by Luv Mehta
Welcome to State of Media Consumption: January + February edition! I missed out on writing the January edition last month because there were a lot of things going on and I had other articles I had wanted to write, and February was mostly spent playing a single game.
Just in case you're new to this series, I generally write an article every month recording the new (and old) stuff I’m watching, playing or listening to, and I’m doing it in a series of monthly articles. I’ll write some quick notes about the old stuff I went back to in the first section (Repeat Value), before getting into the new stuff (...The New Stuff).
Because a lot of it ends up being games, I think I'll split the article by medium from now on, to avoid direct comparisons through ranking.
Boys n The Hood
I haven't been watching movies for a very long while, and I had tried to keep myself motivated by joining a movie-watching group. Last month, the movie to watch was one I had already seen previously, which was a slightly easier task to do than watching something new. So, I rewatched Boys n The Hood.
Boys n The Hood is a coming-of-age story centered on a cast of characters in a black neighbourhood in the US, and is focused on the difficult circumstances they face while growing up, like gang violence, drug problems and poverty. A lot of the problems are implicitly mentioned as being because of institutional racism in the US, and I hadn't really understood that when I watched it a long while ago.
I still like it, but it got me thinking more about the type of movies I watch and the kind of communal dynamics I generally see in movies. There are only two peripheral characters in Boys n The Hood, and the causes of racism and gentrification aren't really explored much beyond a fantastic scene with Laurence Fishburne. Maybe I'm being unfair - it's probably extremely obvious to people in the US and they didn't really write a bunch of scenes informing foreigners about the dynamics of their societal issues, and I did understand it now because US media has tackled it in so many places.
And I don't really see many Indian movies that tackle our societal dynamics and problems in a way all these movies do. A lot of it is because of the people who are generally given the chance to write and direct movies, with all of them generally being rich and upper caste, and whatever the characters do end up being informed by those outlooks (like how we have an weirdly high amount of popular classic Hindi movies centered on extremely posh boarding schools).
Anyway, movie still good.
The New Stuff
Akaihaato x Haachama
I wrote an article about the strange phenomenon of V-Tubers last month, and specifically talked about a V-Tuber named Haachama, who was doing a lot of chaotic experimentation through her streams. Two weeks after my article, she took the experimentation even further, creating a whole arc out of two personalities that might be long-lost twin sisters, split personalities, both or neither, resulting in one of the most interesting livestream storylines I've ever seen.
To recap what I had written previously, V-Tubers generally adopt some sort of personality, similar to wrestlers and their keyfabe, and Haachama was previously known as Akai Haato, a fairly pure high school idol personality who was written and performed as a Tsundere (a fairly popular anime trope referring to people who act prickly with affection but are secretly affectionate themselves). Towards the beginning of 2020, Haato drastically altered her own personality and started calling herself Haachama, with her content being bafflingly chaotic and unsettling. A lot of people jokingly referred to this new direction by saying that Haachama was a separate person from Haato altogether, and Haachama occasionally referenced this meme herself.
At the beginning of February, Haachama suddenly started a Minecraft stream without much prior notice, speaking in a much calmer tone, wearing her old schoolgirl outfit and hairstyle, referring to herself as Haato and using her old catchphrases. People were initially surprised and suspicious, and their suspicions were confirmed with an unarchived livestream karaoke that used a bunch of English songs (and interspersed visuals of Haato behind bars) to craft a narrative of Haachama and Haato being separate and distinct, with the former actively working to suppress her.
The story went on with further livestreams, with audience participation being extremely high and rocketing her towards a million subscribers, and she kept making stranger and bolder choices - at one controversial point, Haachama beheaded Haato onscreen, showing us the headless body drop and making us hear the sound of its fall. In another livestream, Haato beheaded Haachama and sewed her own head back onto the body, with the implication being that one couldn't die as long as the other was alive. The plot kept getting thicker and the tone kept veering further into cryptic horror, right up until a few days ago - Haachama addressed the audience out of character, expressed regret at having alienated many of her viewers, and said that she couldn't help but make strange content because this was simply what she loved making. She said she'd be pausing the arc for now, honing her skills, and get back to it at a future date, and asked the viewers to accept both parts of her.
While this was pretty sad, it's understandable - the person behind the character is apparently their youngest talent, and she was crafting all the horror skits and writing all the dialogue by herself, which would have burned anyone out. Hopefully, she's able to do more of what she wants in the future.
9. A Hand With Many Fingers
A Hand With Many Fingers is a game made by Colestia, an explicitly communist game developer. I've played free games by him previously (They Came From A Communist Planet and A Bewitching Revolution) and included him in some past articles, and this is the first paid game I've bought from him.
