Monthly Archives: July 2013

Super Mario Bros.

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Bob Hoskins as Mario
John Leguizamo as Luigi
Samantha Mathis as Princess Daisy
Dennis Hopper as President Koopa
Fiona Shaw as Lena
Fisher Stevens as Iggy
Richard Edson as Spike
Dana Kaminski as Daniella
Mojo Nixon as Toad

This month, the 30th anniversary of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s Japanese debut (called the Famicom there) occurred. And the 20th anniversary of the movie based on Nintendo’s most popular series of games, Super Mario Bros., also came this year. So I feel that I have a crime against humanity to report. On this historic occasion, where, oh where, is the special, collector’s, super-duper, Blu-Ray edition? Just as the game revived a medium crippled by the arcade/Atari crashes of the early 1980s, did the movie that was to come not spawn a truly magnificent genre of cinema? Such worthy adaptations as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, both Tomb Raiders, Doom, and Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within? Not to mention the career of one of the greatest filmakers to ever live: Uwe Boll? Who gives a crap about comic book movies and vampire/werewolf romances when you’ve got these masterpieces?

Why the sarcasm? Because I went through a deadly serious version of that at the age of ten. As the owner of a Super Nintendo, I was subscribing to Nintendo Power Magazine and came across an article plugging this debacle. They assured us all that it was the next Star Wars. Excuses were made for all the liberties like Luigi not having a mustache or the leading lady not being Peach. Take a look:

Click these to read the text. Sorry about the quality. My scanner is dated.

NPMagPlug2

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Click these to read the text. Sorry about the quality. My scanner is dated.

And so it was that this PR job tricked me into seeing this in the theater. Or maybe I was a dumb kid who would watch Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers a year or two later. But I feel better blaming the magazine. By the way, Nintendo, yes, the last four scans are your property, but why wouldn’t you be satisfied with the credit I’ve given? It’s a twenty-year-old issue of a magazine that has fallen to the slow death of print media. You’ve got no more money to make from this issue, so don’t sue. Please.

Even at that impressionable age, I wasn’t particularly impressed by this movie. Now that I’m all grown up, I find it to be downright awful. To tell you the truth, far from all of the video game movies are as bad as this movie. But the mistakes they keep making were made in this first attempt and never learned from. The chucking of the source material. The bad acting. The lousy scripts. The lack of effort in general put into these movies. So while dozens of video game movies have been made, very few are any good.

Some people say, “what do expect? Do video games have plots worthy of the big screen?” I’ll admit this isn’t exactly Citizen Kane. On the other hand, is anything Mario and Luigi do in their games really any harder to swallow than those superhero and vampire/werewolf movies I mentioned earlier? How does super-high jumping and the hurling of fireballs require any greater a suspension of disbelief than what we saw a month ago in Man Of Steel?

The only excuse is that video games tend to have rather limited plots. That does make it necessary to come up with additional storylines that fit into the context of the games. But all that would take is a little imagination and — gasp — respect for the source material. Sadly, Hollywood considers itself above the material.

The health risk of watching this movie.

The health risk of watching this movie.

The story of this movie ignores the Mushroom Kingdom and almost everything else about the games except that the Mario Brothers are plumbers from Brooklyn. they meet a woman named Daisy who turns out to be the child of a dinosaur. As the most recent Mario game (not counting spinoffs) at the time was the then-recent dinosaur-themed Super Mario World, we discover that the meteor that famously hit the earth in prehistoric times did not destroy the dinosaurs. Instead, it created a parallel universe in which they evolved. So the Koopas are designed after dinosaurs, not turtles like they’re supposed to be. Daisy is kidnapped by two dumb thugs named Iggy and Spike and taken to said parallel universe, with Mario and Luigi in pursuit. There we discover that a quite human-looking Bowser Koopa (not a King but a President-for-life) is planning to take over our world with technology that de-evolves humans into chimps (I wonder if this movie did even worse in evolution-skeptical areas). This movie’s version of Goombas, by the way are Koopa “criminals” who were de-evolved into huge reptilian slaves. I don’t see how this is any less stupid than the games, but I guess the filmakers thought it was.

