Hey kiddies! Unless it's the far future and you're new readers, you probably read most of this on the blog during December. But now it's in article form! And backwards. I really can't be arsed to switch them all around.
If you don't know the history of this project, for every day in December up until the 24th (it tragically petered out on the 23rd this year) I write about one thing I think people should buy. To convey the true spirit of Christmas. Which, of course, is spending all your money buying too much shit for people who probably already have too much stuff. If you want to make it more positive, think of these as gift ideas. Aaaanyway...
Day Twenty-three - Phantasy Star
Phantasy Star is yet another game I received as a birthday gift which I hadn't started playing until I decided to include it in this feature. Only this time, it was a gift from my youngest brother, as for every birthday and Christmas, he sends me a (seemingly) random Virtual Console or WiiWare game.
I'll admit that at the time, I wasn't overly thrilled that I got Phantasy Star over say, Excitebike or Ninja Gaiden, but a free game is a free game. I also wasn't too thrilled that when I started playing the game, I dicovered I needed to save after every encounter because it's brutal.
Over time, though, I learned to go heal after every second fight, and eventually made a little headway into the game. Admittedly, I don't think I'm very far yet, as I've only assembled most of my party (one of those characters being nearly useless in combat), and haven't even seen one boss yet. I really did want to finish the game by now, but other things got in the way (New Super Mario Bros., and RE: The Darkside Chronicles being the main culprits).
Anyway, Phantasy Star is a fairly decent RPG, if a little tough. But most RPGs of that era are, so that's a little moot. It's a lot quicker than Final Fantasy though, which is very good. The downside being that every enemy makes a terribly annoying buzzing noise when they attack. It's definitely a game best played with the sound off and a CD/iPod on.
The really cool part is that the dungeons are all 3D-esque, a little like Etrian Odyssey, only you have to supply your own graph paper if you want to make maps. And the map-making aspect is my favourite part of the game. It's what I loved about Etrian Odyssey (when I'd mapped every floor, I felt I was done with the game, grinding and FOEs be damned), and it's a little less convenient in Phantasy Star, but still really fun. Also it makes each and every one look exactly the same, which is why it's absolutely essential to keep maps.
So yeah, chances are good that I'll never finish it (I'll likely be playing Silent Hill: Shattered Memories over and over until the end of time if it's as good as Tomm says), but I do quite like Phantasy Star. Maybe I'll try to get back into it though. I really do like the urgency that the 3D dungeons create, making drawing maps into an essential gameplay element. But that's probably the only reason I'll go back. The gameplay otherwise is pretty dated, and despite the space travel element, the story hasn't really captured my interest. Not the worst way to spend your five bucks though.
Day Twenty-two - GameSpite Quarterly Vol. 3
Look what came in the mail yesterday! YAAAAAY!
A few of the articles are online over at you-should-know-where-by-now and more are dribbling onto the site day by day, but I'll have burned through this baby by the end of the year. End of the week if I'm really good.
Though I take issue with the sweet extra-money-costing hardcover deluxe edition bearing the Dragon Warrior cover. Not that I dislike Dragon Warrior or anything, but I think Mario should have graced the cover of the premium edition. Oh well. This is well and truly the first time in my life that the saying "You can't jusdge a book by its cover" has applied to me literally.
Day Twenty-one - A Boy and His Blob
It probably was about a month ago that A Boy and His Blob was released on Virtual Console. It struck me as odd, because I remember that game being pretty popular back in the day, but maybe I'm just crazy. Maybe it was just one Nintendo Power article that I read over and over.
Anyway, since I've always wanted to really play the game, I downloaded the game right away, and only then did it hit me that I actually had played it already. I think. My memory normally isn't so sketchy when it comes to whether I've played a game or not, but I can't for the life of me remember if I'd actually rented the game once or again, if the Nintendo Power artcile is messing with my mind.
In any case, it turns out that A Boy and His Blob is quite difficult. I don't imagine that I would have had as much trouble with it is a child, but in an age where we're accustomed to having in-game maps or some sort of navigational help, I just can't manage without any kind of reference as to where I'm going and where I've been. Also I have no tolerance for the limited and sluggish movement of our heroes.
The point remains, however, that it is a really neat game wherein you feed a white blob jellybeans to make it transform into objects that will help you navigate the world. And it's quite possibly the first of its kind. Tons of games gave you a large inventory of tools to solve the puzzles that the world presented, but I can't think of even one other that gives all of it to you at the beginning of the game and leaves you on your own to figure out what it is you need to do and how to do it.
Very luckily for me, however, that someone out there was thinking of me, and decided to give the formula a bit of a tune-up.
I picked up the new Wii version of A Boy and His Blob back in October, a week or two after its release, and I'm so so so so happy that I did. The idea is the same, gameplay-wise, but changes a couple key elements that simultaneously make it more approachable and enjoyable.
The most obvious change is that the world is no longer one big map to explore, but rather segmented into many normal-sized levels. Also, lives are gone and now the boy just respawns nearby when he's viciously murdered or you drop him into a bottomless pit.
