Neugier (SNES via Flash Cart)
I'm sorry if this quickie is disjointed and rambly - this game was so idiotic I can barely structure my thoughts on it. Duke's tiny sword and squirrely controls make enemy combat incredibly clusterfuckish, and the first phase of the boss fight with the red wizard made me want to strangle somebody, because the hit detection was crap and it was fucking impossible to hit him without getting counterattacked by his little ball thingy. And the jumping puzzles are a pain in the ass. As well as not being able to tell where platforms are in relation to each other, the game is extremely picky on ledges, and Duke practically falls as soon as one pixel of him is off the side - jump a split second too soon and you'll miss. Jump a split second too late, and you'll run off the platform you were jumping from. And the story makes no bloody sense. Let's see if I follow this... Duke's father is being controlled by a witch, who's actually a siren, who seems to be being controlled by a wizard in red, but is actually being controlled by a wizard in purple, who in turn is being controlled by... Duke's father. Any questions?
Despite all the frustrations I had with combat and platforming, the game is almost comically short. My final time was 1 hour 42 minutes, which doesn't include sections I had to replay after quitting or game overing at a boss fight, but even then it couldn't have been much over two hours. Some people might tell me I have no business complaining because Blaster Master can be beaten in two hours. True, but unless you're Ender Wiggin you're not going to the first time you play it. Blaster Master is also a very tightly packed two-hour game. Neugier is two hours of mediocrity and rubbish.
Jamestown (PC, T)
When I say I beat this game, I say that not entirely sure how I'm supposed to play it. That's mainly because when you finish a level, you're sent back to the level select to play any level you've unlocked so far. There is the Gauntlet mode which is a standard play through, but you have to unlock it of all things, and the game treats it like a bonus option. Second, the difficulty settings are misleading. The settings are "Normal", "Hard", "Legendary", "Divine", and "Judgement" (which must be unlocked). But Normal and Hard are both dull as dirt, and you can't play through the whole game on them. So, Legendary is the true "Normal" setting. Then why isn't *that* called Normal, and have the other two called "Baby" and "Easy"? It reminds me of Halo 3 saying it should be played on Heroic, which made me wonder why that wasn't the default setting. To me, that's like a music album telling me to up the bass to get the "true" experience; why didn't the artist just play the music bass-heavy in the first place?
Third, the story is told from Raleigh's perspective, but I don't believe the other three ships you can buy and use are actually piloted by him, but instead by John Smith, Virginia, and Joachim. So, do I have to play through all the levels as the Beam ship for it to be canon? Then why aren't the other guys locked until you beat the game once? And finally, if you start out on Legendary difficulty and beat all the levels once, the game is incredibly short. Like, Yoshi's Story short. And while it's certainly harder than Yoshi's Story (but then, what isn't?), it's not as intense as you'd expect from a bullet-hell shooter. Plus, this being a bullet-hell shooter, it has the tired out "You have to beat it without continuing!" fanboy cliche hanging over it.
Personally? I considered the game beaten when I completed the Gauntlet mode on Legendary with Raleigh. Anything else I could do - Divine difficulty, play through as the other three, single credit run - was bonus.
That said, I should talk about the game a bit. It's very pretty, and I like some of the music although some of it is a bit noodly. The sci-fi reimagining of the British colonization of the Americas is novel. Difficulty-wise it's no Mars Matrix, but it's not a cakewalk, either. If you're like me and would really like to get into a bullet-hell shooter but get your head scrambled by games like Giga Wing or DoDonPachi, this might be up your alley. I just wish Final Form Games had been clearer on what I'm supposed to do with it.
Oh yeah, and you will need a gamepad. Do not try to play this game with a mouse; you will only get frustrated.
Shadow of the Beast (TG-CD)
Shadow of the Beast is in the same group as Golden Axe and... crap, I can't think of anything else. I refer to games that I have a certain fondness for, even though really the game... well, sucks. I absolutely love Shadow of the Beast's graphics and music, but the actual game was practically a beat-em-up that used an absolutely brutal level of difficulty to mask that the game is only half an hour long. The TurboGrafx CD version tones the difficulty down, perhaps too much, or maybe it just makes the base game more obvious and you wind up with a pretty dull trip. And what the hell happened with the jetpack tunnel? You can get through it by moving Aarbron to the very bottom, then pressing right and rapidly firing. You *might* get hit once doing this. And a shortening of the boss' tongue makes that a completely pointless fight.
