Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Second Opinion: F-Zero vs. Mario Kart

It seems the Video Game Critic site is up to its usual tricks.  You may recall I blasted the site before, or specifically its review of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I.  While I still stand by my opinion without regret, for once, that's not why I'm here.  I'm actually bringing them up as a makeshift celebration for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System's 20th anniversary.  (A full month-long celebration is out of the question, since I don't know quite as many SNES titles enough to be nostalgic about them.)  If you would kindly take the time to dig around their Super NES section, compare their reviews for F-Zero (D) and Super Mario Kart (A+).  You'll notice the former got a near-failing grade whereas the latter got the highest mark possible.  And what do I think?  While I'm nowhere near as bitter as with the whole Sonic 4 debacle, I still have some counter-points to make.

  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo EAD
  • Releases:
    • Super NES, 23 August 1991
    • Wii (DLC), 19 November 2006
  • Genre: Racing
  • Players: 1
  • Rarity/Cost:
Super Mario Kart
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo EAD
  • Releases:
    • Super NES, 1 September 1992
    • Wii (DLC), 23 November 2009
  • Genre: Racing
  • Players: 1-2
  • Rarity/Cost:

First, let's take an objective glance at the games themselves.  Both are racing games which simulate 3-D graphics by scaling and rotating a flat 2-D map in real time.  This ability was courtesy of the much-touted Mode 7 graphics mode of the Super NES.  But both games take vastly different approaches to the same idea.  F-Zero takes place in a futuristic setting and uses sleek hover-cars, whereas Super Mario Kart puts the familiar faces of the Super Mario series onto small-engine go-carts.  As you can guess, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison: both are racing video games, but they taste - err, play differently.

First off is F-Zero.  Having been released first - along with the console's launch, as a matter of fact - I would imagine much of its nostalgia value came from the novelty.  This happens to be a point the Video Game Critic and I agree on.  Unlike most other racing games, in F-Zero you are eliminated if you're below a certain rank.  You also have a power meter which depletes from crashes; your ship blows up when this gauge empties.  Should either happen, you can try again at the cost of one life.  You get one single-use speed boost each lap (starting with the second), and you can recharge your power by driving over repair strips, like a pit-stop.

Second is Super Mario Kart.  As per the name, SMK features the likes of Mario, Luigi, Bowser, the Princess who was still named Toadstool at the time, and four others racing on go-carts.  After each race, the top four-ranking racers get points based on their position, and the winner of the cup is whoever has the most points after the last race.  Come in at fifth place or below, and you'll have to pay a life and try again.  SMK's other big innovation is the use of power-ups which can be collected by driving over "?-block" markers.  Some help you, like the speed-boost Super Mushroom or invincibility Starman, and others attack opponents, like the green and red Koopa Shells or Banana Peels.  Unlike when you take damage in F-Zero, getting hit with one of these items only stops you for a couple of crucial seconds.

With the objective stuff out of the way, let's look at what the Video Game Critic had to say about the two games:

F-Zero: "[...W]hile the illusion of movement is smooth, the surface is noticeably flat and quite pixelated."

Need I remind you that this was early technology.  In still pictures, I'll admit the rotating effects make the track look unimpressively jagged, but bear in mind you'll spend most of your time in motion - sometimes over 500 kilometers per hour (310 mph), as a matter of fact.  Compare that to the carts in SMK, which doesn't even show your speed.  Whatever they're doing, it's probably not enough to break the speed limits on most major highways.

F-Zero: "To compensate, Nintendo made the tracks as flashy as possible, but they tend to look gaudy."

Well, that's just a matter of opinion, now isn't it?

In a related story, let's consider the soundtracks of the two games.  Both have their ups and downs, with F-Zero's music lying mostly in the synth-rock area and SMK taking a more mellow slant with its tracks.  Taking both at their best, I'd give the edge to F-Zero's score, some songs from which I found more exciting and even memorable.  Having been composed by Koji Kondo - only the guy who did the music for Super Mario Bros. - helps.

F-Zero: "There are a lot of CPU-controlled racers, and slowpokes you lap present serious hazards, thanks to F-Zero's 'pinball physics'. [...] It stinks, man."

I'll admit, the physics really bummed me out, too.  The (un)funny thing is, a lot of those "slowpokes" you mentioned don't even count for/against your rank, and only serve to populate the track.  I suppose if you look at that against races in other games, where there are only six or four vehicles on the track at a time, then this might be a good thing.  But when these extra cars only serve to demonstrate the annoying physics model, then it's hard to admit that.

Super Mario Kart: "Thanks to some marvelous SNES 'Mode 7' effects, the ground moves and rotates smoothly below your kart, conveying a sense of speed. [...T]heir textures range from smooth, to wood, to gravel."

And how is this different from when they did the exact same thing in F-Zero?  Both games also have different surfaces here and there; advanced tracks in F-Zero feature low-speed rough, low-traction ice, and other gimmicks.  That said, I can attest that F-Zero has a far better sense of speed than SMK, something I previously alluded to.

This brings up my major issue with Super Mario Kart, especially when compared to F-Zero: the vehicle physics.  Unless you're puttering at a snail's pace, a long-enough turn in SMK will inevitably result in a drift that makes you overshoot your target and slide off the road.  (Among all the game's characters, Toad gets hit with this problem the least.)  The manual drifting, which is a crucial feature in future Mario Kart games, only makes it worse in SMK.  In contrast, the vehicles in F-Zero handle remarkably more car-like.  You still have to slow down and brake for most curves, but you never run the risk of sliding out of control.  Being able to "strafe" with the L and R buttons is also a nice touch which could give you a much-needed edge to your turning radius.

Super Mario Kart: "[...T]he two-player split-screen mode is even better.  The outcome of each race is usually in doubt, but never feels unfair or cheap."

I assume you're talking specifically about the multiplayer races in SMK.  The AI in single-player tournaments isn't exactly what I'd call fair; take a tumble on the 1500cc (hard) difficulty, and you may never get (back) up to first.  Certainly, though, having a human opponent should level the playing field somewhat, so I'll give you that.  Also, whereas F-Zero lacks any sort of multiplayer mode, SMK supports two-player races and the genre-defining battle mode.  It makes me wonder why they couldn't have put multiplayer support in F-Zero.  Maybe a little more time in the oven would've helped...?

In conclusion, while I believe the Video Game Critic's opinions of these two games was too extreme, he did bring up some valid points.  F-Zero's fame to this day survives mostly on nostalgia, given that it was among the very first games powered by Mode-7 graphics, but it has a crucial advantage over Super Mario Kart in that it plays better.  On the other hand, SMK wins points for innovation, from the use of in-race items, to the two multiplayer modes.  Still, neither franchise would become what I'd call "great" until their second entries (Mario Kart 64 and F-Zero X), both on the Nintendo 64.

The Call (F-Zero): B (80%)
The Call (Super Mario Kart): B- (75%)

Next Episode: It's funny I should mention the Nintendo 64...

