Archive for February, 2009

26
Feb
09

What is wrong with you people?

So… the public has received Street Fighter IV with what I would call mostly favorable reviews. Sure, all the hardcore Street Fighter III fans are kinda sulking a little at the step backwards from the parrying system. Honestly, I don’t know what to make of it still … but you can go waaaay back to the beginning of this blog and read my early impressions of the game if you’re interested.

Most gamers today have some kind of fond memory of Street Fighter II. Everyone had their own little group of friends they played with, or perhaps an arcade they used to visit to play local strangers. Each group had its own relative skill level, and everyone gauged themselves accordingly. That is to say that all fighting game skill was relative.

I want a goddamn Sociologist to study this, because now, for the first time ever, the most hardcore and the most casual player can play together thanks to Xbox live and the Playstation Network. This is bad news though.

Because now most of you can realize how much you suck.

Another interesting development happened when all the various Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter III games came out, because most of the gaming public ignored them. Of course, the fighting game fans kept playing, honing their skills. The people coming back to the party now are terribly unequipped for the battle ahead.

For the first time ever, the sharks are in the same pool as the guppies, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

If we push aside all the SFIII fan reviews, the only other real negative I’ve been seeing about this game is that it is “too hard”. Now, I’m a challenge gaming psychopath, so you obviously can’t trust me, but listen. You can NEVER call a two player game too hard; you can only be not good enough at it.

Some people have complained about the final boss of the single player game. He’s your classic fighting game “character made up of all the other characters”. He’s kinda lame, and horrendously unfair. So basically, he’s like every fighting game boss. This is more a problem with the genre than anything else.

There’s one other interesting thing to notice in some of the reviews and responses to Street Fighter IV. Maybe it’s because the series has been going so long, or the fact that SFIV is kind of a “back to the roots” thing, but game reviewers are starting to openly acknowledge their own age before the age of the game itself. Nobody is saying that the game isn’t modern, but I’ve read many gamers who have said their twitch reflexes ain’t what they used to be.
SFIV has made people feel like the fighting game genre has passed them by…

It has.

23
Feb
09

We’re in this game together guys!

So… the Academy Awards. I never really have much to say about them. I tend to find they’re pretty irrelevant and stupidly political. I wasn’t that crazy about Slumdog Millionaire, which obviously swept up this year… but it didn’t impress or bother me enough to warrant a unique post about it.

This post is on something completely unrelated. I’m going to talk a bit about board games, specifically co-operative board games. I have a good amount of games in the house, as you can see in Annex’d Episode 1 . Ooh that was smooth.

Many of these games are co-operative games, where the players all work together against the game in order to win. These games have many things in common. They’re all pretty hard to win, or at the very least hard to win the first several tries. They all have some type of crisis system for creating problems all over the board for the player to solve, and they all are an absolute blast to play. Quickly, here is a brief description of each.

Arkham Horror is the biggest game I own. Players take the role of an investigator in a H.P. Lovecraft themed universe. Gates to other worlds appear all over town, spilling monsters into the streets. If too many bad things happen to the town, an ancient God awakens and challenges the players to a battle. In order to win, the players need to work together to keep the monsters and gates under control.

Pandemic is a new game by Zman games. It plays in about 30 minutes, which is nice compared to Arkham Horror, which can take anywhere from 1 hour to 4 hours. Players take on the role of various medical personnel that are trying to contain various diseases on the board, eventually immunizing people against each one. The only drawback of this one is that it only plays 4 players.

Another one is Red November, which has one of the weirdest themes I’ve seen in a game. The players are drunken communist Gnomes in a sinking submarine. They need to put out fires, pump out floods, and try to keep the ship intact for 60 in game minutes. This game is probably the wackiest (and perhaps the hardest) of all of mine. It plays 1-8 players in an hour or so.

My roommate has the Battlestar Galactica board game, based on the new version of the classic tv series. Unlike most licensed games, this game is brilliantly designed. Players can pick from all the main characters on the show; each character has their own abilities and their own drawbacks. They need to deal with various “crisis” cards, with the eventual goal of reaching Earth. The catch is that one (or more) of the players is secretly a Cylon, working for the enemy. The game is built to foster as much paranoia and deceit as possible. It’s just great.

