Max and the Magic Marker (PC, E)

This is a little kid's game. Small children might see it as an outlet for their imaginations, but anyone else is going to have far more trouble getting the damn physics engine to behave than actually solving the levels. It's so bloody shallow I'm having a hard time even finding anything to say about it.


Breath of Death VII: The Beginning (PC)

Inferior to Cthulhu Saves the World in every way. It's shorter, the music isn't half as good, and while I got some chuckles out of it it's not even as funny as Cthulhu. I suppose the graphics aren't much worse than Cthulhu's, but it doesn't have multiple portraits for different character moods like Cthulhu did and the random battles seem to be mixing bits; the background and layout are straight out of an NES Dragon Warrior, but the sprites are 16-bit. The characters aren't even as interesting as in Cthulhu, where you were joined by a giant talking sword, an alien cat, and a freaking dragon. The most remarkable thing about Breath of Death's cast is that the nerdy vampire's field sprite looks like a lemming, and I don't think that's a good thing. And in Cthulhu, I knew the final dungeon was the final dungeon; Breath of Death felt like it ended a dungeon early, although maybe I shouldn't complain since they were all kind of bland and uninspired, both in background and layout.

Oh yeah, and it was really lame that in the graveyards, all the tombstones in a given cluster say the same thing, leading me to believe Molly the Were-Zombie died six times.

Cthulhu Saves the World had a lot of Lovecraftian influence and JRPG in-jokes, but as a game it still stood on its own. Breath of Death is more of a love letter to old school JRPGs than an attempt at making a new, or at least remarkable one. The town names are portmanteaus of the Japanese and English names of Paladin's Quest, Lufia, Earthbound, and Warsong, the name of the game itself is a portmanteau of Breath of Fire and Final Fantasy VII (at least; I don't know where the "Death" comes from, or if it was chosen for the undead theme and because it rhymes with "Breath"), the prologue totally quashed any doubts I might have had about the cutscenes from Cthulhu being influenced by Phantasy Star IV, the vampire lemming trying to fix the broken robot is straight out of Chrono Trigger (you could argue about this if the vampire wasn't such an obvious homage to Lucca, with possibly a hint of Jeff Andonuts), and I'd like to think the same song playing for every battle including the final boss is a callback to the first Final Fantasy, but it might just be laziness. There's also references to Symphony of the Night, Zelda 2, and Mega Man for the non-JRPG-fanatic crowd. Unfortunately, most of these references are executed in a way that make me cringe instead of nostaligic, and left wondering if I should be proud or embarassed that I actually caught all this crap.

In short, its relationship to Cthulhu Saves the World is like Earthbound Zero's to Earthbound - the only reason to play the first one if you've already played the second is curiosity, but you won't miss anything by skipping it.


The Best of The Colbert Report (TV DVD)

Part of my problem with this DVD might have been that it didn't have full episodes, but a bunch of snippets, so it felt a bit random and unstructured to me. At least it has some of his most important episodes like the prank that got the Wikipedia article on elephants locked, and some of what is here is golden like the eagle porno book and Colbert trolling the DC representative. But other times I was more puzzled by what I was watching than anything.


Painkiller: Black Edition (PC, M)

Painkiller holds a bit of a special place in my heart, because it was the first real FPS I ever completed. Okay, it's not an overly complicated FPS - you're dropped into a level with some guns, and you make your way to the other end while murdering everything that looks at you funny. But there's plenty of variety in the monsters and level designs, and some of the non-boss enemies do require to do more than fire in their general direction (my first time through this game, I'm not sure I ever figured you had to kill those muscly dudes with the flamethrowers by shooting said flamethrowers, and just shotgunned them until they decided to blow up. Still, freezing their asses and smashing them works even better). I guess I have to concede the colors are a little, well, drab, but what Painkiller's levels lack in color they make up for in architecture and pretty skies. That said, there are some pretty idiotic moments, like the battle with Alastor which requires a lot of luck to get through without flattening yourself on the ground every time Alastor knocks out a floor.

But that pales in comparison to the headaches found in Battle Out of Hell, which is a misnomer because Daniel's trying to get back into Hell. Things get off to a rocky start at the very first level where you're stripped of all your weapons but the Painkiller, and thrown into tiny spaces with mobs of Pinnochio dolls that can take you from 150 to 0 health in a couple seconds. Then it was just bland for a while, with the occasional dose of irritating like the roller coaster ride in Loony Park that felt like it took forever to complete, or the Dead City level with those giant scorpion things that I wasn't sure if I was damaging or not, and the telekinetic fat guys throwing cars at you. And then I hit the Leningrad level, which was one of the most thoroughly unpleasant gaming experiences I've had in a while. You start the level with barely any ammo up against mob of undead USSR soldiers with unbelievable accuracy and their tank with unbelievable accuracy. After about ten game overs you've taken all them, only to turn a corner and find another platoon and TWO tanks with unbelievable accuracy, and this is all before the first damn checkpoint. This goes on for the entire level, and sometimes the entire screen you're on gets carpet bombed for I never figured out what reason, and it ends with a small army and THREE damn tanks all gunning for you. I only got through that level with the gold tarot card that confuses the enemies, and the silver card that lets you use the gold ones three times a level.

The game tones it down afterward, although one stretch of the Coliseum sucks ass and if you plan to take on the Stone Pit with just the checkpoints and not your own saves, prepare for a really annoying level, which brings me to my next complaint. Battle Out of Hell makes one of the biggest mistakes that a first person game can, and forgets that platforming from a first person perspective will never work because you cannot tell where your feet are in relation to the edge of the platform. I can't believe game developers still haven't figured this out (looking at you, Mirror's Edge). And even if you feel like you can make your jumps staring at the ground, Daniel's feet are not rendered, so that doesn't work. Also, during my initial playthrough the only card I unlocked was the one for beating the final boss under a time limit, which frankly kinda surprised me that I pulled it off. I was able to go back and get the one from the haunted carnival, but by that point I was tired of the expansion.