The TG-CD version also doesn't look nearly as good as the Amiga version. The background of the castle was changed from a loop of those two monster statues to a completely generic stone background, so that place ends up looking like any other video game castle. A lot of animation was cut, notably the three-headed dragon boss which, okay, wasn't exactly super animated on the Amiga, but would still open and close its mouths as it spat fire, but doesn't move at all in this version, so the fireballs seem to just fly out of it. I undertand a TurboGrafx isn't nearly as powerful as an Amiga, and the TG-CD version tries to compensate by adding cutscenes of, say, Aarbron taking off in the jetpack, but all they do is interrupt the game and make the player wonder what the hell that was all about.
I also really hate the wimpy "Uh!" Aarbron makes when he gets hit in this verison.
Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale (PC)
The game I'd compare Recettear most to is Azure Dreams. You go into dungeons, fight monsters, collect treasure, and sell what you get out with. Now, Recette has to make weekly payments on her father's debt, which is a double edged sword. It gives the game a purpose and prevents it from being a faff-around fest like Animal Crossing, but it also prohibits experimenting with store atmosphere because the decoration items that affect the atmosphere the greatest cost a lot of money you need for payments (and also, items don't tell you how they affect atmosphere, so you just have to lay down some crap and see what happens), and discourages fusion because you can't fill your inventory with ooze and toothpicks, but the pricey treasures. And that's if you can actually sell the crap, and don't just get a bunch of people coming in for fish pastries. And don't get me started on how arbitrary and tempermental people can get on your prices. Overall, the whole store aspect can get pretty grating.
The deadlines also interfere with the actual dungeons. You start the game with one adventurer, the swordsman Louie. He gets the job done, but he's boring. But don't sweat it, as you progress and complete events around town, you'll unlock others including a thief, a mage, and a fist-fighting monk. But you get them at lower levels than Louie will be at, and they'll be armed with bottom-tier equipment, plus they all have their own play styles. So you'll pretty much get your ass kicked if you try to take them into the latest floors of the latest dungeon. And you can't waste time leveling them up and getting used to them in the earlier dungeons, as those dungeons won't provide goods that sell at the prices you need to make your payments. Upgrading their equipment is also a pain in the ass - either you can waste inventory slots, slots that treasure could be going into, to hold onto their equipment while they borrow some better stuff from you, or you can cross your fingers and hope they buy better equipment when they come into your shop and not a copy of a book they already have, Elan.
Once you pay off the debt you go into Endless Mode, or "Do Whatever the Hell You Want" Mode. Now you can play the economics system by blowing all your money stocking up on low-priced items to sell when their price goes up. Now you can experiment with your store's atmosphere. Now you can dick around with fusion. Now you can try the other adventurers. But by that point, I was awfully burned out on the game. I did manage to unlock the demon before calling it a quest.
Armitage III (OVA)
An anime Blade Runner wannabe that doesn't come close to being half as good as Blade Runner, with a little Astro Boy mixed in, and spiced up with some good old fashioned softcore robot porn. The biggest problem with this OVA is it makes little effort to make any damn sense. Did they animate the first draft of the script or something? Thing just kinda happen with very little leadup, segues, or consequence, and characters do things for little to no reason. It's established right away that Sylibus, who's so bloody undeveloped in the first episode I half expected him to be a one-off character, hates robots because his former partner was killed by one, because that's original. Then he finds out his new parner, Armitage, is a robot and immediately changes his tune, eventually abandoning his right arm, job, and even name for her, when the more realistic response would be to revile his new partner, unless I'm expected to believe his mind opened up when the villain pointed out he had a bionic leg so shut up with the robot hate. Other things are kept so vague as to be meaningless like Armitage's "flaw," or are poorly integrated like the purpose of the Third-type robots.
