Monthly Archives: October 2012

Mega Man 4

Although part of a very respected series, Mega Man IV is not a very popular game. It is generally maligned for basically having no soul behind it. I can’t agree. While it would be certainly the weakest of the NES series and lots of series installments in the years since that system were also superior, I really can’t hate it like others do.

The reason this game is worse than the others is because with the arrival of the SNES, Capcom had other things on their minds. In many ways, it looks like they didn’t give it their all. Yet there is one redeeming feature that enables me to recommend it, but only after you’ve played all the others.

Plot: 7 out of 10

There’s a new mad scientist in town. Dr. Cossack is jealous of the fame Dr. Light has achieved for building Mega Man. So he takes it upon himself to build robots capable of destroying Mega Man so he can become the greatest scientist on the face of the Earth.

Cossack is Russian. Just in case you didn’t get it from the name.

No bullshit, that’s the entire story. It’s just about a guy wanting to destroy Mega Man and become famous. We seriously don’t know anything else about this villain. At least Bowser from Super Mario Bros. had his koopa kids, kingship, and lust for Peach to flesh him out a little.

Thankfully, they eventually pivot to a new direction for Cossack that saves the plot, although I  can’t reveal that without spoiling the game. Suffice to say that it’s a pleasant surprise.

Graphics: 9 out of 10

As usual the graphics are quite good. The flooring and sprites are especially well done. Capcom was very good at improving with practice. Mega Man himself is not particularly improved compared to the prequels, but that is probably just not taking a chance with fans who are hostile to this sort of change.

Sound: 4 out of 10

There are a few good songs (Skull Man’s stage has without a doubt my favorite song in the game), but the music is mostly uninspired. Even the best songs aren’t quite up to the series’ standards. The worst are downright lousy.

Gameplay: 6 out of 10

Familiar ground. Too familiar, actually. You go through eight stages in the order of your choosing and then go through Cossack’s castle. You gain weapons and miscellaneous abilities, the latter courtesy of Rush the robo-dog, by destroying the first eight bosses. Basically, it’s the same thing all over again. I’m not quick to jump on a sequel for being a rehash but this is taking the exact same formula four times in a row. Level design isn’t really creative enough to make up for this, though it’s far from awful. While a number of companies have faced ridicule for making the same game over and over, Capcom has long been a bigger offender than possibly even EA.

As a child, I long assumed that Mega Man’s helmet was a permanent appendage. But he has hair after all.

Not helping matters is the fact that in this game (and far too many later MMs), the passwords stop only halfway through. As a kid, I liked doing quick plays with the most advanced passwords in MM2 and MM3. I’m afraid that’s not possible in this game.

At least they add a couple of good features. You can now redo any of the first eight stages after completing them. Also, the new Mega Buster allows you to charge up your arm cannon and unleash a powerful blast.

Challenge: 9 out of 10

In my review of MM3, my biggest criticism was its inconsistent difficulty. That’s one thing that is done better in MM4, not worse. Because the series became a success originally because of MM2, it’s possible that most had forgotten that with the exception of an exploitable glitch, the original was quite a challenge. Yet Capcom remembered. First of all, you can forget about the bosses who are demolished by three or four hits with the right weapon. Seven is the magic number. And it’s a lot harder to avoid taking damage.

The path to them isn’t much easier. There’s lots of small enemies about and mini-bosses tend to last awhile.

It’s one of the Hungry Hungry Hippos!

The later areas only increase in difficulty. The final boss is actually invisible much of the time.

You’ll have to be prepared to sweat, but it’s very fun try to play through this game. If nothing else, it will test your capabilities.

Overall: 7 out of 10

Sometimes a game has one redeeming quality that saves it. If weren’t challenging, MM4 would have slumped into mediocrity. With challenge, though, I can recommend it. Just don’t expect it to measure up to the others.

Presidential debates: an uncommon but potential game-changer

On Wednesday, President Obama and Mitt Romney will meet for the first debate in the presidential election that Obama currently leads.

Since the Democratic National Convention, Obama has built decent leads and polling gurus now universally call the election a likely victory for Obama. For Mitt Romney, the debates are pretty much do-or-die.

