Monday, April 27, 2009

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Top Five Saturday: Top Five Non-Main Event Wrestlemania Matches

Remember yesterday, when I said there'd be two updates? Yeah, I lied. But now you get an update today! This list ignores the main events, and goes to the oft-ignored undercard of Wrestlemania. They are presented in chronological order.

-"Macho Man" Randy Savage (c) vs. Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat for the Intercontinental Championship, Wrestlemania III This is a total no-brainer. Savage and Steamboat had the best match of the first three Wrestlemanias, and by a country mile. If you haven't seen this match, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

-"The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase vs. Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Wrestlemania VI Two of the greatest wrestling minds in history go for 12 minutes of pure old-school psychology. Every movement has a reason. One of the all time greats.

-"Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. Bret "The Hitman" Hart in a Submission Match, Wrestlemania XIII This is the match the rocketed Steve Austin to superstardom, and with good reason. The entire match is steeped in psychology, with each man trying to outdo the other, and ends with a finish that puts both guys over.

-The Undertaker vs. Triple H, Wrestlemania XVII The Undertaker's undefeated streak has it's ups and downs, but in my opinion, this is the biggest up (mostly likely until tomorrow night). This 20 minute brawl with Triple H (who was reportedly suffering from the flu) is one of 'Taker's best matches, period. It's a go anywhere donnybrook, that climaxes with Triple H being chokeslammed off of a scaffold.

-Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho, Wrestlemania XIX Shawn Michaels is Mr. Wrestlemania, and that's no joke. Every Wrestlemania match he's been in is at least watchable (not even the Undertaker can lay claim to that), but most are great. This one is the best (possibly until tomorrow night), and the finish laid the groundwork for even greater matches to come.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Wrestlemania XXV Preview

Ok, I've been behind all week, but today is a double post day, so perk up, loyal readers! This was meant to go up Wednesday, but I was at the Faint/Ladytron show that night. Anyways, here we go, match by match for this year's Grandaddy of 'Em All.

Chris Jericho vs. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka & Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, with Ric Flair in their corner- Quite honestly, I think this is a waste of talent, on all sides. They teased a 0ne-on-one match between Flair and Jericho, but Flair actually wants to respect his retirement (strange, huh?) so it looks like it'll be a three on one. The only problem is, that cheapens the Legends. I know they're old, but it takes three of them to take on one Jericho? Doesn't that kind of lend creedence to all the things Jericho's been saying all along? A one-on-0ne with Piper would've probably been a better match. Either way, it'll be a crowd pleaser.

25 Diva Battle Royal- The only word for this is "meh."

CM Punk vs. Kane vs. Mark Henry vs. MVP vs. Finlay vs. Christian vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Kofi Kingston in a Money in the Bank Ladder Match- Always a crowd pleaser, this year's money in the bank supplies an interesting line up. The only possible victors here are Christian or CM Punk, and the smart money's on a repeat for Punk. No one else is over enough to be considered a serious threat to any title, though Henry could've been if they'd kept him on TV more often after dropping the ECW title to Matt Hardy. Regardless, it should be entertaining, with all the superstars taking some sick bumps for your viewing pleasure.

Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker- I'm saying right now that this is the match of the show, if not the year. HBK is Mr. Wrestlemania, and that's a shoot. The Undertaker was also telling the truth in his promo about pulling out all the stops for Wrestlemania. Naturally, the Undertaker goes over, because Shawn has nothing to lose, but the journey there is gonna be a wild ride. Don't miss this match!

The Miz & John Morrison w/Nikki Bella vs. Primo & Carlito w/Brie Bella in a Lumberjack Match to unify the Tag Team Titles- These four guys have shown time and time again that they can have great matches. Lumberjack matches are interesting, but don't really add much. It is nice to see everyone be able to get a Wrestlemania payday, though. Ultimately, I'm concerned that this match just won't get enough time for us to see what all these guys can do, and to use the Lumberjack gimmick to it's fullest.

Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy in an Extreme Rules Match- I'll be honest, I was hoping they'd put these guys in the Money in the Bank match, and push their singles blowup all the way to Summerslam, with Jeff refusing to fight Matt. That didn't happen, but this match should still be one of the greats. Both of these guys have tons of talent, and an affinity for "taking it to the extreme," so expect some sick bumps and solid ringwork.

John "Bradshaw" Layfield (c) vs. Rey Mysterio for the Intercontinental Title- Bradshaw's claimed that he's gonna "make Wrestlemania history" by beating Rey Mysterio so badly. That tells me that this match should be 8 seconds long, as King Kong Bundy beat SD Jones in 9 seconds, which was the worst beating in Wrestlemania history. As it stands, I doubt that. I'm curious, but I don't think the match will be great. JBL can't move around like he used to, and that will affect his repore with Mysterio.

Edge (c) vs. The Big Show vs. John Cena for the World Heavyweight Title- There's no doubt these three will deliver the goods. Look for Vicki Guerrero to be at ringside, distracting both of her lovers. Cena will get a victory in a solid match, and I expect Vicki to be the cause. This love triangle is going to cave-in on itself.

Triple H (c) vs. Randy Orton for the WWE Title- There's no doubt this match is going to be great. Randy Orton probably should cheat his way to victory, but it's Wrestlemania, and the people want to see Triple H get revenge for his in-laws. There's no male fan who doesn't sympathize with H, having been forced to watch another man beat up his wife. Nothing would stop any of us from taking a brutal revenge, so expect Triple H to.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Wrestlemania III: Championship Edition DVD Review

In 2007, in anticipation of the 20th anniversary of Wrestlemania III, WWE released the Wrestlemania III: Championship Edition DVD (coming soon, Wrestlemania III: Turbo?). Wrestlemania returned to Detroit for the 23rd installment, and it was all meant to tie in. The DVD is a 2-disc set, and features the event, and a slew of bonus features. Among them are several TV matches from the weeks leading up to the event, various promos, and, as a special bonus, a "Pop-Up Video" style version of the entire event featuring factoids and interview clips with the participants. This last item was previously only available to people with access to WWE 24/7 (i.e. not me), and was the biggest draw for me personally.

The entire package does not disappoint. Sure, the transfer isn't great, but what piece of 20 year old videotape (not film) is going to transfer that well? Sure, some of the bonus material isn't great (battles royals that aren't the Royal Rumble are usually dull, the one here sure is), but alot of it is great (plenty of "Mean" Gene). Overall, it's a solid purchase for any wrestling buff.

However, there is one thing about it that keeps bugging me. This DVD is how the old Wrestlemanias should be treated when coming to DVD, and yet, this is the only one (previous to Wrestlemanias that just came out on DVD because that was the format for home video) that has gotten this type of treatment. I expected at the time, that as we crested the 20th anniversary of each successive Wrestlemania, there would be another Championship Edition DVD. I expected they go back and do the first and second events, and that by now, I'd have copies of two of my favorite 'Manias on my shelf. But alas, they have not come

The Wrestlemania Anthology boxset is nice, but the DVDs contained therein have no bonus features of any kind. I want the histories, the facts, the "Mean" Gene interviews from Prime Time Wrestling. So, why has WWE forsaken me? Do they not want my money? This is one instance where I'll willingly go in on the double dip. I won't complain.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Top Five Friday... er, Saturday: Top Five Resident Evil Bossfights

Would've put this up yesterday, but I hadn't finished Resident Evil 5 yet, now I have, so I feel ok with this list. Presented in order of how awesome the fights are. (Contains RE series spoilers!)

5) Alexia Ashford I, Resident Evil: Code Veronica The first time you fight Alexia, she hasn't yet mutated into a giant bug-thing yet. She has, however, just schooled Wesker, and that means trouble for Chris. With the right weapon (read: a magnum) she goes down relatively easily, but her fire throwing and acid vomiting means you have to be in constant motion not to get burned up.

4) Right Hand, Resident Evil 4 The Right Hand is like a combination Alien and Predator, with a little T-1000 thrown in just because. The only way to kill it is to freeze it with liquid nitrogen, the shatter it. This is easier said than done. Of course, if you keep that rocket launcher you find earlier for this fight, you won't have much trouble. That and the fact that you don't have to defeat the Right Hand to move on keep him low on the list.

