Saturday, 31 December 2016

Good Riddance, 2016.

Wow. There is only half an hour to go but it must be re-iterated; this year kind of sucked. I take that kind of back, it just plain sucked. One of the few things that didn't suck about it were the words I wrote during it, though. Here's our customary end of the year post where I link the shit I liked writing the most and then give you some hopeful words.

Angry Video Game Nerd II: ASSimilation: A Review

Linked because A) I shook off the spectre of the Ad Hominem Ghost mostly with this one, by being nicer to it than the other one and B) because for all the disdain I have for this little series, hindsight ended up making it just a mediocre masocore I played at the end of March. It's no Dread Beast, but it's no master alchemical creation either like other more easily-impressed folks might say. It was ehh. Maybe if they make a third it'll rise beyond ehh, but this was an anticipation to write so on it goes.

I Am The Shadow, The True Self (Super Mario Brothers 2: The Lost Levels)

The most Nintendo Project-y I got all year. Something about this game inspired me, and so I wrote these words about it. There's not too much to say beyond that, other than it's a resurgence of the older, more pretentious oddball occultist form of writing I had back when I was doing the Nintendo game goddess thing. I like it, but no talk about writing and goddesses is complete without...

Dr. Strangenep Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Goddesses (Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 3)

The wall, the myth, the massive 5000-word post that was ages in the making. I had teased the idea of doing a Neptunia writeup on my short experience with the first Rebirth game, but kept putting it off. Then I played Rebirth 3 and liked it and combined both of those into this brick. I could have gone harder; one friend of mine played all seven Neptunia games on Steam this year. Maybe more? One was enough for me, and the proof of how it resonated with me is there in the words.

31 Days, 31 Screams (All Of It)

A project that sort of just came to mind off the top of my head. It sounded fun, so I went for it. For the most part it worked, but you can tell when I gave a shit and when I didn't. Dawn Of The Dead, for instance, I did not give a shit... whereas with something like Scream, I did. I ended up finding at least one new horror favorite in Dead Alive, but otherwise this was a fun little experiment that let me talk about a genre I like and play with writing about all sorts of media. Yay.

Everything I Wrote In The Last Two Weeks

Because they're good words and I was productive and I have 16 minutes left in the year.

Now, parting words. To your right is Lillie, from Pokemon Sun and Moon. Like Chiaki Nanami before her, she was a very important fictional girl because she was an inspiration to me as I played my Game of the Year. I, being a weird waffly man with Nintendo goddess leanings, recognize her as part of the Valya, that beautiful force of positivity that seemed to be trampled upon all year as evil and death ran rampant. Let us do what we can to fight that evil and death with good and life. Be it a shining beacon of good feelings or the bright flames of revolution, let us stand for the change we wish to see in this upcoming year and banish as many of the dark consequences of this trash fire as possible. Have a happy 2017, and I'll be writing a bunch of words and posting them here.

Now, let the voice of love take you higher, and have a good one.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Frezno's Games Of The 2016 Thing!

2016's dusk is upon us. Oh thank God. Somehow or another, this has been a sheer tire fire of a year. Horrific and far-reaching political bullshit, celebrity deaths en masse, a bunch of really bad Batman movies. Still, it's time as always to be a third-rate Clara Oswald and reflect on all the video games I experienced this year. Oh, right. This is a new thing for my blog space. I used to do these over at Socks Make People Sexy for several years, but the SMPS forums closed their doors this year. Another tragic loss but not quite because I'm still a part of the official SMPS Discord chat and can keep up with these folks even more than I already did on Twitter. So, my Games I Played In 201X series has moved over here. If you're so inclined, here's a bunch of links to the previous lists. Watch my tastes evolve!

2011
2012
2013
2014
2015


So, rules for this, I guess. It's Games I Played In 2016, not Games I Played That Came Out In 2016. A few of those will show up, yeah, but I'm an old fart who cherry picks from history and I couldn't possibly limit myself to just games I played this year. If I took a crack at it in 2016, it's fair game. I've got different weird categories that I've made up and I'll probably make up more. Well, with all that in mind, here's a bunch of bullshit I played and now I am going to talk about said bullshit.


(WORST) GAME OF THE YEAR 2016
Seiken Densetsu 3 (Super Famicom)


I'm amazed I never did a writeup on this, but I am lazy and also I did a video saying the stuff I wanted to say. Now I will say that stuff again and try to be more succinct about it. SD3 is like a beautiful rainbow-colored fruit that a worm snuck into and made rotten. It looks fantastic! By all accounts it should be a wonderful action RPG experience! Its predecessor is beloved by many! So, I decided to try and live blind stream it as a project. I didn't make it. The thing wore me down by being an annoying slog. Maybe if I hadn't picked two magic users as my AI buddies it'd have been simpler. What I got were magic users who opted to waltz right into melee like idiots and lose half their health from a single battle. Boss fights became wars of attrition, there were pacing issues all over the place, and at every step of the way this game absolutely resisted my attempts of having fun while playing it and just made things an unimaginable chore. Even the sequel to the AVGN Adventures game managed to make itself just tolerable enough to be a mediocre four hours, and I thought that'd be the worst thing I played this year. How wrong I was. I can't see how this is held up as some lost classic that we were deprived of via 90's RPG localization. It was just unfun and frustrating for me, and the worst video game experience of this year.


BEST CREATIVITY EXPERIENCE OF 2016
Super Mario Maker (Wii U)


I actually don't want to talk too much about this, because John Thyer did an article about all of his Mario Maker levels and I want to do the same thing in a bit. It's not a game you really "beat" but it's one of the two Wii U games I had before I even had a Wii U. The other was Smash Bros. which I won in a Twitter giveaway last year. Or was it two years ago, I forget. Anyway, on my list of what I played and beat, I put down "Played A Shitload Of" in front of those two games. Smash Bros. is great as always, but Mario Maker actually made me into some kind of half-assed level designer. I don't want to give too much of the plot away regarding my handful of levels, so let's just focus on how engrossing this is as a whole. Not only did it let me spread my creative wings without waffling words, but I got to see the creative streak of other friends and try out really weird and fucked-up levels I happened to see online from complete strangers. Shame about the 3DS version not having that. Yikes. This was great, though! I really should get back to it, I still have a level concept that I need to fiddle with...

BEST "BETTER LATE THAN NEVER" OF 2016
Etrian Odyssey IV (3DS)


If you clicked the links above, you'll recognize this. It was the first 3DS game I owned when I got the system... in April 2013. Even with only exploring a few of the game's massive areas, I was confident in giving it my nod for RPG of that year. After that I put it down for a time, and over the next three years I would poke at it every so often. On this latest attempt, something clicked and I spent a week flying through the rest of it and winning. Oh my god, it was incredible. Through the magic of retiring, I managed to get a new squad full of cool people with cool new skills and incredible synergy together. I was wrecking face and I may have wrecked too much face because the final boss offered me no problems whatsoever. Then I delved into the postgame dungeon a little and shit's hard. Something to peck at later. Or I could play Etrian Odyssey Untold, there's your spoiler warning for the 2017 list. Either way, what a fantastic little dungeon crawler. I made the labyrinths mine and saved the world. Hooray to me!


BEST JUMPY GAME OF 2016
Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)



Back again to the Wii U. I had a new console and this thing was like 20 bucks thanks to Nintendo Selects. It was definitely interesting, especially how I played it. I didn't get an HDTV until the summer this year, so I was stuck with component on a 13" CRT. This made Wii U games look like shit, but thankfully they had that entire gimmick of giving you a little TV with the damn thing. I played the entirety of the main game of 3D World on the tablet and it looked great and crisp and holy fuck was this fun. I never really got that much into the New Super Mario Bros. games, but the weird mix of 3D Mario mechanics with 2D Mario gameplay style (i.e. not runnin around collecting stars or shinies or whatever) worked really well! Great new powerups that eventually were used for the greatest "OH SHIT" moment since Super Mario Land 2, Super Mario Bros. 2's character roster, a big world map, and extra stages that I played the other day co-op and are SUPER FUCKING HARD. This thing has it all, and I adored it. Nice.


