X-Men Destiny (T, Xbox 360)

The story behind this game is more entertaining than the game itself: Activision brought on Silicon Knights to make it - yes, the Eternal Darkness guys - but Dennis Dyack kept siphoning resources to a pet project and only checked on the X-Men team to complain about the color of a truck in the background or something. After months of of dilly-dallying with nothing to show for it, Activision finally nailed SK's ass to the ground and they hastily stitched together something resembling an X-Men game. Then after a critical mauling, they had to nuke the source code after losing a lawsuit with Epic Games because they built the game on stolen Unreal engine code. And the pet project was, like, one room. Would it surprise you to learn X-Men Destiny is a load of poo?

X-Men Destiny, I think, wants to be a more action oriented X-Men Legends? You run through facilities full of baddies, gaining experience, spending points, learning superpowers, and occasionally having dialogue with an NPC. Only instead of a team of four mutants with different powers solving situational puzzles you have button mashing, and instead of combat where you had to pay attention to enemy weaknesses and resistances, more button mashing. And everyone looks like they've been rolling in mud and charcoal.

A big deal is made through the game about your choices. You're repeatedly told to think carefully before you do anything because your choices are going to come back to you later, and you're not the only one who's going to answer for it. Except this is all a load of bullshit. Did you destroy that capsule of mutant genes, or give it to Gambit? Who cares! It doesn't even matter whether you help the X-Men or the Brotherhood of Mutants through the game, because regardless of which side's missions you've been taking, both Magneto and Cyclops offer you a spot on their team just before the final mission. I will admit I half considered joining the Brotherhood, if only because it would have been fucking funny after I spent the rest of the game courting the X-Men.

I don't even think which character you choose at the start counts for shit. The trailer made it look like each one had a predefined power, but after you pick a character you then get to pick which power they have. I chose the brick shithouse football guy and gave him rock skin, and all it seemed to affect was a comment he made about losing his scholarship.

I almost gave up at that late-game boss that uses serums to mutate himself. You can't skip the between-phase cutscenes of him picking up capsules and injecting himself, and the second phase takes fucking forever to get through because as soon as you get to him and land a couple punches, he'll teleport to the other side of the room. The final phase switches to a cinematic camera angle that makes it hard to tell where he's going to slam his fist, and if you die before figuring out how to damage him you get to start the whole fucking fight all over again. And you don't even get a health refill at the start of the fight, so if you entered the room by the skin of your teeth and the game autosaved, sucks to be you!

Towards the end of the game there's a boss fight against Magneto (which might be against Cyclops if you're aligned with the Brotherhood but, like, don't cite me on that). Setting aside the absurdity of your rookie mutant ass going up against fucking Magneto, the fight has you running down a corridor, jumping over debris he throws at you, punching Cyclops out of a cage, then punching the shit out of Magneto while he's distracted by Cyclops. And you do this three times. A game that knew what it was doing would at least give him a new ability to mix up each phase, but nope, he just knocks you back down the corridor, presumably to give you your cardio for the day.

And surprisingly, no, the final boss isn't Magneto! Not even a giant Sentinel! It's is a recoloration of a boss you'd already fought twice, and had been used as higher-end trash several times! He has a couple new moves, but you've also unlocked the "Fuck you, I win" transformation power.


Dominic Deegan, Chapters 1-23 (Written and Illustrated by Michael Terracciano)

Almost ten years at this and I've never done a webcomic? Welp, there's always a first for everything.

While I've poked at this comic here and there, I hadn't actually read it past the first main storyline with the crazy noblewoman and a few strips here and there. I intended to get through the series' entire 11 year archive (2002-2013), but only made it halfway through, ending on the oracle hunter and Dominic having his life falling apart. As Dominic is preparing for a vacation around the world, I just couldn't stomach any more. Maybe down the road once I've had time to digest what I've read so far I'll finish it up. And I guess it's just as well, because 11 years of daily comic strips seems like something you want to break up. So here's a look at roughly the first half of Dominic Deegan.