This is a detective game where you're given an archive office and a bunch of reference cabinets and given a suicide case to look up, which case quickly turns into a Cold War conspiracy involving multiple countries and shell companies. I did find the ending a bit underwhelming, especially because the underlying connections become obvious pretty quickly, so when you find the last piece of the puzzle, there's no major revelation as such, only a confirmation for what was pretty obvious from the very beginning.
Still, there's potential here, and I'm looking forward to whatever he makes next.
8. Pony Island
Pony Island is a pretty well-known indie game in online circles, and is usually included in many articles when they talk about games that work in a very metatextual way, deconstructing the way you play it and frequently breaking the fourth wall.
Ostensibly a simple platformer where you play as a pony, Pony Island gets more complicated later, with many twists changing how you perceive the game throughout. I'll avoid further spoilers (partially because I don't really have much more to say about how it works or what it made me think) and say this - if you have some money and time to spare, it's not a bad game to check out.
7. Monster Train
Monster Train is a game that's very similar to Slay The Spire, a game I've talked about previously that I love, and it adds some unique twists of its own to the genre The basic gameplay is basically the same as Slay The Spire, but with an additional tower-defense mechanic - your train is inhabited by infernal creatures that want to make their way back to the underworld, and you have to travel on a sentient train and protect its heart while angelic beings try their best to destroy it and halt your progress.
The game is very well made and enjoyable, and a bit easier than Slay The Spire - I was able to finish a run fairly early, and was encouraged to play with multiple types of infernal species and unlock more monsters to play with.
I don't really have much else to say about this one, honestly - if you enjoy games like this, you'll probably enjoy Monster Train too.
Mutazione is a nice little indie game I got for free off the Epic Games Store. It's partly a nice and calm garden simulator, and partly a soapy melodrama with melodramatic, memorable characters. There's a great soundtrack here, and the art style is visually appealing as well.
There's not a lot more I have to say about this one, honestly, but I really enjoyed my time with this.
5. Tell Me Why
Made by Dontnod Entertainment, the developers of the Life Is Strange series, Tell Me Why is about two siblings who were split apart in their childhood after a traumatic event and have reunited after ten years, and have to understand and reconcile their differing memories of the past.
The central conceit lies around the protagonists being able to telepathically communicate and relive their memories to look at the shared trauma in their past. There are various points in the game where their memories differ, and you're given the option to choose one version over the other. This doesn't change this past, only how the siblings perceive it, which informs how they learn to cope with the past and move on.
Tell Me Why is notable for being the first game by a major studio to explicitly feature a trans male protagonist, and Dontnod Entertainment did a lot of stuff to ensure that the story regarding him was well-told, even releasing a Frequently Asked Questions article solely related to content warnings regarding his storyline to make sure that trans gamers were well-informed regarding any content warnings beforehand.
The overall story, though, while well-told and portrayed, doesn't feel very daring. There are no major twists or heart-wrenching moments like in their previous games, which seems to be by design - Tell Me Why isn't about living through harsh times, it's about dealing with the harsh times that have already been relegated to a distant, fuzzy memory. Which is why I can recommend it as a generally well-made story, but I don't think it'll be a new favourite for most people.
Either way, it's on Game Pass, so it's worth a look.
4. Tales From Off-Peak: Vol. 1
Tales From Off-Peak: Vol. 1 is the latest game by Cosmo D and set in the continuity of his earlier games, Off-Peak and The Norwood Suite (both of which I mentioned in my last monthly roundup, with the latter being my favourite game of December).
Explaining the game's premise is a bit harder than its predecessors, but I'll try anyway - you're dropped off in a little secluded neighbourhood of a town that is being taken over by corporations and factories, and tasked with the goal of stealing a saxophone from a musician-turned-pizza maker by applying to work at his restaurant. Things quickly get complicated when he's shipped off in an ambulance and immediately bequeaths his restaurant to you, and the strange people and paranoia around the neighbourhood imply something sinister going on.
As expected, the game has a great soundtrack and some fantastic surreal imagery - one of the first people you meet is a talking building, for example - and it's interesting seeing a new game from this developer that's explicitly setting up a story through multiple chapters, with even the name indicating that it's part of a greater whole. This does mean that the story is left incomplete, though, and the ending wasn't as satisfying to me as a result. I guess that's to be expected, though, and my opinion might change with Vol. 2.
Either way, this is a two-hour experience at most and I highly recommend it if you're interested.
3. The Sexy Brutale
The Sexy Brutale is an interesting and fun litle adventure game where you, the guest in a masquerade ball in a casino, are stuck in a timeloop and have to relive the same day over and over, and your fellow guests are being systematically murdered by its servants.
