Monthly Archives: February 2014

Mad City

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Translated from Japanese. Don’t know how anyone could make the time to hack this, but thanks!

In the late 1980s Konami decided that a good concept for a video game was to take Crocodile Dundee and make the lead character a Louisiana gator-rasslin’ redneck instead of an Aussie. Those outside of Japan knew this game as the Adventures Of Bayou Billy. Most ways, it was quite good. The only problem was the excessive difficulty. You see, most common enemies have about the same amount of health as Billy in this version. That makes our version one of the most difficult games ever made. I remember being shocked by the difficulty as a child and not making it through the first level. To my credit, I have made it halfway through the game since. But I eventually got tired of playing it. It’s not a bad game, and arguably even good, but the difficulty is wearying.

I assume the reason for the difference between versions is because this industry was so young a lot of its companies had difficulty communicating between their international divisions. That’s why we occasionally got changes between different versions of the same game. The subject of this review is the Japanese version, Mad City. The difficulty is more manageable, making this so much better than our version.

Plot: 7 out of 10

I can be a little lenient to this game for having yet another “save the girl” plot. The Dundee movies did have this subplot as well if I’m not mistaken. Billy West’s girlfriend, Annabelle, has been kidnapped by New Orleans mob boss Godfather Gordon to lure Billy to his death. The manual, at least for our version, is pretty funny. Billy is described as having been “raised by a family of gators.” That line alone makes it worth reading. Sadly, there’s none of that humor in the game. Gordon does make a great villain in the cutscenes, though.

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Back up a second! How do you know what i’ve been doing? You mean you can use surveillance to watch me whenever you want?

Also, there’s an alternate ending if you avoid Annabelle as she walks towards you after the last fight that has Billy leaving her. The default ending is your standard romantic one.

Graphics: 7 out of 10

Graphics are mostly good. Enemies are well-done, as are the surroundings. Trouble is, a lot of things repeat over and over. Also, I always thought it weird how Billy’s hat covers his face.

Sound: 8 out of 10

The songs are absolutely awesome! They have a fantastic beat that fits with the southern feel to boot! Alas, there is a lot of repetition like with the graphics. Also, one thing that our version actually improved is producing possibly the first instances of voice acting in a game. They’re not heard in this version.

Gameplay: 10 out of 10

Some might think this a generous score, but I’m giving it to Mad City anyway because of how well it does multiple styles of gameplay. They are as follows:

Beat ’em upby far the core of the game, This is punching, kicking, jump-kicking, and the use of weapons that you knock out of the pockets of enemies, the best being the whip and gun. Why not just the gun? Because some enemies have bulletproof vests that you can take from them as well. This portion of the game is done every bit as well as the original Double Dragon.

Shooting: Basically, you shoot enemies who come into view and also use gunshots to deflect explosives from a first-person perspective. Depending on what mode you use, you may have to plug in your Zapper. Not a lot of other games used it, did they? I think that the two levels that use the Zapper are better than either Duck Hunt* or Hogan’s Alley. That’s kinda sad.

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That’s a goodfella gangsta’ in New Orleans, all right!

Driving: This is the worst part of our version because of the one-hit deaths and the fact that when turning, you can’t actually steer, just sort of “hug” the wall. This version does it so much better. Death doesn’t come so easily and the controls are acceptable.

*Shove the hate mail, Duck Hunt fans! That game is about doing the same thing over and over again.

Challenge: 9 out of 10

About average in difficulty, but still fun due to the well-done styles of play. Also, learning curve is average, which is exactly the way it should be.

Surprisingly, Gordon turns out to be a small fry.

Surprisingly, Gordon turns out to be a small fry.

Overall: 9 out of 10

I’d always thought that the Adventures Of Bayou Billy would be a classic if only it weren’t so f*cking hard. I would still rate it a respectable 7 out of 10, but now I have played Mad City. With its fairer difficulty, I have to consider it a true classic.

Support the troops? Hating poor people comes first.

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“Priorities, people! Priorities!”

Yesterday the right-wing news site the Drudge Report linked to a post at occasional advocate of destroying entire countries Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller. Basically, this post was aimed at stirring people up over the fact that the Great Recession has sent the number of SNAP recipients in the military through the roof. Yup, it’s a “takers vs. producers” story aimed at the troops.

Say, do you know what happens when a prominent Dem says anything even close to this critical of the soldiers? That’s right, he/she is viciously attacked as hating our military or even being a traitor. Now, I don’t think that the military is beyond criticism. Nothing is. But damn if it ain’t hypocritical but funny when people try to impose ludicrous standards on others and then flunk them.

I should point out that the number of people — both military and civilian — on food stamps and other kinds of welfare can be expected. It wasn’t that long ago that the economy collapsed, eventually bringing the unemployment rate up to over 10%. When more people are down on their luck, you get more people on welfare. It’s basic logic, not something that indicates a decline in American work ethic or morality.

