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8:22 AM on 05.18.2015

Mad Max Fury Road: I LIVE! I DIE! I LIVE AGAIN!

(Quick note: To illustrate the film more clearly, I added some gifs from around the web for demonstration purposes. These are not my own.)

I’ll be honest, I’ve so far been incredibly bored with everything that has come out of the summer blockbuster season. There is nothing particularly artful or considered about many of them. Even Star Wars Episode 7 is a long ways off. It seems like we’re doomed to more CGI and invincible heroes due to ridiculous contracts, right?

Well, enter George Miller, the 70-year old director of the Mad Max trilogy, far removed from that period of automotive insanity and Mel Gibson not being a racist scumbag. His ace in the hole happens to be a vague reboot of his trademark series. What could that bring to the table?

Well, a lot really.

In Mad Max Fury Road, we’re once again put in the shoes of Max Rockatansky(here played by Tom Hardy), a man of few words and a haunted past that occurs as a serious case of PTSD. Within the first few minutes, Max is captured by a violent group of brigands known as the War Boys, shaven-headed young men who follow a twisted version of Norse mythology, and lead by charismatic slimeball Immortan Joe(Hugh-Keys Byrne). Max, after being turned into a human bloodbag for the anemic but no-less determined warboy Nux(Nicholas Hoult) and tied to the front of a car, forms a tenuous alliance with the Imperiator Furiosa(Charlize Theron), whose whole goal is to smuggle Joe's five, ahem, "wives" across the vast wastelands to safety.

Mad Max: Fury Road rarely wastes the audience’s time through its seeming refusal to stop moving, only doing so to flesh out the film’s surprisingly well-developed characters, a good portion of which are women. The film feels like the breeziest two hours anyone could spend at the theater as Miller's entire intent with the film is to constantly overwhelm the audience with ever-escalating action sequences that are filled with strange characters and locales, some of which bring to mind the auteur worldbuilding of Terry Gilliam. While the majority of the film is shot on location with practical sets and effects, there is enough raw imagination to effectively remove the film from its Australian roots and into a world completely divorced from any conceivable reality. From the breathtaking shots of the Citadel to a stunningly beautiful battle through an electromagnetic storm, the films the ante every chance it gets.

Moreover, Miller and co-writer Brandon McCarthy seemingly make the most effort to use the least dialogue to convey everything. The film's connections to the previous films are mostly easter eggs for eagle-eyed fans, and for the most part you don't even need to watch any other film in the series to enjoy it. The rest of the film's backstory is told through implications and bits and pieces. Miller believes his audience is smart enough to glean that Immortan Joe did horrifying things to his wives, that Nicholas Hoult's Nux has some form of cancer, or that Furiosa did... Some things that lead to her path to redemption. Nothing is explicitly spelled out, but it's enough to get the job done while not treating the audience like blithering idiots.

While Hardy does a good job of doing his man-of-few-words character, it's Theron that deserves a lot of praise. She's the main focus of the film, really, but this is to be expected of the series that traditionally casts its title character as something of a supporting character, helping out anyone it can. Here, Theron sets something of a standard for action heroines that was previously the wheelhouse of Ellen Ripley, playing a character who is torn up with the guilt of her past actions and is willing to do anything to confront it and make up for it. Theron commands a menacing yet heroic presence, more than capable of standing toe-to-toe with the Road Warrior himself as well as a near-endless supply of goons in tricked out cars. Her story arc, where she eventually stands up to her former employer's misogyny and eventually leads to being a leader for a rebellion, is one of the choice cuts of the film and one of the reasons why the film is a step up from the usual milieu of blockbusters.

On the topic, this subgenre of scifi is often at its best when it takes current societal problems to their logical extreme. It sets its sights on the poisonous influence of capitalism and its benefits to a patriarchal system. The film's trio of villains represent a different slice of the pie. Immortan Joe both directly benefits from the exploitation of humans, particularly the various women he has taken as "property" and various men he has brainwashed, and artificially controls the remaining natural resources to create some kind of false scarcity. The People Eater is a severely obese man in a suit who is rarely concerned for human rights and would rather talk about business, describing Immortan Joe's selfish chase across the wastes as a "family squabble." Lastly, we have the Bullet Farmer, a thoroughly over-the-top parody of the military-industrial complex whose idea of a good time is blindly shooting into the darkness to classical music. They flaunt their wealth without shame, and it wouldn't be considered all that subtle if it weren't for the chaos happening around them.

Lastly, we have one of the best film scores in years. Composer Junkie XL knows exactly what kind of music would enthrall the audience, bringing to mind the classical works of Bernard Herrmann and even Maurice Jarre. The soundscape that the film creates is sometimes diegetic, with the War Boys's theme being played by multiple drummers and a man who plays a flamethrowing-guitar known only as the Doof Warrior, and that nearly steals the show if it weren't for, well, everything else. It's an impressive effort for someone whose main experience is with electronic music, and the classical stuff turns the theater into a cacophonous warscape. In a good way, of course.

