Monthly Archives: November 2013

Legacy of the Wizard

LegacyWizardTitle

As a child, I was a regular visitor to rental stores, especially after they started carrying video games. These days, you don’t rent at a store. You do it at an online store like Gamefly or download the free trial version. But the three-day rentals were what we had as kids.

One game I rented four times back then was Legacy Of the Wizard. I enjoyed it but couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do. Maybe the manual gave you an idea of what to look for, but somebody always managed to lose it before you rented the game. Most games, you could play without any inside info, but not this one.

And don’t tell me that I just suck at video games. I have read many reviews of this game and lots of these reviewers had the same problem. I agree that this game doesn’t suck because of how excessively well-hidden the goals are, but it’s at least hindered by that.

I did manage to complete this game later on. I got a magazine that had a password that left you ready to fight the final boss. He wasn’t so tough, so I finally got to see the ending (one of the better ones of the NES days). Since I didn’t feel like spending a birthday or Christmas on Legacy Of the Wizard, that was that.

For a long time to come, I never even touched this game. Recently, though, Youtube’s Wanderinglobo did a video review of this game. I thought it was pretty good and following a short conversation on Twitter with him, I decided to do my own review. To this end, I resorted to online guides. Otherwise, it probably would’ve taken months. And with this long introduction over…

Plot: 8 out of 10

The manual states that a long time ago, a wizard used his magic to seal away an evil dragon named Keela. Many years later, his descendents have discovered that Keela is reviving himself.

The descendents of this wizard are the Draslefamily. The wizard who took care of Keela before had a sword called the Dragonslayer, the only weapon that can destroy the dragon, that was hidden away to be kept safe, along with the crowns required to use the teleportation portraits needed to reach the Dragonslayer.

LegacyWizard1

One big, happy, slayin’ family!

Maybe it’s the sitcom fan in me, but I like this. It makes for a nice “family of heroes” angle similar to Dragon Quest. The family members (and the order in which you should use them) are as follows:

Pochi (“dog”): This little guy is the cute, friendly monster often seen in anime (Pikachu in Pokemon, Shippo in Inuyasha, etc.). Pochi looks like a dog in the ending and character select screens, but I guess he transforms into his true form when adventuring. Pochi is slow, doesn’t jump very high, his attack is extremely short-ranged, and can’t equip most items. He does hit hard, but but his real saving grace is that he can’t be hurt by common enemies. Spikes, long falls, and bosses can hurt him, but he can pass safely among non-boss monsters because he is one of them. You might think this unfair, but in Pochi’s area, this turns out to be important because it’s hard to avoid taking hits. Plus, using enemies as jumping platforms is helpful.

Lyll (early teens daughter): Not a heavy hitter, but she can jump really high. This makes it easier for her to avoid damage than the others, so I wouldn’t worry. She can use the Mattock to destroy blocks.

Meyna (mother): A wizard, she can use items that enable her to send blocks back and forth and fly.

Xemn (father): A stocky guy who, I assume, works the quarry. Accordingly, he can push blocks around and use them to reach high places. In fact, his area requires it.

Roas (late teens son): I’m not gonna lie. he kinda sucks. But he is the only one who can use the Dragonslayer.

Also, there’s Jiela and Douel, the grandparents. They’re retired, so all they do is give you your current password when you’re ready to quit so you can pick up where you left off next time you play.

Graphics: 7 out of 10

Nice look. The characters are well-detailed, as are their surroundings. Roas looks like they ripped off the descendent of Erdrick from Dragon Quest, though. Also, since there’s only one dungeon with a few huge areas, backgrounds repeat over and over.

Sound: 10 out of 10

Fantastic! the music is extremely memorable and well-fitting. From the preparation style of the character select screen to the sense of destiny in the early dungeon, to the exploratory means of conveyance in Meyna’s area to the tough-guy sense of Pochi’s area, despite his cuteness. The fact that he’s owning monsters while pretending to be an “ally” adds to it quite a bit.

LegacyWizard2

"Whaddaya mean you idiots couldn't recognize the spy? He's PINK, you cretins!"

“Whaddaya mean you idiots couldn’t recognize the spy? He’s PINK, you cretins!”