BEST OVER THE TOP GAME OF 2016
Saints Row IV (PC)



Late last year I played Saints Row The Third and it was incredible. As someone whose previous open world criminal experience extended to GTA Vice City, it was a shockingly great evolution that also made its mark by being very comedic and silly. Saints Row The Third is playing it straight compared to 4. This goddamn game is utterly ridiculous, mixing in aliens with virtual world simulations and god knows what else. It's essentially an open world criminal experience where you have fucking superpowers, and that shit feels amazing to pull off. Absolutely everything about it is over the top and there's plenty to do in virtual Steelport. Also I made my girl wear a Dirty Pair cosplay for the majority of the game. That's a thing I could do! Oh my god, what a game this was. I'll have Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attract" in my head forever thanks to it. Shit.


CUTEST GAME OF 2016
Kirby: Planet Robobot (3DS)



This is a really hard one for me. I played both Planet Robobot and Kirby's Return To Dream Land this year, and they're both variations on the same style of Kirby game. Kirby Triple Deluxe falls into this subgroup as well; they're all traditional Kirby platformers with special doodads to collect in each level, and all three have their own unique form of SUPER-DUPER POWERUP that lets you just tear through hordes of enemies like they were nothing. Return To Dream Land has Ultra Abilities, Triple Deluxe had the Hypernova... and Planet Robobot has the titular Robobot. I think I had more fun with Return To Dream Land overall, but I'm giving the nod to Robobot because I feel like the Robobot was utilized better than the Ultra Abilities. They both feel great to use, but the Robobot just has that extra feeling of utility. Kirby games are great anyway and you should play all of the Kirby games mentioned in this paragraph, but Robobot takes it this time. Congrats, Kirby. You did good.


HARDEST GAME OF 2016
Lightening Force: Quest For The Darkstar (Sega Genesis)



You know, for a Hard Game Beater, I really didn't delve into anything that sadistic or difficult from the old days this year! I did purchase a complete GBA copy of the Famicom Super Mario Bros. 2, aka the Lost Levels, and I did beat that... but hard as it is, you can do an infinite lives trick right at the start to just make it a janky masocore ROM hack thing. Now this, on the other hand? This I've owned a cart of for some time now but could hardly beat a level in. It's actually part of the Thunder Force series of shmups, but blame naming schemes. Anyway, I went at this one completely old-school. I kept playing and playing it, determined to learn the patterns and make it to the end. It wasn't easy, but the more runs I failed the better I did. A game over on stage 5 turned into a game over on stage 7, and then on stage 9. This is a blistering fast little game, but the fact that it has selectable weapons (not unlike Contra Hard Corps) makes it so you're not totally screwed on losing one life. Motivated by Polly telling me the final boss blows up real good, I kept at it and was doing really well for myself. Eventually I won. She was right. What a good explosion, and what a good game. The only game I beat in the month of October, even! Probably because I was so busy writing about horror movies and stuff. Still, a wonderful experience. Difficult, but I learned each time. Why, it's almost like the game rewarded me for learning its tricks... no, that's ridiculous. On to the next one.


BEST LAWYERGAME OF 2016
Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Spirit Of Justice (3DS)



I actually got around to beating the previous Ace Attorney game, Dual Destinies, this year as well. It was pretty good, and a great grand return for the series after a few years of playing with spinoffs and side stories. As great as that was, 2016 gave us a new game in the series and it may yet be my favorite one of the bunch. See, this is a series about lawyers who fight for innocence against all odds, and it likes to make you feel like the underdog without a hope in hell so that the victory is all the sweeter. Dual Destinies got around this by introducing a new rookie lawyer, Athena Cykes. The way Spirit Of Justice does it is by alternating cases set at "home" with Athena and Apollo Justice with Phoenix Wright's adventures in the far-off country of Khura'in, in which there is actual law that declares that any practicing defense attorney whose client is found guilty shares the verdict with their client. In addition to that everyone in Khura'in fucking hates lawyers and they're slinging insults and prejudices to your face. It feels awful at first, but the genius of it is how the plot unfolds as you play. You learn how the Defense Culpability Act came to be, and just how the law can screw over the common people and lead to the most desperate acts. By endgame, you're in a country beginning to open its eyes and call for revolution against the monarchy, and characters that were once calling you names are starting to broaden their perspectives and open up to you. It's amazing, and my only complaint with it involves the new seance mechanic of seeing the last memories of dead people; I was garbage at pointing out the contradictions in them and was running to the spoiler-free walkthrough in desperation. Nonetheless, this game's utterly fantastic.


BIGGEST SURPRISE OF 2016
Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 3 V Generation (Vita)



Oh Jesus. Never would I have expected this. Hyperdimension Neptunia, once bane of my existence, now on my Games Of The Year list. I wrote 5000 words about this sucker, so I'll keep this one brief. I went into this on a curiosity and sheer force of will to get my 8 bucks out of it. I succeeded. I found the good in Neptunia, such as it is. It's okay. This one is okay! As it turns out, I probably picked the best one to play. I hear the PS4 one that dropped this year on these shores is also a good one. This was fine, and I might even go back and try RB1 on the Vita next year. I bought the thing and I might as well give it a shot, after all. Also it gave me Iris Heart, who while still fantastic could have been used better and given more than the one joke about "punishing" people. I literally used headcanon to make up a better use for Iris Heart combined with another character, that's how much the mark was missed. I'd better get out of here. RB3 was nice, after 32 hours and 5000 words.


BEST "NEW OLD" GAME OF 2016
Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (PC)



Holy shit. This slid in at the last minute just a few weeks ago, but by god does it make the cut. It's almost Game Of The Year material, but in the end I decided to stick to my guns and just let it have this category, which it absolutely earns. In September 2013 two Kickstarters for new old games launched, and I could only back one at the "get a copy" level. I chose Shantae here, and three years and change later I got a code for a copy about a week before its release. I gave it a shot, having only fiddled with the Game Boy Color Shantae a bit before. I adored it. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous with its HD visuals and very colorful and cartoon-ish art, but it's basically an exploratory platformer a la Demon's Crest or Odallus The Dark Call. Look, I wrote about it just a little while ago, so go read that. I even got told how idiotic I was about the penultimate boss, and that I should have watched the screws on his head! Holy FUCK that eliminates the one major flaw I had with it! It's even BETTER now! This shouldn't be passed up, and it made me want to go back to the older Shantaes now. Which I will.


GAME OF THE YEAR 2016
Pokemon Moon (3DS)



Wow. Just wow. Well, a bit more than "wow" which I will now talk about. 7th-generation Pokemon is the best thing I played this year. It engaged me on so many levels and I'll talk about those levels. Gameplay wise, it fulfilled a lifelong dream game I'd always imagined. It's set in not-Hawaii and has you going between islands and completing trials instead of fighting Gym Leaders for progress. It's the Orange Islands game adaptation I've wanted for the past 16 years, but it's actually even better than that. There were plenty of great new Pokemon for me to use, and I actually shuffled through a lot of candidates as I played before settling on my team. You've got cute ones, powerhouses, interesting ones... plenty to play with. To get my GOTY nod, though, you have to be emotionally affecting. This game does that easily with Lillie, the most adorable Pokemon character in a while. Lillie's not a rival trainer, or a skilled professor. She's a girl with her own reasons for travelling around, and those reasons become apparent as you get tangled up in her hardships. Lillie was my friend in this game, and all of the plot twists and soap opera moments involving her engaged me because I wanted to help my friend out. Her climactic speech to the villain once you defeat them is inspiring and moving, and shows someone who grew her own confidence out of watching you. As Lillie helped you along the way, you helped Lillie. Becoming a Pokemon master for the 7th time was my own story, but stuck right along in there is Lillie's story, and the two are interconnected. Lillie, like Chiaki Nanami before her, made this game for me and warmed my heart. That's why this Pokemon game is the best thing I played this year. Now get in the bag, Nebby.


...AND THE REST

Okay, so those are the main category picks but here are some other games I played and liked. I didn't want to make up categories for these, or there were better games in the categories I did make up, but whatever. Here's some other stuff that I played and liked this year with some shorter blurbs about them.


NES Remix Pack



The cut-up method in video game form. Turn a bunch of classic Nintendo games into a bunch of little Warioware-esque challenges. It's addicting and engaging in a lot of ways, and the extra modes really help. The first game suffers a bit from using only black box games because a lot of the black box games are just fucking terrible. 3-starring all of the Clu Clu Land challenges was a nightmare and I hate that game now. NES Remix 2 is better because it has better games and some cooler extra modes, but they're both on the same disc and make a neat little package. It's nice. I also became a Nintendo World Champion because I got in the top 10 on the NWC mode in Remix 2, so that's another accomplishment for my Twitter bio.

Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition



Yes, again. Last year I gave it the Redemption award because I finally learned how to love that game. This year I had a really satisfying run with a super Strength build. Heavy armor, huge shield, massive club. I found it interesting to play, and easier than a Dex build's dodge rolling. You just stand there and TANK the hit and then counter by whapping things with your big stick. God, I love it. I'll probably replay this again in 2017 because at this point it's become a comfort food game. I tried Dark Souls 2 and didn't like it much. Shame. Oh well, SORCERY BUILD NEXT?

Finding Teddy



So this came about because someone suggested I play a Steam game called Chronicles of Teddy and they pitched it to me as a Zelda 2-like. I adore Zelda 2 and I think what happened here is that I got both Finding Teddy and Chronicles of Teddy in a 2-pack bundle. I played Finding Teddy first and it's not a Zelda 2-like at all; it's an adventure game sort of thing where you help monsters out and try not to get killed horribly. It's got neat atmosphere and whatnot. I don't have too much more to say, other than it made me run to a FAQ and I never did get around to playing Chronicles of Teddy. Oops.

Shatterhand



The game with the best box art ever. Motherfuckin' SHATTERHAND. As I recall, I beat this on a hacked PSP while listening to an Eruditorum Press podcast about the Titanic. It was a really good podcast and this is a really good little action game where you PUNCH ROBOTS N SHIT YEAH YEAH MMMMMMMM WHAP SMACK BIFF BLAM.


Drill Dozer



A cute little game with big stages and lots of shit to drill with your big drilling mech. It's an adorably fun platformer! I played it on my SNES because I got a SNES to GBA adapter and wanted to play that stuff on my TV. I lost out on the rumble feature, sure, but this is fine. It's a good game that I got complete for 10 bucks. Well worth it.

Castle Of Illusion (2013)



The digital age is rough on game preservation. You can't actually buy this anymore, I think, due to licensing issues. It went on sale for like 2 bucks just before it vanished from the storefronts and I got to play it. It's nice! Fairly short and not all too challenging, but it looks nice and has that great sense of childlike wonder you'd expect from a Disney game starring Mickey Mouse. If you can summon up the right arcane alchemical rituals to be able to play it, it's worth it.

Scramble



I bought this Konami arcade GBA collection, see. It has a lot of good games on it, but most of them are just the arcade mentality of "really hard to suck away your quarters". Scramble is kind of like that, but it also feels like a mobile game now. It's a 4 minute-long shmup that infinitely loops, so there's a definitive ending to it and you can say "I technically beat it" while also playing through to get the high score. Like, if this was on a phone it'd be a perfect time waster sort of thing. I really liked it and it ended up speaking to me more than, say, Frogger or Time Pilot or Yie-Ar King Fu. Yikes.

Spider's Hollow



John Thyer made a game this year! It's a Sokoban-like with fairies and spider webs and spiders! It's very tricky and clever and tense with limited moves in later levels before a spider gets you. John's telling his own version of a fairy tale here, and it ends exactly the way he wants it to end. Oh my god it's a literal fairy tale because of the fairies. Holy shit. You can play this RIGHT NOW AND RIGHT HERE so go give it a shot if you're not terrified of spiders.

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake



I always wanted to play this one, and I did it in HD on my "new" PS3 with the MGS HD Collection. Typical me, using a $200 piece of technology with HDMI output on an HDTV to play a goddamned computer game from 1990. Even though I peeked at a FAQ a lot, a lot of things I figured out on my own here. There's some real cryptic shit and a lot of backtracking but this game was neat and had good music. 2017 is gonna be my Metal Gear year. I can feel it.

Dragon Quest VII: Fragments Of The Forgotten Past



I put like four or five hours into this, but fuck it. Honorable mention/teaser for the year in which I do beat it. I love it. Dragon Quest is good and this is good and I've waited years to own a copy and I like this.


And with that, we're all done! Just one more teeny tiny post to do at the end of the year, and then we'll be ready to send off this garbage fire of a year hopefully. Fingers are crossed for 2017 being even better and filled with even more amazing computer game experiences! I hope you've all had a good time with games this year, and you're more than welcome to share what you played in the comments below. I wanna hear what you loved, so go right ahead! I'm bowing out to go eat or something, this took the morning to write. See ya.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Doctor Who Series 10 First Impressions: 2016 Christmas Special (The Return Of Doctor Mysterio)

(It's been a while since we did one of these, but now it's time to do it once more and it's also time for your spoiler warning: there are spoilers for this new episode of Doctor Who coming right up. So, watch it before you go reading, huh? Do I need to tell you this? I'm not sure. Anyway.)


Patience is a virtue, ain't it? I didn't remember what I said this time last year during the Husbands Of River Song writeup, so I had to go back and check. Doctor Who in 2016 was up in the air and we didn't know what was going on. As it turns out, there was only one piece of new televised Doctor Who in 2016 and it's the one we're looking at right now. Well, shit. I didn't even get any official Clara Who fanfiction... but I did get some unofficial Clara Who fanfiction so I'm pleased. Anyway, this one looked weird in the trailers. There's a goddamn superhero in my Doctor Who! What the shit is this? Who's Doctor Mysterio in the first place? These questions plagued me as I spent the weeks performing a Classic Who authentic viewing experiment of watching the first two years of the Jon Pertwee era, one episode a week, this year. It's a good experiment. Try it. So now we come to it, full of Christmas chocolate and with some chips, ready to watch the new Doctor Who late at night. Not like they do in England because it's on at like, quarter past five. 10:30 Newfoundland time is late, friends. Let's not drag our feet, was The Return Of Doctor Mysterio worth the wait of a Doctor Who-less year that made me pine for 2012 when we got The Amy And Rory Farewell Tour crammed into one month?


Yeah, I think it was.

You don't need me to tell you this, but Doctor Who works best when you mash it right up with other concepts and make those other concepts all... Doctor Who-ey. To use examples from the classic era, you've got Season 7 as Doctor Who mashed up with Quatermass, or the Hinchcliffe era as Doctor Who mashed up with Hammer Horror. Ooh, I thought of a modern one! Time Heist is Doctor Who mashed up with a crime film. To that effect, Doctor Mysterio is Doctor Who mashed all up with the mythos of Superman. I mean, you've got Superman comics right there in the opening (and that lovely gag with the Doctor just now realizing that Superman is Clark Kent, which is a secret double gag when he mentions Lois Lane not knowing that's a hint for later) and The Ghost is... look, he's just Superman. His origin isn't Superman's and neither is his job but he wears his brainy specs even though he obviously doesn't need them and he wants to make out with a no-nonsense reporter who's not into him but is into his alter ego and oh my god it's just Superman. It's interesting how he gets his power, though; some alien gem that responds to the wishes and wants of a child and gives him this unlimited power. Oh my god wait is it supposed to be like an Infinity Stone? We're going way deep here. Let's get back on track. You've got a kid who gets superpowers, and then you cut to a building in New York with a big rotating globe on it, and some smartass rich person is giving a conference and there's a no-nonsense reporter Asking The Hard Questions. And... Nardole, the bald dude from last year's Christmas special. He's back. Huh. Anyway we get it by now. It's just Superman, and that lady's Not-Lois Lane and the rich black guy is Not-Lex Luthor. We think we've got it, but then the Doctor Who gets all up in it and Not-Lex Luthor gets his brain shucked out and replaced with an alien brain while the Doctor eats sushi. Whoops. It's a whole tug of war here, as the Superman story gets replaced with a Doctor Who one about aliens... but then the resolution of the Doctor, Nardole, and Lucy in danger is that Not-Superman comes in and saves the day and flies off with the girl and no really this is just Richard Donner's Superman oh my god

The casting is cute, though. Poor Justin Chatwin got to play another superhero once upon a time, and that was Goku in the live-action adaptation of Dragon Ball. That movie was notably garbo so thank goodness he gets to portray an actually neat superhero. He puts on this silly Christian Bale gruff voice as The Ghost but he's really not hard-edged at all. He's Superman! He's a boy scout who saves kids from burning buildings and tells you to get a smoke detector on the news! He takes care of his friend's kid because his other friend ran out on her and he... feels bad? I mean, this could have gone really bad but there's no gross "friendzone" mentality on the go. He legitimately likes taking care of this kid and helping out, it seems. This is the world in which the Doctor is dropped into; the world the Doctor created, mind, by a series of mishaps. Doctor Who made this Superman story, and it's still a Doctor Who story. You still have evil brain aliens who are actually evil brain aliens from the last Christmas special one year ago! This is kind of strange. In the classic era they kept using certain aliens because they paid a shitload to make the costumes and needed to get the use out of them. The Shoal Of The Winter Harmony's main gimmick is that effect where someone's head splits open halfway and you see gooey blue shit inside. It's that same classic mentality but used for a CGI effect which is odd. Even odder is that their plan to take over the minds of Earth's leaders and fake an alien invasion to gain access is basically Stage 1 of the Slitheen's plan from way the hell back in 2005! Even more wild is that this is the stuff the Slitheen succeeded at! The Shoal isn't all that credible of a threat, and the Doctor taunts them with burgers, for god's sakes!