3) G-Type 2, Resident Evil 2 You might think you've taken care of William Birkin, but you're wrong. While escaping the police station on a giant tram/elevator thing, he comes back, and he's mutated more. And he's pissed. He grows a giant Tyrant-style claw and comes after you. He's tough, and even a magnum takes a bit to bring him down.

2) Tyrant, Resident Evil The original final boss, this guy is still an icon of the series. A superhuman monster with a claw where his right hand should be, you take him down in the lab, after he kills Wesker. Or so you think. Both Wesker and the Tyrant survive, Wesker escapes, and the Tyrant comes to the hellipad for one last ditch effort to stop you from escaping. Only a rocket to the face stops the Tyrant.

1) Jack Krauser, Resident Evil 4 Let's be honest, the final boss fight in RE4 is a little weak. Saddler goes down like a chump if you've been managing your ammo at all. Krauser, though? Krauser's a bitch, even with a fully-loaded magnum at your side. First you have to deal with him and his machine gun, then you have to deal with his plaga-enhanced physique. And arm blade that doubles as a shield repels anything you toss at him. He's the baddest boss of the series.

Next week is Wrestlemania week! A week of Wrestlemania related content!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Think Nintendo doesn't care about you? Think again.

So called "hardcore" gamers and the internet at large (there's a big crossover) would have you believe that Nintendo no longer cares about people who got them where they are today. The people who stuck with them through the lean N64 and Gamecube years. The old school gamers. The ones like myself who were raised on the NES, and developed some kind of weird Stockholm Syndrome with Nintendo during the aforementioned lean years. And yet, I haven't cultivated this opinion.

Good thing, too, because if I had, Satoru Iwata's keynote speech at the Game Developers' Conference yesterday morning would've completely shattered the little microcosm full of nerd rage I'd fashioned for myself. In case I've caught you unawares, yesterday Mr. Iwata made a few announcements that were clearly aimed at the "hardcore" crowd. That whole storage space issue with Virtual Console and WiiWare games? No longer an issue. The Wii now recognizes SD cards up to 32 gigs, and games can be booted directly from the SD card. Retro gamers rejoice!

Retro gamers can rejoice further at the news that arcade games are now coming to VC. And "now" means right now. Both of the new firmware update and a few arcade games were available before Iwata's speech was even over. I have downloaded Gaplus and played it directly off of an SD card and... it works like a charm!

Oh, yeah, and Square's actually going to put the Final Fantasy series on VC and WiiWare. Final Fantasy IV: The After is coming to WiiWare, and all the (localized) NES and SNES entries are coming to VC in America (that's I, IV & VI, if you weren't sure). Now, you're probably saying to yourself that that has nothing to do with Nintendo, that's a Square-Enix thing. Well, dear reader, I don't know for sure, but I've got a theory to postulate.

Sqeenix has been renowned for their myriad excuses as to why these games would never come to VC. They came up with all types of crazy reasons (including a thin excuse about not having the source code anymore), but basically just ended up saying, in a roundabout way, that they make money re-hashing them and selling them for full price, so why let them go at the bargain basement rate of five to eight bucks? This leads me to believe that it was Nintendo who convinced Square (Blackmail? Endless cajoleing? Who knows?) to put these games on VC because the fans demanded it.

You see? Nintendo hasn't turned their back on us. These announcements weren't for my sister or my wife-to-be. They don't care about this stuff, they care if there's a sequel to Wii Fit coming out. We care about this. Nintendo knows we're the ones who kept them going during the Era of Darkness (N64/GC). So, I hope you're convinced now, in case the fact that a new Punch-Out!!, Sin & Punishment and Rhythm Heaven DS are coming out this year somehow didn't already have you convinced before yesterday's press conference.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Give me some more music, I'll sit and read the lyrics like a bible, a gospel I'll sing along..." Less Than Jake @ the Rave, Milwaukee, 3/23/09

I think it's pretty obvious, but I'm just going to mention that this didn't go up last night because I was at the concert I'm reviewing. You know, in case that didn't click with you for some reason.

The first time I saw Less Than Jake was almost ten years ago at the Rave in Milwaukee. They weren't touring on any particular record, as the band is pretty much constantly touring, even if they don't have a new release. Hello Rockview was their most recent release, but they were touting the upcoming Borders & Boundries, which was to be their first independant studio record since their debut. They had just gotten their release from Capitol, and were now on Fat Wreck Chords. The Suicide Machines opened.

Flash forward to last night. It's been nearly ten years, I've graduated high school and college, but I still go see Less Than Jake everytime they come to town (and sometimes I go to Chicago to see them a second time), and this night I'm realizing that there're a lot of similarities to that night all those years ago. Now, Less Than Jake isn't touring on any particular record, as the band is still constantly touring, even if they don't have a new release. Their most recent release is on an indie label (their own, in fact, Sleep It Off Records) after leaving a major (Warner, this time). On the other hand, I didn't care enough to show up for the opening bands.

The show was the least populated of any of the 20+ times I've seen Less Than Jake, but you wouldn't know it to see the band play. They were just as fired up as ever, playing a smattering of songs from their seminal sophomore effort, Losing Streak, up to their latest, GNV FLA (their debut, Pezcore, got the shaft). They also played a couple non-album tracks, including a cover of a jingle that had me in stitches (the pirate one, if you're curious).

All in all, the band doesn't seem to have lost a step in ten years. Granted, I'm a superfan, and always will be, and I was with my roommate/best friend who's also a superfan, but I think even if you don't know all the words to all the songs and have a best friend who does as well, you'll still enjoy yourself. The band's aforementioned energy is infectious, and I didn't see anyone who wasn't at the very least tapping their foot in time to the music for the entire set.

Dueling singers Chris and Roger (Less Than Jake disavows their last names) continued their witty between song banter as they always have, and provided a much needed rest for everyone who was thrashing or skanking. During songs, Buddy (trombone) and Roger are almost never not moving, and Vinny (drums) has that look on his face that says "I love every second of this... and I'm a little drunk."

The band played a solid set of crowd favorites, and finished with a five song encore that capped the night with "All My Best Friends are Metalheads," which is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. The house was rocking, and that song really put an exclamation point on a set that was already great. Bottom line; if Less Than Jake comes to your town, go see them. You won't regret it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Top Five Friday: Top Five Retro Remakes

The Midwest Gaming Classic starts tomorrow, and I've spent much of the week's free time playing the new Resident Evil, so I managed to come up with a Top Five that incorporates both classic gaming and Resident Evil. In this context, a remake involves all new assets/sprites, and not just a port with new dungeons/levels (sorry, Chrono Trigger DS). Presented in chronological order (US dates of remakes, not originals).

-Super Mario All-Stars (Nintendo, SNES, 1993, original games released 1986, N/A, 1988, 1990) Until the next entry, this was the template for remakes. Three of the greatest games of all time (and one of the not-so-greatest, but an interesting curiousity for us Americans anyways) all on one cart, all totally redone from the ground up to take advantage of the SNES hardware. The music is better, the graphics are better, and, apparently, reaching the lettered worlds in the Lost Levels was a way bigger pain in the ass in the Famicom version. This game still fetches high prices on eBay (even higher for the All-Stars+Super Mario World version), but it's very, very worth it.

-Resident Evil (Capcom, Gamecube, 2002, original game released 1996) For anyone looking to remake an old game, this is the game to play first. This is how it's done, people. New areas, new bosses, new weapons, new mechanics, but enough of the same to make it recognizable to fans of the original. An easy find for less than ten bucks, if you've never played it. If that isn't enough, Capcom just annouced that they're bringing the Wii version (with waggle) to America by year's end.

-Mega Man: Powered Up (Capcom, PSP, 2006, original game released 1987) Giving the original Mega Man two new bosses to bring it in line with the rest of the series was a good way to draw interest. The few people who were interested (this game did not sell very well, blame the platform) found more than just Mega Man with two new Master Robots, they found a fully revamped game, with almost entirely new maps and a playable roster that included all 8 Master Robots, as well as Mega Man and his sister Roll, not to mention Proto Man. Now, if only they would do Mega Man 2: Powered Up.

-Final Fantasy IV DS (Square-Enix, DS, 2008, original game released 1991) Yeah, I just shot some barbs Squeenix's way for all their tireless rehashes, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. FFIVDS is amazing. Rebuilt entirely in 3D with voice acting and CG cutscenes, it takes my favorite game in the Final Fantasy canon and makes it palatable to today's audiences. It also makes the game somewhat difficult and fixes the horrible translation! Score!

