Monthly Archives: March 2017

Under Construction. Braves 2017 season preview.

There’s no sugar-coating the 2016 Atlanta Braves. That was by far the worst Braves team since the first Bush administration. Batters were starved for points, basemen routinely missed their throws, catchers couldn’t hold onto the ball when it came their way, and when a pitcher from the bullpen had to get on the field, I knew the opposition was going to score.

I’d like to bitch about how horrible A.J. Pierzynski was, but he was 39. I hate being fair.

Will 2017 be different? Unfortunately, probably not that different. I still don’t see much talent except for like four or five other players: Julio Teheran, Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, and one or two others. Look for another year of awful batting and flawed defense. That’s not a model for success.

I’m sorry. I’d like to believe that this can be a winning baseball franchise right now, but I’m just not seeing it. I don’t know how much better I can put it that this team is lacking talent. We’re in a rebuilding process, so it’s probably good that the front office kept Brian Snitker the manager instead of allowing the Fredi Gonzalez firing to be the beginning of a carousel.

That said, brighter days lay ahead. Or so I hope. According to the experts, we have an elite farm system, one possibly even rivaling the Yankees. It’s creating players that some even believe will transform this team into a contender. That’s how the dominant 1990’s Braves were created, might I add. But we’re still a year or two away from Mr. Miyagi sending these “karate kids” into the big time.

Hey, at least I managed to make a movie analogy that isn’t Star Wars.

Some fans are probably thinking, “but the Falcons were supposed to finish under .500 too.” But a city’s teams are not going to all be of the same quality. Otherwise, Cleveland’s football team would’ve played in the AFC Championship. Sorry, got fanficky there for a moment. One thing that does give me pause, though: the Falcons did have several players unexpectedly break out. Who knows? Maybe the Braves’ younger stars will give us good play sooner than expected.

There is one optimistic development to latch onto: we did get hot towards the end, going 18-10 in our last 28 games. You could argue that this was because we were up against our rivals who we had done well against since Fredi was fired, but why would we have won a series against a fairly good Detroit Tigers team that had a playoff berth on the line?

So perhaps there’s a chance. Either way, I’ll be watching and chopping.

I was doing this at a game last year.

Super Mario Kart

Although Super Mario Kart was the beginning of a series that would eventually lead to Mario Kart 8, I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, nuck FASCAR! On the other, this is a really good game to play. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters. It’s the kind of quality game that a company that was badly losing the sales wars to Sega at the time needed.

Plot: 8 out of 10

Despite the use of the Mario license, this is a racing game at its core. Still, they do appropriately incorporate elements of the games have have the playable racers react to certain situations in character. So I’ll give this high marks despite the lack of much of a real plot. Also, this is the first of these spin-offs to allow those of us morally conflicted enough to pick a bad guy to do so.

Myself included.

Graphics: 8 out of 10

Not the best-looking of games, but still visually solid. Nothing is all that flashy or photo-realistic. However, it does have that “Mario” look about it. And in the pre-voice era everyone acting perfectly in character falls on graphics.

Sound: 6 out of 10

OK, this game doesn’t sound as well as it looks. The sequels are a different story, but the songs in this game sound like uninspired filler.

I always found making the cloud guy the ref to be funny.

I should note that a lot of racers half-ass it here. The idea is that because you need to focus on driving, good sound only distracts. I disagree. If you take this concept to its logical conclusion, I guess no game of any genre that requires focus and/or skill should have good music, voices, or environmental sounds.

Gameplay: 9 out of 10

There are eight racers to choose from: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Jr., Toad, and Koopa Troopa. They have varying strengths and weaknesses. For instances, Toad is slow but handles well, while Bowser is slow to accelerate and corners badly, but is the fastest of them all once he gets going.

Who believes that go-karts could handle this kind of dirt road?

The controls work very well. To shake things up, you can run over “?” tiles to get an item. Many of these items are weapons out of the main Mario games that are designed to momentarily stop an opponent. Weapons are even the focal point of the Battle Mode in which each player’s racer gets three hits before losing. As I recall, this was the most fun mode to play with a friend because of its intensity. Just remember: keep it civil.

Challenge: 10 out of 10

This game has the perfect range of difficulty: from very easy to very hard. You start with the 50cc and 100cc difficulties and Mushroom, Flower, and Star Cup tracks available. The much harder Special Cup becomes available after you get the gold trophy against the computer on all other tracks in 100cc. The 150cc difficulty is unlocked by getting the gold on all 100cc tracks. This is clearly meant to slowly warm you up.