All of these games came out in the last few years. It’s good to see that co-operative board gaming has undergone a kind of golden age lately. It seems weird at first, a bunch of people sitting around trying to “beat” an abstract series of rules, dice rolls, and conditions, but it’s actually tons of fun if you give any of these games a try. It’s a nicer way to bring a new player into the game as well, since you don’t teach them the rules and then immediately try to smash them into pieces. Instead, you get to teach them the rules and then watch as they learn how to make tough decisions and help out the group.

If that sounds a little too group efforty for you, I will kick your ass in Agricola.

19
Feb
09

My Name Is Bruce…

So I really wanted to like My Name Is Bruce… but I couldn’t. I’m an unapologetic Evil Dead fan. I’m a bit of a Bruce Campbell fan… but this one just didn’t do it for me.

The premise is that a small town is attacked by a monster, so they call on Bruce Campbell to come save them. Bruce plays a more awful version of himself, and of course hilarity ensues when the town discovers that he can’t live up to his heroic movie personas, or even his heroic movie star persona.

For me, the moments that involved that part of the premise were the only funny ones. I got a chuckle in one scene where Bruce Campbell kicks a fan of his in a wheelchair down a hill. Maybe i’m just cruel like that. I also enjoyed every moment that had Bruce Campbell running in fear and being an awful hero. There weren’t many of those…

The rest of the jokes just weren’t there. Like LITERALLY weren’t there. There were references galore to his other movies, with many to Evil Dead. None of these were clever references that were played for laughs though. They were all just “Oh, that’s a line from Army Of Darkness” moments. There really weren’t even many attempts at funny moments. Some of Bruce’s pals such as Ted Raimi have moments in the film too… if that interests you, go for it.

The monster is a chinese God that is “the protector of the dead … and bean curds”. It kinda looks like a giant Pai Mei with glowing eyes. It kinda floats around town chopping people’s heads off. It’s certainly not scary enough to get any type of horror film response, but it’s also not stupid enough to create any type of humor.

The whole movie really makes you realize the genius of Sam Raimi. If you look back on the original Evil Dead film, it was made for a small portion of the budget My Name is Bruce had, and it was by far the better made film. Yes, the two movies have very different goals and YES inflation bla bla bla, but the point is Sam Raimi made something out of nothing, and this film squandered a good premise with bad writing and lame filmmaking.

I suppose you’re wondering why I even sought out this film in the first place. Well, it gets ridiculously high praise from some pretty legit horror and horror/comedy fans. I really don’t understand it. I think Bruce Campbell fans must be really creepy people who will accept anything the man does, especially if it’s more or less a movie about how great his fans are.

For non fans, which apparently I am, this movie won’t anger you with its awfulness. It won’t be so bad it’s good. It’s just kinda… weak. I wasn’t even terribly hyped up to see it, and it left me disappointed.

Booooo.

16
Feb
09

But the soul still burns…

I’ve always been a fan of the Soul Calibur franchise. I thought Soul Edge was good. Soul Calibur was revolutionary. Soul Calibur 2 was excellent, and one of the best examples of a multi platform video game launch ever. The third installment faltered a little… and the fourth game is an embarrassment. Are we going on a Soul Calibur retrospective? Oh yes…

Soul Calibur has been accused of being a mindless button masher, and I’ve always rushed to its defense. Sure, a monkey smashing buttons madly as Kilik can occasionally beat an average level player, but he wouldn’t stand a chance against someone good. A good player would absolutely smack down button mashers… and if you DID have a monkey, wouldn’t you rather dress him in a li’l engineer’s outfit instead?

Another common accusation is that it’s all about boobs. As the series has continued, this has been a harder and harder one to field… since Taki seems to have been using her ninja magic on her cup size. I always feel the need to justify playing as Ivy, the pale chick in the fetish gear with the whipsword thingy. No dude, she’s the best at FIGHTING!

With Soul Calibur IV, I’m officially off the bandwagon. Namco added a lame ass statistical leveling system, which seems like it would really extend replay value, but it seems like they spent way more time on this than the actual game design.

The “all about boobs” complaint is now more prevalent than ever before. They gave many of the characters different “destructible armor”, so you can now watch as bits and pieces of the ladies clothing gets smashed off by some cleaving axe strike or something. I have nooooo problem with boobs… but it leaves you feeling like the game is talking down to you and trying to appeal to the 13 year old boy in everyone.