Another change that's a little detrimental to the formula is that to go with the bite-sized levels, you're only given a certain number of jellybeans in each stage. This makes the challenges the game presents you with much easier to solve, as at any time, you only have so many options, and you can never run out of jellybeans, so you never have to worry that you don't have the right transformation for the job. While this does make the game a little friendlier to those who aren't hardcore explorers, it doesn't mean that the challenge is gone. No, in fact I think I've spent far more lives in this game than even in New Super Mario Bros Wii, and in that game, there are usually other players who make it their life's goal to see me die.
The new A Boy and His Blob is quite a pleasant game, actually. The challenge level is just right (though some of the bonus levels are downright evil), and the only real complaint I can lobby against it is that there aren't really any puzzles that have multiple solutions. I would very much like to see a sequel where you have more options and can make your own way rather than follow the path the developers paved. And while the new one is head and shoulders above it's ancient predecessor, the original A Boy and His Blob still has its charms (even though it lacks a "hug" button). It's just too damn hard though! I do intend to finish it one day, but there will be legions of lives lost and game overs suffered before that ever happens.
Day Twenty - Matthew Good : Live at Massey Hall
If I have to explain this one, you haven't been paying enough attention.
Matthew Good. Live. Nuff' said.
Day Nineteen - Scott Pilgrim
The internet has been abuzz about Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim comics for years now, and I've kind of stayed outside the loop up until recently. See, I knew people loved them, but I didn't know why (lack of research). But then I was reading about the upcoming movie adaptation and heard that there were all sorts of video game references. Guess which books I went out and bought as soon as I could?
Yeah, after I read a couple articles about the movie, I decided that it was definitely something I was, or at least should be, interested in. And because I'm impatient, I decided I needed to read the comics to get a really good feel for what I was getting into. It was a very good move on my part, because the internet is not wrong, Scott Pilgrim is awesome.
I only bought Scott Pilgrim 1 and 2 to start off with, and I read them both that day. It's a perfect story for everyone, blending growing-up issues with romance and rock n roll and video games, and I was instantly hooked. Not hooked enough, mind you, to remember that I needed to buy the rest of them, but hooked enough that I'm making seeing the movie a very high priority.
I have been negligent in my duties of picking up and reading the remaining issues, but I am hoping to get at least one more for Christmas, and worst case scenario, I'll just go out an buy them myself with the mall gift cards I'll inevitably receive. Very much looking forward to how the story pans out, and all the gags and video game references that still await me. Huge mistake on my part for waiting so long to see what Scott Pilgrim was all about.
Day Eighteen - Resident Evil : The Darkside Chronicles
When Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles was released near the beginning of the Wii's lifespan, I picked it up with cautious optimism. Also I wanted something else to use my zapper on. It was so much more fun that I'd ever had with a rail shooter, and I'll admit I was shocked. Turns out it was even super awesomer to play with someone else, and it even ended up being one of my girlfriend's favourite games.
The only issue I had with it is that it was a re-telling of pre-RE4 games, but while it went through Resident Evil 0, Resident Evil, and Resident Evil 3 as well as a whole slew of new material, it never touched on my favourite game in the series, Resident Evil 2.
That's where The Darkside Chronicles comes into play. When it was first announced, I only ever heard anything about RE2 being covered in it, so I was pretty ecstatic that the next shooter would be dedicated to my favourite classic RE game. And then as more news trickled out, nobody said anything else about RE2, but focused on the new announcement that Code: Veronica was now involved. I was a little sad that nobody was giving any attention to RE2, but whatever.
It all worked out alright though, because The Darkside Chronicles is even better than its predecessor! Mixing RE2, Code: Veronica and more new material. The new stuff shines a little light on Leon's relation ship with Krauser (from RE4), and delves a little further into the effects of the Veronica virus. It's a really good new story, very different from anything we've seen in Resident Evil up to this point.
The past games are represented pretty faithfully, too. The RE2 segments stick really close to the source material, outside of the fact that Leon and Claire are together the whole time. The fact that they made sure the licker flew by that first window in the police station is great, because for some reason that is the definitive moment of RE2 for me. I've never played through the entirety of Code: Veronica, but it seems fairly faithful to what I have seen of the game.
The most important thing to note about The Darkside Chronicles is that unlike its big brother, it's more about the experience than the shooting. The camera moves around a lot more, as characters look around, and they seldomly stop for long to take out approaching enemies, opting instead to have someone shout "There's no time!" or something of the like and press on, leaving more zombies alive than I'd usually like.
It's still really fun though! If not for Super Mario Bros Wii and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories I would say that this was my most desired Wii game of 2009. Of course, I can't rememeber what came out this year before October, so it's kinda moot. Definitely recommended, and despite its relative brevity, I'll be playing it for a long time to come.
Day Seventeen - Joe Satriani : Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock
So here's another CD I've bought recently. It's Joe Satriani, and that means that it's gonna be harder to review than most albums because it's (almost) entirely instrumental. That makes it hard because really, I'm no music scholar. I just know I love his stuff.
The strange part is that the sticker on the shrink wrap said that it included the new hit single "I Just Wanna Rock", which is odd because I've never heard Joe played on any radio station ever, so how could he have a single? Then again, I only listen to local radio, so maybe there are (non-classical) stations out there who aren't aftraid to play instrumental music.
