missing a wheel”. And I think you are wheely missing the point of these things. Isn’t it to just write 10,000 words that I’ll re-read in seven months and laugh about?

Lost Somebody – Echosmith

Thinking that way is how you lost somebody. Ah man! I hate losing somebodies! Why can’t I lose nobodies? Because Kingdom Hearts is not a documentary. Wrong! Kingdom Hearts does affect real life! Al Micheals was traded to NBC so ABC/Disney could get the rights to using Pete the Cat in a video game! Everyone knows that trade was made so that Pete the Cat could be used in Epic Mickey, not Kingdom Hearts. Uh. Uh. I’ve always said that the pandemic was hardest on Echosmith. They released Lonely Generation one month before the world was gripped by COVID, and the world could no longer be gripped by Lost Somebody, Diamonds, or, my favorite, Shut Up and Kiss Me. If it’s your favorite, why isn’t it on here? I was too embarrassed.

Lately – Metronomy

Lately I’ll call you when I do nothing, but I’ve been doing a lot and thus haven’t called you. Must be nice! Eh, it must be nice getting paid enough to sit around at home the majority of your workday. I’ll have you know I spent 15 hours working this week. That’s the most I’ve had to in 3 months! Brutal stuff as baseball starts back up. I’m going to ignore this and bring up the fact that Metronomy’s new album has a song that’s probably going on the next mix CD. Yeah, the band is consistent for getting one and exactly one song on my mixes. Except for She Wants The Bay on the first mix CD which everyone loved. Great point, maybe every mix CD should have two Metronomy songs. Maybe you should try calling me when you have nothing else going on. I can’t be the only one reaching out in this relationship.

Come On Out – Airborne Toxic Event

And I said “come on out”! Heh. That flows with what we were saying. Right? I did come on out. I came out to Washington for an afternoon accidentally. One day I’ll go to Texas. Maybe. Probably not. It’s just so diametrically opposed to every way I live. Texas has humans. Are you diametrically opposed to humans? I guess? I cut the last 5 seconds of this song when I found out that my final cut was a few seconds over and now it ends really abruptly. I have a lot more appreciation for editors in general after trying to edit this. Boy I freaking wish we had some editors on this article!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Runners – The Naked and Famous

I’ve been running every day the past 71 days in a row. Sure. Alright. Maybe not always running. Maybe I spent one day standing at a desk while holding a kettleball for an hour. And maybe you counted that day where I visited and we played spikeball for an hour and a half as your exercise. Hey! Spikeball has a lot of sweat and tears! And for you, mostly tears. Look, we can’t all be spikeball ambassadors, which I’m pretty sure is the name of the band that did “Unsteady”. Boy I freaking think this article is unsteady!!!!!!!!!!!!

Joy – Bastille

Going back to those times you call me, I do honestly feel joy when I see your name light up the screen. Thank you. Boy I freaking wish I felt joy writing this article!!!!!!!!! No deflecting allowed on this one. Fine. You’re welcome. It’s fun to talk. It has been a month and a half or so since we talked. You probably should call me. Yeah, but I just got this…

Frail State of Mind – The 1975

We all do. And just like the song says, don’t lie behind your frail state of mind. I’m trying. But I do struggle with “reaching out”, even if I’m great at responding when someone else reaches out. I do not miss the calls like this guy does so obviously I’m healthy. I hope you are. But it’s 10 PM on the start of your three-day weekend, and your only plans for the weekend are to buy a Mother Day’s card and a birthday present for your sister. I need all three days to pick that present out, can’t blame me. We aren’t…

Orphans – Coldplay

Great transition. I wanna know when I can go back and get drunk with my friends. You’ve literally never done that. I was extremely drunk when I performed this for my birthday. No, no you weren’t. Alright, fine, you’re right. I was sober. But whenever I’m outside, I do always think “I wanna know when I can go back and feel home again”. And that’s what this mix CD really is about. It’s not about being unlucky or whatever. It’s about making home where you can. Whether you’re over the moon or under a ladder. Thanks for reading! We have been Q&A! And live from New York! Its time to mix the love!

