Monthly Archives: July 2014

Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams

SFAlphaTitleCapcom has had some serious financial troubles lately and news broke recently that the company was seriously considering a sell-out. That may not be as fatal as you may assume because Nintendo execs were making similar statements before the impressive Mario Kart 8 sales lifted the Wii U to livable ground, but there’s no denying that Capcom’s in trouble.

Why is that? While few want Capcom to go, some argue that Capcom’s woes are about the company’s tendency to allow its franchises to evolve as little as possible. By that logic, EA should be a long-dead company, considering how slowly change comes to its sports brands. The whitewashing of history obscures that Capcom did this back when it was one of the biggest companies in the biz. Personally, I think this ignores the rising budgets that have hurt almost everyone in the console industry and just plain bad luck.

What, you thought this sort of thing is new for Capcom? Well, let’s go back to 1995. No less than five different versions of Street Fighter II had come out. What was the justification for so damn many versions? Just new characters, moves, faster speed, and/or improved endings for a few characters. It was at this point that Capcom finally decided to make an entirely new Street Fighter game. And yet, this ironically stands as probably the greatest example of Capcom’s slowness to change, because Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams is, in many ways, actually a step down from the last installment of the series at the time, Super Street Fighter II Turbo.

Plot: 4 out of 10

The story of Street Fighter is actually pretty bad in many ways yet the characters, brought to life through their bios and endings, can be interesting. Which brings me to the first disappointment: Alpha has 13 characters, three of which are hidden. Super Street Fighter II Turbo has 17, only one of which was hidden. That’s a significant drop. True, some younger fighting games at the same time had fewer characters, but to decrease your number of characters isn’t what I’d call progress.

The Alpha mini-series is set after the crappy, forgotten, little played, original Street Fighter (but that’s another review for another time), but before SFII. So what is done with this concept? Well, six characters — Ken, Ryu, Chun-Li, Akuma (hidden), Sagat, and M. Bison (hidden) — are back for this game. Unfortunately, all of these characters’ stories are largely the same as in SFII, save Chun-Li, who doesn’t yet know that Bison killed her father. This makes the Prequel setting seem like a meaningless gimmick. On the other hand, these are fan favorites doing their things, so few gamers minded.

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Well, other then Ken’s long hair. His taste has apparently changed a lot over the years.

Of the seven* new characters, Birdie is just another smart-but-dumb Balrog type of thug, Adon is pretty uninteresting, and Dan is a comic relief character in a game too lacking in the character department to be able to afford to give character space to this kind of niche. Charlie is the buddy of Guile that the latter wants to avenge in SFII, but that’s the central problem with his character: It’s a little hard to get attached to him when we know he’s going to be killed by Bison. Rose is actually a pretty interesting character as a heroic opposite of Bison, though. Yet again, Bison surviving their battle is an obvious thing because he has to be alive in SFII. And Guy and Sodom are incorporated quite well. Especially Sodom, who serves as a hilarious parody of the Americans who vacation in Japan dressed as video game or anime characters and are shocked that they’re being laughed at.

One final minus is that most of the endings are uninspired and predictable. For instance, M. Bison’s ending consists of him standing triumphantly over a beaten Rose and mocking her for even trying to defeat him. Seriously, that’s the whole thing.

*Actually, Guy and Sodom were a good guy and bad guy in Final Fight, so they’re not that new.

Graphics: 7 out of 10

A modest improvement over the last couple incarnations of SFII and there’s little else that you can say. Compared to mid-’90s 3D fighters, there isn’t anything particularly amazing.

Sound: 9 out of 10

Solid remixes of classic songs for returning players’ stages and some nice songs for the new characters literally sound good to me. This is probably what Alpha does best.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

Except for the Chain Combos that feel more Mortal Kombat than Street Fighter in their cheapness and were all but abandoned in forthcoming games, the gameplay is also done well. It’s another round of street fighting as people do the familiar Fireball, Dragon Punch, and Lightning Kick kinds of moves. You might think that characters having more than one Super Combo (very powerful move that can only be used when your Super Meter is full) would be worth more points, since the last SFII had only one per character. But since another Capcom fighter, X-Men: Children of the Atom, also had multiple big moves per character, I should say not.

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Soul Illusion (in which the “illusions” are solid), courtesy of Rose.