Professor Satchafunkilus is a terrific album, containing the same kind of music you expect from Satch, music that rocks hard and really moves you. It's deep without having to say a word, and I think that the poignancy of the music says a lot, because like I said before, I've never heard a completely instrumental piece on the radio in all my life, and the fact that there are still people out there who can express themselves without having to resort to lyrics is comforting in some way.
The big killer to this wholly positive post is that I still kinda prefer Super Colossal overall. On a track-by-track basis, "Asik Vaysel" and "Andalusia" blow my mind and I'd choose one them over any single song on Super Colossal, though. "Andalusia" in particular is amazing, starting with an arrangement I can only describe as "deserty" because it reminds me of the Gerudo Desert music from Ocarina of Time, and then blows up and rocks your face off. Easily my favourite track on the album.
It's a great album though! Not enough people get the understated beauty of instrumental rock. They're all worried about the stupid overused love song lyrics, and don't think about the real soul of the song anymore. And with the current club music craze, true feeling in popular music is essentially nonexistent. Boo on that.
Hm. Guess I could write a full post about it. Who knew?
Day Sixteen - GameSpite Quarterly Vol. 2
Well you must have guessed that this one would be down the pipe somewhere, right? To be honest, I probably should have just put these two together in the same day, because there isn't nearly as much to say for Quarterly 2 without repeating most of what I said for Q1.
Anyway, the theme of this second book is the greatest games of all time. That is to say, Parish asked everyone on Talking Time and these are the 48 games that got the most votes (40 if you cheaped out and bought the paperback). Of course, all the articles are available directly on GameSpite.net, but there's something heartwarming about having a tangible version of something so wonderful.
Most of the games featured in this one will shock no-one, as the lion's share are all quite high-profile titles. There are a few that surprised me, like Dragon Quarter and Civilization, and the order is sometimes a little unexpected, but the real attention grabber is that Final Fantasy VII is nowhere to be seen. And that's a good thing. That means that the part of the internet I live in has taste. Yay!
Like Q1, this is a wonderful read, and I couldn't recommend it more (you should definitely buy a copy to support the site and writers! don't just read it online!). The problem is that it makes me want to play all the games within! I bought Dragon Quarter and Final Fantasy XII based on the articles contained in this book despite the fact that I most definitely do not have the time to play through two of the most time-consuming RPGs on the PS2. Yeah.
Day Fifteen - Garry's Mod
Along with Zombie Shooter, Edwin had sent me Half-Life 2 and Garry's Mod for my birthday earlier this year. Being the awful friend I am, I had barely thoughed either of them until just recently. Thank God I finally cracked open Garry's Mod though, as it is so much fun. Did I use enough italics there to sell my excitement?
It's one of those things that in retrospect, I had heard of but never realized just what it was. Garry's Mod, or GMod, as I will herein refer to it, is some sort of modification of Valve's Source engine, and is mostly just a big toybox. You're given all the assets of either Half-Life 2 or whatever Source engine game you have installed to to screw around with, and create whatever your little heart desires.
There are tons and tons of options in this game, and I've just barely scraped the surface of what I can do with it. That's probably mostly because I've just been creating ragdolls and attaching bunches of balloons to them to make them float up into the sky (note the balloon fetishism above). Other than that, I haven't done much more than spawning legions of zombies and watching them tear through a bunch of civilians an Alyxes.
Really, the best thing about GMod isn't that it's a ton of fun, but rather that you can do almost anything you can dream of with it. Obviously the more complicated your plans are, the more you'll have to figure out to actually make it work (I'm still working on building the basic crate/sawblade car from the tutorial), but the payoff is totally worth it. Seeing the towering monument of randomly welded-on crap that I made once was oddly satisfying. Far more than it should have been, actually. Attaching a baby to a pole with an elastic and slingshotting it back and forth? That definitely shouldn't have been as entertaining as it was.
Obviously, I give GMod the big two thumbs up of approval. It's absolutely worth every penny Valve is charging for it. Not that I was the one paid for it or anything. But you get what I mean. I think tonight I'll make a pen for my zombie slaughter, so they can't come after me once they've murdered all everyone else. Or maybe I'll try to build a little shack! Who knows...
Day Fourteen - The Office season 5
So here's some Office things. Um. I don't know. I don't feel like writing today. Getting tired of this stupid blog thing. Blah.
Anyway, The Office. It's a TV show, and season 5 is the most recently released on DVD. We watch it pretty religiously. As soon as the DVDs come out, anyway. Far too busy to bother trying to remember when it's on and if it's a new episode or not. Whatever. We usually have a set done within the week we start watching.
It's a really great show. Quite funny, but also a little uncomfortable at times. The main character, Steve Carrell's character, is so oblivious and naive and at times incredibly racist (by accident). It's almost painful to watch him make an ass out of himself sometimes, but still hilarious. The rest of the characters are pretty great too. I noted that this season that Pam was by far the most prominent secondary character, which is good because she's sassy and likable and Jim's schtick is getting old. Definitely need more Andy/Dwight craziness though.
All in all, though my apathy here might imply otherwise, I'm just not in the mood for writing. Season 5 of The Office has quite possibly been the best yet (I really loved the Michael Scott Paper Company episodes), and I can't wait for 6. Yeah, I could try to watch it on TV, but bleh. Too much effort. I'll just buy the DVD.
