Monthly Archives: May 2016

Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn

Baldur'sGateIITitleBaldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn is not just one of the greatest RPGs ever. It’s a trendsetter. While western RPGs have always existed, they were largely a little-known niche before this game set the bar higher. Hugely successful (for a PC game) and appearing on many a “best ever” list, it basically started Bioware’s gradual elevation to the major player in video gaming that it is today. More importantly, it convinced people to give RPGs not made in Japan a chance, paving the way for such hits as Star Wars: Knights of the Old RepublicDragon AgeMass Effect, and, of course, World of Warcraft.

Plot: 9 out of 10

The original Baldur’s Gate concluded with the protagonist revealed to be the offspring of a deceased god named Bhaal (like Norse mythology, this universe’s deities can be physically killed, it just takes soccer balls for testicles and marbles for brains to try). The protagonist is kidnapped by a wizard named Jon Irenicus to be used in twisted experiments because of his/her (your character’s gender, race and profession are up to you) divine heritage. With the help of his/her friends our hero escapes but a series of plot twists ultimately lead to a final battle against Irenicus.

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Minsc and his “miniature giant space hamster.” This delusion proves even funnier than you might think.

A generic enough plot, but the plot twists are unpredictable and exciting. For instance, we discover a mob war between a local gang and a family of vampires. Each offers to help you only if you first help them destroy the other and win the war. Interactions between members of your party are another bonus, particularly the romances the protagonist can have with a party member of the opposite sex.

Graphics: 7 out of 10

OK, so this isn’t BGII’s strongest point. While the graphics are competently put together, they lack a flashiness for a game released in the current millennium. I don’t know if it’s the fact that graphics tend to take a backseat to plot in RPGs or what, but Bioware has made many a game that looked last gen and/or had ridiculously long load times. I was surprised when 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition didn’t have either of these issues.

Sound: 10 out 10

What Bioware lacks in looks it makes up for in sound. The sound effects are very true to what occurrences they represent. And the voice acting is just amazing, particularly David Warner (an extremely underrated TV actor, just look him up) as Irenicus!

I'm fighting a shadow? What's threatening about that? Even the biggest weenie has a shadow.

I’m fighting a shadow? What’s threatening about that? Even the biggest weenie has a shadow.

Gameplay: 8 out of 10

The original Baldur’s Gate was playable but had two huge problems. When you paused the game in a battle to stop the action as you changed certain party members’ actions, entering the Inventory screen to change or use equipment (including healing items not placed in quick use slots), the game would unpause. Additionally, the Map screen didn’t name the places to go to. These problems have been rectified.

With these issues fixed, there’s not all that much to complain about. The game handles extremely well. The level design of places is creative and fresh, adding to the experience.

This cave is the lair of some monsters yet left all this liquid around. The things fantasy writers get away with...

This cave is the lair of some monsters yet left all this liquid around. The things fantasy writers get away with…

The one quibble is that the A.I. of party members is still stupid and can get you in trouble if you leave them be when they walk to a specific place or attack one enemy for an extended period of time.

Challenge: 10 out of 10

This game is extremely challenging. You often have to plan your moves carefully or it will all be over. However, it’s never impossible. The fact that you lost just means you have to change strategies.

It's amazing how wide open underground dungeons always are.

It’s amazing how wide open underground dungeons always are.

Overall: 9 out of 10

Basically, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn is a true classic. It has all the good things you can ask for in a RPG and its legacy is well-deserved. Oh, and I like it.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

TuckerDaleTitleTyler Labine as Dale Dobson
Alan Tudyk as Tucker McGee
Katrina Bowden as Allison
Jesse Moss as Chad

You know the irrational way people act in slasher horror flicks? Well, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil hilariously spoofs that irrationality. It’s even set in West Virginia in homage to how many of those movies use a rural setting. I mean, when Friday the 13th left Crystal Lake for one movie that movie was subtitled Jason Takes Manhattan like that was special. Because it was. Rural is the default area for these flicks.

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We know they’re hillbillies because they have baseball caps with earth colors.

We have some college kids with a leader named Chad heading to West Virginia for spring break or a similar vacation. One of these kids, Allison, accidentally gets knocked out while skinny-dipping. two locals named Dale and Tucker save her from drowning and take her to their vacation home for the time being. Allison’s friends think she’s been kidnapped. This misunderstanding, along with the apparent insanity of Chad, leads to a lot of death.

The acting is very good, particularly considering that no one in this film had been in many big films. I was surprised to see that Tyler Labine is Canadian, because he pulls off a southern accent to perfection. He also plays a likable character who makes mistakes but tries his best. Everybody else has good comic timing that elevates the humor.

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How long afterward was a mistrial declared over this judgmental headline?

