Monday, August 27, 2012

Series Recap: Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe

So, there are no more Wednesdays in August, and that meas that the Marvel limited series Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe has come to an end. For those of you who read my review of issue #1, you'll notice that I didn't write anything about issues 2-4. Because this was a limited series, and because I didn't want to spoil anything for anybody, I decided to keep my mouth blissfully shut until the series had come to an end and talk about the series as a whole instead of issue-by-issue.

FOR MY READERS THAT HAVE NOT READ THE SERIES: This post contains spoilers. That's what the jump is for! If you intend on reading this series, and don't want important details about it ruined for you, DO NOT read this post! For everyone else, the post continues after the jump!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Weekend Flashback #3 - Pokemon Snap (1999, N64)

Title: Pokemon Snap
Original Release Date: June 30, 1999
Platform: Nintendo 64
ESRB Rating: E

One of the fastest ways to shut me up as a kid was to slap a Pokemon game in front of me. Something about the mix of turn-based combat and its simple - yet very broad - storyline kept my interest for literal hours on end. Pokemon Snap was the series' first spinoff game for a home console, and though it was extremely short, I remember it being incredibly fun.

You play as a Pokemon photographer named Todd whose job is to... well, capture pictures of Pokemon. You team up with Professor Oak, who needs help with a scientific project on an island where Pokemon live fairly undisturbed by humans. The island in the game is home to a lot of different geographic regions, which makes it an ideal place to go to research all sorts of Pokemon. Over the course of the game, Oak will rate your photos on a point system and puts them into an album that you can reference back again later. That's about as complex as the story gets.

The game starts with one stage, and as you progress through, you unlock more by meeting certain conditions or figuring out how to unlock the stages yourself. You'll also get a few nifty items, like a Pokeflute and pester balls, which will allow certain Pokemon to come out of hiding, do something special, or both. You'll also get bait to lure Pokemon out into the open. How you use these items is entirely up to you, and I'll get to that in a minute.

See, I remember this game as being fairly long. My younger cousin and I spent months playing it. Literal months. We could compete to get the best picture scores, spend hours trying to find all the different Pokemon and framing the best shot, use a complex trial-and-error system to get all the special Pokemon. It seemed like every time we thought we were done, we would discover something new.

So, how does it feel thirteen years later? Well, it feels... feels stagnant, unfortunately. See, I remember this game being really long and really complex and having a lot of hours poured into it, but when my friend Nikki and I played it together while we were revisiting it, I knew how to get everything. Every new stage, every hidden Pokemon, every nuance behind getting the "perfect shot." I remembered it all. It took a lot of the excitement and fun out of the game for me. Nikki, on the other hand, had a lot of fun playing it, and once I was able to turn my brain off, I enjoyed myself as well.

The "fun component" that I always seem to be talking about is severely lacking here, though, as far as following the story goes. While both Crash Team Racing and Ratchet and Clank feel timeless, Pokemon Snap feels tedious and tired. And oh my God the music. May God himself have mercy on your soul when you replay this game. As Dave pointed out, the music is tedious, tired, repetitive, and just plain awful. It did not, by any means, age well. Even CTR, which came out in the same year, had better music behind it than this. My great grandmother's funeral had better music behind it than this.

The part that was fun, though, wasn't the game itself, but the results screen when we were done taking pictures. See, now that Nikki and I are older, we pick up on certain things that we didn't notice then.

Like what a pervert Professor Oak really is.
We didn't alter this at all. This really happened in-game.
Seriously, we took a lot of oddball pictures, and soon the game wasn't about taking the best picture, it was taking the strangest, most effed up pictures we could manage within the one stage and sixty pictures we were allotted. We had more fun pelting Pikachu with bait and making Electabuzz fall flat on his face than we did trying to get Snorlax to wake the hell up. We tormented poor Meowth by making him fall off his platform, then worsened the blow by whacking him relentlessly with pester balls. We bounced apples off of a herd of Charmanders' heads to see them cringe, then laughed and made fun of them as they roared at us in their cute little Charmander voices. We knocked Charmeleon into a vat of lava, not to see him evolve, but because we could knock him into a vat of lava. We made two Magmar fight each other just to see one get knocked out.

