Omnidirectional Fan Extravaganza: Holocure Version 0.5

The Hololive fan project Holocure is what finally made me try a Vampire Survivors–type game. That’s not to say anything is wrong with Vampire Survivors—I had no particular qualms based on what I knew of the genre, but also no particular motivation to check it out. But now I’ve devoted more hours to Holocure than many games in recent memory, so I figured I should jot down my thoughts on it, no matter how disorganized.

I can see why this game type has become such a hit. There’s something simultaneously relaxing and stressful about the format. The whole automatic-firing thing exemplifies this, as it means you don’t have to worry about constantly mashing on a button or timing hits, but it also means you have less control in dire situations where you really wish you could be more precise. My only complaint is that collision with stage elements sometimes happens unexpectedly, and I feel like certain graphics such as fences and potted plants are kind of iffy in terms of how they interact with the playable characters. Either that, or my partial color blindness makes them hard to notice.

Wikipedia calls Vampire Survivor a “timed survival” game, and I don’t know how common or accepted that is as a term. I feel like it’s treated as a genre or subgenre of its own, though I can’t help but compare it to the 1980s arcade game Robotron 2084, which also features an overhead view plus dual sticks for movement and aiming respectively. There are differences but also a clear conceptual lineage, and it’s fascinating to see people try to coin a term to describe this game type. The term “Roguelite” is funny for all the reasons Metroidvania and Roguelike are.

Specifically regarding Holocure, the roster is an obvious point in its favor. Getting to use Hololive members is ultimately what pushed me to try it in the first place, especially after hearing that Haachama would get added to the game. Even if I weren’t already a Haachama fan, she’d probably still end up being my favorite in Holocure. The fact that she has a “stance change” mechanic (based on the #coexist arc that implied Haachama has two warring personalities inside her) just makes her fun to play and strategize with. 

I’ve now had the chance to use every character available in Version 0.5, and I just love the way that the girls’ lore, personality, and memes all get rolled into gameplay elements. It’s the advantage of being a fan game based on an existing property. I’m eager to see how future characters turn out. The entirety of Hololive Indonesia has already been announced for 0.6, and I want to try them all, especially Kureiji Ollie, Airani Iofifteen, Kobo Kanaeru, and Kaela Kovalskia—the last of whom has herself become addicted to playing Holocure for hours end while blaring an in-game trumpet for maximum cacophony. 

And of course, I can’t wait to see the eventual arrival of La+ Darknesss. Given that Gura has the power of Smolness that allows her to dodge attacks more easily, I wonder if La+ will have a similar ability, given that she is literally the shortest member of Hololive. Or will it be the case that her massive horns neutralize the advantage of short stature? What will her super be—a reference to her original song Dark Breath, perhaps?

Fun times ahead.

Pallet Cleanser: The End of Ash Ketchum as Pokemon Protagonist

This past week marked one of anime’s biggest departures ever, as Ash Ketchum—aka Satoshi—has ended his 26-year tenure as the main hero of Pokemon. It’s amazing to think about how the character has been such an enduring presence in the lives of millions of people for over two decades, all without being wholly remade and revised. Other heroes in other franchises might arguably have greater legacies, but the fact that it was consistently the same Ash week in and week out makes for one fascinating and continuous chain of history.

It’s been many, many years since I was actively part of the Pokemon fandom. I naturally didn’t know about it when it first came out in Japan, but for all practical purposes I was there from the beginning. I remember getting a little pamphlet about Pokemon in an issue of Nintendo Power, and as I anticipated its arrival, I managed to even catch the sneak peek “Battle Aboard the St. Anne” episode that aired the week before the first episode aired in the US. For maybe five or more years, I would record every episode on VHS, and the times I had to program the VCR, I tried to time breaks in the recording to preserve space so I could fit more on each tape. I’ve long since stopped doing that, or watch Pokemon on a regular basis, but I can never forget those early days.

