In my quest to play as many Grasshopper Manufacture games as possible, I finally found myself a copy of Michigan. It’s a game I’ve been wanting to play for a long time, and in recent months, there have been a number of posts that have made playing it more of a priority. Kimimi’s blog had a good post on it, as well as some posts on the Select Button forums. They were not high on the game, which, in a weird way, made me want to play it even more. I had taken into consideration the shitty treatment of women, and the extremely haphazard, terrible writing it had. But there was still that bit of hope in my brain for something special. I went in expecting something like a video game version of the movie Nightcrawler; being a heartless bastard, filming abject human misery for the entertainment of the masses.
Let me get a few things out of the way now that I’ve played it: Michigan is most certainly not Nightcrawler in video game format. To be perfectly honest, the game is actually really terrible! The writing is just as atrocious as you’ve heard; nothing is explained, and the plot barely makes sense. Suda51 did not serve as this game’s writer, and it shows (he’s credited as “Original Idea,” so he was probably a beta tester), because even other GHM games that use surrealist imagery and are intentionally left vague for the purposes of player interpretation (or in Killer7’s case, released unfinished), they still make some degree of sense; everything still feels grounded and sensible, even when the world is full of weird sci-fi and paranormal shit. And on top of that, there’s no message behind any of the way-too-fucking-tame “carnage,” which is absolutely inexcusable for any media involving the sensationalist nature of the news. The game itself is buggy as shit. Its Europe-only localisation added in several bugs not present in the Japanese version; animations don’t work properly, there’s a missing level, at least one of the scoring mechanics doesn’t work, only one of the secret unlockable modes is actually accessible (more on that later), and there’s a fight scene that is straight up unplayable, which will lead to the reporter you’re working with to face an otherwise avoidable death. Oh, and despite being called “Michigan,” the game takes place in Chicago.
Michigan is really bad.
Which is why Michigan is also fucking awesome.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s badly written, buggy, sexist trash. But it’s so spectacular in its fuck-ups that the needle breaks and shoots all the way back around to being great. So Bad, It’s Good.
I streamed this game on Discord the day after Christmas to my friends Hazel and Violet. I’m showing them this 2-3 hour piece of barely-interactable entertainment where I’m an unnamed cameraman tasked with filming some mysterious evacuation order, which turns into a series of monster appearances and attacks, which turns into the aftermath of a viral outbreak by a mad scientists, which turns into something involving the military and the TV station you work for, which turns into…nothing. The ending and the post-credit sequence only add more questions than answers to a game that barely answers anything. But that doesn’t matter. The fun came from all of us laughing at the horrible voice acting, with the notable exception of Jean-Pierre Brisco, played by none other than musician/announcer from Street Fighter Alpha 3, Greg Irwin.
The fun came from Michigan’s attempts at melodrama, completely undercut by me filming upskirt shots of the reporter I was working with, in order to increase my “Erotic” score. But even that’s broken, because shooting butts and vag’s doesn’t do shit, since you only get points for filming their knees. I guess there’s a whole viewing audience that can only get hard from seeing a young woman’s kneecaps.
The fun comes from unlocking secrets, finding out they don’t work, and instead take you to a debug level where one of the reporters is on a stripper pole doing the most unsexy dance routine I’ve seen since that time I went to a strip club back in 2005 and the DJ put on Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” all while Brisco rants and raves about some bullshit. I imagine this was designed to be sexy, but is instead fucking hilarious in its nonsense.
The fun comes from talking about how much better Michigan could have been. The entire concept of a seedy paparazzi-level news crew filming a bunch of cool body horror shit should have been much better. It’s not like there’s a lack of moments that are genuinely chilling, but they’re so few and far between that I ended up goofing off with the camera to entertain myself and my friends. The biggest sin Michigan commits is being boring. Boredom is the worst thing any video game can be, doubly so for something that is otherwise very unique like this.
Michigan feels like a game concept whipped up by a horny teenager, who gave up his thought process mid-way through because the porn he downloaded off KaZaa finally finished. As it is, this is probably the worst Grasshopper game that isn’t Killer Is Dead, and is really only worth looking at to make fun of and contemplate a better game. Again, it’s so bad that it’s good, but it’s still bad.