JetMoto is the most subtly progressive hoverbike racing game of 1996

jetmototitlescreen

I’m a sucker for re-purchasing the games that I loved as a youth, even if I still have physical copies of them. I’m such a sucker in this regard, in fact, that I have purchased Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Streets of Rage 2 no fewer than three times each. When I know that I love a game through and through, when I know that I’d be happy to play it any time, any place, when it goes on sale, I can’t help but splurge, because I know exactly what I’m going to get.

Except sometimes, the games surprise me, especially the games I pick up again after leaving them on the shelf for years and years at a time without thinking of them. Sometimes I pick them up again and see them in a different light than I did when I was a youth.

It’s probably been a couple years since I repurchased JetMoto, SingleTrac’s sci-fi hoverbike-motocross grappling-hook stunt-race extravaganza, originally released in 1996 on the PlayStation. It’s a goofy, over-the-top game, but it has the distinction of being the first game I purchased for my PSX that I really and truly loved. (Before it, I had to make do with the confounding Aquanaut’s Holiday and the decent-but-not-particularly-exciting Ridge Racer Revolution, which spent more time in my Discman than my PlayStation on account of its delightfully weird techno soundtrack.)

I recently got myself a PS3, figuring that we were at the end of a console generation and the time would never be better to catch up on all the Sony exclusives I’d missed out on for the last seven years (that Nathan Drake! What a card!). Not having much to play on it after I’d gorged myself on FFX/FFX-2 HD, I installed the PSOne Classics that I’d bought over the years to play on my PSP and fooled around with those. I loaded up JetMoto, played it for a while, and had a realization.

JetMoto has a more progressive stance on gender than an awful lot of games.

The game has a playable cast of twenty riders (subdivided into four different “teams,” identified by brand, in what might be the most ham-fisted case of product placement in a game from its era), and of these twenty riders, nine of them are women. It’s not complete 1:1 parity, but it’s pretty close! It’s a nice touch, too, that the default rider the “character select” screen starts on is a woman–and she also happens to be the character on the title screen.

The graphical limitations of the system mean that JetMoto doesn’t mess around with individuated character models for different riders–with some slight differences in size, all “Butterfinger” riders look alike, as do all “Mountain Dew” riders–and so all of the riders, male and female, appear the same during races, clad in their motocross-esque jackets and helmets. Fittingly, the characters on the title screen are also girded in this “X-treme sports” gear, but a second glance at the character front and center reveals it to be obviously Dakota–her long black hair and feathered accessory marking her distinctly.

The game is obviously about the vehicles and not the riders–but it’s a nice touch that the “face” of JetMoto, at least by default, is a woman.

The riders you can choose from aren’t terribly distinct from each other, and they’re only defined by a handful of assets–a portrait on the character select screen, a paragraph of backstory, and a full-body portrait which is displayed in the winner’s circle if you happen to place first–but these are enough to offer each of the riders at least a little bit of personality. And while it’s true that a couple of the ladies in the roster are partly defined by their relationship to male riders, the flavor text often seems to suggest that they’re in a better position than their counterparts.

Shannara, for example, is the ex-wife of one of the male riders–we’re told that she races on a modified bike that she won in her divorce settlement, a machine built for someone twice her weight. Her ex-husband, by contrast, is a man whose “spirit sank with his ranking, harsh bitterness [reducing] him to little more than a hired gun to run opponents off-track.” Shannara’s stats are considerably better than those of her ex.

“Quick Jessie” West is introduced as the protege of Mark “The Max” Corri, and we’re told that her biggest hurdle to an impressive debut season may be having to compete against her mentor, but The Max’s profile likewise mentions that the biggest threat he faces “this season” probably comes from Quick Jessie.

The other women in the line-up are defined by their own merits–at least, to the extent a character can be in three or four sentences. Shirow is “the first female Japanese heavy bike rider,” and it’s rumored that she has cybernetic enhancements. Irons grew up in the rodeo. Harris is a bungee-jumping, skydiving adrenaline junkie. “Bomber” is a mechanic who builds the fastest, heaviest bikes in the whole circuit.

It probably doesn’t mean a lot, in the grand scheme of things, that there are so many different female racers in a hoverbike game from 1996. But I spent an awful lot of time playing JetMoto when I was twelve, and I can’t help but think it had an effect on me.

