The vast and powerful universal forces that govern our lives are endlessly fascinating, but I have neither the time nor the intellect to write about cosmology or subatomic particle physics so here's a completely made-up load of old bollocks instead: it's Russell Grant's Astrology, brought to the Nintendo DS in 2009 by Sproing Interactive Media!
That's astrology, not astronomy. You can tell because the title screen consists of vaguely Ancient Greek-looking symbols plastered on rose-coloured spheres that swirl towards the player, presumably to confuse and disorient them. If this was about astronomy, it'd have stars and constellations and stuff, not what looks like something your eccentric great-aunt would keep next to a bowl of pot pourri in her bedroom, which she unfailingly refers to as a "boudoir."
If you're following VGJunk on Twitter, you might have seen me make the admittedly bold claim that Russell Grant's Astrology has the worst cover art ever. On a technical level this is clearly not true - it's a completely ordinary photo-and-text job, but there's something about it that upsets me.
I think it's the grinning, beady-eyed face of professional bullshit merchant and D-list British "celebrity" Russell Grant, a man whose large pink head could well be what the word "fleshy" was created to describe. He looks like a less charming version of Meatwad from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and while I'm trying to prevent this from becoming nothing but a personal attack on the man I wouldn't trust him to predict yesterday's weather, never mind my entire future.
For any non-British readers who won't be aware of who Russell Grant is, he's, well, an astrologer. He was on TV in the eighties and nineties, astrologising, releasing cover versions of Diana Ross songs (no, really) and doing light presenting work. Then he disappeared for a while, until the recent-ish glut of celebrity "talent" shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Celebrity MasterChef allowed Grant to seep back into the public conciousness where he maintains a position as harmless, cuddly oddball. As Britain's most (and possibly only, barring Mystic Meg) well-known astrologer, he was a shoo-in to have his name hastily applied to this Nintendo DS release. It was called Astrology DS: The Stars in Your Hands outside Europe, just in case you have a burning desire to get your hands on a copy.
The tone of this article thus far may have clued you in to the fact that I am not a believer in astrology. It's something of a pet hate of mine: astrologers, psychics, mediums, they get my goat in a way that many of the world's more pressing injustices don't, and I'm well aware that's a failing on my part. "It's all just harmless fun," people say, but then they get their phone bill after calling Russell Grant's premium-rate astrology hotline and the fun quickly evaporates. If you want to pay someone to lie to you about your romantic prospects, then just hire an escort. At least that way you get to go out for dinner.
I'm going to try to give Russell Grant's Astrology a chance, though. Maybe it'll be interesting. I might learn something about myself. One plus mark in its favour is that Russell Grant himself does not feature anywhere in the game at all, his appearance restricted to the cover art as the most ill-considered piece of eye-candy ever.
Before the stars can be read and your future divined, you have to set up a profile and fill it with your personal information so that the game can create an accurate astrological chart. So, you stick in your name, date of birth, time of birth and, as you can see above, the place you were born. This is very important, so important that for extra precision you can input the longitude and latitude of your birth location. The spot that you came into this world is a huge determining factor in your astrological predictions, which is why twins almost always lead identical lives.
Once you personal data is in place, you can select one of the main menu's categories to get started. Astro Adviser can give you a daily horoscope, track your biorhythms or provide you with some waffle abut the cycles of the moon. The Horoscope option chucks out vague predictions about your love, life, work or partner prospects. Academy is where you can undergo the rigorous academic training required to become a fully-fledged but in no way regulated or monitored astrologer, and the Entertainment category, named with a charming amount of optimism, gives you the chance play a few minigames. I'm going to make my own prediction right now - those minigames will be bloody awful.
Okay, time for my Daily Stars. What wisdom do you have for me, Russell Grant / shovelware developers?
I have to make myself beautiful for a man, apparently. Straight out of the gate with some weirdly misogynistic ideas about how women should be "adornments" to their men, Russell Grant's Astrology assumes that the user is either a woman or gay and, more upsettingly, that I don't make an effort to look good. I mean, I don't - I'm writing this while wearing jogging bottoms and a dressing gown with holes in it - but it's terribly rude of RGA to assume that everyone who uses it needs a makeover. Anyway, my chosen partner doesn't care how I look. This is probably because my chosen partner is cake, however. Not a good start for RGA's prestidigitous powers of prediction, then, but maybe it will have better luck when it comes to my love life.