Gameplay: 9 out of 10

I repeat for the record that you have five characters, each with his/her own area specifically designed for his/her abilities. This both requires you to use them all and adds a little to the replay value of Legacy Of the Wizard.

You start by selecting a character and taking a short walk into the dungeon. There’s a little exploring before you reach the sealed-away Keela (you can’t fight him unless you have the Dragonslayer) and choose one of four paths. These are the areas that are each intended for a specific character. Each area has a crown in it. If you manage to find your way to that crown, you meet a boss. After killing  that boss, you’re sent back above ground to get the password. Upon getting all four crowns, it’s time for Roas to use them to activate assorted teleportation portraits in order to reach the Dragonslayer.

After that, it's time for Keela!

After that, it’s time for Keela!

The controls are quite simple but effective. You move throughout an extremely creative, well-designed dungeon to find things. Enemies leave behind more minor equipment depending on what you most need. You fight monsters using projectiles that take up magic power and attempt to find the crowns and Dragonslayer. You’ll have to buy certain items in stores littered throughout the dungeon like in the Legend Of Zelda. Like stores, inns are in the dungeon, giving you the ability to refill your life and magic as needed.

All said, I give high marks.

Challenge: 5 out of 10

The enemies are perfectly appropriate in difficulty, but there is still a major problem: getting around. It’s one thing to force you to find items just to access certain areas. Do action RPGs not generally do this?  And I don’t mind having to guess who to pick for where. Pochi is a natural choice because of his near invincibility and there’s only one area he can reach. After you get his crown, deciding who to choose for other areas gets easier through the process of elimination.

But the blocks? That’s a problem. It’s not that I object to you having to find or buy an item to clear away blocks. It’s just that of the three characters who deal with them, each does it with something different. It’s quite irritating to find or buy three items that all serve the same purpose.

But the bigger problem is that it’s too f*cking hard to find your way around. The reason is the fake blocks. Simply put, if you don’t prod every wall, ceiling, or floor, you will not complete this game. There should be hidden stuff, but not without the faintest indication of where they are.

Finally, the bosses are of a zigzag difficulty and located wrongly. The first two are easy. I assumed that Broderbund thought we deserved a break after such difficult puzzles. It thought right. Alas, the next two are much, much harder. Finally, Keela is below average in difficulty. Also, the first four bosses are placed not in specific areas but according to how many you’ve fought. Which means that if you don’t use the bad-in-a-fight Pochi and Lyll right away, you’re in trouble.

Overall: 8 out of 10

So how do you rate this excessively tough but actually very well done game? I can’t recommend playing it without an online guide. Still, I rated three categories more than seven, which is not exactly a bad hit/miss ratio.

I really can’t not recommend Legacy Of the Wizard. Just don’t try to complete it without any help.

Harry Reid drops the bomb

NuclearBombFingers

Judicial nominations — and pretty much everything else — have been stonewalled over the past five years. The reason is that Republicans have taken the filibuster from an emergency procedure to stop power-grabs or the screwing over of low-populated states to essentially requiring a supermajority for everything. A number of seats on various courts have been left unfilled. Since the Democrats have “only” a 55-45 Senate majority, this basically left unprecedented obstruction unchallenged.

But that has partially changed. Last summer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened to use a parliamentary trick that enables him to change the rules to require only a simple majority for administrative appointments. The 2010 financial reform was partially nonfunctional because some of the positions it created were not filled. But after Reid made it clear that he had the votes, the Republicans backed down. All too cleverly noting that Reid said nothing about court appointments, Republicans continued judicial filibusters. So Reid dropped the bomb. He didn’t even bother negotiating this time.

Result? The days of the judicial system being broken by a minority are over. Sure, this doesn’t apply to Supreme Court nominees, but should Ruth Ginsberg, Anthony Kennedy, or Antonin Scalia leave the court, what’s to stop Reid from doing this again? Plus, since the opposition has condemned this move, its terms are technically nonbinding.

I’m surprised Reid did this so soon. I expected him to at least give the Republicans a chance to back down again. I guess he just didn’t want to have to go through this every time there are seats to fill.