Friday, August 26, 2011

Random Shots: Back to the Future Part II

Over the past month I've mentioned a bunch of things that I hate, so now for something I love: the Back to the Future series.  Maybe it's because I like history so much, but objectively, I can still say that this is one of the few movie trilogies out there that is consistently good.  Of particular note is the second installment of the series, which is of course Back to the Future Part II from 1989.  It is fondly remembered for two things: one, a story which weaves a new plot line seamlessly on top of the events from the first movie, and two, a speculated view of the future.  In the movie's first act, Doc Brown takes Marty McFly to the year 2015 to keep his future son out of trouble.  With the year 2015 rapidly approaching, and the fact that I taped the first to movies this past weekend, I thought I'd take a look at the technologies and events that were predicted in this scene in a new segment I like to call "Random Shots".

Flying cars: No.  Since so may science-fiction-based predictions of the future have involved flying cars or the like, the writers may have included them just to be ironic.

USA Today takes over the newspaper industry: Not yet.  In order to warn Marty of the trouble his future son and daughter will get into, Doc shows him a newspaper with the events on the front page.  Blink and you'll miss it, but the paper boasts a readership of 3 billion people every day, and since that's roughly ten times the American population at this point, this likely indicates worldwide expansion - something I wouldn't count on with a name like "USA Today".  Still, with local newspapers nationwide folding under the effects of the late-2000s recession, USA Today could either benefit from this or take a hit too...  Who knows.

Queen Diana: No.  Another headline from the aforementioned newspaper reads, "Washington prepares for Queen Diana's visit".  As you may know, the real Princess Diana of the United Kingdom died in a car accident in 1997.  Speaking of which, not that I'm hoping for this per se, but there's still time between now and 2015 for Queen Elizabeth II to die and pass on the crown to Prince Charles and his new wife, Lady Camilla.

Holographic advertisements: No.  As part of an advertisement for the fake film Jaws 17, a holograph-generated shark jumps out at Marty and pretends to eat him before vanishing.  In a related note, 3-D movies have come back in style since the late 2000s, and some devices, most notably the Nintendo 3DS (2011), are able to create this effect without needing users to wear glasses.  But still, 3-D doesn't work that way.  Oh, and the Jaws franchise has been dormant since 1987.

1980s Nostalgia Cafes: Not yet.  50s nostalgia cafes are ubiquitous, but sadly I have yet to see a restaurant themed after the 80s.  But somehow I just KNOW Universal Studios will open up a Cafe '80s in their parks by 2015, just to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If not, PLEASE DO SO UNIVERSAL.

Ridiculous future inflation: Not yet.  In the movie's 2015, a USA Today newspaper costs US$6, a bottle of Pepsi costs anywhere up to $50 (unless Doc was just being generous), and Biff's taxi ride cost around $175.  So far, the US Dollar inflation rate from 1989 to 2011 is over 80%*, so at the most, by the real 2015 prices could double compared to what Marty would be used to.

Hands-free video games: Yes.  In the Cafe '80s scene, Marty sets up and plays an arcade machine of Wild Gunman, prompting some 2015 kids to say, "You use your hands?  That's like a baby's toy!"  Having heard that, I assumed they were referring to mind-controlled games, which are certainly not available on a large scale.  But for a while, even, we've had camera-based control systems like the PlayStation 2's EyeToy (2003) or XBox 360's Kinect (2010).  Or maybe they thought the old U-Force (1989) for the NES would catch on.

Hoverboards: No.  In order to replicate the skateboarding scenes from the previous movie, Marty gets chased by Griff Tannen's gang on hoverboards.  No, you bojo, they won't work over water - or any other surface for that matter.  This was just a special effect created for the movie - although it was joked about by some crew members to be real**.

Stand-alone Pontiac dealers: No.  During the hoverboard chase scene, a Pontiac car dealer can be seen in the background (look for the "neck-tie" logo).  For a long time in the real world, Pontiac cars didn't have their own stores; they were sold along with other GM brands, usually Buick and GMC.  I'm using the past tense, however, because in 2010, in the aftermath of General Motors' financial troubles, they retired Pontiac along with three other brands.  But again, it's not like they could've predicted a financial recession of the magnitude we got.

Chicago Cubs win the MLB World Series: Not yet.   Another headline from the aforementioned newspaper, also repeated later in television form, was that the Chicago Cubs swept the MLB World Series against the Miami Gators.  Let's set aside the fact that the Cubs are widely regarded as one of the worst baseball teams in the league, and look at their opponents.  The Miami Gators are a fictional team, since at the time of the film's writing, there were no pro baseball teams in Florida.  Since then, however, they got two: the Florida Marlins (based in Miami) formed in 1993, and the Tampa Bay Rays in 1998.  Weirdly, the inverse of the event happened in real life: in the 2003 World Series, the Marlins beat the Cubs in the National League Championship (the semi-finals before the World Series), and went on to beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Classic video gaming: Yes.  The antiques store Marty buys the Gray's Sports Almanac from also displays copies of NES video games such as Jaws and Who Framed Roger Rabbit in the front window.  Retro video gaming has come back in vogue in certain circles, assuming it never left.  Although, no one's gonna call those particular games "classics" any time soon; more likely than not, they're just ads for producer Steven Spielberg's previous works.  Since 2006, GameStop stores (at least nearby my home) stopped dealing in... pretty much everything made in the 20th century, but just recently rival chain Game Trader has picked up the slack.

Paperless books: Yes.   When Marty buys the Gray's Sports Almanac from the aforementioned store, the sales clerk mentions that books aren't being written on paper anymore.  Today we have e-book readers such as the Amazon Kindle (2007), to say nothing about the Internet.  But it's not like paper-based books are going extinct any time soon, not by 2015 at least.

Fingerprint-operated doors: Yes.  Eventually, two cops come across the unconscious Jennifer (put asleep by Doc because she saw too much) and take her to her (future) home.  The doors in their home are operated by a fingerprint scanner, technology which has been available for a while now.

Watching multiple TV channels at once: Feasible.  Marty McFly Jr. gets home from his activities and watches six television channels at once, triggered by voice commands.  Similar technology is available to consumers, such as Google TV (2010), letting users run apps side-by-side with TV programming on the same screen.  As for a more authentic setup, complete with voice commands, it's certainly possible with enough hardware and technical wizardry.

Re-hydrated food: No.  For dinner, the 2015 McFly family shares a pizza which was sold shrunken, with the water molecules taken out, then "cooked" in a re-hydrator which brought it back to normal size.  Yeah, I don't think anyone's been able to do that yet - and having the same technology shown in another movie (Spy Kids, 2001) doesn't count.

Glasses-based video phones: Feasible.  During dinner, one of the future McFly kids takes a call on a video phone in the form of glasses.  Video eyeware is currently sold by companies such as Vuzix, but it ain't exactly widespread.  However, this does remind me of something else that shaped the present since this movie was made: the prevalence of cell phones and, eventually, smart phones.

Video conferencing: Yes.  Future adult Marty has two TV-based video calls in this scene, one with co-worker Douglas Needles and one with his boss Ito Fujitsu.  This technology is has been used by businesses and consumers everywhere for a while now.  Skype (2003) says hi.

