Oh, Blue Stinger. Sweet, sweet child. A game like you does not come about often enough. Critically and collectively panned for being one of the worst games to ever grace the Sega Dreamcast launch line-up, (available in the US one whole week before the Dreamcast launched!) Blue stinger manages to be a game I adore for being utterly atrocious. I like to think of it as my personal Plan 9 From Outer Space. Published in Japan by Sega and Activision everywhere else, the game was released in 1999 by developer Climax Graphics, (later rebranded to Crazy Games like the diamonds they are) Blue Stinger is one of two games released before the development house was shut down, the other game being the ever entertaining Illbleed.
Blue Stinger is an attempt at a horror game which succeeds only by the metric that it's a game-designer's worst nightmare. With lead character voicing by Ryan Drummond and the late Deem Bistrow in all regions of the game, it's a bit difficult to not think of Blue Stinger as "Sonic and Eggman's Bogus Journey". While all versions of the game have a terribly sloppy and awkward control scheme, it's a bit less awkward if one is not playing the western releases. The western version utilizes an awkward behind-the-character camera before the over-the-shoulder camera came to be in vogue and lacking any direct camera control causes it to be incredibly unwieldy at all times. The Japanese release on the other hand goes for a more traditional fixed camera often used in other horror games such as Resident Evil, though it's a bit unwieldy for a different reason.
"2000 A.D. A great earthquake rocks the Yucatan Peninsula causing an area of land 400 kilometers in diameter to sink into the ocean, leaving behind only a small island at the exact center of the sunken area.
Researchers are astonished to find that the area of land lost to the earthquake is exactly the size of the meteor which caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. This connection to a long forgotten past give the new island its name:
Set in the (of the this writing) rapidly approaching 2018, it is Christmas Eve and we find our hero Eliot G. Ballade is fishing with his unimportant and poorly voice-acted friend Tim aboard a boat off-coast of Dinosaur Island, it having become a state of the art research location of unknown governmental control by the inconsistently named Kimura/Kimra Tech group. Meanwhile in space, a meteoric object of a deliberately unfortunate shape zooms above and crashes down into the island, rocking the boat and sparking Eliot, a member of the ESER unit to head into the island that just had a mushroom cloud rise from it.
But not before a weird dome emerges from the center of the island and a spirit of some sort comes and decides for a misguidedly toyetic reason to take the shape of Tim's nude-woman-in-a-bottle collectors piece, which is introduced by the name of Nephirim but is called Nephilim by everyone afterward. It concludes that Eliot is the protagonist and will nakedly follow him through the game. After having an Adol-esque drop off the side of the boat, Eliot washes up on the docks of the Island, soon to be stalked by the other playable character and best part of the game, Dogs Bower. With the aid of a woman named Jeanine King, they must traverse the disaster-stricken commercial/industrial island and get to the bottom of things.
Eliot G. Ballade
An ESER (Emergency Sea Evacuation and Rescue or Especial Sea Rescue in the Japanese version) member whose first vacation in two years was interrupted by a would-be horror game. Eliot is annoying, weirdly chauvinistic and only has one L in his first name. He can equip a melee and ranged weapon at the same time, using a different button for each.
A captain of the S.S. DeAnna, Dogs is an initial founder of Dinosaur Island and is involved in its shipping and freight. Loud and brash, he manages to be the most likable and entertaining part of the game. He can only equip one weapon at a time, with the other action button resulting in him guarding attacks to reduce damage.
Jeanine is a member of the KISS security force on Dinosaur Island. She takes a leg wound during the impact which leaves her stuck in the island control room for a majority of the game. Has a bad relationship with Dogs.
Directed by Jeanine, the one person who bothered to look at the script, Eliot and Dogs will find that they must contend with mutants all across the island, the human varieties of which can be accurately threat-assessed by the color of their shirts. Complicating matters are bad attempts at Zelda block puzzles and ridiculous optional timed events which will grant rewards, usually in the form of weapons for the dynamic duo. Should these events be failed the following parts of the game become even more tedious than usual. An apt punishment for failure to be sure. Certain areas contain environmental hazards that really only serve to delay the player than impose any kind of interesting obstacle. Movement is dependant on the camera's position relative to the player which differs by region. A friend of mine is of the mind that the Japanese version controls like ass and the NA version controls like buttered ass. Regardless of region, often times the player will find themselves wedged in a door-frame while the camera sits in an uncooperative position and as a result enemies tend to attack from an unseen location.
The gameplay involves Eliot and Dogs traversing the island with an attempt at limited ammunition and healing items in the form of drinks and food. This however falls apart quite quickly when one defeats the first mutant and coins burst forth from it's body to be individually picked up. Upon re-entering the room the mutant and it's reward have respawned, leading to money limited only by one's own inclination to grind for it in a world where weapon magazines can literally be purchased from vending machines. Incidentally a pistol magazine is available for less than an 80 dollar sandwich. The weapons try to be kinda neat and indicative of the psuedo futuristic setting, but most of them fall into the 'cool but ineffective' category. Eliot's stupid and impractical double-triggered handgun (check the box-art again) is basically the go-to weapon of the game and most other ranged weapons are of questionable use, such as the shotgun that fires like a slow-burst SMG. Thankfully Dogs is a superhero who gains a thorough understanding of the martial arts depicted upon the T-Shirt he is currently wearing, the available selections are Karate, Wrestling and Sumo.