Finally, Miller has made an action film that isn't restricted by Hollywood standards and cliches. It is chaotic without being bogged down with extensive CGI trickery, and the action is still easy to follow because of Miller's knowledge of filmmaking. It rarely resorts to the sexism that tends to occur within the genre, giving Theron and the five wives far more character development and much more to do than what a lesser film would give to the standard love interest. The fact that near the end we're introduced to a gang of bikers known as the Vuvalini who could be old enough to be grandmothers while still kicking ass is also something I didn't know I wanted.

The film must be seen to be believed. It cuts away the fat that is normally apparent in blockbusters while adding so much more to the table that not even its similarly chaotic predecessors could do. It's thrilling without being stupid, even being bitingly satirical. Every action sequence shows a massive level of craftsmanship to the choreography, the art direction, and the fact that mostly all of it is done for real, with real cars and real stunts and real fucking explosions. There is something for everyone here.

RATING: Five Stars out of Five


12:23 PM on 12.07.2014

Framed Review- Man on the run

You're just a normal private dick, smoking a cig in your office, when suddenly the cops appear and knock down your door. You've never commited a crime in your life, you think. Why are they after me? Armed with only a mysterious briefcase and your wits, you start running. Eventually, a woman in a bowler hat is roped in to this, and at first it seems like they're working together, but it turns out to be ambigious. And there's also a Bond-villain-like man with a mustache after you both...

That's only the surface of the iOS/Android game Framed, an interactive comic/puzzle/stealth game that notably recieved recognition from Hideo Fuckin' Kojima as his Game of the Year. It's very easy to see why, since the game is probably one of the most clever puzzle games in recent memory, telling a complete noir tale where you have to direct the course of the story so the two protagonists make it to the end.

Developer: Loveshack
Publisher: Loveshack
Platforms: iOS, Android

If you haven't played it yet, the gameplay of Framed is deceptively simple. You have to move panels of a comic around so the protagonist makes it to the end of the page without being caught by guards, falling off a building, or otherwise getting stuck. For the most part, you'll be planning your next move by changing the order of panels and letting the story play out. Like any good puzzle game, more ideas are added as you go, such as pinned panels which can only be tilted, and moments where you have to reuse panels to get to the end. This makes it uniquely engrossing, plotting out scenes like a Hollywood director and making sure that the scenes go without a hitch, and while many of the pages are deviously designed, there's no penalty to trial and error. It's basically a given that you'll watch your characters fail quite a bit on your first go through.

The story is presented with no dialogue, letting the wonderful presentation do most of the talking. Every character is a rotoscoped sillouette performed by live actors, with little touches of color, contrasting with the more colorful city. The whole thing is a throwback to the heyday of noir, with a jazzy soundtrack and familiar archetypes populating the scenes, while the "man on the run" concept is fairly evocative of films such as North By Northwest. More importantly, the composition, staging and execution of each page is quite good, which raises the comic motif from a mere gimmick to integral to enjoying the whole thing.

Framed provides an excellent way of playing a narrative game. Though the story isn't multi-pronged, it's enjoyable to watch each scene play out like it should after much deliberation and trial and error, and successfully tells a stylish noir tale through a unique format. It's 5 dollars on the App Store and can be finished in an afternoon, but I think these guys are on to something about the future of narrative games.


1:49 PM on 10.12.2014

Bayonetta 2 Demo impressions

You begin this demo standing atop of a jet fighter. And not just any jet fighter, but a jet fighter careening through a city desperately trying to stay in flight while you are reducing monstrous angels to clouds of feathers and viscera. But who cares about that poor pilot when you're coming to grips with the game's smooth-as-butter controls and gameplay mechanics? Eventually, as the jet is reduced to scrap by some angel-dragon-serpant thingy, you find yourself fighting a bigger, much stronger angel on top of a train, dodging his attacks with impeccable precision and revealing his disgusting collection of eyes. THAT angel becomes dinner for one of your demons from the previous game, but what's this? The demon, appropriately named Gommorah, sends the soul of your partner, Jeanne, into the depths of hell, and breaks free of your hairy bonds! Time to fight your former ally and get revenge(ance)! Is he the final boss, you ask. He seems quite difficult and massive, and acts like some cross between Godzilla and King Kong, so why is he the first boss?

Well, that's only the prologue, my friend. 

GAME: Bayonetta 2
Developer: PlatinumGames
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: October 24th, 2014

Ah, yes, this is a Platinum game. Though they are critical darlings and have a dedicated fanbase, they have rarely recieved the popular recognition that they deserve, and it's not really difficult to notice why. Their games are usually full of mechanical complexity, the kind rarely seen outside the realm of fighting games. They ask a whole lot out of the player from the very beginning, encouraging multiple playthroughs in the process. And for the most part, their games are, in a word, sort of crazy. To give you an idea, their most sedate game to date is Metal Gear Rising. Think about that. Their games rarely let up on that part either, so what should be the final boss in every other game becomes the boss of the first level.