This one was more a victim of
circumstance. Still comedy gold,
We did countless other things to these poor, friendly Pokemon that would make PETA shit their pants in horror. And we did it because we could, and because the option was there.

And, really, what more fun is there than that in this universe?

Verdict: Taking the perfect picture of a Pokemon isn't fun. Having Professor Oak laugh at fainted Pokemon is.

Notes: If you want to relive Snap and have your own hours of hilarity, you can purchase this title again in the Wii's Virtual Console store for 1000 Wii Points (or, you know, ten dolla holla in real money.)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hey, look!

In case you were wondering, I've set up two new tabs for easier blog browsing. They're the "Weekend Flashback" and "Game Review" tabs listed at the top of the page, and will be continually updated as I post new reviews!

Happy reading!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rant: It's not even here yet, but I hate Marvel Now! and everything in it.

I mentioned this in my last post, and I'll say it again: I am not, in any way at all, looking forward to Marvel Now! to happen. I think it's a stupid idea, and my friend, co-writer, and fellow blogger Leena agrees with me wholeheartedly. After a lot of thought, I've decide that I'll share the list with you about why we're not feeling this brand-ass new revision of the Marvel 'verse. I'll start with what we've heard, in italics, then we'll post our rebuttal.

We're not trying to make enemies, here, Internet, so calm yo' tits. We're just trying to figure out why everyone's so excited for what boils down to a half-imagined, half-baked universe do-over.

  1. Shut up, it's not a reboot.
    No, you shut up, because it's a very well-disguised reboot. After the "aftermath" of Avengers vs. X-Men, Marvel is just going to decide to cancel everyone's current comic run and blend them together? That's not how this industry is supposed to work. Comics are supposed to be a carying group of topics and characters doing their own things. Constant universe retconning and cannon changing isn't going to keep the readership nailed down. Marvel is doing the same damn thing that DC's New 52! is doing.
    And you know what? The New 52 is tanking. Should Marvel really be following in those footsteps?
  2. It's easier to keep everything in one universe!
    This is an argument that I find stupid every time it comes up. If everything in the Marvel 'verse fits together like a puzzle, it's going to get really complicated really fast. (Ha, like it isn't already.) It's bad enough that everyone shows up in everyone else's books all the time already; we don't need to make it a constant thing. Marvel Now! feels like it's trying too hard to make everyone work together and play nice. We don't need Captain America to have another reboot, for example. He's only at #19 of his current series. Why does he need another one so soon? Not everything that can be done has been touched on in his current story; should it really be abandoned for a high-reaching idea that's ultimately going to tank?
  3. Uncanny Avengers, you guys!
    No. I get the idea behind it: In a world where the Avengers and the X-Men want to work together after working against each other, a title like Uncanny Avengers makes sense. But how long do we, as comic fans, keep biting at this? How many times do we have to suffer through a "groundbreaking" limited series before we stop caring? The answer, apparently, is every year. We just suffered though read the events of Fear Itself a year ago. A huge epic every year feels forced and tired, and isn't something that's going to keep readership going for very long.
    This pulls me into Uncanny Avengers. Yeah, it's cool that this is the first title that really meshes the Avengers and the X-Men into one title. Great. But does either team really need another book that bad? I'm getting a little sick of seeing Wolverine, Cap, and Iron Man everywhere I go. I get that they're some of the biggest names in Marvel's catalog, but Jesus Christ, can't there be a team without them? The Marvel Universe has plenty of secondary characters who are just as powerful as their A-list counterparts, why doesn't anyone take a gamble on any of them?
  4. It's more accessible to new readers.
    How? If no one is going to screw with anyone's current canon, wouldn't that make it tougher for a reader to jump right in? I'll use an example in the form of my friends: Many of them only know Marvel characters through the movies. They only know Iron Man the way that Robert Downey Jr. portrays him. they only know Captain America from the movies. They were genuinely confused by the Hulk in Marvel's The Avengers because "who's that green guy?" They had never seen him before. Sure, they knew the name, but they knew nothing of his character. When one of my friends decided that she was going to give comics an honest shot, she quickly found herself lost.
    "I don't get it, these characters have too much backstory for me to catch up on," is exactly what she told me. That's an honest answer, and verbally giving her a rundown of the character seemed to help, but does it really? Will Marvel Now! really make it easier for someone who's been interested in, say, Thor to pick up the Marvel Now! issues and not be the least bit confused by what they're reading? There's no way to make a long-running character like Thor, Cap, and Iron Man easily accessible to a new reader. The new reader has to want to jump right in and just let the issue fill in the blanks. I don't think Marvel Now! is going to be able to do that. I don't think that rebooting - because that's what this is doing to everyone - is going to give newcomers an honest shot at getting involved with comic characters. I think that longstanding, popular characters are going to become more confusing and alien to new readers, especially those who just know these beloved heroes from their movies. Canon on top of canon on top of retcon doesn't make for an easygoing character experience. It makes for a headache.
If you haven't heard about Marvel Now! before this, and you'd like to do more reading about it, I suggest that you start by checking out CBR's complete rundown, then heading on over to IGN. If you'd like to do even more reading on the topic, head on over to Newsarama and ScreenRant.