Day Thirteen - Rock Band Queen DLC
It's been nearly two years since Rock Band was first released, and every week since then, Harminix has added new songs onto the various console shops to play in the game. For a long time, I would eagerly bounce out of bed every Tuesday morning, eager to see if they'd added anythign I would like to play, and for the most part, the early stuff was really good. Lately they've been branching out a little more, even adding country into the mix, and it's not very oftne that I check the music store these days.
Only in early September, there was a humongous announcement that there would finally be a Queen track pack released for the game. Queen being my favourite band ever, I was giddy. I had two wait nearly two months until it hit, but damn was I pumped.
Then it came and I've literally played Rock Band three times since I downloaded it. All three to play said Queen tracks, but still. To be completely honest, I think I've finally lost my lust for pretend guitaring. I mean, yeah, I still really enjoy playing the games, but they're very low on my to-do list. Below reading, if you can believe that.
Anyway, the Queen track pack is pretty awesome. It's got ten tracks in all, and they're obviously all the band's biggest hits. "I Want it All" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" are pretty fun to play, but "One Vision" sits high at the top of my list. We've already played the Hell out of "Killer Queen" and "Under Pressure" in Guitar Hero, but they're still great to come back to. A couple songs, "Another One Bites the Dust" in particular, are retarded easy to play on the guitar side of things, but at the very least, the solos are always fun and challenging. Maybe you didn't notice, but it's definitely more of a pack for those vocalists out there, because hey, Freddie Mercury.
The only qualms I have is that "Tie Your Mother Down" makes my hand hurt, and where the fuck is "Bohemian Rhapsody"? Seriously. Unless Harmonix is holding it back for Rock Band 3, it's a pretty heavy omission. But hey, it's still Queen in Rock Band, which is suuuuper awesome no matter which way you slice it.
Day Twelve - GameSpite Quarterly Vol. 1
This whole feature is really focusing quite a bit on video games, isn't it? I guess I should have used the same media type schedule that I did last year to mix things up a little better. Oh well, live and learn, I guess. So let's talk about a book today! It's a book about video games, but whatever. Deal with it.
Gamespite Volume 1 is the first direct-to-print venture by the writers at GameSpite.net, quite possibly the only wesite I talk about with other people. I've been reading the site for years now, and obviously I jumped when Parish said he was contracting his writers to make an actual book (that isn't just a collection of already-posted content, which I also bought), and hopped on that badwagon as soon as I could.
It helped that the first issue was dedicated to Game Boy, which was my object of affection for many, many years. Me and my many Game Boys have been through everything together, and I will always cherish my big grey brick, as well as it's few cousins that still remain in my posession. It was a sad day for me, the day that the Game Boy brand died and was replaced with the soulless, mass-market appeal DS brand, but that's the way she goes. DS and I still have a long way to before we forge a bond similar to what I had with Game Boy, but it'll never be the same. You never forget your first love.
But anyway! The book! It's not really a book per se, even thoguh it looks like a book, and feels like a book, and tastes like a book. It does not, however, read like a book. That is because, despite its hardcover appearance, Gamespite Quarterly is essentially a magazine. It is filled with little articles, rather than a single long story. Though to be fair, there is a little segue between each section of the book that details the life and times of Game Boy, so there is kind of an overarching plot. But that's besides the point!
The book is mainly filled with articles about Game Boy's best games. You know, the obvious ones like Tetris and Link's Awakening and Donkey Kong '94. There's also a few articles about competing hadheld devices, and even a few that have nothing to do with Game Boy at all. It's a rather large book, being that it's a magazine with zero advertisements. Also, it's awesome. The writers at GameSpite are incredibly talented; the best ill make you want to go out and play a game having barely said anything about the game at all. I think they've influenced my on writing a bit, and I kind of dream of eventually writing a piece for a future issue, but as it stands I don't think I've got what it takes quite yet.
The best part, though, is that Parish always includes a teaser image at the end of each issue, hinting at the theme for the next, and I find the suspense very entertaining in and of itself. It's a tiny thing, but yeah. Awesome book. Go get a copy and support the site.
Day Eleven - Dead Space : Extraction
When Stephanie and I play video games together, there's usually three categories what we're playing falls under: Mario games, Rock Band (occasionally Guitar Hero), and Wii rail shooters. The first two are pretty obvious, but I was quite shocked at how quickly she took to Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles. I wasn't one to complain about my girlfriend liking games, so I took it and ran with it, buying House of the Dead: Overkill and more recently, Dead Space: Extraction.
House of the Dead was fun, and really over-the-top, but wasn't something that really stuck with us. Dead Space, on the other hand, was soooooo cool. It's a little strange that in two player mode, both players are technically the same person, but lack of a P2 character is a trifle.
I've never played the original Dead Space (I bought it recently, but haven't had a chance to play it yet), but I was very intrigued by the idea of "strategic dismemberment." It was a real system shock, trying to get used to the fact that I wanted to shoot my enemies in the limbs and not the head. The drawback here though, is that there are only about five enemy types, so there isn't really much strategy involved after level three or so. You've seen all there is to see, and all you've gotta do is focus on choppin' those limbs off.
