Monthly Archives: June 2014

X-Men: Children of the Atom

X-MenChildAtomTitleA lot of you are familiar with Capcom’s Marvel vs. Capcom series of games, but did you know that the Marvel side of things began as its own series? It started with this very game. Superheroes are quite popular in Japan, so in 1994, Capcom decided to begin a companion fighting series to the hit Street Fighter. And so it was that a fighting game that used X-Men characters was made.

Not that X-Men: Children of the Atom is just Street Fighter with the X-Men, although there is a temptation to think that at first, but Dashing, dial-in combos, and Super Jumping set this one apart as a unique game, if one with cheesy controls.

Plot: 8 out of 10

I don’t know if the programmers were fans of the comic book, but this game tries to loosely adapt the then-recent Fatal Attractions story. It centered around Magneto building a space station called Avalon using alien technology stolen from the X-Men to give mutants the chance to secede from humans and their planet. But the U.S. government tries and fails to keep Magneto off Earth with a planetary force field. The result is Magneto overreacting and attacking Earth.

The cast of characters all have their own reasons for wanted to stop Mags:

Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Psylocke, and Iceman: These are all the X-Men in the game. As always, they understand Magneto’s motivations, but feel they are turned in a destructive direction that will cause global civil war.

Sentinel: Yes, you get to play as one of the giant robots created by bigoted humans. Therefore, need I even say why they don’t like what Magneto is doing?

Silver Samurai: A professional criminal who looks to take command of the Japanese mafia, he feels that killing Magneto would prove his worth.

Spiral: She’s one of the top dogs of Mojo, a slaver and Jabba The Hutt wannabe from another universe who makes his slaves into TV gladiators. With all these mutants fighting, the iron has never been hotter. If this sounds ridiculous, as well it should, understand that Spiral and Mojo represent the lighter side of the X-verse.

Omega Red: His ending explains that the cardonadium synthesizer that he needs to stabilize his condition (don’t ask) is possessed by Magneto. We’re not told why, but Omega’s motivations are so irrelevent to Magneto that we need some reason why Omega is in the game.

Akuma (secret character): Only Street Fighter to make an appearance. He’s doing what he always does: testing his abilities by seeking others to battle.

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How fitting. The human hater versus the human hater (of all others).

Beyond the motivations of the cast, this is a “beat up the bad guy” kind of plot. Still, some good endings (other than Akuma’s sucky one, since he seems to be a last-minute addition) do redeem things and besides, everything stays true to the comic book. It’s not Macbeth, but it gets the job done.

Graphics: 9 out of 10

Excellent. The comic book animation is done very well, as is the frame-rate. Great backgrounds too, especially when the action tears them up.

Sound: 8 out of 10

The music I most fondly remember is the song for Magneto’s stage. It’s an awesome, sinister tune. The rest ranges from mediocre to great. However, the voice acting is really good. It doesn’t exactly hurt that many of the actors are from the 1990s animated series and are back to reprise their roles.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

As noted, you might think that this is a Street Fighter clone at first glance. And the characters do have similar attributes. There are projectile specialists (Cyclops, Storm, Iceman), corner trappers (Wolverine, Psylocke, Omega Red), power men (Colossus and Silver Samurai), and less simplified characters (Sentinel and Spiral). Very similar to the kinds of characters found in whichever incarnation of Street Fighter II you played.

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A Star Trek reference? I am now officially convinced that the programmers were geeks.

However, once you start playing, you realize otherwise. First, there’s a Super Jump that takes you two screens into the air. This makes it harder to corner someone. Second, there is the Dash, which does pretty much exactly what it says it does. You can run in to perform a quick attack. Thankfully, it’s not quite as cheesy as the Mortal Kombat 3 version. The then-new Super Moves that require you to fill a Super meter up with attacks are here, but they’re called X-Abilty and Hyper-X (requires more in your meter) moves. Finally, you can do “dialing” combos, which enable you to do deliver numerous normal attacks preferably ending with a big special. This is not a difficult setup, but you should understand that cheap tactics are a big deal in Children of the Atom.

All this is obviously quite a bit cheesier than the controls of the average fighting game. This is done purposefully. Capcom knew that X-Men is a popular brand that would attract more everyday people. So they made this more accessible to them.