-Bionic Commando: Rearmed (Capcom, XBLA/PSN, 2008, original game released 1988) And the hits keep comin' from Capcom! Bionic Commando: Rearmed takes the NES game and somehow makes it better. Allowing players to take multiple weapons and items into a level eliminates a great deal of frustration, and turning the final boss battle into an entire level was a stroke of brilliance. Riffing on the hokey script of the original game cracked me up throughout, and if that's not reason enough to buy it, there's always shooting Hitler in the face. There is no reason anyone with a 360 or a PS3 should not have this game.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rediscovering Indie Comics

I enjoy comic books. I have since I was a kid, but in my college years, my interest in collecting waned, on account of being a broke student. At that point, I realized that the stories were all that interested me, not the collecting of individual issues, so I now read trade paperback almost exclusively (occasionally, things like Neil Gaiman writing Batman compel me to buy an individual issue here or there, but it happens about once every two years).

Lately, I've been reading alot of these trades I've amassed over the years, since my day job involves sitting and waiting for things to happen, and when things aren't happening, comics are an easy read, and offer a good break from a novel. Many of the books I've been reading (and buying) recently are indie books. Nary a cape or cowl to be seen, and it's occured to me that there are much more interesting things happening in comics today on the indie front than on the Marvel or DC front.

I'll just come out and say it, I think Eric Powell's The Goon is the best thing in comics today. It's got humor, action and zombies. Everything a book needs. On the flip side of that is The Walking Dead, which I have limited exposure to so far, but everything I've seen tells me it's a book to get into. An honest-to-goodness zombie book without too much of a camp factor that takes an extended look at survivors of a zombie apocalypse. (I have a thing for zombies, you see.)

I also recently read Scott Pilgrim for the first time, and I'm pretty impressed. The art is good, the characters are interesting, and there are more NES references than you can shake a stick at. It's much more interesting than the recent Marvel books I've read, that's for sure. (This whole thing with all the Skrulls? Not really feelin' it.)

Of course, I'm not unaware that indie books have been around for quite some time. One of my all time favorites is still Reed Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman, and I've been a Daniel Clowes fan since high school as well. Jhonen Vasquez has been cracking me up long before "Invader Zim" introduced him to the Hot Topic/Nickelodeon crowd (Zim is hilarious, don't get me wrong).

I'm also not trying to be that "indie-er than thou" guy. You know the guy, the one who doesn't like movies/music/comics that come from a studio/major label/big publisher. Yeah, I hate that guy. Studios make good movies, major labels sign good bands and DC and Marvel publish good comics (Batman being "dead" is mildly retarded, but Neil Gaiman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" is really, really good).

What I'm really saying here is, if you're a comic guy, and you haven't ventured outside of capes and cowls, or if you're not a comic guy because capes and cowls don't interest you, then check out some indie books. You'll probably find something you like that's not exactly what you expect. You might even find some capes and cowls you do like that you don't expect.

I recommend the following indie books:
The Goon
Scott Pilgrim
Johnny the Homicidal Maniac
Reed Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman

And my buddy Kurt, who I've known since the first grade, is currently working on Blessed Machine, so check his stuff out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"The dreams in which I'm [killing] are the best I've ever had..."

Anger management therapists should begin purchasing Wiis and copies of PlatinumGames MadWorld. It's a perfectly safe way to work out any aggression you might have. It's a game that gives you more points for more grotesque and contrived executions. It's stylish, and keeps its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, in case anyone had any ideas about taking it seriously. In short, it's right up my alley.

MadWorld is, as I've covered, the first release from PlatinumGames. In it, you play as Jack (just Jack), a new contestant on "DeathWatch" (what's with this developer and not knowing where the space bar is?) an Escape from New York-cum-Running Man style gameshow. The producers of "DeathWatch" have eliminated all paths in and out of the fictional Varrigan City, and are now running a gameshow which sees killing as the main objective for rich sadists the world over.

The plot is slightly more than window dressing, as it does go above and beyond the typical action game story. It involves more than a few twists, and can be credited to Yasumi Matsuno, who previously penned the much vaunted Vagrant Story for the original Playstation. Ultimately, though, the action takes center stage, and you can skip all the story sequences and get straight to the killing without feeling like you're missing much.

I can't say I recommend that, though. The game's script and voice acting are very well done. The cut scenes are very stylish, and made to look like a (Frank Miller) comic book. Steven Jay Blum of "Cowboy Bebop" fame provides the voice for Jack, and does a superb job. The rest of the cast is very nearly as good. Greg Proops ("Whose Line is it Anyway?") and John DiMaggio ("Futurama") provide side-splitting commentary, and though I've heard complaints of sports game-esque repetition, I only encountered it a few times (mostly during boss fights and Bloodbath Challenges). Danny "Bobby Budnick" Cooksey ("Salute Your Shorts," T2) even lends his voice to a young doctor Jack saves early on.

Now, the killing. As I said, the scoring system rewards you for the more creative kills. Many modern games have eshewed scoring, but MadWorld puts it to great use. Each level is like a mini-sandbox. You're dropped in, and you have access to all of the areas right away. This is where scoring comes in. The higher the score you get, the more deathtraps start up and items become available, with which you can unleash additional mayhem. Once your score gets high enough, bonus games called Bloodbath Challenges and eventually the boss fight for that area become available.

And the boss fights do not disappoint. Both the mini and main bosses for each area are creative and unique. They have unique patterns and unique methods for the quickest dispatch. Of course, each bossfight ends with a spectacular death scene, which uses the Wiimote to immerse you in the killing.

With that in mind, the game does avoid too much waggle, and stupid quicktime events. There are times that something similar to a QTE appears, but the motions always make sense (slash to lock chainsaws with a mini-boss) and aren't just an arbitrary combination of buttons, a la God of War. Waggle is only used for high power attacks and finishing moves, so your arm won't get too tired during combat.

Overall, this game is easily one of the five best Wii games available. For M-Rated fare, it's second only to Goichi Suda's amazing No More Heroes. Run, don't walk to a copy of this game. Especially if you have anger management issues.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Top Five Friday: Top Five Game Series That Need a Rest

So, in all forms of media there are those series that should just stop. They've been flagellated to the point that they're barely recognizeable when compared to their early iterations. There's Saw in the movies, spinoffs of Flava of Love in TV (or even spinoffs of its spinoffs) and, well, these five videogames. Presented in order of most dead horses beaten. (Note: Tab of "dead horses beaten" does not include phone games, or rereleases of previous versions for new tech)

Guitar Hero (8 games, debuted 2005): Harmonix was already milking the "yearly update plus spinoffs" bit when Red Octane took their ball to Activision, but Activision diddled this franchise to a whole new level. It's at the beginning of the list because it has the least iterations, but it's also by far the youngest series. Not even 4 full years out of the chute, and there're already 8 games in the series, 4 of which came out last year! And this year, Activision has plans for at least 4 more, with the first being the Metallica version coming at the end of this month.

Final Fantasy (39-ish games, debuted 1987 (in Japan), 1990 (in the US)): I'm all for the numbered entries in the series. They come at a rate of about 3 per generation (and there hasn't even been one yet this generation), and that's hunky dory by me. The spinoffs, pseudo-sequels, snowboarding games and remakes (My god the remakes!) are what drives me nuts. See, that's why the series has "39-ish" games. That doesn't include all the quick cash-in cell phone games or the remakes. So, that would take the total to something I'd need Doc Brown to calculate for me. I'm guessing a google-plex-ish.

I mean, I understand that the first game saved Square. That's fine, it's your cash cow. That doesn't excuse barely letting two months go by without releasing Final Fantasy: Some Guy with Bad Hair and Non-functioning Zippers on His Clothes Whines and Fights the Ultimate Evil Part XVI: Sometime Near the Crisis. Give it a rest, guys. Seriously.

Sonic (48 games, debuted 1991): Really, Sega? Haven't you figured it out yet? Every new "Sonic & his furry friends do stuff that isn't just running really fast and twitch platforming" game just takes more and more away from the legacy of a series that used to be competition to Mario. Give the poor blue woodland creature a break for a couple of years while you come up with something new for him to do. (PROTIP: Start with running really fast and twitch platforming.)