The editing is also a disaster, with plenty of confusing jumps in location and time, and important scenes being left out. When did Sylibus and Armitage get assigned as partners? If they already were before Sylibus' shuttle ride they sure didn't act like they knew each other in the spaceport terminal. The first episode ends with the big reveal that Armitage is a Third-type robot, whereupon she screams at Sylibus to stop staring at her (then put some damn clothes on, woman!), tries to kill herself, runs off when Sylibus tries to help her, and tells him not to follow her in the preview for the next episode. Then in the next episode, they're suddenly back on speaking terms through their communicators, and with no discussion of meeting up Sylibus finds her on a playground and she greets him with a great big bear hug. One of the more unintentionally funny cuts is after a perfectly reasonable discussion with Armitage's creator it cuts to an outdoor scene and Sylibus apologizing for losing his temper; either he chewed the doctor out so bad it had to be censored, or the doctor is incredibly anal about how people address him. And where the hell did Sylibus get that mech he jumps into for the final climactic battle?
I guess in stills the OVA looks alright and I'm sure it looks fantastic to people into scantily clad females and cartoon boobies, but in motion it's cheap and choppy as all hell. Not just in the "everyone talks by standing ram-rod stiff while their mouth opens and closes" way you expect from cheap anime, much of the actual motion is pretty half-assed. So Sylibus pulls the plug on this guy who looks vaguely like Arcade from X-Men's robo-orgy, and after Arcade rambles for a bit, Sylibus punches him in the face. Arcade doesn't react at all when he sees Sylibus winding up his punch, physically or verbally (he keeps yammering when anyone else would have dropped what they were saying for "DUDE, WHAT ARE Y-"), and Sylibus' fist stays connected with Arcade's face for a split second before he finally reacts to the blow. And there was one section of the second episode that was either the first thing recorded for the OVA or everyone had hangovers from a drunken party the night before or something, because everyone was reading their lines like actors in an MST3K short.
Also... the first time I saw Sylibus utterly towering over Armitage, combined with his muscular physique, I thought he was supposed to be a really big guy. But later on when he's standing at the same height as all the other men and Armitage barely comes up to anyone else's chest, it becomes clear it's Armitage who's small. Now then... is she meant to be a really small adult robot, or is this underage robot softcore we've got going on here? On one hand, Armitage even acts like a teenager, popping her bubblegum in the middle of meetings, thinking "getting something to eat" means ice cream, and hanging out on the monkey bars. On the other hand, her first direct interaction with Sylibus is to hit on him, police probably aren't hiring many teenagers into their forces, and the male Third says something about how he came off the line right after Armitage, but is still a kid because his creators didn't give him the ability to grow. Given the nature of this OVA she was probably an adult that the animators ran their fetishes over, or else Sylibus not only had sex with a robot, he did it with a freaking teenage one.
And yet, why am I giving this one full Skitty? Because I wasn't offended by this OVA so much as frustrated by it - I probably wouldn't have bothered writing this much about it otherwise. I feel like under the terrible writing, horrible editing, and gratuitous nudity there was this spark of something, call it potential if you like, that maybe somebody who was actually interested in making a story instead of pandering to teenagers, or even a damned second draft could have made into something that, while still very much inspired by Blade Runner would have been worth watching itself, but went unfulfilled and just makes the OVA that much more brutal to watch. Sylibus actually made enough of an impression on me to believe there was a character in there who kept getting flattened by terrible writing. And the scene in the first episode where Armitage is starting some shit with a receptionist when Sylibus picks her up, throws her over his shoulder, and carries her away kicking and screaming was mildly amusing.
Dragon Wars: D-War, with RiffTrax Audio (PG-13)
All my previous RiffTrax viewings have been ready-to-go DVDs, so I figured it was high time to figure out the whole MP3 syncing thing. I put the sound file on my iPod and attached it to some external speakers, and after fighting with a POS DVD player that stalls for a second when you unpause it and the dogs howling at a siren, it was a pretty enjoyable first romp into the core of RiffTrax.
So, Dragon Wars was actually the winner of a San Diego 2009 ComicCon poll from the fans on what movie they'd like to see riffed, and I've really gotta wonder if Kevin meant his string of threats in the introduction - it's that bad. Dragon Wars is the story of a boy and a girl, an evil giant snake who wants to eat the girl to become a dragon, and the army that's happy to let Los Angeles get leveled by Phantom Menace CGI monsters for the girl's life. Don't believe the cover art, the second snake is hardly in the movie, and it's mostly boring chase scene after boring chase scene with the evil snake. Other scenes are just inappropriate, like the evil snake's general getting hit by a car, standing up to menace the heroes for a bit, then getting hit by another car.