Intern, has the check cleared *this* time? No, of course not. Drat! Why are we even bothering to put this up? We have literally nothing else in the pipeline. Unless you want to finish that joke piece about a dude who became invincible after jogging for 71 days straight. Look, I’d love to, but I feel like I’d be lying due to those recent days I’ve been jogging indoors. You’d be lying regardless, since you cannot become invincible. That’s what you think. But I’ll prove you wrong one day. Maybe it just takes 15 straight years of blogging to do it. Or 15 straight years of not paying the intern. Great point. Let’s try that out.

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Oh, This Guy is a Gamer!

On virtual tour yet again, standup comedian Johnny Junkland is back with another rip-roaring set of 8-bit comedy that blows all that other 2-bit comedy out of the pixelated water. This time around, Peacock spent the big bucks to acquire the exclusive rights to broadcast, save for one clause in the contract that lets Mr. Junkland publish part of his upcoming script to this website. Thank you, Sir Junkland. But the Pungry is on another website! Ha ha. Without further unskippable cutscenes, please enjoy this exceprt of Junkland’s next special: Oh, This Guy is a Gamer!

Thank you, Mushroom Kingdom! The other day, I was thinking about the geography of the Mushroom Kingdom, and how little sense it dang makes. It makes about as much sense as equipping your mage with Excalibur. Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* But seriously folks. The Mushroom Kingdom has too much room. Or, really, too little. What messed up ecosystem is able to fit a desert land right next to the freaking water land? Oh, don’t you try and tell me about the fertile crescent. I was too busy playing my Game Boy emulator on my phone when that topic came up in Social Studies. Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter*

But it’s not just that, folks. The Mushroom Kingdom is a diaspora. No, I don’t mean diaspora as in “Spore 2”, that’ll never come out. Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* But it’s truly a melting pot that accepts everyone. You got your Toads, of course. They’re ruled by Princess Peach, a human, because Queen Toad Elizabeth still hasn’t been seen coming out of Bowser’s clutches. Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* And if the Mario and Luigi RPG series is to be believed, it hosts a whole bunch of other species in relative comfort. Whether you’re a Hollijolli Village resident, or come from New Donk City, or are in there by way of World 3, when you’re in the Mushroom Kingdom, you’re family. Only, instead of a freakin’ olive garden, it’s a koopa leaf garden! Unlimited Koopasta! Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter*

But, folks, let’s not get distracted. The Koopasta has blooper ink on it, I know, but it’d be a real blooper to miss out on this important message I have. Just like how it’s a real blooper that so many people missed the tutorial pit in the Elden Ring! Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* My point is this: *grabs the Master Sword out of the scabbard on his back* Zuh? How’d this get here? Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* *toss sword into the front row* Don’t try selling that, or you’ll end up with some Rupoors! Anyway, the point is this: the Mushroom Kingdom is diverse. They’ve got Toads, they’ve got Koopas, they’ve got illegitimate claims to the throne, and, yet–unless provoked by an Umbreon using Taunt in Rarely Used–the Mushroom Kingdom thrives in that diversity. Gamers… are the Mushroom Kingdom of society.

But here’s the thing we don’t need that the Mushroom Kingdom has: gamers claiming they’re better than the others. I can hear you all booing, and I know you’re not talking about the fedorable ghosts. Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* Look, my point is this. *pull out another Master Sword from the scabbard* Zuh? How’d this get here? And why’s there a glowing triangle on my hand? Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* Enough fooling around, let’s drop some wisdom down. We need to start respecting all gamers. For every gamer you disrespect, I’ll respect three. And here’s why. Gamers aren’t an oppressed minority. They’re all around us. “Oh,” you might say, “this fella plays Pokemon Legends instead of Elden Ring. He ain’t a gamer!” My friend, it sounds like your elden ideas need to get rung into the new year–Pokemon Legends is a gameriffic game.

And you might say “Oh, well this person plays freakin’ Candy Crush instead of Dragalia Lost!” Well, my friend, I would say that Candy Crush qualifies someone as a gamer. Why? Why not? Why should we have to gatekeep gamerdom like it’s Heliodor Castle! Oh, this guy is a gamer! *pause for laughter* Wordle has proven that gaming is for everyone, and that’s great! So put away your inside jokes for an outdoor, welcoming community. Make the gaming kingdom as big and as welcoming as the Mushroom Kingdom, because, fellas, we got so much room in it.


I believe that is what gamers call cringe. I will continue to gatekeep by refusing to advertise this nonsense because I’m not a gamer.

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