I’m not necessarily critical. I can enjoy the occasional good but cheap fighter. But I would still prefer one more rewarding of skill and sound strategies. That is why I didn’t rate this too high. You’d think the overpowering dominance of Akuma would cost it some more. He’s got, among other things, a down-diagonal Double Fireball so you take decent damage even if you’re blocking. But since he’s a hidden character and the code to activate him isn’t easy, I can forgive this.

Challenge: 6 out of 10

Most of the way through, it’s the typical A.I. for a Capcom fighter. Not too hard, not too easy. There are two bosses: The Juggernaut and Magneto. Juggernaut is harder than the guys leading up to him but not that much. Magneto, on the other hand, is a leading contender for the toughest opponent in the history of gaming. He’s got an extra fast standing projectile, down-diagonal air projectiles, unblockable projectiles that most characters require a Super Jump to clear and immobilize you on contact, his top Hyper-X depletes most of even a full bar of health if all the hits connect, and to cap it off, he’s got an X-Ability move that makes him invincible for a while. All this makes him one of the hardest bosses ever. Too hard, actually.

By the way, they did make the bosses available with a code in some of the home versions. I played as Mags in the (crappy) Playstation port. And he was still unbelievably powerful and cheap. So don’t say I just suck when even the human version of him is better than all the other characters. Granted, it usually takes over half a dozen X-Men to beat him in the comics, but did that really need to carry over to this game?

Have I ever beat Magneto? Yes. Once with Akuma and his Double Fireball that wears you down even if you block. Many years ago, I did it with Sentinel and his keep-away mastery without ever even thinking about fighting hand-to-hand. In other words, the only way I’ve won is by countering dirty tricks with my own dirty tricks.

Not that it’s not fun fighting your way through the ranks but understand that you may not get to see your character’s ending.

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A whirwind that only knocks someone back a couple steps? I can think of better attacks.

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That’s more like it!

Overall: 7 out of 10

Magneto’s extreme level of difficulty aside, this is a quite admirable X-game. Those who insist that there must never be a hint of cheapness probably won’t like it, but for the rest of us, it’s fun.

X-Men: The Last Stand

X-MenLastStandPosterHugh Jackman as Wolverine/Logan
Famke Janssen as Jean Grey
Halle Berry as Storm/Ororo Munroe
Ian McKellen as Magneto/Erik Lensherr
Kelsey Grammer as The Beast/Dr. Hank McCoy
Michael Murphy as Warren Worthington, Sr.
Patrick Stewart as Charles Patrick Xavier
James Marsden as Cyclops/Scott Summers
Shawn Ashmore as Iceman/Bobby Drake
Ellen Page as Shadowcat/Kitty Pryde
Anna Paquin as Rogue/Marie
Vinnie Jones as The Juggernaut/Cain Marko
Aaron Stanford as Pyro/John Allerdyce
Ben Foster as Angel/Warren Worthington, Jr.
Bill Duke as Secretary Trask

Good God, that cast is unreal! And I should add that I failed to include a few mutants because they exist solely to do mutant things. Now, I’m well aware that Colossus and Callisto aren’t supposed to be non-entities, but they are in this movie.

Of course, nobody complains that Martin Scorsese’s mafia movies often had excessive casts, but you better know what you’re doing. And I really can’t say that of Brett Ratner, who took over as director for this series after Bryan Singer, bowed out in favor of Superman Returns (a decision they probably regretted after that movie didn’t do well at the box office). Ratner is probably best known for directing the Rush Hour duology of martial arts comedies and had ironically been one of the directors to helm Superman Returns during its many years in development Hell. Alas, he was in way over his head. You see, these movies do drama, which is one thing Ratner definitely doesn’t do.

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James Marsden: “Ciao, guys! I’m off to Superman Returns, too!”

At first it seems that this movie is about scientists inventing a “cure” for the X-gene. Some mutants have problems above and beyond persecution because of their mutations and welcome this solution, but most are offended by the very concept that there is something wrong with them. Unfortunately, not much is done with this. It’s little more than a gimmick for shock value. The central plot deals with Jean Grey. Thought to have killed in X2, she survived because of a powerful but dangerous entity within her known as The Phoenix. She has been taught her whole life to suppress it by Professor Xavier, but now it has taken over Jean. Multiple characters are killed by her, but Magneto, unlike Xavier, feels that The Phoenix’ powers can be controlled and makes her a member of his Brotherhood of Mutants.

That’s not such a bad idea, but where does the cure angle fit in? It’s really got nothing to do with what ends up the main storyline. Other than the son of the guy who designed it turning out to be a mutant himself, it really doesn’t belong here. But as if plot points that go nowhere aren’t bad enough, the movie basically gets worse.