So, even from my limited experience from Metal Gear Rising and The Wonderful 101(two games that I highly, highly reccomend), the gameplay is instantly familiar. You have two buttons here, for punches and kicks respectively, and for people who have played The Wonderful 101, the buttons are now mapped to the X and A buttons, presumably for their proximity to the right analog stick. successfully completing a combo, for example, unleashes a devastating Wicked Weave. Using Love is Blue(your new guns), for example, summons the hands and legs of Madama Butterfly for a strong punch or kick, while having the Rakshasa swords and Alruna whips equiped summons larger blades and whips. Attacking builds up a magic meter, which can be unleashed(*snicker*) in two equally satisfying ways. Torture Attacks brutalizes a single enemy in exchange for their weapons(in the full game), while Umbran Climax turns every blow into a Wicked Weave and ending combos in summoning entire demons("Infernal Weaves," if you will). Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but most of the time I just used Umbran Climax for the purposes of crowd control. The Y button also has the purpose of continuous shooting, which is useful for continuing combos even if there are few enemies near you.

With these two weapon sets(which can be switched without delay), you can set up countless combos quite easily. Aiding you is the tried-and-true Witch Time mechanic, which after a successful dodge slows down time for you and leaves foes vulnerable. Your combo score is temperarily increased while in Witch Time, which makes it a classically helpful and satisfying mechanic. Also back is Dodge Offset, which by holding the button you were attacking with while dodging at the same time negates the effect. It takes a moment to get used to, but it's also really helpful once it's learned.

The audiovisual aspect is also really impressive. For a game that runs on weaker hardware, Platinum makes full use of the system's capabilities, having the game run undeniably smoothly with eye-popping colors and detailed characters. The weird yellow filter and real-is-brown inclinations of the first Bayonetta and MGR, respectively, are entirely removed, which allows the game's flamboyant art direction shine even brighter. The performance is, more importantly, a massive step-up from their last Wii U game, The Wonderful 101, shining where that game struggled to keep up. There are occasionally noticable drops, but they rarely get in the way of gameplay. The music, too, is classic stuff, like all the electric sugar that you can take.

The demo comes out fifteen days before the release of the full game, and the full game will inevitably be a much bigger game than the demo, which consists of just a few portions of the prologue. Still, it's an exciting vertical cut of gameplay, and you'll probably use up all 15 plays before the actual game is here. 


6:46 AM on 09.17.2014

Boxcollector's Neverending Playlist: The Wonderful 101

Video game music doesn't really get the complete recognition it deserves. Around here it does, but in other circles it's not exactly seen as respectable. It may just be because it's seemingly secondary to every other aspect of a game, or that it's supposed to loop around it, which somehow makes it not a song(?). But forget about that. This is a blog for music that developers lovingly inflict upon our eardrums and provide whatever appropriate reaction there is to what's happening. 

Name: The Wonderful 101 Official Soundtrack, Vol 1. and Vol. 2
Label: Sumthing Else/Polaris Tone
Composer(s): Hiroshi Yamaguchi, Rei Kondoh, Akira Takazawa, Norihiko Hibino, Masato Kouda, Hitomi Kurokawa, feat. FORESTA, Jimmy Wilcox, Rob McElroy, and Bruce Blanchard

To start this off we have The Wonderful 101, whose soundtrack you can get digitally right now in two $10 volumes. If you're familiar with the developer, they've been quite the character when it comes to crafting a great score. From the electro-jazz of Bayonetta, the underground hip-hip that characterized MadWorld/Anarchy Reigns to the comical nu-metal guilty pleasure that is the Metal Gear Rising soundtrack, their soundtrack catalog is pretty eclectic for a developer whose game count only made it to ten recently. And before all of that, Okami was one of my favorite soundtracks ever. But what about this?

Well, The Wonderful 101 is a rather evocative soundtrack. It all at once evokes the Sci-fi Supermarionation shows of Gerry Anderson, the cheesier Tokusatsu shows of the 60s and 70s, and the tunes that mainly dominated anime back the days of creator Hideki Kamiya's childhood. It's appropriately bombastic, emotional and sometimes hilariously over-the-top. Considering how the game constantly yet lovingly lampoons these genres, it's appropriate that the soundtrack would be a total pastiche of it.

This of course wouldn't be possible without some really talented composers. The most famous of these composers is one Norihiko Hibino, of Metal Gear Solid and Bayonetta fame, but nearly everyone involved does a fantastic job of creating some fist-pumping orchestral anthems. Most of these people have been in games that you've seen before (Okami, Fire Emblem Awakening), so some of it may feel familiar. Since the soundtrack consists of 127 tracks, I really can't go through them all without making this blog prohibitively long in the tooth, so I'll just list some of my favorites.

