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Blue Stinger: On a Hello Market Slay Ride


"And when those blue snowflakes start falling

That's when those blue memories start calling

You'll be doing all right

With your Dreamcast of white

But I'll have a blue, blue, blue, Blue Stinger"

- Elvis Presley

Every year, I must indulge in a series of holiday rituals before I can even think about getting into the Christmas spirit. First, I’ll string up multicolor lights around my living room. Then I’ll help bring cheer to the folks of Twin Seeds City in Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams. Inevitably, I’ll watch Clark Griswold be an irredeemable asswart to his neighbor Julia Louise-Dreyfus in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s a process.

With those nostalgic boxes checked, I’ll then turn to more subtle, personal ways of rediscovering the holiday magic. That can include taking a simple reprieve from the stressful work season with my puppy. Or I’ll stuff my gullet with my mom and aunt’s dueling Christmas cookie platters. My girlfriend and I also tried hate-watching Lifetime holiday movies until we realized we were really just regular-watching them. BTW, shout outs to the one about the family's struggling fruitcake company and the one with Reba McEntire. By this point, I’m really starting to feel the Christmas spirit.

Then – just when the time is right – I’ll pop the star atop the proverbial tree: Climax Graphics’ Christmas-adjacent Dreamcast classic, Blue Stinger.

Here comes Santa Dogs, Here comes Santa Dogs...

Whether the Dreamcast fan community regards it as a brilliant cult classic or a survival horror(ible) jankfest, Blue Stinger doesn’t much give a fuck what we think of it. What it is, though, is an absurd and campy holiday action game that makes my cup runneth over with Yuletide cheer.

Ironically, Blue Stinger’s island setting must be a miserable place to spend Christmas. Off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Dinosaur Island is portrayed as a kitschy company town under the thumb of a shady biogenetic research corporation, a monopolistic energy drink empire, and gun-stuffed vending machines everywhere (you’ll shoot your eye out, kid!). Even without some kind of cosmic catastrophe, Dinosaur Island is a quaint slice of hell. And of course there’s a cosmic catastrophe. One foggy Christmas Eve, an interstellar object impacts the island and transforms many of its residents into monsters, who then slaughter just about everyone else. If anything, Blue Stinger’s dour premise helps me appreciate that – no matter how chaotic and stressful my own holiday season may be – it's not nearly as bad as the Christmas that laid slain almost the entire population of Dinosaur Island.

That’s uplifting, right? Maybe? Erm...

I won’t waste a ton of time recapping the rest of Blue Stinger’s batshit premise but I should at least mention its co-protagonists just so it's less random when I refer to them later. The first guy, Eliot G. Ballade, is on a vacation from his coast guard rescue job and he’s enjoying some holiday R&R aboard a fishing boat…that is, until the ensuing chaos brings his vacation plans to an explosive halt. He soon washes ashore on nearby Dino Island and meets Dogs Bower, a grizzled supply ship captain, heavy firearms expert, and part-time Santa. A regular jack-of-all-trades, that dude. Anyway, Eliot and Dogs are fun. They're voiced by the same actors as Sonic (Ryan Drummond) and Eggman (Deem Bristow, R.I.P) in Sonic Adventure. They also make monsters go die with big guns and kung fu. 

So that’s where our adventure begins.

Worst fishing trip ever, eh Eliot?
(Blue Stinger’s intro sequence is basically whatever the opposite of Sega Bass Fishing is)

For the game’s first hour or so, the holiday vibes are minimal. Eliot and Dogs wind their way through dull docks, corridors, and shuttle bays, bludgeoning the odd humanoid monster or mutant tentacle along the way. Then things take a festive turn as the duo arrives at Hello Market, the first of Dino Island’s more dense and labyrinthian locales. Approaching the entrance, its holiday vibes hit swiftly and violently. Its audacious light display drenches us in a wall of neon snowmen, Christmas trees, and product sale banners. It leaves no doubt that ‘tis the season and there is no escape.

And as we’re bombarded by its visual spectacle, this song reverberates through our eardrums...

Forever.

Hello Market is equal parts dingy department store and Yuletide fever dream. Its jaunty Muzak is exuberant and infectious, repetitive, and omnipresent. It’s also been stuck in my head for over two decades now. Inside Hello Market’s sanctum of consumption, its halls are decked with refrigerators full of pet food, spoiled veggies, and discount mystery meats, with a smattering of spilled wine barrels and blood splatters for set dressing. Anchoring the space, various departments satiate every appetite: video rentals; toys; firearms; porn. All the food groups.

The market corridors usher us around, sprinkling our journey with collectibles and obligatory fetch quests for the few surviving employees we encounter. There’s even a stamp collecting quest featuring the bizarre penguin characters from Pen Pen TriIcelon (a similarly underappreciated Dreamcast launch gem). In all the marketing case studies we covered in college, I can recall neither a more glorious nor ill-conceived cross-branding effort as this. Those NASCAR romance novels might be up there, though.