To start off positive, here are the three nicest things I can say about the comic:

1) There are ideas here that could make good stories in the hands of a writer and artist that knew what they were doing.

2) The anatomy is still better than anything from Rob Liefeld.

3) The zombie golem has his moments.

Dominic Deegan isn't the worst webcomic I've seen; Shredded Moose still takes that award. And at the start, it's hard to get that angry at it; the art is sloppy and the writing is dumb, but it'd be hypocritical of me to rag on a webcomic that's just fucking around for lulz. Then a necromancer rips the flesh off his arm and drapes it on another character's face, which I took as the comic's "I demand to be taken seriously now!" moment. Well, if that's what you want, Dominic Deegan, you're a load of cliches and overwrought exposition with a Mary Sue protagonist.

I don't think the art is quite as bad as some people make it out to be, but it's still not great. Everyone having snouts is a well-established complaint, but there's also janky limb positioning and characters' heads sometimes look like they're floating in front of their necks. Some things are just... not how the world works, like how Dominic's younger brother, Gregory, uses a 2x4 that's longer than he is tall for a walking stick. And then there's the occasional colored strips, where we see Dominic dresses like a clown. But overall I'd call the art "unambitious" over "offensive".

Or maybe the problems with the art just get lost behind the problems with the layout. Dominic Deegan uses a 4/8 panel setup, usually depicting the camera parallel to the ground and zoomed right up to characters in 3/4 or profile positions. This is a format for newspaper funnies, and might have worked for the first week or so when it was a silly gag-a-day thing. If you're trying to actually tell a story you need to shake up the panel sizes, camera angles, and character poses. Even fucking Archie understands this. And it's exhausting how many times the comic turns into strip after strip of walls of text with a character's head. The daily 4/8 panel format also means Terracciano feels the need to end strips on bad punchlines, a lot of which are the talking cat summarizing the other three panels with a forced alliteration. So, almost a quarter of the space is already wasted.

Which brings us to the off-smelling, fat and gristle riddled meat of Dominic Deegan, the writing. There's too much of it, for one thing. It's not just the giant walls of text in individual strips, does the comic really need to be this long when so much of it is running in circles and repeating itself? How many times is Luna going to create an illusion of somebody dying horribly to trick her opponent into lowering their guard? Or Dominic go on rambling tirades about stupid people doing evil things? And when you make your main character an oracle, about the worst thing you can do is have them constantly get infodumps in the forms of psychic visions. He doesn't even go looking for them, he'll be getting hanky panky with his girlfriend and he gets a random vision of some bad guy's plot.

And somehow Dominic's rogue's gallery manages to be even duller than him. The most memorable antagonist so far has been Celesto, a rival oracle who wants to see the world burn because it's full of jerky people who are all meanie buttheads to each other. And when that's the best you've got, honey, I don't know what to tell you. Other than him, we've had Luna's mother who was a meanie butthead, an "infernomancer" who sold his soul to a demon for the chance to be a meanie butthead, Luna's sister who was a horny meanie butthead, an arrogant sports jock who was a sexist meanie butthead until Celesto Tetsuo'd him while getting a lap dance, and some businessman who wanted to do some meanie butthead things to a war-torn city to line his pocket and also got splattered by Celesto. Two recent antagonists have gotten away from "because they're meanie buttheads," and instead are just sad and misguided because everybody's been meanie buttheads to them.

There are brief periods where the strip manages the level of... inoffensive, I guess. Or maybe I was just glad to get away from Luna whining about being sad for having deformed teeth and how it's selfish to be sad when other people have problems, or Dominic chewing out racist strawmen and being the only person who can save the world because he's just that awesome. A couple storybeats have made some impression on me, like when Celesto is about to smear the jock's stripper on the wall for being a dirty whore, but backs off when he realizes she's a single mother who's just trying to put food on the table (then proceeded to ram my good will into the ground with a speech about how fucked the world is when that's a thing that can happen). As flat as most jokes fall, I have chuckled a handful of times and I dunno, maybe I'm just an easily amused dipshit with no taste, but I laughed way too hard at the fourth panel here.