Internet-based financial transactions: Yes.  Needles (played by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers who, incidentally, have a new album out next week) coerces future Marty to take part in some shady business deal, the details of which we never learn.  He initiates this... whatever by scanning his (credit?) card in a reader.  In the real world, e-commerce is widely used (including by yours truly), but few personal computers have an actual credit card reader.  Not many people could have predicted the immense influence the World Wide Web had on our lives since the 90s, but this came close.

Japanese boss: Yes.  Immediately after caving into Needles' peer pressure, future Marty's boss, Ito Fujitsu calls in to tell him that he's been fired.  Although the rise of Japan in the business world was a serious presence before the movie was written, they're still a major player today.  Although, if the movie were re-made today, his boss would more likely be from China or India because... never mind.

And finally... Time Travel: No.  Although to be fair, Doc's time machine was invented in-universe in 1985, and he's pretty much the only one who has it.

*"Inflation Calculator".  InflationData.com.  Retrieved 26 Aug 2011 from http://www.fintrend.com/inflation/Inflation_Calculators/Inflation_Calculator.asp.

**"Back to the Future Part II".  Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.  Retrieved 26 Aug 2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Back_to_the_Future_Part_II.

Next episode: I had mentioned a certain episode of Second Opinion a while back, and I'm finally delivering on it.  Hint: it's a tribute to the Super NES's anniversary.

...Wait a minute, the Marlins did WHAT!? :D

Monday, August 22, 2011

Film Review: Shrek the Third

If it seems like I've been ranting a lot this month, I apologize.  Although it does help that I'm doing so from the safety of my own blog, and not in some forum or comments field where I can be counter-flamed.  But, I have to throw another log onto my personal fire: Shrek.  Ladies, and gentlemen, I hate the entire Shrek franchise with a burning passion and I am not [verb]ing kidding.  To be honest, I used to be able to watch the first two films willingly, although I disliked them for their plots (FIONA!  Y U NO STAY HUMAN?) ...and I still thought they were ugly.  But it wasn't until, say, 2006 that my hate for the franchise - and computer animation in general - solidified.  It seemed every month there was some new [noun]ty CG cartoon in theatres, ripping off Shrek's already-stale formula of age-appropriate (?) scatological humour and pop-culture references.  Like Hoodwinked, Doogal, The Wild, Barnyard... yeah, I'm glad we got those out of our collective cultural memory at all.  Really, the only "good" ones, or at least those I cared about were Cars - at least Pixar gets it - and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which doesn't really count since it was only released direct-to-video in America.  But seriously, the only traditionally-animated film in wide release in America that year was a Curious George film.  Curious.  Freaking.  George.

My hatred for the evil Shrek empire is partly based on scapegoating, but by no means entirely.  Looking at the grand scheme of things, the trend of computer-animated feature films did kick off with Pixar in 1995, but if it weren't for Shrek, they wouldn't be nearly as popular (and poor-quality) as they are now.  But the truth isn't black and white: eventually I came to acknowledge CGI films that were *gasp* good: not counting Pixar's entire output thus far (save Ratatouille), I kinda liked stuff like Kung Fu Panda (by Dreamworks themselves, no less!) and Despicable Me.  I also find it weird that some high-budget video games, particularly from teams like Square Enix, feature pre-rendered CGI clips with a much more realistic art style that happens to be more to my liking.  Perhaps computer animation is just an extention of traditional cartooning art styles; if the original Shrek was a hand-drawn cartoon, as was planned at one point, it may not have been any better, even if I didn't grow to hate it as much.

Which brings me back to the first entry in the Shrek money-trap series that existed after I had internally declared war on them: 2007's Shrek the Third.  NB I did not pay any money to watch this, a fact I am 100% proud of, but rather rented it from the library.  (I also happened to chance on a copy of Akira that same trip, so at least my karma was balanced out.)  Also notably, I wrote comments on Twitter, which will be worked into the review as needed, whilst watching the movie.  Now I'm going back to it.  May Sabrina have mercy on my soul.  (NB To any Baptists or non-Pokemon fans who are unlikely enough to read my feed, that was not a legally binding prayer.)

Shrek the Third
  • Publisher: Paramount
  • Studio: DreamWorks Animation
  • Director: Chris Miller, Raman Hui
  • Release: 18 May 2007
  • Genre: Comedy, Family

So we start out with Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) racing off on horseback to someplace except... it's only part of some cheap stage show.  I canNOT believe I laughed in the first minute.  At this point I hereby repeat my (not) prayer.  In the next scene we meet our... *sigh* hero (Mike Myers), now the prince to the throne of Far, Far Away, waking up with his wife-turned-ogre Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz).  I could never wake up next to an ugly mug like that - I only wake up with the King, baby... Burger King that is.  We are "treated" to a montage of Shrek (Mke Myers) doing king-like duties (even though he's not the king yet) and failing in ways I could sense a mile away, for example christening a new ship (the bottle breaks the ship's hull), knighting someone (he cuts him with the sword he's supposed to tap him on the shoulders with), and attending a dinner party (the button on his suit breaks loose and causes massive collateral damage).  If this is what he's gonna be like as king, someone please invent the Magna Carta.  Apparently Shrek has the same idea himself.  See, Fiona's father King Harold (John Cleese) is dying, and once Shrek insists he's a bad man... ogre for the job, the King recommends he seek out his nephew Arthur, just before kicking it and... becoming a frog.  Waitaminute, the king was a frog the whole time?  "Flesh wound" my pants.  A funeral ensues, inexplicably set to a recording of "Live And Let Die" by Wings.  Paul McCartney would be rolling in his grave now.  ...He's the dead one, right?

So Shrek, Donkey (Eddie Murphy), and Puss-In-Boots (Antonio Banderas) send off on ship to try and find Arthur, however Shrek just barely gets the news that his wife is pregnant.  It takes a while for him to get it, but he does, and next we see him back at his old tree house (as in, lest you forget, made out of a whole tree) to discover his ogre baby.  Yeah, the Uncanny Valley has not been kind to this filmHOLY CROW!!  THAT BABY JUST VOMITED IN SHREK'S FACE LIKE THE SHOOP DA WHOOP GUY!  And now he's being covered in an avalanche of ogre babies...  Oh wait, if I know Doug, then this has got to be a dream sequence.  And indeed it is (with two wake-ups in a row, I might add).  Finally awake and out of the nightmare(s), the three disembark and come across Worcestershire Academy, which is basically all your typical Hollywood high school tropes re-themed for medieval times.  I don't know about you, but I'm sick to death of these cliches, especially since my personal high school experiences didn't follow them to the letter.  Not that I want to remember them, but that's beside the point.  So, do you know the MacGuffin Man?  Why, he's on the field for jousting practice... being used as the target.  Yes sir, Arthur Pendragon (Justin Timberlake) - as in King Arthur - is the meek and weak whipping boy of the entire school - even the infinitely more dweeby Hollywood nerds.  Seriously, this guy could pass as a bishonen... you don't suppose this could be some kind of subtle anti-gay commentary?  ...Nah, better save that for a target which deserves it.  So for once you're getting off easy.