 The Won-Stoppable Wonderful 100
Composer: Hiroshi Yamaguchi
Singers: FORESTA(Japanese); Jimmy Wilcox, Rob McElroy and Bruce Blanchard(English)

Just to let you all know, the soundtrack version of this is slightly different. It has an outro for starters, but also sounds cleaner. But I'm too lazy to learn Sony Vegas, so here's the game version, with lyrics!

Anyhow, considering what I compared the game to, it needs a little theme tune to go along with it. Thankfully, Kamiya and friends knew better and gave us a very appropriate theme song. The composition is purposefully bombastic, similar to Barry Gray's theme for Thunderbirds, and the utterly ridiculous lyrics("Go, go, team!/Demolish those fiends!/Toss them in the garbage can!/Wipe the floor/with aliens galore/'Til the world is spic 'n' span!" is one lyrical highlight) set the tone perfectly. It always shows up when you defeat a boss, which makes fighting the various alien beasties that you come across in your travels even more satisfying.

 Tables Turn
Composer: Hiroshi Yamaguchi

Speaking of bosses, this game has plenty of them. Spread out across the game's 27 levels are boss missions that put you at odds with some of the ugliest mofos that GEATHJERK has to offer. I really don't want to spoil it all, but they could routinely be good final bosses if this were any other game, let's say that. After a long and harsh battle, the odds are now in your favor, with this to go along with it. The marching percussion, determined horns and roaring tempo accurately create the undeniable feeling that yes, you will win, no matter how hard it gets.

Vorkken's Theme
Composer: Hitomi Kurokawa

Prince Vorkken isn't really a run-of-the-mill evil counterpart. Well, he's got the same powers, but he's a rather refined, if all-around immoral, man of wealth and taste to boot, which this bit of music accurately communicates to the listener. It's appropriately regal and whimsical, with prominent strings, and feels like a Danny Elfman piece. Will you not fight against this fella for the fate of Dearth? Also, I forgot to mention that his English voice actor played Raiden in Metal Gear Rising.

Composer: Rei Kondoh

Heroic. Tension-filled. Dramatique! This wouldn't feel out of place with the same composer's work in Fire Emblem Awakening, feeling like a good battle theme for Chrom and friends, but even without that in mind, this is the perfect tune for a pivotal battle. Its first appearance is pretty spoiler-y, so I won't make it the point of this description. 


It's frankly a crime that this game was so overlooked over a year back, and people still like to overlook it in favor of its gorier, easier and still Wii U exclusive bigger sister Bayonetta 2. And while Bayonetta is undeniably more intuitive, people missed out on a true original, a bold reinvention of the beat-em-up genre that was also a nostalgic tribute to the superhero genre. The music, too, is quite honestly one of my favorite Nintendo soundtracks, on par with Mario Galaxy at least. It's heroic, it's routinely preposterous and bombastic, and hugely exciting. I'd prefer it if you got both the game and the soundtrack, but you can just get the soundtrack by itself and have yourself both a massive deal(keep in mind that it would normally take up 5 CDs and it would probably be more expensive) and a beautiful soundtrack. Unite Up, Dtoid!


7:04 AM on 04.09.2014


Oh hey, they're revealing Megaman's final smash, I wonder if it's something cool...

Wait, what?

Is that X? The X that they had never touched even for Marvel Vs. Capcom? Yes, that's definitely X. Wow, that's pretty cool of Nintendo to add him as a little cameo...

Hold on, it's those EXE and Star Force guys! I used to watch EXE. on saturday morning TV! Will the wonders ever end...

Wait a sec, that's a face I'll never forget. He doesn't have a helmet, either... that's VOLNUTT! Capcom basically shuttered the poor bastard with his game, but now he's back, bitch!

Oh my, they're standing in a row, Mega Busters at the ready, and it's time... BOOM!

Fuck that Megaman X-Over shit, this IS the closest thing that we'll get to an awesome Mega-crossover. Actually, fuck it, Nintendo should fund such an endeavor. There is absolutely no reason why this moment should be restricted to a finishing move at all.   read

8:56 AM on 04.02.2014

PSA: The Wonderful 101 is now $30 on the eShop(and Elsewhere, too)

Originally, I was going to write a blog on how much I loved this game and how it was massively under-appreciated it was even in the face of other Nintendo games that came out at the time of its release. It was basically the EarthBound/Psychonauts of today, a game that never got the recognition it deserved but probably will a few years down the line. How it's a masterfully hilarious mix of combat, music, story and style. How it gave me my money's worth with a ton of content. And also how reviewers criticized it for "poor controls" despite videos that had people playing it effortlessly. 

Instead of tell you of how much I like it, however, I want to give you the opportunity to experience it.

If you own a Wii U/want one and you don't own this game, I have some good news for you. The digital version of the game received a rather staggering price drop to $30 from $60. That's pretty, well, wonderful, especially considering the fact that this is a first party title and it's frustratingly rare that Nintendo would ever drop the price on a game, much less on a digital platform. But don't dwell on how it did in the sales department, make some room or buy an external hard drive to play the game ASAP.

