Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mobile games are evil and the art of getting older

There was a time in my younger days where I would have no problem sitting down in front of a TV with a controller in hand, playing the latest game for hours on end until my eyes burned and my fingers became impossible to straighten or move beyond the demands of the controls.

It seems like only yesterday I played Tony Hawk's Pro Skater until 2 in the morning and finished feeling like my hands were on fire.

Good times!

But as years went by, technology seemed antsy to push the boundaries of video games. More often than not, it is improving graphical capabilities to make games look more real with each generation, though I contend the emphasis on appearance has taken away from developers creating amazing games the way they used to.

However, I recognize this might be some sort of nostalgia bias.

I still own my SNES, though lacking the necessary cables to connect and play it, still own my N64 and GameCube, though they admittedly sit in boxes stashed away for a future where I envision I'll want to play them again.

The latest console I have is the XBox 360, and even that's rapidly becoming ancient technology.

What is a gamer to do when they no longer feel the need to dump money on updating every scrap of hardware to keep up with the times?

Turn to the wide world of mobile gaming!

In this day and age, I am much more comfortable sitting and twiddling with my phone, tapping the screen to give orders to my squad in Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes than I am to get comfy and settle into a long narrative that typically comes with a console game.

To this day, I have not finished Final Fantasy XIII and fear I never will. Not just because it is a monumental undertaking, but it doesn't have the same appeal of the series entries I remember never playing growing up.

And it isn't as though I take any joy or pleasure in mobile games. It is as mindless as it gets. Literally tapping the screen to collect coins, points or some other currency to use towards characters, structures, levels, or skins.

Worse still, there's no skill. No learning curve. Nothing to feel you've spent time on and gotten better at.

It is a war of attrition, and more often than not, the victors are those who paid to get the best stuff in the game.


I am absorbed in Galaxy of Heroes. More so than I was in The Simpsons mobile game, or the Family Guy mobile game. Infinitely more than Bitcoin Billionaire, which featured little more than tapping the screen repeatedly to mine bitcoins.

You get the feeling that all of the running jokes throughout the past 20 years of their being simulators for even the most tedious, monotonous or basic of tasks are coming to pass in reality.

There's a frustration that comes with these games, too.

As opposed to being able to sink hours into a game, progress through a story, learn new abilities, develop strategies, improve and master the game, you're made to wait.

Mobile games limit the number of actions you can perform in a given time period, with the catch being that you can ignore the cooldown by spending actual money in the game.

In Galaxy of Heroes, crystals are the currency that make the universe go round. Crystals can be used to refresh battles, grant energy and sim tokens.

Once I discovered that I could simulate any scenario I had scored 3-stars on, I rarely, if ever, go through a full battle, carefully selecting my actions, attacks, buffs and debuffs. And when I can't sim through a battle instantly, I let the computer play for me, which more often than not results in 3-stars and allows me to sit back and farm gear to improve my characters for more difficult tasks ahead.

There was a time when I would spend money on these games.

As a huge fan of The Simpsons, I would buy donuts (the game's currency) to allow me to speed up character actions, construction of buildings, and anything else to make sure I had the most stuff in my recreation of Springfield.

I don't know how much I spent, but it might have been something like $40 in a month's time. Not a lot, but more than necessary when you consider that it betrays the very concept of gaming that I love so much.

How many hours did I spend playing and replaying levels of Super Mario World to the point where, if I so desired, I could play most of the main route from Yoshi's Island to Valley of Bowser with little trouble or life lost?

Once you master use of the cape, the game is a cinch if you put enough time into it.

That's the key difference. The more time you put into a game like Super Mario World, the more you learn and the more proficient you become at the game. As the game gets harder, you adapt and find new strategies or ways to work around the difficulty.

Many early levels can simply be flown over with proper use of the cape or a purple Yoshi, if you've endeavored to open Star Road.

As time goes on, the levels introduce blocks at the tops of levels. Or remove the shelled Koopas from the player's path to prevent such strategies, forcing you to play the game straight. Forcing you to improve platforming and movement through a level.

Perhaps it is a sign of age. The inability, or even unwillingness, to have the best TV, the fastest internet connection, the latest generation console.

I don't want to be forced to connect to the internet when more than likely I'm going to be playing a game solo.

After the amount of time I spent playing Halo 3 online in college, I know that online multiplayer would become a time sink. And I feel as though I've grown out of the desire to do that.

But apparently I've grown into being comfortable laying in bed, phone inches from my face, tapping away to the action limit for the hour or the day. Then waiting for it all to refresh to do it again. Never improving, having no story told, disengaging from almost everything.

Sort of a bleak development when you think about it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Manhunt and How Some Stains Don't Wash Out

I very recently had an itch to play a game from my youth.

Youth is a relative term, I suppose, but the game is 13 years old, which means I was roughly 16 when it was released. I'm only a little bothered by the fact that I can say I first played A Link to the Past 25 years ago, but that's neither here nor there.