But! The game is still a ton of fun, especially in two player mode. The competition isn't too fierce, but in every game we play together, I usually get hit once or twice a session for taking all the items because she hadn't noticed them or was too slow. Blasting the crap out of monsters as a team is great though, and since it's a horror-themed game, I really enjoy how every time an enemy pops out she screams and jumps while I proceed to explode its legs.
As much as I enjoy the game though, no one thing stands out for me as something I really love about it. Which is sad, because it's hard to write a piece according to new games journalism standards without a feature to focus on. I guess maybe the unlockables are really great? Each level gives you a rank in stars, and when you get enough stars, your guy levels up. As far as I can tell, it's only extra life, but still neat. Weapons have upgrades hidden throughout the game as well, but I never noticed any difference after picking them up...
oh! Wait, it doesn't warrant a whole review, but the unlockable comics are really cool. All the panels are narrated, and they shead a lot of light on the backstory of the game, which in itself is a prequel, so... Goin' really far back then. And yeah. Those are the things I like about Dead Space: Extraction. It's not as perfect as the Resident Evil rail shooters on the Wii, but it's still a good time.
Day Ten - Pontypool
Today's entry continues down the zombie path. Well, sort of. We recently rented this movie called Pontypool, whose trailer had been advertised in theaters, but never actually made its way there. I was quite disappointed because I really wanted to see it. But it did eventually show up at the local Blockbuster, and I pounced!
Pontypool is not your everyday horror movie. The film centers around two main characters, and they are in the same room for a good 80% of the movie's length. This makes most of the action take place over the radio, and it's great.
The most prominent thing about Pontypool is that it plays up the suspense by never showing you exactly what's going on. Up until about three quarters of the way through, I was on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next, and what the Hell was going on. This is the first movie I've seen in a long time that has wrangled 100% of my attention and held onto it until the very end.
The only thing that I didn't like is the last leg of the movie, wherein a new character was introduced and started explaining it all. It was just conjecture, but since it all sort of worked out, it was dumb because the scariest things are the things you can't understand. Also the explaination was kinda stupid and nonsensical, but at the very least it was original. I would have preferred it if there had been about half the exposition, if it was absolutely necessary. It's like how Silent Hill is such a wonderfully frightening series because you're never told exactly what is going on.
While I was a bit disappointed with the ending, I still think Pontypool is a fantastic movie, and I fully intend to add it to my DVD collection after Christmas, unless by some miracle it appears under my Christmas Tree. I also hope to read the novel, in hopes that like most, it is superior to the film version.
Day Nine - Zombie Shooter
Waaaaay way back in September, Edwin sent me a few games over Steam for my birthday (what a swell chap!), and one of those games was called Zombie Shooter.
This game is exactly what it sounds like. You're a little woman (or man) in an isometric world, and you run around blasting the shit out of hordes and hordes of zombies. And when I say hordes of zombies, I mean hordes. The fist thing you'll notice about Zombie Shooter is that there are boat loads of zombies. I think it goes so far as to have around 100 zombies on the screen at a time, though I wouldn't be surprised if the number was actually double or more. I never stopped to count them.
The second thing you will notice is that the bloody remains of your slain foes stays there. No matter how long you wait, no matter how many more corpses you explode, the mess will stay until you leave the level. Click on the screencap below for a bigger sample of the carnage left behind after a wave of undead have met their end.
The gameplay here is really simple, and I think that the reason I enjoyed it so much (besides the zombie motif, obviously) is because it reminds me of a game I only had the shareware version of way back in the day: Cyberdogs. I played that demo over and over and over, and all I ever wanted was the full version. Basically the game was about running through simple little levels, killing everything that moved, and collecting money to upgrade your character between levels. Yes, this formula is used for many other games on the market, but Cyberdogs was my first. I've downloaded it many times, but since it's a DOS game and I'm far too lazy to install and figure out how to use DOSbox, it'll never happen. Zombie Shooter fills that void though, and it's even a little more refined. Also better graphics. But no multiplayer, which is boo.
Zombie Shooter is really fun though! And for the low, low price of $4.99, worth every penny! I'm even considering buying the sequel, which apparently has a lot more content and is only $10. They really need to add some multiplayer support if there ends up being a third though. That would make it really awesome. Also less (or at least less obvious) grammatical errors. I have complete this entry.
Day Eight - G.I. Joe : The Rise of Cobra
To continue my train of thought from yesterday, let's chat about the recently-released live action G.I. Joe movie for a while!
I may have mentioned it briefly on the blog when it was new in theaters, but I was incredibly surprised at how G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra turned out. From the day I saw the first screencaps up until the day I went to see it, I was completely convinced that it would be an awful bludgeoning of a beloved childhood franchise. Surprise! It wasn't!
I think the most poignant thing I can say about the movie is that it was undeniably better than 1986's G.I. Joe The Movie, which was not bad overall, but has the most ridiculous story and plot twists ever. Not to say that The Rise of Cobra's plot is airtight or anything, but it beats the Hell out of taking over the world by turning everyone into mutants with funky alien spores.
The Rise of Cobra is not a groundbreaking film. It's just another effects-bloated summer blockbuster. But it is really fun! And better than Transformers! You know the scene in the trailer when Duke and Ripcord are running down the street and dodging missiles in those super suit things? I thought that looked really stupid in the trailer, but the entire scene is actually really enjoyable.