Meanwhile, a force of evil fairy-tale characters led by Prince Charming has invaded Far, Far Away.  Well, at 35 minutes in, I was not expecting a plot twist this early, I said in sincerity mode.  Fiona and a collection of other princesses, including Snow White (Amy Poehler), Sleeping Beauty (Cheri Oteri) and Rapunzel (Maya Rudolph... I'm sensing a pattern here.), endeavour to escape the castle.  Seeing a Rapunzel parody now that Tangled is out is... jarring.  Like everything else in this movie.  Speaking of which, Rapunzel betrays the group out of love for Prince Charming, the other princesses are thrown in jail, and the villainous force has renamed "Far Far Away" to "Go Go Away".  It's almost as if they want you to go, go away from this movie.  SYMBOLISM!!!

Also meanwhile, the ship that was supposed to take Shrek, Artie, et.al back to Far, Far Away crash-landed on an island inhabited by Merlin (Eric Idle), and Artie, initially excited to take up his role as king, gets turned off by Donkey & Puss's ramblings of the responsibilities and dangers associated with the job, including the apparently-hard-to-pin-down-chronologically "plague".  Yeah, nice job breaking it... *sigh* heroes.  Merlin tries and fails to bring Artie's spirits up until Captain Hook and his unit invades the island and lets slip about the crisis in Far Far Go Go Away.  Spurred into action, the heroes are warped back home by Merlin's magic, albeit with the side effect of Donkey and Puss switching bodies.  Normally I happen to enjoy this kind of comedy, but not when someone as annoying as Donkey is involved.  ...Puss I'll give a free pass to.  An attempt to take down Prince Charming goes awry and the four are captured, and although Artie's life is spared when Shrek spills the beans about Artie just being a patsy to fill in the king's shoes with, he... doesn't take it well.  Temporarily, anyway.

Back to the imprisoned princesses.  The others complain about how useless they are, since in their respective universes the only thing they do is wait to be rescued.  Princesses admitting they wait to be rescued provide the second genuine laugh I've had so far.  But Fiona and Queen Lilian (Julie Andrews) encourage them to use their other traits to their advantage and help them to break out, rescue Shrek, and re-take Far Far Away.  For example, Snow White sings to the birds and forest creatures to gather them to her side, then sends them to attack some gate guards with that scream from Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song".  Pretty cool move, sis; too bad they had to switch to a different song (a cover of Heart's "Barracuda") for the next scene instead of letting it sink in.  Still not the most inappropriate use of music by Dreamworks Animation, given their commercials.

In case you've been wondering about the specifics of Prince Charming's evil plan, he puts on a stage show (and not a good one at that) wherein he intends to "rescue" Rapunzel and slay Shrek - for real.  Sorry bub, Simpsons did it.  He is stopped by the other heroes, who are stopped by Charming's sentries, who are in turn stopped by Artie, who gives the following inspirational speech: "Just because some people treat you like a loser, it doesn't mean you are one. The thing that matters most is what you think of yourself."  By no means, not a bad one when you think about it, but nothing too inspirational.  After all, lots of movies have inspirational speeches, so this ain't reaching memetic status any time soon.  But Artie's speech is lost on Charming, who stabs and kills Shrek - Yay! - except for the fact that he only got him under the arm, as stage actors are wont to do - D'oh!  It takes the tower from the set getting knocked down onto Charming to put him out for good and instate Artie as the new king of Far Far Away.  With that taken care of, we end with scenes of Shrek and Fiona with their new triplets, and a ten-minute credits sequence.  Finally, something I can skip!

So now that I've stared my archnemesis in the face, what did I think of it?  Surprisingly... it's not as bad I could've imagined, but it's still bad in the grand scheme of things.  The plot elements fall back on too many cliches: Shrek dreading the prospect of becoming a father, Artie having to get over the fear of becoming king (although this was still payed with), and of course, the whole school scene says hi.  Personal bias aside, I'll say the animation is good enough to compete in its market, although still not up to the higher standards of Pixar and the Japanese - and I'm talking about stuff that was already made or being made at the time, like Ratatouille and the aforementioned Advent Children.  (Incidentally, I consider Ratatouille to be way overrated, with a hackneyed plot I could follow a mile away, but that's a review for another day.)  But personally, I still hate this movie and the franchise as a whole with the intensity of over nine thousand suns.  (Excuse me while I calculate that.)  Therefore I urge you NOT to buy this movie or any related merchandise.  ...And before you ask, yes, I said that in sincerity mode.  Think about that.

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

Writing: 1 fairy tale character out of 5
Acting: 3 fairy tale characters out of 5
Technical: 2 fairy tale characters out of 5
The Call: 40% (F) 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Music Review: Empire State of Mind

If I could speak with you on a real tip again (am I saying that right?), I'd like to introduce you to one of my rivals: the city of New York.  Let me explain by teaching you something as a bonus.  On the Eastern American Seaboard is something called the "Boswash" or "Northeast Megalopolis", that is, a chain of major cities comprising, for starters, Boston, New York City, Philadephia, and the capital Washington, DC.  Ask anyone from out of the area to define it, and the one city they'd be most likely to leave out is Philadelphia, whereas they'd probably give New York as their first answer.  And here's where the problem lies.  See, I'm from Northeast Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground is where I'm gonna stop there.  I've been constantly annoyed by the lack of recognition suffered by Philadelphia at the expense of our neighborino to the north.  Let's face it; New York has so much more over Philadephia, so much that shaped the image of America as a whole, particularly over the past century.  Whereas the only thing Philly's good for was... only the foundation of America, our land of the free and home of the brave!!  If it weren't for Philadelphia, our Founding Fathers... would've done the same thing elsewhere.  Why do I deflate my own points so often.  Seriously, New York may have been the nation's capital first, before Washington DC was built, but Philly held the title for longer: TEN YEARS!!

This rivalry issue came to a head during the 2009 MLB World Series.  Now, I don't watch sports, but the Philadelphia Philles winning the championship from the previous year was such a rush for me.  Which was why hopes were high when the Phillies made it all the way to the World Series again the following year, in hopes of a repeat.  The only problem was our opposing team: the New York Yankees, the most well-paid and famous baseball team in the nation, if not the world.  While the so-called Phightin' Phils put up a good... "phight", they ultimately lost four games to two.  While I admit it was a fair fight, I was... offended.

From an incident I read about, before the start of home games the Yankees have a bad tendency to introduce their team lineup to the Star Wars main theme, and the visiting team to the Imperial March.  Everyone was saying how fitting it was that they related the Phillies to the Empire, being the returning champions and all... NO.  1) The Yankees have won the World Series 27 times (as of the middle of the 2011 season) whereas the Phillies have just two under our belt, 2) they got some of the most famous baseball players like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter through sheer monetary force, and 3) they debuted the new Yankee Stadium that same year.  Allow me to say, "Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed.  The ability to win a World Series is insignificant next to the power of the Force."  ...Wait, what's with all the Doctor Who references?