Speaking of humor, this is a pretty funny movie. Horror cliches like rural settings  and the paranoid asshole among the protagonists are effectively spoofed. Of course, in this case, said paranoid asshole is wrong about the “killers” and actually becomes the killer himself.

This movie is not for those sensitive to gore, though. The violence is intense. There’s finger severings, forehead impalements and, of course, crimson masks. You have been warned.

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Horror villains are never dead until they’re dead. That doesn’t make any sense, does it?

Regardless, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a great comedy. Hilarious, clever, and well-directed. For those who like violence in their entertainment (myself included) it delivers in that category as well.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Batman Returns

BatmanReturnsTitle

Once upon a time, multi-platform games actually meant different, unique games. It was uncommon to see games released on multiple platforms at all. In the case of this review, different games by different companies were released for different systems, though all based on the same movie, Batman Returns.

The PC version (by GameTek) would have been a below average detective game even without awful, boring action sequences that you only watch. The Genesis version (Sega) is pretty good if you don’t mind outrageous difficulty and a lack of plot. The NES version would arguably be the best version if it weren’t for a difficult mystery that has no place in a beat-’em-up that you’re required to solve to see the whole game. The Game Gear version is the most mediocre of them all.

The SNES version is the subject of this review. It’s probably the best of them all, albeit derivative of Final FIght. Still, give credit where it’s due. This is a solid beat-’em-up and Batman game.

Plot: 7 out of 10

This game does a good job of using cutscenes in the intro*, between levels, and at the game’s end to tell the story of the movie. Actual quotes are used that fans of the film will recognize instantly.

The only real problem is that although the intro and advertisement of this game confirm Catwoman’s importance to the story, in the actual game, her two battles with Batman are reenacted before she just mysteriously disappears, never to be mentioned again. The tragic ending of the movie, sadly, is not here.

BatmanReturns2

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Gotta love how the programmers troll the player by having you save Selina Kyle, knowing that she becomes Catwoman. I know that happens in the movie, but still!

*Like many old games you have to not do anything for awhile after turning the game on to see this intro.

Graphics: 8 out of 10

BatmanReturns3

Yes, that appears to be a screen of static behind him.

This game looks great for the SNES. These programmers have the dark, gloomy atmosphere of The Dark Knight down to every character looking just like they do in the movie. The only problem is the crude imposing of character stills from the movies onto whatever background they programmers decided to use that we see in the cutscenes.

Sound: 7 out of 10

The music is recordings of Danny Elfman’s awesome score for the movie and come about as close to the real songs as the SNES’ limitations allow. Some voice acting is included, though, and it’s not nearly as impressive. Much of it seems forced.

Gameplay: 8 out of 10

This game has gameplay schematics similar to Final Fight. Instead of a flat side-scrolling terrain, you can move up and down to maneuver into the best position to attack. You can do jumping attacks, punching-kick combinations, move in close to headbutt or throw the target, or throw a Test Tube to knock out all nearby enemies.

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All superheroes cause millions in property damage. Scientific fact.

The controls handle pretty well, but the lack of uniqueness compared to other 2D beat-’em-ups cost it a point or two. If the lack of freshness leaves the gameplay less than classic, it’s still quite classic.

Challenge: 6 out of 10

Whereas the Genesis version seemed inaccessible to all but truly elite gamers, this one is fairly easy most of the way. While some enemies do hit hard, they’re easily outsmarted and not very fast. Still, the fairly creative variety of enemies do allow for fun throughout the game.

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Ironic that two of the only hard parts of the game are the boss battles against a short, fat, waddling guy.

Overall: 7 out of 10

Not a great game, but an enjoyable one. Fans of the movie will probably like this game even more than most. Just don’t expect a true test of your skills.

Trump’s week of Hell

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The narcissistic Trump with a hands over ears response to any criticism, correct or otherwise.

It’s been less than a week since Donald J. Trump became the nationally recognized Republican nominee, less than week since his last two rivals for the nomination waved the white flag. Let’s see what has happened in that time.

  • On the day of the last meaningful primary, Indiana, Trump accused the father of opponent Ted Cruz of having been involved in a presidential assassination. Trump’s source? National Enquirer.
  • In one of his first interviews after Indiana, Trump opened the door to raising the minimum wage. This despite having said early in his campaign that such an action would hurt the economy, that American workers already make too much.
  • If you thought that was to be the signature flip-flop of the Trump campaign, think again. He laid the groundwork for leaving taxes on the rich alone, if not raising them.
  • On top of all that, he is now proposing a “trillion-dollar” infrastructure program that he actually likens to FDR’s New Deal. And yes, he was promising to cut spending “bigly” three months ago.

    TrumpWeekHell2

    This cigarette is more presidential than Trump.

