Monday, August 17, 2015

Top 10: Dumbest Recycled Titles

You know what really grinds my gears?  When a new entry in some serialized form of media comes out, only to use the same title as its first entry with no or negligible changes.  It causes confusion whenever you're trying to talk about one or the other, and it also betrays the lack of creativity our media producers have suffered in recent years.  But some cases stand out more than others, for better or worse... okay, just worse.  Sometimes reusing a name for something doesn't make sense in the context of itself and/or the rest of its series.  Sometimes there's another, more obvious title which for whatever reason got passed up.  And some aren't technically the same title, but are called it anyway by the general public.  In my strike against the system, I'm using those criteria to form the following top-ten list of the dumbest uses of recycled titles.

10) Punch-Out!!
What is it: A 1984 arcade video game.
Not to be confused with: Punch-Out!!, a 2009 video game for the Wii.
Why it's stupid: Another entry in this series, the 1987 NES game Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (a.k.a. Punch-Out!! featuring Mr. Dream) is also commonly referred to as "Punch-Out!!".  It is also one of the most well-known games in the series, arguably more so than the arcade original, and the new one on the Wii.  I don't really have any other excuses, so Punch-Out!! opens this list by virtue (vice?) of having not two, but three entries competing for the same name.
What they should've called it: Punch-Out: WVBA, after the fictional World Video Boxing Association featured in the games.  ...I admit I don't have much to work with here.

9) Seal
What is it: A 1991 album by the British pop singer of the same name.
Not to be confused with: The second and fourth albums by the same person, from 1994 and 2003 respectively.
Why it's stupid: The first two Seal albums were the artist's most successful, both topping the UK's album charts.  They also gave him his biggest hits on both sides of the Atlantic, "Crazy" from the first album and "Kiss From a Rose" from the second.  So we have his only two albums that some of would care about, and they're named the same.  You see the root of the confusion here, don't you?  And if that weren't enough, he made a fourth album in 2003, also called Seal.  Except this time, it actually did get a number on the end, namely Seal IV, although this only happened in Australia.  So why didn't the rest of the world get this title, and for that matter why didn't the second album get the same treatment?  (Just so you can plan ahead, this will be a common complaint throughout this list.)
What they should've called it: Seal II and Seal IV.

8) The Fast and the Furious
What is it: A 2001 film starring Paul Walker and Vin Diesel.
Not to be confused with: Fast & Furious, a 2009 film also starring Walker and Diesel, and the fourth entry in the same series.
Why it's stupid: The Fast & Furious series just couldn't get the hang of sequel titling when it started out.  First there was 2003's 2 Fast 2 Furious, which was ridiculous, and then 2006's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, which ditched the numbering thing altogether.  Which leads us to the fourth movie.  I haven't seen it, but from what I understand, it's not a remake of the first film.  So what's the point?  Perhaps we should be lucky that they didn't use the number 4 as a letter, as in the hypothetical "F4st & Furious", but that argument doesn't hold much weight because we can always imagine things to be worse than they are.  For example, the North Korean government is deplorable, but if you told me to be thankful they don't sic velociraptors on dissident citizens, I wouldn't feel much better about it.  Thankfully the series switched to straight-up numbering from then on (Fast FiveFast & Furious 6Furious 7).
What they should've called it: Fast & Furious 4

7) Ratchet & Clank
What is it: A 2002 video game for the PlayStation 2.
Not to be confused with: Ratchet & Clank, an upcoming PlayStation 4 game scheduled for release in 2016.
Why it's stupid: The upcoming Ratchet & Clank game is a tie-in with the Ratchet & Clank movie, also set for 2016, and both are partial re-imaginings of the first game.  So if it's a reboot, fine.  But why am I disappointed?  One of the game's trailers posted on YouTube included the following description in the title: "The game based on the movie based on the game".  When I watched it for the first time, I thought that was actually part of the title, but that seems not to be the case, which is a shamefully missed opportunity.  A ramblingly long title like that would fall right in line with the series' penchant for humourous subtitles (i.e. "Going Commando", "Up Your Arsenal", "Full Frontal Assault").  Or was it not enough of an innuendo for Insomniac Games to have seriously considered it?
What they should've called it: Ratchet & Clank: The Game Based on the Movie Based on the Game