Where the movie really shines though, is in the final battle scene, which I like to describe as "Star Wars under the sea". It's got a huge ship battle outside the base, a shocking relationship revelation, and a fight to the death between two ninja masters. How does that not resemble the makings of a great Star Wars film? Or a great film otherwise?
Yes, truly the only real downside to The Rise of Cobra is Channing Tatums's stale acting. Hopefully the next movie mimics the progression of the cartoon and kind of gives Duke the backseat in favour of Flint. I mean, there are a lot of other things you could gripe about, but it's a shallow Hollywood blockbuster. So just sit back and watch the fun action scenes.
Oh, also, it doesn't have Shipwreck. Boo-urns. But that's what sequels are for.
Day Seven - G.I. Joe : A Real American Hero
I never had too much opportunity to watch the G.I. Joe cartoon when I was young. I just never knew when it was on. Maybe we didn't have the right channel. I'm not sure why. I know my brother once got a VHS with a single episode on it packed in with an action figure or something, and we watched that tape until it died. I loved G.I. Joe, not quite as much as my brother did, but I did have a ton of those little guys.
Of course, when television-producing comapnies learned that they could make bucketloads of money by showing their shows on DVDs, G.I. Joe, as the theme song goes, was there. The issue being that they were charging $100 (give or take) for half-season sets. So I skipped on those, despite that it was something that I was itching badly to have.
Finally though, Hasbro (or Shout Factory or whoever made the decision) has wisened up and re-released the show on new half-season sets that only run $25, which is not only acceptable, but awesome! Awesome because as it turns out, G.I. Joe is just as great as I had always imagined it was!
I've burned through the first half of season one at this point, and I'm truly loving it. A little miffed that Shipwreck isn't the main character in every episode, but that's really asking too much. Um, also the theme song is fantastic, if a little cheesy. Sticks in my head for days at a time.
The only thing that I'v found is that I liked the big, long 5-part miniseries episodes a lot longer than the singles. Maybe it's because they allowed slightly more complicated stories, or more characters. Maybe it's because they're very video-gamey in the "collect X number of superweapon parts before the enemy" plots. I don't know, but they were somehow noticably more satifying.
But seriously guys! The animation quality is really good for an 80's kiddie cartoon, and it doesn't rely on pop-culture to sell itself, so it hasn't gotten all stale and crusty like the original Ninja Turtles cartoon. The voice acting isn't always totally convincing, mostly in Duke's case, but like any failings you might find with the series, Shipwreck alone makes up for it.
Case in point: Shipwreck is awesome. Especially when working with Snake Eyes. And I guess it's pretty entertaining whenever Alpine and Bazooka get paired up too.
Day Six - Matthew Good : Vancouver
Did I mention Hospital Music last year? Because it was far and away the greatest album Matthew Good has ever ever released. It was so deep and full of love and emotion and it was completely eccentric and I loved every second of it. Even "Girl Wedged Under the Front of a Firebird" which was not so much a song, but the looped ramblings of a homeless man. Anyway!
Vancouver, sadly, cannot compete with the prior album's brilliance. When judged by its own merits, however, it is truly fascinating. It's like how Chase This Light was to Futures for Jimmy Eat World, if you need a comparison. Or anything Led Zeppelin releaed after IV.
Matthew Good, as you may have heard, is a very politically aware person. Which makes it easy to understand why he might write a concept album about his hometown of Vancouver. The songs reflect many social issues surrounding the city. Pretty much none of this comes through to me. I'll admit, I live a life of luxurious bliss and tend to block out a lot of the unpleasant stuff that this album was made to make me more aware of.
While it hasn't made me decide to go out and try to change the world for the better, I very much do respect the man for caring so much and writing about something that matters so strongly to him. This makes sense. Unlike deciding that from now on all your songs will be about Bush, which is just lame (ahem).
So yeah. The music is pretty sweet too. It's exactly what you'd expect from Matthew Good: an album full of deep and wildly varied music. It's all completely original sounding, but it sounds exactly like Mathew Good. After listening to his work for a while, you get to understand that he will try many different things, but in the end, it's all immediately recognizable. His faster songs are catchy without being too sweet, and his slow songs will chill you right down to the bone.
I don't know if I've said anything that would be at all useful to anyone trying to decide whether or not to buy the album, but just know that the bottom line is if you like Matthew Good, you'll be in heaven. The man is a genius, and let's all buy his music.
Day Five - New Super Mario Bros. Wii
So this one was inevitable, right? I mean, it's Mario. On a console. In a side-scroller. Moving in two dimensions. Awesome
Um, anyway. New Super Mario Bros Wii is quite likely the most fun I've had in ever. See, Mario games are great and all, and this one is no exception, but one player really doesn't even register once you've experienced the utter chaos of multiplayer Mario.
I've nearly finished the game 100% (SPOILER! I still have a few levels in the secret world to go), and while I did a little adventuring on my own, I had my girlfriend in tow playing as Luigi. It is a fucking riot. You cannot play Mario well with more than one person, but it is so so so so so much fun. You'll be murdering each other left and right, stealing power-up and lives, and causing a huge headache for anyone who wants to play legitimately. We never got a third party in, but playing two players was pandemonium enough.
