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Guest Reviews: Marlow Briggs and Hatoful Boyfriend

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  • Guest Reviews: Marlow Briggs and Hatoful Boyfriend

    Recently, I bought a bunch of Steam games for a variety of people. Some of the purchases were joke buys, yet others were not. The games mentioned in the reviews below were meant as joke gifts but Total Gaming Network user and frequent visitor to the Team Speak server I and a group of friends hang out on, actually had a blast playing these games. User EdwardMowinckel decided to repay the kindness by writing up his thoughts and feelings on those games.

    What lies below this line is all his work. I'd like to thank Edward for providing Total Gaming Network with these reviews!

    A Jew's Guide to Holiday Gift Receiving
    Marlow Briggs
    Ho ho ho, what does the Jew have to say about the holidays? Well Hanukkah is almost over, but I'm a non-practicing Jew these days, and I view Christmas as December 25th. It's just another day for me, but I do know that people call it the season of giving and giving is something I often do.

    However, recently, TGN's Editor in Chief Shawn Zipay has been in the gift-giving mood, and I've benefitted from that. Zips, not being the generous type, purchased two games for me as a joke, as a laugh. The first game being Hatoful Boyfriend, which if you're unfamiliar with it, is a visual-novel style dating sim where you're the only girl at a school full of birds. Your suitors are all birds. You're not a bird. It's unclear whether the world in which this school resides is a harmonious homo sapien/avian utopia, or if you're the only human girl in the world. There are many questions raised here, but we'll get to that.

    Joke's on Zips. I have more than ten hours logged in to both of these games

    First, let's talk about the second game gifted to me, Marlow Briggs. Marlow Briggs was picked up from the bottom of the Steam sales bin and dusted off, carrying the hefty price tag of ninety-nine cents. In Marlow Briggs, you play as Marlow, who is, as you can tell by his name, an extremely buff black man who has an equally buff job as a smokejumper. A smokejumper is someone who fights wildlife fires on-site, and drops in by parachute. This job actually exists outside of videogames, and is extremely badass. From what the game has established, the only people qualified to be a smokejumper are big burly badass black men. Other people may apply, but if you don't have the four B's, you're out of luck. Our BBBB goes to visit his girlfriend, where she's working at an archeological excavation site in a jungle, helping to translate ancient codexes. Where this jungle is located isn't explained, nor is what's being excavated, but the person for whom she's working is explained. A little bit. If you explained math by saying, "you have three bananas, I take one, and now you have two," you would be explaining math better than Marlow's antagonist is explained. The girlfriend goes to file a complaint about working conditions, and our villain, Long, responds by talking all evil like, and having one of his cronies kill Marlow Briggs. This is not OSHA approved. First, the killing was going to be execution style with a pistol, then our villain decided, "wait no, that's not evil enough. Use that ancient and scary looking scythe we excavated, the one with the creepy mask on it we know nothing about," and our hero is promptly stabbed in the chest. That's literally it. That's our character development. We're not told why this guy is bad, the game needed a plot, and 505 Games wanted to establish evilness quickly, and they did so. We now have incentive not to like this guy. If it doesn't make sense, that's okay. It doesn't make sense to me, either.

    He's evil, we know this because we were told so.

    Game over, man. Marlow is dead. Pack up shop. What more can you expect for less than a dollar? Billy Mays here, but wait, there's more! Marlow's body is left unattended in what looks like a quarry, scythe still sticking out of his chest. Turns out that evil looking scythe was the wrong thing to kill him with! Not only does Marlow end up with what are ostensibly super powers, he also gains a quick-witted sidekick in the form of a talking mask, which was resting on the scythe.

    The first thing you're going to notice about Marlow Briggs is the number of explosions. If the game goes a minute without something exploding, you're not playing. You're just not. You're not touching your keyboard or your controller. The second thing you'll notice is, "hey, this actually handles pretty well. The controls are solid and the combat is...not bad". It's not God of War, it's not going to compete with classic adventure games like Okami, but it's good, and fun.