These ghosts are a lot less scary then they would be if they attacked. This issue would be cleared up in later games.

Mushroom Cup on 50cc is easy as pie, but the difficulty gradually ratchets up after that. I still can’t do much in the Special Cup in 150cc. Someday…

Overall: 8 out of 10

A bit overrated in the SNES library, but quite playable and the beginning of a big series. Once you look beyond the obvious cash-in on the Mario franchise, you have a lot of fun playing this one. It’s still totally a cash-in, though.

Hawks no longer the kings of Georgia sports

For a number of years, the Hawks were unquestionably the best team in the state of Georgia. While the Braves and Falcons were both good in the late 2000s and early 2010s, neither could seem to win in the playoffs. On the collegiate level (although neither are my team, I’ll bring them up), Georgia has made it to the SEC Championship twice and Georgia Tech made it to the ACC Championship once. In all these cases the Georgia-based team failed to advance.

The Hawks, though, have many times made it to the second round in the past decade. We’ve even been to the Eastern Conference Finals. While none of those seasons resulted in a NBA Championship, they were a great time to be a Hawks fan. And it wasn’t as though we were more than a piece or two away. But those days seem to be over.

Maybe they were over the moment Al Horford put on a Celtics jersey.

The Falcons just made it to the Super Bowl and just upgraded their defensive line with the addition of Dontari Poe. Many believe that the Braves will be good again in the not too distant future because of one of the best farm systems in MLB. With expected upgrades to Georgia’s roster and GA. Tech having finished well above .500 for two of their last three seasons, they may be on the rise.

The Hawks? They look awful. Our shooting efficiency and ball security have been jokes all season long! We can’t hit the broad side of barn and never lock the door to the ball as one of our players dribbles it. For awhile, we played well by shutting down opposing offenses. But now they’ve figured out our greatest weakness: the 3-point line. This was a problem last season, particularly during Cleveland’s second round sweep of us, but now everyone and their mother is doing it.

I have nightmares. They have this scene in them.

As a result, this team is 5-10 since the All-Star Break. If there are any critical adjustments to be made, they haven’t been made yet; we’ve lost 5 straight. We’re currently clinging to a playoff seed for dear life. At least we don’t have much time to blow it. Not that it really matters. They’re ain’t no other playoff team we can beat at our current level of play. Call me a bad fan if you want. At some point you’ve got to admit that your team is melting down at the worst time.

What’s gone wrong? It’s no real mystery. Demarre Carroll is in Toronto. Al Horford is in Boston. Jeff Teague is in Indiana. Kyle Korver is in Cleveland. Three of these four teams have high seeds as of now.

Taurean Prince is a young forward who’s showing flashes of greatness but isn’t there just yet. Dennis Schroder, though, has pretty much confirmed that he’s not the guy you want as your starting point guard. Then there’s Dwight Howard. While this master of rebounds is definitely our second best player, his lackluster offensive play and tendency to commit fouls probably mean that he’s a net downgrade from Horford.

I’m really starting to get infuriated from seeing Dwight grin after he commits a foul.

This team is in something of a rebuild. We did some trading that got us some future draft picks. That means that this season and probably next season are looking to be disappointments. We just don’t have the talent right now.

And if the draft picks don’t pan out, things will not be getting better for some time for the Hawks.

Is there any hope left for Sega?

I recently watched the Trailer of Sonic Forces. What did I see? A lot of fast-paced action, but this game has the following issue: it looks like the camera will have trouble keeping up with Sonic because he’s too fast. Sure he’s supposed to be fast, but one of the biggest problems these 3D Sonic games have has been the camera being out of place because it’s not fast enough.

Although Sega is financially struggling, it does not seem to learn from its mistakes. But the question is really not why this company would learn but why anyone at this point and time would still put faith in it.

If they wanna try this shot at the messenger, the Falcons were the #2 NFL team last season. Sega’s last year of video game relevance? 1995. Don’t compare this.

If that sounds like an overstatement, look at the history of this company. Back when Sega was in the console-making business, the company survived Nintendo’s domination of video games in the 1980’s, became the top company in the industry for a few years (1991-1994), fell apart for the next several years, and became a third party developer best known for making these mostly mediocre-to-awful Sonic games, although the Football* Manager series is said to be pretty good.

*”Football” as in what we Americans call soccer, just to clarify.