If you're like me and like to buy things physically, though, no problem. The game has been at oh-so-nice prices like $30 at places like Toys R UsBest BuyAmazon, and Walmart for a while now. In fact, the digital price seems to be a response to those massive price drops, interestingly enough. On Amazon, you can even basically buy the game as a companion purchase with other games like DKC: Tropical Freeze and Pikmin 3, with how free shipping works, or get it in a preorder with developer Platinum Games's next game, Bayonetta 2! Either way, it's a steal.   read

7:52 AM on 11.27.2013

Wonderful 101: What are you going to do with all these heroes?

This game is demanding.

If you don't shut up and pay attention to what's going on, you're bound to not do very well. Frequently you'll be bombarded with numerous enemies, ranging from little grunts to massive monsters and gigantic robots, and if you want that coveted Pure Platinum rank, you're gonna have to use more than simple button mashing to obtain it. But first, you're going to have to practice how fast you can draw with an analog stick or touchscreen, or just watch one of these useful videos to get yourself acquainted to the mechanics.

I believe this is the reason the game is so divisive even with the two or so people with a Wii U. You're either going to like a demanding, technically complex brawler like this with unconventional controls, a la God Hand, or dismiss it as impenetrable nonsense with terrible controls and unclear instructions. And really, the controls do take some getting used to, but not in the "murder on the hands" way like Kid Icarus Uprising. It just takes practice, really, but it's the kind of practice that reviewers aren't likely to do.

For the uninitiated, The Wonderful 101's main mechanic involves drawing Unite Morphs, little symbols that activate certain powers. Drawing a circle activates Unite Hand, which is your main damage dealer, drawing a straight line activates Unite Sword, which is probably going to be the beginner's weapon, and drawing a right angle activates Unite Gun, which is more or less a support weapon. The size and power of Unite Morphs are totally dependent on how big you draw it, with larger morphs being absolutely devastating but doesn't contribute much to your combo score. Like everything here, practicing this system is key to being successful in the game.

As you continue to level up your characters, you can unlock different moves for each Unite Morph depending on how much you use them. Unite Hand's variation on Wonderful Rising is bound to be different from Unite Gun's variation, for example. This encourages you to string together combos of many different Unite Morphs so you can eventually unlock a full list of possible combos. You can also buy and equip skills, such as parrying and faster drawing with the right stick, quite useful if you're going for speed necessary for the Pure Platinum rank. 

It's this depth that makes the game oh so very replayable, allowing you to go back to levels where you weren't so sure about how the game played with new-found knowledge and skill and ace it with flying colors. I did pretty poorly on the first real level, mainly due to the lack of a dodge move in my repertoire at the time. Now, I've managed to get a Pure Platinum for my efforts. And you're actively encouraged to do this, thanks to an extensive medal system, a ton of secrets, and a long list of moves and combos to learn and use. And if you feel frustrated, you won't get it right on your first try. You'll inevitably get a lot of consolation prizes(the lowest rank in the game) on your first playthrough, and that's fine. Keep playing, and you will be rewarded with something great. Plus, the difficulty level can be changed between levels, a design choice that successfully splits the difference between Plat's usual audience of Adrenaline junkies and newcomers.

The gameplay is wrapped in a candy-coated, Saturday Morning cartoon presentation and story, one that lampoons equal parts Power Rangers, Superfriends, Godzilla, Silver Age comics and Giant Robot anime. The game is one that clearly isn't serious, and would probably be considered a cavalcade of cliches if it weren't for the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Robots will be punched, dragons will be cleaved in half in midair, enemies will tower above every conceivable thing like scale doesn't matter, and that's just in the first two hours of the game. The presentation is also similar to a grand toy playset, with the environments having a pleasingly tactile look and your team essentially being the superhero equivalent of green plastic soldiers, where the mentality of throwing action figures at each other is taken to literal extremes. Top-notch voice acting, a legitimately hilarious script and a bombastic orchestral score add to the effect.

The boss fights are a particular highlight. Expect to see one or two minibosses in every level, and every final level in a particular operation gets an increasingly absurd boss as well. Platinum's commitment to absurd action particularly shines in the massive bosses that you will be fighting throughout. In the first boss level alone, you'll chase a flying King Ghidorah-like dragon in a rail-shooter section, hook onto its tail, and then fight the beast on its back while it is still airborne, and then take out one of the monster's eyes and take control of the eyeless head and bite the other head off. But that's not the end of it. You'll soon be walking on pieces of debris, avoiding the dragon and throwing bombs at the final head. Once it's weakened, you do some fencing with its sword-wielding rider, use the bow on the statue that the beast had attempted to destroy to pierce the dragon, and then cut both the rider and the dragon in half, destroying them once and for all. It only gets better from there.