Oh yeah, the Doctor and Nardole. I didn't think I'd like it, but I actually kind of like it! Nardole was a little too much of a whimpering scaredy cat last year, but we'll forgive him because having your head cut off and mounted to a death robot is a bad day for anyone. Here he's a little more of a sidekick but not really, and he's toned down enough to be asking the right questions and interacting with the Doctor but still losing his shit in terror when the Doctor does stupid dangerous stuff on a whim. I'm okay with this! It's a good thing as well, because Nardole is sticking around for Series 10. Time will tell if he remains this tolerable and somewhat entertaining, it's a shtick that could get old quick. There's a lot of other stuff I liked in this one, mostly Doctor lines like the one about the cross dogs, or flooding the basement of Harmony Shoal Tokyo with Pokemon. Does he mean Pokemon Go data, or...? Capaldi is on point as always here, even though the episode is supposed to be implying he's really sad after his last date with River. I mean, when Smith lost Amy and Rory he sulked up on a cloud for months. Tennant had his own comedy sidekick immediately after losing Rose so that's... something, but he was still all broody about it. I liked the Doctor's "no you don't" of just sonic-ing Not-Lex Luthor's gun at the end. So, in the end, this was fine for me! A nice bit of Christmas entertainment. I don't know if it's my favorite Christmas special, but it was worth both times I watched it. We're seeding another goddamn takeover of UNIT by aliens, though. Dear god. The Shoal vs. the Zygons, though? Interesting. SPEAKING OF INTERESTING, WOW A SERIES 10 TRAILER! It's Bill! And Daleks! And emoji robots! And possibly maybe a Movellan which... okay? Alright, Series 10. Show me what you got. There's aliens all over, history's in peril, and there's a cool new lady who needs to be impressed on adventures through time and space and/or win all of our hearts.

This looks like a job for Doctor Who.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas Cartoon Capsule Reviews!

Happy Holidays, everybody! Yes, it's the one part of winter everyone can stand. The holiday season is all but upon us and it is Christmas Eve today! Wow! I've been getting into the spirit. Throwing computer games at trusted friends, throwing wrapped presents and cash at the family, throwing copious amounts of sweet things into my mouth! Then there's the consumption of Christmas-themed media, which is what this post is all about. I've already done most of the movies I wanted to do this time around. My personal favorite goofy-yet-heartwarming pick, Jingle All The Way, is for Christmas Day now. Then there's another piece of all-new Christmas themed media for me to waffle about in a day or two. For now, I want to talk about something semi-unique to me. Sitting on a shelf in my basement, along with several other items like it, is a VHS tape. It's no ordinary VHS tape, because of what's on it. It's not one Christmas thing, or two, or even three. No, in December 1991 my parents used this VHS tape to record almost 5 hours worth of Christmas-themed cartoons and specials as they aired on TV. The cartoons contained within are innately nostalgic to me at this time of year, and as I get older I admire just how weird and time capsule-ish it is to watch Christmas cartoons from a tape that's older than some of my friends. Here's what we're going to do then. Capsule Christmas cartoon reviews. I'll look at each thing on the tape and talk briefly about them. So, let's get into it!


BUGS BUNNY'S LOONEY CHRISTMAS TALES (1979)

The first minute or so of this is lost to time, as the tape begins right at Yosemite Sam as Scrooge counting his money. I actually found that first minute online and it was weird to watch the complete version of something I had ages ago. Anyway, this is just three Christmas-themed Looney Tunes cartoons with some tiny linking bits. The first one is a Looney Tunes-themed Christmas Carol rendition, which isn't even the best Christmas Carol rendition on this tape. It's notable for two things to me; one, Bugs Bunny pretending to be a Christmas ghost implies that he is going to take Yosemite Scrooge to hell. Two, this cartoon was used in that scene in Lethal Weapon where Mel Gibson tries to work up the nerve to kill himself. DISSONANCE! The other two cartoons are pretty good. One's a Road Runner one involving wintery business and Road Runner cartoons are always good. The other has Bugs Bunny messing around with the Tasmanian Devil who is unexpectedly pretending to be Santa. It's nice. HEY SPEAKING OF WEIRDOS PRETENDING TO BE SANTA, WHAT'S NEXT?


HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (1966)

Holy shit, this turned 50 this year? Goddamn. It's an outright classic and it's not hard to love it... but it is also weird as shit. Befitting Dr. Seuss, I suppose. This is one of those specials where, after watching it over and over, you start to peck at the logic of it. Like, just how goddamned loud is Christmas in Whoville if the Grinch, way up on a high mountain in a cave, can not only hear it but is bothered by it? It's wild, this one. I think the version on this tape is edited for TV a little, but not by too much. What else is there to say about the Grinch? That that line about Christmas meaning a little bit more makes my own heart grow a size or two every time? Or I could talk about how the airing of this special on the tape actually includes 5 seconds of some COMMERCIALS? They're mostly cut out here, but we get pieces of ads for a Little Miss Singing Mermaid doll... and Chicken Tonight. I NEED MORE OF THAT STUPID 90'S DANCE! Enough of that though, it's on to...


A GARFIELD CHRISTMAS (1987)

I put this on a top 10 cartoons list some years ago. Now that I've seen loads of great cartoons it might not make it on there... but this is still my favorite thing on the tape. Garfield And Friends was my jam back in these days, and this is a lovely little special where Lorenzo Music gets to voice Christmas cynicism. There are so many good moments in this one, I don't know where to begin. The song as Jon drives to the farm and Garfield is a total cynic about Christmas. Any funny moment involving Jon's grandma. EVERYTHING about the dinner scene. It's an almost nonstop series of hilarity... and then, just as you're settled into the laughs, it whaps you across the face with feelings. The scene in which Grandma is rocking in her chair with Garfield on her lap is utterly heartbreaking. She's wistfully talking about how Grandpa, who's dead now, always loved Christmas. It always got me as a kid, and as an adult who's lost some special old people it gets me even more. Right in the middle of your Christmas special, you get an old woman talking about how much her dead husband loved Christmas and how this is the night she misses him the most. Who wouldn't sob at that? Then there's a payoff where Garfield finds old love letters from Grandpa and oh god I'm gonna sob here move on to the next one.


WILL VINTON'S CLAYMATION CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION (1987)

See, they're not all well-known ones! At least, this one doesn't seem like it gets much air time in this day and age. This is an odd one. It's all done in claymation, obviously, but what we have is a framing device where two dinosaurs are hosting and setting up Christmas carol... music videos. There's the side story of animals who keep getting "Here We Come A-Wassailing" mixed up with other words. The music videos themselves are okay, but weird. Carol Of The Bells has actual bells performing it (or I WOULD know that if my young ass hadn't taped over that bit with part of Fred Penner's Place. Look it up, it's extremely Canadian.), there's walruses doing a figure skating routine to Angels We Have Heard On High, and THE GODDAMNED CALIFORNIA RAISINS DO RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER. It leans more towards Christmas hymn adaptations than it does Santa and presents for whatever reason. The highlight of this is Joy To The World, which just has phenomenal animation and a very soulful rendition. This one's okay, I dig it. Next, please!


