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, or a Vegas impersonator thereof

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 with a couple runs through Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams. Inevitably, I’ll watch Clark Griswold be an 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. I'll take a simple reprieve from the stressful work season with my puppy. And stuff my gullet with my mom and aunt’s dueling cookie platters. My girlfriend and I also tried hate-watching Lifetime holiday movies until we realized we were just normal-watching them. Shout out to the one about the family's struggling fruitcake company and the one with Reba McEntire, btw. By this point, I’m really starting to feel the Christmas spirit.

Then – when the time is just 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. All told, it's an absurd and campy holiday action game that makes my cup runneth over with Yuletide joy.

In fairness, 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 en masse (you’ll shoot your eye out, kid!). Even barring cosmic catastrophe, Dinosaur Island is its own quaint slice of hell.

And of course there’s a cosmic catastrophe. One foggy Christmas Eve, an interstellar object crashes into the island and transforms many of its residents into monsters, who in turn slaughter almost everyone else. If nothing else, Blue Stinger’s dour premise helps me appreciate that – no matter how chaotic and stressful my own holiday season may be – it can't be as bad as the Christmas that laid slain nearly the entire population of Dinosaur Island.

That’s uplifting, right? Sort of?

At the game's outset, we're introduced to Eliot G. Ballade, who is enjoying a holiday vacation away from his coast guard rescue job. He’s relaxing on a fishing boat…until the impact 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 real jack of all trades. Fun fact: Eliot and Dogs are also voiced by the same actors as Sonic (Ryan Drummond) and Eggman (Deem Bristow, R.I.P.) from Sonic Adventure. But for now, they're just here to make monsters go die with big guns and kung fu. 

And that’s where our adventure begins.

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

For the game’s first hour or so, the holiday vibes are negligible. Eliot and Dogs wind their way through dull docks, corridors, and shuttle bays, bludgeoning the odd humanoid monster or mutant tentacle along the way. 

Things take a festive turn when 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 bluntly. Its audacious light display drenches us in a wall of neon snowmen, Christmas trees, and product sale banners. It leaves little doubt that ‘tis the season and there is no escape.

And as we bathe in the glow of its spectacle, this song reverberates through our eardrums...

Forever. (Blue Stinger’s OST has no chill)

Hello Market is equal parts dingy department store and Yuletide fever dream. Its jaunty Muzak is exuberant, and infectious, and repetitive, and omnipresent. It’s also been stuck in my head for decades. 

Inside the market’s sanctum of consumption, its halls are decked with fridge displays of pet food, veggies, and discount mystery meats, with a smattering of spilled wine barrels and blood splatters for extra flair. Anchoring the space, various departments satiate every appetite: video rentals, toys, firearms, porn. All the food groups.

The market's corridors usher us along, dusting our journey with collectibles and obligatory fetch quests for its few surviving employees. There’s even a stamp collecting quest featuring the bizarre penguin characters from Pen Pen TriIcelon (a similarly under-appreciated Dreamcast launch gem). In all the marketing case studies I read about in college, I can recall neither a more delightful nor ill-conceived collaborative campaign as this.

For our purposes, myriad vending machines headline Hello Market's attractions. They dispense all the essentials: Hassy energy drinks, steaks, napalm bombs, lightsabers...and a partridge in a pear tree. Their wares transform Dogs into an OP motherfucker with boss-shredding Gatling guns and t-shirts which grant him sumo and karate abilities, but one of my favorites is Eliot’s stun rod. It isn’t the most powerful weapon but it makes spirits bright as it decapitates mutants with dazzling electric bursts. In the true spirit of Christmas, there is no end to Hello Market’s destructive commercial indulgences.

The holidays may be a time for giving but Blue Stinger knows that to satiate our gluttony for chaos, we must feed its economic maw. And as the game’s main currency, violence is both the ends and the means. Dogs and Eliot begin by slaying 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, in its bombastic play; in its zealous vibrancy; in its critiques of corporate hubris and our commodification of Christmas. 

Hassy Holidays!

As a video 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 (and ever since). Scarcity is a crucial pillar of any survival horror game, and Blue Stinger’s deliberate lack of it feeds a different, jauntier beast. Despite the game’s tepid critical reception, those comparisons ultimately worked to its favor. 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 vibrant locales, Blue Stinger surrounds us with the holiday’s most superficial comforts and excesses. Then it invites us to light them on fire. Although we can’t consume our way out of problems consumption created in the first place, there's at least a novel catharsis in punching, kicking, shooting, piercing, grinding, bashing, slashing, blasting, and burning away the Christmas blues. At least for a 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, we're waging the real war on Christmas right here in Blue Stinger.

And definitely play the Japanese version of Blue Stinger if you can. It’s English friendly and features a more intentional, cinematic camera, enriching the game's festive, B-movie charm.

If you love Blue Stinger — or just want to read more about it — I’d 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 | Game Developer

The Dreamcast’s ‘Blue Stinger’ Was a Campy, Messy Attempt to Breathe New Life Into Survival 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.