Game.

Game.

Movie.

Movie.

The performances are pretty much universally awful. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo are British and South American actors trying their hands at Brooklyn accents and failing miserably. Samantha Mathis is a little better as the damsel in distress but not nearly better enough. Most gamers who review this movie complain that she’s called Daisy in this movie and not Peach. Yet I remember that there actually was a woman named Daisy in the little-known Super Mario Land. Why they used her and not the one people recognize, I couldn’t guess. The worst is probably Dennis Hopper as Koopa. He’s extremely over the top as the bad guy, probably so as to keep up with the sillyness of the entire film. But that is an assumption based on the fact that he was usually a good actor.

This movie is, in part, a buddy comedy. That’s understandable because the games themselves have a lot of humor. But there are still two major problems. For one thing, the story is so outrageous as to translate into pure silliness. For another, the movie isn’t funny, just stupid. Here’s a sample of the dialogue:

Koopa: “Plumber alert!”

Luigi: “Where’s Daisy, butt breath?”

Koopa: “Looks like you got up on the wrong side of the nest this morning”

Luigi: “Aliens? We gotta deal with aliens, too?”
Mario: “Luigi, we’re the aliens.”
Luigi: “Whoa, cool!”

Mario & Luigi: “Glug, glug, glug, glug!”

Could this have been done better? Actually, there was already a decent blueprint available. At time this movie was released, there had been no less than three recent kids’ shows that brought the cartoonish world of mario to life. I have since rewatched much of the first two shows and they were reasonably well-done and true to the source material. They weren’t the Wizard Of Oz, but they still provide clues on how to do this. If you ask me, this movie should have been animated like those shows were and had a similar writing style. Such a series could have entertained us for years. Instead, we get… this.

Filmaker: "you're lucky they were in these costumes.

Filmaker: “True to the game? you’re lucky they were in these costumes.”

The final seconds of this movie have Daisy visiting the Marios and asking for help. Apparently trouble is again brewing. Obviously, this was meant to set up a sequel. Except that Super Mario Bros. bombed at the box office. Thank God.

Again, I get that those who try to translate video games to film have it tough. Nonetheless, I still feel right to expect more than one of the worst movies ever made from arguably the brand that made the game industry we now know today.

Overall: 1 out of 10

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! Title

Hey, remember when Mike Tyson was seen as something other than a screwup? This game is a monument to that time. It is a boxing game and probably the most successful of its sub-genre. Based on an arcade game (that, like several NES games, was too advanced for a direct port), Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! used Tyson’s name to sell copies. When the contract ran out, all further copies of this game were given a shorter name: Punch-Out!!, which is no different from the original except Tyson’s character is replaced with a red-haired white guy named Mr. Dream. That version got the Virtual Console treatment, and the SNES and Wii sequels accepted it as canon. But corporate worship ain’t how I roll, so I’m reviewing the game Nintendo doesn’t want you to know exists.

I remember the issue of Nintendo Power that announced the title change. It claimed that their contract with Tyson had merely run out, but we all know the truth. Nintendo didn’t want to be associated with a rape convict. Aside from that, though, this is probably one of the NES’ best sports games.

Plot: 8 out of 10

Sports game are ordinarily not gradable in this category, but Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! makes an attempt at a plot. You are Little Mac, who looks to be a hobbit from the Lord Of the Rings. Seriously, play the game and you’ll find that Mac’s no bigger than Frodo and Sam. He’s got a hip trainer named Doc Louis who’s only a little taller but a lot bigger around than Mac. Together, Mac and Doc are taking on the biggest and baddest boxers on the planet.

