Gaining Focus: The Mandalorian 1.2

The second episode of The Mandalorian, titled “The Child,” was more focused than the first and benefited greatly from this. There are only a handful of characters with speaking lines, most of them indistinguishable Jawas, and of the three primary characters, one doesn’t talk at all. There was a good deal of action, which typically propelled the plot forward instead of feeling extraneous. And the story being told was simple enough: the Mandalorian needs to deliver his quarry. The Mandalorian’s ship has been stripped down by scavengers, and he needs to retrieve the parts. In fulfilling the objectives of recovering his parts and repairing his ship, he learns some pretty interesting things about his current “captive,” and he spends more time bonding with the gruff, wizened old Ugnaught pioneer, Kuiil.

Pedro Pascal is really managing to pull off a lot behind a helmet and full body armor. His character is gradually seeming like, well, a full character, instead of just a cardboard cutout of a gunslinger. We don’t know a lot yet, but he seems like a weird combination of violent and vulnerable. I still don’t know the character well enough, but at least the series seems committed to developing him. It’s Kuiil, played by Nick Nolte, who’s the truly engaging character so far. He’s incredibly resourceful, his past is more than a little bit intriguingly mysterious, and he also possesses a fair amount of compassion and wisdom. It’s too bad that it seems like the Mandalorian is leaving Kuiil behind on his journey, though they at least part on amicable terms.

The show is doing some interesting things with this bounty target. Things that I wouldn’t expect to happen so quickly. We might have some answers about the first-episode surprise coming at us quicker than I expected, answers that could have some wild and weird implications for the larger galaxy far, far away. Given that the first episode only came out earlier this same week, I don’t feel comfortable discussing this much further just yet. But suffice it to say, the show appears to be aiming at something more unique than episodic sequences of the Mandalorian Man With No Name snapping up quarry and shooting through obstacles. I think I’m now on board with this show–at least, I’m very eager to see what happens next!

War Criminals: The Mandalorian 1.1

I watched the first episode of The Mandalorian last night, and I’m finding that my opinion seems to conform to a pretty common set of reactions. I thought it captured the atmosphere of certain elements of the nineties Expanded Universe, for better and worse. I enjoyed watching an episode of television that was less than an hour in length, though I felt like it dragged on a bit, meaning I suppose that the show was effectively contained to a narrow time limit but wasn’t economical with its storytelling within that time. At the end of the episode, it felt like a fun adventure, but I also had very little idea of the characters or the overarching plot. The surprise revelation at the end truly was surprising, and it raises a lot of questions, but it has me more baffled than excited.

But after so recently re-reading Tales of the Bounty Hunters, I’m in the mood for more of The Mandalorian. I’m certainly willing to stick with it for at least a few more episodes to see where it goes and what it’s trying to do (then again, there are only eight episodes in the first season, so it’d be easy enough to watch it all).

If there’s something that stands out to me so far, besides the old Legends callbacks, it’s the setting. Set five years after the fall of the Empire, we’re in a time period that’s relatively unexplored within the new continuity. There are certainly echoes of the Imperial Remnant’s splinter factions and warlords from the old Expanded Universe, but I was especially intrigued by how much the show seemed to be reflecting narratives about the post-World War II era. I get that people are amused by the absurdity of a Serious Auteur like Werner Herzog delivering lines about Mandalorian beskar (and forgive me, but I can’t claim to have even the slightest familiarity with his oeuvre), though I instead found it striking to see an older gentleman with a German accent, draped in an ornamental costume and wearing a flashy medallion from his fallen Empire, negotiating for an illicit operation to abduct or kill a target with the promise of payment in ingots of a rare metal collected from a people subjected to a purge by his former military authorities. The Galactic Empire has always relied on a visual language that evokes Space Nazis, but there has been a gradual ramping up in the obviousness of that imagery over time. The First Order is draped in Nazi-esque fascist iconography, and it’s a common observation that the movement of Hux and Kylo Ren feels more than a little like the real-world resurgence of far-right movements across the globe. In The Mandalorian, the Imperial holdouts we’ve seen so far are like Nazi war criminals in hiding in the decades following the end of the war. This progression from aggressive fascist empire to scattered war criminals operating underground to a seething resurgence maps up with real-world developments all too well.

