Wizards (PG)

Way back in the ancient days of December 2019 when "Covid" was looking like something that would blow over like Ebola (damn that feels like so long ago) I watched Fritz the Cat, but never did a quickie about it because I didn't think it was appropriate to bring an X-rated movie in here. That, and Fritz the Cat isn't so much a cohesive story as random crap happening to an asshole for eighty minutes, also there are boobies. But when it released it made such a splash that everyone in the 70s thought adult-oriented animation was the future of movies until Star Wars came along and blasted that idea with a TIE Fighter. So while Wizards is respectable as a piece of animation history, the movie itself just isn't that good.

Wizards takes place millions of years after humans blew up the world in nuclear Armageddon, after which magical fantasy creatures evolved from the ashes. I think the only reason this doesn't take place completely in a fantasy world is because a plot point involves the bad guys salvaging Nazi machinery and propaganda. Yeah, if you've seen that clip of elves being traumatized by footage of Hitler, this is that movie. So the good wizard Avatar assembles a ragtag team and sets off to defeat the evil wizard Blackwolf by way of narration over concept art, excuses to draw the busty fairy character in compromising situations, rotoscoped B-roll footage that doesn't fucking end, and bizarre editing where characters seem to teleport around. At one point a character appears to order a bombing on a building that he's inside... but then again, that character never appears after the explosion, maybe he was just an idiot?

It's weird enough to be worth viewing once if you're fine with the narrative being random crap happening to multiple assholes for eighty minutes, also there are boobies (guess we know Ralph Bakshi's comfort zone), and some of its experiments are commendable. As the heroes get closer to Blackwolf's domain, the cartoony, painted backgrounds give way to hyper-detailed pencil and ink drawings which is interesting, but creates an effect of the characters walking in front of a wall with the background drawn on it instead of being in an environment. And I really wish I had seen the climax unspoiled.

I find it bizarre how recent marketing for this movie hypes up Mark Hamill being in it, when he voices a bit character who says two lines then gets shot. If you're wondering, he's that blonde fairy whose assassination causes the king of fairies to flip out.


Murder Falcon (Written and illustrated by Daniel Warren Johnson, Kindle eBook)

Jake is an amateur guitarist who seems to have nothing to live for: he's lost his wife, his band lost their chance at getting a record deal, and something else is eating at him. Then one night Murder Falcon, a monster-hunting birdman with a mechanical arm who draws strength from heavy metal shows up in his apartment, and the two team up to kick demon ass and chew bubblegum. But to take on the demons' leader, Magnum Khaos, Jake is going to have to get his band back together, hook them up with their own magic instruments and demon-slaying creatures, and find an ancient horn that can rally the dead to fight for them. And what looks like a stupidly over-the-top tribute to heavy metal turns out to be a bittersweet story about coping with death.

Being that Magnum Khaos gains strength by feeding on negative emotions and seems particularly interested in Jake, I couldn't help but wonder if the whole thing was going to be a dream Jake was having to deal with his personal trauma, an alarm that starts ringing even louder after a certain plot twist. This comic made me realize why I hate that twist so much - at best it makes you feel like the whole story was a waste of time, at worst it's the story beating you over the head with what everything symbolizes.

So, does this all turn out to be a dream at the end? There are several things that suggest so, such as a small detail in the beginning that takes on a new meaning after the ending, how idealized things get in the second half (I thought the band broke up and they went their separate ways after Jake missed the record label audition, but suddenly they're world famous? To the point a Gene Simmons proxy knows them? Or did demon slaying put them on the map?), and (spoiler) how rapidly Jake's health deteriorates in the climax. But it's never explicitly stated so while you can interpret it that way if you want, the comic doesn't force you to if you don't.


Pikuniku (PC)

What looked like another for the "cute little story, shame about the game" pile turned out to be a decent little platforming adventure game. It's not terribly long or complicated, and the physics can be a pain in the ass when you're trying to kick a jiggling worm through an elevator puzzle, but it's a pleasant enough way to spend an afternoon or two.


Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, 2017 (PC)

This remake of the Master System classic has a really nice coat of paint, but isn't the smoothest thing to actually play. Maybe it's because WoW has torpedoed my hand-eye coordination but the hitboxes felt off, like they tried to keep them consistent with the original sprites except they don't quite line up with the new art. The worst is the Zombie Dragon boss, which is bad enough with Mouse-Man's tiny pencil of a sword. But a third of the time I'd make the hit, a third of the time I'd just miss and take an acid bath, and a third of the time I'd slam into the dragon THEN take an acid bath. And having to run all the way from the starting town, across a biome, then through the dungeon every time I lost to a boss to try again was another quirk of the late 80s I could have done without.