I'm old, is what I'm saying. But again, old is relative.

Getting sidetracked.... Although, as a tie in, A Link to the Past has aged very well, like many of its contemporaries from the SNES generation of games. When you're not worried about pushing graphical boundaries to blur the line between player and game world, you have things like tight controls and engaging story.

With that in mind: Manhunt - Originally released in 2003 for the Playstation 2, later released for XBox and PC in 2004. A controversial game if ever there was one, Manhunt put you in the jumpsuit of a death row convict named James Cash, who was executed by lethal injection, but not really because he wakes up and is thrust into a Saw-like situation where he has to follow the instructions of "The Director" in order to be reunited with his family, but which involves killing some folks along the way.

That's a general plot overview, there's plenty of details an intricacies to fill in the blanks, but they ultimately don't factor into this discussion.

Back to that itch I had to play the game. I had to jump on ebay to find it, expecting to find dozens of listings for upwards of $100 considering how old the game was and the trend of older games, good or bad, skyrocketing in value as a result of supposed scarcity. To my surprise, I found a copy that cost me a mere $11, which included shipping.

I was pleasantly surprised! The anticipation of the game's arrival was palpable. I was about to replay a game that I was enthralled with in my teens. Why? I don't know. It was a video game built around gruesome violence and murder without all the trimmings of vehicles and layered storytelling like Rockstar's other games.

They took the violence of the GTA series and scaled the world back to make it a more claustrophobic, atmospheric game that put the blood and guts front and center.

It was graphic to say the least, but like the plot, the content of the game is not really the point.

After an hour of stepping back into the twisted world of Manhunt, I remembered that, as much fun as I had with the over-the-top murder of the game, it is an ugly game. An ugly game with frustrating controls and a camera I wish I could manifest in some tangible form just to strangle and stab in the head with a piece of broken glass and....

What was I saying?

Right, Manhunt, while fun, is a frustrating endeavor. The camera, whether inverted or not, doesn't turn your character's view in the proper direction, seemingly locked into being contrary to what it should be doing.

In a game the requires you to be aware of your surroundings, take note of the enemy movements and build a strategy for eliminating threats without alerting anyone around, a functional camera is important.

But then, when you stop and look at your surroundings, you come to find a lack of variety in your environment. Dark, drab alleys, paths that are conducive to stealth and the goals of the game, but feel largely inauthentic....

The world of Manhunt is not interesting. And when you don't have a world to draw you in, the gameplay becomes the focus. Which, while satisfying to a point, is not the game's strong suit.

Let me explain. Attacks with weapons are called executions. Each weapon has its own execution, and each execution has three levels, Hasty being the least intense, Violent being a step up and Gruesome being the most intense, and thorough, rank of execution. The more intense the execution, the more points you score.

Incentive for playing the game like a sociopath!

The first enemy you encounter is setup to allow you to get a feel for the system. You pick up a plastic bag and sneak up behind him. The Hasty execution just has you put the bag over his head to suffocate him.

Awful, right?

The Violent execution has you put the bag over his head, punch in in the stomach, then knee him in the face until he is dead.

Just peachy...

The Gruesome execution features the bag over the head, repeated punches to the face and then a brutal snap of the neck.

..... The game wants me to do this multiple times? I'm sick just doing it this once!

And that's just the beginning. The executions vary by weapon, of course. Wielding a nightstick has you bludgeoning enemies in the head until they drop to their knees, and then their death. Or a swift blow to the back of the head, which knocks them to their knees, where Cash then uses the weapon to strangle the life out of the enemy. Or a blow to the head, turned into a headlock, ending with a sickening neck break.

Then there's a hammer, a bat, a crowbar, knife, hatchet, glass shard, barbed wire, wooden spike... And of course, firearms, which are significantly less violent in that they don't come with unique executions.

This is the type of game my teenage self was playing. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City may have been a violent game, full of mature content, but it was an open world where violence was just a part of the game.

And, not to downplay the violence, you were utilizing firearms more than anything else. Handguns, shotguns, rifles, tanks in some instances. You were, in a sense, removed from the death you were raining down on enemies and innocents alike.

Manhunt closes that gap in disturbing fashion. Violence isn't just a part of the game. It is the focus of the game.

No longer could you spray bullets at an anonymous NPC, whether bystander or foe. You were brought face to face with your enemies, taking a more direct role in their death, removing the distance between player and character.

Or more accurately, between player and victim.

You are not simply controlling death row inmate James Cash. You are taking the deliverance of horrific murder into your own hands.

I played for maybe an hour before the combination of frustration with the controls and camera, and the overwhelmingly harrowing experience were too much to stomach. I don't remember feeling that way over a decade ago when I first played it, though perhaps I was at the peak of desensitization at the time.

It made me wish I could fire up my SNES and replay those simple, 16-bit games that were vibrant and comforting, even if they dealt with death and darker themes.