THE CHRISTMAS RACCOONS (1980)

NOW we're getting into Canadian territory here. The Raccoons is a Canadian cartoon classic from the late 80's/early 90's and thanks to reruns and whatnot I've seen a bunch of it. It's a fun little show from what I remember, but it actually started out as a bunch of specials. This Christmas one is the very first, and it's the debut of the whole thing! What we have here is a tale involving a forest being cut down en masse and a ranger going off to investigate while his kids go out to look for a Christmas tree. It turns out that an evil pink...aardvark? I think that's what he is? Anyway his name's Cyril Sneer and he's cutting down the trees because he's basically an evil version of Scrooge McDuck. He cuts down the tree that our titular raccoons live in and the kids take it off with them, leaving the raccoons homeless. This is a good little special, and it's even better with the songs by Rupert Holmes and Rita Coolidge (who also voices Melissa Raccoon and did the theme tune to Octopussy). There's no Run With Us yet, sorry, but this airing does include the TV series bumper where the announcer says "THE RACCOONS WILL BE RIGHT BACK" and the logo EXPLODES. Though the tape cuts off two of those bumpers before the explosion, THANKS MOM. This is a great special, though. The next one, however...


BLUETOES THE CHRISTMAS ELF (1988)

I'll say it. This is the low point of the tape. At least it's the one where my family forgot to hit pause on the VCR to cut out the commercials, so I got ads for Zellers and Bell telephones and the movie Hook. Boy, the movie Hook looks GREAT from that trailer. Oh yeah, Bluetoes. I think part of why I hate this one is personal reasons. I'm kind of an anxious idiot, and one of my anxious fears is the fear that people don't actually like me all that well and are only tolerating me and will one day get fed up with me and abandon me cold turkey. What, then, of this special? We have a small little elf at the North Pole who wants to help out with the Christmas preparations. NOBODY LIKES HIM. All the other elves want NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM. Do they tell him this? NO! They shittalk the poor little guy BEHIND HIS BACK while sweet-talking him into doing random errands. His errands keep getting messed up by a polar bear and they end up with collateral damage, but nobody believes there's a polar bear. Then later in the special, the little elf is bringing up Christmas socks he fixed and everyone ELSE sees the polar bear and is running from it. The polar bear slams into the little guy and fucks up the Christmas socks AND THEY GET MAD AT HIM FOR THE STOCKINGS BEING RUINED! YOU ASSHOLES KNOW THERE'S A POLAR BEAR NOW! DO YOU HATE HIM THAT MUCH? JUST SAY IT! SAY IT! GOD DAMN IT! Oh yeah, and then the kid ends up on Santa's sleigh but some presents get left behind and the little guy puts tiny presents in his socks for those kids and invents Christmas stocking stuffers... AT THE COST OF GETTING FROSTBITE AND HIS TOES TURNING BLUE. OH NOW ALL THE ELVES LOVE HIM! Christmas elves are a bunch of petty little assholes in this special and I hate them and I don't like this.


A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (1965)

Well, here's another absolute classic. It's okay, I guess. The best parts are the witty dialogue coming from little kids. Personal highlights for me: Lucy's psychiatric session where she lists a bunch of phobias, Sally's Christmas letter to Santa and Charlie Brown's shocked declaration "TENS AND TWENTIES???", anything that Snoopy gets up to-- hey wait, that reminds me of the Christmas song about Snoopy and the Red Baron. If that didn't come from here then where the HELL did that come from? I love the idea of aluminum Christmas trees, was that a real thing in the 60's? I mean, we have an artificial one up now because real ones are a hell of a piece of work... but it doesn't clang when you knock on it! The whole Jingle Bells bit is lovely as well. Then there's Linus telling Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about by literally just reading from the fucking Bible. I'm sure it was meant to be played straight in 1965, but today I just read it as Linus being a snarky little shit. All in all, this is... okay I guess. There's a reason why it's stayed around for 50 years but it's not my favorite on the tape.


TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1974)

This one's weird. It's a Rankin-Bass cartoon and they have a whole stable of Christmas classics, but this one I never really hear anyone talk about. Also this airing was "brought to you by" this weird new machine called the Super Nintendo. Of which we get another 5 seconds of ads. My family had to be there pressing pause to skip all of the commercials. They sat there and watched these cartoons in 1991. Anyway, this one is a retelling of the famous poem. You thought the elves in Bluetoes were jerks, get a load of this plot. A smartass mouse writes to the paper anonymously about how Santa Claus isn't real and undersigns it "All of us". Santa replies by returning to sender everyone's letters to him and basically cutting the town off from Christmas. Holy SHIT. There's the story of a clockmaker who makes a giant clock that will play a happy Christmas tune at midnight Christmas Eve, in the hope that Santa will hear it and come on down knowing that people do like him. Unfortunatly the clock breaks and nobody trusts the clockmaker... because that smartass mouse went into the clock to see how it works and broke it. The poor little kid is bawling his eyes out over ruining Christmas and it makes me cry too but he goes to fix the clock and everything's okay and then we follow the poem. I like the character design on the little cartoon mice, but all the people in this one just look weird. Especially Santa. He has a beard but only on his chin and it looks WEIRD AS SHIT. This is... okay. We're winding down here now, only a few left.


MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1983)

THERE'S the better Christmas Carol adaptation on this tape. To fill time it has some quick winter-themed Disney cartoons at the start; one with Donald Duck and his nephews having a snowball fight, and one where Chip and Dale are in Mickey's Christmas tree and Pluto goes bonkers trying to get them. This is a nice adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and my favorite until I saw the Muppet one. You've got the dear departed Alan Young as Scrooge, who would go on to play the nicer Scrooge we all know and love. There's lots of Disney character cameos in this from the old days, even. Of course, these faithful Christmas Carol adaptations run into the issue where you cast your main lead from the original work as Bob Crachitt... who then has to mourn his dead son in the Ghost Of Christmas Future bit. Thus, the sight of Mickey Mouse standing over the grave of his dead son, crying a tear. Holy shit. Also the hardcore business of Scrooge falling into his own fiery grave. Despite all that, it's a short but well-done Christmas Carol rendition. I like it.


FROSTY THE SNOWMAN (1969)

Rankin-Bass back at it again. This one's nice, I suppose... and it does keep showing up on TV these days so it's one of the ones with lasting power. Who could forget "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" or that asshole magician getting ten kinds of messed up chasing after his magic hat? This is another nice one where it's just a series of nostalgic memories of weird shit in it. Like the traffic guy who swallows his whistle, or the rabbit, or the ticket guy who seriously thinks a ten year-old is going to buy a $3000 train ticket to the North Pole. Then there's that sad moment where Frosty melts and the little girl has a cry about it, but everything's okay in the end. This is nice, for the penultimate cartoon of the tape. That's right, there's only one left... and it's a doozy of an obscurity.


A WISH FOR WINGS THAT WORK (1991)

Judging by the other things I can date on this tape, the airing I have archived is the broadcast debut of this. For years I had no idea who these idiots were, this penguin who wanted to fly and this dumb gross alley cat. It turns out they're characters from newspaper strips! Bloom County, or Outland, or something like that. I was a kid living in rural Newfoundland, I didn't know what any of this was. All I knew was that this special was... different. It's very strange and very silly. The penguin, Opus, wants to fly like other birds but he's a flightless bird so he can't. There's an idiotic stray cat named Bill and a whole bunch of other odd shit. The thing that made me laugh my head off as an adult is Opus's flightless bird support group, where a kiwi bird secretly voiced by Robin Williams is screaming about how his wife left him for AN AAAAAALBATROSS!!, the joke being that the albatross had big "wings". IT'S A DICK JOKE. OH MY GOD. Though it must be said as of this viewing, I don't know if the "crossdressing cockroaches anonymous" joke would fly right today. Santa's sleigh ends up crash-landing in a lake near Opus's town, and Opus has a nightmare where he can't fly a plane because penguins can't fly and the plane crashes. Except the nightmare is actually inserting Opus into an old black-and-white movie, Roger Rabbit style. I looked it up, the movie is Lost Horizon from 1937. I didn't know that until now. This is a nice one, and I had lots to say about it. It being quite unlike anything else on the tape made it stick in my mind more than others, and that's where the tape ends.


I hope you enjoyed this journey with me! All of these cartoons are worth a look if you've not seen them before. While we're here, I'm going to give you TWO MORE QUICK SUGGESTIONS FOR CHRISTMAS! My gift to you; stuff that's not on this tape, but is absolutely worth a look. We'll start with the more festive of them, and these will include Youtube links because they're actually there for you to watch!