The rating's for the RiffTrax version (gold star for the Dragonheart reference). No way in hell am I ever watching the movie by itself.
Tales From Earthsea (PG-13)
Going in I didn't realize this wasn't a Hayao Miyazaki film, and thought, man, I know Miyazaki films were always about the spectacle, but this just plain sucks. The story's bad even for him, and the visuals are lacking the weirdness that makes his films even remotely remarkable - this is just generic fantasy. Turns out it was actually directed by his son, Goro, and this is the first movie he ever directed. That explains a lot.
Based on the books by Ursula K. LeGuin - which I've only read the first in the series of and wasn't exactly wild about - Tales From Earthsea follows the adventures of Ghilbihero Youngguy, who seems to be occasionally possessed by something, which is never explained or overcome, so maybe he's just extremely bipolar, as he kills his father for a phallic sword, runs away from home, is taken under the wing of Ghiblimentor Middleage, beats up some bad guys, meets some characters who yak about things that maybe makes sense if you've read all the books, gets duped by a sorcerer who looks like a woman and transforms into a sludge zombie that becomes impossible to take seriously when it starts acting like a senile old man, and learns to love life from an ugly girl who's only ugly in that half her face is red. What little plot there is constantly gets halted for glory shots of fields and animals, or just to show you the fabulous animation of Sparrowhawk putting his hat on. And the "life is precious, and without death you can't truly live" moral somehow manages to be even more ham-fisted and tiring than the "technology is evil" moral of Castle in the Sky.
This movie has absolutey no reason to exist. With a name as imaginative as this one's this may come as a shock, but it offers absolutely nothing fresh. Okay, maybe the art style, but nowadays you can play Machinarium for the same feel, and get a decent game while you're at it. The moral of the film is "believe in yourself and you can achieve anything!" and the villain is a money hungry corporate executive who's evil because he's evil. Oh wait, he's actually evil because his mommy told him to be. That asshole villain from Armitage III had more to him than that.
Last month I said Kung Fu Panda 2 probably could have been cut into a 30-minute cartoon episode. This could have been reworked into a damned 15-minute half episode. The movie then pads itself out with completely unnecessary scenes that add jack shit to the movie, and I guess are just supposed to be visually impressive or funny, but either made me antsy and wishing the movie would move on, or annoyed the overloving hell out of me. Watching the hero robot growing up. The torturously long Rube Goldberg transport scene around the city. Skating on the ball bearings. The armpit sounds. The domnioes. The final battle that's half people pulling powers out of their ass and half crappy attempts at slapstick humor. Or just derailing the movie so Robin Williams can go nuts.
And whoever came up with that robot with an ass like a snail shell? Please get cancer and die. Thank you.
The Black Cauldron (G)
Just a few hours after I watched this, I was already struggling to remember it. By far the most memorable thing was the sheer amount of nightmare fuel for kids there was when the Horned King awakens the cauldron, but there's hardly much of a movie here, and if what I've heard about this being made to jump-start Disney's slumping animation department and failing miserably is true, it's no surprise. The characters are flat, lucky, worthless clowns who spend the whole film getting pulled along by a bunch of deus ex machinas - the dude gets captured and only escapes because the princess happened to come along. The bard is imprisoned and only saved because the hero and princess happened to come along, and does absolutely nothing until the very end of the film. They only escape the castle because of the magic sword the hero stole from a tomb he and the princess happened to blunder into. The trio only found the pig, and then fairy people who lead them to the cauldron, by sheer luck. The trio didn't get eaten by witches because one of them happened to get the hots for the bard. The trio only knew how to stop the Black Cauldron because the witches told them how. And calling the guy a "hero" is incredibly generous, because he doesn't do shit the whole film. And I hated that talking dog thing so bad I not only didn't care when he volunteered to sacrifice himself for everyone else, I actually cheered when he went through with it.
Revenge of the Nerds (R)
One of the original stories of a team of social outcasts using brain over brawn to beat out the cool kids and become the new "cool". It's inspired an episode of The Simpsons, an episode of Futurama, and plenty more, and is practically a required viewing for nerds.