  • I know what you’re thinking. “Is that all you got? Wretched conspiracy theories and three major flip-flops in one week?” Well, no. There’s also the fact that Trump is dividing his party to the point that even notable Republicans like Paul Ryan and Lindsay Graham are hesitating to support him. Trump’s solution so far has been to lash out irrationally.
  • On top of everything else, Trump has said that his plan for dealing with the U.S. national debt is to “renegotiate” it. And even if this leads to a default on the debt that tanks the global economy, Trump can “make a deal.” You really can’t make this up.

That is quite a beginning for this nominee. Flip-flops that confirm that he doesn’t believe in anything other than himself, wildly false murder accusations, and a proposal that promises to lead to another Great Depression. And he’s one of our choices for President of the United States of America.

Again, all of this happened in week one. How much worse is it going to get from May to November? This is hilarious but horrifying. Never in the history of this country have we had a candidate so not ready for prime time. Sure, there have been plenty of bad presidents, but how many have not even known what they were talking about, nor did they demonstrate any intention of learning?

Donald Trump, age ten.

Donald Trump, age ten.

That is who we have running for president. Donald Trump is widely expected to lose badly. He the kind of bigoted, in your face candidate who seems tailor-fit to turning out the Democratic base while a possibility of Cruz supporters looms large. He is the most unpopular (to be fair, Hillary Clinton is pretty disliked, but nothing like Trump) candidate in forever. Most importantly, his stupid remarks, affairs, and controversial business practices (the Trump University scam springs to mind immediately) are an opposition researcher’s dream come true! I mean, look at how much dirt this mere blogger has just dug up on him from the last week alone! If it turns out like this, no harm, no foul.

Can't believe I forgot the taco bowl.

Can’t believe I forgot the taco bowl to show that he loves the Hispanics.

Thing is, what if it doesn’t? Even if Trump is a long-shot, this is not something I want to take chances on. Trump’s actions have exposed him as dangerously unfit for the office of President. A guy who casually insults people, doesn’t know anything about how the government works, and frankly, would never have been more than a failed door-to-door con man if not for his father’s money, should never be in the same conversation as the Presidency.

By the way, anyone who disagrees with my viewpoint of the egotistical nepotist’s business “skills” is free to look up his bankruptcies and the outrageous amount of money he owes. Hell, he brags about being the “king of debt.” Must be real good to live the kind of life in which incompetence doesn’t matter.

Do the right thing, America!

The Lego Movie

LegoMovieTitleChris Pratt as Emmet Brickowski
Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle
Will Ferrell as President Business
Will Arnett as Batman
Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop
Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius

Yep, a theatrically released movie based on the Lego franchise of toys. After many years of video games, TV shows, and TV specials based on Legos, this may have been overdue. Hey, it’s not the kind of gratuitous advertisement that the Lego ______ games were. Not like they included all the popular characters they could just to leech off the popularity of others.

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Oh snap!

The Lego Movie is a “local boy done good.” kind of film. Emmet Brickowski of Bricksburg is a construction worker whose life is as normal as it gets. That is until he is mistaken for The Special, a hero predicted by prophecy to find the The Piece of Resistance and use it to save the world. Trouble is, he’s found by the bad guys. President Business, a tyrannical tycoon who also seems to own the police, is plotting to destroy the world. Upon learning of Emmet, Business has a police officer named Bad Cop (whose conscience and erratic personality occasionally turn him into Good Cop) capture, interrogate, and kill Emmet. Luckily, a freedom fighter who answers to the code name Wyldstyle rescues Emmet because of what he’s said to do. The pair rendezvous with the crimefighter Batman and the wizard Vitruvius to plan their next move. What they don’t realize is that Emmet is anything but a model hero.

If all that sounds goofy, that’s the point. This movie is largely a comedy. Really, how could a movie based on Legos not be?

The performances are great! Chris Pratt plays an unlikely hero to perfection. Elizabeth Banks is just as good as a freedom fighter who is amazed by how unqualified the hero is. Will Arnett is basically a parody of Christian Bale’s overacting in the new Batman movies and a darn good one at that. Morgan Freeman seems to be trying to test just how many movies he can appear in. Because he never plays villains, Will Ferrell proves that he was never an overrated actor, he just kept picking the wrong scripts until his post-SNL fame came to end.

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Will Farrell seconds that motion!

How well does the humor work? Pretty well. I already pointed out that Christian Bale’s Batman is funnily spoofed. Jokes about such film cliches as bad cops and good cops, fantasy wizards, superheroes, corporate villains, and more appear throughout this movie. Probably my favorite is how Bad Cop has a personality disorder that sometimes turns him into Good Cop, i.e., we gotta get that thing in here somehow!

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Police brutality for the kiddies to laugh at. Very healthy.

The Lego Movie is much better than I expected. It’s a hilarious animated comedy and fun for the whole family!

Overall: 8 out of 10