Or maybe it's just that Thanksgiving is coming up.

Or maybe it’s just that Thanksgiving is coming up.

The semi-psychotic social Darwinists and Christian fundamentalists at Free Republic wasted no time getting to the point:

Fascism on the march”

“Fellow Alinskyites of Obama will now be FLOODED into the courts and bureaucracies……

Your freedom took a giant step backward today, thanks to Obamugabe’s brownshirts.”

“Maybe now Republicans won’t be so content with their minority status. The Hitlerites are rolling right over them.”

“If there is a God, one day, we will cram this ruling down Democrats’ throats and they’ll have to take it because we’ll make them. Personally, I hope the retribution is so bad to Democrats that they end up digging that dead bastard “Searchlight Nevadan” up and throwing his traitorous bones to the four winds.”

I’ll add that I’m not cherry-picking. That is four out of the first ten comments. It’s amazing how a President getting to actually appoint judges like every white President before him drives them off the edge, especially since I can remember when “up or down vote” was a Freeper line.

Alas, this does not apply to legislation. But what’s the point? Even if Democrats could pass legislation through the Senate, we saw from the gun control episode early this year that House Republicans are more or less immune to political pressure. Preventing the obstruction of nominations, unfortunately, is the limit of the system.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vows that Democrats will “regret this.” I know what that means. But I’m not sure I agree. Republicans who rightly fear the possibility that Democrats will do to President Christie what Republicans have done to President Obama may well eliminate all filibusters the next time they run everything. But in the long run, that will be as self-destructively cocky as Darth Vader’s boss:

What Grand Moff Tarkin, I mean Senator McConnell, doesn’t get, is that the filibuster, though used by whichever party is in the Senate minority at the time, has been no friend to the left. Why? Because the left’s policy changes tend to be more permanent than the right’s. Without the filibuster, health care reform more advanced than the current bill would have been passed as far back as President Harry Truman’s early months in office and no more recently than 1994. Similar stories about Social Security, civil rights (the Democrats who filibustered on that were overwhelmingly of the old conservative wing that would pass the Reagan tax cuts), first trimester abortion, and now, the spirit of gay marriage inevitability can be told.

Democrats may regret hitting their button for a time, but I assure you, Republicans would regret hitting it for a much, much longer time.

Street Fighter: the Movie

SFMovieGameTitle

Did you know that the 1994 film adaptation of the Street Fighter series of video games actually got an adaptation of its own? Y’know, the one with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ming-Na Wen, and Raul Julia that didn’t have crap to do with the games?  Why make anything based on that crappy movie? Because it was successful. Yes, Street Fighter made nearly three times its budget on a global scale! I guess the movie translated well to all languages in eastern Asia, where the games, along with the martial arts movies that inspired them, are most popular. I lived in Japan in the mid-1990s, and I saw firsthand that they loved to play Street Fighter Alpha 2 and X-Men Vs. Street Fighter in the arcade. Maybe the only reason a sequel (and one last scene after the credits was begging for one) wasn’t made was because the movie was indeed a bomb in America. But Capcom (the company that makes the games) is Japanese, so it had no problem making the game based on the movie that was based on the game.

Now, the fact that this game is based on the movie in and of itself isn’t terrible. Well, it is, but the reason why doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of this game. Still, the programmers seem to hate the movie just as much as we do, because everything in this game seems to have been hurried along as though they wanted to get this done as fast as possible. Or maybe Capcom wanted the game to hit arcades as soon as the movie hit home video. Or both. In any case, I wouldn’t recommend either watching or playing Street Fighter: the Movie.

Plot: 3 out of 10

The movie had an awful story. The story of the game was… still awful, come to think about it. The playable characters were interesting, but there really doesn’t seem to be any story except that M. Bison and his criminal organization, Shadaloo, are the bad guys, and Ken, Ryu, Chun-Li, Guile, and Zangief are the heroes. Let’s be realistic. The plots of these games focus on characters, not story. It would take some tweaking to make a decent movie out of that. Instead, the movie was basically a 1980s style military action movie with Bison as a fascist dictator and Guile as the American hero. Ergo, the inevitable martial arts action instead of guns made no sense.