Only thing is, it's totally made with male nerds in mind. The story focuses on the male Lambda-Lambda-Lambda frat house while the female Omega-Mus play backup, and the painty raid may come across as misogynistic to some, and unnecessary pandering to others. It's also just hard for me to believe anyone being half as dickheaded as the Alpha-Betas, much less getting away with burning down their fraternity and trashing another, and they wind up being strawmen.
Still, it was better than Animal House.
The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog Volume 2 (DVD)
More Sonic acid-trip shenanigans ahoy! In fact, this set might be even more screwed up than the first volume. In one episode, Robotnik decides he needs an heir and makes a son. Makes a son. In his lab. And later on, he makes a wife. At least some restraint was shown in not having her look like Robotnik (or should I say his mother), but then Grounder nearly compliments her rack, which seemed rather risque even for this show. Other fucked-upness includes a turtle eating the chewed up gum off the bottom of a shoe, a squirrel character sporting a beehive hairdo that looks way more like she has a giant turd on her head (complete with flies buzzing around it), and Robotnik having a heart attack in one episode. And there's still plenty of sexy Robotnik action to enjoy, whether you want to see Robotnik shake his booty, show off his hot abs, or get dry-humped by an Amazonian, or if it's more your thing, an encore of Mama Robotnik and her ass. You sick, weird person.
Only thing is, everything that makes this show fun and memorable is all on the bad guys. Sonic is a boring, invincible tosser who uses the same tricks to get out of every situation, usually buzzsawing through everything, or putting on a bad costume that still fools even Robotnik, and only succeeds because the writers want him to, or because Grounder is a colossal moron (yeah, Scratch gets tricked too, but he's got nothing on Grounder). Tails, meanwhile, is a whiny shit who frequently complains about how he's not as good as Sonic. There was one episode that starts with Tails trying to raise some money to get Sonic a birthday present and screwing up every job he gets, which left me deeply wishing it wasn't going to be an entire episode of that (fortunately, it wasn't). And don't get me started on the horribly preachy and misguided "Sonic Says" segments. It gets to the point where most of the episodes had me wishing Robotnik would win.
Let me clarify that when I say I couldn't follow Akira, I mean story-wise. But similar looking characters aside, I could always tell what was happening, even if I couldn't always tell why it was happening. Steamboy, meanwhile, is both a visual and narrative mess. For the entire film I had no idea whose side I was supposed to be on, or what anyone's goals were because either everyone's motives were nonexistent and they do what they do because they read the script, or they waffle around like a short-order cook at Denny's. Combine that with scenes that are half obscured with steam and/or so dark I could only see vague movement, and things get even messier. Even when you can make out the visuals, they're really sterile and look less like the successor to Akira and more like something from Studio Ghibli with the color saturation turned way down. Maybe it's because we're dealing with steampunk which has been done so much before, while Akira was about biker gangs, possessed toys, and giant organ blobs.
Most of the film was pretty meh although I totally wanted to punch out the spoiled rich girl, and then the Steam Castle rises and shocks the world by doing absolutely nothing, and more than Ray's world goes to hell. It even throws in a false ending where there's just been a major death and the grandfather gives a long-winded speech that's the moral of the film, when everyone realized there were still 20 minutes of movie left and a bunch of other disasters arise. I also love what a big deal Ray's grandfather makes about making sure the Steam Castle doesn't explode over London when he doesn't mind dropping feet from the castle and crushing a bunch of buildings. And finally... that bit where a bunch of merry-go-round horses and carnival rides pop out of the castle would have been like if Tetsuo's mutation had a phase where he broke out in cotton candy and clusters of lollypops.
Reign of Fire, with RiffTrax Audio (R)
I was actually a bit surprised Bill wasn't in this commentary - you'd think I'd have noticed his name wasn't on the poster, but no, I start the audio file and it's only Mike and Kevin, which is like an episode of MST3K without Crow. In fact, he's missing from many of the early RiffTrax. Was he not on board yet? Well, for dragon-movie RiffTrax, it certainly beats watching the movie by itself, but I wasn't quite as fond of this as Dragon Wars. Maybe it's because Dragon Wars was more B-movie-ish than Reign of Fire. Maybe it was the running gag with Mike and Kevin smacking each other every time one of them says a bad pun, which kinda fell flat. Or maybe I find the absence of a third riffer that noticeable.