(Caveat: Although I eventually came to favor Bomber, I spent most of my time playing as Kari Kelley, AKA “Wild Ride,” by far the best stunt racer in the line-up, whose “legendary victory parties” have been “declared illegal in some states”–so maybe the game doesn’t deserve THAT much credit in helping me to be progressive in my thinking–although I DID eventually marry a girl named Kari.)

At the very least, the uniformity of character models in-game means that JetMoto doesn’t overtly sexualize its racers. That’s a pretty low bar to set for a game, especially a sci-fi motocross game, but this is 1996 and we have to start somewhere.

There ARE girls in skimpy outfits in JetMoto, it’s true: if you come in first place in a race as a male rider, part of your reward in the winner’s circle is having the trophy presented to you by a woman in a skimpy outfit (a bikini, Daisy Dukes, etc.). Conversely, however, if you’re playing as a female rider, the trophy is handed to you by a beefcake dude in hot pants. The game has ogling, yes, but it’s equal-opportunity ogling. For whatever that’s worth.

jet-motowinnerscirclechien

This “trophy babe/trophy hunk” feature of the game is also the source of one of the subtlest, most delightful twists in JetMoto‘s sneakily diverse presentation. While it’s possible to set the game to always display a male or female trophy presenter in the game’s options menu, the default setting is “Rider’s Choice.” The wording here, I think, is key, because by invoking the characters’ preferences, the game is allowed, without much fanfare, to suggest that two of its twenty riders are gay.

Yes! I was positively delighted to discover upon revisiting JetMoto that if you come in first with either Harris (the aforementioned adrenaline junkie) or “Rhino” (something of a beefcake hunk himself) and the game is set to “Rider’s Choice” of trophy presenter, both of these riders will choose someone of their own gender. Neither character’s description on the select screen offers any hint as to their sexuality (and why would it? Remember: Sci-fi motocross game), but I’m not sure there’s another way to read having a same-sex trophy presenter when the trophy presenters are eye candy and the game declares them “Rider’s Choice.”

Is this the ideal handling of a diverse and balanced approached to gender, race, and sexuality? Of course not. But for 1996, it’s almost certainly more progressive and forward-thinking than you’d expect: a nearly 50/50 split of men and women, a fair modicum of ethnic diversity (African-American, Native American, Asian, African… Australian), and a subtle acknowledgement that 10% of its rider pool is gay.

So I salute you, JetMoto. You are far and away the best game about hoverbikes, and I won’t hear any arguments against it. (Actually, if there are any arguments against it, I would like to hear them. I’d like to start a robust and thoughtful conversation… about JetMoto.)

 

Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remaster review — Kill Screen

FFXX2HD

“The Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remaster enshrines the series’ awkward teenage years”

Going back and playing FFX and FFX-2, it’s obvious that they’re products of their era– distinctly PS2 titles.

But man. They’re great. For very different reasons, but great nonetheless. FFX is one of the best young adult fantasy stories I can think of, in any medium. I’d recommend it to young people over Harry Potter or The Hunger Games or what have you any day of the week. It was a pleasure to go back to Spira again.

Pac-Man Museum review — Kill Screen

pac_man_2_big

Pac-Man Museum has a dearth of worthwhile exhibits”

What a missed opportunity! I had a great time with my friends playing Pac-Man Battle Royale in the arcades; that’s an experience I’d recommend to anyone. This compilation, on the other hand… Bleh. They don’t even include the best version of Pac-Man Championship Edition!

2/5 Pacs, would not Pac again.

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy review — Kill Screen

professor_layton_and_the_azran_legacy

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is a fitting finale for gaming’s greatest puzzle solver”

I reviewed the (supposedly) final Layton outing for Kill Screen. It’s been a busy couple of weeks!

I’m not sure what’s going to step up to fill the hole that Layton’s leaving in gaming’s landscape. I will miss these charming animated adventures tremendously. On the plus side, it’s been six years since Curious Village–maybe I’ll have forgotten the solutions to all of those puzzles by now!

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 review — Kill Screen

castlevania_city_big

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is as grotesque as it aims to be

I reviewed Lords of Shadow 2 for Kill Screen. I had a fair bit of fun with it, but there’s no question that it’s a significant step down from its predecessor. You should go read my review, and then instead of playing the game, you should go and watch Ravenous. It has Robert Carlyle; it’s about eating people; it’s just generally an excellent time.

