Monthly Archives: March 2014

Zelda II: the Adventure Of Link

ZeldaIITitle On my first month of blogging I did a review of the Legend Of Zelda. Two years later, I’m ready to do the first sequel. And I court controversy in doing so. For this game is one that people either like or dislike. Those who dislike it point to how different it is from the others and the high level of difficulty. Those who like feel that the side-scrolling approach was a nice change of pace, especially for a series that is often slow to change. Me? I played this in my first year of gaming out of the arcade. So I loved it at the time. I have since come to find some flaws that I didn’t see back then. But overall, I’d say that it’s about as good as the original.

Plot: 7 out of 10

This is one of those games in which you need the manual to comprehend the story. It’s been a long time since Ganon died in the first Zelda game. All of a sudden a wizard puts Princess Zelda to sleep at the order of the Prince, who is angry that he only partially inherits the Triforce (magical triangle). Zelda’s nurse, Impa tells Link that to save Zelda again, he must take six crystals and place each one in what appear to be machines in six palaces. This unlocks a seventh palace (if you haven’t turned in the crystals, you’ll be stopped by a barrier of death at the entrance) in which the secrets of uniting the segments of the Triforce can be found.

ZeldaIIA

So Satan is that roadblocking monster who you destroy with the Flute? Didn’t think he was so minor.

Along the way, Link is attacked by the former followers of Ganon and the guardians of the palaces intended to keep the Triforce from being united by the wrong hands. The former is said to be able to revive Ganon by dripping Link’s blood onto the bad guy’s ashes. I have to admit, making a spoiled aristocrat’s sense of entitlement to blame for everything is a nice twist even though a lot else comes together much too conveniently. Still, the fact that there’s essentially a “bad guy wins” ending showing a shadowy Ganon cackling at your expense and the words “return of Ganon” on the game over screen is another nice touch.

Graphics: 7 out of 10

I maintain that the original’s weakest point was graphics. They’re much better this time. Detail is impressive, particularly with character designs. Unfortunately, the same issue of things repeating themselves over and over again remains.

Sound: 8 out of 10

I don’t think anyone who grew up playing this game doesn’t remember the songs for the first six palaces and the Great Palace that is the last stop. They are catchy, thrilling, and melodic. No wonder one of these themes was brought back many years later in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. But the rest of the soundtrack ranges from average to outstanding. Nintendo obviously worked the hardest on the palace songs because they knew which songs would be make the most impact. Smart business, but not deserving of a super-high rating.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

I get the complaints. I know this isn’t the usual format. Much of the game is the usual top-down view. That is the map screen. You walk on the map looking for places in this mode. In all of these places you have a side-scrolling perspective in which you can shield yourself from projectiles, walk, jump, and thrust your sword.   But why is it so big a deal? Really. Besides the fact that only one other Zelda game was out, the spirit — hack ‘n slash and treasure hunting in a fantasy setting, remains true. If anything, this kind of stubbornness on the part of gamers is problematic for the gaming industry. After all, why should we be surprised that Nintendo is reluctant to ever change anything when some of it’s fans won’t accept new twists on treasured franchises?-

One nice addition — at least, for the time — is towns. Whereas nobody seemed to live above ground in the original except monsters, Zelda II has towns in which you can talk to people to get clues on what to do and to heal yourself. You can also get spells but usually only by doing some task for someone. Everybody really does want somethin’. You have a magic meter that shows the amount of magic you have left to spend on your assorted spells. These cause a variety of effects including healing, launching fireballs, and even turning Link into a fairy.

My little contribution to this Internet meme.

My little contribution to this Internet meme.

You get in a fight by running into monsters on the map, sending you into the side-scrolling view to fight your way to either edge of the screen and return to the map. Caves and palaces are also done in the side-scrolling perspective. The controls are OK. The slashing, shielding, and magic work well, but the jumping is rather stiff. Still, this game plays reasonably well, especially if you had turbo.

Challenge: 9 out of 10

Some people find this game too hard. It’s not. it’s about as tough as the second quest in Legend Of Zelda. What people don’t realize is the need to occasionally build experience. Time-consuming and boring? No more than building up money in the other Zeldas. Still, it is true that you do need strategy. You need to look at patterns to see enemies’ strengths and moments of vulnerability and act accordingly. On the other hand, hesitation isn’t always the answer. For example, Ironknuckles (knights) move their shields up and down and are immune to a low jumping (don’t ask) strike. This leads most players to fence with them. Mistake! A high jumping strike on the way down will easily hit. Although the blue ones aren’t that weak against this because their thrown swords can catch you in the air. Zelda II is definitely a thinker’s game.