Oh and here we go… they added Darth Vader, The Apprentice (from force unleashed) and YODA to the game as playable characters. WHAT? Soul Calibur has had cameos from other franchises in the past. Some worked better than others, but never once did a character from a science fiction franchise enter into the fray. Certainly not a well known franchise like Star Wars. How is that even supposed to work? The lightsabers would just go through all the other swords! It’s stupid, and it opens the door to further experimentation with Soul Calibur… something I’m not looking forward to.

Also… they only added two other new characters. I’m not really sure why… Maybe it’s because of their stupid insistence on having a “make your own fighter” option. The thing is, outside of dressing a fighter up, which is a stupid way to spend time already, you can’t really design a balanced movelist for them that will work nicely with the other characters. You definitely can’t create a character with a new style of play or weapon… so what’s the point?

I’m not going to use the phrase “jumped the shark”… because it didn’t. It just sucks now. I’ll stick with Soul Calibur 2 from now on… and if you mess with it, I’ll whipsword ya.

12
Feb
09

Iron Man Vs the Dark Knight

Alright so I get almost no hits from a review of a graphic novel on the DAY it came out, so I’m going to avoid being timely and reach back just a bit for this one.

Man a Dark Knight versus Iron Man comic would rule. Anyway… I’m going to dedicate this post to what a friend of mine referred to as a “movement” of people who are proclaiming Iron Man as better than The Dark Knight. Quick answer? It’s not. Long answer? Here we go…

To get the up front disclaimers in… I’ve always tilted a little more Marvel than DC. Just a tad. That doesn’t really affect this though.

The Dark Knight had it’s share of problems. Nolan still hasn’t really figured out what to do with Rachel that would make her at all interesting. The film kind of double climaxes at the end… and the action scenes, though improved compared to Batman Begins, were still pretty damn weak. Iron Man had tighter action sequences and a lighter tone… but don’t you worry Batman fans, I’m on your side.

The Dark Knight aims much higher than Iron Man. It tries to remain grounded in realism, which is a tough thing considering it’s a movie about a man in a bat suit. Iron Man has cartoony “foreign terrorist dudes” that kinda took me out of the movie. Cartoony really does seem like a good word for most of Iron Man, since there were several sequences that are there just to remind you that it’s a fun “popcorn film”. I guess Batman has always been known for psychological depth, while Iron Man has always been known for blowing shit up.

I think structurally the Dark Knight works much better as well. We watch Gotham descend into chaos as the Joker’s attacks get more and more vicious. Iron Man has an almost episodic structure, with Stark getting kidnapped, building and refining the suit, and then his feud with Stane at the end. It isn’t disjointed, like it doesn’t feel like three different films, but it doesn’t flow as nicely as the Dark Knight does.

Okay let’s talk about performances. I’m not breaking any new ground when saying that Heath Ledger was awesome. Robert Downey Junior also really does rule. I was disappointed that the film didn’t delve into the darker side of Tony Stark though, since he is one of Marvel’s more interesting characters. Of course, the Dark Knight delves into dark parts of characters in spades.

I mentioned my issues with Two Face at the end of the Dark Knight, but I have a similar one with Iron Man. I think Jeff Bridges did a great job as Obediah Stane, but I wish they had picked a different villain. I suppose that Stane fits better in the Iron Man chronology, but it’s a bit like picking the Green Goblin for the first Spiderman film. I suppose this is an issue with Iron Man in general, but it means that their fight scenes are impersonal, since they’re both hidden behind massive suits of armor.

They were both really great films. They both had their issues as well. I hope to see how the two fan groups continue the discussion once sequels are made for both films.

09
Feb
09

Fuck Funny Games.

Now that Street Fighter IV is about to come out, I’m getting lots of search engine hits on the subject. If you’re interested in the thin Street Fighter story, check out James’ guest post here . If you want to read my initial impressions based on playing the game on imported boards, check out my very first mineshaft post here

Today we’re not talking about Street Fighter though. We’re taking aim at one of the most stupidly respected films in the last couple years: Funny Games. Funny Games is a movie that was deemed so important that its own director made it twice, with ten years between each release. I don’t know how his fans can even defend that… it seems like there’s absolutely no better way to admit you’re out of ideas. If you saw “cache” in 2005, which bit heavily from several much better movies, you might see there’s some merit to this accusation.

