By Kieron Gillen on December 2nd, 2007 at 7:28 pm.
Another day closer to Christmas. And another door opened on our RPS-approved Fairtrade advent calendar . Whatever could like behind the door?
It’s chocolate. Thanks, Fairtrade. Om nom nom nom.
But for you?
Sumotori has made me laugh harder than any game this year. Including Portal. It entered my life when I returned to my PC, drunk out of my tiny mind, and my man in LA, Charlie Chu, forwarded the link to me. I was reduced to a sobbing wreck at its irresistible, dumb-arsed, brain-damaged majesty. It’s the greatest beat-‘em-up of the year, because… oh, for God’s sake, look at it in action!
It’s the simplest of games. One SumoTori Stands on the left. One SumoTori stands on the right. They face each other. You start by pressing down on the cursors. Then your control is limited to pressing up cursor to walk forward, pressing back-space to throw one arm around and enter to push both together. Your aim is to force your enemies to your knees, or at least manage to stay standing for longest.
It doesn’t really work like that.
Imagine if you were a dog. And you’d just, through evil science, had your mind transfered into a human being. Now, when all the nerves are trying to make sense of these strange new appendages, you’re immediately thrown into a ring with another product of dog/human mad science and they have to fight for their horrific existences. That’s Sumotori.
Or imagine if you were a professional wrestler, and a mischievous imp had suddenly removed all the force of friction from the universe, so a simple action would send you sprawling across all existence embarrassingly. That’s sumo Tori.
Or imagine if you were trying to fight blindfolded, whilst so drunk that you thought your legs were your arms and visa versa. That’s Sumotori.
And that’s awesome.
While bouts are over in a handful of seconds at best, perhaps what’s most memorable is what happens afterwards. You see, while none of the defeats or victories have any dignity, the SumoTori hold desperately to a code of honour in the face of their malfunctioning nervous systems. When they fall over, they attempt to rise and bow to each other. Which sounds simple, but then you have moderate control of your extremities. In their case, they can get themselves stuck in loops, stumbling off the stage, breaking the barriers around it and falling arm-spinningly off into the distance.
But they persist. They won’t admit defeat. Jim, when he watches Sumotori, has sympathy for the poor creatures. I guess I do too – I can see their intrinsic heroism in their determination to never admit they don’t know how to stand up. Because – pretento-mode activated – what’s life other than our fleeting attempt to stand up for seventy years? And laughter is a response to the absurd. That the literally stony-faced Sumotori never admit their position makes it all the funnier.
I suppose part of my affection is due to it kind of deconstructing the whole idea of the fighting game. Away from the PC, they’ve become increasingly hermetic things, based around increasingly obtuse control systems for aficionados. Sumotori kind of takes the genre to one side, and says “Hey – isn’t it just about two blokes twatting each other?”. And lo, it is, and lo, it’s funny. There’s a small irony that for all its lack of pretense, it’s a more accurate simulation of most fighting in the world – i.e. grossly Post-pub arguing over someone looking at their bird/their kebab/their hetrosexuality – than the hyperfinesse that Virtua Fighter presents.
Clearly, it’s not a game that you’re going to devote your life too. But the idea that games have to be that is just another symptom of the problem. Games can be anything, and this is just a videogame joke, exceedingly well told. It’s as funny as anything else, from any medium, I’ve experienced this year, and if you think otherwise, we can meet up, drink a few bottles of home-brand Vodka and discuss the issue properly.
You see, PC games are simultaneously the smartest and dumbest gaming format in the world. On one side of the equation you have arthouse delights, post-Randian critique, and strategy games you’ll need an outboard brain to play, on the other… on the other, there’s Sumotori.
It makes me so happy, the only way I can possibly end this is a song and dance number.
Play the following links simultaneously.