Monthly Archives: February 2015

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3

Budokai3TitleSo we’ve got a new Dragon Ball game, Xenoverse. Again. I’m not even going to bother going back and counting how many consoles this franchise has appeared on. Let’s just say, there have been lots and lots of them dating back almost thirty years. Which shouldn’t be surprised given Dragon Ball’s popularity, especially in Japan.

None of this is to say that any of these video games were all that great, and the anime themselves had serious flaws to be covered in reviews of them later. The games used flawed RPG or more often fighting systems to tell the story and entertain. As a result, they range from atrocious to good but not great. Despite this, I was a fan of them in college, and Budokai 3 was one of my favorites. Alas, I kind of lost interest when they started using a third person, flight-intensive game engine in an attempt to capture all the nuances of the anime. But let me go back before that to the DB game I liked the most.

Plot: 3 out of 10

Many say that these games are good if you were a fan of the show. In this case, that’s more true than usual. Budokai 3 does not use cutscenes. Instead, each saga (story) has introductory, Star Wars style text scrolls, followed by little dialogue snippets. This covers an absolute minimum. While most of the big parts occur, so much is glossed over that it won’t make sense unless you’ve seen most episodes of the show. Even then, what you get is extremely limited. Would it have been too much trouble to use cutscenes?

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In the context of a fighting game in which everyone’s comparable, a “power level” is of little meaning.

Graphics: 6 out of 10

I’m not a fan of the “cel shading” technique used to make certain games appear more animated by flattening the character models. It may make these titles look more like cartoons, but in the end, you’re still essentially making the graphics objectively worse.

This is what I'm talking about. Goku just doesn't go with the land below, does he?

This is what I’m talking about. Goku just doesn’t go with the land below, does he?

Other than that, the graphics are pretty good. The backgrounds are great, especially when you launch someone into a large structure, destroying it (I explain this more in Gameplay). It’s the strategy with the characters I have a problem with.

Sound: 5 out of 10

Some good songs, some OK ones. Minus a point for the sheer number of tunes shamelessly ripped from the original Budokai.

Gameplay: 5 out of 10

The problem with the Budokai series is that there is little difference between the characters. The small characters are harder to hit and pack less power than the big characters, but other than that everyone’s the same. Everybody uses effectively the same moves. The exception is with moves designed to increase your character’s attack power at the price of ki (second energy bar that powers special moves) gradually decreasing. Some characters have more power-ups than others. With this little variety, only serious fans will find playing all the characters that compelling. At least Mortal Kombat, despite all its characters having the same strength and speed, has different moves for everybody. Well, other than Smoke.

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Let’s just hope they never fight near Mt. Rushmore or The Great Sphinx

There is the gimmick of knocking your opponent into a huge structure and the stage changing to match the resulting destruction, but once you get past that, you’re left with a mediocre fighting game.

Challenge: 5 out of 10

The computer is, quite simply, a piece of cake. Often it stops blocking in the middle of a combo and can’t defend itself against projectiles from a distance away. Finding everything in Dragon Universe, the main one player mode, proves more of a challenge. You fly around the world trying to find places to go. There’s a lot of hidden stuff for each character whose path is recreated. Finding this hidden stuff proves harder than beating the computer-controlled opponents.

Stuff I learned: childhood is impediment to being a superhero, and a bad haircut is actually a benefit.

Stuff I learned: childhood is no obstacle to being a superhero, and a bad haircut is actually a help.

Overall: 5 out of 10

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 Is DB first and a game second. It captures the feel of the anime extremely well, but is only an average game. Not horrible but no equivalent to Virtua Fighter 5 or Mortal Kombat: Deception.

Captain America: The First Avenger

CapAmericaTitleChris Evans as Captain America/Steve Rogers
Haley Atwell as Peggy Carter
Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/ The Red Skull
Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips
Sebastian Stan as Agent Bucky Barnes
Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine

Of all the Marvel Comics superheroes, perhaps Captain America is the most DC-like. While Marvel tends to used flawed characters like Spider-Man and The Hulk. by contrast, Captain America is a throwback all-American hero who rarely does anything questionable. But since Cap is literally a “man out of time,” it’s actually fitting for him to be so atypical.