6) Metal Gear Solid
What it is: A 1998 video game for the PSone.
Not to be confused with: Metal Gear Solid, a 2000 video game for the Game Boy Color.
Why it's stupid: Think about why the original Metal Gear Solid was named the way it was.  The word "solid", apart from referring to main character Solid Snake, referred to it being the first Metal Gear game presented in 3D graphics.  This is obviously not the case for the GBC version.  Furthermore, the Game Boy version was released as Metal Gear: Ghost Babel in Japan.  Its subtitle "Ghost Babel" even shares its initials with the Game Boy itself, a practice which would see relatively wide use once the Nintendo DS rolled onto the scene.  So you could say this game was ahead of its time, not that you'd know from the American release alone.  Again, why wasn't that title good enough for the rest of the world?
What they should've called it: Metal Gear: Ghost Babel

5) The Karate Kid
What is it: A 1984 film starring Ralph Macchio and Noriyuki "Pat" Morita.
Not to be confused with: The Karate Kid, a 2010 film starring Jayden Smith and Jackie Chan.
Why it's stupid: The new The Karate Kid film (Also not to be confused with The Next Karate Kid, a 1994 film starring Hilary Swank alongside Morita) takes place in China, with Jayden Smith's character training for a kung-fu tournament.  As in, not karate.  Of course it would make sense to focus your movie around a local martial art if you're filming in China, but why leave the obsolete title intact?  Sure, there's this one guy who nicknames the main character as "The Karate Kid", but that's pretty flimsy justification in my book.  It turns out, we have to blame for this a mister Jerry Weintraub, producer of both this and the original Karate Kid movies, who vetoed Sony Pictures' attempts to rename it.1  Fortunately, China did not have the same problem, as the movie was titled "Kung Fu Dream" in that market.  Again, why wasn't that good enough for the rest of the world?
What they should've called it: The Kung Fu Kid

4) Dance Dance Revolution
What is it: A 1998 arcade video game.
Not to be confused with: DanceDanceRevolution, a 2010 video game for the Wii, PlayStation 3, and XBox 360, and DanceDanceRevolution, yet another arcade game from 2013.
Why it's stupid: Dance Dance Revolution may potentially hold the record for number of works sharing the same title.  If you want to get technical, as indeed I have, it may also refer to the 1999 arcade version for Asia and North America (based on 2ndMIX) and the 2001 PSone version for North America (based on 3rdMIX).  I'm a bit more forgiving about the new arcade version doing this, though; instead of rolling out brand-new products for each wave of content they deem fit to make, Konami is content with releasing new songs for the game via online updates.  They've also location-tested a version of the game for North America, also titled DanceDanceRevolution and ARGH!
What they should've called it: Dance Dance Revolution New Moves (2010 PS3/360), Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 4 (2010 Wii).

3) XBox
What is it: A 2001 video game console.
Not to be confused with: The XBox One, a 2013 video game console, and the XBox's second successor.
Why it's stupid: After Microsoft launched the XBox 360 in 2005, people started using the term "XBox one" to refer to the first member of the XBox family, similar to how the PlayStation got rebranded as the PSone later in its life.  So now that the third XBox is out and Microsoft decided to call it the XBox One, what are we going to call the first one now?  And you think (as, indeed, I would've hoped) that this confusion would have led to a drop in sales, as in Nintendo's Wii U (sadly), but this seems not to be the case.  Even I'm considering picking up a One, against my better judgement, now that Microsoft have finally laid out a backwards compatibility plan.  ...The name still sucks.
What they should've called it: XBox 3.  Again, not much to work with here.

2) Need for Speed
What is it: Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit, a 1998 video game.
Not to be confused with: Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit II, a 2002 video game, or Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, a 2010 video game.
Why it's stupid: There are other instances of recycled titles within EA's flagship racing game franchise (they've used the name Need For Speed: Most Wanted for two different games in 2005 and 2012), but the Hot Pursuit miniseries takes the dubious prize on this occasion.  Why?  This subtitle was dragged out for three different games.  The third one, 2010's Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, is the closest thing to an actual recycled title, since it lacks any numbers or other embellishments.  But perhaps the most confusing thing about it is that while these three games do feature different numbers, they count down instead of up.  Perhaps we can look forward to a Hot Pursuit Zero in the future, I said sarcastically.
What they should've called it: Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit III, which is not to be confused with the original Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit and AAAARGH!!