Not to ignore the existence of Mortal Kombat or Primal Rage from days gone by, but you weren't a human being gutting another human being with a knife in those games. Sure, the former did feature separating blood, guts and bones, but in retrospect it was controversial for being violent at a time when games, by and large, weren't pushing the boundary.

Most importantly, I've never left a game of Mortal Kombat feeling sick. Maybe I've come to see those graphics and that violence as a little campy compared to current standards. The latest entries in the series have gone even further overboard, with fatalities taking on a whole new, dark, morbid graphical tone.

It is not comfortable seeing a fighter held by each leg and pulled apart wishbone style, complete with innards and bodily fluids exploding outward, but that is over-the-top. Realistic visuals in an unrealistic setting.

Manhunt dials up the realism on all fronts, though the graphics don't allow for intestines to fall out or other such atrocities. It is the action, not the visual, that is really what separates the two in my mind.

Perhaps it is a sign of maturity that I no longer crave the horrific acts of violence I once found so intriguing in years passed. After a week of wanting to play it, anticipating the arrival of the game at my doorstep, I can't bring myself to progress any further than the first couple of areas.

I find no appeal in it. I ended the playthrough with a sense of guilt and almost disgust with myself for wanting to replay it in the first place.

Even trying to think of games that would cleanse my palette didn't work. Naughty Bear? Well, maybe not... That's just simulated murder of stuffed animals. A little too similar.

Without exaggerating, I have found it difficult to pick up a controller to play much of anything since I played Manhunt. It was a wholly unsettling experience that, very clearly, stimulated some serious thought on the matter.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

GTA V and The First Meaningful Post I've Ever Written

     Here we are again. Another Grand Theft Auto game hits shelves and the population of concerned parents, political pundits, and generally uninformed wusses takes up arms against the blanket-termed "violent video games."

I get it, violence is something that affects everyone the world over in some way shape or form. Whether it is all out war being waged in far away countries for questionable reasons, street violence, or even schoolyard bullying, I get.

I'll refrain from citing statistics, posting graphs of correlation (or lack thereof), and linking to stories that relate to the issue at hand. We've seen it all before (thought it would probably really drive my point home).

My issue, when it comes to video games and violence is the lack of responsibility that parents take in what their children do and see.

On every video game sold today, and for the better part of the last 20 years, there is a black and white rating on the cover. The ESRB ratings range from eC for Early Childhood, to the rarely used A for Adults Only, each with a content descriptor to inform/warn buyers of the content of their game.

Content descriptors include, but are not limited to, Blood, Language, Sexual Content, Nudity, Drug References and Simulated Gambling.

Every single entry in the Grand Theft Auto series have been rated M for Mature, save for the the Palm Pilot version of the original Grand Theft Auto and the Game Boy Color version of Grand Theft Auto 2.

So since 1997, which is when the series was first officially released, the series has been intended for gamers 17 years or older.
For the better part of the last 10 years, I've bought my games from GameStop, and I've both been carded when purchasing an M-rated game, and witnessed a cashier/sales associate ask a mother, who was buying an M-rated game, who the game was for and whether or not she was concerned about the violence depicted therein.

She brushed it off with an all-too-casual, "Oh my son plays those games all the time, it's nothing new."

I should mention that she specified her son was just nine years old, and she was buying Halo 2, which received an M-rating for Blood and Gore, Language and Violence.

Part of me wants to believe that mother was in-tune with her son's gaming habits, and was comfortable with him playing video games containing violence because she also took the time to discuss the real-world consequences of violent actions.

Part of me wants to believe she knows that merely playing something like Halo 2, where you're fighting against aliens in a futuristic setting, will not turn her son into a hyper-violent, sociopathic killing machine.

But I know that mother doesn't have the first clue about what her son is playing, and would be just as likely to say that Halo 2 is the reason he took those scissors and used them like that sword he used in the game to stab his best friend as she is to admit that the scissors shouldn't have been out for him to play with in the first place.

Maybe that's an overly simplistic scenario, but it speaks to the lack of responsibility parents have shown in the ongoing crusade against violence in video games.

These are the same people who crusaded for Parental Advisory labels on music containing "explicit lyrics," which in itself is overly vague and does nothing to solve their problem, and is often broadened to "explicit content."

"Explicit lyrics" could cover the sexual content of Ying Yang Twins' United States of Atlanta which features "Wait (The Whisper Song) and lyrics like "Fuck a bitch on da counter, make the plates fall back."

Or it could cover something as trivial as the album title, such as in the case of Frank Zappa's Jazz from Hell, which garnered a Parental Advisory label because of the word 'hell' in the album's title, and a song titled "G-Spot Tornado."

It didn't matter that the album was entirely instrumental, and thus featured no explicit lyrics or exploration of 'hell' or the 'g-spot' but the mere mention was enough to outrage the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), who are responsible for the action that led to the Parental Advisory labels for music.