Ravenous. Seriously.

Castlevania and obsessive series completion syndrome

rondoofbloodtitlescreen

I continue to have a problem.

I’ve written about the Castlevania games in the context of compulsive completionism before, but in the intervening months I’ve found that my desire for achievements has all but vanished–a fact that can be explained mostly by the construction of a new PC (the first I’ve ever built myself, and the only one I’ve ever had remotely capable of playing new games!). When one’s “permanent record” is distributed over more than one system of merit badges (in my case now, XBox achievements AND Steam achievements), the weight that either one carries is dramatically reduced.

Whereas before, I could feasibly delude myself into thinking my XBox history to be a complete record of my interaction with modern games (I was somehow able to rationalize away all of the handheld games I’ve consumed), now this conceit is too far-fetched for even me to consider.

So! Cured, right? No more compulsive need to play everything!

I played this last week:

castlevaniagbbox…and this:

belmontsrevengeboxThese are… objectively terrible games. Really, plainly unfit for consideration on anyone’s “to-play” list. Aside from their wickedly awesome early-90′s box art, they’re not good for much at all.

And yet I didn’t just sample them– I played them to completion. It took me approximately ninety tries to beat Dracula in Castlevania: The Adventure.

What excuse do I have for myself? I guess I don’t. Like I said, I think I have a problem.

My real mistake, from the outset, was creating a Google Doc titled “Castlevania games I have played” and compiling a list of the entire series (including the Game Boy spin-off Kid Dracula, because, let’s remember, I have a problem). I bolded the games I’d beaten and italicized the games I’d sampled but never played to completion.

And then I looked at all the titles left and said, “yeah, I could probably manage those.”

Why?! Why would I do such a thing? The truth of the matter is that all the list told me, at the outset, is that I’d beaten pretty much all of the good Castlevania games. I’ve beaten Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow and Dracula’s Curse. I’ve beaten Portrait of Ruin and Circle of the Moon and the original Castlevania. I’ve even beaten my fair share of the mediocre games, like Lament of Innocence and Harmony of Dissonance and Stampede of Elephants. (Okay, I made that last one up. But if it existed, I probably would have beaten it.)

When I looked at that list, the first thing that I should have seen was the good Castlevanias that I haven’t yet played. I should have said to myself, “Self, you haven’t yet sampled Order of Ecclesia, which is supposed to be pretty great. Nor have you played Curse of Darkness, which is supposed to be the best of the 3D lot before MercurySteam came along and really got it right with Lords of Shadow. Why don’t you track down one of those?”

But instead, what I did was look at the list and think: “Hey, those Game Boy Castlevanias are probably pretty short. I bet I could knock a couple of those out real quick and be that much closer to having played them all.” Then, I invested multiple hours in doing so. Those are hours I’m not going to get back.

Castlevania games are not Pokemon. There is no reward for catching them all.

Actually, is there a reward for catching all of the Pokemon, besides bragging rights? Maybe it’s better to say that Castlevania games aren’t Stars of Destiny.

And the worst part of all of this is that I know I have wasted my time, I know I should have done something else. And yet I still feel a twinge of pride at having bolded those two bullet points on my list. Congratulations, Nate. You’ve invested the time to beat two terrible games. Achievement unlocked!

Possibly the only thing I can say in my defense is that the remorse at having wasted my time compelled me to drop a couple bucks on Rondo of Blood for the Wii Virtual Console, which is an objectively awesome game and well worth my time (and yours).

I tell myself that my desire to play as many games as possible comes from a place of wanting to be “well played,” of wanting to foster an intimate understanding of the medium by attempting to expose myself to as much of it as possible, but I’m not entirely sure that I’ve furthered that ambition by playing these two mediocre platformers from the early 90′s. Maybe it’s possible that we can talk intelligently about games we haven’t played.

Maybe I shouldn’t have spent that dollar on Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night for iOS.

 

 

 

Colossatron: Massive World Threat review

colossatron1_big

Colossatron just wants to watch the world burn”

I reviewed Halfbrick’s newest trinket, Colossatron: Massive World Threat for Kill Screen. It’s a whole lot of fun for not very much money! You should probably steer clear of the microtransactions, though. Yikes.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 201 other followers