I always thought Cap would be a difficult superhero to adapt to film. The reason is the World War II stuff. The unpopular 1990 movie tried having him in just one mission before being frozen solid for decades. To many, that just zips through Cap’s fighting in the war as if it were an afterthought. The alternative was to set almost a whole movie in WWII. Had that been proposed in 2000, it would never have been funded. What if this couldn’t sell tickets, leaving no sequels to take place right now. But by 2011, it became clear that these movies could practically profit on disc/instant video sales alone. And so we have an almost 100% WWII Cap movie.

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And of course, you can’t have a war movie without an asshole superior officer.

Our story has a patriot named Steve Rogers who is eager to serve his country. Unfortunately, he is a scrawny little bag of bones and doesn’t meet the physical requirements. As luck with have it, a German scientist and ex-patriot named Abraham Erskine has come up with a super-soldier formula that he believes will enhance people to the pinnacle of human achievement, not quite superhuman, but up to a level that would ordinarily require training that the the average person couldn’t take. Although the experiment will be dangerous, Steve volunteers. His size actually helps with this, for it serves as the perfect test for how well the experiment works. The procedure works perfectly, but a spy kills Erskine, leaving Steve, henceforth nicknamed Captain America, our lone super-soldier.

This film proves to be both a superhero movie and war drama. At first, Cap is used as a war promotional sideshow rather than a soldier. Needless to say, this isn’t what he had in mind. He does a good job at it, but it’s not the same as fighting for your country. That is until some soldiers, including close friend Bucky Barnes, are captured by the enemy. Against orders, Cap mounts a rescue attempt with some volunteers. It is a success and of course, Cap is made a full-fledged soldier at last.

CapAmerica2

In between takes, Chris Evans and Haley Atwell express hopes that they’ll get rich doing this superhero stuff by the time they’re typecast. So far so good.

All this does well at showing Steve as a man who really wants to make a difference, regardless of what fate seems to intend for him. The brief period as an attraction serves as a nice homage to the old shows that promoted the war effort and encouraged people to buy war bonds.

Action is also done well, particularly the climatic last scene. It’s quite exciting. And the ending, in which Cap finds himself in the present time that seems almost alien to him, just brings it together.

CapAmerica3

Steve emerges from the chamber with cool glow effect, man!

Captain America: The First Avenger (an obvious nod to the following year’s The Avengers) is another great comic book movie. Like The Dark Knight, it is an example of how to incorporate drama into one of these movies.

Overall: 8 out of 10

The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse

MagicalQuestTitleDisney games have always been around. In fact, Disney stuff has always been everywhere. It’s about mass marketing. Before they spread across the mobile market, there were lots of them to be found on consoles, many of which were made by Capcom. I had a good time playing Ducktales and not a good time playing Mickey Mousecapade on the old NES. So here we look at one made a console generation later. The Super Nintendo, to be exact.

Plot: 3 out of 10

Capcom appears to have taken a “screw it, the kids won’t care about anything but getting to be Mickey Mouse anyway” approach to the plot. Mickey and his friends, Donald Duck and Goofy, are playing catch when Pluto, Mickey’s dog, follows a pitch and somehow gets lost. Goofy promises to find Pluto, but knowing that Goofy couldn’t find his shoes, Mickey searches himself… and somehow runs off a cliff. Instead of dying, Mickey lands in a magical land where a wizard tells him that Pluto has been kidnapped by the bad guy, Emperor Pete. So the payoff for Pluto’s unbelievable disappearance and Mickey not having any business being fit to adventure is another “save the girl/buddy” plot.

MagicalQuest1

Yay for melodrama!

Yeah, I know it’s based on a children’s show, etc., but remember, it’s the competition that often has people falling off cliffs and getting up with not ill effects. This kind of thing is actually Disney’s preferred way of killing villains in movies. As for TV shows, I remember many in which people had to wear casts after big falls. The point is, Disney doesn’t do this that often, so the excuse goes. Couldn’t the usual “hidden doorway” cliche have worked?

Graphics: 8 out of 10

Even though it would be shamed in short order by Star Fox, and would be visually left in the dust by 1994’s Donkey Kong Country and World Series Baseball (Sega Genesis). Magical Quest still had quite impressive graphics. The sprites and backgrounds all capture the Disney feel, and the bosses are particularly well animated.

MagicalQuest2

Scary… Well, by Disney standards, anyway.

Sound: 7 out of 10

Catchy but all too generic music. It’s not memorable, but it will keep you going until the end of a level.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

Magical Quest begins as a generic platformer. You can walk, jump, stomp on enemies, pick up and throw blocks. Smaller foes are stunned when stomped and can also be thrown.