But when I say there's seeds of stories in here, that comes with the caveat that it might only be because they were lifted from other sources. There's these two thief characters that pop up now and then: Bumper who's actually fairly mellow, and Stunt who's a bit of a sociopath. They hatch a plan where they pretend to have a falling out so Bumper can cozy up to the heroes, but then Bumper starts legitimately enjoying hanging out with them. Then when Stunt brings a band of thieves in to rob the town Bumper has to secretly help the heroes foil the plan. You may recall this storyline from every children's cartoon ever, right down to the part where Bumper gets ousted and everyone's all "We trusted you!"

Dominic Deegan is also full of stupid bullshit that made me pinch the bridge of my nose and ask "What the fuck am I reading?" The first time this happened was the nurse trying to get into Gregory's pants. Later there's the "Battle for Barthis" chapter, and with a name like that you're probably picturing an epic war, right? No, it's a fucking charity rock concert. And oh my god, what the hell is this?

"Snowsong" has the town being attacked by an ice sorceress, whom Gregory defeats by turning into a superhero inspired by a comic book he read as a kid and... doing magic superhero shit, I guess. Call me an uncultured swine, but in a vacuum I'm not that opposed to the idea of a world of magic users having comic books, although they'd work better in a fantasy setting that's more Harry Potter than Lord of the Rings (and even the latter, you could still have leather-bound graphic novels or scrolls, I guess). Maybe Dominic Deegan thought it could be like Monkey Island and fill itself with anachronisms for humor's sake, but honey, no, you are not Monkey Island, put down the pencil and stop embarrassing yourself.

As for why the hell wizards would need fiction, well, we have literary fiction in our world, and who's to a fantasy world couldn't have stories about superheroes and space aliens. But these things need to be incorporated into the world from the start, and in a way that makes sense. Instead, comic books come out of nowhere five years into Deegan's run, like Terracciano suddenly poked his head in the door and shouted "Oh, by the way, comic books are a thing in this world now, bye!" before running away to write the arc's garbage ending, in which Dominic spends two weeks gibbering on about how everything that happened was masterminded by him. I am not making that up.

And then there's the turns into "dark" and "edgy" that make the stupid stuff even more jarring. There's the orc rape substory that's been thoroughly skewered by the rest of the Internet, so I'm going to set that down and get as far away from it as I can. An example I'm more comfortable touching is the way Siegfried flits among honorable knight, idiot gag character, and raging psychopath until "The War in Hell" and "The Shadow of Siegfried", where he goes full-blown racist shithead who did something incredibly fucked up when he was a teenager, gets dragged to Hell, and returns as a demonic hitman. It's like playing a version of Final Fantasy V where Gilgamesh occasionally mocks disabled kids or rants about rapists crossing the southern border to steal people's jobs.

But let's wrap this up with what really exhausted me on the comic when it did. "Oracle Hunter" has this assassin hunting down oracles and using an enchanted dagger used by an ancient cult to seal their divination abilities. It keeps playing up that this assassin is Dominic's long lost half-sister, as his father's ex-girlfriend was the sole member of that cult who that didn't partake in a mass suicide some years back, and she keeps calling Dominic "brother." A merchant says she looks like somebody he knows but never specifies who, although since everybody in this comic looks the same, that's hilarious. Then it turns out she's Luna's long-lost sister that she just never mentioned before, and "brother" was short for "brother-in-law." At that point, I had enough. Fuck off, Dominic Deegan.


Blood of the Werewolf (PC)

I am on a shit streak this month!