The PMRC's list of songs, lovingly dubbed the Filthy Fifteen, includes a variety of genres, but harps on lyrical content like sex, masturbation, violence, language, occult, drug and alcohol use.

Among the list is Twisted Sister's anthemic "We're Not Gonna Take It," which is just 3 minutes and 38 seconds of stickin' it to the man, but was construed as promoting violence. I'm sorry, since when has standing up for what you believe in been an act of violence?

There's no distinct cause stated in the song, just a rebelliousness that apparently rubbed the more buttoned-down Tipper Gore the wrong way.

What makes it so frustrating is that the small sample of music completely ignores everything that has happened before, and judges the music of the time in a manner much different from the way and all other music before was judged.

Is Frank Sinatra's "Drinking Again" any less about alcohol use than Black Sabbath's "Trashed"? Granted, the latter is more detailed and specific, or dare I say EXPLICIT, in the descriptions of the use, or excessive use, but the content is largely the same.

The genre is at the heart of the issue, because metal is viewed as the Devil's music, and Frank Sinatra's just Ol' Blue Eyes singing about love, life and doing thing's his way....

... Not unlike Twisted Sisters "We're Not Gonna Take It" if you consider the simplest idea being conveyed. Sinatra reminisces about life and how he lived it HIS way, while Twisted Sister takes a more immediate approach, opting to yell and scream for being allowed to live life their way.

To the point, the Parental Advisory labels on music ignored just about everything regarding content, while placing blame on the musicians for conveying messages to their poor children.

The crux being the lack of responsibility parents take in the development of their children, and to facilitate that unwillingness to take blame, they point the finger at what their children watch, listen to, or play.

Video games, by nature, offer a unique experience when compared to other forms of media. Music is strictly words conveying ideas. Movies bring in a visual element, where the words are played out in living color, with names and faces and characters to connect with. There's a direct narrative as opposed to the simple expression of ideas.

Video games put you in control of all of those things, which is the distinction that seems to put the opposition off the most.

Being in control of murder, crime and mayhem is somehow different from listening to a song about a drive-by, or a woman who'll "show you a good time" or watching a movie where someone get's their hand cut off with a lightsaber, or a couple making whoopie on camera.

Being in control is akin to learning to do these things, or so they would have you believe, and is thus inherently more detrimental than anything else that has faced this type of scrutiny.

It all goes back to responsibility.

An 8-year-old shot the old woman who was watching him after supposedly playing a violent video game, reportedly GTA IV. Like clockwork, we got the token finger-pointing at video games being the cause of all the violence in the world, which ignores the much bigger issue of why the 8-year-old had access to a gun in the first place.

I've played video games for close to 21 years, dating back to Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, through Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Manhunt, the latter of which had its sequel rated AO.

I also grew up watching things like Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Dragon Ball Z, seeing movies like Terminator 2 at the ripe old age of 6, and being exposed to an array of music with varying lyrical content.

So I posted ONE graph... Sue me
I haven't killed anyone, I have no desire to kill anyone. I've never committed any of the crimes I certainly committed in the GTA world, I haven't been known to crush turtles by jumping on their backs, I haven't had the desire to wield a shotgun to shoot at a police officer I think may be some kind of terminator made of liquid metal.

If the majority of people in the world can be exposed to all of these things and still not indulge in those flights of fancy the fear-mongers would have you believe is SO influential, why do we still have these endless discussions of the detrimental effects of violence in video games and the (lack of) correlation to actual violence?

No one wants to take responsibility, everyone wants someone to blame, and that's not the way the world works. I don't envy anyone who has lost someone due to violence, but I do not think that blaming one form of media or another is the solution to the problem.

Next thing you know, we'll be hearing about Harry Potter influencing children to practice the occult....

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Gaming Nostalgia - The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

     Since I am currently embroiled in a playthrough of Skyward Sword, however halfheartedly, I felt compelled to explore my relationship with the series. I was, after all, the first series I fell in love with and have remained mostly faithful to in my years of playing games.

My experience with the series includes playing Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, A Link to the Past, and Link's Awakening to completion, while also playing a bit of original, Minish Cap, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons.

So I've spent some time with the series in my 21 years of gaming.

I remember sitting for hours on end, Game Boy in hand, hands sweaty from the warmth of the device and the AC adaptor/charger that eliminated the need to fret over batteries so long as you were near an outlet.

Link's Awakening was the first Zelda game I had ever played, and even now I count it as one of my top 3 games in the series. 

As a kid I had no concept or care of the size or scale of a world. I was just amazed that there were people going about their days that I could talk to and help them in some way or glean some other details about the world.

I never understood Grandma Ulrira, who could be found obsessively sweeping outdoors, but it was charming.

Above all, I loved the music in the game. For something as limited sound-wise as the original Game Boy, the soundtrack for Link's Awakening is outstanding.

It makes sense that the music would be great since the primary goal of the game is collect the Eight Instruments of the Sirens to awaken the Wind Fish. Maybe that's just my own connection, but it works.