Is this game true to the movie? Perhaps unfortunately, yes. It may have been poetic justice if Capcom spit in Hollywood’s face like Hollywood did to Capcom, but this game is pretty close to the movie. Unfortunately, the endings are very uninspired. Not much thought is put into them. So we can’t connect to these people the way we could the original versions of them. And it’s not as though we didn’t need any help.

Graphics: 2 out of 10

This game uses digitized motion captures of actors who are paid to act out their characters moves and poses. Outside of Mortal Kombat, this was rarely a good sign. Of course, the still-standing polygon standard was right around the corner, although if I’m not mistaken, a lot of programmers for fighting or sports games still use actors to make the models look more real.

Truth be known, the models are pretty good. Until they move and you realize that the mo-capping is lousy. Nobody actually moves anywhere near as convincing as in other games in this series. This becomes annoying as you play more and the unconvincing activity of the characters becomes clearer and clearer. At times you can even see white outlines along the edges of models.

SFMovieGame1

Notice how much thinner they get in the second image. Great art, the way you can’t decide how big your characters are going to be.SFMovieGame2

Another big problem is that the models don’t go with the backgrounds. At all. It is as though they made the backgrounds first but couldn’t design appropriate models based on the tape. And having already spent the actor budget, they were stuck.

Sound: 7 out of 10

The only thing in this game that I kind of enjoyed was the sound. The songs are done well enough. As good as the songs of Street Fighter II? Don’t push it, but they provide an adequate distraction from the rest of the game.

The sound effects are very good representations of the violence that occurs. There’s never really much to say about them then whether they do that.

Gameplay: 3 out of 10

Very similar to Street Fighter Alpha. There are fourteen characters starting out plus a fifteenth who can be unlocked via code (check GameFAQs for that). Each character has one-button attacks, blocking, ducking, jumping, special moves, super moves when your super meter is full, and some other tricks like “desperation” attacks when your energy is almost nil.

The controls are very sloppy. Hit detection and control responsiveness are both weak. While the concept for the gameplay isn’t bad, the execution certainly is.

SFMovieGame3

Amazingly, we were so psyched by live-action video in our games back then that we overlooked horrible, horrible quality.

Challenge: 3 out of 10

One thing I’ve noticed about bad fighting games is that they almost always include cheap computer opponents. To compensate for a lack of skill, those responsible for these games pull off illogical counters and does special moves in impossible situations that go far beyond throwing fireballs without crouching first. The game’s not impossible, your opponents are just extremely unskilled but cheap.

Overall: 3 out of 10

I have to admit, I’m not sorry that this game sucks. Its very existence is owed to no more than that a crappy movie fooled people into seeing it. Had this game been any good, there would have probably been two or three sequels to the movie, which I don’t know if I could have taken. Besides, gamers have been abused quite enough by Hollywood, thank you very much.

A good night for Democrats, but also a warning

McAuliffeGov
ACAError

On Tuesday, there was an election. Well, for those of you who lived in the right state.  Because there were really only three elections that are worth noting:

New Jersey Governor: Chris Christie was running for President, sorry, a second term as Governor of New Jersey against Barbara Buono. Tell the truth, did you even know who Christie’s opponent was before you read this post?

New York City Mayor: Wall Street and Stop-And-Frisk critic Bill de Blasio got a come-from-behind victory in the primary and went on to win the general election against someone who definitely wasn’t Anthony’s weiner.

Virginia Governor: With Bob McDonnell forbidden from running for a second term, evangelical Ken Cuccinelli won the Republican nomination. He was defeated by former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Two of these races were no surprise. Governor Christie’s close work with President Obama to repair the damage done to NJ by Hurricane Sandy, not to mention an almost Clintonian slyness in choosing when to fight and when to retreat (as he did on the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and his appeal of a judge’s gay marriage ruling this year), left him an extremely popular Governor who Democrats barely even tried to beat. Although progressives are psyched for de Blasio’s win, the reality is that the real fight was in the primary. Though centrist Republicans were once able to win in NYC by emphasizing the Big Apple’s high crime rates, decades of reduced crime, and more importantly, the overshadowing of crime by corporate power and income inequality, and the next Mayor was probably always going to be a Democrat.