The first issues of Marvel Now! titles hit shelves in October 2012.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Oh, man, here it comes.

You knew it was going to happen. My writing is about to become horribly inconsistent.

What? But Lynnafred, you've been writing on a semi-regular basis! You even have a weekly feature you haven't screwed us over on, yet! You cry, because you're honestly distraught by the news.

It's okay, dear reader. I feel your pain. But that's why I'm coming here to talk to you. I want you to know what I've been doing, and what you can expect in the coming weeks.

See, a lot of things are coming out in the next few weeks for me. I just finished reading Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe and I intend on writing about the series as a whole since I talked about issue #1 in the beginning of the month. The Ratchet & Clank Collection comes out in literally six days, and I can't wait to give you my impression on that. I'm already working on the Weekend Flashback for three weeks from now, and it's taking me a lot longer to go through than originally intended. I'm also reading some books that I'm excited to talk about - because they're good! I'm writing short stories and looking for a publisher because that's my major. I'm looking to turn that Associate's in Arts into a Bachelor's. I'm also playing games that I hate and want to share with you, putting off games I just bought because I can't find time to write about them, and talking with my awesome friend Leena Lee Lecroix of the newly-founded Anime Overload about how much we're not looking forward to Marvel Comics' launch of the new Marvel Now! line. (And I have to post a rant/topic about that later, for the entire Internet to hate and disagree with me on.)

I've been doing a lot, and I've been doing it for you, all three of you who subscribe to this thing that I'm doing. Because I secretly hate you and want you to suffer through my lousy entertainment writing as much as I have to suffer through writing it. Just kidding, I love writing about entertainment, and I love you.

So bear with me if I get quiet. I have a lot to say, I just need to finish getting it all together to talk about first. If nothing else, you'll have a bunch of Weekend Flashbacks to read and regret your prior life choices. You're welcome.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Weekend Flashback #2 - Crash Team Racing (1999, PSOne)

Title: Crash Team Racing
Original Release Date: September 30, 1999
Platform: Playstation
ESRB Rating: E

Remember when the Crash Bandicoot series was fun? Yeah, me too, and let me guarantee you that it had everything to do with its developer, Naughty Dog. The proof for that became clear as soon as they stopped developing the games themselves and the franchise got passed around from developer to developer like a hooker at a frat party. The quality and overall playability of the games went downhill pretty steadily until finally I just gave up hope entirely.

When I bought this game, it came in a three-pack "Collector's Edition" of Crash Bandicoot titles. Those titles were Crash Bandicoot: Warped, Crash Team Racing, and Crash Bash. Out of the three games that the collector's edition box I bought, the only two I still have are CB:W and CTR.

Care to guess what the only one I still play is?

That's right, CTR. The game is so simple, yet so undeniably fun that it almost should be criminal. Dave and I spent a good year playing through the story, doing all the time trials, gathering crystals, and playing against one another for no benefit or prize other than "we can." Even now, I'm the only one out of the two of us to have a perfect 100% completion in the game. But I'm not the only one who still plays it. 