Blood of the Werewolf's gameplay alternates between indoor sections of analog stick shooting in human form, and outdoor sections of tearing shit up in wolf form. The human sections are the more tolerable of the two styles, but overreliant on insta-kill stampers. The wolf sections can fuck off; the wolf is a huge target, has to be in the enemy's face to damage them, has to wait about two seconds between attacks to do any meaningful damage, and something feels off about the double jump. I also kept running off ledges because the collider that keeps the wolf on platforms doesn't go as far back as you think it does. And when your werewolf game has me dreading turning into the wolf, you have done something very wrong.

Add in fucked up hit boxes, cheap-shotting enemies to go with all the one-hit kill traps, and bosses with repetitive patterns but huge health bars, and you have the most irritating game experience of the year so far.

After a final level consisting of obnoxious jumps and an underwhelming final boss, the game ends with a cliffhanger for a sequel that will probably never be made. Do developers keep doing this to make sure they have another project to work on? Or do they run out of money halfway through, cobble together an ending, and ship what they have, hoping to make enough money to finish the story?


New Super Mario Bros. Wii U Deluxe (Switch, E)

I admit it, I don't get the New Super Mario Bros. line. Why are the graphics so rubbery? Why are the bosses total chumps? Why does my character have the enertia of a two-ton safe that's been dipped in bacon grease? Why do I keep getting stuck to walls I don't want to jump off? Why do I keep falling off walls I DO want to jump off? Why is it so hard to step on a Monty Mole? I should mention I played as Luigi who might be more slippery than Mario, but I tried playing as Mario for a bit and didn't notice any improvement.

Yoshi's Crafted World had levels where you were chased by killer clowns or a dinosaur skeleton. And a level silhouetted behind a Japanese paper wall. And that stealth level through a museum. And a bit where you wait for a bus. What does New Super Mario Bros. Wii U Deluxe Purple Monkey Dishwasher have? Well, there's a level that looks like Van Gogh's Starry Night. I guess there's also a level where you're on a platform that stops moving if there are too many enemies on it. And a level where you stomp goombas. And another level where you stomp goombas, but it's in a cave. And a level where you stomp goombas, but it's icy so the the controls even worse. And all the other mechanics we've seen in previous Mario games.

And is it too much to ask for Switch games to have the option to turn off the rumble? The controller vibrating every time you land on something is annoying enough, but the JoyCon rumble is at just the right the right frequency that it makes my physically ill after a while.


DragonSeed (Written by Kurt McClung, Illustrated by Mateo Guerrero, et al, Kindle eBook)

Oh hey, a much better fantasy comic to lighten up the month up after Dominic Deegan. At least this one has pretty artwork and a style of levity that doesn't make me want to throttle 90% of the cast.

Adam is the son of a dragon and a human woman, and one of several hybrids (or "Dragonseeds") bred to guard a machine that in turn holds back the creatures of the Underworld using magic jewels from seven dragons. However, the jewel offered by Adam's father has been stolen, and he has to recover it before the machine fails and all Hell literally breaks loose. Or so it seems, as at the end it turns into an allegory for the successful gaming the system to prevent anyone else from realizing their potential. Or if you want to read really far into it, the elite using superstition to maintain power over the masses.

For some reason the comic is split into three books even though each one is only 50 pages and everything could have fit into a single volume. The first book is okay, but since it's mostly climbing action and establishing lore about the Machine of Prophecy, Dragonseeds, Dragon Tears, and the Green Plague it's not the most eventful. The second book is just pottering around, as Adam meets with somebody who talks for a bit, points him in the general direction to the next person, then gives him a slap on the bum to set him on his way. I guess there's a couple of interesting set pieces along the way, even if I'm not entirely sure what Adam and Polly taking part in the ogre's weapon forging ritual ultimately had to do with anything. The third book is the strongest, obviously being when all the pieces fall into place in addition to a spin on a popular paradox.

A heads up for anyone who wants to look into this, there is a lot of nudity in it (possibly because Game of Thrones made it popular). Butts of both the male and female persuasion, breasts with erect nipples, and Adam's pubes are on full display a couple of times.