The visuals of Blue Stinger are... inconsistent. While the location designs and textures clearly have a lot of work and effort put into them to give an almost cyberpunk degree of neon and corporate culture, a large degree of the level layouts are incomprehensibly bad. The Hello Market is such a disaster that one can't even begin to discuss wheelchair access, you couldn't even push a shopping cart around with isles so small that people can only maneuver through them single file. While the island is currently under a crisis situation and there's more than a fair bit of debris lying about, there are several elements of it's design that make no sense from an urban development and planning perspective with several paths that exist solely because Blue Stinger is a video game. Not helping are the models that have obvious polygon joints and bizarre abdominal 4-packs to really creepy over-stretched textures of Santa Claus advertising Hassy. Yes, Hassy. The world-famous fictional beverage of choice found it's origin in Blue Stinger in the form of an energy drink, which is one of the first forms of healing that the player will come across, slam back and proceed to litter with an animation that's just as canned as the beverage. Similar animations play throughout the game as in-engine cutscenes don't actually model the characters moving in natural ways and instead perform exaggerated sequences that are more akin to emotes in a low-budget MMO. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, Blue Stinger never fails to be questionable to look at.
Blue Stinger sound design is all over the place. Sound effects are competent enough if underwhelming, but the voice work for scenes and the various voice clips and grunts for actions, damage and attacks are all just plain silly and poorly directed, with some lines being very obviously spliced together. Composed by Toshihiko Sahashi of Gundam SEED fame, the soundtrack largely consists of six tracks for actual play, with various situational themes and stingers reserved for events and cutscenes. The player is quickly acquainted with the piece of music they will be hearing for roughly 40% of the game and not long after that, the infamous "Lab Town" theme which is my personal vote for best holiday track since Jingle Bells.
As objectively train-wreck as the game is, I adore Blue Stinger as it has a certain kind of Z-grade charm to it. You have scenarios such as going to the Sega arcade and using an actual gun on a drop-target game, breaking the machine and getting an over-sized plush to give to a little girl in exchange for a door-code. Or walking through a refrigeration unit that's almost entirely catwalks and exposed coils to reach the actual frozen goods section that's one quarter the size of the unit. There's even the attract sequence that plays the trailer of the game that ends with "Coming Soon" and has a mouse cursor in it that could only exist from someone lazily recording from an existing video for the trailer and leaving their mouse in-screen. One might ponder the cost of human life when finding that safety hooks and cables are available to construction workers in vending machines for 500 dollars each. What game would be complete without bank fraud? The game is filled with stupid set-pieces, puzzles and padding that are just terrible and yet it's likable enough to pursue some of the rewards one gets for speed-running the game, the 'grand prize' of which is swimsuit mode... which is Eliot and Dogs in stars-and-stripes trunks and tight briefs respectively.
The Japanese and Western releases have curious differences largely related to on-screen English text. The Japanese version is subtitled in Japanese due to the full voice over in English, while the western versions have no subtitles at all. All of the items and locations you go to have names written in English in the menus but they’re mostly different in weird ways such as the “Shuttle” versus the “Dinoslope”. Save games from all regions are compatible with one another for some reason. Despite the M rating Blue Stinger is still subject to censorship as one of the areas in the market dedicated to pornography has been subject to catastrophic violence in the Japanese version while the western versions have the same room looking very clean, copy-pasted and chaste. There’s even a prompt asking the player if they are at least 21 years of age when attempting to enter this room in the Japanese version and is similarly removed.
A special mention must be dedicated to Dogs Bower for being the shining star in this whole mess. He feels almost out of place in this game that otherwise tries to take itself seriously and he'll have none of it, rather appropriately swearing like a sailor the whole way. The most notable moments of these is when while in the middle of infiltrating a high-security lab, he insists on having a bath. When asked what he'll do if he's attacked while butt-naked, his response is "Then I'll fight back butt-naked! Stop whining!" Dogs proved popular enough to get a cameo in Crazy Games's only other release, Illbleed, where Dogs shows up in one of the horror sequences.
While there are many horror games that have varying degrees of success in how scary they are or are not, none fail quite as spectacularly as Blue Stinger does, the closest coming to it's levels of absurdity would probably be Deep Fear or it's 'successor' Illbleed. Blue Stinger sold over 500,000 copies worldwide. About 5 years after it's release, creator and producer Shinya Nishigaki unfortunately died at the age of 42, ensuring that this particular kind of quirky horror-comedy would exist only in the early life of the Dreamcast.
Legacy of Liquid Refreshment
The energy drink Hassy has been used in other games including Illbleed, but most prominently in Midboss, LLC's Read Only Memories. Hopefully Hassy becomes the uniform drink of fiction.