Well, it knows that my love life is an emotional pit so maybe it does have magical powers? Now everything is on the up and I'm heading towards romantic bliss, a situation that is represented somewhat abstractly by a picture of shoes and floating numbers. Later on, I'm going to go and buy some women's shoes and play some bingo, and if I meet the love of my life at Wynsor's World of Shoes or Mecca Bingo then I'll be sure to let you know.
Moving over to the Horoscope section, and a lot of it is taken up with an essay about what your astrological sign "means" that feels very strongly as though it's been copy-and-pasted from some other source. I hope that's true, and I hope it's true of all the other text in the game, because otherwise some poor bastards had to sit there and come up with all this vaguely life-affirming nonsense and then input it into the game.
Perhaps part of the reason that I'm so strongly opposed to astrology is that I'm bitter about my personality being the complete opposite of what an Aries is supposed to be like. They possess energy, initiative, pride, courage and ambition, according to the so-called Mystical Space Objects Movement Experts, where as I am a lazy coward with all the ambition and drive of plastic bag floating in a puddle. Explain that, astrologers!
Here's my biorhythm for the day. I have passed my physical zenith. I didn't need a Nintendo DS game to tell me that.
Then I checked the moon cycle information, where I was rewarded with a helpful tip about getting rid of snails. Snails - not a parasite, Mr. Grant. Also, why is there advice about removing garden pests? Who bought Russell Grant's Astrology thinking "it'll be nice to see how my life will unfurl in the areas of love and work, but what I really want to know is which moon cycle provides the best opportunity for snail genocide?" Of course, the answer to the question "who bought this game" lies somewhere between "no-one" and "idiots."
No, you're right, I said I was going to give this a chance and so I shall. I'm going to enrol in the Academy and learn all there is to know about the ancient and infallible art of astrology. There's a lot to learn, too, with three increasingly complex levels of esoteric knowledge that I'm sure would all eventually coalesce into a complete understanding of the universe and its inescapable influence on a person's destiny, if only I could be bothered to read it all.
You know what? This all seems fairly straightforward. I know the basic concepts of astrology, all the stuff about what character traits equate to what element is pretty on-the-nose - being energetic is a fire-type trait, what a shocker! - and thanks to years spent playing Final Fantasy Tactics I know what all the zodiac symbols look like. As I am clearly already an expert, I think I'm going to skip straight to the exam.
Question number one in the exam was to select the animals that appear in the zodiac from the four options on the right. The purple ones are the animals I selected first time, and I got this question wrong. According to this game, there is no goat in the zodiac.
Not knowing the symbols of the zodiac is a pretty substantial error for a game about bloody horoscopes.
I tried again, this time answering all the questions if not correctly then at least to RGA's liking, and the game showed a moment of unexpected self-awareness by seemingly admitting that all it takes to become a successful astrologer is enthusiasm. One of the "top astrology experts," no less, which leads me to wonder how you become a "top" astrologer. Are they all graded like chess masters or something, and if so, on what criteria? It can't be the accuracy of their predictions because the movements of the celestial bodies are fixed and would therefore naturally produce the same results for anyone following the correct horoscope-making rules. Is it purely based on enthusiasm? Is world's top astrologer simply the person who gets in your face about it the most, chasing down passers-by and offering them free readings, shoving copies of this very game through the letterboxes of unsuspecting homeowners? If so, they can keep the job. I'll be right down the bottom of the astrology ranking, sullenly giving out horoscopes only when people insist and saying things like "it's all a crock of shit, you know" while they read the results.
I think it's time to test Russell Grant's Astrology's predictive abilities by heading back in time - changing the DS's system clock, that is - and getting someone's horoscope on a day when I know exactly what they were up to. For example, here I'm inputting the data for Ben Watson. Ben Watson is a professional footballer who plays for Wigan Athletic, and thanks to the slightly unnerving scope of the internet I know when and where he was born. I also know that on the 11th of May, 2013, Ben Watson scored the winning goal in that year's FA Cup final. Without wanting to be too dismissive of Ben Watson's future prospects, that goal almost certainly represents the absolute pinnacle of his football career and so I imagine RGA will have something insightful to say about this momentous occasion.
Okay, that's not too far off the mark - I'm sure Ben Watson did indeed organise some kind of family party after his Wembley heroics, and Wigan lifting the FA Cup was most certainly an unexpected and interesting piece of news (just ask the bookies).
