If you search for the meaning of Camp on the internet, you get a lot differently phrased answers. And I believe that many of them are more or less correct. Camp isn’t easily defined and can easily be confused with “cheesy” or “kitsch”.
In Susan Sontags essay “Notes on Camp” from 1964 she writes “Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization. The essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration”.
It basically means “We know how dumb this seems, and that’s why it’s good”. Kind of. You don’t have to quote me on that.
She also lists things like Tiffany lamps, Bellini’s Operas, Tchaikovsky Swan Lake and, very specific, certain turn-of-the-century picture postcards. But if we look at more modern works of camp, people usually refer to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but I like to think of the Evil Dead-series. It’s a gory and horrific series of films, but we are still laughing and being amused by the absurdity of everything that is happening. And also – the original Batman tv-series. Very camp.
Blue Stinger is so dumb and exaggerated in its characters and design, but the moment I recognized it as camp was when I had just bought, from a vending machine, a t-shirt that gave me the ability to Sumo wrestle, and when I went to try it out – this song started playing.
You play as two characters. Eliot Ballade and Dogs Bower. Having those dumb name aside, Eliot is also just an all-around dumb guy. Do we have a clip? Dogs is, for the most part, pretty cool. Roll clip! The game takes place on an island, called Dinosaur Island,near the Yucatan Peninsula. That’s where the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs crashed 66 million years ago! Now, a new meteorite crashes and for some reason creates a barrier around the island. You would think that an island with the word “Dinosaur” in it would inhabit dinosaurs, but no. Instead, you fight people that have very quickly mutated into monsters, and other deformed creatures that I assume have nothing to with the Jurassic period.
The story doesn’t really unfold in the most interesting way. Most of your “quests” involve finding information or ways to physically move from one location to another, rather than impacting the story with your gameplay actions. While always being hilarious to watch – most of the cutscenes just stops the pacing dead in its tracks, perhaps because the lip syncing is always off, and some cutscenes don’t even make any sense.
Blue Stinger looks like, and initially feels like, a survival-horror game, complete with save rooms and endless menu browsing, but is, in reality, a game where you shoot things. You can switch between Dogs and Eliot at any time you want. The difference between them is that Dogs can only use one weapon at a time, but heavier ones like the gatling gun, whereas Eliot can hold a projectile weapon and a melee weapon at the same time, utilizing them with different buttons. The weapon arsenal contains a few actually useful ones, but a lot more of the impractical, fun ones. Eliot’s Power Mixer is super fun, but tough to use because when enemies hit you, they break your attack animation every time, but you don’t break theirs until you use a power move that usually happens at the end of your combo on many low-level weapons. A way to break the games combo system was to use Dogs Sumo shirt since it basically put the enemy in a constant stun-lock. Keeping the napalm launcher fully loaded at all times make most of the boss fights finish under the five-minute mark. It’s sad that in a game with 22 different weapons, it’s clear that one path is better than others. But at the same time, it doesn’t really give you the freedom to experiment, since weapons are pretty expensive and you need your money to buy sandwiches and energy drinks.
Reading interviews with Shinya Nishigaki, the man behind Blue Stinger and the then President of Climax Graphics, it’s obvious that western cinema has been influential in making his games. Originally working in advertising, Nishigaki had clients in the video game industry and soon jumped over to the other side when he took a job at Enix, localizing Dragon Quest 2 and 3. But he is probably more famous for writing the scenarios for Land Stalker for Sega Mega Drive when working for Climax Entertainment – the company that Climax Graphics would later grow out of.
But the game he is most known for is arguably Blue Stinger. With the Dreamcast to become a more powerful machine than any other had ever been up to that point, Nishigaki saw his opportunity to make his cinematic aspirations a reality. And that is noticeable not just in the games cut-scenes, but also when walking around in the world itself. Much like in Resident Evil, the camera in the Japanese version of Blue Stinger is detached from the player and shows the character from different angles to create tension and give a movie-like feel to the gameplay. Basic 90’s survival horror tropes, but the twist is the camera isn’t static anymore. It’s like it’s on a crane or a dolly. When Activision bought the rights to publish the game in Europe and America, they wanted the camera to follow the characters from behind instead. The way you control the characters in Blue Stinger is not optimized from that angle. This is, for example, usually how you view a room when you enter it. And then you start shooting, I guess. I can see the appeal, but being able to switch between the two camera systems would have bumped the quality of the gameplay up a lot.
A game that made it all work was Resident Evil 4. Though five years later, RE4 was still being able to keep the tension by placing the camera very close to Leon giving the player a very limited field of view. You also had to stop and aim manually while trying to keep your cool with hordes of “zombies” walking towards you. Every shot mattered since bullets where hard to come by. And every attack you sustained was devastating and took away a large part of your health.
Blue Stinger is the opposite of all that. Though it is obvious that Blue Stinger has no intention of being scary, the camera placement makes your field of view a wide one so nothing can really catch off guard. You hardly have to line your character up for the auto-aim to do all the work. And since the enemies respawn every time you re-enter an area, you can with very little effort farm them for money and become the richest person on the planet and buy all the health and ammo you want, as well as extending your life bar by eating steak dinners.
It would seem like the wrong way to play, but at times the game seems to demand it. The way the ‘puzzles’ are constructed is that you basically run around in different rooms to pull different levers, to push different buttons and to open new doors. And since you exit and enter so many different rooms in such a short amount of time, the number of enemies you have to fight becomes expensive since they constantly respawn. You could just run past a couple of them, but you still want that cash. And on top of that, there can be a lot of back-tracking since you periodically need to return to the control room, the games “hub”.
Okay, so, Blue Stinger is not a very good survival horror game, and it’s not an especially challenging action game. So, what it is? It’s never not boring. Climax Graphics built a world that shows you something new behind each door. You move through an convenience store searching for stamps from Pen Pen Triicelon, run through an ice storage trying not to freeze to death, visit an arcade, poison fish, buy a movie ticket, blow up a tower, extinguish fires with a water pistol, dress up like Santa and a lot more things on top of that. Blue Stinger is a huge game with around 230 different locations and it somehow pushes you to want to see the next area, the next ridiculous interaction and the next gameplay gimmick.
In the beginning of 2004, Shinya Nishigakis heart stopped and he passed away only 42 years old.
His work is very much worth playing and he is worth remembering. Whether you are playing Land Stalkers or Illbleed, it’s obvious you are playing a love letter.
And in playing Blue Stinger, your brain will keep telling you howterribly bad all of this is, but in your heart, you will know that this is a terribly bad masterpiece.