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Vanellope von Akuma

November 5, 2012
by

So you have this “secret” character in your video game. This secret character is usually unplayable. It might not even exist. Before the age of GameFAQs and other online resources, such a character may as well be a glitch, right? You’ve heard rumors of how to access this character, but you haven’t personally seen them. Not quite Shen Long from Street Fighter 2 level of legendary– since that was an April Fool’s joke that went viral before people gave such phenomenon names and thus ruined their potency and relevance– but more like Akuma from Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo.

Akuma was a secret character. Unless you had access to the secret, he was just rumor and hearsay. Maybe you saw someone fighting M. Bison one day at the arcade, then some red and black dude popped out and killed Bison and that dude had to fight this mysterious twinked-out dude who fought like Ryu tripping on SNK Boss steroids. Akuma was in that game, and you could access him if you knew the right path and codes and shit, but he was effectively a glitch in the game. He shouldn’t be there. He wasn’t on the character select screen. He wasn’t one of the four bosses you knew were waiting for you after you kicked the asses of eight standard World Warriors. He was unnatural.

That’s basically the role this Vanellope character plays in Wreck-It Ralph. She’s a secret character buried deep inside the game’s code. Yeah, sure, she was turned into such because of some lame plot about a game-jumping bad guy or whatever, but for all intents and purposes she’s the Akuma of this Sugar Rush game. If she were to actually be in a race, her glitching power would be just as twinked out and overpowered as Akuma was in Turbo. They both teleport around and basically win by being completely broken. In Turbo, Akuma’s the sort of character no one actually used once his “secret” was revealed. You might pick him to show off every now and then, especially when someone who never played the character wants to see him, but only dick would choose him in a typical pick up game in the arcade.

So the entire plot of Wreck-It Ralph is all about Akuma winning. Vanellope’s “glitch” is cured and now she’s free to be that overpowered character no one should ever pick, except we’re supposed to find this uplifting. This is supposed to be your typical “embrace yourself and never be ashamed of who you are” plot, but the real focus of this story is Akuma in drag.

This really bothers me because it’s the biggest sign that the guys writing this movie just plain don’t get video games.

Anyone who actually did the arcade thing back in the day wouldn’t find a character like Vanellope all that appealing. She breaks the game by adding in a mechanic that apparently makes her vastly superior to the rest of the game’s roster. And to boot, they made this broken character the game’s main hero. She’s the fucking princess of the Sugar Rush world. That’s like saying Akuma’s actually misunderstood and is actually a more pure and honest version of Ryu. That’s like saying Missing No is the most powerful Legendary Pokemon.

And that’s like saying Zangief is a villain. No. Zangief is not a villain. He was never portrayed as such in the Street Fighter games. That bullshit only comes from the movie.

Wreck-It Ralph gets all the aesthetics of video games right, but the actual meat of the movie shows it knows jack shit about gaming. The stuff that actually matters is about as contrary to the spirit of gaming as you can get. Old school games, like the ones Fix-It Felix represent, have nothing to do with getting “medals.” They’re all about playing the game to get the highest score. Once you beat that level, you play it again. And again. And again. You keep playing until all of your lives are gone, and once you die you write your three-letter initials in pixelated Valhalla. The concept of medals, or trophies, or achievements, or whatever you want to call them, is a purely modern conceit based purely around home-based console gaming. Arcade gaming was all about the highest score, beating player two, or plugging in enough tokens as you die repeatedly while trying to get to the final boss.

So yeah, as far as seeing video game characters interact, it was fun. I genuinely liked Ralph’s crisis at the beginning of the movie. I liked seeing how game characters effectively become homeless when their game is out-of-order. The movie brought up some interesting bits that could have turned into an allegory for how arcades are dying. That was genuinely interesting stuff. What we got was typical Disney schlock with some retro gaming graphics written by people whose only exposure to arcades seems to be downloading games on X-Box Live.

You want a movie that captures that old school gaming vibe? Go watch Scott Pilgrim.

Also: If everyone treats their game world like jobs and hangs out and stuff, why is there such a prejudice against bad guys? The idea of villains becoming heroes is hardly new, and vice versa. Look at Donkey Kong Jr. In that game, Mario is the villain. It’s all about Junior saving his dad from Mario’s clutches. Mario’s been a hero and a villain in his day, and the same with Donkey Kong. Considering that Felix and Ralph are obvious replacements for those two characters, it doesn’t make sense that the characters in Felix’s game shun Ralph, especially after 30 years of video game history. Yeah, it’s supposed to be some traditional Disney “don’t reject people” story, but it simply doesn’t make sense in this context. Yet another reason why these guys just don’t get video games, and another reason why I couldn’t get into this movie.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2012 12:41 PM

    I like how whilst we had similar problems with the movie, you had more of a problem with the video game stuff being mishandled whilst I had a problem with the Disney formula itself being mishandled (seriously, that sort of “reveal” should never be used in a “don’t reject people” story, especially when it’s not concerning the guy who’s supposed to be the main character). I’d still recommend the movie, but I honestly could have used more of a Roger Rabbit-feel.

    And yeah, I found it weird that the “heroes” of Fix-It Felix were more dickish than Ralph could ever be.

  2. November 5, 2012 2:35 PM

    Will read this when the movie comes out in my country in January. Jeah, our distribution sucks.

  3. Taka permalink
    November 7, 2012 1:58 AM

    I read reviews for movies I haven;t seen yet. I liked the SA review that said Wreck-It Ralph didn’t know who it was targeting. The video game stuff is sort of dressing but the message isn’t actually the typical disney fluff. As I understood it the takeaway message was: “your job matters (or your job will matter)” which is a message directed not specifically kids…but possibly at people who would have decent recollection of pac-man or donkey kong.

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