Michael Haneke claims that he remade the original 1998 film in 2008 because it was so important for American audiences to see. The film is extremely self referential. Much like Natural Born Killers, it uses the medium of film in order to make a statement about our reactions to the violence we see on screen.

So… the movie is critic proof. If you were disgusted by the violence and hated the film, hooray, you win… you’re one of the good ones. Wow, he showed me something I didn’t like and I reacted morally… he’s a genius. If you thought it was a good film, you obviously don’t have any complaints, so Haneke must be a genius then. Simply put: the film is not meant to be enjoyed by anyone.

But maybe that’s cool. Maybe you don’t need your movies to be entertaining. Maybe an artistic statement about violence is more important to you than a movie that entertains.

Consider this though. This film has been described by many as a kind of Skinner Box for the audience. If we’re thinking about this film as an exercise in cruelty for an audience, then the very act of making it more than once is almost evil. The fact that almost nothing was changed and that it was remade for a bigger audience and more cash makes it more questionable. Haneke, if you’re going to call the people who watch the film depraved and sick for watching it, you should be willing to endure criticism for making it… especially making it twice.

I really want a fan of this movie to actually address this. To everyone who hasn’t seen it, don’t waste your time. Even for gorehounds who just want to see something fucked up, you will be disappointed by this, even if you ignore the director wagging his finger at you and telling you that you’re bad afterwards.

I like to end these rants with pointing to a similar and better film, so I’ll mention Natural Born Killers again. It makes the same points as Haneke’s film, and sure, it’s tough to watch in a few places, but it’s actually interesting. It also extrapolates the idea of violence in the media much further, and has several entertaining scenes.

Fuck Funny Games. Haneke fans… bring it on. 😛

05
Feb
09

A Scott Pilgrim Versus the Universe Relay Review!

Okay, my reviews and rants on the mineshaft here are RARELY timely, but the new Scott Pilgrim comic came out yesterday, and I figured I’d write something on it. You won’t just be hearing my comments though. I’ve decided to let Allegra from the allegrahates blog (see the sidebar) and my friend James, who wrote the ever so popular Street Fighter Continuity post way back, to weigh in on what they thought of the new issue.

I always need to do this… but quickly, for those of you who don’t know, Scott Pilgrim is a Canadian manga inspired graphic novel series about a boy who lives in Toronto and needs to defeat his girlfriend’s seven evil ex-boyfriends in order to prove his love. There’s slightly more to it than that, but that’s the basic premise… it’s filled with an equal amount of classic video game references and indie band references. Have YOU actually played Clash at Demonhead? Heard of Plumtree? If either of those got a yes, you might be cool and indie enough to read on. Still, instruments are too mainstream.

I thought about editing and just taking key parts, but you’ll see each reaction in its entirety.
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First, Allegra’s reaction:
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For a manga-inspired fantastic graphic novel, it’s amazing how true to life the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O’Malley manages to be. We all know people who remind us of Scott or Knives or Kim, and for every battle with a giant robot and chase through sub-space there are a dozen instances of uncomfortably familiar emotion and dialogue so real that you swear BLOM must have overheard it before writing it.

Though none of us are literally fighting an organized league of our significant other’s exes, there is often a struggle to measure up to the past. The series literalizes this, and throws in all the problems of a typical relationship as well. We see this mostly with Scott, but Ramona isn’t without her struggles either. She fought Knives in the Reference Library (the chapter that REALLY made me an SP fan) and dealt with Envy Adams’ snark. Ramona’s connection to Gideon is still powerful, just as it would be when any strong relationship dissolves.

The fifth novel in the series, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe,” maintains its whip-smart humour (most of which is subtle so re-reading is just as much fun as the first time) while also developing the characters we’ve come to love to the next logical progression.

It is the penultimate novel in the series, and a lot of the events that take place set up for Scott’s final conflict: Gideon. As annoying as it is when parts of a series are mostly used as conduits for the finale (Pirates of the Caribbean II, anyone?), SPV is more than that.

First of all, the relationship between Scott and Ramona (which is the foundation of the whole plot) grows a lot more complicated. While SPIV showed our hero maturing (moving in with Ramona, getting a job, thinking about the future), SPV brings conflict by the star-emblazoned bagful… conflict in the band, conflict with his friends and especially conflict with Ramona. There are certain events that made me bite my nails in concern for the couple, though I never doubted Scott’s commitment to her and to the fulfilment of his quest.