Hyperbole aside, this is actually a good, if done-to-death, concept. Who doesn’t want to root for the little guy, however literal that concept is in this case? Additionally, Mac’s opponents are quite funny. There’s the aptly named Glass Joe, the charging Bald Bull, a drunken and dancing Russian named Soda Popinski, a guy who seems more interested in working on his tan than fighting Mac and calls himself Super Macho Man.

Between rounds, Doc offers Mac some advice. If you’ve been getting your ass handed to you, Mac may appear to despair first. Meanwhile, Mac’s opponent will take the opportunity to trash talk him.

That actually puts Hippo a step above most villains.

That actually makes Hippo a lot smarter than most villains.

Graphics: 10 out of 10

Some of the best graphics on the NES, especially given the release date (1987). The characters are very well-animated. The pain animations when the various boxers get punched, for example, are very good. There’s even a nice scene of Doc leading Mac on a jog through New York City at the conclusion of the Minor and Major Circuits.

Sound: 7 out of 10

I get that this is a sports game and sports games generally don’t have that many songs so as not to distract from the recreation of the chosen athletic contest. But there’s only a few songs, some of which only last several seconds. I gotta say, that’s too little.

Quality does mean more than quantity. And the quality of the songs makes up for quantity. That brings up the score.

Mario as a referee? I think he's just hiding from Peach because she found out about Pauline (Donkey Kong) and Daisy (Super Mario Land).

Mario as a referee? I think he’s just hiding from Peach because she found out about Pauline (Donkey Kong) and Daisy (Super Mario Land).

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

You can punch, dodge, block, and duck. Sometimes landing a punch on the other guy gets you a star. Uppercuts use up stars. You also have hearts, which are decreased when you block a punch and, especially, when you are hit.

As far as the action goes, there are three rounds per fight. Between rounds, Doc will give you pointers or that plug of the now-defunct Nintendo Fun Club and your opponents mocks you. Once per fight, pressing select while Doc is talking will restore some health. A fight can end in three ways:

1.) Someone getting knocked down and not getting up by the 10-count.
2.) Someone getting knocked down three times in the same round.
3,) Split decision after the third round. In some fights, this automatically works against Mac.

You’ll spend most of the time waiting for a punch, dodging, and countering. This is the key. This game is really a test of reflexes. This also goes along with the “underdog” story this game follows. You see, Mac can’t really match these guys strength, so he needs strategy.

There are two crucial criticisms I have of this game: no two player mode. How great would it have been if you could play against a friend? Alas, you can’t.

The other problem is that you’re limited to a single position. That takes a lot from the boxing feel.

Overall, this game plays well but has certain problems.

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! 3

I am impressed. It takes a certain level of self-confidence in your badassness to train in pink.

Challenge: 10 out of 10

Perhaps the most well-balanced difficulty I have ever seen in a game. It goes from easy in the Minor Circuit, moderate in the Major Circuit, hard in the World Circuit, and the “dream fight” with Mike Tyson is incredibly difficult. This trajectory is gradual, not sudden. This is exactly as it should be. Very few games pull off difficulty that is all over the place, but Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! does it very nicely.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Although being limited to one spot doesn’t seem quite right, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is still a solid boxing game. One of the NES’ best games. And one of the all-time greats in a very small sub-genre.

Superman in a no-win situation

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I’ll wrap up Superman month with a (hopefully) fun article. This focuses on Superman: the Animated Series. It was a pretty good show, although not to be compared to the earlier Batman: The Animated Series or Justice League/Justice League Unlimited. I will look at a very specific episode and how I always found it amusing.

If you watch much American animation, you’ll notice that male characters never punch when fighting against women. Why? Because the censors don’t wants the kids to see women being punched in the face. You can kick a woman, shoot at her, even tie her up in an abuse-able position, but for some reason, you can’t punch them. Quite selective if not hypocritical rules of chivalry, ain’t they? But these are censors we’re talking about.