I wonder if this theme will tie in more directly to the developing plot. For now, anything else is pure speculation.

The Verdict: Bone Wars

Seems every time I claim there won’t be a change to my posting frequency, that’s exactly what happens. Consider last week’s missing post an anomaly, though–it’s been a busy month, and not just with the new job and new volunteer role. In just over a month, Sam and I have been to two weddings and participated in several more social events than I’m used to. It’s been fun but time-consuming, and we’re both just tired now!

Honestly, the most fun I’ve had in a long while was just yesterday. We went to “The Verdict: The Bone Wars” at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. It was an adults-only night of food, drinks, live entertainment, and dinosaurs. The “live entertainment” portion was a mock trial, presented by local attorneys and actors, that addressed the rivalry of paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh in the 1870s. If you were trying to find a more perfect confluence of subjects that were more in line with my interests, it would be difficult: history, paleontology, and law, all accompanied by as much delicious food and as many strong cocktails as I could want.

While there wasn’t a real trial to replicate, the ridiculous antics of the friends-turned-rivals provided more than enough fodder for this reenacted dispute. That said, and while it’s all in good fun, I was surprised that the audience ultimately found for Cope, here in the role of plaintiff in a lawsuit for libel, when there wasn’t all that much evidence presented (within the mock trial) that Marsh actually published anything clearly libelous. The central complaint, his continued mockery of Cope’s reversal of the Elasmosaurus reconstruction, seemed quite firmly rooted in fact. And both men were involved in enough skulduggery and field site dynamiting. I think people just felt sorry for Cope!

What was also cool was that the reception and after-party events were hosted in the museum’s “Dinosphere,” so we could wander around and look at the fossil displays. It’s been years since I was last there. Friendly and informative staff were on hand; I learned a little bit about fossil prep and storage, and even a little sauropod anatomy, from a paleontologist working in a display lab on site, and I learned about developments in fossil reconstructions and displays, as well as future plans for the Dinosphere in light of the Mission Jurassic project, from a museum exhibit interpreter. Plus, the Extraordinary Scientists-in-Residence for Mission Jurassic answered audience questions and provided their perspectives on paleontology past and present after the mock trial ended. So it was all really informative and entertaining!

This was the second year for “The Verdict,” and while the use of a paleontology theme is just a one-off, Sam and I are both very interested in attending future years’ Verdict events.

I’m in a particular dinosaur-focused mood now, so I’m rather eager to get to some books that I’ve been sitting on. There’s Donald Prothero’s The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries: Amazing Fossils and the People Who Found Them, a library hold waiting in my pile of books; Brian Switek’s My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, And Our Favorite Dinosaurs, unread in my own personal collection; and Michael Crichton’s posthumously published Dragon Teeth (which just so happens to be about the Bone Wars), a book I keep meaning to get around to but haven’t bothered to obtain yet. We’ll see when and if I get around to them all, though.

Revisiting the Tales of the Bounty Hunters

Well, I’m a day late, and it’s just a book review, but I think you have to agree that a Star Wars review is pretty standard for this blog! I think I want to talk a little more about the bounty hunters in another post, especially regarding how they’ve changed in their depictions between Legends and the Disney canon. But that can wait for another day. For now, my review of Tales of the Bounty Hunters, which I’d last read well over a decade ago, follows.

Tales of the Bounty Hunters (Star Wars)Tales of the Bounty Hunters by Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I returned to Tales of the Bounty Hunters partly out of nostalgia, but partly because I’d rather enjoyed the other Tales that I’ve rediscovered in adulthood. On finishing, I was surprised to find that my original rating for this collection, based on childhood recollections, was pretty honest; I haven’t altered that rating. The stories are good, extrapolating from our brief glimpse of Empire‘s bounty hunters into full adventures that are generally interesting, though rarely emotionally investing.

