When I got Sudeki for review, I sighed. An anime babe smiled out from the cover, her armoured boobs thrust forward and her arms upstretched as she cast a spell — presumably on the teenage-boy market. The following two strikes were the five-star recommendation from Maxim and the name of the game company (Climax).
But I decided to invite Daniel Heath Justice to play it with me. I’d read his terrific story in the Girls Who Bite Back anthology, which features a full-figured female sorceress who defeats an evil arch mage with her sheer fabulousness — and a few fashion tips.
While poking fun at the conventions, Daniel’s treatment of fantasy isn’t quite satire — you can tell that he loves the stuff by looking at his illustrations and his stories about the powerful women who stride and and strut through the genre. I figured his queer fantasist’s perspective might see something interesting in the game with a sexy sorceress on the box where all I saw was a blatant grab at my gonads.
Sudeki starts hopefully. There aren’t many games that begin by telling their back story with shadow puppets. “An interesting mix of Asian and other iconographies,” Daniel noted. You begin the action-fantasy role-playing game as the sword-wielding Tal, who wakes up late for his troop inspection. Your superior lectures you that “if you love your sword, you can keep the world at arm’s length” and you’re trotted out to go through your paces for the Princess’ inspection. This allows for a bit of forgettable, coy innuendo and gives you a chance to practise some fighting.
Daniel and I went through this pretty quickly and wandered around the castle grounds. After the second or third useless comment from a guard we talked to, Daniel said, “Well, the guards are uniformly stupid.” He tried to hack through a locked door to find that he couldn’t draw his sword — combat only in combat-approved areas, please.
There were a fair number of fights to have outside of the castle, where the action begins with a sudden slaughtering of innocents by evil masked monsters. Maybe it’s meant to raise your bloodlust, but Daniel didn’t get swept away. “You see the good guys’ faces, but never the bad guys’ — they’re all anonymous,” he remarked critically. During the combat a butterfly flashed by, near the “camera.” I remarked that it’s the kind of detail that’s usually relegated to the exploration phases of a game. “Even in a world of darkness, light shines through,” Daniel intoned.
In one of the first melees, our two soldier companions were killed. “They’re dead!” Daniel exclaimed. I was used to losing the members of my party in games like Warcraft, but I felt a little cold-hearted explaining that. Warcraft‘s standard god-like perspective also gives you a little emotional distance, while Sudeki puts you elbow-to-elbow with your grunts.
We saved a game and the save screen told us we’d been playing for 22 minutes. I said that I didn’t know how well advised that was, to give the exact time — it’s kind of interesting, but if you play the game through to the end you’ll probably discover you’ve been playing it for literally days on end, cumulatively. “It certainly is a time investment,” agreed Daniel.
And maybe for not all that much of a payoff, fun-wise or T&A-wise. “So far there’s been a lot of tight men’s asses,” said Daniel. “I don’t know what the average Maxim reader would get out of this.” He looked at the box again. “We haven’t gotten to play the sorceress yet,” he said. “Kind of misleading to put her front and centre.”
This got us to talking about the Buffy the Vampire Slayer game he’d played on the PlayStation, since you can also play that game with different characters. “Buffy’s the least interesting character. Spike is great. The running commentary and little asides are interesting, and they all have killing moves, but Spike impales with panache.” Otherwise, he said, “It’s not as fun as I thought it would be.”
I pulled Sudeki out and put in Catwoman, the spinoff videogame from the movie. Daniel decidedly did not approve of Halle Berry’s version, either in the movie or the game. “After Michelle Pfeiffer and Eartha Kitt, she couldn’t really compare — she’s too girly, too much of a prom queen. She needs a dark edge to be Catwoman, she’s not a strong enough character. Maybe Angela Bassett….”
Neither of us had seen the movie, but Daniel remarked on how, from the trailers, this Catwoman seemed to be much more feral and animalistic — far more alley cat than amoral glamour-puss. The game did a good job of mimicking the fluid movements of this new Catwoman. I liked that the health meter was a stylish curve filled with diamonds — but this seemed more suitable for the Catwoman of an earlier era, the sophisticated, independent-as-a-cat version.
Daniel was a little concerned about how the movie is touted as being feminist: “Why does there need to be a supernatural agency involved for women to be empowered?” When we noticed that for each level there are moves you have to “perform” before you can progress, she seemed more harlot than heroine. The next level made it completely explicit, beginning with Catwoman sliding down a brass pole.
“That’s a stripper pole!” exclaimed Daniel, shaking his head. “And that outfit she’s got is awful,” he said as he leapt from mesh fence to rooftop. “But … the acrobatics are quite fun.”
Daniel Heath Justice’s Kynship, the first in an indigenous fantasy epic trilogy, will be published by Kegedonce Press in fall, 2005.