Even some of the songs were just sped up or slowed down versions of one song pasted to multiple caves or dungeons, it didn't matter. It was practical, and gave each area a distinct feel.

There's something very majestic about the music for Mt. Tamaranch, which is fitting for the game's finale.

Even now, I can listen to the Ballad of the Wind Fish as sung by Marin by the rooster-shaped weather vane in Mabe Village and feel warm and fuzzy inside.

What makes me really love this game, and this is more looking back than it is knowledge taken from my first playthrough, is the story.

As the hero, Link, you shipwreck on a mysterious island, Koholint Island, which has seen a rise in monster activity in recent days.

At the highest peak of the island rests the Wind Fish's Egg, which it would appear most of the inhabitants are unaware of.

This ignorance to the Wind Fish's existence is made all the more depressing because it is discovered that the entirety of Koholint Island, the mountains, the desert, the shore, the monsters and the people, are all a product of the Wind Fish's dream.

The recent disturbances are credited to nightmares affecting the Wind Fish's sleep, and it is Link's quest to traverse the land, defeat each monster housed in the eight dungeons in order to acquire the Siren Instruments he will use to wake the Wind Fish and do battle with these nightmares.

(For the sake of color)
So you're tasked with saving an island that is the product of a dream, but the ultimate goal of that task is to wake the dreamer, which means that the noble act of saving the island will also doom the island.

It's pretty sad, really, especially when you consider the sort of romantic implications the game makes between Link and Marin, who is at one time confused for Zelda when she sings.

Of course at the time of playing the game, all of this went right over my head, but now I get it and it still resonates, and remains one of the more engaging Zelda stories in the series.

For me, it was the perfect introduction to the series even though it didn't take place in Hyrule, Zelda and Ganon are nowhere to be found (save for the Shadow of Ganon nightmare boss at the end), and there is no significance to the Triforce (unless you count the "Piece of Power" item that grants double sword damage and increased speed, as well as a much more violent blowback and explosion when hitting enemies).

It is a game without the mainstays that still remains true to the series, which I have learned in playing Zelda games since then.

It is one of the few series entries that gives the player control of jumping via the Roc's Feather, it established the premise of songs and music that would go on to play a big role in Ocarina of Time, it introduces the trading sequence to the series, as well as the collecting of items to redeem for a prize/upgrade similar to the Golden Skulltulas in Ocarina of Time.

The world may argue that Ocarina of Time is one of the greatest games of all time, and for good reason, but Link's Awakening still remains one of my favorites in the series because of the story, the music and the simple yet satisfying gameplay.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Borderlands, WWE 13 and Why Skyward Sword is Underwhelming

     So I bought Borderlands 2 a week ago, which I had been meaning to do since it came out, but hadn't because I have yet to play through the first game in this whole backlog bullsh*t thing.

The other day I started Borderlands, and decided I would plays as Lilith the Siren because I had already played as the Hunter and Soldier, but didn't want to go with the Berserker on this playthrough.

I don't know how I feel about it because I'm always terrible when it comes to characters with powers. I always overlook some simple function, and end up abandoning or just using the most basic attacks or abilities.

As much as I love the notion of powers, whether it be a mage/wizard or just a support character with buffs and powerups, I'm absolutely terrible.

It goes back to being very offensively minded, preferred to shoot, stab, hack, slash, burn, etc. through enemies as opposed to making it easier for allies to do so.

But that is neither here nor there since Borderlands is being approached in single player fashion, and Lillith isn't very support-y anyway.

What's interest about Borderlands is that I was initially intrigued by the game from all I had seen, read and heard about it, but ultimately shied away because it seemed geared more towards multiplayer, which made me think the single player would fall flat.

The main story is a little meh, but it doesn't make the gameplay any less fun, albeit repetitive.

If you're into looting, Borderlands is the game for you.

I love the general idea of the weapon system, where different manufacturers make different weapons, but aside from elemental capabilities, increased rate of fire of a better crosshair/scope, the system fails to engage.

There is a distinct lack of customization, even with the ability to level up different skills, change your color scheme and all that.

Why is there no custom weaponry? Something tailor-made for my character, for my style of play?

Maybe that's just me, but Borderlands feels like a very surface RPG in that regard, since customization is very basic all around.

The story isn't awful, it just doesn't really engage you. The characters which should provide some level of engagement are just there to take jobs from, and they never really figure into the story much. Their function is the same as the bounty board, they just happen to have names and some semblance of personality.

You're a vault hunter charged with finding an alien vault which is supposed to house alien secrets and all sorts of good stuff that could be used to make the desolate planet worthwhile, and/or change the entire galaxy

Even being guided by the mysterious Angel doesn't add any sort of immersion to the game. It could have been engaging, but the frenetic gameplay is often at odds with her calm interjections throughout the game.

Having already played through the game in the past, I know what to expect, and I know that it is relatively inconsequential because the game is still fun to play.