In this game, when you hit a power-up block, the game gives items according to how many players there are, so everyone has a chance to be more than regular-sized. Time after time, one of us would jump on top of a power-up block just as the other hit it from below, snagging both items in the process. There were even more instances of one player trying to make a jump, but then the other comes out of nowhere, and the first player hits them from below and is sent careening into a pit. But what's worst is when somebody picks you up, and throws you into a bottomless hole. Or a goomba. Or lava. Or a giant studded death dong. It sounds more frustrating than anything, but everytime we played, I would end up with a hoarse throat from laughing so much.
The game itself is fantastic too. The propeller hat and penguin suit are great power-ups that offer plenty of versatility without breaking the game (see: cape). The levels are fairly long, and nearly every single one has some sort of gimmick. One might be a gauntlet of gigantic gears, or a boat that stops moving if too many bodies are on it, or physics-breaking free-floating water orbs. It's vastly superior in every way to the DS New Super Mario Bros, and I thought that was pretty spiffy when it came out. Plus Koopa Kids apparently. I don't know what the deal is with them, but they're fan favourites I guess. Don't see the appeal myself. The final boss is awesome in every way though, and nearly impossible to beat on multiplayer.
So, um, yeah. Game of the Year. It's a totally sweet ride to play alone, but you should most definitely try to get at least one other person in there at all times. I'm willing to declare that it may even be too much fun.
Day Four - Pokémon Rumble (demo)
If there's any one thing that Nintendo's WiiWare service is sorely lacking, it's that it doesn't provide game demos for people who'd like to try before they buy. People have been complaining about that since Virtual Console, nd yet for some reason, only now has Nintendo begun to remerdy the situation. And even now, they're only offering demos for a select handful of WiiWare titles. Even worse, they're only going to be up there for a limited time.
On the upside, what they did put demos for is mostly great, and will likely spur some actual sales. The five demos are offer are for NyxQuest, World of Goo, Pokémon Rumble, FF Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord, and Bit.Trip Beat. I downloaded the first three (having already owned Darklord and no interest in Bit.Trip Beat), and two were definite winners.
NyxQuest seems like it has potential hidden in the latter parts of the game, but what's in the demo is far too basic and slow for me to care about. World of Goo is really really cool, and seems like a pretty solid game, but it doesn't seem like a $15 investment to me. If it were $10, I would own it.
Pokémon Rumble, on the other hand, I have frothing demand for. It's a really simple 3D brawler, but for some reason, it makes my soul yearn for more. Probably because of the collection aspect.
The game is about toy Pokémon who battle each other in hopes of becoming the top Pokémon in the battle royale. But of course, it's not just as easy as hopping in and beating the shit out of everyone else. The game starts you with only a pitifully weak Rattata, who stands no chance in teh Battle Royale (and in fact, only gets in because somebody didn't close the door all the way).
From there, it's a matter of wandering through a few levels and slaughtering millions of other Pokémon in an effort to recruit stronger monsters into your team. You can only play as one Pokémon at a time, but you have a huge roster (unlimited maybe? I haven't hit a cap) from which you can swap out monsters whenever you like.
Each pocket monster has at least most of their personal attack repertoire, but can only know two attacks at a time. When recruited, they'll have one set as a default, and then any additonal skills much be bought from a move roulette. And as you may have guessed, I used the word "roulette" because additonal moves are handed out at random. It's a bit inconvenient, to tell the truth. Also a bit strange is that your toy Pokémon never level up or evolve. So if you want to buff up a certain monster, you'll have to grind its level until you find one that meets your needs. Which is a little lame, but I'll let it slide. This time.
I haven't played the Battle Royale yet because the demo cuts out just before you're allowed in, but playing levels is pretty repetitive, and really only enjoyable after about three levels because of the OCD of finding and collecting stronger monsters. Also because massacring hordes of Pokémon is unnervingly satisfying. I'm definitely getting the full version, but not soon because I'm trying to hint to my brother that i want him to gift it to me for Christmas. So until then, I'm stuck playing the demo over and over. Fortunately it's fun!
Day Three - Paramore : Brand New Eyes
I know it's not cool if you're not a fourteen-year-old girl, but I like Paramore. Particularly their newest CD, Brand New Eyes. It's really quite good! Don't let "That's What You Get" sour you on the idea of the band, because they're really quite capable of much higher quality music. And this album would be the conclusive evidence to back up that claim.
Now, I liked Riot!. It isn't the deepest album in my collection, but it's a fun disc, and has a few stand-out tracks. Their first album, All We Know is Falling is worlds different, sounding very much like a first album from an alt-rock band, not relying on poppy hooks and saccharine lyrics to lure in the mindless radio drones. I was very worried, in fact, that since Paramore had gained a considerable amount of popularity after Riot! that Brand New Eyes would just be more of the same. My fears were completely unfounded, however, as the new album is much closer in spirit to their first.
This is awesome for many reasons. The one I like the most is because it shows that Paramore is not just another sellout fad that ends up playing the same music over and over because that's what the radio stations want. Riot!, as far as I can tell, was a bit of a compromise. It seems like the album they made to get their name out there. And now, Brand New Eyes goes back to their grittier, alternative sound, which makes music snobs like me very happy.