The actual movie... let me just say what a cop-out the way the dragons are defeated was. McConaughey somehow deduces that the vast majority of the dragons are female, and there's only one male in the whole wide world, and they need to only kill him to destroy the dragons, and it's living in London. And of course, he's right. If there was only one male in the entire world, then the dragons would have fallen victim to natural selection ages ago, if not from the male getting killed then from massive inbreeding. Yes, there are species of fish where one male has a harem of females, but there's more than one school of those fish, and if you remove the male from a group, one of the females becomes a new male. And what happened to all the females that were still around when they took out the male? Did they eat each other? Did they drop dead when the male did? And what was the point of the scene where Christian Bale goes digging through a dead dragon's yoo-hoo? He pulls out a dragon egg, but nothing ever comes of it and this scene is never called back to. It's basically man-in-dragon porn.
This is Spinal Tap (R)
I'm sure there was a perfectly fine movie here, and I did laugh at a few scenes, like the failing cocoon and the tiny Stonehenge, and I can't ignore that this movie gave us amps that go up to 11. But a constant thorn in my side completely ruined it for me - I can't stand the sight or sound of people chewing gum. In every fucking scene of this movie there was somebody gnashing on their gum like a cow, and I don't know why the sound editor felt it necessary to leave their loud smacking in. It annoyed the ever-loving fuck out of me so bad that every time I saw somebody with gum I'd shift my attention elsewhere - to the cat, or simply stare at the wall daydreaming - and forget about the movie for several minutes. Then I'd suddenly remember it, except a bunch of plot has passed and I wouldn't know what the hell was going on. Just as I'm starting to catch up, another band member is fiercly masticating, and the process repeats.
Part of me wanted to score this movie with a bunch of question marks, meaning I don't know what to score it, and move on. Part of me is asking who thought anyone, even if they weren't chiclephobic, wanted to watch or hear that shit. The latter side won.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, with RiffTrax Audio (PG)
Okay, I guess I wasn't done with Harry Potter, and let me tell you, this is easily the most fun I've had with the franchise. And since it's compatible with the RiffPlayer syncing it was a snap. Sure, it could have used less farting Hagrid and gay Snape jokes, but at least they're funny farting Hagrid and gay Snape jokes and Snape and Quirrel "necking" in the hallway made it all worthwhile. One comment that made me laugh way too hard was at the end when Harry asks Dumbledore (or "Mumbledore" as Bill suggests his name should be) if the creator of the Sorcerer's Stone is going to die if the stone was destroyed, and Kevin says "He's in the bed next to you, kid. Wave bye-bye!"
Even with the commentary I was getting kind of tired of the film around the midpoint. It might have actually been better if I hadn't read the book, except the movie's version of Harry, Ron, and Hermione getting caught running around at night, costing Gryffindor a slew of points, and getting detention in the forest makes no bloody sense (they didn't think to take the invisibility cloak to Hagrid's?). As is, I already knew how it was going to end, and sitting through the kids' accusations knowing who the real culprit was made me want to punch them that much harder. And for what it's worth, the CGI is really dated.
And reading the books, I did not at all imagine Flitwick being a goblin, or Neville looking like a long-haired Pugsly Addams.
Now this you know is a Hayao Miyazaki film, using brightly colored, surreal visuals and a good ass-whooping on reality to distract you from the fact he forgot to include much of an actual story. Ponyo seems to be inspired by the original Little Mermaid story, as it revolves around Ponyo turning from a fish into a girl for the human boy Souske and runs the risk of turning into seafoam if he doesn't love her. And spoiler alert, Souske loves her and all ends well. The problem I had swallowing this is that Souske and Ponyo are little kids, and it's not made clear if this the love of a brother and sister, or the love of a man and a woman. I can buy the former, but children lack the mental maturity to be truly capable of the latter. Even if I'm expected to believe they could seriously love each other, I couldn't help but think of that MST3K comment from The Touch of Satan after the guy sells his soul to the devil to save the girl he barely knew "Because he loves her", about the two of them drifting apart after a couple weeks.