The game isn't without problems, though. The Gamepad segments has the normally smooth flow of the gameplay come to a screeching halt, where the perspective is flipped to your controller and you have to look at both screens to solve puzzles. The puzzles themselves often give you unlimited time to solve them(it'll hurt your score if you dawdle, though), with at least one exception so far, but the awful motion-controlled camera combined with a rather wonky lock-on button make it more trouble than its worth. It's somewhat alleviated by using the Pro Controller and having the Gamepad off to the side, though. This is also one of the few problems that isn't alleviated as you get better. 

In addition, the game's genre is... fluid, to say the least. Sometimes you'll be controlling a ship Star Fox-style, travel underwater in an homage to Zaxxon and Gradius, a straight behind the shoulder beat-em up in one boss fight, a Mr. Driller homage, and even two bosses that are a fairly obvious homage to Punch-Out!!!, complete with a way to play identically to the actual game. If you know these games, these are neat additions, but they can still throw you off from getting a Pure Platinum.

The Wonderful 101 and your opinion of it completely depends on how much time you're willing to spend on it. If you're the kind of person that plows through a game in a few weekends and never touches it again, this isn't the game for you. But, if you're willing to learn the ropes and continue to get better at it, you'll quite possibly play one of the most wildly original and replayable games of the year. Even if the game won't get the recognition it deserves right now, it'll hopefully gain a sizable cult audience as well. Then again, what Platinum/Clover Studio game hasn't?   read

11:23 AM on 11.09.2013

Alternatives to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

Next friday, we will finally see the official release of the highly anticipated PlayStation 4, with its red-headed stepcousin the Xbox One to follow. Kinda crazy that we're seeing the official kick-off to the next generation after an abnormally long one with the Wii/360/PS3, huh? And I'm planning to buy a PS4 at least.

Just not anytime soon.

And some of you may ask, why? Well, it's pretty simple. A smart consumer waits until there's enough of a reason to get one, and right now, we mostly have a small collection of last-gen ports, freemium pap, and indie games that you can get elsewhere. The most original thing in the line up is eerily similar to the Werehog sequences in Sonic Unleashed, of all things. The Xbox One might have some better launch exclusives, but I won't plunk down $500 for one.

So what if you want something different than the hype machines that the new consoles seem to be?

Build yourself a PC
There's an overused stereotype with console fans that PC gaming is too costly and full of snobs who look down on them, the equivalent of enrolling in Harvard if you're a street urchin. Companies like Alienware, who largely peddle over-priced rigs, don't exactly help the stereotype's prevalence. The thing is, the community surrounding the PC market is opening up its doors to the so-called unwashed masses, hoping to make PCs a viable alternative to a console. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of build tutorials circulating the internet, and chances are, you'll find a build that fits your budget. The other good part is that it's never been easier to build a PC, with parts that emphasize modular construction and easy replacement, and it usually doesn't require anything more than basic tools to make it. Heck, you could probably make the case out of Legos and it would still work well.

On the library side of things, it arguably trumps them all. Steam alone has thousands of cheap yet quality games to choose from, and they'll all inevitably look better than their console brethren even on medium specs. It'll also have most of the games the PS4 and Xbone have, and will usually play better than their console counterparts at the right specs. There's also a lot of peripherals to use outside of the traditional mouse and keyboard, which helps add to the variety of games to play. If you want to go into a legal gray area, you can get into the wonderful world of emulators. Don't want to pirate? There's now USB connectors that allow you to play your NES/SNES/Genesis/N64 cartridges on your computer, as well as certain disc drives for rom-dumping.

Buy a Nintendo 3DS and/or a PlayStation Vita
The difference between these two systems is nearly night and day, and there's even some kind of rivalry between their fans. And I have to ask, why can't these people be friends? Because you can probably do well by buying both. And at their current price, you can get a 3DS and Vita for the price of a PS4 and get a better library from both!

With the 3DS, you get a fantastic library of first-party games, with the recent release of Pokemon X and Y being the most obvious example, but it also trumps its console brother in sheer variety. Want a hardcore RPG? Have Fire Emblem Awakening and Shin Megami Tensei IV and have your ass beat. Want something slower-paced? Animal Crossing and Rune Factory 4 hold the answer. In the mood for some platforming goodness? Get Super Mario 3D LandDKC Returns and the Mighty Switch Force games for yo'self. Want to scare yourself shitless? Resident Evil Revelations is probably the scariest RE in years. Need a good multiplayer game? Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Mario Kart 7 are pretty good for that. Want to relive your childhood? Look at the two N64 remakes and a fast-growing library of NES/GB/GBC games. And the library continues to grow, with some great games coming out later this year and into next year, so it'll last you quite a while.