The lyrics on display are far more poetic, offering far more imagery and metaphor as opposed to most of the songs on Riot!, which are comparatively shallow and aren't too far off from your dime-a-dozen "I wasn't popular in high school so I'm going to write a million songs about it" band. They aren't Matthew Good deep, but the writers evidently have a penchant for the craft and their ability is clearly maturing. The accompanying music doesn't slouch either, and can easily be described as everywhere from energetic to experimental to haunting. Each track is undeniably individual, and most provide a wonderful range of riffs and melodies.
I bought this one for the woman because I was unsure of how it would turn out, but now that I know I can trust Paramore not be be a big pile of sellout, I'm most definitely going to be getting their next disc on day one.
Day Two - Turtles in Time : Re-Shelled
Ha ha! I told you we weren't done with those Ninja Turtles yet! But we will be after this post, so just sit tight, okay?
Turtles in Time was a HUGE game. Not necessarily in scope, but in the fact that at the time, it was the number one most sought-out SNES brawler out there. Actually, that's probably still the case. All the guys I worked with at Toys R Us who regularly play video games were pretty into this one, so I can only assume the rest of the world agrees. Take into account though, that the arcade version, while prettier, was not quite as well loved. It was shorter, had fewer bosses, and would eat up your small stack of quarters fairly quickly.
You can imagine how I was both excited and let down when I learned that there was a remake of the game to be released on Xbox Live Arcade, then.
The bad news is that it's a port of the arcade version, which is balls, but it's not a deal breaker. The music also suffers, like all the ports of TMNT arcade games, because the rights to that music appears to have vanished into the ether. So we get some bland upbeat poppy business. Oh well.
The good news is that the game is otherwise the same! Or better! The biggest (and only, as far as I can tell) gameplay change is that you can now attack in eight directions, rather than just left and right, making defending yourself a bit easier. Otherwise, it's the same old "walk to the right and beat the shit out of everyhitng that moves" formula that made the original such a winner. Or was it the fact that it was Ninja Turtles? There are a huge number of games that are exactly the same but with different graphics that aren't anywhere near as appealing, so it's probably the license that sells it.
The graphics have also obviously been redone, and the Turtles' voices have been updated to be the same as those from the 2000's TV series. Which is good. One of the most important lessons I've learned in the last few years is that people don't love the surfer-talking TMNT nearly as much as they did 20 years ago. The graphics are really nice too, being almost perfectly true to the original spite-based game, but splashed up in fany-pants 3D. It's every bit as colourful as the original, and all the personality stays intact as well.
Of course, what would all this mean if the game wasn't fun? It is, but you didn't need me to tell you that. You've played Turtles in Time. Everyone has. So grab a couple friends and a Microsoft points card, and go out and kick some shell already!
Day One - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Smash-Up
I can hear everyone groaning already. Yeah, more Ninja Turtles, but deal with it, okay? (This isn't the last time you'll see them!) You may have heard of this one, as there was actually quite a bit of hype leading up to it. Which is both comforting and strange at the same time. Comforting, because it means at best, there are a few people out there besides me that still love the Turtles. Strange, because it's a Ubisoft game, and as we well know, most of those are garbage.
But alas! Impressions were good going in, which helped the cause greatly, and also apprently most of the team that worked on Super Smash Brothers Brawl were behind this game, giving it a pretty stellar leg up. I think that without that team's experience, Smash-Up might have suffered a much more disappointing fate, but that is not the case.
The most important thing I can say about Smash-Up is that like its older cousin, it is incredibly fun. As a party game, mind you. Single player is a bit light, and there isn't anywhere near as much variety as in Brawl to keep a single person occupied for too long, but it serves well enough. Playing with others is a blast and a half though. The controls are fairly similar to Smash Bros, so vets of that game can get into the TMNT groove quickly, and that also means they're simple enough for a novice to jump in and be able to hold their own.
Now the downside here is that immediately after release, a lot of fans were pissed. The character roster is minimalistic, and annoyingly padded with Ubisoft's Rabbid characters (whose appeal had worn off after the second Rayman Raving Rabbids game), featuring only 13 TMNT characters and 3 Rabbid varieties. It's not something that breaks the game, but Ubisoft made some promises about a more robust roster, and declined saying anything of the sort as soon as the game found its way to store shelves. I myself don't particularly mind, as the only people I care to play as are Raphael and Shredder anyway. The stage selection is a bit short too, with only 14 arenas. All but one have at least one gimmick, and some take place over multiple screens. This I'm a little more uneasy about, because none of them click with me, and I really love having a huge stage variety. I know it's really snobby of me, but even Brawl's massive selection of stages barely slakes my thirst for an endless variety of battlegrounds. Stage creator equals win, though. Sadly, Smash-Up offers no such feature.
You'll notice that I've spent almost all my time here comparing Smash-Up to Brawl, and honestly, if you played both games for yourself, you'd have a hard time not doing the same. They are extremely similar in many, many ways. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Smash-Up is a slightly beefed-up reskinning of the first Smash Brothers. It's lower on content than people expect these days, and it works ever-so-slightly differently, but really, both games are tons of fun to play with others. They're also alike in that playing online sucks nuts. Local multiplayer is really the only way to go here. You've gotta have the other person/people in the room right there with you or it's just not the same.