Ash was never my favorite Pokemon character, and for the fellow fans I interacted with online, it was largely the same. The reason: a lot of the people I talked to I met either through the competitive scene (years before the founding of Smogon) or via a Team Rocket messageboard. In the former case, people were not fans of Ash’s nonsensical battles or inability to understand the type chart despite his successes. In the latter, it’s because a site dedicated to Team Rocket would naturally run ever-so-slightly edgy and prefer older characters. For me, it’s just because he was a pretty decent but generic kids’ anime protagonist—a plain rice ball (or donut, as it were) in a world of more compelling stories. 

But there‘s something special about being that hero for so many people for so long. And while many of his accomplishments were often tied to meta events (e.g. Gary Oak/Shigeru’s Japanese voice actor leaving the show is why they ended up having their big 6v6 clash in the Johto Pokemon League), the sheer amount of things Ash managed to achieve is impressive. A character who could have gone on forever unchanging still leaves behind one hell of a CV. 

A big factor in why there was a sense of progress with Ash was because of the way he would go from one region to the next in accordance with game sequels. While the basic formula of “meet new friends, have adventures, get gym badges” was always present, he never stayed in the same area for long, and he always met new people. And while fans would often remark on the way his skill and knowledge would seemingly go backwards every time he started a new path to a Pokemon League, it’s clear that his inability to retain knowledge is not necessarily a matter of poor character writing or insufficient lore consistency and more a way to keep him level with the new fans who still come to the series even now. Ash is as much a vessel as he is a protagonist, and he could never be a vessel for everyone at the same time.

One thing I always found funny is the fact that some of Ash’s greatest wins and titles came about in “filler arcs,” the seasons that took place between main-game storylines. This is why he’s the Orange League champion, the Frontier Champion, and most recently the winner of the Masters Eight tournament (solidifying him as the strongest trainer in the world). He also won the Galar Pokemon League, but in hindsight, it’s clearly because they knew they were about to start winding down Ash’s story and they wanted to show much he had grown. I remember thinking, all the way back in the late 90s, about how a main-line gold medal would likely someday be the sign that Pokemon was going to conclude. While the anime will continue with new leads, it really is the end of an era. 

Now the perennial 10-year-old gets to go off and do things unseen, and it makes me wonder if we’ll ever see him again. Might Ash make cameo appearances down the road, and will he look different or even possibly…older? It’s a new and unknown world.

A Good Feel for the Game: Fraymakers Early Access Thoughts

I’ve long wondered what it would look like for a platform fighter to be the Smash Bros. of indie gaming.

Over a span of two decades, the Smash franchise has gone from a large intra-Nintendo crossover to a celebration of gaming as a whole. But as diverse as its roster has become, indie games have only barely begun to have a presence in Smash—and only really with titles that have been wildly influential, like Minecraft and Undertale

Fraymakers is not the first to step up to the plate, but it’s definitely gotten the furthest. It promises a diverse roster that emphasizes not just the big titles that acknowledge how messy gaming history can be, and that it’s not all about the major names—at least not in the way one might normally think about. 

I first heard about Fraymakers through its Kickstarter, and there are three reasons I ultimately decided to back the project. First, as mentioned, it’s something I’ve wanted to see for many years. Second, it’s being developed by McLeod Gaming, the folks behind Super Smash Flash, a fan-made Smash clone that has its fair share of supporters (though admittedly I’ve never played it). Third, one of the Assists in the game is the Newgrounds tank. 

It’s that last point that I think really encapsulates the Fraymakers mindset: Newgrounds—which was built on interactive Flash games before the format became obsolete—was not always home to especially great games. However, they were a source of entertainment for many people. The imperfections of these amateur works made them all the more charming. Now it’s out on Steam early access with a handful of playable characters, and here I am trying out out.

I’ve said a lot about wanting to see an indie Smash, but truth be told, I’ve never played many indie games—no, not even the one you’re probably thinking of. But that’s also precisely why I love the concept. It reminds me of the first time I played a Super Robot Wars game; I barely knew certain robots, but discovering and learning more about them is part of the fun. I recognize Octodad and Orcane from Rivals of Aether, but do I know who CommanderVideo is? Nope. Now I’m curious, though, and I can sense the love and care in how they try to capture the essence of each character, each of whom feels noticeably different.