Hence, VA was the tie-breaker. A swing state, it’s not a bad indicator of the rest of the country. It was expected to be a quick victory for McAuliffe because it happened right after the government shutdown. So when Cuccinelli took an early lead, the networks paid it little mind. McAuliffe would pull away when the culturally northeastern areas started coming in, but he didn’t. Only near the end did McAuliffe pull out a narrow victory.

Actually, not all the polls were wrong. The Real Clear Politics (RCP) average had McAuliffe ahead by 6.7% of the vote on average, but I remember two or three late polls that had McAuliffe up by only a point or two. They were the ones that got it right.

So how did McAuliffe almost blow a sure thing? It probably has little to do with him and everything to do with what’s been going on. He got a lucky break with the government shutdown, but then came the botched opening of the Affordable Care Act. First, a site that doesn’t work. Then some people’s insurance plans were screwed with, giving Obama a “read my lips” moment. The effect of all this? After the Republicans sent their poll numbers to historic lows, Obama’s approval ratings are as low as the 30s.

And the effect on VA was clearly profound. After both parties had f*cked up, this reverted to the close race that it was once thought to be.

Ken Cuccinelli, Teiro Cuccinelli

Cuccinelli declared that people had sent a message to Obama. You LOST, buddy boy! You don’t get to act like a winner. It’s OK for your supportors to spin, but not you.

So what does it mean? Immediately speaking, the Dems are helped. They get one more Governor and while VA Republicans can point to the narrow margin and the fact they will control at least one level of the State Legislature, that’s not likely to do them much good. They can try to shut down VA’s government to avoid having to deal with McAuliffe, but by now, we have seen the folly of this strategy. In 1968, Dick Nixon won the White House in a very similar fashion, leading big almost all the way, only to beat Hubert Humphrey by less than a point and leave the Great Society Congress more or less intact as a last-minute breakthrough in the Vietnam peace talks narrowed things out. Despite that, Nixon enjoyed fairly high approval ratings in his first term, had a very respectable midterm election, and won reelection with ease.

The long-term ramifications are less clear. To study the trajectory of this race is to be forced to conclude that had the mainstream Bill Bolling been nominated instead of Cuccinelli (more on him later), had government not been shut down, had Republican leaders not given up on Cuccinelli too soon and stopped contributing (let it never be said that I don’t give the Tea Party its due), or maybe just had the campaign lasted another week of ACA bungling, Cuccinelli probably would have won. Some also say that Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis spoiled the election for Cuccinelli. I disagree. His positions weren’t socially conservative, a big part of Cuccinelli’s image. Cuccinelli needed well over two thirds of Sarvis’ votes to beat McAuliffe, assuming that, without Sarvis in the race, all of his voters still would’ve voted. Not very likely.

Nevertheless, let’s not ignore the 36-year figure. For that much time, whenever a presidential election occurred, the losers would win in VA a year later. That is, until just now. The reason may be that, since VA is right next to DC, it’s a rebellious state that can be quite friendly to third party candidates (that’s one tradition that didn’t change last Tuesday). Cuccinelli’s radical position are a good explanation for this aberration. I could be mistaken, but I don’t think that comparing abortion to slavery is the best plan to win those unattached, partying women of northern VA. Just a thought.

Another thing to note is that despite the horror stories about to ACA rollout, if you look at RCP’s average of polls on the legislation, its popularity is not falling (hat tip: Rachel Maddow, but be warned that the link is to a twenty-minute video). If anything, it’s actually improving. This is remarkable. This has been a comedy of errors that the media is shocked and appalled by. Meanwhile, the right is behaving like a knight that just slew a dragon. As pure politics go, the ACA is clearly a long way from the point of no return. Obama certainly is suffering politically, but that will only last as long as these problems do.

Clock

Is this ticking for opponents of the ACA or the Democrats next year?

So my conclusion is that 2014 is a lot about fixing the ACA. If the Obama administration pulls this off within the next six months, the victory Democrats giddily anticipated during the shutdown may be coming after all. If not, a Republican Senate and nearly veto-proof House wouldn’t shock me.