    This is the first explosion. It's not the last as the game seldom goes more than a minute without something exploding.

    You'll keep playing, and you'll think, "Oh, this game doesn't look bad, either." It's not Farcry 4, it's not even Skyrim, hell it's comparable to Oblivion, but Oblivion doesn't look bad. Play more, and you'll get a grip on the combat, not only is it not bad, it's fun. It's enjoyable. There's no new ground broken, but Marlow Briggs did not set out to revolutionize gaming, and it doesn't. What it does manage to do is be a game that's described as "God of War like," only this time "God of War like" is not an insult. It's like God of War in that it's fun.

    There are four primary weapons, all unlocked as you play through the game. The standard weapon, the two handed scythe is the middle ground, it's not the fastest weapon, or the strongest, but it has its uses. Dual wielded dagger-type weapons, which are fast and don't do a lot of damage. A chain-whip with a sharp pointy bit at the end that has a long range at the expense of the damage it deals, and I'll let you discover the last weapon for yourself. All of these weapons handle well, and are unique. You'll find yourself switching between weapons based on the circumstance, as they all have strengths and weaknesses, and each has a multitude of combos to memorize. It's entirely possible to beat the game by mashing X, X, X, X, X, but you'll get more out of the game if you start memorizing combos, and using them when needed. None of them are for show, they all work well, different combos have unique strengths and weaknesses, and there are a lot of different combos. When you memorize a new one, you'll still be using the old ones. Later on, a magic system is introduced, and Marlow eventually ends up with four elemental attacks, some of which cause explosions. Again, these are all unique, and useful. Some use way more of your mana than others do, but the ones that use 1/20th of your mana, and the ones that use 1/2 of it can be best utilized in different situations.

    The combat is surprisingly good, and the environments equally surprisingly varied.

    So, yeah, the gameplay is good, but what about the story? Remember the made-for-TV movies that used to air on the USA Network at 3PM on a Sunday? It's on par with that. But it knows this, it takes the piss out of itself just enough that it stays funny. It's not an emo kids blog where every entry is "I hate my life and I'm terrible, going to go soon, please like if you don't want me to kill myself". It doesn't take itself down at every opportunity, it's just the right amount. After one particularly drab sequence, our quick-witted mask sidekick asks "Who designed that?!". During one sequence, you're inside a massive ship, and over the PA system, Marlow's antagonist tells his henchmen that dying is no longer allowed. Remember, he's evil, because the game said so. Over the same intercom, he also suggests to Marlow that he stop making everything explode.

    The cast of enemies you fight is varied, with the game taking you from jungles (which look surprisingly good), to interiors of buildings and giant vessels, and each environment brings a new suite of enemies. There are stationary turret sequences, wherein the goal seems to be cause as many explosions as you can in a brief period. These sections usually last under a minute, don't overstay their welcome, and are infrequent enough that they don't get old. It also sprinkles in some reflex based press left or right to dodge events, which are usually so visually intense you won't notice you're playing a variation of Frogger.

    Throughout, Marlow Briggs is riddled with over-the-top action sequences and stylized cutscenes, in a variety of environments. It's all... good. It's not great, but it's good. It's the videogame version of fast food. It's cheap, it's easy, but if we're honest with ourselves, sometimes a trip to Dairy Queen followed by a visit to KFC to wash it down with a Double Down hits the spot, only Marlow Briggs doesn't come with any post meal regrets. It's a dollar, and it's a ten-hour experience that's well worth a dollar. Hell, it's worth ten dollars, if you pay the full $15 price for it, you wouldn't be let down. My only big gripe with the game is that some of the platforming sequences can be tricky due to lame jumping mechanics, but even then, the longest I was stuck on a platforming section is about five minutes. There's also some Quick Time Events (thanks, Shenmue) where the button you're supposed to press is tucked away in a corner of the screen, and it's easy to miss amidst the two explosions every second.