Owlboy (PC)

How much you get out of Owlboy depends on how much you're willing to excuse gameplay issues for gorgeous pixel art and colorful writing. The actual game is a decent Metroidvania, but in need of some fine tuning. Your abilities are based on which of three characters you're carrying around and this makes you a huge target, especially when you're carrying Alphonse. I was also having the same problem I had towards the end of Teslagrad and Axiom Verge, in that you have these hectic boss battles that require you to juggle eight buttons, and my pea brain just couldn't handle it as a swordsman zipped around hurling fans of knives at me.

Oh, and as X-Men Destiny demonstrated before that swordsman boss made the same mistake, I really, REALLY hate bosses with unskippable between-phase banter.

And then there's the parts where Owlboy sits back and lets its pretty visuals completely gum up the actual game. There's a late game boss fight against a snake of fire and rock that made my head hurt. All through the fight the screen is shaking, the camera keeps whipping around to focus on which wall the snake is about to burst out of, and the thing is throwing debris and fireballs around like confetti and beads at Mardi Gras. And once you beat it you have to ride it through a spiraling tunnel while rocks fall and the camera spins around, making it hard to tell what direction it's going to move in when you press a direction. Fucking World of Warcraft would tell it to chill out on the visual noise.

When it isn't giving me eyestrain, it is an amazing looking game that takes you through jungles, volcanoes, and arctic tundras. The writing's a bit tryhard at times (the scene where Dirk dumps Twig when he's no longer useful might as well have had him say "Because I'm evil! Nya!"), but the cast is fun. Otis can't speak but portrays a lot of personality through body language, Geddy... needed a couple hard slaps but is overall a good egg, and Alphonse is just adorable. It's a bit of a shame that you don't get the final character until very late in the game, so he doesn't get much time to shoot the shit with the rest of the team.


Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (PG)

So which Pokemon story template did we land on today? "Evil human is using Pokemon to fuck shit up, protagonists must unfuck it while proving there's good in humans" you say?

Detective Pikachu at least fares better than the animated movies. For one thing, Tim isn't a whiny bitch like Ash, and Ryan Reynolds' Pikachu has personality besides "spunky." It also has an actual plot and isn't merely advertising an event Pokemon. It tries to have a point about not taking your time with family for granted, although it tries to have its cake and eat it too. I feel like anyone who watches this having recently lost somebody is going to be incredibly pissed off by the ending.

It's nice when a murder mystery hides clues around so that the viewer can potentially figure it out before the characters do ala Who Framed Roger Rabbit? So it's a bit of a bummer that Detective Pikachu doesn't do it. While the fate of Tim's father is foreshadowed in a heart-to-heart speech between Tim and Pikachu (you also have to wonder why the dad's face is always obscured in flashbacks!), crucial information about the car accident is witheld and the villain's scheme is heavily misdirected so that the climax can be a big "Everything you know is wrong!" moment.

The realistic Pokemon are interesting, a little uncanny at times, but I can certainly think of worse CGI adaptations of video game characters for the big screen (side note: I didn't think that realistic Sonic was as demonic hellspawn-ish as everyone was hyping him as, but yeah, he was still fucking awful). There was one glaring omission though, or to put it another way, where's my Skitty? You had a Purrloin, movie, why must you tease me?

By the way, Pokemon lore, it isn't 1996 anymore. You've introduced Pokemon that control time, space, life, and death, ones that can end the world with drought and floods, and even one that created the universe. How is Mewtwo supposed to still the most powerful Pokemon in the world?


Shazam! (PG-13)

Way back when I read Ultraverse Prime, I came across a comment comparing him to Captain Marvel. Not knowing who Captain Marvel was, much less the twisted story behind him and the other Captain Marvel, whose name hadn't been given to his female counterpart yet (and this only gets more absurd when you extend it to Marvelman and Miracleman and the Neil Gaiman/Todd MacFarlane kerfuffle), I did a search on "Captain Marvel" and was left wondering what the hell an alien sent to conquer Earth only to decide to defend it had to do with a teenager turning into an adult superhero.