So there’s nothing but a hot run an eternity ago, that still included the epic blunder of the 32X, to see this company as anything but a dumpster fire. That is not generally considered to be a good reason.

Vengeful gamers do know that Sega’s suits and the Sonic Team will retire stinkin’ rich either way, right?

I mean, I watch Youtubers and read bloggers old enough to remember the Sega Genesis expressing disappointment, but how many younger gamers give a shit about this company anymore? Sonic Boom crashed and burned in the sales. I’m not surprised, because most of the talk I’ve seen has come from the gaming vets. What do you expect? Those who know this company only by the mismanaged post-Genesis systems and sub-par Sonics will not hesitate to overlook it.

Not to mention that those who have hoped in vain for this company to rebound all these years only want it for Sonic the Hedgehog. They should face the music; they’re in the same position that Mortal Kombat fans were in a decade ago. Their best hope is for the company to go out of business and the assets to be purchased by a more competent company. I mean competent right now, not twenty-five years ago.

Apology rejected.

In the meantime, enjoy the Youtube rants on Sonic games, if not the games themselves.

Fight Valley

Susie Celek as Windsor
Miesha Tate as Jabs
Cris Cyborg as Church
Amanda Serrano as Vivian

Most independent movies suck. There, I said it. And I know some are going to call me a Hollywood shill for saying that. First of all, I have given high marks to another independent movie, Excision, along with an Asian movie, Killers, that I have reviewed in the past. Second, there’s a reason you can’t find a lot of good movies on Sundance or Lifetime, both of which are crawling with indy films. I’ll agree that those that are good can be very, very good, since they don’t have the limits that Hollywood productions do. But most fail to overcome their budgets and lack of experienced casts and crews.

Breaking Glass Pictures presents Fight Valley. This is an attempt to cash in on the surging popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s women’s division. It’s about how a martial artist named Tori Coro has been killed in a rough town called Camden, New Jersey, her sister, Windsor comes to town to avenge Tori’s death.

Bandanna, ’cause Camden’s so f*ckin’ urban!

The plot doesn’t go so well. Emotional moments are handled badly so the revenge story doesn’t work. Also, they spend way too much time on Windsor figuring out how odd and fierce a town Camden is. As a result, the training part of the movie is so brief as to seem forced.

There’s particularly a lot of overacting in these training scenes.

Performances aren’t the best, either. Everybody is below average, always either sleepwalking through their lines or overacting.

The fight scenes are done well. This movie reportedly has legit martial arts talent. I believe that. But almost everything else is bungled.

This leaves me right back where I started when it comes to independent cinema. While it can be a boon to the industry, it’s not a boon often enough.

Overall: 3 out of 10

NHL 17

nhl17titleSo what’s new in EA’s latest hockey game? Well, it seems that after the backlash over features being cut out of the 15 version (full disclosure: I missed 16), they put at least some of those features back in. Shootout mode is back, along with other stuff.

Other than that, it’s NHL as usual.

Plot: N/A

Graphics: 9 out of 10

These are among the best-looking games on the consoles (of course, so is NBA 2K, though not Madden). Faces are fantastic, as are stadiums and uniforms. Everything about this visual presentation is just right.

nhl17a

Comic book hockey.

Sound: 5 out of 10

Unlike in some other recent NHL games, there are no good intro and menu songs in this one. The theme song of nationally syndicated NHL games is recreated well here, but even that is compromised by Mike Emrick’s inferior, half-hearted commentary. He’s not just phoning it in for these games, either. He sucks at calling the real games as well.

nhl17b

There’s French writings in Canada? Learn something new every day.

Gameplay: 9 out of 10

The controls handle extremely well. They are extremely smooth and fluid. Becoming a hockey player in this game works just fine.

Also, it seems easier to trigger fights than in previous installments of the series.

nhl17c

They got the slogans right, I’ll give them that.

The only problem is that seasons in this game are still too long. Playing an entire career is ridiculously time-consuming because there are so many games to play before the playoffs (admittedly, that is true to real life).

Challenge: 7 out of 10

Goalies on both sides aren’t very good, but computer opponents do have great formations that make for high-scoring, modestly challenging, fun games.

Why protective but vision-hindering cage masks have their drawbacks.

Why protective but vision-hindering cage masks have their drawbacks.

Overall: 8 out of 10

I would recommend this title. As a hockey simulation, it hits the nail on the head. As a pure video game, it’s an exciting, balls to the wall experience.