Rating: for Painkiller, for Battle out of Hell

FLCL Complete Series (TV DVD)

Why is it that whenever I hear of anything from Japan "challenging conventions" or "breaking the mold", it's just a bunch of random insanity? Killer7, Bobobo-Bo Bo-bobo, and now this. Is it just that this is the kind of stuff that blows otaku's minds?

Although to be fair, as insane as this was, the manga is even less intelligible. At least I can hazard a guess as to what the hell is going on in the anime.


Axel & Pixel (PC)

Axel & Pixel seems like it was heavily inspired by Samorost2. Both are point and click adventure games with a dude and his dog venturing through strange worlds, both have simple characters against high res backgrounds, and both of them have a tendency to leave you scratching your head trying to figure out what the hell you can interact with. The two main differences are Axel & Pixel has a sense of humor about itself while Samorost2 seemed to be playing it straight (or at least it did until that monk with the real guy's face stuck on showed up), and the terrible vehicle minigames. The balloon is boring, the 4x4 is really annoying, and the boat can be either depending on how much of a completionist you are. The game also lost some points with me because the final boss is one big Shadow of the Colossus reference, although I suppose the Ice Giant was far and away better designed than anything from that game (for one thing, you could actually make out the fucking thing).

I finished the painting, but I didn't bother with the bones. There was one in the stupid balloon level that I tried to get several times and kept missing, and I don't have a damn clue where the last one is.


American Dad! Volume 1 (TV DVD)

Yeah, I don't know why I have this DVD set either, considering how little I think of Family Guy. Maybe I found it cheapy chips or something. If you've seen Family Guy, then you'll know what to expect from MacFarlane: dysfunctional American family having all kinds of wacky things happen to them, subpar animation, lots and lots of dick and poop jokes, other attempts at jokes that are either tedious, totally predictable, or just not funny, and basically being offensive for the sake of being offensive.

Oh yeah, and I had a serious nerd rage in the episode with the sci-fi convention. The CIA gets a note, shows it on screen, and says their top intelligence doesn't recognize it, then in the big reveal Steve and his friends recognize it as Elvish, the language of elves. But it was fucking Japanese, or at least the characters are as the actual text is nonsense. And what makes this especially bizarre is they went through the trouble of having Steve's Japanese friend speak real Japanese, so what the hell, guys?

Really, the best laugh I got in this whole set was "I got beat up by a taco" and even that only got a single "Hah!" out of me.


Kirby's Adventure (NES)

I don't like being too hard on this game because it certainly makes a greater effort than any of Kirby's recent shit, but it's basically the second draft of the Kirby formula (Dream Land being the lackluster first). You'll see things here that will be built upon (and eventually completely ruined) as the series progresses, the most notable being the swordfight with Meta Knight and the final boss clearly inspiring Marx. Something about the controls also felt really off to me, but I can't describe it. Maybe the problem was just that it doesn't handle like Super Star.


Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (PG)

Okay, this movie isn't going to make you stop and rethink your life or anything, but if you'd like to see a film studio find out how many different ways they can kick things like "historical accuracy" and "time paradoxes" and "suspension of disbelief" in the head, then dammit if this isn't a hell of a way to spend an hour and a half. And hey, you may learn a thing or two about history, even if it's just that Keanu Reeves can act convincingly if his role isn't taken seriously.

Still, one thing bugged me. Yeah, I already established that this movie throws reason into a deep grave and buries it alive, but I still didn't understand why Bill and Ted were on a time limit. I know Rufus said something about how time in the present is still moving as they jump around, but couldn't they still go back in time, say to their meeting with themselves in the convenience station parking lot, and just wait it out?

Funnily enough, I didn't realize until I had the two DVDs sitting next to each other that this was done by the same studio that did UHF. Small world.


Steel Storm: Burning Retribution (PC, E)

I feel like the goal of this game was to be as actively irritating as possible. That one level in a brown cave with brown enemies that made me want to beat the guy responsible with the keyboard. Those laser turrets that turn and blast you as soon as you expose one pixel of your ship. Those stupid motherfucking retarded repair cannons that revive downed ships as soon as you blow them up and always seem to be put in places where you can't destroy them without sacrificing a life to the tanks and missile launchers around it (at least Kot in Action showed a little restraint and didn't allow those things to rebuild each other). The levels are also littered with objects that go over the battlefield, like pipes and beams. These objects become transparent when you're under them, but not when enemies are. And since you're not likely to be close enough to an enemy to be under the same ceiling object as them, you'll often find yourself shooting at enemies you can't see, and can only guess where they are by the stream of bullets coming at you. (People thinking "But that's great! It makes the game more challening!" might want to consider putting a bunch of electrical tape in random places across their monitors so they can get the same effect in all their games. Or better yet, just play the game with the screen off). I couldn't even read the mission briefings, where all the I's are replaced with 1's, without getting angry.

And a real pet peeve of mine? Games that insult the player when they quit. I don't care if it's "only in jest", knock it off. Unless it's only an hour long, most people aren't going to finish your game in one sitting, and making fun of them for that is only going to make them less inclined to come back.

But once you get the piercing beam weapon and the homing missiles, the game goes from bloody irritating to total snoozer.

Interestingly, I started playing this game offline with the version I had when I went left home back in mid-September. Some time into Episode 2 I took the game online and an update was applied, which took out most of the Episode 1 levels and changed that episode to "Training". I also didn't recall that terminal at the start of each level where you can select any secondary weapons you've completed previous levels with, and a look at the updates on Steam confirmed they were part of the update.