Look, I was new to comics, okay?

Aquaman experimented with the idea that people like DC movies when they're lighthearted and doofy, and Shazam! cranks it up to 11. Billy Batson has spent his life moving from foster home after foster home because he keeps running away in search of his biological mother. His latest foster home coincides with a madman releasing the Seven Deadly Sins, and a desperate wizard turns him into a superhero. Because there are no sketchy government agents coming to enslave him to their agenda and even a villain coming to fight him (yet), Billy instead uses his powers to bond with his new foster brother over slapstick and shenanigans. Although it is a bit jarring when two teenagers gagging on beer is followed up by a guy getting his head bitten off by a demon.

Shazam! wants to be a bundle of lighthearted superhero joy, but I can't overlook the painfully overdone storybeats. Is there a scene where somebody tells a group of people he knows the hero to look cool and can even get them to show up at a certain place and time, and then the hero doesn't show up? You bet your bee's knees there is! Is there a scene where the protagonist and his friend get into a squabble, and the hero plays the "you're just jealous!" card? You bet your cat's pajamas there is! Is there a scene where somebody finds their birth family, only to be disappointed with what they find and realize true family isn't about biology? You bet your dog's bollocks there is!

Also, the climax goes on forever with Billy and the other kids running from Sivana, him catching up, them getting away, and him catching up again. Finally something happens that feels like a total asspull until you remember, oh yeah, that actually is a thing in Captain Marvel lore (and I guess the tiger doll was a callback to Tawky Tawny?). Then it drags on a while longer.

Wait, Zachary Levi played Fandral in the Thor films? This was a step up from getting skewered before saying a single line in Ragnarok.


Coco (PG)

When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got into music shows, there was one where Shredder sings a song about how much he hated music (oops). "Hates music" is one of the most bizarre, alienating, and dehumanizing traits you can give a character, more relateable than "stomps puppies" but less so than "terrorizes neighborhoods by spraying shit on houses" (I mean, if they're doing it to a neighborhood of corrupt politicians you could at least argue it's a statement on their bullshit and filth). And when you're applying this trait to characters who are supposed to be the good guys, you've got your work cut out trying to make it not completely stupid.

Miguel's family has forbidden music because his great-great-grandfather took off to pursue a music career, so the great-great-grandmother went on a crusade against all music. Because, you know, that's totally reasonable. So he has to keep his love for music and dreams of being a musician a secret, giving the first act this underlying message that your family will only love you if you stay in line and agree to their irrational beliefs. Not an unfair assertion, just odd to see that kind of cynicism from Pixar.

When Miguel finds out his great-great-grandfather was a famous singer and the town hero, his subsequent actions land him in the afterlife where even his dead family wants him to forsake his dreams. So with the help of a bumbling vagrant he runs into, he sets off to find his legendary relative in hopes of getting his help returning to the world of the living. Except just like Moana, I called the big plot twist early into the film. There's some foreshadowing, including an easter egg I didn't actually see, mainly because I was watching on DVD and if you think people can even see one tiny square on a guitar in standard definition you're out of your mind, but none of that tipped me off. At one point I just said "You know what? I bet this is what's really going on." And I was right.

And before anyone says "Didn't you just complain about Detective Pikachu *not* giving you the clues to figure out the big secret before the villain spelled it out?", again, I wasn't tipped off by any clues in Coco, I called it out of the blue. That's a problem on the other end of the spectrum.

I did warm up to the film after the first act. The land of the dead is a visual treat, and I especially loved that griffin alebrije (oh hey, alebrijes, I learned about those from Guacamalee). Over the course of the movie the message shifts into "Neither dreams nor family should be sacrificed for the other" and Miguel's family realizes they fucked up which is, you know, and plus. And as bizarre as melophobic protagonists are, at least it plays into the movie's climax on the healing power of music.