Mega Man (70 games, debuted 1987): Ok, I love the Blue Bomber as much as anyone, and I have the tattoo to prove it, but Mega Man is Capcom's most prolific star (and that's saying something!) and maybe 35 of those 70 games is worth playing. Now, last year's Mega Man 9 was, in a word, amazing, but that doesn't justify three versions of the mediocre Mega Man: Star Force, which was, itself, continuing the mediocre and over-exposed Battle Network series. One 2D Mega Man game every other year would be a wonderland, because I'm sure Capcom and series auteur Keiji Inafune would take the time and care to make it really, really good.

Sports games (NBA 2K, NBA Live, Tiger Woods, Madden, MLB The Show, MLB 2K, WWE Smackdown, etc.) (Too damn many, annual releases began in the 16-bit era): This has been a thorn in the side of many (gullible) gamers, myself included, since the 16-bit days, but, hey, everyone wanted to play with an updated roster. But even in the 16-bit days, we still usually got some gameplay innovation at the same time. Now, you basically pay sixty bucks for a roster update.

With DLC and every system on the market being hooked up to the intertubes, there's no excuse for this. Take some time EA/2K/THQ and make an innovative game. Use DLC and make me pay five bucks to update the roster once a year.


I wrote this blog with pen and paper at work Wednesday afternoon, but was too busy playing (surprise!) MadWorld Wednesday night to post it. Then I went to the midnight release of RE5 last night, so... Yeah. But this post was written before I had played MadWorld.

Today marks the US release of PlatinumGames first release, MadWorld for the Nintendo Wii. It is imparative that MadWorld do well. Now, just to clarify "do well" does not mean "sell as many copies as Halo 3." No, "do well" means something more like "garner critical acclaim and sell a couple hundred thousand copies."

You see, there's alot riding on MadWorld. As the first release by Capcom expatriates PlatinumGames, it will set the bar for their future releases. It's also being published by Sega, and that gives them a chance to change their image in the eyes of many gamers.

Sega's decision at the beginning of the decade to cease hardware production and development and instead focus on developing software on all platforms came as a pleasant surprise to many, myself included. Now, I love my Dreamcast, and I was a diehard Genesis fanboy in my playground days (despite owning both a Genesis and a SNES), but let's face it; the DC wasn't exactly living up to expectations on the business end of things. The Saturn before it could best be described as an abject failure everywhere but Japan. Sega was far from their most profitable days.

So, they decided to publish games for every console. This was great news! We'd see Sonic, Virtua Fighter and all the great innovation we'd come to expect from Sega no matter what machine we owned! Well... two out of three ain't bad. We saw Sonic and Virtua Fighter and Sonic and Sonic and... oh, yeah there was that Sonic game. Sega's basically become a sequel factory, and even their few interesting less pimped out franchises have become mediocritized (see: Samba de Amigo on Wii).

Recently (to cope with the continual failures of Sonic Team, no doubt), Sega's began publishing for smaller developers, like PlatinumGames, with whom they inked a multi-game, multi-platform publishing deal. Platinum, and the other developers Sega's partnered with, could help turn the reputation of the House That Sonic Built around. You see, the average gamer (especially the average Wii gamer) doesn't know or care who PlatinumGames is. They just see that big blue SEGA logo on the box and know it's a Sega game.

The aformentioned "big blue SEGA"

As for Platinum, they're comprised of mostly ex-Clover Studios employees. In the minds of many hardcore gamers, that's some pedigree, but the truth is, their games got mixed reviews. (No matter how much I love GodHand, not everyone did.) Hopefully, MadWorld will start a trend of critical acclaim, so that gamers who do look beyond the big blue SEGA will know a game with the Platinum logo is one to check out.

Look for a MadWorld review coming soon!

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Never compromise... even in the face of armageddon."

So, I went out with 11 of my closest friends and family members to see Watchmen on Friday night, and... almost everyone I went with hated it. They were disappointed and/or bored. This came as quite a shock to me, because I liked it as much as I think I could like it, given that it's based on one of the best graphic novels ever.

In short, the film is as good as an adaptation of a 12 issue, self-contained, extremely dense comic could possibly be, which makes it... a slightly better than average movie. No offense to any parties involved. I mean, David "Solid Snake" Hayter, Alex Tse and fellow Wisconsinite Zack Snyder all did the best they possibly could, but it's just not a story that works well as a movie.

Which brings me back to the people I saw it with. Of the people who did enjoy it, all but one of us had read the comic. This means that all but one of us knew what to expect. The rest? They'd all gotten it into their heads that they were going to see an action movie. To quote Rorschach, "Hurm..." An action movie? Where ever did they get that idea? Watchmen is, in many ways, the anti-action comic. It relies heavily on mood, pacing and dialogue. The movie is the same, in that respect. Well, apparently, no one told the guy who edited together all the trailers, because every trailer makes this movie look like the second coming of The Wild Bunch, except with people in costumes.

It is not that. Not even a little. But people think it is, because this movie is being market all wrong, and it's going to leave a lot of people who haven't read the book feeling deceived (which they should, because they were). From what I hear, it seems like perhaps that's what the studio wanted the movie to be (rumors of requests for edits are abound), but being true to the geeks, Snyder doesn't compromise, and stays true (as true as possible) to the source material.

Which, as I've said, is part of the problem in another way. Quite frankly, in the end you're just better off reading the book. It was conceived in that medium, it's amongst the finest examples of that medium, and you can always turn back quickly if you feel like you missed something. Of course, if you do read the book first, then you'll have all kinds of minor things to gripe about when you do see the film, but really, they're just nitpicks. In order to keep the movie watchable, it hits all the major events and plot points and gets you out of the theatre in less than three hours.

The last thing I want to say is that many of the performances leave a little something to be desired, but one performance is worth the entire price of admission. Jackie Earle Haley is, in a word, phenomenal as Rorschach. He is perfect in the role, and his performance has stuck with me since the viewing. Rorschach is by far my favorite character, and I wasn't sure if one of the Bad News Bears was going to be able to do the role justice. I'm glad to say, I was very, very wrong.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Top Five Friday: Top Five Live Action Comic Book Movies

In this first edition of Top Five Friday, I bring you the Top Five Comic Book Movies. Since I'm going to see Watchmen tonight, it seems appropriate. As I still haven't actually seen Watchmen, it is, obviously, excluded from the list.

Top Five Live Action Comic Book Movies (in chronological order)
-Batman (based on the DC comic book created by Bob Kane, directed by Tim Burton, 1989) Look, I'll just say it here and now, Tim Burton's Batman is my favorite comic book movie of all time. It gets the top spot today, because it was released before the rest, but the casting is perfect (I still say Michael Keaton's eccentric Bruce Wayne is way better than Christian Bale's), the sets are brilliantly surreal, and Prince is awesome.

This was also the first serious comic book movie. Before this, the '60s Batman movie and series were pretty much the template for how comics were treated by the film industry. Batman made the studios realize that if the material was treated in a mature fashion, people would respond.

-The Crow (based on the Kitchen Sink Press comic book created by J. O'Barr, directed by Alex Proyas, 1994) If Batman made studios realize that people would respond to comic movies maturely, The Crow galvanized that realization. Based on J. O'Barr's indie comic phenomenon, The Crow tells the story of a murdered man come back to life to reap vengence on those who killed him and his wife-to-be. Brandon Lee's swansong (he died in a freak accident during shooting) was also director Alex Proyas' American film debut, and it served to boost the visibility of both men greatly.

Lee makes the movie, naturally, but supporting performances by Jon Polito (Gideon), David Patrick Kelly (T-Bird), Michael Wincott (Top Dollar) and kept it going. A live performance by My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult during the film's best action sequence doesn't hurt, either.

-X2: X-Men United (based on the Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, directed by Bryan Singer, 2003) X-Men was my favorite comic growing up, so I was chomping at the bit for a movie to come. It eventually did, but after I'd finished growing up. Still, Bryan Singer's X-Men was incredible, but still, left me wanting just a bit. X2 took care of that. The addition of Nightcrawler, Wolverine going berzerker and the removal of Tyler Mane's awful Sabertooth all made the second film worlds ahead of the first.