Vita provides something different, but still worthwhile. On the retail front, the unique Gravity Rush, the addicting Persona 4 Golden, and the impressive Killzone Mercenary are definite buys, as well as the variety of good ports to play on the go. the real stars here, however, are the massive amount of indie games. It totally makes up for the lack of retail games when you realize that there's basically an indie game being announced for Vita every other day. How else can you play Thomas Was AloneGuacamelee and Lone Survivor without a steam account and on the go? You should also take notice of some of the weirder niche stuff coming from the likes of XSEED and NIS America. In addition, if you're planning to buy a PS4 next year, it works as a good companion device, being able to operate and play PS4 games without even touching the power button or even turning on the television.

Play catch up, or go even further back in time
The old saying goes is that good things come to those who wait, and nowhere is this more apparent than with consoles nowadays. Launch customers are typically glorified beta testers, as their firmware divisions continuously tweak and refine the usually unfinished operating systems until they're somewhat stable. People that buy consoles well after this get a massive built-in library, a much more stable experience and a lack of the usual hangups experienced during the console's peak. So if you've been holding off on buying a 360, Wii or PS3, there's never been a better time to buy.

But let's say that you missed the consoles prior to that. No problem! You can probably get any console that you'd like for a reasonable price on Ebay or your local pawn shop. People that want less clutter can also buy hybrid consoles, such as the Retron 5, for very reasonable prices on stores like Amazon. Games as early as the Atari 2600 can also be bought this way, and depending on their rarity, you can probably build up a small library of games for little money.

Buy a Wii U
I know what you're probably thinking. Why this of all things? Didn't you just present some better options to us? And won't this be the worst next-gen system of the lot?

Well the thing is, the Wii U isn't that bad of a console, it just mostly depends on your taste, which is mainly why I listed this one last. However, there's some tangible benefits of buying it first and getting the other consoles later.

For starters, it's cheaper than the competition, being about $100 less than a PS4 and $200 less than an Xbone. It is also completely backwards compatible with the Wii library, the only next-gen console to have this functionality, so the whole "playing catch-up" thing can apply just as well there. One other thing is that there is a decent selection of bundles to buy this holiday season. There's a Wind Waker bundle that's out already, a Skylanders bundle fer the families, and a Mario bundle as well. So really, it's a much better deal than it was at launch.

As for games, there's a good selection of stuff that's out right now that you will likely never find anywhere else(besides NSMB). Pikmin 3 is easily the best thing that EAD has made since the GameCube, greatly expanding upon the strategy for micro-managing buffs. The Wonderful 101 is probably one of the best action games of the year, along with Metal Gear Rising. Zombi U is probably better than I thought it would be, going heavy with its sense of dread and the paranoia that comes with snooping around in the dark. Rayman Legends may not be exclusive anymore, but it offers one of the most unique multiplayer experiences on the system. Super Mario 3D World is also a bundle of pure joy that needs to be played. Beyond that, there's a lot of promising games on the horizon, such as Bayonetta 2Super Smash Bros.Xenoblade 2Mario Kart 8 and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. There's also a lot of oldies to play, which some may buy mostly because off-TV play is a great feature.

So there you have it. Even if it's not the most popular thing to do, there's a lot more viable options for Christmas than just the ones that everyone is talking about.   read

8:28 AM on 07.28.2013

Phil Fish: Absolute manchild or elaborate prank?

So Phil Fish had a self-destructive Twitter meltdown. Again. 

This time around, he got so mad that he decided to go "fuck this," shut down his Twitter, completely cancel the development of Fez II, and completely quit video games entirely. Just because of some shit people said about him on Twitter that he only helped worsen. Oh, and Jonathan Blow was involved, but he somehow knew better than to let things escalate to absurd levels.

It's often said that Fish is the best example of the "prima-donna game designer" that has grown increasingly common in this age of twitterings and faces in books. He's highly opinionated, which isn't bad in of itself, but he refuses to consider the validity of other people's arguments, arrogantly believing that he is the only sane one here. He also has the absurd notion that responding to trolls instead of simply ignoring them will make things better or more amusing, which has basically been his own undoing. His antics suggest that of a needy child who does ridiculous things to get attention, only he's a grown ass adult and nobody thinks that it's cute.

However, I'm here to present an alternative argument. That Phil may not even actually act like that, but is using these antics to play the usually gullible press like a violin and simply generate more publicity for his fledgling company. He's quite possibly the Andy Kaufman of video games.

Now, I'll say this. I'm pretty sure that Mr. Fish isn't as clever as he probably thinks he is, and certainly not as clever as the man he probably not coincidentally decided to make his profile pic. But the similarities are there. 

Kaufman's act was the epitome of "anti-comedy," acting up in public and using a host of characters and pranks to facilitate that, and even the person who was long thought to be the real Andy Kaufman was an act too. He never told actual jokes, and instead resorted to confusing and making fun of his audience, his peers and the press, and they couldn't get enough of him(well, some of them). More importantly, he was more comfortable hiding behind one of his characters, rarely breaking character as he portrayed horribly unfunny foreign men who could do a dead-on Elvis impression and tone-deaf lounge singers, while occasionally breaking out into a Mighty Mouse singalong. He was often said to have some kind of mental disorder, but that may just be another one of his tricks. The fact that his very real death from cancer was long considered fake speaks volumes about him.