While Mickey mostly handles well, sudden moves can be slippery, as can making landings. The latter is particularly troublesome.

Gradually, you get other outfits that give you nemerous ways of attacking. Just like a certain other game made by Capcom. The Magic Turban enables you to shoot magical blasts that can be charged by holding Y. The Firefighter Costume (my favorite) gives you a water hose that doesn’t pack much of a punch but is still reliable because you can keep a constant stream of water going. Finally, the Mounter Climber Costume lets you grapple and swing like Spider-Man. This added variety helps the player cope with the control flaws.

MagicalQuest3

Kids, this is why you call 9-11 in case of emergency.

Challenge: 8 out of 10

You’d expect this game to be quite easy. It has three difficulty settings: Easy, Normal, and Hard. Easy just lets you win. Normal is still a piece of cake. But with Hard, the difficulty goes up enough that it might present a challenge. This is nice balancing act that makes the difficulty right for everyone. It’s kind of ridiculous that Hard and Normal are so far apart, though.

Overall: 7 out of 10

A good game, but one that does not deserve some of the high praise it gets. The awful story and control flaws hold it back. Still, it’s worth the money.

Excision

ExcisionPosterAnnalyne McCord as Pauline
Traci Lords as Phyllis
Ariel Winter as Grace
Roger Bart as Bob
Jeremy Sumpter as Adam

You know those crazy villains we often see in movies? And how they’re almost always super-capable people? Excision is a little bit different. It centers around a perfectly normal person who happens to have serious psychological problems. Her family tries to help her work through them, but it is in vain, and she becomes a murderess.

This character, Pauline, hopes to be a doctor one day. But that doesn’t seem possible right now. You see, she suffers from delusions that cause her to briefly lose sense of reality and see herself and others being shredded with sharp objects. Pauline always returns to reality in an almost mesmerized state. Again, she suffers from some personal demons, much to the shame of her authoritative, religious mother, Phyllis. For instance, Pauline’s fascination with blood causes her to decide to have her “first time” during her period. The resulting bleeding leads Pauline’s boyfriend, Adam, to realize that he’s with a crazy girl, so he leaves Pauline’s house in horror. Pauline, though, feels that it was the night of the century.

Excision1

Someone who envisions this would kill my mood as well.

While there has been better storytelling about psychotics in the past, this is still pretty gruesome-but-interesting stuff. Writer and director Richard Bates, Jr. does a good job of peering into the soul of this troubled girl, and he doesn’t disappoint. The resulting “delusion” scenes are graphic and powerful. We cut to the terrible thing that Pauline thinks she sees, then back to reality. We have no trouble seeing just how f*cked-up in the head this girl is.

Still, there is plenty of tragedy involved, as well. Phyllis is anything but the model mother. She has a tendency to condemn faults in others and never recognize their strengths. It’s not just Pauline, either. Phyllis does the same with her husband. We’re even told that Pauline has never been to see a psychiatrist, only a priest. Phyllis says that the family can’t afford a psychiatrist. Since they live in a fairly nice place, we find it hard to believe that. In fact, it explains a lot about Pauline.

Excision2

Was Bates watching reruns of Wonder Woman when he wrote this script?

Eventually, Pauline’s problems snowball out of control. She is expelled from school indefinitely. This only makes her mother angrier. So Pauline continues to get worse and worse until she starts killing people, including her sister, Grace, and using them in medical experiments or, at least, what she thinks are medical experiments. What I mean by this is that these people are cut up just like in Pauline’s delusions. Pauline’s descent into absolute madness isn’t pretty, but it sure makes for good cinema.

However, this movie is hampered a bit by the ending. It’s mostly good except for one problem: it’s not really an ending. Phyllis gets Pauline to realize in full what she’s done and she is absolutely shocked. The question this leaves: what now? Pauline obviously goes to an insane asylum, but what after that? Does she get cured, spend the rest of her life there, or wreck more havok until someone else kills her in self-defense? We don’t know because the movie’s over. The ending is powerful enough… yet somehow it doesn’t seem right. Not completely.

Excision3

“Doesn’t feel right” is about the most ironic critique I could have made.

So Excision is not a perfect movie. It is, however, a good one. Not for everyone, but if you can handle macabre film, it delivers.

Overall: 8 out of 10