-Sin City (based on the Dark Horse comic created by Frank Miller, directed by Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller & Quentin Tarantino, 2005) Sin City was the first live action comic book movie to actually look like a comic book. The style of the film never strays from the comic, so much so that it's rumored that when Rodriguez sent scripts to the actors, they received instead copies of the graphic novels. An all-star cast (Bruce Willis, Benecio Del Toro, Elijah Wood, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, etc., etc.) and expert direction not only from Rodriguez, but co-director Frank Miller and "guest" director Quentin Taratino make this movie more than just nice to look at.

-The Dark Knight (based on the DC comic book created by Bob Kane, directed by Christopher Nolan, 2008) If you're reading this, and you haven't seen The Dark Knight, there's not much I can say to you that hasn't already been said. It is a great film by any standard. Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker, making him the first actor in a comic book movie to achieve that feat, to my knowledge. Nolan is a master storyteller, and Bale is a more than capable Batman (except that voice thing... maybe he just needs a lozenge?) and Bruce Wayne. My mom even liked it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

CGI and Movies

Look, I'm just gonna lay it all out right here and right now. I hate CGI special effects. Don't get me wrong, much like the professional wrestling promo and the videogame cutscene, they do have their place, but their place is small, and shouldn't supplant traditional special effects.

Why? Because they just aren't good enough yet. They simply are not convincing. It's very rare that CGI manages to fool anyone, let alone a savvy moviegoer. CGI looks too clean, to artificial, too much like a videogame.

I'm sure you're wondering what, exactly, spawned this dose of vitriol directed at recent film special effects. Well, I'll tell you; there're two things. One, I watched a very interesting one hour documentary called "Fantastic Flesh: The Art of Make-Up EFX" via my XBox and Netflix. It was very facinating, featuring interviews with Dick Smith, Tom Savini, Quintin Taratino, Robert Rodriguez, Greg Nicotero and a host of other make-up artists and filmmakers. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in filmmaking, particularly horror filmmaking (though other genres are discussed).

The other thing is a recent re-watching of Blade Runner (the workprint version, if you're curious). Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies of all time, based on one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors. In fact, I owe Blade Runner and Total Recall a special debt, as they're the reasons I got into Philip K. Dick in the first place (tragically, young moviegoers today will probably be driven away from his work thanks to crap like Next and Paycheck). Now, if you watch Blade Runner today, any of the five versions of it, it looks more convincing than anything released lately.

The work of the entire effects team (whose names you can read here, if you like) continues to be lauded to this day, and rightfully so. The film creates a cohesive reality of the future of Los Angeles, a solid and believable backdrop for the film. No, not a backdrop. More than that. The aesthetic created in Blade Runner continues to inspire filmmakers to this day, the settings are so tangible and so convincing that they could be considered a character unto themselves. Shot of the Los Angeles skyline that opens the film still inspires the awe in me it did when I first saw the film something like 15 years ago, as a pre-teen geek.

The worlds of the 2nd Star Wars trilogy, or the Lord of the Rings films have a strange, glossy look to them. They look fake. The feeling they resonate is similar to the feeling you have looking at the old painted backdrops of films from the first half of the 20th century. They make you realize that this is supposed to take place in a certain setting, but you realize it on an intellectual level. "Oh, this is supposed to be Middle Earth. Ok." Blade Runner creates a setting that you believe on an instinctual level. "This is Los Angeles in the future."

Why is that? Simple. Because all of the set pieces are actually there. They're miniatures and composite shots, sure, but they are things that actually exist. They weren't generated by a computer.

Now, I understand why computers are used, they're much cheaper, require fewer people (which means fewer salaries, which means, well, cheaper) and are faster. And I realize that CGI is going to be the way it's done for the most part from here on out, but nothing would do my heart better than to hear of a big budget, effects laden film that planned on going old school on all the effects. Of course, it all means nothing if the story is crap, but all other things being equal, I prefer the old methods.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Depreciation Guild's "In Her Gentle Jaws"

Before I get into today's entry, I'd like to hip all three of my readers about the new format. In order to prevent me from going insane, the blog will now have a schedule. Mondays will feature reviews of things in particular, Wednesdays will feature general articles about things in general and Fridays will feature Top 5 lists. This will make it easier on all of us. Now, on to The Depreciation Guild.

I'm not big into chiptunes, unless they come in the form of music from an actual videogame. If they don't, they tend to sound like... well, like videogame music, except it's videogame music that I have no nostalgia for, and is therefore unappealing.

Previously, I hadn't really considered that a band might use chiptunes to back traditional rock 'n' roll. Enter the Depreciation Guild, a Brooklyn band who brilliantly merges shoegazy guitars with catchy chiptune rhythms. The result is rock 'n' roll with videogame music. Which is awesome.

Their debut self-released record, In Her Gentle Jaws, shows the versatility of both chiptune rhythms and shoegazy guitars. The record shows the bands abilities to merge both of these things into danceable power-pop ("Butterfly Kisses"), as well as more morosely traditional shoegazy ("Nautilus") with plenty of stops between (the title track). Overall, if you're into recent indie rock, chiptunes, or old school shoegaze, you owe it to yourself to pick this record up. The band has made it much easier by providing the record for free at their website. So what are you waiting for? At the cost of a little hard drive space, you can have one of the most original albums to come out in the latter half of the decade.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Wrestler

Apologies for no Wednesday update. I had a raging migrane, and I promptly came home from work and slept for 13 hours. Today, though, I feel fine.

I saw The Wrestler one week ago today, and now that I've had time to ruminate on it, I'm posting a review.

The easiest way to sum this film up is to say that it does live up to the hype. Quite frankly, I haven't seen Milk, but Sean Penn must've put on an amazing performance for him to beat out Mickey Rourke for the Academy Award. Mickey Rourke put on the performance of a lifetime as has-been '80s wrestling superstar Randy "The Ram" Robinson. You truly believe that wrestling is this man's life. He loves it, and when he's performing, it's the only time he feels truly alive.

The film follows Randy as he readies for the prospect of a rematch against The Ayatollah, his opponent 20 years earlier at the film's version of Wrestlemania III. The event is being run by real-life east coast promotion, Ring of Honor, and as such, features cameos by many real life wrestlers. Ernest "The Cat" Miller plays the Ayatollah himself, and wrestling fans will catch R-Truth, Austin Aries, Necro Butcher and many others making appearances in the film.

The reason "The Ram" is so anxious for this rematch is because his life has become a shambles. He lives alone in a trailer park, he's estranged from his daughter, he works in a supermarket and the only person that's anything remotely close to his friend is a stripper named Cassidy (played brilliantly by Marisa Tomei). His only joy is stepping into the ring for various indie promotions on the weekends.

The film is shot in a documentary style, and has a feeling of documentary reality. There's very little music, with the exception of scenes that take place in locales that would be playing music, and much of the camera work is handheld. The viewer really feels the bleakness that goes along with the lifestyle of trying to recapture one's glory days.

Quite frankly, as someone who spent quite a lot of time wrestling, the movie hit me a way I somewhat expected and somewhat didn't. I've been on wrestling shows with guys whose best days are behind them, and I've watched them do their best to recapture that glory, and... well, it's pretty sad. The film captures this feeling perfectly.

That being said, the film does have a few shortcomings, but they're mostly things only a huge wrestling geek would notice. The most prominent being that "The Ram" and the Ayatollah are supposed to be washed up, in spite of having headlined Not Wrestlemania III. Well, we know who headlined the real Wrestlemania III, and one of them isn't exactly in the poor house, and the other has passed away, but the one who passed away wasn't exactly in danger of having to wrestle on indy shows to pay the bills any time before he died.

But that's nitpicking. Overall, the film is excellent. A great, if not horribly sad, film in every respect. If you're a wrestler or a wrestling fan, you owe it to yourself to see this film.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Resurrection of Virtual Console

Today, three games were posted on Nintendo's Virtual Console service. All three were Commodore 64 games, and they were the first such games on VC. This week was the first week since December of 2007 that saw three VC games.

The obvious question then is "Is the VC back?"

This isn't really a fair question. It never really left. Even though there have been a lot of weeks with only one game lately, sometimes that one game has been really, really good. For example, all four of the Mondays this past January saw only one game, but all four of them were in the good to great range (in order, they were Kirby's Dream Land 3, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, M.U.S.H.A. and Wonder Boy in Monster Land). Certainly, Nintendo spoiled us early in the Wii's life by releasing three or more games a week regularly, and when that stopped, there came a lot of internet bitchery.