In other musical news, Game 2 at Yankee Stadium was preceded by a performance of the following song: "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys.  Let's take a look at this musical middle finger to every place that's not New York City:

Empire State of Mind
  • Artist: Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys
  • Album: The Blueprint III
  • Single Release: 20 October 2009
  • Label: Roc Nation / Atlantic
  • Producer: Al Shux
  • Writers: Angela Hunte, Alicia Keys, Alexander Shuckburgh, Burt Keyes, Jane't "Jnay" Sewell-Ulepic, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, Sylvia Robinson

Yeah, Imma up at Brooklyn, Now I'm down in Tribeca
Right next to DeNiro, but I'll be hood forever
I'm the new Sinatra, and since I made it here
I can make it anywhere, yeah they love me everywhere

Umm, speaking musically, the new Sinatra would be someone like Michael Buble - and he didn't have to write a song like Ol' Blue-Eyes' "New York, New York" to get where he is today.  Besides, he already has someone he can compare himself to.  Like Michael Jordan, he's in the top of his field, but has a bad habit of temporarily retiring.  Don't believe me?  He's even made that reference himself.

I used to cop in Harlem, all of my Dominicanos
Right there up on Broadway, brought me back to that McDonald's
Took it to my stash spot, 560 State Street
Catch me in the kitchen like a Simmons whipping pastry

The critics have called this a coming-of-age song for Jay-Z, and in between all the incessant boasting about himself and his home, I can see shades of that.  Then again, Vanilla Ice claimed to have a gangsta background, and we all know how that turned out.  Not well.

Cruising down 8th street, off-white Lexus
Driving so slow but BK is from Texas
Me I'm up at Bed Stuy, home of that boy Biggie
Now I live on Billboard, and I brought my boys with me

Look down.
Now look up.
Where are you?
You're in Philly.
The town your town could smell like!
Dude, why are you name-dropping so many place names in the first verse?  Just tell me where exactly your home is at this point in time and get on with it!

Tell by my attitude that I most definitely from
[Alicia Keys]
New York

Oh, I can tell from your attitude, alright.  You're trying to tell everyone that everyone sucks but you and your home.  And I don't have to buy that.

Watch me at the X with OG at a Yankee game
[...] I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can

GAH if I hear the word Yankee one more time, I am going to get so angry that I could just run into a store and utterly mutilate any copy of the latest Shrek movie I can find!!!  At this point I would like to revise my score of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to 0% because Short Round wears a Yankees cap the whole time on-screen.

You should know I bleed blue, but I ain't a Crip though

Oh, I thought you were talking about blue blood as in royalty.  Because you certainly have the ego to be a king.

Welcome to the melting pot, corners where we selling rocks
Afrika Bambaataa [...], home of the hip-hop

That is... actually a good point.  I mean, Philly hasn't pioneered any musical genres I'm aware of.  I hereby cede a point to you.  One point.

Yellow cap, Gypsy cap, Collar cab, holla back
For foreigners it ain't fitted act like they forgot how to act
8 million stories out there and they're naked
City is a pity, half of y'all won't make it

Wow, I do not like those odds.  So I guess it's not worth trying to make a new start in NYC if you have a 50% chance of not "making it", whatever that entails.

Me I gotta plug Special Ed and I got it made
If Jeezy's payin LeBron, I'm paying Dwayne Wade

Wait a minute, now you're fixing sports games?  Okay, that is IT, Jay-Z, you owe the Phillies a rematch!!  ...Actually, I am aware that Jay-Z does own the New Jersey Nets in real life, but Dwayne Wade plays for the Miami Heat.  Kinda defeats the purpose of your bragging if you name-drop someone from another team.  Then again, can you name any famous player from the Nets?  ...Exactly.

Edit 13 April 2012: Actually no, I looked up this line, it's a reference to Young Jeezy's “24-23 (Kobe-LeBron)” and it has to do with getting cheap cocaine.  Like, LeBron's jersey number is 23 and Wade's is 3, so Jay-Z's paying $3,000 US for a kilogram of...  See, if I have to explain the joke, it's not worth it!  Also I incorrectly reported that Jay-Z co-owns the New York Knicks instead of the Nets.  Good thing, too, because the Knicks recently acquired Jeremy Lin, someone who actually became famous, so luckily the joke still stands.

Statue of Liberty, long live the World Trade
Long live the king yo, I'm from the Empire State

Aww, you gave a shout-out to the 9/11 victims!  That's a pretty sweet sentiment, I said in sincerity mode!  ...I suppose it would be in bad taste to gloat about the fact that Philadelphia has not suffered any terrorist attacks that I am aware of.  So I'll just mention it like that.

Lights is blinding, girls need blinders
So they can step out of bounds quick, the side lines is
Blind with casualties, who sipping life casually
Then gradually become worse, don't bite the apple Eve
Caught up in the in crowd, now you're in-style
And in the winter gets cold en vogue with your skin out
The city of sin is a pity on a whim
Good girls gone bad, the city's filled with them

Congratulations good sir, you just created an insult out of an attempted compliment.  I mean, when I hear "good girl gone bad" in that context, I think "prostitute", don't you?

Mommy took a bus trip and now she got her bust out
Everybody ride her, just like a bus route

I do believe I'm being offended.

Came here for school, graduated to the high life
Ball players, rap stars, addicted to the limelight
MDMA got you feeling like a champion
The city never sleeps better slip you a Ambien

And again, offended.  Is this song trying to date-rape me for wearing the wrong colours?  And by colours I mean Phillies red.

So there we have it; I've just suffered the slings and arrows for my hometown in the interest of science, or... something.  And what did I think of it?  Well, this song is... pretty good, in the grand scheme of things.  Take a look at the other hip-hop songs that were charting at around the time this came out: "Imma Be?"  "Break Up"?  "Kiss Me Thru The Phone"?  "Bedrock"?  "I Can Transform Ya"?  Anything else with Lil' Wayne on it?  Yeah, Jay-Z is still one of the best and, dare I say, only good rappers of our time.  So what if his flow falls out of tempo every now and then?  Alicia Keys, who was drafted for the choruses and final verse, is equally as talented.  As for the backbeat, minimalist snap music this is not.  Painful as it may be for me to do, I have to give Empire State of Mind its fair share of credit for all the work that went into it.

Lyrics: 3 Yankees out of 5
Composition: 4 Yankees out of 5
Production: 5 Yankees out of 5
Peformance: 4 Yankees out of 5
The Call: 4 Yankees out of 5 (B) 

Now, in case all this fan wanking for New York is too much for you to handle, allow me to provide an alternative.  A response to this song from a Philadelphia 'state of mind' was made during the 2009 World Series, and it's called "Ill State Of Mind" by independent rapper NeeKo, featuring Deena Marie.  If you'd rather root for the City of Brotherly Love, or are just feeling too cheap to buy a copy of the real thing, you can get this song and others for free from NeeKo's mixtape (download link here).  Whichever version you prefer, feel free to support your home town but please, be cool about it.  And remember, anything's possible when your town smells like Philly and not New York.

I'm on a horse.