    It's the videogame version of this, only it's cheaper and better for you. I would rather have Marlow Briggs than a KFC Double Down. (Image by Michael Saechang on Flickr)

    It's ten hours of quality over the top B game fun. Moreover, right now, it's a dollar. If you have a dollar in your Steam wallet or on your credit card, give it a whirl. Marlow Briggs has inadvertently tried to hide the fact that it's a good game with over-the-top absurdity that a 14 year old male would think is cool (14 year old note: needs more boobs), but once you get past that, you end up with a witty satire on action games that's actually fun to play.

    Buy it. Buy it now. Buy it for someone you love. Buy it for someone you hate. They'll think it's a joke and never play it, but joke is on them, because it's actually pretty damn good.

    Hatoful Boyfriend
    The first game that was mentioned many moons ago in this article is Hatoful Boyfriend, which is a game that piqued my interest when I heard about it. I did not believe it, I could not fathom this being a thing, then I was told it's Japanese, and everything made sense. If you're not familiar with Hatoful Boyfriend, it's a visual novel style dating sim where you're the only girl at a prestigious school for birds. Like, that fly. With wings. That are physically attached to them. And they have beaks.

    That's our stage. The game starts with an introduction to the school, St. Piegeonations, the school describes itself as "The most splendid and greatest academy of the pigeon, by the pigeon, and for the pigeon.", and you, a young girl, are attending. The first suitor you meet is your longtime friend, Ryouta, who is the typical anime high school student. Kind of funny, kind of awkward, kind of popular but still a bit of a dork, active in sports, gets decent grades, generally a slacker, but can be motivated when it means being kind to others, and ultimately loveable. Also, he's a bird.

    He's totally a bird. You're not. But he's a bird and you're thinking about gettin' with that.

    I really don't want to spoil anything, because this is something you want to go into knowing as little about as possible. The game has a large cast of characters, and 16 different endings. You can end up courting the teacher, the doctor, the nerdy guy in the library, the sassy girl, or any of the other main cast.

    If the endings were all rosy and sugary sweet, if Hatoful Boyfriend was just a normal visual novel, only you were trying to go out with a bird, and not another person, it'd be a novelty. It'd be something that blipped on the radar, and was forgotten as that weird game from Japan that somehow got an English translation. While it is a novelty, it has become more than a blip on the radar. The endings are unique; the different story paths are wildly varied. The situations this young girl gets herself into would be creepy if she did not get into them with birds.

    It's not absurd in a scene girl who quotes Invader Zim kind of way. At almost every turn, Hatoful Boyfriend leaves you going "what?", while making you curious enough to see how deep this rabbit hole goes, and it goes quite deep. Each play through takes about an hour, and there are sixteen different endings. It's very hard not to be curious about the multitude of endings. Once you've unlocked a few endings, the scene is truly set. After one play through, it sprinkles enough mystery on you to play it again, and get a different ending. The more endings you see, the clearer the picture of this school gets, and unravelling that mystery is quite compelling. The more it shows you the mystery scab, the more you want to pick at it.

    After the first ending I saw, where I hopped on a motorcycle to start a new life with my avian boyfriend, I wanted to see more. The more I saw, the more I wanted to see. Hatoful Boyfriend manages to stay cleverly written throughout, doing a great job of making a translation from Japanese to English look bad, but it hits all the translatable hiccups at just the right spots. During my seventh play through, I knew an eighth was immediately inbound.

    A tip: Don't eat what the cafeteria is serving. Pack your own lunch. Another tip: If you have $7.50 and want to sit around with your friends and collectively go "what?", immediately followed by "I have to see more." Go ahead, give it a whirl. The game is enjoyable by yourself, but its absurdity is best enjoyed with friends.

    Related Information
    Title: Hatoful Boyfriend and Marlow Briggs
    Platforms: Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita (Reviewed on PC)
    ESRB Rating: N/A

    Title: Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death
    Platforms: Windows, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on PC)
    ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+ for violence, blood, gore, partial nudity, and strong language