One other thing to note here. Of the three characters available only with a code, only M. Bison works like a normal fighter. Akuma is way overpowered, but since the Internet as we know it was in its infancy, you’d likely need to pay even more money for a magazine that had the code. Dan is another matter. He can actually be quite effective if used right. And by “right” I mean “expertly” because his moves are deliberately difficult to use. Two of them have next to no range and the third can be countered with a punch. There’s method to this madness. Dan’s character is that of a comically shitty martial artists, and most SF-inspired anime and comic books portray him as a loser who is still convinced that he’s the baddest ass on the planet. But I’m not sure that Capcom should have taken it this far.

Actually, Dan may show us an underrated, little-considered reason for why this series largely died in the 2000s but has gotten something of a resurgence since then: more focus was on these characters even though to say that fighting games aren’t about story is an understatement bigger than Zangief. I’m not saying a fighting game can’t have story. Look at Mortal Kombat. But you can’t deny that story is no selling point for this genre.

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I’m embarrassed to say this, but the joke of Dan’s pink getup went over my head as a teenager.

Challenge: 4 out of 10

Like most games in this franchise, difficulty is about average most of the way and adjustable in the Saturn version that I’m reviewing. Unfortunately, bonus stages are gone completely. Not only that–there’s only boss. That boss depends entirely on who you’re using. This is a good idea, except the bosses aren’t really more difficult than the opponents that came before them. That really hurts the challenge.

Overall: 6 out of 10

Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams is not really a bad game. It’s just not as good as its two direct sequels, nor is it a particularly great standalone game. In fact, those games have caused this one to be largely forgotten. It’s really only for the hardcore fan who has to have everything Street Fighter. If that applies to you, I can recommend this game. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Blue/red divide on health care?

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More have just come up.

The Affordable Care Act was running well. Despite an early online snafu, the number of uninsured is dropping. Now, some say otherwise, claiming that premiums will eventually go up for all or that the large sum of poor people benefiting from this is evidence that unnecessary welfare is running wild. But consider how much milder these things are than the “death spirals” of plans malfunctioning or old people overloading the system to the point of collapse that some warned about. Whether they meant to or not, opponents of the bill have made giant concessions in their arguments with likely more to come. And in doing so, they have made a case for the ACA.

But then came a judiciary that ruled the ACA’s subsidies unconstitutional due to the way they were worded in the legislation. Within hours, another court had reversed that ruling. The question is, what now?

Obviously, there will be more rulings to come. The Supreme Court has already ruled on the constitutionality of the law, so it might not even hear this. Even if it does, it could rule in favor of the ACA again. And even if that doesn’t happen, there have been some articles out there that claim that there are some steps the Obama administration could do to get around that ruling. But I must admit that this goes beyond my understanding of policy.

But let’s say all of the ACA’s paths to preservation fail. What then?

The states that have set up their own exchanges won’t be affected in any way. While there are few at the present time, it was assumed that there was no difference between federal and state exchanges. Now there are. Which means that new exchanges will likely be built. But how many? This will probably be a blue vs red divide similar to the one surrounding the Medicaid expansion. At first not many did it. But now there is a close mix of states with and without it, depending mostly on the voting habits of the state in question, and whether the Governor is a Democrat, impure Republican (Ohio, Arizona, and New Jersey are Republican-run states with the expansion), or ultraconservative. The exchanges will likely follow a similar path.

It’s kind of like the blue vs red meme that occurred after the 2000 and 2004 elections. Hardly any 2000 states changed their winning party in 2004, people noted. This demonstrated North/South and urban/rural divisions.

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The more hyperbolic descriptions of the Bush divide.

So The ACA may survive on a states’ rights basis. After a century and a half of consistent disappointment, the Ron Paul state sovereignty types may have finally won one. Probably not the battle they wanted to win (they hate this kind of thing as much or more than the neoconservatives), but congrats, I guess.

Or maybe the attack on the ACA won’t get that far, making me look stupid. One can never know.

Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda

AndromedaTitleKevin Sorbo as Captain Dylan Hunt
Lisa Ryder as Beka Valentine
Gordon Michael Woolvett as Seamus Harper
Keith Hamilton Cobb as Tyr Anasazi (seasons 1-4)
Laura Bertram as Trance Gemini
Lexa Doig as Andromeda “Rommie” Ascendant
Brent Stait as Rev Bem
Steve Bacic as Telemachus Rhade (after season 3)
Randy Ledford as Doyle (last season)

How often do you hear someone complain that “there’s nothing but crap on TV?” This complaint often stipulates that TV was much better in the past. Whatever you say.

I am about to turn thirty-two and I have already come to realize that every generation thinks of itself as the best. Take the millennials who consider the 2000s to be the golden age of television. I know why this is. They remember The SopranosSmallville, some of the best Law and Order seasons, The ShieldMad Men’s early days, and the Family Guy relaunch. Why? Because you want to remember these things. What you don’t want to remember is stuff like too many bad reality shows to choose from, FastlaneStar Trek: EnterpriseBlade: The Series, and Too Late with Adam Corrola. Actually, wasn’t this the precise era in which Matt Groening began to run out of ideas to use in The Simpsons but kept it going for more seasons anyway? That is ironic because in any rant about how remarkably bad today’s TV is, the decade-long argument that The Simpsons must be retired comes up without fail.

One of that era’s worst shows was Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda. Oddly, Gene was not on this show’s crew, although his wife did produce it. In fact, the father of Star Trek had been dead for ages. Turns out that Andromeda was loosely inspired from little-used concepts and notes Gene had used in the 1960s and 1970s. That is grasping for a reason to leech onto the credibility of others, but at least it’s not like how the similarly atrocious Neighbors From Hell was advertised as “from the studio that brought you Family Guy.”

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The horrendous lighting in the intros isn’t a good sign either.

Although “Hercules in space” would turn out to be a prophetic jibe, the first season wasn’t too bad. There were serious problems, particularly where the low budget was concerned, but it actually had a decent concept. The idea is that Captain Dylan Hunt had been suspended in time by a black hole and been found and saved by the crew of a salvage ship three centuries later. He discovers that The Systems Commonwealth, of which we are members, is a society in decline. Many member worlds even want to leave. So Dylan makes a crew out of the people who discovered him. Their mission is to restore the seemingly hopeless Commonwealth to its former glory.

Unfortunately, the second season begins this series’ steady slide into the status of dumber than dumb action show. So much so that The Commonwealth’s unpopularity is reversed at the drop of the hat for no apparent reason other than to move on to harmless fun. The first ten to fifteen minutes of the average episode is dominated by cringingly awful dialogue. I’m talking Batman and Robin bad dialogue here. After that we view unconvincing shootouts and/or badly choreographed hand-to-hand combat. The firefights are especially laughable, as the good guys always hit their targets and the bad guys can’t hit a barn. These episodes tend to end with a nauseatingly sentimental moral statement by Dylan resembling those of 1980s action cartoons. In the episode Dance of the Mayflies, for instance, he says, “Love doesn’t die. It’s the only thing that lasts forever.”

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Better love than this cast.

It doesn’t help that the acting is simply atrocious. It’s a largely novice cast and does it show! Gordon Michael Woolvett (Harper), in particular, speaks more like a teenager than the inexperienced engineer he’s supposed to be. Even Kevin Sorbo, who I actually liked in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, seems to be sleepwalking through his lines.

Speaking of Sorbo, he seems to have had a lot of stroke and played a key role in the show’s change in direction. This change seems to have happened in the immediate wake of head writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe leaving the show. Sorbo’s explanation: “Robert is a genius, but was developing stories that were too complicated and too clever for the rest of us to understand.” Aw, Christ!

Some suspect that Sorbo was simply thinking that 9/11 required a more cartoonish kind of show. Never mind that the crime and courtroom dramas continued to succeed after that tragic incident. Or maybe Sorbo’s always been a John Wayne holdover? Either way, Sorbo’s ego hurt Andromeda much like William Shatner’s ego once ruined Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Amazingly, the show continued to get worse and worse and worse. Among the lowlights was Tyr betraying our heroes so Keith Hamilton Cobb can be one of worst-performed villains I have ever seen.

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Still, it’s nice to know that dreadlocks won’t go out of syle for centuries.

I was talking about how 2000s TV is falsely glorified. You know that protest that good shows get their plugs pulled and bad shows last awhile? Well, Andromeda lasted five f*cking seasons. Part of the reason why was that the vague connection to Roddenberry got it a two-year commitment right out of the box. And Sorbo’s name recognition kept it around some time longer. But really, I can’t believe I’m even rationalizing this. Do you realize that five seasons is just one less than The Sopranos?