The wildest part to me was realizing that “Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88,” by Kevin J. Anderson, was nowhere as good as I remembered it. There was no way that it could be; I remembered it as a high-concept piece about artificial intelligence, droid rights, relative morality, and a fight for liberty. It’s…not that. I can see how the basic story of IG-88’s silent droid revolution allowed me to imagine these larger, richer themes; it stoked the fires of my young imagination, even if it didn’t really execute such an epic story. IG-88 is an assassin droid; it thinks it’s better than organics, so it’s going to kill them all. It thinks droid independence is vital, but it’s quite happy to overwrite other assassin droids to transplant its personality, and it views an override code that will launch a galactic-wide droid revolution as an essential part of its plan. IG-88 never seems to even consider that its own quest for independence is really a blood-stained path to change one oppressor (organics in general) to another (IG-88 in particular). I think that IG-88’s vanity and arrogance are intended to be part of the story, but since we’re largely limited to its perspective and that of a generic Imperial bureaucrat villain, there’s not much effort to really emphasize the hypocrisy of the droid’s plans. And so much of the story is couched in Ultra-Cool 90s Grittiness, with hyper-violent deaths, a mechanized factory world, the aforementioned generic villain, and mostly shoot-’em-up exploits that all feel more like the plot to a video game or very of-its-era comic book than a Star Wars story. I’m still amused that IG-88 ultimately decides to become the Death Star II; like its other copies, its perceived strength is a false image of arrogance, and it fails in its moment of triumph, rather like a certain Emperor occupying the halls of its final battle station form.

There’s a story for each bounty hunter, though, and IG-88’s just the first. “Payback: The Tale of Dengar,” by Dave Wolverton, attempts to make Dengar cool. His central motivation is revenge: revenge against Han Solo, who inadvertently caused him to crash in a swoop bike race, and revenge against the Empire, which used his swoop accident as an excuse to perform super-soldier experiments on his maimed body, erasing most of his emotions and augmenting him considerably. The story was engaging for me, with a lot of 007-esque action, but the central conceit is basically that Dengar is able to find himself in the love of a woman, and that’s a tired trope. It’s sort of interesting that he’s able to find happiness when he essentially rejects a form of toxic masculinity that narrows the emotional spectrum to rage–here applied through the dual science-fiction elements of hyper-advanced surgeries that can precisely cut out specific emotions and of an advanced, pacifistic culture that has developed devices that allow shared emotional experiences. His dream girl can literally allow him to feel how she feels about him. It’s certainly not winning any awards for progressive narrative, but this plot element did provide for a clear arc for Dengar. And it ends with Dengar recovering Boba Fett from near the Sarlacc, rejecting revenge against the man who betrayed him twice, and asking the Mandalorian super-commando to be his best man at a wedding, so there’s that. (By the way, the more I think about it, the more that this story feels like the Star Wars version of Casino Royale, just with a happy ending).

“The Prize Pelt: The Tale of Bossk,” by Kathy Tyers, proved to be my favorite story, though I didn’t remember it that strongly. Partially I enjoyed it as a continuation of the story of armament-company-heiress-turned-bounty-hunter Tinian, who appeared first in another short story by Tyers that was collected in Tales from the Empire. Tyers clearly enjoyed writing Tinian and Chenlambec, providing this story with perhaps the most heart and soul of any in the anthology. But I also enjoyed it because it’s got convoluted plans, with crosses and double-crosses and backup options galore, and because Bossk isn’t provided some redeeming narrative like most of the other characters–nor is he made to be “cool.” Bossk is played up as an evil dude, a vile serial killer who hunts other sentients for fun. We want Bossk to be defeated in the end, and he’s dangerous enough that points in the story are truly scary and nerve-wracking.

“Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM,” by M. Shayne Bell, was another story I was fond of as a kid, but it held up better than I expected. Look, I’ll admit that part of what I loved about it was that two of the protagonists shared the surname Farr (hey, that’s my name!), and they were both intimately involved in the Battle of Hoth, which always fascinated me. Now, though, I can appreciate the story for its incredible weirdness. Zuckuss has his own elaborate alien culture, barely touched on, and a desperate motivation to earn enough credits to repair or replace his oxygen-damaged lungs. 4-LOM was a simple protocol droid who overrode his own programming over time through twisted logic to become first a master thief and then a bounty hunter; he continues to test the bounds of his programming, and he’s actually partnered with Zuckuss because he hopes to learn the art of intuition from his companion. His biggest ambition is to somehow learn to use the Force. Meanwhile, Toryn Farr (whom you may know as the background female officer who was one of the last to stay behind in the Echo Base control room) struggles with being thrust into a leadership situation in a crisis, balancing the needs of the crew with her protectiveness for her seriously wounded snowspeeder pilot sister, Samoc. While Legends wouldn’t let Zuckuss and 4-LOM have the fate suggested at the end of this story, “Of Possible Futures” ends with them joining up as legitimate members of the Rebellion. I love not just the expansion of so many background characters, but the sheer amount of wild and weird. It’s sad to me that we never got more of Toryn and Samoc.

Finally, the last story is “The Last One Standing: The Tale of Boba Fett,” by Daniel Keys Moran. This one still gets discussed in some fandom circles as one of the great Boba Fett stories. It’s fine. Fett is a dispassionate killer, and apparently an ugly man. He’s devoted to the concept of Justice, but he’s perfectly fine with extrajudicial murder, even for lesser offenses like smuggling. He views a good deal of sex as immoral. He’s a prude with a laser gun. There’s an especially awkward scene where Jabba sends Leia to his room, and he promises to leave her untouched, safe in his chambers, for the night; they have a brief moral discussion in which his incomprehensible values are stated as obvious truths. It reads as the ultimate fanboy stand-in: so close to the beautiful Leia Organa, possessing great power over her in a sexually compromising situation, and choosing to be the Noble Gentleman who promises not to lay a finger on her. Frankly, it’s a weird scene to me because I see no reason why, in the fiction of Star Wars, Leia ever had to be at any sort of risk of sexual assault, and I’d believe she could fight or talk her way out of any such situation anyway, so painting her as so vulnerable (and, in this scene, scared) is just downright uncomfortable. That all said, I did like the later sections of the story, as Fett deals with his traumas and wounds as he continues to hunt in old age, finding himself at the very end in a standoff with an equally exhausted Han Solo. The standoff cliffhanger ending, with its ambiguous outcome, is interesting, but I think we all know a character like Solo would never be killed off-screen, in or out of Legends. I think I can see how a story that attempted to provide a background and personality to Fett was so well-regarded at the time, but it hasn’t aged well.

In all, I think I mostly prefer the new canon versions of the characters. But the stories were still mostly enjoyable. Unless you are guided by nostalgia, like myself, I think you can pass over a purchase of the book, used or otherwise, and instead pick it up from the library to check out the tales of Bossk, Zuckuss, and 4-LOM.

View all my reviews

Hellier

I’ve mentioned The Spooktator before. It’s a smart and funny podcast that explores the paranormal from a news and pop culture angle, with a decidedly skeptical bent. It’s also the only podcast I’ve continued to listen to with any sort of dependability, though I’m often weeks or months behind. I just caught up on several episodes (which covered a good portion of 2019), and in so doing, I heard several references to the documentary series Hellier.

In Season 4, Episode 4 (“Frogman and the Vampire Hunter“), they briefly allude to Hellier in relation to the Loveland Frogman (9:54 to 12:20). One of the hosts, Hayley Stevens, remarks, “I think Hellier is definitely worth watching if you have the time,” although she notes that it’s a bit too long and drawn-out. That was enough for me to seek the show out, available as it is on Amazon Prime.

Hellier is not the type of show I’d normally watch. Its basic premise is that a paranormal investigative team attempts to find goblins in Hellier, Kentucky, that are roughly reminiscent of the fantastical descriptions of the monsters in the Hopkinsville case. It’s such a ridiculous premise that I normally wouldn’t seek it out, wouldn’t even find it, and certainly wouldn’t watch it. And so much of the five-episode series is obvious bunk, but it makes for compelling television because of the unintentional insights into true-believer paranormal enthusiasts. What starts as a monster hunt quickly devolves into an intimate examination of a small group of fringe thinkers who struggle to piece together a compelling narrative that they can star in, even as all the evidence collapses around them. There is so much to observe about how people dig deeper into fringe beliefs, how they frame their identities around those beliefs, and how we can all grasp for greater meaning and connection in disparate events.