1) Sonic the Hedgehog
What is it: A 1991 video game originally released for the Sega Genesis.
Not to be confused with: SONIC THE HEDGEHOG, a 2006 video game for the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Why it's stupid: The newer SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (there's a reason I'm writing it in all caps) is a bad game, I think we can all agree on that.  It's loaded with problems which have gone unsolved since Sonic Adventure whilst piling on additional problems of its own.  But perhaps the most insulting of those problems is that the gave it the same title as the first game, and one of the good ones, at that.  What was the point of doing that?  If Sonic Team meant for this game to be a reboot, to bring the game back to its roots, it failed on that account.  It looks, feels, and plays like an HD rerelease of Sonic Adventure that got beaten to within an inch of its life.  Why not just call it Sonic Adventure 3, as indeed I did before?  And what does this mean for the original Sonic game?  I suppose we could call it Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis, after the game it made its first appearance on, but there are two problems with that.  First, it got ported to many other platforms since then, including consoles which hosted SONIC THE HEDGEHOG.  And second, we already have a game, an execrable remake of the first one, called Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis.  ...AAAAAARGH!!!
What they should've called it: Sonic Adventure 3.  Or better yet, they should never have released it in the first place.

In conclusion, 2006 was a bad, bad year for Sonic fans.  Oh, and can title recycling go the way of the dodo already?

1Horn, John. "'Karate Kid' update breaks down some Chinese walls." Los Angeles Times. May 30, 2012. Retrieved on August 27, 2012.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Game Review: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
  • Publisher: Konami 
  • Developer: Kojima Productions 
  • Release: PlayStation 3/PlayStation 4/XBox 360/XBox One/PC, 18 March 2014 
  • Genre: Action (Third-person, Stealth) 
  • Players: 1 (Internet ranking) 
Question: What constitutes the true play-time of a video game? Is it measured in the length of its canonical story campaign? Or should any supplementary modes be included as well? And where does multiplayer fit in to all this? Well, this conversation got a little more heated with the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, billed as a prequel to the upcoming MGSV: The Phantom Pain. In case you haven't heard, the main story mode and six side missions of Ground Zeroes run, on average, about fifteen minutes apiece. Oh, did I mention that Ground Zeroes is being sold at US$30? Yeah, and it was going to be $40 at first. That may not be as much as the standard price of full-budget video games these days, but for something of this length, I'd expect nothing more costly than a ten-spot, not something treated with the same fanfare and pre-release scrutiny as... well, The Phantom Pain, for example. By any reckoning, I deem this unacceptable. So much so, that my original concept for this review was just an empty page, nothing but blank lines, made purely out of protest. But then I actually played it, and... well, just read on for yourself.

Ground Zeroes takes place in 1975 at a place called Camp Omega, a clandestine American prison-camp in Cuba, which is most certainly "not" inspired by the real-life one at Guantanamo Bay. The place is being run by a villain named Skullface, so named because most of the skin had been burned off of his face in some earlier time, who is in contact with an offscreen shadowy figure known only as Cipher (a.k.a. Major Zero from MGS3). It is here that Snake, alternatively named Big Boss or, as I like to call him, "The Artist Formerly Known as Snake", must rescue Chico and Paz, two children* who tagged along for the ride during 2010's MGS: Peace Walker, and have somehow wound up in Camp Omega.  Actually, with Ground Zeroes being a direct sequel to Peace Walker, I'd advise playing that game if you want to understand even half of the plot. No seriously, it's really good. I recommend picking it up as part of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, which in addition to Peace Walker also includes the special editions of MGS2 and 3, plus the original games made for the MSX. So go do that. I'll wait.

*Actually, it turns out that Paz is actually 24 years old by the time of Ground Zeroes. You see what I mean when I said the Japanese have a [verb]ed-up understanding of age? Ah well, at least it takes the edge off of what happens to her at the end.

Everybody caught up on their Metal Gear lore now? Good, let's move on. You know how I warned you in the first paragraph that each of the game's missions lasts but a fraction of an hour? Well, that's because Camp Omega represents the entirety of the game's playable real estate. The camp's large enough; I'm no good with estimating distances, but it could comfortably fit a fair handful of maps from any given multiplayer shooter. And one of the ending cutscenes is a shootout on Mother Base (the offshore headquarters Snake and company built up during Peace Walker), and the player doesn't get so much as a quick-time event! Come on guys; I know this cutscene is in-game, so you've already rendered the area just to make that cutscene which was apparently so bloody important! Why couldn't you have used it for some additional missions to fill out the game with!?