You are the resistance.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Game Review: 1942 (NES)

  • Publisher: Capcom
  • Developer: Capcom (Arcade) / Micronics (NES)
  • Release: NES, November 1986
  • Genre: 2D Action (Shoot-Em-Up)
  • Players: 1-2 Alternating
  • Rarity: Common (US$5-10)
Okay, I'm gonna say this upfront, just to get you thinking. This is set in World War II, and you play as an American pilot fighting against the Imperial Japanese air force. And this was made by a Japanese company. ...Does this connection seem weird to you? Okay, to be fair, Japan in the 80s was a far cry from Japan in the 40s, and there are no humans shown in-game. Plus, if modern Japan can finally own up to the Tojo era by treating it as a villain, then they may finally have made some progress in that area. In case you haven't been in a Japanese history class lately (neither have I), then you may notice that the Japanese today are very afraid of bringing up their prewar era and the atrocities committed against China, Korea, et. al. therein, almost to the point (if not worse) of modern Germany and the Nazis. Even I'll admit, it wan't exactly Japan's finest hour. Thankfully, 1942 stays clear of all the politics and invites you to just have a good time. But is it good enough to let you do so?

First showing up in 1984, 1942 comes from Capcom's first wave of arcade games, and it became their first true franchise, with somewhere around five sequels made since. It's a pretty simple little shoot-em-up in the grand scheme of things, far-removed from the Bullet Hells of today, but it does evolve the formula set by other titles like Space Invaders and Galaga. You play as a P-38 Lightning fighter for the Allied forces, and your ultimate goal is to survive a series of 32 levels while shooting down any Japanese planes that would pose a threat to your safety. Considering that at this point in time we were gradually moving away from video games you would just try to get a high score at, and could theoretically go on forever, to those with a definitive story and ending, having 32 levels which last as long as they do is pretty substantial. It's certainly a turnabout from its latest sequel, the download-exclusive 1942 Joint Strike, which only has four levels.
Can you see the enemy planes in this shot?
Ignoring how much game we have on our hands, you may believe that what is present isn't all that innovative, but try to understand that it was, for its time. There are numerous types of enemy planes, including some that take more than one hit to shoot down. They move in intricate, looping paths in numbers of up to a dozen on-screen at once. Formations of red planes give out power-ups (most of which, I'll admit, aren't all that impressive). In addition to shooting them down, you can perform loops to prevent yourself from crashing into bullets or other planes. As for how I play, I don't use the loops much; I just keep them for the point bonuses. And blank black space backgrounds? Forget about it: you get to fly over patterned seas and, in later levels, green islands complete with beaches. Too bad they tend to obscure you and/or the other planes.

So, with so much going on, how well did 1942 survive the porting to the NES. Answer: it didn't. The frame rate is atrocious (although this being a shoot-em-up, a little slowdown now and then is appreciated), almost as bad as the last game I reviewed. When oversized enemies fly near the top of the screen, some of their parts will be missing. Don't believe me? Check the screenshot below. On rare occasions, your shots will fail to fire even if the shooting sound effect plays. Even the HUD flickers every so often of you look hard enough. And that music... that horrible noise that's just drums and whistles! Okay, so it is the same music from the arcade version, but it's rendered so poorly and scratchy on this version.
It's not location-specific damage; it's a glitch.
Coming from an earlier time, 1942 is more of a no-frills shooting experience than most of you might be used to. I can imagine that it won't be to everyone's taste, but every now and then I can appreciate games without all those modern complexities. And complicated or not, I have to admire how much content they packed into it all. Seriously, try playing through all 32 levels yourself in one sitting (infinite mid-level continues are gracefully provided). Just do yourself a favor: if you are interested in trying out 1942, stay away from the NES version. A direct port of the arcade version is available as DLC for Wii (US$5) and on Gametap's basic subscription package (US$5/month). Or you could check out its sequel, 1943: The Battle of Midway, which was also ported to the NES. I hear that one runs pretty well.

Control: 3 Lightnings out of 5
Design: 3 Lightnings out of 5
Graphics: 1 Lightning out of 5
Audio: 1 Lightning out of 5
Value: 3 Lightnings out of 5
The Call: 45% (D-)

P.S. At this point, given the recent unpleasantness, I would like to delve into a little editorial content. As you know, Capcom has made a few... boneheaded business decisions over the past month. Out of rage, I was about to suggest to you readers that you boycott any and all Capcom-published games, which includes downloading the aforementioned Wii port of 1942. But I've had some time to think since I came up with the idea, and in this case, I'll say it's okay to buy 1942 if you really want to try it out. We shouldn't look at the company's game portfolio as a whole, but instead give our support to the franchises which deserve it the most. Since 1942 and its sequels are one of their lesser-developed franchises, then, why not?

Next Episode: After my previous rant, I still have some ill will pent up in me, so I'll take it elsewhere, like the Empire State... of Mind.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Editorial: A Message to Capcom

On 18 July 2011, it was announced that Capcom was pulling the plug on development of Mega Man Legends 3 for Nintendo 3DS, along with its planned downloadable demo.  I first read about it on TVTropes a few days after the event, and my reaction was like, "Wait, what?", then I verified it on Wikipedia, and I facepalmed.  ...Okay, so I wasn't anywhere near itching to buy the game on day one, at some other point maybe, but I disapprove more on principle.  See, from its inception last year, Legends 3 was supposed to be this project where the fans would have input on so many of the game's details.  We watched as the fans submitted designs for the female co-lead, and let her keep the same name "Aero" in North America as in Japan.  A poll was even launched to let us choose from possible designs for the hero character.  And now all that's gone.  The official stance from Capcom was that fan interest wasn't strong enough in the project.  Erm... what?  What part of "fan input" were you missing!?  And now I'm reading that Capcom may have planned the cancellation ahead of time, despite the prototype demo being 90% complete.  I don't know, I'll just let wiser people than I explain it.  Click the links above.

Coincidentally, at around the same time, Capcom announced the upcoming release (due November 2011) of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, an updated rerelease of a game they first launched earlier this year.  Among the game's announced content, so far we have word of 12 new characters (many of them could be qualified as obscure) up to a total of 36, along with balancing updates and a spectator mode for online matches, on top of the existing content from the original MvC3, for an estimated US$40-50.  The content announced so far comes across as anemic compared to the likes of Super Street Fighter IV, not to mention unrelated games like the new seventh-gen Mortal Kombat.  Mostly this is a victim of poor timing: apart from being announced just a few months into the base game's lifecycle, it made its debut just a couple of days after the death of MML3.  Officially, the cancellation of MML3 was entirely unrelated to the development of UMvC3, but a lot of fans choose to believe otherwise, and I can't blame them.  So even if it's not the cause of MML3's death, UMvC3 is still the wrong game at the wrong time.