Ratner’s vision of the series evidently required a lot of tinkering with this series. I guess that’s why so many major characters are killed or otherwise retired. Unfortunately, some of these eliminations are so abrupt that they serve little purpose but to make way for characters Ratner really wanted to use. That Ratner lacks Singer’s ability to humanize, er, people-ize, his characters doesn’t help one bit. He doesn’t make these characters unbelievable or anything, but they’re very plain, one-dimensional.

Not a bad wookie makeup job.

Not a bad wookie makeup job.

The dialogue in this movie isn’t as bad as that of fellow inferior superhero sequel Batman and Robin, but it’s really close. Lines like “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch” and Magneto moving a bridge as he quips, “Charles always wanted to build bridges,” are embarassing. This, of course, goes hand in hand with lousy character development; dialogue is what makes a character.

The script is even worse than the dialogue. I noted before that there is some confusion over what this movie is about. So it’s no surprise that X-Men: The Last Stand has lots of plot holes. One movie after Magneto causes a flood that nearly kills the X-Men, he’s content to safely launch Wolverine out of the Brotherhood’s hideout to fight another day. And, of course, uncounted reviews of this movie note that Magneto sees great advantage in Jean’s new powers, but makes no use of them in the climatic battle capping off this film.

Plus, having the guy with the metal skeleton fight the guy who controls metal might not be the best plan.

And I could be wrong, but having the guy with the metal skeleton fight the guy who controls metal might not be the best plan.

I will now explain what The Last Stand does right. The acting is still as good as if Singer had directed it. Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart again do bang-up jobs as their characters. With very little James Marsden (again, he was going to another comic book franchise for another studio) in this movie, Storm is the field leader. And Halle Berry is great in this capacity. Kelsey Grammer plays not the Frasier doctor but Hank McCoy, a scientific doctor and monster-looking new X-Man. He’s not half-bad, either. Consider the overdue introduction of The Beast to these movies to be Ratner’s contribution.

Also, I have to admit that this movie is technically outstanding. The elemental mutants’ powers are truly a sight to behold! And the fight choreography is no less advanced than the Jackie Chan movies that Ratner directed. But eliminate good character development and throw in awful dialogue and plotting and these strengths are really not enough.

X-Men: The Last Stand is yet another example of how every series seems to go downhill after awhile. While there are worse movies out there, I would just ignore it. Besides, isn’t that what Singer’s new movie has done?

Overall: 4 out of 10

The OJ circus has come back to town

OJCircus1It’s the twentieth anniversary of the year that OJ Simpson murdered two people. Which means that it’s time for another round of media talk about what was essentially a typical murder scenario.

For those of you smart enough to have not watched the news circa 1994-1995, that was the period when the NFL great killed his (most likely) cheating wife and her boyfriend. CNN (the only all-news channel at the time) did coverage of the preliminary hearing that overshadowed the death of North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung. And this was but the beginning.

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It was the Comical News Network

In 1995 the trial officially began. And, my God, did the fourth estate lose its shit! With Judge Lance Ito allowing cameras into the courtroom, television networks, especially CNN and Court TV, were covering this at all times. In particular, CNN was having “talking heads” from both sides of the story debate the case every night. Well, “debate” may be too kind a word. More like talk over each other all the time like teenagers in a concert. Also, there was Larry King, at a career high point, constantly interviewing key figures in the case. It was a truly embarrassing time for the news when you couldn’t turn on your TV without hearing about Judge Ito’s most recent outburst, whether Marcia Clark and Chris Darden were screwing on weekends, and whichever funny hat Johnny Cochran was wearing in court.

The ironic thing about it was that this really isn’t a very exciting case. Again, this was a typical murder setup. Besides, most of the trial was quite boring. It was dominated by statistical descriptions of scientific evidence by lawyers who weren’t anywhere near as charismatic as the talking heads described them as being. Meanwhile, big stories like steep reductions in crime rates, mass killings in Bosnia, or a budget standoff in Washington that threatened major Medicare cuts were pushed to the middle pages.

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Truth be known, maybe Newt was glad the news wasn’t focused on what he doing to seniors — yet.

Probably the only reason the OJ Simpson trial was labeled “the trial of the century” (what about Nuremberg?) was because the networks got to videotape the famous bronco chase. This was a slow chase with a highly certain outcome. But it was live, dammit!

