The Buddha's blacklist

Also: berry men, multiverses, and country PNGtubers.

The Buddha's blacklist

EX is a research report about where culture is headed. You can learn more here. This week: an IP clown car arrives, the virtual octagon claims another victim, and real kids get fake-lost in the Midwestern Backrooms.

1. A new Earthbound-like RPG finds joy in awful jobs

Knuckle Sandwich — a minigame-addled RPG inspired by Earthbound and Warioware — is, in many ways, a game about getting a terrible fast food job. You perform menial tasks at breakneck speeds for fistfuls of "fortune rocks"; you squeeze and shimmy your way through a world crowded by colorful characters and big personalities; and you work tirelessly to juggle the demands of absurd people who consider you disposable. The main difference between Knuckle Sandwich and IRL service work, of course, is that Knuckle Sandwich is actually fun.

Knuckle Sandwich employs a turn-based combat system reminiscent of Undertale and the Paper Mario series, interrupting classic JRPG encounters with minigames and quick-time events that make battles feel alive and unpredictable. The game's plot mirrors this frenetic pacing, flickering between reality and surreality on a whim. Like all RPGs that take after Earthbound, Knuckle Sandwich takes every opportunity it can to subvert the player's expectations, filling in the negative space around the conventional JRPG format.

2. Animator turns Monsters, Inc. into multiverse mulch


MONSTERS INC MULTIVERSE PART 2 #monstersinc #multiverse #pixar #designbyfeo #unrealengine

♬ original sound - designbyfeo

You're not ready for the sheer volume of references contained in this TikTok. It opens with a hushed room packed with gaming's greatest men: the camera pans over Gears of War's Marcus Fenix, Dead Space's Isaac Clarke, Devil May Cry's Dante, and, inexplicably, Van Helsing circa 2004 before The Witcher's Geralt punts Saw's Billy the Puppet into the Monsters, Inc. scare factory. The camera manages glimpses of FNAF's Freddy Fazbear and Lord of the Rings' Gollum before looking down to reveal we’ve actually been Gordon Freeman the whole time. This is a follow-up to animator designbyfeo's "Monsters Inc. Multiverse" video, which presents another dizzying litany of references ranging from Poppy Playtime to The Nightmare Before Christmas.

How did we get to this free-for-all? Fortnite, Ready Player One, and Avengers: Infinity War created virtual playplaces that pit every action figure imaginable against one another in brand-friendly battle. But Elsagate showed that you don’t need that much of a pretext: children respond readily to IP parfaits with barely cogent narratives. Other YouTubers like ToastedShoes have continued to "ruin" games with mod crossovers for years, howling at the sight of Peter Griffin inexplicably appearing in Little Nightmares 2. But it seems like much of the audience is more entranced by the spectacle of out-of-bounds IP than the jokes. In designbyfeo’s comment section, viewers require only the bare semblance of a storyline to start waxing lyrical about whether Doomguy or Evil Dead's Ash Williams would be a more welcome ally.

3. Silent Hill show is so bad people think AI wrote it

Image credit: @VoidBurger on Twitter

Things aren't looking great for Silent Hill: Ascension. Marketed as a "Genvid Interactive Streaming series" and "audience-driven horror TV show," Ascension has been the target of continuous criticism for its bizarre performances, shallow decision-making, and lack of self-awareness. Twitter user @VoidBurger suggested AI-generated scripts might be to blame for its bland exposition and berrymen. @bobvids chimed in with "proof," citing a LinkedIn post that supposedly proves Genvid Entertainment used "autonomous AI characters" to have the show write itself. Genvid CEO Jacob Navok claimed that the show was written by "real people," but Ascension's critics remain skeptical given earlier Navok tweets. Vague statements about future projects are hardly a smoking gun, but it doesn’t really matter; the long-suffering Silent Hill community has already written this one off.