And yet it's ironic.  When you look at it one way, as per a comment on Blistered Thumbs by solss:

Stop with the “Capcom, what happened to you! make more RE and Mega man!”. Us fighting game enthusiasts had to play the same games for the last 10+ years while capcom churned out lame [...] megaman side scrolling game boy games and RE’s which were identical in gameplay in almost every iteration barring RE4/5. After a decade of waiting, capcom finally shows its loyal fanbase some support by FINALLY releasing a new street fighter/mvc, and all you casual players start whining. We had to wait, it’s your turn now.
Apparently, we're crying foul against a sequel (MvC3) we've waited over ten years for.  So no doubt, there's a sizeable chunk of people who had grown tired with the first two MvC games.  But by saying that, we're ignoring a few facts: 
1) This isn't a new game, per se, but an update to one we already got. And this is a franchise we're all too familiar with from them; heck, Street Fighter IV's on its third iteration already.
2) The game Capcom simultaneously axed also saw its last installment (Mega Man Legends 2 in 2000) over ten years ago.
3) I wouldn't exactly call the market for MML3 "casual". It's true a lot of games in the Mega Man franchise as a whole were released in the 2000s, but we have to look at this a different way. There are actually three distinct sub-franchises within Mega Man. There's the 2D platformers: the classic series, X, Zero, and ZX. There's the semi-RPGs, Battle Network and Star Force, and frankly I could live without them. Then throw in the Legends series and you have three distinct styles of gameplay.

Still, the timing couldn't be worse for UMvC3, apart from the reasons I've already given.  See, they've just published another update to SFIV (A port of Super Street Fighter IV for PC), and they're also running trailers for the crossover Street Fighter X Tekken.  So, Capcom, the way I see it, your problem is...


Guys, are you familiar with the concept of "diversifying your portfolio"?  If you were to produce only one genre of games at the rate you're going at, people will eventually get confused from all the similar choices available and not buy anything from you at all.  Think the Video Game Crash of '83 in microcosm.  Yeah, I just broke you.  (And yes, I am aware of some publishers who do specialize in one genre or two - Nippon Ichi says hi - but they're running on a smaller scale and haven't really done anything to draw our ire, not like you.)  As a matter of fact, this pretty much already happened last year, with Activision and the music game genre.  With so many individual Guitar Hero titles released in '08 and '09, in addition to its spinoffs and competitor franchise Rock Band, the backlash was so bad that they put the series on permanent (?) hiatus.  This coming from a company whose CEO wanted to continue to sell games with expensive peripherals all for the sake of more money.  Truly, justice has been served.  Long story short, Capcom, please don't do this to yourself: expand your focus to a wider variety of genres and franchises.  To intentionally belabour the point, yes, bringing back Mega Man Legends 3 would be a good place to start. 

As for the fans, there are many support options available at legends3.com.  You can join the Facebook group "100,000 Strong For Bringing Back Mega Man Legends 3" (as of April 2012 they have broken their titular milestone), become a "Servbot" (named after the series mascot) and sign their online petition thread, or even contact Capcom USA's Senior VP directly.  Come to think of  it, the fact that Capcom's been keeping all these options open to us - Capcom is using that "Servbot" count to predict possible sales - is suspicious, as if they've always intended to release it after all.  Welp, we can't rely on them to play their hand.  We have to take action ourselves.  Please, if not for the game, then for business integrity in general.

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

Next Episode: Okay, I think I've got it all out now.  I should probably take it back to a time when Capcom didn't have dollar/yen signs surgically implanted into their eyes.  Let's review one of their earliest games: 1942 for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Game Review: Doom (SNES)

  • Publisher: id Software (PC) / Williams Electronics (SNES)
  • Developer: id Software (PC) / Structured Software (SNES)
  • Release: Super NES, 1995
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter
  • Players: 1
  • Rarity/Cost: Moderate (US$5-15)

How can you not love Doom.  Despite the fact that Doom was not the first in its genre, it's added so much to the video game industry as we know it today.  It introduced concepts like arbitrary room shapes, elevation changes, floor and ceiling textures, and the ever-popular "deathmatch" multiplayer.  Though intentional, its existence also helped give birth to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, keeping our beloved industry out of the hands of a government which doesn't know the first thing about games.  Doom is one of those rare games that stands the test of time, despite rapidly approaching the big two-oh anniversary.  After its initial launch as a shareware PC game, it received a slew of ports across many, many other consoles, some of them only a couple of years old.  For this review, I'll be focusing on the port made for the Super NES.

Compared to the first wave of Doom console ports, which included the Atari Jaguar and Sega Genesis 32X, the SNES version looks like it has a lot going for it.  The controller, with its L and R buttons, is ideal for strafing techniques.  A handful of the levels are missing, but unlike in some of the other early ports, the map layouts are (nearly) identical to the PC version's.  The music in this version is the most similar to the PC version's soundtrack, whereas the Jaguar version has no music (!) and the 32X's soundtrack sounds awful.  It comes in a red-coloured cartridge.  And to top it all off, it's powered by the on-cartridge Super FX chip, a.k.a. the thing that made Star Fox run.  But here's the thing: if you'd be so kind to take off your nostalgia filter for a moment, you'll notice that Star Fox did not run smoothly at all.  Astoundingly, Doom has it worse.

You can't see well into the distance.
Straight to the point: the problem with porting Doom to the Super NES is that, even with the Super FX chip making it possible in the first place, it runs choppy and slowly almost to the point of, depending on your patience, being unplayable.  This is bound to be a disappointment for anyone who's played it on a PC, and just about any box available right now will run it silky smooth and lightning fast, so there's really no excuse at this point.  And sacrifices still had to be made: the gameplay window doesn't fill up the whole screen, the floor and ceiling patterns were removed, and all the monsters can't face in any direction other than towards you.  The poor graphics somehow spill out and affect the controls, which feel mushy and imprecise.  This game also has extraordinary difficulty rendering monsters in the difference.  While you can shoot and hurt them from long range, good luck telling if you're actually doing anything.  And perhaps the worst part in the long run is two-fold.  The game lacks a save function, and while you can start a game on any one of the three episodes, the later chapters can only be accessed on higher difficulty levels.  This means that you have to start Episode 3 on the hard level or higher, with only the default pistol (unless you took the time to go through the previous chapter) - getting through the first few rooms using this setup is a daunting - if not impossible - task.  Buyer beware.

So this game is garbage when running on the SNES, but at least it was a great game to begin with.  The famously minimalist story has the player character trying to survive a demonic invasion on a research base on Mars's moon Phobos.  Across the 22 levels (5 were cut from the original release), your only goal is to reach the end-level switch; the many zombied soldiers and demons in your way can be eliminated at your discretion.  With the ESRB ratings replacing Nintendo's self-censorship policies that affected their system's ports of Mortal Kombat and id's own Wolfenstein 3D, much of the famous gore has been left intact (some blood effects were removed for technical reasons).  In some ways, this is more of a survival-horror game, with an emphasis on exploration, as the maps are huge and often require you to find colour-coded keys.  And then there are the Secrets, walls that open up in certain places to reward intrepid players with treasure troves of supplies.

You can only play later episodes on hard difficulties. 
As of when I wrote this review, it's been almost eighteen years since the original release of Doom launched.  Obviously, the first-person shooter genre has made leaps and bounds in not only how the games look, but how they play.  If you can get over the lack of modern FPS conventions, I strongly urge you to check out this piece of history, but not on the SNES.  ...But where to start?  It seems like there were so many re-releases of the game, like The Ultimate Doom and Final Doom, and many other user-created map packs (perhaps the first Web 2.0 activity!), plus the two sequels (to date).  Since the original game was sold as shareware so long ago, save yourself the trouble of ordering the rest of the game and start with The Ultimate Doom.  It contains all three episodes of the original game, plus a fourth chapter, and is available on the Steam download store for US$10.  Truly it is the path of least resistance.