Then it all goes tits-up with Ben's "job" horoscope, suggesting that he spend the most important day of his career simply relaxing. To anyone that says astrology doesn't hurt people: just imagine if Ben Watson had seen this horoscope, thought "you know, I think I will give work a rest for once!" and just not turned up for the match. That would have hurt an awful lot of Wigan fans, now wouldn't it? No to mention anyone who'd had the brass balls to bet against Manchester City in that match.
"The coupling of the impulsive ram and the domesticated and sensitive crab will produce a terrifying hybrid creature with huge claws, powerful horns and a succulent meat that you can eat even during Lent!"
No, not really, I just put myself and Ben Watson together in the compatibility tester. It seems our natures are just too different for us to make a go of it as a couple, alas, although if you actually read the results RGA does essentially say "you're a bad match, but you could be a good match" in an awe-inspiring display of hedging a bet.
As a (relatively, he does play for Wigan after all) successful person, I've realised that Ben Watson is too easy a target for an astrologist's reassuring platitudes, so let's give RGA a chance to really prove itself. I've set the DS's system date to the 16th of May 2010 - the date that saw the sad death of metal legend and continuing VGJunk inspiration Ronnie James Dio.
There wasn't enough space for me to enter Ronald Padavona - Dio's real name - so I had to go with his stage name, but that's okay. If anything it's going to make the horoscope more accurate because while there may be many Ronald Padavonas in the world there was only one Dio. I also assumed that Dio was born on the stroke of midnight. I think it's a fair assumption.
Well then, according to Russell Grant's Random Fortune Cookie Message Simulator, how were Dio's biorhythms on the day he died?
Perfect physical balance, huh? Screw you, Russell Grant's Astrology. Screw your entire concept and its twee, dopey execution packed with unrelated pictures of rock formations and seaplanes, screw your decision to dress up what is really a random number generator as a game and screw your weird advice about when to kill snails.
Still, that line about "receiving the long outstanding recognition you deserve" seems spot on, and Dio's patience and hard work musthave paid off now that he's surely packing out arenas in whatever afterlife was badass enough to take him in. God speed, Dio. I feel kinda bad about bringing you into this crap.
Probably the best thing I can say about Russell Grant's Astrology is that it's no more or less accurate than visit a "real" astrologer, which is to say both of those things are total nonsense. An example: here, all Aries are compared to ants, which is a bit of a kick to the ol' self-esteem. I quite like the suggestion that someone who really buys into astrology will be a good worker in the scientific sector, though.
I was wondering whether any real enjoyment could be gleaned from this title, and then I remembered about the Entertainment category. I can hardly wait to experience these minigames, folks. I think they might kill off what little emotion still flickers in my breast, then I can live my life free of troubling morality.
Game number one: Astropairs, which is the standard pair-matching game. Flip over two symbols and hope they match. Astropairs is so boring that RGA entertains itself by playing a game of noughts-and-crosses on the left side of the screen while you flip tiles. You aren't allowed to play noughts-and-crosses. You don't deserve noughts-and-crosses.
The three minigames each have unlockable, more challenging difficulty levels. The description for Astropairs' highest difficulty level is "you can prove your talent and your intellectual grasp of the material here." That'd be my intellectual grasp on flipping over pictures to reveal a matching pair, would it? Cool, just checking.
Splintered Star is a sliding-block puzzle game, and you know what we say about sliding-block puzzle games here at VGJunk, don't you? That's right, they can take a running jump into a skip filled with used nappies and medical waste. I'm amazed that labelling this with the word "Entertainment" didn't cause the game code to re-write itself into an ASCII art picture of a hand flicking the Vs.
Lastly there's (ugh) Zodidoku, a circular variant of sudoku. It works okay, I suppose, although I couldn't look at this screen without being annoyed that they didn't just call it Zodoku. It's a minigame in an astrology title, I think people would have gotten the zodiac reference without that extra syllable. So, in case we still weren't clear, the answer to the question "can any real enjoyment be gleaned from this" is a resounding no.
That's Russell Grant's Astrology for the Nintendo DS, then - a bad thing based on a bad premise with some very bad minigames bolted on. You can buy copies for one penny from Amazon, so if you need something to prop up a wonky table leg then there you go. I would dearly love to believe that some of the text is supposed to be read with a knowing wink, like the above juxtaposition of a snail and the assurances that Aries is the sign of physical activity, but deep down I know that's not true and this whole thing was thrown together with no thought or care whatsoever. I mean, if I had even the slightest doubt that the predictions given here were accurate, I'd be out there making myself into a man's adornment instead of eating too much mint ice-cream and writing long, pointless articles about the worst kind of hackneyed videogame crap.