Of course, all the fun references in the world can only take a game so far, and it’s ultimately gameplay that’s king. In this regard, Fraymakers feels at home for anyone with a passing familiarity to Smash, leaning towards the famously long-lived and highly competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee, but with some quality-of-life improvements seen in other games. For example, wavedashing does exist in Fraymakers, but also controls can be customized to fit individual preference, much like in later Smash games. There are even control options, like “d-pad movement” and “double tap to dash,” meant to help people who might have issues with analog sticks. Overall, the game doesn’t stray terribly far from its inspiration in terms of mechanics, but there are a few changes such as replacing the air dodge with an air dash meant primarily for extending combos instead of as a defensive option.

One thing definitely in Fraymaker’s favor (say that three times fast) is that the act of fighting itself feels satisfying. Characters have a sense of weight and gravity, hits have impact, and the controls never feel mushy—issues I’ve had with some other platform fighters like Brawlout and even Multiversus. The only time I did have issues was when I was using a controller that was less than ideal; once I switched to something better, everything pretty much clicked. 

In terms of tournament viability, I did go online to see what that’s like, and proceeded to get mauled by people who had a better idea of what they were doing. There is definitely combo potential and all that jazz, I can tell that much. While you can’t force a competitive scene to happen, the fact that Fraymakers feels inherently good to play probably bodes well for it.

Ultimately, I’m mostly eager to see more and more characters with relatively unique play styles. The current four demo characters have varying levels of unorthodox elements, with Octodad surprisingly being the most standard despite the purposeful awkwardness of his source game. There are already more characters announced, and I look forward to trying out all these cool faces I only know from watching other people stream.

New Paths: Pokemon Violet

I’ve been a Pokémon fan since before the very first game launched in the US, and I have to say that playing Pokémon Violet is some of the most fun I’ve ever had with the franchise. Yes, I know about the glitches and lack of polish. I got stuck in a black void inside my own house right at the start of the game, and I’ve taken note of the wonky physics. But even though I’ve finished the main game, I still keep jumping in.

Similar to Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet are open-world games, meaning that they emphasize freely exploring the environment without forcing you into a certain order of doing things. This is both a plus and minus, personally: I have felt that newer Pokémon games are a little too on-rails, and this is a way to break with that trend, but I’m rather directionally challenged both in real life and in games. Luckily, they’ve added things that make the world feel pretty navigable even for someone like me. One key concept shared with Legends: Arceus is to have a ridable Pokémon that replaces the idea of key TMs or HMs to traverse unusual terrain—a definitely welcome change.

The new region, Paldea, is based on Spain. Here, you enter a Pokémon school that places heavy emphasis on both searching for and pursuing your dreams. To that end, there are three separate but overlapping storylines that each emphasize somewhat different views of what it means to thrive in the world: Victory Road, Path of Legends, and Starfall Street. Their stories progress in compelling ways, involve meeting great new characters, and even act somewhat as tutorials to help you develop certain skills. 

Victory Road feels the most refined, being the most tried-and-true part of Pokemon singleplayer. It’s the familiar acquiring of gym badges in order to fight against the Elite Four and become a champion, but it also manifests in cultural aspects of Paldea that result in a unique experience. Whereas Gym Leaders in other games dedicate their lives to running their gyms, it’s more of a side job here. Paldean Gym Leaders include a baker, a streamer, an office worker, a rapper, a sushi chef, and so on. Gym battles take place outdoors—perhaps as a way to not have to model interiors, but it nevertheless adds to the feel that Paldea isn’t like other regions. 

Adding to this is maybe the most fun rival to ever appear in Pokémon. Nemona is a fellow student, but she’s already a Champion-rank trainer by the time you meet her. Rather than growing alongside you, she guides you to become stronger, all because she loves Pokémon battles so much that she’ll seize any opportunity to have a great match. Players online have compared her to Goku from Dragon Ball, and it’s quite apt.