Moving on...

WWE 13 is a thing that I've been playing. I've been out of the wrestling game game for a while, but not really.

Ever since WWF No Mercy on N64, I've never been satisfied with any of the titles that have released since then. They all got too complex, or overly simplistic.

I tried some of the Smackdown vs. Raw titles, but didn't really care much for them because of the sh*tty "story" mode. There's no real decisions to be made, just do this, beat this guy, fulfill this requirement, done.

The Road to Wrestlemania mode was short and offered no real enjoyment other than leveling up your created character or seeing crappy canned interactions for the specific superstar paths.

WWE 13 doesn't have that traditional story mode, but has the Attitude mode, which is essentially a playable highlight reel of the WCW/WWF ratings war that the WWF knows as the Attitude Era.

I've only just started, completing the Rise of DX and playing the first few matches of Stone Cold's path, but I already enjoy it.

Which is weird, because it follows the same, "do this, fulfill this requirement, done" sort of formula. The difference being that you're replaying history as opposed to battling as an up and coming created wrestler through wave after wave of crappy storylines.

Some of the matches are frustrating because of my unwillingness to not unlock everything there is to unlock in the game, but I'm enjoying it.

The gameplay takes some getting used to, and the counter system is spotty. I appreciate flashing a symbol to counter, though I wish it wasn't just the right trigger but rather an exclamation point or something fitting for a wrestling match, but I don't like how easy it is for opponents to counter.

Matches often devolve into brawls because sometimes guys just don't stay down, and you NEED to wear down their stamina before attempting a pin.

And let me tell you, that little "roll out of the ring" skill too many wrestlers have is beyond annoying.

So you've just hit your signature move, pulled off your signature taunt and hit your finishing move, and you expect to be able to float over into the pin for the old 1-2-3, right?


Your opponent rolls out of the ring to a standing position, showing no signs of wear, making it necessary to throw an even more extensive beating on them, making matches frustratingly long, or repetitive.

In that regard, it handles more like a fighting game, and not in the way that made No Mercy a great game.

No Mercy was fluid gameplay, just enough customization to be engaging, but not too much to overwhelm, and featured some real-life angles in the main story mode, though they didn't come with full-fledged builds or anything.

WWE 13 feels very basic in the controls, with the A grapple, X to strike approach, but I don't like generic movesets a lot of the wrestlers have.

Not every superstar uses the same suplex, the same back drop or the same neckbreaker, and having the majority of their movesets match takes away from the uniqueness of each wrestler.

Sure, wrestlers all have that basic pool of moves they all used, but the grappling system feels limited to just those moves, opting to make their signatures and finishers the defining moves.

A little nitpick is the weapon use in hardcore matches, or regular matches if you're into cheating.

Why are we limited to strikes and occasional grapples? Nothing is contextual, or most of it isn't. I want to pull off a One-Man Conchairto, or do a Sabu-style leap from a chair over the ropes to an opponent on the outside.

Maybe that's just me though, or I'm doing something wrong...

Moving along yet again.

I haven't made a ton of progress in Skyward Sword, only just finished the first temple, and I'm already feeling let down.

The controls are what they are, I don't hate them, but I don't love them either. The story hasn't really reeled me in, but maybe there's time for that.

My biggest concern is the overall feel of the world. Everything feels too bright and sterile.

There is no sense of foreboding in Skyward Sword. The first "boss" you face isn't intimidating, even if they try really hard to play up the mystique of holding back his full power.

Not to mention he is an unsettling figure, but not in the way that makes bosses good. He looks like the type of character who might violate you...

In the worst way possible

The first dungeon was disappointing. It was too short and didn't feel very intuitive. Compare it to Inside the Deku Tree and it fails on almost every level.

There was a sense of fear in that dungeon, whereas the Skyview Temple was too much like traipsing through a collection of rooms with little or no connection to the end-goal.

And why is everything so well-lit?!?

Why are there no shadows? No areas where something creeps on the edge of the light, making you think twice before engaging it?

Nope. None of that. There's some skulltulas, and deku baba, but nothing we haven't seen before or have any sense of dread over.

I get it, it is the first temple, but there was nothing engaging about it. I did not, and still do not, care about this iteration of Zelda, and Fi really needs to shut her f*cking mouth.

I also wish Nintendo hadn't shown their laziness by introducing the eyeball/sentry "puzzle" and proceeding to use it a handful of times in a short dungeon. We get it, motion controls. Get the f*ck over it already.

What's the point of the beeping when your low on health if Fi is just going to chime in each and every time to tell you to be careful or replenish your health with a potion?

Why isn't all Fi dialogue optional in-game? Navi only chimed in when necessary, more so in the early going, but even then it wasn't page after page of "Master this---" or "Master, that---"

And I know I've said it before, but why does she sound like GlaDOS?!? Only her voice though. She doesn't have the charming personality...