Zelda IIC

Amazingly, he proves to be easier on the horse. So why does he bother riding it?

Overall: 8 out of 10

Count me among those who like Zelda II: the Adventure Of Link. It adds many new things while keeping true to the spirit of the series. It’s also a blast and challenge to play. Not only is Adventure Of Link great in its own right, it’s the the installment in the series that is dated the latest (A Link To the Past and Link’s Awakening are prequels) before the series started rebooting in Ocarina Of Time, making it impossible to piece the games together. But that’s another story.

Dragon’s Crown

Dragon'sCrownTitle

Remember the old arcade beat-’em-ups like Golden Axe and Magic Sword that were in a fantasy fiction setting? Vanillaware does, apparently. Its Dragon’s Crown game is throwback to those games. I’m not against nostalgia. I’ll still enjoy a Mario game. But I really don’t think this particular game deserves the glowing reviews it got from Metacritic. It’s fun enough, but bland, repetitive, and after awhile, tiring.

Plot: 5 out of 10

Pretty much just filler. You get missions from multiple people, but none of them actually display much personality. One interesting bit is your revolving cast of helpers. They never advance in level so you have to keep replacing them. It’s a change of pace from utterly ineffective supporting heroes (Pippin in the Lord Of the Rings, John Connor in Terminator 2, almost every horror protagonist ever) who stuck around anyway. Not here! Someone fallen too far behind you can be fired.

Graphics: 9 out of 10

Outstanding 2D graphics. This game uses an animation-like graphical strategy similar to the kind used in, say, the Dragon Ball Z games. It works quite well here. Some think of this game as sexist because of the proportions of female characters. That criticism is often on the mark yet I feel it  misses the mark here. All the character models have wild proportions in this game. It simply can’t not be meant to be funny.

Dragon'sCrown1

Dragon'sCrown2

I rest my case.

Sound: 4 out of 10

Music is rather weak. It’s just oft-used tunes that are often associated with fantasy. Voice acting is also weak, but the ironic humor (like with the character models, some of the voices seem comedic) makes them about average.

Gameplay: 6 out of 10

There are a few RPG elements in Dragon’s Crown. You gain levels and buy stuff from some local stores. Additionally, you get computer-controlled helpers by collecting bone piles of them on adventures and then having them resurrected at the temple in town.

Uber-melodramatic much?

Uber-melodramatic much?

The main nerve of the game is the adventures, which are in a beat-’em-up fashion. The controls are pretty good. You have several playable characters to choose from and a fairly wide range of attacks for each. It’s like playing the fantasy beat-’em-ups in the arcade again. Except updated for a new generation.

Unfortunately, this game does not have the best level design. It’s not bad but it’s rather unimaginative. Also, you’ve got to complete the game before multiplayer becomes available. What the? At least you can use multiple controllers to let a friend play the campaign with you.

Dragon'sCrown4

Yes, that’s a chef who specializes is cooking sentient beings. Creepy, no?

Challenge: 3 out of 10

Aware that simple games attract casual and non-gamers, Vanillaware made this game easy. I don’t actually mind that, but the whole game is you basically doing the same thing over and over again. This is because of the weak level design and lack of variation in enemies. After a few levels, it gets boring.

Overall: 5 out of 10

It’s worth a rental, but there’s much better arcade action out there. Dragon’s Crown gets some things right but is just too monotonous to be great. It is so-so at the end of the day.

Gangster Squad

GangsterSquadPosterJosh Brolin as Sergeant John O’Mara
Ryan Gosling as Sergeant Jerry Wooters
Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen
Nick Nolte as Chief Bill Parker
Mireille Enos as Connie O’Mara

As a fan of crime movies, it was a given that I would catch Gangster Squad. Unfortunately, it is no Godfather. It’s not even an Ocean’s Eleven. Perhaps a better comparison would be to professional wrestling. Like WWE RawGangster Squad is not unfun, but it’s fun in so primal a way that I’d be out of my mind if I called it a classic. It’s not even good.

Like many of these kinds of movies, Gangster Squad is set in the mid-20th century. It shows us how police officer Josh Brolin created and lead the Gangster Squad, a group of technically independent but unofficially police-sanctioned team of mob busters. Their target is, of course, the local kingpin: Mickey Cohen.

Is this what old timers mean by "good old days?"