This is not to say that the bitchery is entirely unfounded. Some weeks saw only one game, and that game was absolute dreck (e.g. this past Groundhog's Day saw only Sonic Chaos for Sega Master System). Nintendo implied, if not flat out promising, a much greater number of releases prior to the Wii's release. There are some, myself included if I'm being honest, that believe the House That Mario Built should've just taken the iTunes approach and dropped anything and everything they had access to right away, and added less frequently and in much larger chunks as the acquired new systems and companies willing to contribute content. They didn't.

On the flip side of this coin, one needs only look to the competetion to see how wonderfully Nintendo has treated us retrogamers. SCEA has released, so far, 29 PSOne games for download on the Playstation Network. 29. As of this morning, there are 283 games on the Virtual Console. That's nearly ten times as many games. Meanwhile, the classic arcade games on Microsoft's system are extremely infrequent (though they typically get good treatment, check out R-Type Dimensions if you don't believe me). Of course, they don't have the backcatalogue that Nintendo or Sony do, so I'm inclined to cut them a little slack.

But back to the question at hand; is the VC back, if indeed it ever left at all? My answer would be a tentative yes. People (internet people, mostly) had begun to question if Nintendo even cared about the VC anymore. While I never questioned that, I had begun to question to what extent they were committed. Today, however, gave me hope. Three new games and an entirely new system added to the catalogue show me that Nintendo is still committed to giving us a steady amount of new/old content every week. And really, that's all I ask.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Imaginary Childhood: A Review of Retro Game Challenge for Nintendo DS

I know, I know. I just promised updates every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and here we are, Saturday, with no Friday update. Well, there's a very good reason for this. I was finishing Retro Game Challenge so I could write this entry.

First things first, reviews found on this blog will not contain any score of any kind. If you're looking for reviews that attempt to encapsulate things into an arbitrary metric, there are plenty of places here in the tubes where you can find them. If you want to know what I think about a piece of media, you'll have to actually read what I write.

Now that that's out of the way, onto the task at hand.

Retro Game Challenge, for those who don't know, is a collection of eight NES games that never existed for your Nintendo DS. In Japan, the game is based off of Game Center CX, a popular TV show which sees comedian Shinya Arino (a.k.a. The Kacho) try to beat various old videogames. The tragedy here is that he's not very good at videogames. It regularly takes him hours, if not days, to finish the games, and we, the audience, laugh at his misfortune as he fails again and again.

Well, in Retro Game Challenge, he has his revenge. He turns you into your childhood self to go back to the '80s and hang out with his childhood self and help him with eight games. Of course, simply beating the games would be too easy, so he subjects you to a series of challenges in each game. They typically include things like beating certain stages, or using certain techniques. By doing this, the game avoids the pitfall of "play a game for two minutes and move on to the next one" that often befalls collections titles.

Now, as I said, these games are all fake. They never existed, but they certainly could have. Six of the eight titles are unique experiences (the other two are a sequel and a "special edition" of an earlier game that feature the same basic gameplay) and they all play wonderfully. They all draw on many influences, and represent a snapshot of a given genre that harkens back to the 8-bit days. Truly, the folks at Namco-Bandai took great care in creating each game, and it shows.

Each game is a might-have-been classic, but with modern design sensabilities. Cosmic Gate is like Galaga, but includes things like score multipliers. Star Prince features much less slowdown than an actual NES shooter would've had. Guadia Quest allows you to save anywhere, which, as anyone who played NES RPGs could tell you, would've been welcome back in the day.

But the games are only part of what makes this title so great. They are great homages to a bygone era, but they are not where said homage ends. No, because you see, when you play these games, you are given a virtual instruction book (which you should read before playing each game), as well as a shelf full of relevant gaming magazines. You also carry on conversations with young Arino (and, occasionally, his mom) about the games coming out.

These elements really make this game what it is. If you lived through the NES days, this game will trigger a nostalgia for those days. In the parallel universe of Retro Game Challenge's 1980s, all the things that happened to you as a kid will happen again, only slightly differently. Gamefan magazine will tell you all about the new releases. The kids on the playground will start rumors, which young Arino will tell you about while you play. You will begin to actually anticipate the release of games that aren't real. Retro Game Challenge is a totally immersive experience for those of us who lived through that time. The team at XSeed that localized this game should really pat themselves on the back, they did a tremendous job.

That isn't to say that the game is without shortcomings. First of all, it includes eight games, as I've said, but Rally King SP and Robot Ninja Haggleman 2 are both extremely similar to their predecessors. Moreover, if you don't much care for '80s style RPGs, Guadia Quest will test your patience with required level grinding and tons of random battles. Finally, Robot Ninja Haggleman 3 could've dealt with at least a basic map system.

My biggest gripe, however, is that most of the games simply aren't long enough. The only exceptions to this are Cosmic Gate, which is 64 stages of not-quite-Galaga action. Star Prince is only four stages, Robot Ninja Haggleman 3 is only three and so on. Most of the non-Guadia Quest games require you to play through a second time with a higher difficulty, but that doesn't change the stages themselves, just adds more enemies. Even Guadia Quest itself is only a 6-12 hour RPG, which isn't much, when it comes to RPGs.

These are minor points though. I mean, after all, if they sated us in the first game, why would we buy the sequel? Yes, there is a sequel. It comes out in Japan this week, and we can only hope it will make its way here soon. The simple bottom line on Retro Game Challenge is this; if you lived and gamed in the '80s, you should own it. If you didn't? You should still give it a try, the games have a slightly primative feel, but they're still rock solid games.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jumping on the Bandwagon with Street Fighter Nostalgia

1Up's Retronauts blog spent all of last week reminiscing about Street Fighter. Many other sites/blogs/what have yous have been doing the same. Street Fighter was a big part of my youth, so I figured I'd just go ahead and jump on the bandwagon.

I don't remember the first time I played Street Fighter. I do remember where I was, though. I was at a small malt shoppe in my hometown. I must've been about six years old, which would've made it 1989, and, at the time, the aforementioned malt shoppe was about two blocks from my house. We lived in a safe community, so my mom let me ride my bike or walk down there by myself. This was good, because it required me to get a little bit of exercise before playing videogames.

The videogame I played most often at that little malt shoppe? Street Fighter. Not Street Fighter II. Street Fighter. Two playable characters, Ryu and Ken, Sagat (sans scar) as the final boss, not a female character in sight. Street. Fighter. No numeral.

Street Fighter blew my six year old mind. The characters were so big, so detailed. There were secret moves. Urban Champion was the closest thing to this I'd ever witnessed, and, lemme tell you, that was pretty damn far away from Street Fighter. You couldn't even kick in Urban Champion, let alone throw magic fire. Perish the thought of having a garbled voice tell you "You've got a lot to learn before you beat me. Try again, kiddo! HAHAHAHA!"

There was a fair amount of vs. play, but mostly I seem to remember all the kids who played trying to come up with strategies to beat Adon. Man, we hated Adon. Adon was a bastard. It was enough that we had to figure out that the best (and to us, only) way to beat Mike was just to fireball him once, then turtle in the corner (no one called it "turtling" in those days, but still) until the time ran out, but Adon? Most of us figured Adon was the final boss, because, man... was he tough.

Eventually, one of us (it might have been me, as I did eventually beat Adon once or twice, but it probably wasn't) beat Adon and found out that, no, sorry, there's one more guy. And that guy made Adon look like a complete wuss by comparison. Sagat. Sagat was huge. Even huge-er than Birdie. And tough. And he could throw fireballs, too. And they hurt. Suffice it to say, none of us ever beat Sagat. I did eventually beat Street Fighter almost two decades later on Capcom Classics Collection, Vol. 2, but it seemed a hollow victory. Also, the game has aged terribly.

It was some years later that I first encountered the sequel. Now, the first time I played Street Fighter II is as fresh in my memory as what I had for lunch yesterday (Culver's, it was delicious). My dad used to bowl in a Friday night league. He sponsored the team, as well as bowling on it, and some Fridays, he'd take me with him. "Why," you may be asking, "would your dad take you to the bowling alley?" Well, because he loved me, and he knew that I, in turn, loved videogames, so he'd give me a roll of quarters (This was shortly after he'd aquired his own business, and suddenly had more money than he'd ever had before. We weren't rich by conventional standards, but by our previous standards, we were wealthy, and my dad was generous with me.) to play in the massive arcade housed within the bowling alley.