The storylines in Path of Legends (where you pursue titanic Pokemon) and Starfall Street (where you fight against school delinquents who comprise the latest nefarious organization, Team Star) have really engaging plots full of interesting developments. I found my view of certain characters evolve over time, and they provide both some of the most heartfelt moments and some of the funniest gags I’ve ever experienced in Pokémon. One downside is that I think the gameplay elements they each emphasize could have been done in somewhat more exciting ways. The Titan Pokémon could feel more titanic, and there really isn’t much to the battle system used for taking down Team Star. They’re more good than bad, though.

Playing through all three paths is very rewarding, not only because it opens up new branches and brings the overall plot together, but also because they collectively convey the richness of Paldea. The region seems to move at a characteristic pace (at its Own Tempo, one could say) that is about loving life and enjoying good food, while the blossoming of aspirations, the learning of mythology, and the reassessment of assumptions create a feeling that this is a robust world with lots of history and personality.

As for the Pokémon themselves, appealing to those who prefer a more classic look and those looking for more bizarre designs. Nothing is as off-the-wall as the Ultra Beasts of Pokemon Sun and Moon, but they expand the series’s universe in interesting ways. One quirky thing is the abundance of Pokémon based on food, whether it’s Fidough the dog bread dog, Garganacl the living salt golem, or Scovillain the two-headed pepper plant, culinary creatures are a norm. The game also has a feature where you can make sandwiches and visit restaurants that confer certain bonuses, driving home the idea that Paldea is a land of gourmets—an idea heavily promoted by Spain’s own tourism industry, incidentally.

Compared to Pokémon Legends: Arceus, one thing that’s missing is the greater sense of experimentation with the gameplay mechanics. That game really turned key aspects on their heads, and it was refreshing in a way. I do understand keeping the game more turn-based and rooted in established elements like the implementation of speed and status effects and even agree that this was the right choice for a main Pokémon title. That said, I can see it being a little tedious for those who want something more different.

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet certainly have flaws, but there’s an undeniable charisma that makes me want to keep playing. Witnessing the myriad stories unfold is fun. Venturing out into the world is fun. Finding and learning about Pokémon is fun. Meeting new characters and discovering what makes them tick is fun. And growing alongside everyone is fun. I don’t know how long I’ll stick around, but I’ll consider it time well spent.

Rise of the Bread Dogs: Hololive, Precure, and Pokémon

There must have been something fermenting in the collective imagination of 2022. Last year gave us not one, not two, but three different forms of media featuring cute dogs combined with bread. And as many minds landed on this same idea of oven-baked canines, they all appeared to be guided by more than merchandising power alone.


The first bread dog of note is an embodiment of the Sanallites, the fanbase for the retired VTuber Tsukumo Sana from Hololive. The reason her fans are portrayed as bread is that Sana herself would express how much she loves bread, even going as far as doing a bread horoscope in an early stream. And because Sana herself is an experienced artist, she used her illustration chops to solidify the design as a whole loaf with an adorable flat face.

Sana’s bread dog comes from a warm and comforting relationship with her fandom—the kind of personal-feeling connection that you could only get from a streamer.


The second bread dog is Pam-Pam, a sandwich-themed dog fairy from the magical girl anime Delicious Party Precure. Here, Pam-Pam is the mascot sidekick of the bread-themed Cure Spicy, and contrasted with a rice mascot and a noodle mascot for a trio of staple carbs. This all plays into one of the themes of Delicious Party Precure, which is teaching kids to eat balanced meals and learn to appreciate all types of food. Pam-Pam transforms into a little sandwich with her dog head sticking out, meaning her bread elements come out primarily in battle.

Delicious Party Precure’s bread dog is a way to convey a theme of good nutrition. The decision to design Pam-Pam in this way is the result of trying to prepare children for the future.

Fidough and Dachsbun

The last bread dogs are the new evolutionary line from Pokémon Scarlet and Violet. Fidough, which resembles unbaked bread, evolves into Dachsbun, whose Baked Body ability makes it actually immune to fire attacks. They have more of an active bread motif than Pamu Pamu but retain more dog features than the Sanallites.

These two are actually just a couple of the many new Paldean Pokémon with a food motif—others include hot pepper plants, olives, and more. The Paldea region is based on Spain, which has a rich and diverse food culture, and both bread dogs reflect that aspect.