Now there are little bits on the news giving us a chance to relive it. Somebody from Dateline recently did a documentary about the trial and was interviewed by Chris Matthews. I’ve also seen other “twenty years later” stories. Another documentary about the trial on Investigation Discovery aired just last night. Pollingreport.com sourced some pieces recently. These are but three examples.

But do we really need this? Before the armed robbery trial thirteen years after the original trial, I had all but forgotten that OJ existed. As this is going on, there’s disaster in Iraq. And still we’re flashbacking to this low point in journalism.

Isn’t enough enough? How much longer is this going to go on? Perhaps until OJ dies.

Wolverine

WolverineTitleLJN, how I loathe thee. You guys may have only been responsible for one good game in your entire existence (Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage). Almost all the rest were pile of crap after pile of crap. So how did LJN, along with Acclaim and THQ before all its great wrestling games (though let’s pretend Nitro and Thunder never happened), stay in business for so long? Easy. They kept getting the game rights to big licenses that tricked people into buying respectable numbers of copies of their awful games. And LJN was the worst of the bunch, releasing some of the all-time worst (*cough* *cough* Back to the Future and Friday the 13th).

Some of you may think I’m ranting because I hate LJN. That’s not true. *Buzzer sounds*. Okay, mostly not true. *Buzzer sounds*. Partially true? *Buzzer sounds*. Fine. It’s completely true. But I will admit that while LJN was possibly the worst licensed video game developer ever, it had the business skills to get the licenses it needed to carry its substandard programming to good sales. So how does Wolverine, based on the most popular X-Man, fare? Let’s see…

Plot: 3 out of 10

“Makes,” “no,” and “sense” are good words to describe this game’s storyline. The manual explains that Logan has washed onto an island. Conveniently for LJN, Logan has no memory of how this happened. There’s no one around, only a fortress. Except that he can find a few other X-Men in this fortress and get new abilities from them. Even more conveniently, it turns out to be Logan’s arch-nemesis Sabretooth who runs this place and the traps and hired grunts within. Like many video game villains, he seems to have a NSA-worthy surveillance network that enables him to often taunt Logan. And the ability to ignore any concept of location continuity. Surprisingly enough, Sabretooth is giving orders to Magneto. But then, the idea of Sabretooth as some kind of mastermind is a stretch anyhow. Except in this game, he’s always been a mad berserker, not this chess master.

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One thing they do have in common is they don’t comb their hair.

Graphics: 7 out of 10

Truth be known, the graphics are quite acceptable. Yeah, anyone who tells you that “graphics vs. gameplay” is a new thing is just focusing on the good things that they remember from “the good old days.” The sprite of Wolverine is reasonably well-detailed, as are the backgrounds. And the portraits of Wolverine in the title screen (shown at the top of this review) and ending, and of Sabretooth in the short cutscenes, are actually pretty good. The enemy sprites, save those of Sabretooth and Magneto, are a step down, though.

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This is what I mean. Chalk-white guys without faces.

Sound: 4 out of 10

There are two songs for the levels. One has a good and unique beat. The problem is that you alternate between just two songs for eight levels. They even repeat the title music for the ending. So even though the music is good, there’s not nearly enough of it.

Gameplay: 4 out of 10

Logan handles mostly well, but the gameplay is ruined by two flaws. He moves quckly but not too quckly, jumps well, and attacks quickly, with punches alternating with kicks if you attack repeatedly. He can also sheathe his claws to double the damage inflicted with each blow.

But here are the two flaws. The one you’ll realize almost immediately is that every punch with the claws out drains a little life. That makes absolutely no sense. Why make the whole point of Wolverine a disadvantage a lot of the time? Second, if they want to make sure we don’t use the claws, why not make it something less destructive like requiring Logan’s life to at least be half full? As it stands, you won’t be making much use of them. I realize that Logan says that using his claws hurts for a moment before his rapid healing closes the wounds (they come out through his own skin), but did LJN really think such a small detail was important? Especially since the wounds are supposed to be quickly healed. BFD.

The other flaw occurs when Logan enters a berserker rage. He sometimes goes into an uncontrollable rage. In this game, you have a Berserker meter that increases with every enemy you kill and decreases with every hit you take (apparently it makes him angrier than winning a fight). When it fills, he is invincible for a short time. But unlike brief invincibility periods in other games, this makes Wolverine constantly punch, kick, and stop until the rage ends. You can’t move or jump except for the stops. Imagine trying to jump over a pit while in the rage. Yeah, it’s just like that.