Now, this was back in the days when bowling alleys housed some of the best arcades around. In fact, this bowling alley, Olympic Lanes on 27th Street, had an arcade that, quite frankly, shamed the local mall arcade (sadly, though the bowling alley still stands, the arcade is a shadow of its former self at best). It was HUGE. And it was there, on one fateful day in 1991, that I saw it. Street Fighter II. It was opposite a Street Smart cabinet, which made Street Smart look even worse than it does on its own.

A kid had just finished a game. No one else was playing (in retrospect, this must've been very close to the release of the game, because I don't remember seeing no one playing a Street Fighter II cabinet again for some years). I had to play. I dropped two quarters into the slot and continued. I naturally assumed I'd be Ryu. Imagine my surprise when the character select screen appeared. Again, my eight year old mind was blown. Now, as an eight year old, I'll give you one guess who I chose in my first ever game of Street Fighter II. If you think like an eight year old boy, the answer can only be Blanka. He was a monster! I was playing as a freakin' monster!

Now, as I said, I continued from another kid's game, so imagine my further surprise when I get completely mollywopped right out of the gate. I mean, I'd had two solid years of Street Fighter experience by this point, and even though I still couldn't beat Sagat, I figured I couldn't suck this badly. Naturally, I couldn't give up. I put another fifty cents into the machine, and I quickly realized that the character who'd just mollywopped me wasn't selectable. I didn't really know what to make of it, but I'd wanted to try him out for two reasons. One, he'd just handed me my ass on a platter, and, two... it sure looked cool when he threw his cape off at the beginning of the first round.

That's right, the kid abandoned his game at Bison (probably because what had just happened to me had happened to him enough times that he was out of quarters). I had no idea he was the final boss! I thought they'd just totally jacked up the difficulty! Well, I got beat by Bison a few more times, and then started over from the beginning. I tried a few other characters, beat some guys, and got beat, but eventually I ran out of quarters and my dad finished bowling and we went home, but I was hooked.

And I still am.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gaming's Citizen Kane

Let me begin this post by promising you, my readers (all three of you) that I'm going to begin posting at least three times a week, once each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I've decided that if I ever want more than three readers, I need to post consistently.

Ok, now that that's out of the way, onto today's post.

There seems to be a question that comes up every so often amongst people in gaming culture. "When are we going to see gaming's Citizen Kane?" is how it seems to be phrased most of the time, but the title of the film varies.

The question implies that games haven't matured. They haven't fulfilled their potential. They haven't matured as a medium.

The question is stupid.

Really, the question seems to be guided at the quality of writing in games. Why aren't the stories better? Why isn't the dialogue more realistic? The answer to these questions, and all the Citizen Kane question implies, is simply because videogames, ultimately, are not a story driven medium. Videogame stories, even the "robust" ones in RPGs, are window dressing. The only possible exception to this rule is adventure games, and those are the ones that are always held up as just that when it comes to the quality of writing.

Games are interactive, and the thing that drives them is their playability. People enjoy games that are fun to play, case closed (yes, there is always the "kusoge" phenomenon, but that's another article altogether). The story, ultimately, doesn't matter. I don't care why my spaceship/space marine/plumber has to shoot/chainsaw/stomp the whatever it is that has threatened the galaxy/tried to exterminate humanity/kidnapped the princess. I just care that it's fun to save the galaxy/humanity/princess.

Take Street Fighter for example. Street Fighter IV ships to retail tomorrow here in the US. No one cares about the stories told in that game. All people care about is throwing fireballs at their friends. Street Fighter II defined the arcade experience in the '90s, and gave what was, at the time, a flagging arcade industry new life. And no one cared about the story. The fourth entry in the series (by which I mean the sixteenth entry in the series, but who's counting?) probably will not accomplish anything on that level, but it will sell truckloads of copies. And no one will care about the story.

Now, if, on the other hand, one was to argue that the Citizen Kane question is meant to address the singular work that comes along and changes the entire paradigm upon which people create new pieces of media, well... we already have that. It came out almost a quarter century ago, and it was called Super Mario Bros. Super Mario Bros. did for videogames exactly what Citizen Kane did for film. It changed the rules. It required those who created the media to do more than was previously expected. It represented a gigantic leap forward in technique.

Super Mario Bros. was not the first platformer. Citizen Kane was not the first film to not be lit like a stage play. What both have in common is that they did what they did to such a degree that there was no turning back. With the way Mario jumped and camera angles in Citizen Kane, they raised the bar for their respective medium. The sharpness of Mario's controls and the use of lighting in Citizen Kane both showed audiences something they'd never been privy to before. They both accomplished the same thing for what they were.

And, really, that's the bottom line here. Games aren't movies, so just like during the silent film era, nobody was wont to ponder "When will film get its Odyssey?" no one in this era should be pondering "When will gaming get its Citizen Kane?"

Wednesday: Jumping on the bandwagon with Street Fighter nostalgia!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Punk Rock

I was raised on punk rock. My dad & uncle were two of the OG punk rockers, and, since I was born when my dad was only 20, I was pretty much raised on the Ramones, the Clash, the Sex Pistols and Elvis Costello. My dad, like most of his generation, eventually got bored with 3 chords, and got into post-punk like the Smiths, the Cure and the like. Quite naturally, this meant that I got into post-punk. I hate the term "post-punk," and here's why.

I was speaking with a co-worker who, admittedly, knows very little about punk yesterday, and he started talking about what was and wasn't "punk." This was interesting to me, because he fell pretty well on the same lines as people who claim to know very much about punk. Less Than Jake isn't punk because they have horns, Devo isn't punk because they use keytars instead of guitars, and My Chemical Romance isn't punk because they're music is boring and they're on a major label. I agree with MCR being boring, but other than that, I disagree with all those things.

I understood early on that being "punk" meant doing what you want to do, regardless of people's expectations of you. Later on, I found out that "punk" actually meant doing what you want to do as long as all the other punks are doing it too. It was somewhere around this time that I ceased referring to myself as a punk.

People with mohawks, patches all over their pants and upside down American flags on their walls will tell you that punk is a very specific thing. Misfits, Ramones, U.K. Subs, etc., basically bands that only know 3 chords and play very fast. Now, I like all of those bands, and do objectively realize that the Ramones are the greatest band of all time, but they're not my favorite band. In fact, they're not even on my All Time, Desert Island, Top Five of All Time list. They're not even in the Top Ten.

Why? Because three chords only go so far, and the Cure managed to do much more interesting things over the years, all while keeping a punk ethos. Robert Smith does what he wants, when he wants to do it. So does Elvis Costello. So does Mark Mothersbaugh. So does Blake Schwarzenbach. Unfortunately, some closed minded idiots who call themselves "punk" think that their music is not punk (hence the term "post-punk"). But it is.

A recent spin of Devo's Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo! revealed that Devo is more "punk" than most any band the punks would consider punk today. The songs run the gamut from goofy ("Uncontrollable Urge") to serious satire ("Jocko Homo") to a cover of a "classic" rock song that fans of the original would find blasphemous ("Satisfaction"), and that's only on side one. The music is extremely different from most anything else that was going on at the time (kind of like no-wave, but with an actual melody, and kind of like synth-pop, but less vapid). The songs are intellegent and well written and critical of society. Devo is punk rock, in every way except sticking to a boring, tired three chord structure.

If you're going to say "do what you want, be an individual," don't cry poseur when someone isn't the same individual as you. Ultimately, Blake Schwarzenbach said it best; "'You're not punk, and I'm telling everyone.' Save your breath, I never was one."

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I'm sure everyone's heard by now, but Electronic Gaming Monthly, heretofore the last best multi-platform gaming magazine, is no more. I wish I could say that the news was shocking, but really, it's not. It is, however, very sad.

EGM was the first multiplatform gaming magazine I was aware of, as a young man. I read it on and off for the entire time it was published, though I only subscribed to it for the last three or so years. It was always a treat to read, though, in both the Sendai and Ziff-Davis eras, with a cavalcade of insightful features and insider news, rivaled only by Next Generation, which I also subscribed to in its waining days.

