Sunday, November 1, 2009

Les Misérables: The Fighting Game

If you ever wanted to beat up one of the characters from Les Misérables, here’s your chance.

Arm Joe, created by an amateur programmer from Japan, is a one-on-one fighting game in the same vein as Street Fighter II and King of Fighters. Based on the Les Misérables musical, the game features anime style representations of Les Mis characters like Jean Valjean, Enjolras, Marius, Cosette, Éponine, Thénardier and Javert. The physical embodiment of judgment serves as the game’s final boss.

In case you’re wondering, the name Arm Joe is a parody of the play’s Japanese title, Ah Mojou, meaning “Ah, cruelty.”

As someone who has daydreamed about a one-on-one fighting game adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and a first person, 3D version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in just knowing that Arm Joe exists. However, the game itself has some control and balance issues: Some characters are hopelessly underpowered and others can easily win matches using a single attack over and over again. The graphics and sound are excellent, though, and overall it’s a pretty decent game. Given the fact that Arm Joe is a free download, it seems a little inappropriate to criticize it too harshly.

Arm Joe brings the characters of Les Misérables to life in a way that’s virtually impossible in any other medium. Introducing students to Arm Joe might just be the key to getting some of them interested in the novel or the musical, or it could be used as a sort of enrichment exercise after finishing Les Misérables in class.

Purists might complain that this game isn’t a faithful adaptation of the Les Misérables novel or musical – and they would be correct. Just consider Robojean, the cyborg version of Valjean who fires rockets at his opponents, and Ponpon, a bunny creature who has nothing to do with the Les Mis mythos who is inexplicably tossed in with the rest of the characters. However, a creative teacher might take the opportunity to discuss the differences and similarities between the works, as well as talking about how ideas, stories and sensibilities change as they move to new kinds of media. After all, there are some key alterations between the stage version of Les Misérables and Victor Hugo’s original novel, so changes in new adaptations of the story are to be expected.

Teachers might also use Arm Joe to help explain the concept of parody to their students, given the humorous aspects of the game in contrast to the seriousness of the musical and novel.

I hope that more game makers, both independent and commercial, will use classic novels as inspiration for future video games. Faithful game adaptations of the classics might be one of the stepping stones in using gaming to educate our students.

Download Arm Joe.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure literary criticism and rocket launchers have the same learning focus. But I'm open to the idea if you can justify it. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of the "re-imaginings" of Jane Austen Novels, Pride & Predjuice & Zombies and the new one Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. The authors even have book group Q and A. I'm waiting for a friend to finish with them for me to borrow.

    This is a great subject because it examines the line between clever and benficial. Which is something you always have to do when you are dealing with technology.