For our purposes, the myriad vending machines headline Hello Market's attractions. They dispense all the essentials: Hassy energy drinks, steak platters, napalm bombs…lightsabers. Their wares can turn Dogs into an OP motherfucker with boss-shredding Gatling guns and t-shirts which grant him a flurry of kung fu abilities. One of my favorite offerings is Eliot’s stun rod. It isn’t the most powerful weapon but it makes spirits bright as it decapitates mutants aplenty with dazzling electric bursts. In the true spirit of Christmas, there is no end to Hello Market’s litany of bombastic consumer indulgences.

The holidays may be a time for giving but Blue Stinger understands that to satisfy our gluttony for chaos, we must feed its economic maw. And as the game’s primary currency, violence is both the means and the ends. Dogs and Eliot begin by sleighing the hordes of monsters with whatever fists or fire axes they have on hand. Enemies pop like piñatas, gushing out coins with each death. Kill enough of the former – and accrue enough of the latter – and we can buy shiny, more destructive toys for even merrier gore-filled fun.

This cycle of consumerism-fueled violence both complements and clashes with the game's campy cinematic influences and unsubtle holiday charm. It is a potent cocktail that highlights everything Blue Stinger is about, both in play and in its critique of corporate hubris and our commodification of Christmas. As a game, I think more people have come around to the interpretation that Blue Stinger is more of an eccentric, holly jolly beat ‘em up than anything resembling the Resident Evil or Silent Hill games it was lazily judged against in 1999. Scarcity is a crucial pillar of any survival horror game, and Blue Stinger’s deliberate lack of it guarantees its jauntier experience is anything but. Despite the game’s tepid critical reception, those comparisons ultimately worked to its benefit, however. Blue Stinger apparently sold a half million copies, making it a relative commercial success for the time.

This time of year, I have a blast on my holiday excursions to Dinosaur Island. Moseying around Hello Market and the island's other festive locales, Blue Stinger surrounds us with all the holiday’s most superficial comforts and excesses. Then it invites us to light them on fire. Although it's true we can’t consume our way out of problems that consumption created in the first place, there's at least a novel catharsis in punching, kicking, shooting, piercing, grinding, bashing, blasting, and burning away the Christmas blues. At least for one moment, Blue Stinger lets us imagine we can brute force our way to holiday cheer.

Merry Christmas, holy shit – where’s the Tylenol?

Regardless of whatever your cable news and/or social media propaganda of choice tells you, the real war on Christmas is waged right here in Blue Stinger.

Speaking of burning, I just realized Blue Stinger now goes for up to fifty bucks on eBay as I write this. Jeezus. I mean, please do play it if you haven’t already but like, maybe steal it, you know?

And definitely play the Japanese version if you can. It’s slightly cheaper, very import friendly, and features a more intentional, cinematic camera that enriches Blue Stinger’s festive, B-movie charm.

If you love Blue Stinger like I do, I also recommend checking out these excellent Blue Stinger-related interviews and articles:

Blue Stinger – 1998 Developer Interview | Shmuplations (Archived)

Remembering Shinya Nishigaki and his "Crazy Games" Blue Stinger and Illbleed | GameDeveloper, formerly (*cringe*) Gamasutra

The Dreamcast’s ‘Blue Stinger’ Was a Campy, Messy Attempt to Breathe New Life IntoSurvival Horror | Bloody Disgusting

Up Close and Personal with Shinya Nishigaki | Official Dreamcast Magazine (US) Issue #0:


My apologies for the image quality on those ODCM pics. I just took them hastily with my phone right before posting this article. Maybe I’ll scan them properly at some point when I’m not running late for holiday festivities.

Rest in peace, Nishigaki-san!

And if you’ve somehow gotten this far into the post and are not charmed by Blue Stinger — but could still use a boost to help get into the holiday spirit — here are some of those absurdly festive Sonic pics from Sega’s old calendars and such (also featured in Sonic Jam and the Sonic screen saver gallery):

Cheers!

- Brian | @VirtuaSchlub

3 comments:

Tom Charnock said...

A truly fitting love letter to Hello Market! I am dreaming of a really bad sitcom set inside a branch of Hello Market, with Hassy deliveries turning up at the most inopportune time. Such japery. Great stuff, Brian :)

Father Krishna said...

A fabulous synopsis of my own feelings about this truly wonderful seasonal classic. I think Blue Stinger might have been the first game I ever put into my first (second hand) Dreamcast in 2004. It blew me away then, but has continued to entice and intrigue me, right into 2021. I've never completed it, but this review has ensured it'll be getting a spin this Boxing Day! BTW Brian... our preparation and rituals leading up to this Yuletide season are scarily similar... down to the Griswald watching, Nights playing and light stringing! A great tribute to a great game!!! 🥰

JúlioSlayer Oliveira said...

I love it!!! Blue Stinger Forever. I really hope that some fan/Dev does an English translation of the original Japanese version (predominantly the menu screens and some subtitles. The voices are already english). The camera angles are completely different and they are, form me, much more artistic. T think it fits the game engine better. The western version is a little harder and has some extras, but I still stick with the Japanese original. Because of the original camera angles, the game has a completely different atmosphere and mood too.