Just a couple of days ago, my friend Nicole and I sat down with nothing better to do than play a good time-wasting game. We mutually picked out CTR because we remembered how fun it was. Hoping that it wasn't just a case of rose-colored glasses, we popped it into my PSOne and away we went.

Crash Team Racing is another example of a timeless, fun game, as far as playability goes. This game is as easy to pick up and play now as it was when it came out in '99. The music is a little dated, and the graphics are much more angular than anything we'd see today outside of catching a Porygon in Pokemon. But there are no game-breaking bugs, no annoying clipping errors or awkward camera angles to speak of. There's just the ability to beat another friend in a race and some infuriatingly difficult boss races in story mode.

Verdict: Still incredibly fun after all these years, even though the music, sound effects, and visuals haven't aged very well. Worth a play for story mode alone, but it's more fun with other people.

Notes: You can purchase the game on PSN if you want to relive the experience on your PS3. The original game also plays really well on the PS2 without problem.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Topic: Video Game OSTs

You know what I love? Video game music. So it really curls my figurative tail when people insist to me that it doesn't matter, that it's a trivial part of a game. I feel that video game soundtracks are a versatile medium that, like classical music, is capable of conveying a lot of different emotions all in one piece.

That seems like a really bold claim, but hear me out before ripping me a new one. Music by itself is an art medium that transcends a lot of barriers: time, language, age, you name it. Anyone can feel the emotion in an opera, even if they don't speak Italian, for example. The same thing can be said for a video game soundtrack. Even listened to out of order, even if the listener has no idea about the setting, theme, or feeling of the game, they can guess by listening to its soundtrack.

Take this, for example. It's a piece from Namco's Tales of Symphonia. It's a specific character's theme. To be exact, it's the theme of Zelos Wilder, one of the party members that you pick up along your journey. Let's jot down a couple things we notice about his theme as we listen to it:

  1. It's got a fast tempo. It's upbeat.
  2. It's a major chord. It sounds happy. Listening to it, in turn, makes you feel happy.
  3. We can pick out a couple of instruments in there. Steel drums and ukuleles are two of the first things that we hear. Both of those instruments are associated with laid back attitudes.
  4. The song isn't all that serious sounding; it's lighthearted and almost fun.
So, if we had to guess anything about this character, it'd be what we learned just from listening to the theme here. He must be a laid back, upbeat, cheery kind of character. He must be someone who can keep the group going even when the going gets rough, right?

Okay, that was a fun exercise. Now, let's listen to that again, with a little change.

What do you notice now? It's the same song. It's for the same character, from the same game. But its presentation is completely different. Let's name the ways.
  1. It's very slow. It's down tempo.
  2. It's still a major chord, but played with a harmony in minor. Minor harmonies and chords are indicative of feeling sad. This song is no exception.
  3. We can still pick out a couple of instruments here. One of them seems to be a guitar. Another appears to be a cello. The brass is synthesized, but we can tell that it's supposed to be a brass section, and we can hear some bells. Together, they paint a picture of sadness.
The tempo and the choices of instruments are important; they let us know what we're supposed to feel. The song itself can reveal more about the story, or the point in the plot, than any amount of dialogue or animation can. Most importantly, the music can tell a person who's never even played the game before that something happens to this character, or that this character does something that is going to make us feel something. It has to, or the change in song wouldn't be there.

Music in video games can tell us a lot about the environment of a specific place, too, not just about character. Let's move away from JRPGs and move onto a western game. (As in, a game made in the west, not a game about gun-slinging and horseback riding.)

Let's use Assassin's Creed 2 for an example. This is the theme for Venice Rooftops. It's atmospheric, and sets the mood perfectly for a few key points in the game. We can tell that it's evocative of being in the air, or at least off the ground. It's flighty, in a way, and has an almost uplifting feel to it. But it's rooted in the sense of urgency that it carries in its undertones. Even with the desperation that's present, it carries a push to it that makes you keep wanting to move forward. It's the perfect song to set the mood for a game like AC2, because even though you'd like to explore what's probably the best virtual recreation of Renaissance Italy, you still have to be careful and keep your head down. By this point in the game, you're a wanted man. The music alone is able to remind you of this while seldom letting you know with words how important it is that you be careful. 