And speaking of ending cutscenes, at some point Snake and company extract a bomb from Paz's guts -- without anesthetic -- only for her to wake up and announce there was another bomb in her body, presumably in her womb. Dramatic, yes, but what was the point of showing us the ordeal with the first bomb if she's just gonna blow up anyway and send Snake into a coma which lasts him through the start of The Phantom Pain? And Paz, darling, it's lucky you're over 18 or else this would be even more effed up than it already is, and it is already considerably effed up, if you haven't gathered. And that's not even considering the stuff that goes on in the collectible cassette tapes, if you ever bother to listen to them.

For the gameplay we do get, Ground Zeroes introduces a new mechanic to its stealth-action gameplay, and by "new", I mean "borrowed from Far Cry 3". You can tag enemies by looking at them through your binoculars, allowing you to track their movements, even through walls. I must say, it encourages more careful play, or at least tries to. And even if you do get spotted, there's another new feature (and by "new", I mean "it might actually be new in how it's used in this game") caled Reflex Mode, wherein time slows down for a few seconds and you have a last chance to kill or knock out the guy who spotted you before the alarm gets triggered. This last feature is optional, but you get bonus points at the end of your mission if you don't use this feature. Further new features (and by "new", I mean "recycled from Peace Walker") include a revamped Codec system, which eschews the traditional text-based cutscenes in favour of a few lines of context-sensitive monologue, without breaking the flow of gameplay. If you ask me, this is how the Codec should have been implemented from the start.

And of course, Ground Zeroes implements "new" features that are being picked up by every triple-A video game with a drop of shooter blood in its body. Snake's inventory is limited to a maximum of two long guns, a pistol, and four items (such as grenades, C4, and empty magazines), and he regenerates health automatically. It is possible for him to suffer more serious injuries, thus limiting his healing factor, but you can cure these with a button prompt, and there is no limit to how often you can do this, so what's the point? Snake also has a sprinting ability, but I actually liked its inclusion here. Not only does Snake run longer and faster than characters in other games employing the technique, but it's handy for getting out of undesired skirmishes. And with an open world sandbox to play about in, running away to a different portion of the map is a reliable way to hide when you get spotted. Although I couldn't help noticing that the timers indicating the duration of the various alert phases have been taken away, and have been replaced by mere captions.

If you need any proof that the eight-generation consoles are totally unnecessary, look to Ground Zeroes. Both the seventh-generation (PS3 and XBox 360) and eighth-gen (PS4 and XBox One) demonstrate impressive visual details. Any weapons and items in Snake's arsenal are shown strapped to his body at all times (their excuse for limited weapon slots?), and even jiggle about when he runs or sprints. In missions with rainy weather, the water sticks to people's clothes, including fluttering ponchos, with suitable realism. Pretty much the only difference between the two tiers is that the newer platforms run the game at 60 frames per second instead of 30, which is nice, but hardly a dealbreaker, I say. Or, you could just get the PC version, which is essentially the same as the 8th-gen ones, but for a platform you probably already own (assuming you've upgraded it in the past couple of years). Yup, it's never been a better time to join the PC Gaming Master Race (unless Origin or uPlay are involved). Also, the voice of Snake has been swapped from his longtime actor David Hayter to Kiefer Sutherland. What can I say other than, "if you liked him in 24, you'll like this."

This may sound weird given all the examples I've read of the video games industry screwing over consumers, but Ground Zeroes left a positive impression upon me. Maybe I'm just positively inclined towards the game since I borrowed it from the library (even getting all the PSN Trophies in doing so) without paying so much as a cent, but I do have other reasons. Open-world gameplay is a natural fit for the Metal Gear franchise, even if in this case the open-world is smaller than expected. And that being the case, I'm actually kind of excited for The Phantom Pain. I might even pick up that game when it comes out... okay, I'll wait for the reviews first. For now, I can't approve of what Ground Zeroes represents, but if you like it for what it is, I won't hold it against you. So I'll tell you what I'm going to do: I'm going to give it a base score of 80% (B), but you, the reader, get to subtract 5 percent from that score for every US$5 you spent on the game.

+ The new tagging mechanic makes stealth gameplay more fun and satisfying than ever.
+ There's plenty of stuff to do if you stick around for more than one play-through.
+ Very impressive graphics quality, even on the seventh-gen (PS3/X360) versions.

- Excessively brief first-play length.
- Regenerating health and limited weapon slots.

Control: 4 prisoners out of 5
Design: 4 prisoners out of 5
Writing: 3 prisoners out of 5
Graphics: 5 prisoners out of 5
Sound: 4 prisoners out of 5
Value: 1 prisoner out of 5
The Call: 40% (F) to 80% (B) (80%, minus 5% for every $5 you spent on the game)