Hi all. Been away for a few days thanks to a reunion with my beloved host family who I stayed with for a year 16 years ago when I lived for a while in Australia. Man, nothing like touching base after almost half a lifetime of being out of touch. Weird thing: Everyone is exactly the same.

Owlboy = rad.

HP Podcraft: Always on in my household. The wife is a huge HP Lovecraft fan and I’ve absorbed quite a lot of squeamousness just vicariously by having the Great List read back to me in 45 minute segments while cooking dinner. True Fact: In a perfect world I’d want the Squadcast to resemble the HP Podcraft in its basic form. Straight up knowledgeable fools spreading their intense scholarship of the medium in an accessible form for the benefit of all.

Amnesia: Hell of a game. Haven’t gone back to it since they released the weird little bonus materials as part of the Potato Sack.

Men of War: Thanks for the protip. Now that we’re done with the Runaway series I may pick that up as a PC pastime. We’re just burning daylight here, mostly loafing around until Deus Ex.

Some thoughts about El Shaddai follow:

Started in on this one last night after picking it up for about $5 post-exchange of two old games for $60 in trade-in credit down at the local hole-in-the-wall. Initially I was sort of bewildered at what I was seeing on my screen, having not much frame of reference for it.

Take one ounce Bayonetta and a few drams of Devil May Cry. Mix with a pint of Killer 7, add some John Milton. There you go.

First, let’s get this out of the way up front: El Shaddai is a hell of an artistic achievement. Simply sitting back and experiencing the developer’s crazy Biblical vision is the reason you show up to the party. Visually and aurally this game is miles ahead of anything I can summon to mind quickly, well into SUDA51 crazyland. I lost track of my Holy Shit Art Moments as I was flip flopping back and forth between side scrolling backlit stained glass windows and ultra-hyper-stylized What Dreams May Come visions of the afterlife (?). As I said to Lynette while trying to describe my reactions: “This is the most realistically rendered vision of Heaven I’ve ever seen!” Take that statement as you will.

Mechanically, well… hm. It’s simplistic. They’re not kidding about there being three (weird) weapons in the game – the fantastically named Arch, Gale and Veil which map roughly to “sword”, “gun” and “shield” in non Elohim terminology. There’s a nifty sort of rock-paper-scissors dynamic going on with these three weapons in that your foes will always be generally weak to at least one of them, and the constant Halo-esque hot-swapping of weapons on the fly during battle is what combat is all about. The developers seem to know that you’re there to watch the pretty pictures and not stress over fights, so even on normal difficulty it’s pretty simple to stay alive.

Sadly, the game does have a sort of kill corridor problem going on where there isn’t really any REASON to be fighting all these… whatever they ares…. all the time. You walk and fight through batshit insane environments dispatching enemies purely so you can get to the next batshit insane envoronment. The fighting is fun and fast, well crafted and sporting responsive controls and a good feel to your movements. It’s just kind of… shallow. There are no puzzles – the environment doesn’t change. You progress down corridors in a straight line beating up dudes Final Fight style until you either hit a boss, the scenery changes, or a fallen angel descends to kick the shit out of you.

A bit about this: So, there are these Fallen Angels who inhabit each of the environments — seven of them, I think. They all have names like Samael or whatever and resemble in form a cross between the King of the Nazgul and the Eye of Providence as seen on the American Dollar Bill. Every so often, seemingly at random, you will be walking along and encounter one of these guys who will swoop in and utter a few taunting words in your direction before proceeding to kick the everloving shit out of you in a total Street Fighter-esque no-holds-barred duel. The interesting thing here is that win or lose the game continues on after the melee, so you don’t have to restart or anything if you can’t handle it. Instead, you just get the experience of being shit-talked and humiliated by some divine dickhead, who leaves you black-eyed, grumpy and feeling inadequate as he or she flits away smirking into the heavens. Reading message boards I have discovered that it’s quite common for people to finish this ENTIRE GAME having beaten one or NONE of these fallen angels at all, though I am currently one-for-five. The game does not let you retry or practice with these fights – you either beat the angels or you do not, and you move on.

I have no idea why this aspect of the game is in there AT ALL, though I must say that these fights are fantastic pieces of design and crazy-intesne for the the ten or so seconds it takes for these seraphim to kick your ass. So much work for such little playtime! Mysterious! Like so much of the game.

There’s more to say: Lucifer’s constant cellphone conversations with JEHOVAH in the background as you wander along, cromulent mechanics, the constant bits of jaw-dropping high-concept presentation. All of it good.

Ultimately I think it remains to be seen whether El Shaddai will wear out its welcome as far as its gameplay is concerned. This is a three button game honestly, and I find myself regularly wondering if it wouldn’t be better to just stroll along these incredible boulevards and take it all in without all the constant pestering by Double Dragon dudes. Would this game have been better if it were more like FLOWER and less like Devil May Cry? We may never know.

I know the developers were going for “simple is good” here, but you don’t really realize how much the experience of red orbs, constant unlocking of moves, weapon customization and all the rest of it brings to these character action games until they take them away from you.

I will keep journeying through El Shaddai though and still would absolutely recommend it to anybody in the Squad who plays games to experience a sense of Art Appreciation. One thing you certainly have to say about this game is that the developers swung for the fence in that department, harder and farther than almost anyone.