Is this what old timers mean by “good old days?”

That’s a pretty basic plot. How is it executed? Basically like any number of other blue-collar-hero-makes-good stories — no better, no worse. There’s even a worrying wife for good measure.

While the plot is lacking, the acting is actually OK. Josh Brolin makes a decent hero, and his uncomfortable dual role of crimefighter and father is handled well. Ryan Gosling is an actor best known for playing characters aimed at younger viewers. Now grown up, he plays the younger, secondary member of the Gangster Squad, Jerry Wooters. Gosling does a good job as the young energetic foil to the grizzled John O’Mara. Still, no one should be surprised that Gosling is playing a grown man. Yes, sixteen years ago, he played an adolescent Hercules. Who would doubt that after all that time, he’d be well into adulthood?

Good thing he's a decent cop, especially he's not exactly official if you know what I mean.

Good thing this cop is a decent guy, especially since he’s not exactly official if you know what I mean.

I have much less good to say about the dialogue. It’s not bad or anything, just unmemorable. All we really have is generic cop/gangster dialogue.

Action is important in crime thrillers. Unfortunately it’s not up to snuff in this movie I was a bit surprised to discover that this movie is rated R. There are explosions, hitting and shooting; nothing that really signifies an epic struggle. Even the final battle between John and Mickey is rather lame.

At least we do get a peek into the lives of cops and the danger of living in a town that the mob runs. There is one fantastic line that helped this movie a lot on its own for me: “You lose everything and you win the war, you’re a hero. You lose everything and you lose the war, you’re just a fool.” Also, there’s great use of a reluctant, self-risking witness and an ending that prevents public faith in law enforcement from being lost by letting Chief Parker, not the Gangster Squad, take the credit for Mickey’s fall. Of course, the former is a frequent concept and the latter’s got the epilogue of the Dark Knight peeking over it’s shoulder. What can I say? This isn’t an original movie.

With all the negativity in this review, you might be expecting a rating of 3. That brings me back to the wrestling analogy. I understand why Gangster Squad is so low-rated (32%) at Rotten Tomatoes. Objectively, it’s easy to find fault with it. But on a basic level, it can be enjoyed. Just not loved.

Overall: 6 out of 10

Cold War 2.0?

Cold War 2.0-1

As of late Russian leader Vladimir Putin has making clear his intentions of invading Ukraine. Already he is occupying the Crimean peninsula. Several years after his failed attempt to conquer Georgia (not our Georgia), Putin is deciding to begin his attempt at recreating the old Soviet Union with the Ukraine.

As usual with these kinds of things, Putin is claiming to have a long-standing, indisputable claim to Ukraine. Thing is, the Russians relinquished its claims to other countries with the collapse of the Soviet Union. If the UK started making claims to countries it countrolled during the days of the British Empire, would you expect that to fly? Not to mention the issue of longtime oil/gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine. I’m sure this has nothing to do with oil.

And I thought Christie was a bully.

And I thought Chris Christie was a bully.

And I’m of the mind that we Americans crossed the line with Iraq, but that hardly makes this right. Besides, at least we were never going to make Iraq a state or anything.

Despite the belief of many ignorant Americans, Putin is not a communist. In fact he is for “pro-growth” tax cuts. And yet his historical role is not measurably different from that of Joseph Stalin or Nikita Khrushchev. Putin still seeks to create an empire through force and threat of force. The more things change…

So what’s next? The U.S. government has threatened economic sanctions against Russia. This does not seem to be deterring Putin. After all, why would it? Sanctions only work if they would leave your opponent to conclude that what he is doing is more trouble than it’s worth. Since the Russians can get oil from Ukraine, it’s hard to imagine that sanctions would make an invasion more trouble than it’s worth.

That leaves but one possible way to stop this: war. Of course, that’s a pretty grim choice. It could very well lead to a domino effect that starts World War III.

I probably shouldn't make a joke about this.

I probably shouldn’t make a joke about this.

So the most likely conclusion is that Putin at best halts his advance beyond Crimea. Quite possibly, Putin will take over Ukraine. If so, the title of this article may become true. Because such a victory will give Putin the ability to threaten country after country throughout eastern Europe and Asia. That means that Putin’s path of destruction is only beginning. And that means that another extended period of brinkmanship between the West and Russia is about to begin.

I’m really sorry to put it like this, but I’ve gotta call ’em like I see ’em. The truth is that to say we have a bad situation is like saying that the original Cold War lasted a short while.