The entire soundtrack is like that. Hauntingly beautiful, awe-inspiring even though it carries a heavy weight within its notes.That's important in a game, especially one with as much atmosphere as Assassin's Creed. Trying to convey all those emotions with only words would be tiring. Music hits a resonance with us on a primal, almost subconscious level. Effective music is as important for setting moods and making us feel things as connecting with characters and an interest in a story. Everyone has that one song that they can't listen to without tearing up. (Admit it, you do.) 

Why? Because it resonates. Music is able to intertwine with our emotions in a way other art forms - written words, acted events, painted scenes - can't always connect with us. It's why we can feel the sadness in Zelos' theme up there but we can't always feel sad for Aunt Bertha when she sends us her monthly letter from prison. Maybe if she composed some sort of concerto, we'd be able to feel bad for her.

Try playing a video game with no soundtrack sometime. Just go into options and turn off your background music but leave your sound effects and voiceovers on. See how invested you are in the story then. I can almost ensure that you'll think that there's something missing. You'd be right, because a good chunk of the story can only be found while you're listening to the music, even if you don't notice it consciously. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Weekend Flashback #1 - Ratchet and Clank (2002, PS2)

Title: Ratchet and Clank
Original Release Date: November 4, 2002
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: T

There's a couple of reasons why I've decided to choose Ratchet and Clank  as the first "Weekend Flashback" installment. First off, it's because this year is the franchise's tenth anniversary. (Oh my god, I'm so old.) Second of all, it's because the Ratchet and Clank Collection is coming out later this year, and it's a re-release of the first three games in the series in pretty high-def. (I've included a link to preorder it at the end of this post.) I'm just not patient enough to wait until then to play R&C again. I'm like Veruca Salt; I want it now.

So, I reached into the handy gaming cabinet and got it.

I have a lot of fond memories of playing this game with Dave when it came out. Parts of it were frustratingly difficult, and others I breezed right through. There were moments that I would eventually give up on and actually have him complete for me because I was sick of spending days stuck on the same planet and watching him progress way ahead of me. To me, this is the perfect game to revisit first because of both its anniversary and because of the memories that it evokes.

And the greatest thing about this game, I think, is that it's aged fairly well. It's definitely cruder than the pretty R&C: Future installments we've grown used to seeing, but it doesn't - by any means - look outdated, old, or poor. Even being played on my PS2, on the family's flat-screen HDTV, the game looks nice. I've seen modern Wii games that look worse than this does.

Though that might just say something about the Wii.

And the gameplay, while sometimes more irritating than I remember it being, also isn't bad. It's mostly being used to tighter gameplay mechanics than the PS2 could really offer ten years ago. The rest of it is just being used to the way the series works now and forgetting how it worked when I was thirteen. It's sometimes tough to get my jumps timed right from platform to platform or over a long distance. That's gameplay mechanics. But the rest of it is me trying to shoot with the R1 button instead of the circle and getting my ass unfortunately handed to me. It's led to a lot of laughing and good-natured swearing between both my father and myself as we tried to play through the game, recalling the places that gave us a hard time ten years ago.

I did happen to notice a couple things now (probably because I'm older) than I did then. The biggest one, for me, was how completely obnoxious Ratchet is. In later games, namely the Future arc, he took more to the battle-weary hero archetype. In R&C, I found him to be selfish and childish, and found myself fairly short-tempered at his attitude - the constant backtalking, his needless overuse of snark - and honestly couldn't wait for him to shut up. After the original R&C, he was much more likable, more "mature" I guess, and it's his current personae that I attribute with today's Ratchet. If he'd stayed the same from this game to the next onee, I can't imagine the series being nearly as successful.