Now, it’s true that the economy has improved greatly since then, but median incomes have been remarkably less positive. So it’s no wonder that the number of people on the welfare rolls isn’t going down very fast.

Why are Drudge and the Daily Caller taking their campaigns against welfare recipients in this direction? Well, it goes back to a strategy pioneered by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. His “welfare queen” speeches involved a fictional woman from Chicago who got benefits under lots of aliases and drove a Cadillac. It was an outrageous tale intended to spark hatred of the poor, complete with helpings of race and gender bait. And the legacy of this would be a welfare reform bill much closer Newt Gingrich’s version than Bill Clinton’s.

The right is still at it, warning about a permanent underclass that gets everything for nothing. The “makers vs. takers” explanation for why President Obama won a second time is only the latest. Guess welfare reform was a colossal waste of time. Except that these same conservative tend to praise that bill. How odd.

There is exactly one unique thing about this generation of welfare bashers. Reagan was always very careful about how he rhetorically targeted social programs. That’s why he cited a very specific kind of recipient. Not so with today’s right wing (reality check: that’s the real reason Obama is still in the White House). They’re the guys shut down the government over pet causes and have nominated candidates who say stupid things like that pregnancy by rape is something that “God intended to happen.”

Point is, they’re much too short-sighted to realize that it’s unwise to attack just anyone who gets a government service. Soldiers enlist into the service of their country knowing full well that if sent into battle, there’s a real chance of being killed. People just aren’t going to be too quick to judge such a person.

And that explains why the Tea Party cause is largely incompatible with political reality. They want to eliminate the deficit and debt entirely through spending cuts. But you’ve got to cut deep into the mega-popular Social Security and Medicare to do this, especially since Republicans want yet another tax cut for the wealthy. But the support for such things isn’t there. Why? Because people don’t want to be tossed on the street.

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Who says only progressives have these?

Mass Effect

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Bioware is certainly one of my favorite game developers. It utilized D&D to perfection in video games and the Star Wars: Knights Of the Old Republic duology was an excellent combination of a fringe style of gameplay (D&D’s “D20” system was used) with a more mainstream brand. Mass Effect is really no exception, as it is pretty high-quality as well. The main difference is that it is  purely science fiction instead of fantasy.

Plot: 10 out of 10

This game has commentary on our society similar to that of Star Trek and a sense of adventure reminiscent of Star Wars. We humans are a relatively minor member of an interstellar alliance. We aren’t even allowed an attempt to climb very high because we’re looked down on. That is ultimately changed by Commander Shepard. You choose Shepard’s gender, appearance, profession, background, and can govern his/her personality in dialogue however you see fit. Because Shepard proves to be exceptionally capable and a higher-up named Saren turns traitor, Shepard is assigned the task of pursuing him. Saren turns out to be in league with cybernetic beings called the Reapers, who have conquered and even destroyed many species in the past. Can Shepard and his crew stop them?

Can't any sci-fi franchise not have goons that would enable George Lucas to sue?

Can’t any sci-fi franchise not have Stormtrooper-like goons that should enable George Lucas to sue for copyright infringement?

There are subplots as well. I’ll give two examples. Shepard’s crew includes aliens, which not all the humans are OK with including the navigator. Also, Shepard can get into a romance with a party member (obviously, this depends on which gender you chose). This can go as far as PG-13 sex, which led to a bit of controversy.

From beginning to end, you’ll be making “Paragon” or “Renegade” choices, depending on whether you want to be orderly or rebellious. You can’t directly make Shepard evil, although it is possible to have the humans use the Reaper threat to take power (and the guy who urges you to this uses the most twisted, opportunistic logic imaginable).

All said, the story is very interesting and lots of twists and turns, including the deaths of major characters. Also, the characters are very good, my favorite probably being Joker, a phenomenal but cocky pilot who nonetheless has legs so bad that he’d shatter them if he tried to walk. Eat your heart out, Stephen Hawking.

Graphics: 5 out of 10

The graphics could be better. While they are perfectly passable, they’re not to be compared to pretty much any other first rate 360 or PS3 game. This is especially true of the skin on models, which lack the near-real textures seen on so many other games. Also, the load times are pretty long for a console. For hardly the most visually spectacular game out there, that’s hard to believe.

Part of the problem is that Bioware is trapped in its past. Neverwinter Nights was a PC game that wasn’t all that demanding, hardware-wise, so its graphics weren’t up to date. But this game was also on the consoles with their more unified standards. So Bioware may have been on a bit too unfamiliar ground.

Get used to this!

Get used to this!

Sound: 9 out of 10

Great voice acting. This is something that’s sometimes lacking in Bioware’s games. Great music too.