The game's goal is to study all the guests and the servants, understand their movements and actions, and find a chance to save the former. The game throws an additional complication at you though - you can't be witnessed by any of the characters while doing any of it, be it a guest or a servant, so you have to stay out of sight of everyone and find indirect ways to plan out your rescues.
The only criticism I have for the game is that it takes a while for the plot to become compelling and interesting. The beginning is fine, if a little unmotivating, and it takes a while for the direction and tone of the game to become clear. Once it does, though, it's a great and memorable ride with a surprisingly emotional ending.
Control is a game made by Remedy Entertainment, and before I talk about it, I want to briefly talk about the studio in general.
Remedy Entertainment is a Finnish studio that shot to fame in the early 2000s with their first two Max Payne games, later passing on the IP to Rockstar (which developed the third game) and entering a partnership with Microsoft to develop new game properties. They've made three games after their Max Payne duology - Alan Wake, Quantum Break and Control, and have mentioned that all three take place within the same continuity.
I've enjoyed Remedy Entertainment's style of gameplay and storytelling a lot since my childhood. The Max Payne series helped show off the type of stuff they like to put in their games - stylish action, a monologuing protagonist who straddles the line between goofy and self-serious, sections full of trippy imagery, sequences set to Poets Of The Fall songs, lots of references to 20th century film and literature, and a whole lot of medium blending between real-life, comics and animation. No matter how big their games get, you always get the sense that the experience you're having has been hand-crafted with lots of love.
Control is an action-adventure game with a setting inspired both by The X-Files (a US TV show centered on a governmental body looking into paranormal events) and the SCP Foundation (a collective Internet writing exercise initially similar to the X-Files where the organization seeks to contain various paranormal phenomena), with its story revolving around a breach of containment in a similarly inspired fictional US governmental body, the Federal Bureau Of Control, which is being held hostage by an eldritch paranormal power called the Hiss. There's a lot of fun, weird stuff it pulls off, and while I did feel that the experience felt a little safe and didn't take huge narrative risks with the kind of weird paranormal stuff it showed, the story was still very enjoyable overall.
The gameplay itself is a lot of fun too, and surveying the damage done to your surroundings after particularly hectic fights can be a lot of fun to witness. There are some weird difficulty spikes towards the end, but it's still generally very enjoyable. The graphics and art-style are also outstanding - there's a photo mode in this game (like in a lot of other modern games) and I've been compelled to take close to a hundred pictures in a single playthrough.
So yeah, it's an alright game.
1. Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is my favourite game that I've played in this article, and most of this month was spent solely playing this game. I'm also done with it for now, and don't want to return for a while.
Let me explain why.
Hollow Knight is a mixture of two popular game-like game genres, a Metroidvania and a Soulslike. A Metroidvania (whose name is taken from two popular franchises, Metroid and Castlevania) features a series of interconnected maps with inaccessible areas you'll usually be able to bypass after finding one of many items/powerups. A Soulslike (whose name is taken from the Demon's Souls/Dark Souls series by From Software) is characterized by difficult combat where you're expected to die multiple times before getting the hang of each encounter, and features resources you collect from enemies, lose upon death and have to find your own corpse at the previous point of death (before dying again) to retrieve them.
Hollow Knight is a 2D action-platformer game where you play an enigmatic little bug and go through the ruins of a vast insect empire, strewn about with the corpses of its former bug denizens, some of which are infected and return as zombies to attack you. The aesthetic is extremely interesting, striking a fine balance between cutesy and gloomy, with the music combining synths and strings to cultivate a melancholy atmosphere full of wonder and danger.
The main draw of Hollow Knight is its gameplay, though, and its challenging combat scenarios and responsive controls result in a game where you feel completely in control of your actions, which means you can only blame yourself when you die, and you feel especially accomplished when you succeed. This extends to its challenging and memorable boss fights as well, of which there are many, and the combat feels great and exciting enough for you to shrug off your many deaths and continue onwards, and you're consistently rewarded with powerups and items that you can use to explore the kingdom even further.
That being said, it's a very, very long game with multiple endings. I spent 35 hours before getting to the first ending, and there were a lot of extremely hard boss fights to get through before I got better endings. Like I said, I've been playing this game for over a month by now, and I've been completely worn out.
Maybe I'll get back to it sometime in the future, but for now, I've decided to call it quits and stop playing. I still recommend it, though - it's a great experience, and I've enjoyed a lot of my time spent here. I've just decided to move on for now.
And that’s it for this month! Hope you have a great month ahead, and check back next month for more!