Stevens also wrote a review of Hellier on her blog. I didn’t get around to reading the review until after watching the show, but I would recommend starting there before you decide whether to view the over-long chronicle of these investigators’ misadventures yourself. She does a better recap than I would, anyway, and I don’t want to merely repeat the same critiques here.

That said, there are a few points that I took away from the series.

  1. To rational thinkers and those familiar with scientific investigation, it is clear that correlation does not equal causation; coincidences do not indicate any deeper meaning than what we read into them. But apparently, fringe thinkers have invested in ideas like synchronicity: when they see small coincidences, they look to them for greater meaning. They will even try to force meaning from disparate events, if they can find a way to connect them, no matter how strained.
  2. On a similar note, fringe thinkers are willing and eager to find evidence in non-evidence. A lack of evidence, or even evidence that contradicts a claim, can mean to them that shadowy forces are attempting to misdirect them. Rather than stepping away from a fringe theory, they double down in the face of an evidentiary void.
  3. Random occurrences are channeled into a broader, overarching theory. It’s not enough to believe in ghosts, extraterrestrial invaders, Bigfoot, or goblins; they must all somehow be connected, at least if you’ve invested in paranormal ideas as a true believer for long enough. When you go to a small town to find goblins, and it turns out that no one there has ever heard of any, but many people have tall tales of UFOs and Bigfoot sightings and recent footprints of prehistoric birds and even caves with the eerie cries of phantom babies, then the goblins must somehow be manifestations of the other sightings, or the goblins must be part of a misinformation campaign meant to get the team into the area to investigate the other stuff (or to just go off on their own and try to psychically contact the source of all this stuff). The team seems to need to fill the unknown with the known, even if they have to manufacture knowing. They turn chaos into order.
  4. These investigators are incredibly credulous. Even in the first episode, it was obvious to me that the goblins story recounted by their anonymous contact was a hoax. The photographs of prints looked like they could have been produced by gorilla gloves; the blurry night-time photos showed nothing at all, but the investigators were quick to etch out imagined outlines of glowing grey aliens. For much of the series, they clung to the belief that their contact was real, not a pseudonym for a hoaxer, even as evidence mounted that no one with that name ever set foot anywhere near Hellier. (And they trusted a second contact because that guy mostly wrote things that reminded them of The Mothman Prophecies and obscure occult essays.) Things they should have done before even considering a trip to the town, like contacting local records departments or attempting to back-trace IP addresses, are saved for when they become increasingly desperate in Hellier. And at every turn, the mounting body of evidence indicates that the events were a complete and total hoax, an effort by some prankster to draw them out and waste their time. As Stevens notes in her review regarding the use of a particular “experiment” performed by the team, much of what occurs merely serves as “further opportunity for the investigators to interpret randomness as meaningful.”
  5. There are some great stories that come out of these weird investigations. I knew that already, of course; it’s why I continue to loosely follow paranormal news despite believing in none of it. But I still found the goblin story that started this all to be rather creepy and well-told. The eventual ideas brought to the investigation by the team (something reminiscent of the Men in Black, occult codes, cosmic intention guiding their actions, interdimensional beings slipping in and out of our reality in a variety of guises) are fascinating sci-fi/fantasy concepts in turn. And the show’s conclusion, where the researchers walk away empty-handed, with no insights after much weirdness, feels rather like an existentialist revision to a Lovecraftian tale. The great cosmic forces at work are too big to even glimpse, grasp, imagine, let alone be driven mad by. It’s too bad that they don’t leave these ideas in the realm of fiction, that they instead believe in them and want us to believe, too.

That all said, I’ll probably watch when Season 2 comes out.