4. A 2000s visual mixtape that tastes like Bawls energy drink

KEIFER GR33N makes visual mixtapes that are jacked up on some kind of radioactive mid-2000s energy drink: his What’s Happening series layers lurid footage of Wrestlemania, JRPGs, Toonami-era anime, distorted MTV reruns, PS2 cutscenes, etc., over remixes of rap, nu metal, and retro game themes. It’s maybe unfair to say that the audiovisual slurries we’ve seen this year (the jokey mixes of Zorrovian, the CRT longplays of papa zen, the CoD edits of gone-too-soon bludlung) are converging on a specific reference point, like Sixth Generation gameplay footage; but they’re all mapping out neighboring regions of millennial childhood nostalgia.

5. UFC 5 has such sights to show you


Video posted on the r/EASportsUFC subreddit by u/Ok-Kitchen-4811; it was then reposted in a popular tweet by MMA commentator Ben Davis.

EA’s UFC 5 bombed with fans, but it did one thing right: turning its slow-motion KO replays into visions of the shadow realm. The glitch shown here — an elbow so destroying a man that his boneless body collapses in on itself and begins the erratic flight of a punctured balloon — would be something to see in any game. But the fact that it takes place within a faux-Raging Bull scene with gratuitous wet flesh folding noises, a monkish “hmmm” sound emerging from deep within one of the fighters, and obnoxious Vine booms punctuating the victim’s ascent: that’s what makes this one for the ages.

Body horror has always been a staple of the virtual octagon. The compilation “Rogan and Goldberg Commentate UFC glitches” put the series on the map for non-MMA fans back in 2014. UFC 2 gave us the immortal “helicopter move.” UFC 4 had the unpleasant “broken neck KO.” It may be true that UFC 5 is a mercenary retread with no soul, but at least it showed us what a soul leaving the body might look like.

6. Backpack Hero turned into a roguelike with legs

The mousey loot Tetris roguelike Backpack Hero crept out of Early Access on November 14, adding a story mode and the base-building meta progression that’s now de rigueur in the genre. The game now has a pretty gentle on-ramp before reaching full complexity, but eventually its packrat characters enter the world of challenge runs and “actual math.” Reception has been broadly positive (89% on Steam), with a few variety YouTubers sticking with it for longer playthroughs. But the notable thing about the game is the contrast between its twee Redwallish appearance and the strength of its one-more-run grip on players. Backpack Hero’s top Steam reviewers have hundreds of hours under their belt, which may come as a surprise to those who remember the modest scope of the game’s 2022 demo.

YouTube Thumbnail of the Week


Chum Box

  • The Backrooms and liminal spaces are less popular today than at their 2022 peak, but they’re still huge for creators like Rotting Midwest. The channel’s recent Tiktoks have grown increasingly popular as they mix narrative horror elements into real urban exploration footage. They seem to be aiming for kind of a V/H/S vibe: guys wandering around dangerous places and inviting trouble.
  • @weapogames is a funny TikTok PNGtuber who specializes in New Blood Interactive games.
  • One AI guy’s painful vision of a robot singer-songwriter was greeted with boos and full parody songs on Twitter. It’s becoming more common for posters to counter uncanny AI slop with their own even worse AI slop.
  • HEALTH, creators of one of the great game soundtracks, released a new video full of FMV footage from Command & Conquer: Red Alert.
  • Someone’s making a Cruelty Squad Online mod.
  • Did you know that talented players still make straight-laced, no-nonsense CoD edits? This irony-free screamo montage is one for the CoD dads.
  • A fan of the post-apocalyptic Crusader Kings 2 mod After the End announced on its subreddit that the mod led him to convert to Mormonism.
  • EA filed an odd patent for “player-voiced characters.” Some posters compared this to EA’s faddish enthusiasm for face mapping, which has since been mostly forgotten.
  • The Buddha had a list of games he would not play, including “guessing at letters traced in the air.”

That’s it for this week. We’ll be spending next week foraging for wild berries.