Gameplay: 8 out of 10

You might call it the sci-fi equivalent of the Legend Of Zelda or the Elder Scrolls. Most of the game has you exploring space to find Saren. You search for clues and and do sidequests on planets. Most of the action is laser gunplay similar to most tactical shooters. Difference is, your blaster has unlimited ammo but overheats if you shoot too much for too long. Also, you have personal shielding to knock off. But then, you’ll be dealing with force fields a lot.

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You’d think lasers would pierce solid matter, but I guess we can’t have shooting without cover, now can we?

There’s an experience system and plenty of equipment to find for the RPG elements of the game. They fit in rather nicely.

All said, this is truly a futuristic RPG done right. The only problem is that the Mako (ground vehicle) could handle better. That makes the sections where you have to use it a little harder.

Challenge: 7 out of 10

Easy on the easiest setting, tougher on harder settings. Overall, I’d say the difficulty is just about right. Although the fun is hurt a bit because the optional planet can fall into the trap of having you do the same thing over and over again in much the same sense that the original Assassin’s Creed did.

Overall: 8 out of 10

I haven’t actually played any of the sequels yet, but I will at some point. I have to say that this first installment is a very good sci-fi game., although a little overrated.

Man Of Steel

ManOfSteelPosterHenry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent
Amy Adams as Lois Lane
Michael Shannon as General Zod
Russell Crowe as Jor-El
Laurence Fishburne as Perry White
Diane Lane as Martha Kent
Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent
Antje Traue as Faora-Ul

Superman is a character that  many doubted the popularity of for some time. Popularized by an era of escapism (the Great Depression, World War II, and the early Cold War) when a break from either how much life sucked or the fear of nuclear war was all people asked for in their entertainment. By the 1960s, people were happier and wanted more depth, for lack of a kinder term. Since then, the Man Of Steel hasn’t been the same. He got boosts from the 1978 movie and his death and revival in the comics, but neither lasted. Batman, Spider-man, and the X-men soon prevailed as the new giants of the superhero genre.  The final proof came when Superman Returns fell inches short of the double the budget needed to break even.

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This image shows how Supes just couldn’t get a break.

In short, Smallville, a teen drama about young Clark Kent, remained the character’s only significant success for some time. That was until Man Of Steel became a hit in possibly one of the most disastrous years ever for cinema. It didn’t reach the billions of dollars worldwide or anything, but it more than justifies a new franchise.

Why did Man Of Steel succeed? A sustained economic crisis that left people primed for escapism no doubt played a part, but I think that the big thing is that this movie capitalized on the mythology behind Superman.

The first half of the film involves Clark from childhood to maturity trying to find his place in the world. We see that when his powers start kicking in, it’s not as easy as you might think. His visual and hearing powers are difficult to control like you imagine they might be. Eventually, he learns to cope and uses the equipment Jor-El left in the rocket he came to Earth in (as usual, his foster parents waited some time to tell him everything) to learn about himself and get an idea of what his role in the world ought to be. He is discovered by reporter Lois Lane who also gives him some much-needed advise.

Performances are strong, for the most part. Michael Shannon makes a weak Zod because of his inability to distinguish emotional control from lifelessness. But the other performances are quite good. I think that Henry Cavill makes every bit as good a Superman as Christopher Reeve did with the courage, morality, and determination he emotes. Meanwhile, Amy Adams is a perfect Lois Lane; bold, forceful, and determined to get to the truth. Supporting cast members also do their jobs well.

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Henry Cavill bulked up a lot for this part, and boy can you tell!

As for the mythology I was talking about earlier, we see a hero of unshakable morality and a willingness to risk all for what feels right. We also see how stubborn people can be in making mistakes, such as the ones that destroyed the Kryptonians.

The score is very fitting and catchy. As good as the John Williams score from ’78? Not quite, but close. In my opinion.

And then there’s the action. Much of the movie is drama, but once Zod and his band of Kryptonians enter the picture, we get a lot of superfights. And they’re great. Whereas the superfights in Superman II were limited by technology, we can marvel at special effects that have finally caught up to our fantasies.

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Speaking of which, a little homage to Superman II. Not that that’s what the younger male viewers will notice…

There is some controversy over whether the filmmakers should have had Superman kill Zod in the end. I’m not inclined to protest this. In the first place, I could name more than one occasion on which he has killed in the comic book. In the second, anyone who’s actually seen the movie knows that it was an extreme emergency and that Superman felt really, really bad about it. Finally, Superman II is well-liked even though Superman kills Zod in that movie as well without regret. I’m not saying he should do it very often, but since Zod was threatening to kill and kill and kill in Man Of Steel, I think the circumstances were acceptable.

As a movie Man Of Steel works. As a franchise kick-start, it may be what Superman fans have been waiting for or just the latest in a series of false starts. Only time will tell.

Overall: 8 out of 10