So if you think that TV in the era of Game of Thrones is worse than it was ten years ago, remember that for every classic there was an Andromeda.

Overall: 2 out of 10

X-Men

X-MenCartoonTitleNorm Spencer as Cyclops/Scott Summers
Cathal J. Dodd as Wolverine/Logan
Iona Morris and later Alison Sealey Smith as Storm/Ororo Munroe
George Buzo as The Beast/Dr. Hank McCoy
Lenore Zann as Rogue
Catherine Disher as Jean Grey
Chris Potter and later Tony Daniels as Gambit/Remy LeBeau
Alyson Court as Jubilee
Cedric Smith as Professor Charles Xavier

Has it already been over a year since the last TV show I reviewed? Guess I better do another. This one is of the X-Men cartoon of the 1990s. Many of us were introduced to the X-verse by this very show. And I think that after all these years, it still holds up.

One thing that is disappointing is the animation. It’s kind of sloppy. Even more so by today’s standards, but X-Men came at the time of Animaniacs and Batman: The Animated Series. We had come to expect better.

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A woman with no face. Couldn’t ask for a better system of checks and balances.

But beyond that, there’s not too much to complain about. The plots are pretty good. The first season is mostly devoted to the humans’ intolerance of mutants and the Sentinel (giant robot) program. Although Magneto, The Juggernaut, Sabretooth, Apocalypse, Mystique and her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants do make their first appearances here, the Sentinels are the villains who pop up the most in this season. This is good because it makes the point of the X-Men clear. What’s more, we get a spectacular conclusion when the head Sentinel, Master Mold, ends up turning on the humans. It turns out that Master Mold is doing it because he has concluded that “mutants are human” and therefore his directive to protect humans requires forcibly stopping humans and mutants from fighting each other. This makes for a villain who does wrong yet almost convincingly believes that he is right. After all, doesn’t it seem like Master Mold sees things more clearly than his creators?

The second season also has a story arc leading to a massive payoff. But I won’t spoil it here because it thrives on surprises. Along with Babylon 5 and Xena: Warrior PrincessX-Men was also one of the innovators of seasonal building that helped bring us to the climax.  And, of course, the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix sagas are adapted well in the third season. The last two seasons don’t do arcs except for some multi-parters. but still have plenty of continuity connections. They realized that they had done all they could with the arcs and did smaller and shorter stories rather than make vain attempts to top themselves. Not a bad call.

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Now Cyclops knows how the pilots who flew after King Kong felt.

Acting is above average. The majority of the main cast gives good performances, but the guests are rather mixed. I’m afraid that this acting can’t measure up to that of the Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man cartoons of the same era.

Quite a bit is done with the characters. The love triangle between Cyclops, Jean, and Wolverine is very solid for a kids’ show. The Beast’s love of Shakespeare and status as the technological genius of the group are showcased here. Jubilee serves as the young rookie for the kids to identify with. These are but a few examples.

The comic book has a revolving cast. Seeking to appeal to a more mainstream audience, the crew kept the lineup the same throughout this series. Certain episodes did include some X-Men not in that lineup like Colossus and Psylocke, though.

This show may be lacking in the animation department, and the voice acting isn’t all it could be, but the plots and characters make it stand out. And to me, these characteristics are what count the most.

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Mister Sinister is either a goth or in a heavy metal band, so I couldn’t tell you if he’s cool or not.

Everything accounted for, I give high marks to X-Men. I would say the same of X-Men: Evolution (since reviewing an entire show requires that you watch a lot of episodes, I may as well get it out now). Haven’t seen Wolverine and The X-Men so I hope it also followed this example. But both of those shows were largely inspired by the subject of this review. And so, I take a bow.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Happy Independence Day from American heroes Guile and Charlie

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Hey, who let the Van Damme Guile in?

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Damn! A tattoo of the starred and striped flag! Can’t get any more American than that!

Jokes aside, Independence Day is a very big day as it celebrates the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. We should all take notice and pay respect to this historic occasion, whether it’s through flying the national flag, shooting fireworks, or just holding hands on our hearts for a bit.