HE-MAN AND SHE-RA: A CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (1985)



I include this on the list not because I am nostalgic for He-Man. I think we had a toy of his big green tiger friend, but that's it. No, the less you know about He-Man going into this, the better. This special is absolutely off-the-wall weird. You've got a rocket that warps one of He-Man's friends to Earth, and he meets some kids who tell him about Christmas and Jesus. Yes. That happens. There's all sorts of weird monsters that get fought, an alien puppy, a villain being overwhelmed by the spirit of Christmas and wanting to NOT be a nice guy... it's just so out there that it's worth the time to watch it. As for the other one?


KATE (1979)



I'll be real with you; the only two things this has to do with Christmas are the following. One, it aired around Christmas. Two, it has one Christmas song in it. That still makes it more Christmas-like than the Star Wars Holiday Special, so we have a leg up on that. Also no growling furry people or all the other weird shit. No, instead we have famed British songstress Kate Bush performing tunes on stage for 40 minutes! Peter Gabriel is also there! She even plays some songs from her third album that actually wasn't out yet in Christmas 1979. What a nice sneak preview! Look, I'm just putting it here because I adore Kate Bush and any excuse to spread the joy of Kate is a good one.


ALRIGHT THAT'S IT FOR REAL! I hope you all have a very good holiday season! There's a lot more business to write up for this blog in the next week, so we're going to have some fun here before the sun sets on 2016. Enjoy yourselves, spend time with people you care about, and do things that make you happy. Share the happiness with gifts and whatnot if you can. Just... have a good time, okay? Much love to you all, and have a good one. <3

Monday, 19 December 2016

Shantae Half-Genie Hero: A Review

(Note: Shantae Half-Genie Hero was a Kickstarter-funded game, and this reviewer backed it at the $12 level. The copy of the game played for this review came from a code sent out about a week before the official December 20th release, as an early reward for the Kickstarter backers. If you're interested, starting tomorrow you can get the game here on Steam.)


Shantae, Shantae, Shantae! Let's talk at length about this determined lady and her games, then! In 2002, well into the first year of the Game Boy Advance wowing hearts and minds with amazing portable graphics and sounds and whatnot, an unassuming game was released for that system's predecessor. Shantae on the Game Boy Color had some enhancements if played on a GBA, but by and large it was a Game Boy Color game released after that system's time in the limelight. As such, it was mostly overlooked in favor of the new hotness, but those that went for it were in for a treat of exploratory platforming in a colorful world. Those that didn't and saw the merits of the game too late were stuck for a while; the original Shantae cart is now shockingly expensive, but luckily available digitally if one wants to go back and play it. Shantae lay low for a while as her muses, Wayforward Technologies, tinkered and fiddled with other interesting games. Then, in 2010, a new game! Shantae Risky's Revenge hit DSiWare, and four years after that would see a third game, Shantae and the Pirate's Curse. All of these, though, were published by bigger names; Capcom for the GBC original, and Limited Run Games for the latter two. Wayforward wished to put out a Shantae game of their own accord, and took to Kickstarter in late 2013. The project was a success and three years later, we have a fourth Shantae game: Shantae Half-Genie Hero. I am here to tell you that it is fantastic, and absolutely worth your time and cash.

What a sassy slimy friend.

Our plot involves the titular half-genie, Shantae, official guardian of Scuttle Town in a magical realm known as Sequin Land. Her uncle, the inventor Mimic, wishes to invent a machine that will help defend Scuttle Town from further attacks and give Shantae a bit of a break. His blueprints are swiped by Shantae's nemesis, the pirate queen Risky Boots. After beating her down in the opening levels and getting the blueprints back, Shantae alternates between travelling around Sequin Land in search of parts for Mimic's Dynamo machine, and solving any calamities that might happen to pop up in Scuttle Town. There's a moderate amount of chatter in between stages and before boss battles and whatnot, but it can be mashed through or skipped entirely. This is a helpful feature for replays of the game, and it's welcome! The plot itself is servicable, but Wayforward has made a name for themselves by making experiences that reflect older "retro" game experiences. Half-Genie Hero is no exception, but the style it chooses to emulate is admirable, to say the least. The original Shantae's exploratory platformer style had you moving across one huge interconnected world with towns and dungeons along the way, not unlike Konami's Castlevania 2 on the NES. It was a bold decision, considering how often that game is looked down upon. Half-Genie Hero takes a page from a different source; the nearest analogue would be Capcom's own Demon's Crest on the Super Nintendo. Half-Genie Hero has six stages, but these stages are large and sprawling. Each stage has two or three areas, and each of those areas has hidden items to collect that will permanently upgrade Shantae's powers and mobility. Collect a particular powerup, and you'll suddenly be able to access new areas in previous stages. Though there are only a handful, to get 100% completion you'll be combing through them a lot in search of new abilities. Helpfully, the stage selection shows you everything that you've already found in each level; you'll know when you've uncovered every hidden secret.

I love Spider-Shantae's little ribbon so much. :3

Mobility, you say? How does that work? Shantae, being half-genie, has access to magic powers. Namely, she can transform into animal forms, each with its own special movement options. The monkey form can climb on walls, the crab and mermaid forms can dive underwater, the mouse form can slip into tiny passageways, and so on. You gain new forms by either completing stages and defeating bosses, or by finding them in previously cleared levels with your new skillsets. Speaking of Shantae's skillsets, she has several attack options available to her to deal with her foes. Her main form of attack is whipping her purple ponytail at enemies, and it's an effective method! It is a bit slow at the beginning of the game, but both fallen enemies and jars in the stages contain gems. Said gems are the currency of Shantae, and the helpful shopkeep in Scuttle Town has upgrades for the damage and speed of your hair attack. He also sells magic spells, another valid form of attack! Each spell has three levels, and you unlock the next level of spell in the shop once you buy the previous. The fireball spell upgrades to a flamethrower, the spark cloud upgrades to lightning, the iron ball upgrades to a spinning shield of scimitars, and so on. These can be handy, but they're not essential to beating the game; you just need to buy every shop item in order to get 100% completion. A serpentine snake lady can be found in certain stages as well, and she can teach you new and interesting dances. Again, they're required for 100% completion, but they have their uses. A great dance power is the Warp Dance; it skips you past sections of a stage and is a time saver if you need to search only the latter half of an area for a new powerup.


Presentation-wise, Shantae is an audiovisual treat. The sprites of the old Shantae games have given way to lovely HD art of the characters, and it looks splendid. Shantae herself has plenty of animations, and all of her animal transformation forms are adorable. Heck, all of the characters and NPCs in this game are adorable; the art style is very bright and upbeat and cute. The enemies themselves are bright and colorful, and bosses are huge and well-animated. Background elements are done in a "2.5D" style, and the actual platforms and whatnot are rendered objects. It's a style that Wayforward has worked with before, and they know their way around it. To accompany how lush and lovely the game itself looks, the soundtrack by Wayforward's Jake Kaufman is a peppy and upbeat collection of tunes. These things have incredible hooks and they'll get into your head as you play. Perfect for a game where you revisit stages over and over again, because you get to hear the good music over and over again. Everything so far pairs together to form a lovely mix of old-style action platforming with enough exploration to keep you coming back for more... but are there downsides?

I think this game has some hidden subtext, y'all.

Well, not many. There are one or two issues to be raised, and one is far more minor a black mark than the other. Let's get that minor quibble out of the way first; the power progression and exploration aspect of the game somewhat peaks at the back half. Grabbing heart holders to increase your life is good, and the hidden gallery keys to unlock concept art and fan submissions are a welcome addition. Even many of the powers are useful in the stages! There are a few that just feel like you didn't really "get" anything new or useful, though. An attack for the mouse form! Great! You'll never use the mouse form for anything except squeezing through narrow passages, though, and when there are centipedes in the passages that you would like to bite rather than dodge, you can't use it! Similar to this are the Spider Venom attack, and the Bat Sonar. The former is another attack that you have to be messing around to find real use with at the stage of the game in which you get it. The latter is used to light up one area in a level to find another hidden power, and is also one of the only two powerups found in the penultimate level; the other being another heart container. The final level itself contains no goodies whatsoever, only requiring you dig through the other levels to find hidden items that you can trade for key plot items in order to get the good ending. I get what they were going for with giving the animal forms new abilities, but most of them don't mesh well. The exception is giving the harpy form an attack power, as the harpy form allows you to fly around everywhere and is practical to use. Spreading out the items a bit more, or adding new items that gave you powers more likely to see use, would have been preferred.