 

Review: Cat Quest

Of the three quirky indie games I’ve played recently on the Nintendo Switch, Cat Quest (developed by Singapore-based Gentlebros) is by far the longest experience. That doesn’t mean it’s the best, of course, but it does mean that this is a game that I can return to over time. It helps that, despite the RPG-norm grinding, it feels airy, light, and casual, rather than consuming, endless, and bloated. I remain engaged, maybe a little addicted, to this oddball title. If I had to guess, I think I’m about two-thirds of the way through the main story, having completed a huge bundle of side quests and explored many dungeons; if the suggested level of one of the isolated island dungeons is any indication, leveling to the needs of the main quest is more of a floor than a ceiling. (As usual, I’m so behind the times that I’m getting to this 2017 game just around the time that its sequel has released.)

In Cat Quest, you are a cat. On a quest. In the most generic of RPG stories, your sister is captured by an evil villain, and you set out to save her and put a stop to his plans. Turns out that you have a special heritage and destiny, too, because this game lives on RPG tropes. You’re a Dragonblood, the most recent in a storied line of dragonslayers (yes, there are a lot of homages to Skyrim, among plenty of other pop culture mainstays). While the game isn’t quite a satire of these tired conventions, it does have a lot of fun lampshading them and laughing at itself.

71494010_10157873458706518_1034331264221446144_o

As I referenced, the game is obsessed with pop culture references. Your mileage may vary, but I didn’t get a lot of amusement out of them. Most of the references amounted to a sort of Family Guy-style allusion or simple parody, where the joke is simply getting the reference. Among other things, The Elder ScrollsStar Wars, Santa Claus, Arthurian myth, the Tomb Raider games, Game of Thrones, Lovecraftian horror, The Lion King, Robin Hood and medieval myth and legend, and even Santa Claus get references. The best of these references, to me, are ones that go with a lame cat pun.

There are a lot of lame cat puns. Some are kind of fun. Many are painfully bad. When you play a game called Cat Quest, you’d better hope that there will be cat puns.

71484814_10157873458716518_7584945182840193024_o

The game itself is fairly simple to play. Most of the game is spent on the overworld map. Exceptions are fairly small dungeons, which load mini-levels to “explore” down railroaded paths. It plays a little like a pared-down Zelda-alike at first, with you mostly pressing one button to swipe at enemies and another button to roll out of range of their telegraphed attacks (always indicated by a darkening red hit radius). You even have a pseudo-annoying pixie-ish “guardian spirit” sidekick to speak for your silent protagonist. Over time, you collect more and more spells and special abilities, which are toggled by additional buttons. I’ve only collected enough spells to fill out my mapped buttons, but while I haven’t had to be selective with spell choices yet, I have found that simply managing four spells plus the melee attack and dodge makes every tiny battle fairly dynamic and fun. Spells use mana, and mana is recharged by melee attacks. Enemies tend to be weak to a particular spell type or physical attack. Combining attacks while rolling out of enemy barrages is sometimes easy and sometimes hectic, especially when you’re suddenly surrounded by enemies. Virtually every battle is fast-paced yet manageable, with strong visual communication of what is happening at all times. Death doesn’t cost you much, so if you do find a challenge in which you are overwhelmed (and fail to turn tail and run quickly enough), there’s very little setback.

A lot of the quests orient around going from one place to another to kill monsters or collect items. Item collection is mostly triggered by reaching a certain point on the map, which is fairly dumbed-down but also makes fetch quests a lot less painful than usual. Some of the quests have interesting little stories, though they’re all heavily drawing from fantasy tropes and common RPG story beats. There are no conversation trees or branching quest paths here (outside of literal divergences in a physical path to a location). It’s all basically an excuse to go around fighting things while exploring more and more of the overworld. Improving in abilities and equipment is almost an afterthought–you run over XP and coins scattered across the land or dropped by enemies, and you collect equipment upgrades from chests. There’s a handful of different armor and weapon types, and whether using a blacksmith or completing a dungeon, equipment drops are randomized. If you get more equipment of a given type that you’ve already collected, this manifests as increased stats for that particular item. So while you’re progressing and improving, it never feels like work to do so; everything feeds back into the simple fun of the combat.