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How is this needed after what Logan survived in 1973 (see X-Men: Days of Future Past)?

Challenge: 3 out of 10

Kind of like the gameplay in that the challenge is handled well except for one crippling flaw. Enemies and environmental dangers are placed well, but aren’t terribly difficult. The problem is that you don’t get knocked back when hit. Instead your energy constantly depletes when you are touching an enemy. Depending on how quickly you get away, you can lose half your health on a single collision. That makes this a much harder game than it seems to have been intended to be.

Overall: 4 out of 10

And that makes it one of LJN’s best. But by my standards, Wolverine is far from a good game. The worst part is that this could actually have been great if not for a few problems. Fortunately better companies would start making X-Men games soon enough, and this would never again be even close to the best that fans of the comic franchise could hope for.

X2

X2 ONE SHEET A • Art Machine Job#5263 • Version A •  02/28/03Hugh Jackman as Wolverine/Logan
Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier
Brian Cox as William Stryker
Ian McKellen as Magneto/Erik Lensherr
Famke Janssen as Jean Grey
Halle Berry as Storm/Ororo Munroe
Rebecca Romijn as Mystique
James Marsden as Cyclops/Scott Summers
Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner
Anna Paquin as Rogue/Marie
Shawn Ashmore as Bobby Drake/Iceman
Aaron Stanford as John Allerdyce/Pyro
Kelly Hu as Lady Deathstrike

The original X-Men movie was a remarkable accomplishment yet had its flaws. The two main reasons are the superhero genre’s decline after Batman and Robin hit with a thud and the fact that Fox is a pretty cheap studio and didn’t spend much money on X-Men. Did you know that George Lucas had to make do with a low budget for his first Star Wars movie? Following the success of both X-Men and Spider-Man, Fox was willing to put more effort into these movies. The result is a great candidate for title of greatest comic book movie ever!

Set after the first, we discover that some are already taking action against “the mutant problem.” Although Magneto is in prison, many still fear those with the X-gene. One of them, a bigoted military scientist named William Stryker, has develped technology that can control mutants through their special genes. After a teleporting mutant called Nightcrawler tries (under Stryker’s influence) to kill the President, a large-scale version of this is authorized. This will involve the capture of Prof. Charles Xavier and the use of his telepathic powers to kill all mutants. Meanwhile, Magneto escapes from prison with the help of former associate Mystique. The X-Men are run out of their mutant’s school by Stryker’s forces, though Xavier is captured. Despite their radically conflicting philosophies, Magneto and Mystique become temporary allies of the X-Men against their common enemy.

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Not that they can really trust these two.

Of all the members of the very large cast, I’m happy to report that only two performances are particularly bad: Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler and James Marsden as Cyclops. This time Stryker is the villain instead of Magneto. Brian Cox brings him to life as a loathsome bigot. Despite that, we feel just a little bit of sympathy for him because part of how he got to be this way is because his son, Jason, was made an invalid by his mutation. However, that sympathy is eliminated when we learn that Stryker has come to see Jason as no longer his son but just another mutant.

It’s very refreshing to see prejudiced humans as the villains in this movie. Too often the X-Men universe forgets what the real purpose of its heroes is in all the mutant vs. mutant battles. But thanks to this movie and the new Days of Future Past, there’s not much danger of it being a problem in this series.

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Stryker looks pretty much as you’d picture this kind of villain.

Another great thing about this movie is the character interactions. Wolverine continues to be tragic in both the mystery of his past and the hard truth that the woman he loves, Jean, has chosen another. At one point we have the teenage Bobby’s family learning that he’s a mutant. His parents grudgingly accept this, but his little brother calls the cops on him. Bobby and Rogue have a fellow student and acquaintance named John (he prefers to be called “Pyro”) who an anti-social rebel. As such, he ends up befriending Magneto and Mystique. I could go on, but I spoiled too much of the movie already.

I mentioned that X2 was afforded a bigger budget than the original. This enables grander use of mutant powers, particularly where Storm is concerned. A pity Fox was still too cheap to shell out for Sentinels. It’s only recently that we got to see them. Guess you can’t win all the battles.

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This guy might disagree with that.

I’d have to watch Days of Future Past again to decide whether it or this movie is best X-film. Still, the decision of whether or not I can recommend X2 is easy.

Overall: 9 out of 10