Then final chapter gives Scott Pilgrim fans what they want, though – an EPIC cliff-hanger, a little bit of confusion, more hints about the elusive and mysterious Gideon (and about Ramona herself) and proof of Scott Pilgrim’s naïve goodness. Add to that the traditional indie music references (Sloan!), familiar Toronto landmarks (Sneaky Dees!), self-deprecation, callbacks to previous events in the Scott Pilgrim cannon and even one or two references to Lost At Sea, O’Malley’s debut graphic novel (I cry every time I read it without exception).

Scott Pilgrim vs The Universe doesn’t tug at all the same heartstrings as Lost at Sea, but it succeeded in its endeavour to make the reader laugh, reflect, wonder and anticipate. Bryan Lee O’Malley has us hooked and dying for a resolution… it’s going to be a long year, but Scott Pilgrim fans know it’s going to be worth the wait.

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And next, James’ reaction :
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I may as well start off by saying I am a huge fan of the series. In fact there was a brief stint where I was a member of the ‘scott.ning’ thing (then I lost my email address and password… very confusing). This is significant because I am letting it be known that I take these comics WAY too seriously when they are meant to be a fun read. So if I hear any bitching of ‘oh my gawwwwwd… its just a comic!’ piss off, alright?

Overall I’d say it is a step up from the fourth volume. It flowed nicely, but it all seemed so much faster than the earlier ones. I mean to say that all the things I were expecting to see in this comic were much lighter than the other issues. For instance, my biggest criticism of this volume; the evil ex-boyfriends were extras in the background. It is as if they had less development than Michael Patel from the first comic. At least he was given a back-story, the only info we have on the twins is that they are hot and Japanese. Oh, and Ramona cheated on them (which I will get too but that’s more of a criticism of the entire series). There was no build up to the ending fight scene and thereby much less dramatic (although I do love the fact that it was to save Kim. Hopefully this will come up again in the final volume). And the robots sent by the twins really didn’t do anything for me, except for the ‘joined the party’ gag, which leads me to my second criticism…

This is probably the least funny installment of the series. Unlike the others that made me actually laugh audibly, this rarely left a smile on my face. It was an enjoyable read, but there were less gags overall. Since I do appreciate that this volume was probably more designed to be a set-up for the final, I cut it some slack and I am not holding against O’Malley. I wouldn’t say it was ‘dramatic’ per se, but there was definitely some foundation layers put down to make it dramatic next time.

A concern that has been bothering me throughout the series is ‘what the fuck is so great about Ramona?’ There is a lot of talk about cheating in this one, and Ramona gets pissed at Scott for how he treated Knives. So much so that she kicks him out of her apartment. Ok, I am probably the least tolerant when it comes to rules on fidelity and in my self-righteousness I am quick to condemn anything I consider a transgression (back me up here Kev) but Ramona being bitchy about that? Gimme a break. She fully admits herself that she’s a bad person for cheating and the like but she feels she has the grounds to throw Scott around like she is morally superior? It kinda pisses me off, but that’s how most women are AMIRITE?! She must be amazingly hot or something, cause I don’t really see any redeeming qualities to her… except for the fact that she paid attention to Scott in the beginning.

Another problem: A SIGNIFICANT LACK OF WALLACE!

… enough said
Now for the parts that I thought were wonderful! Lawrence made an appearance! The stage is set for the last comic! Something that I have been eying every time I read through the comics is the appearance of who I call ‘Evil-Scott.’ You see him in volume four and near the end of this volume in the mirror. I can’t wait to see how that pans out.
I dunno, that’s all I have to say really. Still a huge fan!

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And now, my (quick) reaction:
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Okay this post is already too long, but I’ll quickly give my reaction. I thought Scott Pilgrim 4 was the weakest of the series, so this one was a nice step up for me. I don’t know if it’s my absolute favorite, it probably falls somewhere in the middle. It does feel like a bit of a “build up” episode in the story.

It really does make you shriek when you realize there are only a few pages left in the book and you know there’s a cliffhanger coming. I found there to still be a good amount of laughs and good moments though. I absolutely look forward to the next installment.