On top of that, the story hasn't really pulled me in. It still feels too forced, because we've only been told that Link and Zelda have grown up together and she has a soft spot for him. What we DO see of this relationship feels childish and very shallow.

No subtlety in this game, and that bothers me.

I now realize I should probably break this down into smaller, more easy to digest entries... But I'm not going to do that.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

More Movie Sh*t - Ben Affleck Cast as Batman, Internet Explodes with Uninformed Fury

     After it was announced that Christian Bale was offered some $50 million to reprise his role as the Caped Crusader in Man of Steel 2, there was very little in terms of news regarding the offer.

Fast forward about a week, and Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman.

(If you listen closely, you can hear the collective groans and lamentations of morons and Ben Affleck haters)

I admit, I'm not the biggest Ben Affleck fan. He loses points with me for getting in bed with (literally and figuratively) Jennifer Lopez, who is an awful actress, and marks a period in Affleck's career where he took big-budget movie roles and basically phoned in his performances.

Many will point to the abomination that is Daredevil is a prime example of why Affleck is an awful choice for another superhero movie, let alone the most popular hero in the world these days in Batman.

To those people I say, "Watch  the Director's Cut of that movie, and your minds will change."

Keep in mind, Affleck's performance wasn't awful in that movie, it was just poorly cut and jumbled in production that it didn't make much sense or convey the complexity of the character.

Even if his performance doesn't do it for you, it was 10 years ago, and before Affleck learned the subtleties of filmmaking.

Just three years after Daredevil, Affleck appeared in Hollywoodland as George Reeves (television's original Superman), and garnered praise for the role, marking a big change from the two-time Razzie winning actor we're so familiar with.

Just last year, he directed and starred in Argo, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

To make a long story short, Affleck is not the same actor he was a decade ago, and deserves a little more than the blatant hatred he has received since he was announced as the next actor playing Batman.

In what will likely be the main argument for Affleck: It wasn't so long ago that the internet was flooded with blind, inconsolable rage for the casting of Heath Ledger as The Joker.

Ledger would only go on to put on one of the most memorable performances in recent memory, playing the character in faithfully maniacal fashion, providing the chaotic antagonist to counter Batman's obsession with justice and order.

Moral of the story? You can't judge an actor on all the sh*t he has done.

Heath Ledger starred in The Order and Casanova, neither of which were critical successes, and yet he just transformed into The Joker in a way most critics and fans didn't think possible.

Why can't Affleck have a similar transformation?

He looks the part, with the chiseled jaw and 6'4" frame, so he can pull of the calm, cool, calculated character of Bruce Wayne.

Depending on Batman's role in the Man of Steel sequel, he can easily perform the physical aspects of the role as well.

Even so, we have to think about what version of Batman we're going to get in this movie, which is a Superman movie that just happens to feature Batman, lest we forget.

Will it be an extension of Bale's Batman, dark, wholly just, brooding, gravelly-voiced?

Or will it be more Clooney, and shows Batman as more playboy with toys than hero? (I shudder to think of that happening)

One thing that seems to be ignored in the whole casting nonsense is the actual interaction that will take place between the heroes, as well as the direction towards a Justice League movie.

Personally, I want to see the Batman we saw in Justice League: Doom, who had contingency plans against his fellow Justice League members.

It makes the most sense to bring that trait to an interaction with Superman, at least in terms of bridging the gap between the very dissimilar universes. It feeds into the sharp as a tack, World's Greatest Detective version of Batman that has been absent in much of the live-action films.

Batman doesn't know what Superman is, what he stands for, etc., so he does his research and finds some kryptonite to keep the Man of Steel in check.

How else can this crossover work if there is no tension between the two biggest heroes in DC's universe?

With the nods to LexCorp and Wayne Enterprises in Man of Steel, it would makes sense for the primary villain in the sequel to be Lex Luthor, but it can't end there.

I'm getting away from the point of it all, and that is the undeserved destruction of the casting of Ben Affleck.

No one knows how he will be used, what role Batman will play, or what version of Batman we will get. I've made my opinions clear regarding Man of Steel, Nolan's Batman trilogy and Ben Affleck's hit-or-mis performances, and I can set all of that aside and see the potential for success in this crossover.

I won't deny that I have made snap judgments on things, but they're often informed rather than rash and horrendously biased.

Ben Affleck isn't the best actor, but he isn't the same actor who cashed in on big-budget roles while turning in awful performances. He has refined his craft, and could prove to be the right man for the job, not just in terms of appearing in the Man of Steel sequel, but continuing on in the Justice League movie that is the end-goal for DC.

Personally, I wouldn't have minded seeing Jeffrey Dean Morgan don the cape and cowl, while bringing Frank Miller's Batman to the big screen. Not necessarily in the same context as The Dark Knight Returns, but that same sort of pissed off, older Batman that is fed up with the world continually descending into corruption.