Fish is a bit more ambiguous. His behavior is not out of the ordinary, unfortunately, as displayed by the likes of Cliffy B. and Jonathan Blow, who regularly resort to Twitter to voice their self-righteous "I'm right and everyone else can suck it" crap. But certain aspects of his persona just seem too exaggerated. He loves to stir the pot and poke hornet's nests, playing into the average gamer's mob mentality, and instead of letting it blow over like most internet drama does, he intentionally elevates it to absurd degrees for his own amusement. This creates a variety of amusing little exchanges, and between all the drama, Mr. Fish is probably laughing behind his computer. This isn't limited to Twitter, though. His infamous and very very public "Japanese games suck" outburst seems too similar to your average GameFAQs post to be taken seriously. Or, maybe, this is what he thought he was doing. Not to mention that it's widely thought that he has more than a few mental problems of his own.

Is Phil Fish really faking it? Well, maybe. It would be amusing if he really was playing the comically serious press like a violin, but on the other hand, this is Phil Fish that we're talking about. He may actually have serious problems or is at least a glutton for attention. Or, he could simply be a Kaufman wannabe with delusions of genius. Anything is possible at this point. For all we know, he could be working on Fez II right now, away from the prying eyes of a ravenous press, or currently in the process of getting an early retirement plan from Fez's lifetime sales.   read

3:53 PM on 07.25.2013

The Legend of Zelda symphony: a quickie blog

I saw this wonderful concert at the Mann Center last year, and it was the highlight of a summer that was otherwise a bit forgettable. And this concert was kind of a special thing for me at the time. For one, it was the first concert that I ever went to. And I was also a gigantic Zelda fan, though not as much as before, and it was one of the few of its kind to ever pass through Pennsylvania at all.

Despite my reservations, it turned out to be wonderful anyway. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra brought fan-favorite compositions to life with plenty of gusto and fanservice, while catering to the parents and non-fans in the audience as well.

So it's now the middle of summer, I've gained a few new friends and I'm a senior now. I never thought I could experience it again, but it came back anyway, to the same venue, with the legendary Philadelphia Orchestra taking the PSO's place. Will it top last year's extravaganza?

The funny thing about the concert is that it breaks every rule that the symphony traditionally abides by, taking more of a festival-like atmosphere than your typical concert. Pre-show, there's plenty of people walking around in costume waiting for a photo-op. Some were rather impressive, while others still had a homespun charm to them. Besides the multiple Links and Zeldas of all shapes, sizes and colors, there were two Skull Kids running amok(on a full moon, no less), two Tingles for some reason or another, a Happy Mask Salesman with a full backpack, and last but not least, the Groosenator himself. 

The sheer energy of the crowd is undeniable. Again, the audience usually forgoes the complete silence demanded of regular orchestral concerts, and it produces an atmosphere roughly similar to that of a rock concert. And who would blame them, when there are people who have come all the way from Florida(according to Streetpass, at least) just to see their favorite hero on stage, set against a world-renowned orchestra?

The actual concert started with a few surprise pieces. Namely, Link's Awakening and Spirit Tracks. The former strings together famous tracks from the Gameboy original, transforming the chirpy music found there into a seven minute epic, including renditions of Mabe Village and, you guessed it, Ballad of the Wind Fish, performing the last song rather differently than last year. Spirit Tracks was slightly hurt by my lack of familiarity with the game, but it was beautiful anyway.

The meat of the concert is the 4 movements, corresponding with a specific timeline path: Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker, Link To The Past, and Twilight Princess. While the Wind Waker and Twilight Princess movements can be heard in the Skyward Sword bonus CD, ALttP and OOT are entirely unique to the concert. The Link to the Past movement is probably one of the most moving songs of the entire setlist, nearly bringing me to tears in the end credits portion. The Wind Waker uses very celtic elements, OOT sounds pretty much what you would expect, but Twilight Princess is... bombastic. There's a lot of moments that will give you major goosebumps, is what I'm getting at.

Besides the four movements, the opening, and Gerudo Valley, few songs were retained from last year. Conspiciously missing is the Majora's Mask medley and the Ocarina songs. What we have now, though, is a moving rearrangement of Dragon Roost Island, performed with the right combination of nuance and bombast to feel just right, and making up for its conspicous absence from the WW medley. And, for the last song, a Skyward Sword medley that was actually listenable. There's a reason that caused one of the two standing ovations of the night, the other one being caused by A Link to the Past.

Overall, this is a must see for any self-respecting Zelda fan looking for an unforgettable night out. The music, the visuals, and the showmanship of lead conductor Eimear Noone work together to bring Zelda to life. I'm also not against it becoming a regular thing, much like the Distant Worlds concerts and Video Games Live, since everyone deserves to see it. Yes, even you.   read

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