However, it should be noted that debates often don’t change much. Although they have a very large audience, debates so often show little movement in polling. Indeed, many of the most memorable debate moments — Gerald Ford’s Poland gaffe, Michael Dukakis’ almost robotic response to his wife’s hypothetical murder, Lloyd Bentson pwning  Dan Quayle, George H. W. Bush checking his watch like he just wants to go home, Al Gore sighing and otherwise reacting smugly to George W. Bush’s arguments, and Barack Obama whipping an accusation of a small business tax increase back at John Mccain’s face like a wet towel — only really moved the polls a point or two. Not enough to save Romney.

And yet, it can be done.  Sometimes a candidate will win a debate handily enough to change the nature of the election. Here are the times this has happened.

 1960: Kennedy vs. Nixon.

Easily the most famous presidential debates ever. Every four years around this time, the networks show clips of them. Richard Nixon, of course, stammered and sweated. The majority of those who caught the debates on the radio thought Nixon had won, but a huge TV audience thought different.

Actually, there was little change in poll results, but in one of the closest elections ever, it was likely necessary to put John F. Kennedy over the top.

1976: Carter vs. Ford.

Perception really is reality. It’s generally assumed that the debates were all good for Jimmy Carter. In reality, the stench of Watergate and some really humiliating PR fumbles left Gerald Ford a doomed man. A near-miss in the primaries from Ronald Reagan that drained both popularity and financial resources from Ford was only the latest problem. I’ve always been of the mind that a primary challenge is third in importance behind the economic/international situation and the quality of the candidates if it occurs. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t make a bad situation worse.

In the first debate, Ford used his usual talking point that Carter was an empty suit whose message was nothing tangible whatsoever, only hollow promises of honesty and integrity. This time it worked. After the first debate, Carter’s 20-point lead was wiped out. Ford’s aforementioned gaffe in the second debate* did deny him a full term, but the election was far closer than it might have been.

For all the comparisons to Reagan-Carter, I think Carter-Ford is more relevant to 2012. Ford may have lost, but he made up a lot more ground in debates than Romney needs to.

*I  originally stated in this article that Ford made this mistake in the third debate, not the second. Sorry! This error has been corrected.

1980: Reagan vs. Carter.

Two candidates respectfully shake hands before vilifying one another.

This was the moment Ronald Reagan sealed the deal after he ascended to the nomination. His performance in the debate (the only one) actually didn’t get universally positive reviews, but Reagan got a chance to challenge the allegation that he was a dangerous, racist, sexist, poor-starving, right-wing extremist that had led to low favorability ratings (he got more popular as President) and the erosion of a huge summertime lead. And with charm and humor he did exactly that.

Still, I’m rather doubtful that this is a good model for Romney. First of all, Reagan wasn’t really behind in September and October (source: the New Republic’s Nate Cohn).

As you can see, Carter’s attacks trimmed, not eliminated, Reagan’s lead. You can argue that Reagan’s ambitious defense, tax, and austerity plans hinged on the landslide and massive congressional gains that probably required victory in debate, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Second, once you strip away the mythology, Reagan’s debate success is revealed to be more a matter of personality than anything. Will anyone seriously argue that Romney is more fun to listen to than Obama (I know, cheap shot)?

Most importantly, Obama is simply not in the same place as Carter was. His approval rating averages well over 10 points north of Carter’s in fall ’80. He is not Jimmy Carter, no matter how much his detractors want him to be.

2004: Bush vs. Kerry.

“Romney is John Kerry” is a line Romney obviously doesn’t want to hear, but perhaps this is an exception. Kerry if anything polled stronger than Bush in the spring and summer and was generally seen as the odds-on favorite. A big convention boost for Bush changed that and it didn’t entirely recede. So it was that Kerry schooled Bush in debates. Especially the first one. Kerry seemed decisive, strong, and smart and Bush dumb, slow on the take, and weak. It was anyone’s race and though Kerry lost, it was close.

That said, it should be noted that Bush’s performances were pathetically weak. That’s something you should never depend on.

Looking ahead.

It’s a bit telling that the only two  particularly hopeful examples for Romney are Ford and Kerry, two candidates who lost. The truth of the matter is that Romney needs to show more ability as a candidate than he’s shown so far. Can he do it?

We won’t have to wait long. The first debate is domestic policy. Since 8% unemployment is pretty much the only thing keeping Romney in the game, that’s his element. If he can’t win here, it’s hard to envision a scenerio where he becomes President.