The Yeast They Can Do

Combining fluffy bread with furry dogs seems like an obvious winner, and these examples are certainly not the first. But to see three big franchises implement the same idea within the same year feels like a tiny miracle. There’s a surprising amount of versatility to be found in the bread dog concept, and should there ever be a true bread-dog boom, I doubt anyone would mind.

A Dream Realized on Hanayo’s Birthday, or “Oops, All Hanayo”

It was almost 10 years ago when I discovered Love Live! and by extension the School Idol Festival mobile game. Koizumi Hanayo quickly became my favorite character, and so I set out with a simple goal: Make dedicated all-Hanayo teams while also avoiding whaling. It was both a way to show my fandom and to set a fairly concrete goal that I could dedicate my gacha pulls to. 

In 2015, I achieved the first step in a long road: a Hanayo Team consisting of all unique versions. Now, in 2023, I have crossed what I consider to be my final finish line: Three all-Hanayo teams with every member an idolized and legit Ultra-Rare (as opposed to free-giveaway URs that have less power as a result).

I have, in my own way, “beaten” Love Live! School Idol Festival, and can finally lay this game to rest—at least until the recently announced Love Live! School Idol Festival 2 shows up. Will I even play the sequel? And if I do, will I maybe dedicate myself to a different character, like Love Live! Superstar!!’s Wakana Shiki? Whatever the case, it’s the end of an era.

Happy Birthday, Hanayo. It’s been fun to cheer for such an intensely passionate character of contrasts, and it’ll continue to be amazing. 

The Elegant Design of Suntory’s Virtual Youtuber

There’s a 50/50 chance that saying “the Japanese beverage company Suntory has their own official Virtual Youtuber” would come as a surprise. But the blue-haired “Suntory Nomu” is real (in a sense), and I actually like her design quite a bit. What really stands out about Nomu’s appearance, relative to other VTubers, is how simple and subdued it is. A white dress with blue highlights stands in sharp contrast to the vast majority of Hololive and Nijisanji, who seem to be created with a maximalist philosophy. This latter approach brings to mind broader discussions about character design in media.

(Side note: I’m not sure I need to mention this, but in case it matters, I am not endorsing Suntory products in any way. I generally like their drinks well enough, but that’s about it.)

When looking at Nomu relative to the Hololive members she’s streamed with, the difference is clear. While both have attractive designs, Takane Lui and Aki Rosenthal have all these details, adornments, and colors, resulting in rather complex/complicated appearances. There are practical reasons to make them this way, of course: They need to be immediately distinct and visually appealing to prospective viewers. Rigging/modeling them for animation is a one-time thing, as opposed to needing to be draw them anew every time in the vein of anime or manga. And the expectation is that people will stare at them for extended periods. VTubers need to communicate a good portion of who they are immediately, as viewers can’t be expected to dive into an extensive backstory—and often VTuber backstories are helpful suggestions, at best. 

The decision to go maximalist reminds me of fan discussion surrounding fighting game characters. Fighting games, especially ones not based on an existing property, share a number of similarities with VTubing. There’s no prior context for people to get attached to (as they might in an animation or comic), so having them catch the eye right away while also communicating how they play is important. There’s still quite a bit of range—Compare Ryu or Chun-li from Street Fighter to Sol Badguy or Dizzy from Guilty Gear (especially pre-STRIVE)—but criticizing a fighting game character for being “boring” is typically more about looks and presentation of attacks. That’s actually a big difference with Virtual Youtubers: It does ultimately come down to personality.

But it makes me wonder if significantly simplified designs like Suntory Nomu couldn’t thrive despite the general trends against them. Maybe it’s because so many designs take an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach that Nomu’s aesthetics stand out more. Could there be a trend back down to relatively more minimalist designs in VTubing, fighting games, and other similar areas? It’s something I’d like to see, if only because I’m curious how it would all play out among the fans themselves.

What if Luke Is Not the Actual Main Character of Street Fighter 6?

Street Fighter 6 draws ever closer, and standing at the poster child of this new game is the American MMA fighter Luke. He was even originally introduced in Street Fighter V as the bridge to the anticipated sequel. But as prominent as Luke is, I actually think another new character might be the true protagonist of Street Fighter VI: the black female ninja, Kimberly.