That's a minor transgression compared to the big flaw; the penultimate boss of the game just plain stinks. The fight before it is a nice one-on-one fight with Risky Boots, and the true final fight is simple in concept but requires you pay attention to multiple elements at once in order to avoid damage. That middle boss, however, is just a slog. It has three "attacks", so to speak, and you're entirely dependent on it using that third attack to deal any damage to it. The problem is that the thing almost never uses that third attack, opting to just spam the other two. They're not hard attacks to avoid, not really, but the issue is one of slowing the game to a crawl. It would be a three minute fight if you could damage it normally, but you'll find the battle dragging on for agonizing minutes as you dodge the same two attacks over and over, wishing and hoping and praying for the godforsaken thing to open up its weak points and let you get this over with. The boss of the desert area is similar to this, but at least that boss follows a strict pattern of attacks that will always end with your opportunity to strike back. Here, you have no such luck and just have to wait it out, feeling every second drag on and on as you avoid those easy to dodge attacks. It's especially disappointing that this comes right at the climax of the game, when you're the most excited from the amazing adventure that's come before. Still, perhaps Wayforward will patch this out in the future. As it stands, it's an unfortunate design decision that just leads to tedium.

I won. =)

That's Shantae Half-Genie Hero! For its asking price of $16 USD, you're getting a main campaign that can be cleared 100% in around five or six hours. That's a bit short, but you do unlock the "Hero Mode" upon clearing that. It's a sort of New Game Plus mode where you have access to most of your transformations from the get-go. Flying through it right after clearing the main story feels great, as you already remember where all of the powerups are and can just go wild in collecting most of them on your first visit to each stage. Hero Mode can be cleared in about half the time, and there's also a planned Risky Boots mode. The price is a bit up there, but you are getting a platforming game with significant replay value and variety. I would say it's worth it, given how good the overall package is. Not only does it look and sound fantastic, but the exploratory platforming style it chooses to emulate is a fresh one that hasn't been done to death by other exploratory platform games out there, so it has that going for it as well. Its flaws are unfortunate, but its massive strengths outweigh those flaws and make it more than worthwhile. If you're into the whole "retro" platforming scene, or love exploratory platformers, it's a game that you shouldn't pass up.

Monday, 31 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 31 (Halloween)

Boo.
Really, what else could it have been for tonight? It was always going to be this. We've danced and waltzed for so long around everything and anything, and now it's time to cap it off with one of the greats. We've confronted the ancient ones inside us who demand the Slashing Beasts give us blood, so now we are armed with the power to confront this one. The game-changer. John Carpenter, back before he made visceral aliens, accidentally created one of the most iconic slasher horror movies in 1978. Or... did he? Halloween, in its original form, almost owes more to a thriller than it does to a slasher. Yet, there are kills. Oh yes, how there are kills. Now that we're enlightened, for a few horrible minutes we actually become the slasher. There's no camera angles, no trickery, nothing. Just one continous POV shot as our Slashing Beast snaps and gets a kitchen knife and mask before stabbing his sister to death. She just had sex, see. Is this where it all started? The sins old man Mordecai was blathering on about? Not quite. No, Michael Myers is quite unlike the other slashers. Pamela Voorhees was driven by grief and the voice of her son in her head demanding blood. Jason Voorhees was driven time and time again by revenge for his dead mother. Fred Krueger was driven by revenge against those who burned him alive, taking it out on their children. Even Billy Loomis was driven by revenge against the family that broke his own up... and anyone he and his associate didn't like along the way.

All of these slashers had a certain passion driving their machinations. Yes, even the lumbering zombie that is Jason Voorhees (who we never actually encountered) is driven at some level by passion for his mother. Michael Myers is different. He's the Boogeyman. Dr. Sam Loomis believes that Michael is pure evil, but I doubt it. It's not evil. It's not even an absence of good, precisely. It's an absence, plain and simple. Michael Myers is the Void, he is Entropy, and here in the dead of fall in suburban Illinois circa 1978 Entropy will come for many. Halloween, despite having several deaths, is remarkably bloodless. It still has that slasher spirit to it and sexy teens are stabbed or choked until they die, but there's no joy to it. Especially when Michael kills the dog. The exception is that ridiculous scene where Michael puts on a bedsheet and wears the glasses of the dead boyfriend he just stabbed. It's so goddamned silly. Our final girl this time, dear sweet Jamie Lee Curtis, is outside of the action for most of it. It's only in the last 20 minutes that she discovers the body and confronts Entropy as it tries to stab and choke her out, and she manages to survive long enough to escape it. Was it the Boogeyman? Oh yes, Laurie. Yes it was. I first saw Halloween exactly three years ago tonight. I loved it. I watched it then, like I did now, with the lights off while the sun went down and kids in costume knocked on the door. It was brilliant then, and lord help me it's still brilliant in a lot of ways. It doesn't revel, and Michael never talks so he's not passing judgment on THOSE DIRTY SEXHAVING TEENS or screaming like a petulant little child because his victim got away from him and DARED to taunt him. Michael is just pure Entropy, and Halloween is a pure void of a spooky film wherein people are killed.

And then a sequel happened. God. I dislike Halloween II, and I've seen it twice. Once in 2014 and once again in 2015. I blame Friday the 13th for this. In 1980 it upped the ante on the slasher, gaining its own gravity as it was shoving arrows through people's throats. Halloween II had to follow suit. It picks up right where the original left off, but the same spirit has been abandoned. Michael is still a silent force of entropy, but everything is more contrived. More victims for him to pick off. More gruesome ways to die. He shoves a woman's face into boiling water and cooks her, for god's sakes! Then you have the retcon of Laurie being his sister, which... meh. In the end, Michael blows up and that was to be the end of him. Halloween III has nothing to do with him. People hated this, and he came back. I want to love Halloween III precisely because it's so unloved because A BLOO BLOO IT DOESN'T HAVE THE MASKED MAN STABBING THE SEXY TEEN IN IT. Alas, though it does great things, I can't call it a favorite. Still, what a premise. Bringing back the occult darkness of Samhain via ritualistic sacrifice. Not of the teen sexhavers, but the innocent children who just want to trick or treat in peace. Their very masks weaponized with Celtic energy, ready to melt their heads into so many creepy crawlies and otherworldly monsters. Yikes.

That's it, I think. 31 days of horror. 31 screams to be had. It's been a fun project. I hope your Halloween was good, and I hope your month was good. Rest well, knowing that the terrors are behind you all for another year. Not me, though. I have my own fight ahead. NaNoWriMo, in which 50,000 words of fiction are going to somehow course through these fingers and fire off into a word document. Wish me luck. Facing a Slashing Beast will be easy compared to this. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 30 (The Cabin In The Woods)

I wonder what this movie is about.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. A bunch of sexy college kids drive up into the isolated woods for a weekend retreat, to drink and do drugs and flirt with each other and do sexy college kid stuff. Unfortunately, things take a darker turn while they're up there. One by one, they die horrible deaths, until only one girl is left standing at the end, victorious over the wild-eyed monsters trying to kill her. It all sounds pretty standard, and it usually is... but you forget our waltz. Wait. Are you getting a sense of deja vu as well? We're back in the woods again. Weren't we here yesterday? Or was it last week? I can't be sure any more. Lines are being blurred. This is... dear God, this is the power of meta being applied to us! We're caught in a chronic hysterisis! we're supposed to be talking about The Cabin In The Woods, and how brilliant it is. Instead we're--


Stop me if you've heard this one before. A bunch of sexy college kids drive up into the isolated woods for a weekend retreat, to drink and do drugs and flirt with each other and do sexy college kid stuff. Except, while all that is happening, there's a whole other movie hiding within. The fourth wall isn't just porous or broken. It is non-existant. On the other side are technicians working in an underground bunker, plotting everything that happens in the other movie. These are the behind-the-scenes crew, and this is just another job for them. Just another production steeped in the blood of the impure. Hell, their man up above even says it. They are impure and will be cleansed... and they laugh at how intense he is. Jesus Christ, Mordecai, get it together. Whatever horror show these folks are planning, it's not going to end well for these kids. We need to warn them before it's too--