Control: 1 BFG out of 5
Design: 4 BFGs out of 5
Graphics: 1 BFG out of 5
Audio: 2 BFGs out of 5
The Call: 40% (F)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Game Review: Sailor Moon S

Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon S: Juugai Rantou!? Shuyaku Soudatsusen
  • Publisher: Angel
  • Developer: Angel
  • Release: December 1994 (Japan)
  • Genre: Versus Fighter
  • Players: 1-2 simultaneous, 1-8 alternating
  • Rarity/Cost: Uncommon (US$15-30)

Have you ever watched the Sailor Moon anime and found yourself wondering why the heroes don't use more unarmed martial arts fighting?  It seems they're way more dependent on their magical finishers, amirite?  Well, as if to rectify this issue, they made a versus fighter using the Sailor Moon licence; two, in fact.  And these are only some of the Sailor Moon-licenced games to hit the Super Famicom across multiple genres.  But if you haven't guessed by the way I referred to their console, they were only sold in Japan.  If you've ever felt despair about how America hasn't shown quite enough interest to get all the Moonie goodies...  Yeah, I'm just gonna stop right there before I dig myself any deeper and start sounding like an actual fan, and instead spend my time discussing the fighting game based on Sailor Moon S.

NB: Since this is an import-only game, I suppose I should take a moment to describe how to play it on other region consoles.  The Super NES does use a software-based region lockout, but Japan and North America share the same region, so for you Western-hemisphere readers out there, this is a non-issue.  There's also a physical lockout issue, although nowhere near as debilitating as with the Famicom/NES.  American Super NES Game Paks are wider than Super Famicom Cassettes, and have two grooves cut into the back corners of the case.  These grooves fit in with two tabs built into the Super NES's cartridge bay.  Try to plug in a Super Famicom here, and the tabs will block it.  So what you can do is pull out these tabs, with a pair of pliers and/or other tools, BEING VERY CAREFUL NOT TO DAMAGE THE CARTRIDGE INPUT SLOT.  You can also get purpose-built adapters like the Honeybee, or certain after-market consoles like the Retro Duo, which come with the tabs missing and are thus ready to run import games out of the box.

Back to the game at hand.  Now, its full title is the blisteringly long Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon S: Juugai Rantou!? Shuyaku Soudatsusen, roughly translated to English as "Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon S: Street Fight!? Battle for a New Leader", so yeah, I'm just gonna stick to Sailor Moon S for short.  Be careful not to confuse it with two different block-puzzle games based on that season alone.  (NB: The cartridge label for this game is orange.)  Since it's based on the third season, where the Outer Scouts were introduced, they're playable in this game as well, except for Sailor Saturn.  She couldn't make it because... she had a little run-in with the plot.  I don't know the details.  The modes available are Story, Versus (against a human or computer opponent), Tournament (up to 8 players in a knockout ladder), and Training.  As per the title, the Story mode depicts the Scouts fighting amongst themselves to determine who should be their new leader.  ...That's it?  No monsters or anything?  You're not even gonna re-hash the show's storyline?  ...Well, that's one thing the Power Rangers game I reviewed has over this.  (A neat little Easter Egg awaits you at the title screen if you should finish the story mode with someone other than Moon.)
Not knowing Japanese, I expected more from the story.
But this game here triumphs over the Genesis MMPR fighter in many other ways.  One big example of this is the Attribute Customize System (ACS), wherein you can improve your fighter's stats before starting a game.  Since the computer uses the ACS whether or not you do, neglecting to do so can be a major handicap.  But since the whole thing's in Japanese, I'll describe the categories for you (listed clockwise from the top):
  1. Elemental Strength: Increases the damage of most special attacks.
  2. ?: Increases the damage of the Desperation Attack, a super-move available when you're at low health or the timer reads under 10 seconds.
  3. Defense: Reduces the damage you take.
  4. Playfulness: Increases the chance that your moves will fail.  Unlike the other attributes, increasing this is a handicap against you.
  5. Physical Strength: Increases the damage of basic and some special attacks.
  6. Life: Increases your starting health bar past 100%.
In addition, the control scheme has two settings: Manual, where you trigger special attacks with Street Fighter-style input combos, or Auto, where you hold L/R and press a face button to do so.  It feels incredibly cheap to pull off specials without having memorised the inputs, especially since there's no limit to how much you can used them.  Ever heard of the Neo-Geo series Art of Fighting?  Well, it had a cooldown meter which weakened special attacks the more they were used.  At the risk of ruining it for everyone else, I wish more fighting games implemented limits like that.

Also, whereas the Genesis MMPR game lacked character specialisation, the Sailor Scouts in this game are pleasantly distinct.  You've got balanced types like Sailors Moon and Venus, the faster/weaker Mercury, and the slower/stronger Jupiter and Uranus.  Even some of the moves are ripped straight out of Street Fighter II; apart from the clasic Hadoken input shared amongst many of the characters, Sailor Mercury also has a version of Chun-Li's Spinning Bird Kick.  And then there's Sailor Mini-Moon, who at half the height of the other characters, can dodge some attacks without even trying.  Oddjob says hi.

Some character differentiation is better than none.
The art style used in this game looks fairly true to its origins, as were many other anime-licenced or themed games from the 16-bit era.  But on a technical level, there's nothing much to get excited over; the only use of Mode 7 that I can think of off the top of my head is in the background of Sailor Pluto's stage.  The music is really sparse, light-hearted fare that I'm glad didn't get stuck in my head.  Voice clips recorded by the show's cast are also present; forgive me if I'm not well-versed enough to tell the actresses apart, but I do appreciate them going the extra mile in this regard.  I do have to give a wag of the finger to the clip Sailor Mercury says when she launches her bubble attack, made even worse since the computer has a tendency to spam that attack when playing as her.

For a versus fighter from the mid-1990s, Sailor Moon S is a pretty well-featured package.  Things like the ACS and the Auto control scheme make this accessible to any novice gamers you might be able to rope into playing with you while still adding some much-appreciated depth.  (So what if it's no good for the hardcore tournament set?)  Now, they also made a sequel to this particular game, based on the fourth season "Super S", but it's a good deal rarer and more expensive to find online, and the feature set is pretty much the same (apart from the inclusion of Sailor Saturn) besides.  If you're ready to strike out into inport gaming and have an interest in the source material, either one of the Sailor Moon versus fighters would be a good game to whet your interest with.

Japanese: 3 kanji out of 5
Graphics: 4 StarS out of 5
Audio: 3 StarS out of 5
Control: 4 StarS out of 5
Design: 3 StarS out of 5
The Call: 75% (C-)

Next Episode: Wait a minute, I've done two Sailor Moon-related entries in a row now?  Man, I need to write up some new man cards...  Let's play some Doom!