The new Street Fighter leans heavily into an urban street aesthetic, most notably in the use of spray paint/graffiti as reflective of hip hop culture. While this motif been around to certain degrees since the very first Street Fighter (like on the title screen), here it’s a defining part of the look and feel of SF6. And if you look at all the new characters, only Kimberly incorporates spray paint in her moveset. She combines it with her ninjutsu training under Guy from Final Fight, taking the old and giving it a fresh coat.

I’m entertaining this possibility because I see it as a way for the Street Fighter franchise to stealthily push a forward-looking diversity that celebrates its international fandom while simultaneously shielding itself from the pitchforks of overly sensitive cultural conservatives who are afraid of having their games not be represented by a conventionally muscular manly man. Luke almost feels like a Trojan horse: “Look over here at this blond American tough guy! Isn’t he what you want?” Meanwhile, Kimberly thoroughly embodies the spirit of SF6. 

And that’s on top of having Ryu, Ken, and Chun-li still around. I could be completely wrong in the end, but even if I am, I think Kimberly is already a breakout character among a crowded roster of excellent new designs. She’ll at least wind up being the Chun-Li of Street Fighter 6.

Inktober 2022 Archive: My First Time!

After years of hemming and hawing, I decided to actually do Inktober this past October. The results were, well, results.

Especially with the state of Twitter being extremely abunai, I decided it’d be good to just have a gallery here.

Truly Something for Everyone: Splatoon 3

In Splatoon, ink is everything. It’s how you take down opponents, it’s how you advance and retreat, it’s how you control space, it’s how you assist allies, and it’s how you win. This core mechanic is so smart, creative, and well-executed that it basically provides a solid foundation for every game entry. Unless the creators actively screw things up, it’s hard to mess with such a successful formula. However, while a bit of a spitshine would produce a decent enough sequel, Splatoon 3 has gone above and beyond to take the lessons from its predecessors and create a more fun and more refined experience.

The bread and butter of Splatoon is its multiplayer, where teams of four compete. While the basic gameplay remains fundamentally the same, and I’m nowhere good enough to notice subtle differences in weapon ranges and the like, it’s very clear that the developers put a lot of thought into improving things. For the more competitive sort, ranked battles now have two types of games available so you can play the ones you enjoy more. For everyone in general, the new generation of super weapons builds on an important development that’s happened over the course of many games. The original Splatoon was famous for having invincible supers with such great power that games revolved around them. Splatoon 2 dialed this back a bit, and now Splatoon 3 puts an even greater emphasis on interactivity and counterplay.

But not everyone is into competing against other players, of course. Fortunately, Splatoon 3 provides alternatives. The first is the return of Salmon Run, a multiplayer co-op experience against waves of computer-controlled enemies. The second is the best story mode thus far, delivering in every way that matters. Like previous games, the singleplayer story mode works as a nice introduction to the games’ mechanics, but the actual plot itself is actually filled with thrilling surprises that provides great fodder for long-time fans without alienating newer players.

Speaking of avoiding crushing beginners, while it’s clear that the Octo Expansion was a major influence on how this turned out, fortunately it’s not as harsh as that Splatoon 2 DLC. I still get chills thinking about the Octo Expansion’s hidden final boss, Inner Agent 3, and I expect an eventual Splatoon 3 DLC to be similarly expert-focused.

I do have a couple complaints about the game. One is that the initial tutorial basically requires players to use the motion controls. While I prefer that method of control myself, I know people who just cannot get accustomed to that setup. Between that and requiring a shooter-type weapon (technically also my preference) to get through most of the singleplayer, and I think that perhaps not enough has been done to help those who don’t prefer the default style of Splatoon but still want to enjoy it. Another is that many of the maps in online play feel a little cramped, and as someone whose preferred weapon (the N-Zap) thrives on mobility, I find myself feeling at times like there’s no escape. I think I can probably adjust to that, though.

Overall, Nintendo has really hit it out of the park with Splatoon 3. It’s basically everything I was hoping for, even as I’m still trying to get used to all the changes. This one’s a winner.