As much as I loved many magazines of days gone by (I loved Game Players/Ultra Game Players, as well as the aforementioned Next Gen, and I even read the occasional issue of Diehard Gamefan), there was always something... different about EGM. I think it might've been the fact that, during the Sendai era, the churned out massive tomes on a monthly basis, which could take an entire month to absorb (the largest issue came in somewhere around 400 pages). Whatever it was, there was always something different about EGM that no other mag before or since (and considering the state of print media, will likely ever) captured for me.

In the summer of 2007, I had a chance to see "Trickman" Terry and the most tenured Sushi-X, Ken Williams, talk about their time at EGM. It was amazing for me to actually meet THE Sushi-X. Yeah, he was a kind of chubby white dude, but even after all those years, even at 24, meeting Sushi-X was a big deal to me, not to mention the Trickman, who, unbeknownst to him, helped me and frustrated me to no end (all James Bonds, indeed, Trickman). I mean... they were celebrities to me, even though they just wrote for a magazine.

Now I interact with some (now former) EGM staffers online, and while they don't have the same aura as Sushi-X and Trickman Terry, they're guys who wrote for EGM, the world's foremost multiplatform gaming magazine! I mean, how cool is that?

Ok, this is rambling a bit, basically what I'm saying is that EGM, and print magazines in general, are generational touchstones in a way that, no matter how good they are, 1Up, GameLife and Giant Bomb will never be, and it's sad to see it go. I already miss looking forward to the next big feature, or cover story, or whatever it may be. I can't really think of a good way to end this, so I'm just going to say that I went to my parents' house and dug my old EGMs out of the attic, and I encourage everyone else who has any to do the same. There's a lot of fun to be had looking back through the legacy of the last best gaming magazine.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Visual Storytelling in Wrestling

I hate the JBL/HBK storyline that's going on on Raw right now, but probably not for the reasons you might think. Yes, I'll concede that it's stupid for us, as viewers, to be expected to believe that Shawn Michaels is so broke that his multi-million dollar salary can't sustain him and his family. Yes, it's stupid for us to be expected to believe that JBL is that rich that he can afford to pay Shawn so much more than his already multi-million dollar salary as to make it worth it to him to compromise his principles.

But that's not why I hate the angle.

I hate the angle because aside from two in ring occurences (HBK slaps JBL, thereby getting Rey Mysterio DQ'd from his Fatal Fourway qualifying match, and HBK takes the Clothesline from Hell without defending himself, allowing JBL to win the aforementioned Fatal Fourway), the entire story has been furthered by talking. JBL talks to the crowd, Todd Grisham talks to HBK, HBK talks to the crowd, HHH talks to HBK, Jericho & Orton talk to JBL, JBL talks to HBK, HBK talks to Cena... STOP TALKING!

Much like in my "Visual Storytelling in Videogames" essay, I want to clarify that I do not hate promos and backstage vignettes. Promos have a function, and have since pro-wrestling began, even moreso since pro-wrestling began on TV (which is not long after anything began on TV), but until the late '90s, they were used much more sparingly. The late '90s were the heyday of the promo, featuring editions of both Raw and Nitro that did not have so much as an arm drag until 45 minutes in. Thankfully, those days are over, but there's still some holdover.

Holdover like the HBK/JBL storyline. Now, HBK and JBL are two of the best "stick men" (i.e. guys who cut good promos) in wrestling today. In fact, I would argue that JBL's at his very best when he's cutting a promo, and he could make a great manager when he decides to leave the ring for good, but that doesn't change the fact that having a storyline play out almost exclusively in the realm of the promo is just lazy storytelling.

It was even revealed that HBK was in JBL's employ in a promo. Can you think of a bigger waste? He could've screwed Rey by slapping JBL before anyone knew he was working for him, then explained in a brief promo that he did it to save JBL's title chances because "blah, blah, blah, I'm a broke millionaire."

He could've saved JBL from a beatdown. He could've done something as simple as putting JBL's foot on the rope when he was being pinned during a match, any match, really. What did WWE's brilliant writing staff come up with instead? "Shawn Michaels works for me now."

Wow. That's some riveting television, that is. Nothing like a goof in a cowboy hat telling me he hired another goof in a cowboy hat. Puts me right on the edge of my seat, that does. How come these guys didn't win any Golden Globes tonight?

On the flip side, let's look at the Jake "The Snake" Roberts/"Ravishing" Rick Rude feud of 1988. It starts with a promo, but one with a good hook. Rude hits on a pretty girl, she turns out to be Mrs. "The Snake." Simple, short, to the point, right? Right. Roberts runs out, punches Rude (Action! How novel of a concept!), a bunch of "enhancement talent" runs out and pulls them apart.

Following that incident, Rude gets some tights with Mrs. Snake's face on them, Roberts warns in a very brief promo that he shouldn't do it again, Rude does, Roberts comes to the ring and pulls them off in front of a live audience following a match. The two have a match at Saturday Night's Main Event in October, Roberts wins, starts a feud with Andre the Giant.

Now, of course, that's a simplification of the events of that feud, but a simplification of this one would read "JBL and HBK talk about HBK working for JBL. HBK slaps JBL, then takes a dive to him in a Fatal Fourway for a title match at the Royal Rumble."

The point is that visual storytelling is not the difficult, especially in a media that are so given to it in the first place. Aural storytelling is not effective in wrestling, it never has been, and it never will be. The crowds are too big and putting lapel mics on the wrestlers would be impossible unless they all dressed like Rick Martel (yes, he is a model).

Wrestling is pure visual storytelling. A great match will always be a great match, regardless of context, because the two (or four or six or sometimes ten) guys in the ring will tell it. A great promo, though? Well, no matter how great it is, without context, you won't know what the guy is talking about, even if he sounds good doing it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

God Hand, et al

All gamers have what is known in the current vernacular as a "Pile of Shame." It's a stack of games, typically ones you own, that you have not yet played to completion, despite critical and/or audience acclaim. For the past two years, one game stood shining atop my Pile of Shame: God Hand.

Clover Studios' saved their best for last with their swan song, God Hand. God Hand puts you in the shoes of Gene, a drifter who, following an attack by some thugs, loses his right arm and awakens to find it replaced with the legendary God Hand. Trust me, it sounds a lot more serious than it actually is. The game is rife with slapstick humor, and this humor only serves to make the game that much better.

Having finally completed it, I can say that it is arguably the best beat-'em-up ever. This is because it's a beat-'em-up that manages to avoid the thing that made the genre stale in the first place. God Hand is not a button masher. In fact, button mashing in God Hand is the best way to get killed. Gene can't block, and as a result, using all the techniques at your disposal (of which there are far more than any other beat-'em-up I can think of), along with your dodge ability, is a requirement to survive past the first boss.

However, there's something about this game that's elusive... It's similar to No More Heroes (which I felt was easily the best Wii game of '08), and, I suspect the forthcoming Mad World, but in ways that're difficult to describe. They're action games, sure, but there's something about them that makes them different from Devil May Cry or Gears of War (which are quite different from each other). God Hand and its ilk seem to take delight in simply being videogames. They are straightforward, with little story, and a massive emphasis on fun vis-a-vis the satisfaction of defeating your enemies.

To wit; killing enemies in God Hand is as satisfying as it is in any game I've ever played. Compare it to, say, Contra, one of the kings of 2D action. In Contra, killing is the main action, but is it satisfying? Not unless it's a boss fight, and even then, the act of killing isn't so much satisfying as the idea that you've survived another stage. God Hand, on the other hand, makes every adversary, from the lowest peon to the final boss, a delight to dispatch.

The fun in these games is not a function of progressing the story, admiring the graphics, or exploring the world. No, the fun in these games is in defeating your foes in the most over-the-top, painful, brutal fashion possible. A secondary enjoyment comes from upgrading your character, but that's only because it serves to make the aforementioned killing that much more enjoyable.

This article is not meant to point out how underrated these games are, because I don't think they are. I understand why God Hand has a 73 aggregate at Metacritic. The graphics don't impress, the controls could certainly be a stumbling block for many, and the game is hard. God Hand, et al appeal to a very particular audience. The same audience that loves bad kung-fu movies. The same audience that loves The Dead Milkmen's music. That is the audience for God Hand. And I am a proud member of that audience. I can only hope that Mad World is half as good as God Hand.