Stop me if you've heard this one before. A bunch of sexy college kids drive up into the isolated woods for a weekend retreat, to drink and do drugs and flirt with each other and do sexy college kid stuff. Except, their cabin's cellar is full of strange and mystical objects. The behind-the-scenes guys have a betting pool going, and now the kids are checking out all these things. We know what this is. We never watched Ghostbusters for the blog. Either of them. This is in the playbook of Gozer. Choose the form of the destructor, the Slashing Beast that will haunt. A ballerina? A ghost? A killer clown? The choice is made. Zombie redneck torture family. Everything that literal Chad feared about Tucker and Dale, given reanimated flesh. 40 minutes in, death has come for our college kids. May we accept this offering in humility and fear, even as a screaming blonde's head is severed. It soon becomes apparent that they are trapped; trapped in an isolated bubble, unseen puppet masters plotting their deaths. Plot they do, and die they do, until our final girl is screaming and suffering for the entertainment of... someone. Who? Who could it be--


Stop me if you've heard this one before. A bunch of sexy college kids drive up into the isolated woods for a weekend retreat, to drink and do drugs and flirt with each other and do sexy college kid stuff. Unfortunately, things take a darker turn while they're up there. One by one, they die horrible deaths, until only one girl is left standing at the end, victorious over the wild-eyed monsters trying to kill her. Except... that's not what happens. The stoner lived. He and our pure final girl escape into the underground. With no fourth wall and no other hope, they leap off of the screen and into the writer's room. Every monster, every magic being, every beast. Everything you ever were afraid of is down here, and the technicians are in a panic. They know. Failure to adhere to The Formula will mean certain doom. Certain doom comes, though. Our two kids get out. They know they're on the chopping block to appease something. They defy their fate. They break the chronic hysterisis, and purge the system.


Stop me if you've heard this one before. There are ancient things who demand entertainment in the form of blood. The technicians and behind-the-scenes folk offer them a variety of scenarios, all following the same theme. A bunch of sexy college kids drive up into the isolated woods for a weekend retreat, to drink and do drugs and flirt with each other and do sexy college kid stuff. Unfortunately, things take a darker turn while they're up there. One by one, they die horrible deaths, until only one girl is left standing at the end, victorious over the wild-eyed monsters trying to kill her. This is what happens. This is what's always happened. Time and time again this has happened, and the ancient ones have been appeased. That is not what happens here. Here, then, is a different sort of appeasement. Every monster ever made, rampaging throughout the facility, killing every technician in sight. Their machinations fail, and they're wiped out... except for their leader, who confronts the two remaining kids with the truth. If they don't die, the ancient ones revolt and it's the end of the world. They refuse. They defy their destiny, and the ancient ones rise up. The world ends.


Stop me if you've heard this one before. The ancient ones are us. The Cabin In The Woods has engineered a meta scenario in which a bunch of people meticuously set up the violent deaths of innocent college kids, all beholden to a bullshit set of rules and archetypes about who dies first and who can live to tell the tale. All of it to satisfy the whims of the creatures watching, who will end the world if they're not appeased. It's us. Us, the people watching people get arrows stuck through their throats or blended in their beds or killed by aliens from outer space. Hell, the director of the facility is Sigourney Weaver! A final girl herself who has transcended things in her survival, and now follows the rules. Cabin In The Woods is the Undertale of slasher films; much how that game twists the knife on player convention in RPGs, The Cabin In The Woods has you watching people who are calmly watching people be murdered. You might think it's super fucked up. It is! This is what confronting the Slashing Beast is all about! It's the realization that watching people get murdered for no reason is super fucked up! It's brilliant. Its ending is still satisfying, even to this blood-soaked ancient god. It's an absolutely wonderful self-aware horror film, and the best of the meta ones. Tucker and Dale comes close, though. We know more about ourselves now. We know how to confront the Slashing Beast. Now we can go back. Back to one of the keypoints where it began.


It's Halloween night. Let's finish this.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

31 Days, 31 Screams: Day 29 (Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil)

You've got red on you.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. A bunch of sexy college kids drive up into the isolated woods for a weekend retreat, to drink and do drugs and flirt with each other and do sexy college kid stuff. Unfortunately, things take a darker turn while they're up there. One by one, they die horrible deaths, until only one girl is left standing at the end, victorious over the wild-eyed monster trying to kill her. It all sounds pretty standard, and it usually is... but you forget our waltz. The Mistress of Meta is here, and it's only now that we can understand what's happening here. This is a deliberate trilogy of meta horror movies that has been chosen. Scream flipped things around and passed judgement on the slashers themselves. This movie flips an entire premise around, in order to pass judgement on the typical horror movie victims. This is Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, and it's actually pretty brilliant. I'm about to spoil it so go see it or something. I know I haven't given that disclaimer before, but before we had standard horror movies. With meta, the way the twisted premises work are important. So. Go see Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, please. Now let's talk about how it's brilliant.

Well, like I said, it turns the whole premise around. From the college kids' point of view, they're being picked off one by one by a pair of psychotic redneck serial killers. What is actually happening is a comedy of errors and misunderstandings. Tucker and Dale are harmless country boys who just want to fix up their vacation home, drink beer, and go fishing. Their act of helping the girl who falls into the water and hits her head convinces the other kids that their friend has been KIDNAPPED BY THE HILLBILLIES and sets this whole nonsense off. These idiots aren't getting picked off. They're just the most accident-prone group of slasher fodder to ever exist, and they're too blinded to realize that this is what is happening. Everything they see and hear is filtered through their own prejudices, none more so than their de facto leader. This guy. This fucking guy. He's the standard slasher movie jock character, a total dudebro Chad whose actual fucking name is Chad. Utterly determined to make THE HILLBILLIES pay for the murder of his friends, this guy. He even captures one and cuts off two of his fingers, demanding their lady friend back. Threatened to shoot an innocent dog, too! Why is he so blinded by all this? He's got some tragic backstory about his mother barely surviving a bog-standard HILLBILLY MURDER SPREE or some shit, so that is why he DISTRUSTS ALL COUNTRY FOLK ON SIGHT. This line of thinking spreads, of course. Even characters who don't hold that particular prejudice are utterly blinded to the reasonable truth being presented right in fucking front of them. Their friend is saying that these country boys aren't violent murderers and that she's perfectly fine? IT'S VERY OBVIOUSLY STOCKHOLM SYNDROME SHE'S JOINED FORCES WITH THE DEVIL HILLBILLIES! Look through the cabin window and see Chad and Dale sitting at the table having tea? Reasonable chat? THEY MUST BE HELD HOSTAGE BY THOSE HILLBILLIES IT IS THE ONLY EXPLANATION! Oh, and in that latter case, those fools charge in and cause the deaths of not only themselves but the other girl in the cabin with them.

Well, then the final act has Chad rushing off with Allison, the lady friend who's been with Tucker and Dale all this time. Does he go for help from his severe injuries? I mean, he survived an exploding cabin and looks like fucking Two-Face at this point. Nope. He, and I swear to Jesus this is true, takes her to a lumber mill and ties her up like a mustache-twirling villain, ready to saw her in half. What in the everloving fuck? Here's the real evil. A well-adjusted college kid who presumably wanted to get laid in the woods encountered some ordinary country folk and became a murderous psycho himself. The revelation that his father was a murderous psycho country boy who forced himself upon his mother is only icing on the cake. The real evil in the title was prejudice, and Chad is not only full of it but he literally has become the embodiment of the thing he was so determined to kill with a hand axe for this entire movie; a petty murderous "half-hillbilly" who wants to saw an innocent girl in half for DARING to not hate those country bastards as much as he does. Go back to that cold open, though. That little found footage snippet where two people die. That's him! He survived and he's the killer now! He has been revealed as every bit the monster as the people he hates, and in doing so the meta has condemned the victims for being blinded to the real truth. What's the movie call that again? Ah yes. "Lack of communication.". An infuriating trope, usually, but applied well in this movie because of the dark comedy of it all. A man trips and falls into a wood chipper because he was determined to stab a man from behind, for god's sakes! Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil was very enjoyable, however, and a great little reversal of everything we thought we knew about Slashing. Hold up, though. Today we saw the standard horror victim be judged. Yesterday it was the standard horror killer. Who's left? You should know. The fourth wall's gone now, washed away by the dance. Everyone on stage has faced their judgement, so there's only one group left to be judged.

Us. Tomorrow we face our accusations in another cabin in the woods...