Mega Man X6 (Switch via Legacy Collection 2, E10+)

At first I went back to X Collection on PS2 because trying to play Mega Man X6 on a Switch sounded like a great way to wind up with the system shattered against a wall. But after the third or fourth time I had to reset because I lost an injured Reploid to a Nightmare I decided to start over on Easy, and while I was at it hook my Switch up to the TV. On Easy, this is actually sort of tolerable. You still have the terrible level design, a camera that obscures pits and spikes, and that fucking Infinity Mijinion fight, but enemies being squishier took just enough edge off that I no longer wanted to tear my fingernails out while playing. So if you really need to go through this game, whether for completion's sake or morbid curiosity, there is no shame in doing it on Easy.

You have to wonder what the jumping crap happened between X5 and X6, until you learn X6 was smashed together in less than a year and it being in any way functional is sort of impressive. Levels range from unfinished to infuriating with the worst being Blaze Heatnix's, which instead of an actual level is a series of encounters with these giant rings that slide around the room and take a bajillion hits to kill. I've since learned these things are supposed to be Ouroboroses (Ourobori?), and once you realize that you can see the jaw clamping the tail in the bottom left. Which makes it more offputting how they slide around with no animation. The fourth encounter is hot garbage, taking place in a vertical shaft filling with lava that takes up half the fucking screen and kills you in one hit on Normal, so when the snake pops out its lower weak points are just barely out of the lava and it's almost impossible to get at them. All they had to do to make this section about 99% less infuriating was lower the damn lava to a quarter of the screen. When you get to the top you can get at the bottom right orb, but they put the damn hole in the floor on the left instead of the middle so there's nowhere for you to stand to get at the bottom left orb. A tip I wish I knew before I wasted an hour of my life on this bullshit? If positioned right, the Falcon armor's Giga Attack can one-shot these things.

Another idea that just didn't work was the Nightmare Effects, where visiting certain stages activates hazards in others. I guess these were supposed to be a callback to the very first Mega Man X where clearing some levels would change others like Storm Eagle shorting out Spark Mandrill's stage. But here it just makes them more annoying, usually by adding more pointless shit for you to deal with like invincible bugs, frozen floors, or crates that block your path, but one turns out the lights in two levels. Also, I think Nightmare Effects were supposed to go away whenever new ones were triggered, but they remain in a level until you trigger a different one for that level. For example, visiting Infinity Minjion's stage will cause the aforementioned blackout in Commander Yammark's stage, which will remain until you go to Rainy Turtloid and activate the acid rain, even though I think they were supposed to go away if you visited, say, Blizzard Wolfang.

That whole "tolerable on Easy" thing goes out the window at the Gate Laboratory stages, home to some of the most obnoxious level design and enemy placement I've ever seen, and the two most irritating bosses in the Mega Man X series. Even on easy High Max takes forever to kill. He's protected by regenerating shields on either side of him, so you have to break those, then hit him with a charged shot to stun him, THEN hit him with a special weapon to take off a tiny amount of his health, repeat 20 times. And there's an irritating bug if you're fighting him with the Blade Armor, which has a charge shot that stops when it hits something and continues drilling into the enemy. When this happens on High Max the game will keep registering that he's being hit with the charged shot and ignore your attempts to hit him with a special weapon. And if you break his shields too many times too quickly he completely loses his shit and starts spamming a projectile that covers about a quarter of the screen. He's supposed to not be that bad with the Shadow Armor which can directly damage him, but there's a jump in the next section of the level that requires either a double jump or an air dash, which the Shadow Armor lacks, rendering it effectively impossible with that getup.

And the Gate fight... you know what, props for trying something different, but the execution leads to the worst fight in the entire series (I don't even think Red is all that bad, but we'll save that story for the X7 quickie). Gate is immune to all your weapons, and the only way to damage him is by destroying the orbs he throws out and hitting him with the fragments they split into. So first, you have to wait for him to decide to quit flying around the room and deleting platforms and actually throw out the orbs before you can damage him. Second, the fragments fly in six directions, so you almost always end up eating one yourself. Third, each orb has different effects, and the red orb slows you down but has the added effect of making your controls horribly unresponsive, so you'll be smashing the jump button trying to climb back up a wall you're sliding down, and nothing happens.

Do I have anything positive to say about Mega Man X6? Well, the soundtrack is the best of the Playstation trilogy... mostly. Ground Scaravich's level sounds like howling banshees, Blaze Heatnix's really isn't bad but dear god does it become grating during the Nightmare Snake encounters, and the Legacy Collection replaces the original credits theme with some generic bullshit. And it's a weird game that might be worth going through once just to see the batshittery on display.