The oddball humor, fight mechanics, focused and honed simplicity, and even bright and colorful visuals remind me in many ways of Japanese indie game Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale, and not in a bad way at all. Both games don’t try to be everything; both offer subversions and reinterpretations of fantasy tropes. I think that Recettear pushed the envelope a little further (the idea of running an item shop, stepping into the role of an NPC for any other game, offered a great deal of novelty), but the cute cat characters, open world, and silly puns of Cat Quest, and the lack of shrieking, “cutesy” anime characters, puts this feline RPG at a higher rank in my book.

Cat Quest is pretty, cute, addictive, and fun. It’s not a deep RPG. It’s not one of the greatest games I’ve ever played. But it’s easy to pick up, inviting, and enjoyable–whether I’m playing for a long session or a short one. Playing on a mobile device (or in the Switch handheld mode, which I’ve enjoyed), it would be a perfect option for a quick pick-up-and-play title to fill a commute or while away a Sunday afternoon.

Review: Untitled Goose Game

Untitled Goose Game (developed by indie studio House House) is a small game wherein you are a goose. As said goose, you do what geese are known to do: act like a total dick to everyone around you. You hurtle yourself through a small town, honking and flapping and smashing and stealing on your way. You make people miserable and sow chaos. You pull pranks and cause mischievous, and sometimes unintentional, petty harms. Your grand goal at the end of the game is to tear down a model village tower just so you can drag a shiny bell back across town to drop in your hoard of shiny bells in your swampy home.

72256849_10157873446131518_8182935648420757504_o.jpg

Untitled Goose Game is an absolute delight. The instrumental music is playful and dynamic. The townspeople’s reactions are amusing to observe. It’s fun to test what exactly you can do in each part of town, to see how different combinations of interactions lead to divergent results. The game is consistent and logical, and while you can’t always predict what will happen, you can count on a consistent result when using the game’s mechanics in a similar situation. It’s part puzzle game (where the puzzles are logical and intuitive and delightful to solve), part stealth game (where getting caught is part of the chaotic fun, and where the worst penalty is simply being chased a bit away by an annoyed villager), part sandbox (where destruction and recombination reign), and part peaceful afternoon jaunt.

It took me a single Saturday to play through the entire game, completing every item on every to-do list, including the bonus challenges, the timed runs, and the claiming and donning of the final prize. I enjoyed virtually every moment of it. There was only one point where I had to look something up, and reading the first sentence of a summary in the search results was enough for me to go, “Oh, DUH! Of COURSE,” and promptly take off to complete the task. Even the timed runs were far more fun than frustrating; whereas most of the game was remixing actions to accomplish tasks, now it was remixing task completions such that the results would blend together to enable a successful sub-six-minute completion of a zone. I had to reset a lot to get the time completions of each zone right (resetting is just a reality of even attempting the in-game speed-run challenges), but resetting just restored order to the clutter and placed me at the starting area of a contained zone. Testing ways to move through a level and complete tasks was some of the most fun and challenging experimentation that I had in this wild waterfowl’s lab.

71518988_10157873449141518_6515272470985965568_o.jpg

Even aside from the tasks, it is so joyful and often truly peaceful to simply explore the town. You can just observe the townsfolk moving about. The colors and shapes and textures are soothing. The townsfolk all have evocative personalities, even with the simple bodies and blank faces that encourage the dickish goose personality. Really, very little encouragement is needed to be a massive ass of a goose. It’s fun to pick things up, to toss them about or run off with them, to honk and flap and run and swim. As an example: after a brief tutorial that gets you out of your home with your small set of moves and across a small pond into the village, you are confronted with a picnic spread on a bench; I immediately grabbed up the sandwich and tossed it into the water, just because I could, and there was an immediate jolt of internal positive feedback–yes, this is good, do more of this, the animal part of my brain said. This is all the more remarkable because I hate playing as bad or evil characters in most games; doing evil things, causing harm to even virtual innocents, makes me uncomfortable. But I delighted in my small, and ultimately harmless, torments of the villagers.

I haven’t had such a relaxing and fun weekend evening in a long while. I highly recommend this game!