The no-punching-women rule was rougher on Superman than other cartoon heroes. Most of the others have weapons or martial arts kicks they can use against a female opponent. But Superman? Fisticuffs is ordinarily about 80% of his offense. This particular Superman didn’t have Freeze Breath and only used Heat Vision as a tool, bringing that number up to 95%. Restrict him from punching and he can’t do much more than try to drag criminals to jail and hope they’re not strong enough to hurt him.

In the episode Warrior Queen, Superman meets Maxima, ruler of Almerac. It seems that her planet’s laws insist that she can marry only one who can prove to be her equal in combat. When she learns of Superman’s abilities, she goes to Earth to test him.

After some filler that’s not worth going through, Maxima finally meets Superman and makes her proposition.

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And isn’t exactly shy about it.

Of course, Superman already has a home, a good life, and a girlfriend. So he gently refuses the offer. But like most monarchs, Maxima isn’t used to being said no to. So she decks him. Hard.

You were planning on fighting him, so what difference does it make?

Yes, they end up fighting anyway. See how it works?

Maxima dives onto the fallen Superman, but gets thrown not through a hard object but onto the ground almost like she was flopping into bed. Stealing a page from Mario, Maxima delivers a head stomp that literally caves Supes in.

supernowin4

Hit count: Superman 0, Maxima 2.

Mistakingly ignoring the evil overlord rules, Maxima walks away, assuming that Superman is beat. This gets her yanked out of the building and into the sky. But before Supes can capitalize, he’s slammed into a nearby newsvan, leaving a nasty repair bill for whichever network that owns it.

Hit count: Superman 0, Maxima 4.

Hit count: Superman 0, Maxima 3.

Maxima’s virtually untouched streak continues for another hit as she hops to the satellite dish that broke off the van and flings it into Superman’s chest (Supes 0, Maxima 4). I give credit where it’s due to the animators. They seem well aware that since Maxima is a close match for Supes in the less restricted comic books, Superman’s at a disadvantage with the censors on. So they don’t even use a deus ex machina to give the Man of Steel a chance. He just gets his ass kicked!

I’m wondering how much more one-sided this can be when Maxima pounces again at Supes and is shoved, her momentum carrying her hard into a girder at a construction site, denting it (Supes 1, Maxima 4). For some comic relief, an old woman in a nearby apartment notes in horror what is transpiring outside, but her husband is too immersed in his newspaper to much care (“no spying on the neighbors”).

In the meantime, Maxima plays more footsie on Superman’s chest to take them both down to the ground and tosses him into a pile of girders (Supes 1, Maxima 6).  Superman whacks Maxima and ties her up with one of those girders (Supes 2, Maxima 6). Instead of following up on this, Supes backs away, preparing to defend against the next attack because he still can’t punch.

I told you the censors were selective.

I told you the censors were selective.

Maxima is more smitten than ever. It seems that Superman has fared the best against her of anyone. Ouch! So it’s back to hugs and proposals. Superman tries to explain that marriage in supposed to be a mutually equal partnership (old woman: “what planet is he from”), meaning that Maxima can’t force him to marry her. Maxima’s answer to that is a laser blast from her left-handed gauntlet that knocks Superman out.

Final count: Superman 2, Maxima, 7.

Grand total: Superman 2, Maxima 7.

For you super-inquisitive geeks out there, I’ll spare you the suspense. Maxima is betrayed from within and she, Superman, and Maxima’s top adviser are locked in a dungeon. As they escape and take the kingdom back for Maxima, Maxima goes from nearing destroying Metropolis over Superman to letting him go. Other than the way censorship dominates over the old rule that heroes never lose in animation, it’s a crappy episode. But that one fight makes it worth it. It’s well-done despite how one-sided it is and it adds a bit of credibility for the hero to lose occasionally. Plus, it’s quite amusing to see poor Superman getting f*cked over by the censors. I’d note that without them tipping the scales, I doubt that the writers would’ve had the balls to have Superman lose, let alone to a lady.