Verdict: Overall, the original Ratchet and Clank, the one that started it all, is still a solid game. It's still fun to play, getting all the hidden golden bolts still drives me crazy, and unlocking all the skill points still keeps me up until ungodly hours of the morning. Some of the controls seem clunky and awkward in retrospect, and moving around in the overworld doesn't seem as tight now as it did then. But it's still a great way to pass a couple of days to revisit the story if you don't have anything better to do and you can stand Ratchet's douchebaggery for more than a few hours at a time.

Notes:  You can pre-order The Ratchet and Clank Collection from

Welcome to the Weekend Flashback!

Welcome to the very first Weekend Flashback, where I take a game that's a decade or older and replay it for funsies. We all know that not all games age gracefully, but looked pretty damn good at the time they were released. Well, between the totally amazing Dave and myself, we have plenty of classic games between us. And, more often than not, we sit around and continue to play old games together rather than tackle the massive amount of newer games facing us.

Why is that? Because many older games have so much fun built into a simple game mechanic that we find a lot of other games can't compare. So, I've decided to revisit a lot of the old games in our library to see if they're still fun. I'll be dusting off the games that Dave and I wasted days on when I was a kid to see if they're still as playable now as they were then, and all to answer the question: Is this game still fun?

There's a few criteria that I'll be using in my judgement:

  1. All games that I'll be looking at have to be ten years old or older. Why? Because that's given the graphics a chance to age, given game mechanics a plenty long time to evolve, and given the game enough time to both be forgotten and for me to forget how good/bad it was overall. I'm more likely to punish myself through a bad game again if I forgot how frustrating it was the first time aroung.
  2. It doesn't matter if a game has been re-released on some kind of "virtual console" platform. Chances are high - and I'll tell you otherwise, I promise - that I'll be playing it on its original system. So if something was released for the PSone, I'll be busting out my PSone and playing it. If something came out on the N64, that's where I'll be playing it. I'll stack it up against its re-released version if I happen to own it, but for the most part, this is truly classic gaming being played true to its roots.
  3. Finally, in the case of games that have been localized to the US, I'll be using the game's US release date as my definitive guide for age, unless I'm using the imported version of the game. If I'm using a non-US version, I'll say so before I start my write up.

You won't see games like Super Mario Bros. or the original Legend of Zelda on the Weekend Flashback. Why? Because we already know that they've 1) aged gracefully and 2) are still fun. Games like that regularly show up on "Best Video Game" lists of all sorts, and it's clear why: they were industry leaders in their day, and we're still seeing their influences on modern gaming. I'm looking pointedly at games that might have gotten themselves overlooked when they came out, or that might have fallen into the sands of time only to be forgotten as newer games overshadowed them.

This week, I'll be starting with Insomniac Games' Ratchet and Clank from 2002. That post will go live in about an hour, so check back later and see if the first game in the best-selling installment is still worth a play.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Review: Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe Issue #1

Picture from
Little known fact: I love comics. I have since I was a little kid. Here's another little known fact: Deadpool, the Merc with a Mouth,  was my first ever superhero. I discovered him around issue three or four of his '97 run and it's been love ever since.

So I was understandably excited when news of Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe started to circulate. It took the same 'Pool that I'd grown up reading and gave him a decidedly dark, sinister turn. My only hope was that it was going to be convincing, that all of Deadpool's wit and snark could still fit within a darker universe.

All my dreams have come true within the first issue. Wade is still witty and snide, but thanks to the writing and his own underlying insanity, he's just short of completely despicable. We're introduced to the same Deadpool that most readers will be used to, but thanks to the "intervention" of the X-Men, we get to see a side of Wade that isn't usually apparent. By the end of the issue, all the pieces are in play and, thanks to Deadpool's trademark fourth-wall breaking, the reader gets to feel the threat level of the Marvel 'verse rising to critical levels firsthand by being indirectly addressed themselves.

We don't get to see a lot of bloodshed yet, but the promise is there for much more to come in the following three weeks as the series plays out. Given how it's started, I've been hooked and I'm ready to go along for the ride.

Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe #1 is written by Cullen Bunn, drawn by Dalibor Talajić, and colored by Lee Loughridge. Issue one is available now, and new issues will be released weekly.