Just my two cents. And what are they worth, huh?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Movie Break - DC's $50 Million Mistake aka Christian Bale and Other Dead Horses

     If you stop and think about Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy, only The Dark Knight stands out, due in part to the phenomenal performance from Heath Ledger, as well as the swell of support following his tragic death.

Batman Begins built a solid frame for the rest of the trilogy, but was nothing special. It introduced the realism Nolan was going for with his take on Batman, and hit the basics of what the character is.

Bruce Wayne, playboy by day, vigilante crime fighter by night, driven by the death of his parents as well as the sea of corruption known as Gotham City, he is the incorruptible beacon, setting the example for the people of the city.

Maybe it isn't laid out so obviously as that, but the concepts are there.

The Dark Knight was so acclaimed because of the powerful performances from both Ledger as Joker and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, more so than the action or the story.

I've spent far too much time trying to convey my issues with The Dark Knight Rises, but there is a nagging issue with the trilogy that is largely overlooked because of the scope of the series.

Christian Bale is a great actor, and I love his performances in American Psycho and The Fighter. In terms of physicality, and commitment to a role, Bale is among the best.

However, Nolan's trilogy, which is more character study than superhero action series, is scant on actual character development. Bale has no opportunity to really ACT in the capacity he has been praised for.

Aside from some passing references in the first two movies, we don't get enough Bruce Wayne or Batman. Or at least we don't get enough to really care about the balancing act. Anyone with half a brain could have put together than Bruce Wayne is Batman, so the basic premise is betrayed because the characters are inherently stupid.

Case and point: James Gordon aka Commissioner Gordon. It takes him almost the entire trilogy to figure out that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and he's supposed to be one of the best cops Gotham City has.

Maybe when they said best they were only referring to his incorruptibility...

To the point, the gravelly-voiced Bale served his purpose in Nolan's Batman trilogy. I do not feel it is necessary to bring him back for more Batman, which is precisely what they're doing now... Sort of...

You see, Man of Steel is Nolan's, sorry Zack Snyder's, treatment of Superman, intended to do for the character what Nolan did for Batman.

I've stated my case as to why Man of Steel is not particularly good, but the powers-that-be (and not the ones from Angel) have already put the wheels in motion for a sequel.

Man of Steel 2, which I'm assuming is a working title, will feature Superman and Batman, almost in time for people to scurry back to find clips and stills of the Batman/Superman movie billboard from I Am Legend from 2007.

Is a Batman/Superman crossover a cool idea? Absolutely. Does Christian Bale need to be brought back to don the cape and cowl once again? No.

The basic problem that arises in the event of Bale appearing as Batman in Superman's sequel, beyond just the difference in star power, since more people know Bale than Cavill, is the difference in the universes.

Nolan's Batman is very realistic, to an extent. The villains are essentially average people who have been driven off the deep end and take matters into their own hands.

The Nolan/Snyder Superman cannot, therefore, exist in the same world as Nolan's Batman.

Everything is down to earth and gritty, while Superman, by nature, is out of this world and comes with a more bright feel. A man who can fly, has heat vision, super strength, etc. is a figure of wonder.

If you bring together a terrestrial hero, in a world devoid of wonder and magic and aliens, with an extraterrestrial hero, in a world with hope and superpowers, there is bound to be a bit of a disconnect.

With Bale, the series takes a step back into the darkness of Nolan's universe, rather into the future that DC would like to create to compete with the ever expanding Marvel Universe, which is headed for a second Avengers movie Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man.

DC doesn't have their own film department, and are relying on Nolan to work magic after creating a sort of universe roadblock with his Batman trilogy.

Bringing back Bale shows a lack of faith in Cavill or anyone else to carry the character or the universe into a bigger, better and brighter future. The nod to Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the end of The Dark Knight Rises is rendered useless in addition to inane if he or someone else doesn't take over as Batman in the future.

And what of the way Nolan finished his trilogy?

John Blake/Robin is made out to be Bruce Wayne's successor as Batman, since Batman supposedly died in the blast, and Bruce Wayne is conveniently forgotten in the liquidation of his assets and left to gallivant with Selina Kyle in some cafe across the pond.

If Bruce Wayne returns, not only does it muddy the waters in a purported Superman/Batman team-up/crossover, but it neuters the impact Nolan was aiming for with his final opus.

Sadly, DC and all parties involved should start from scratch, or at least scrap the crossover.

If the ultimate goal is a Justice League movie to rival the Avengers movies, they need to establish their characters before they have them interacting directly.

Man of Steel had enough nods to LexCorp and a nod to Bruce Wayne to generate interest in the interactions of their worlds. They don't have to thrust the Dark Knight back into the mix so soon.

As many issues that I have with Nolan's "universe" I would welcome a well done crossover, or at least a clear path to a Justice League movie. The Man of Steel sequel/crossover will likely make a metric f*ckton of money, but that doesn't mean it is a worthwhile endeavor the way they're currently approaching it.

Prepare for a disappointing movie. If we're lucky, it will be so disappointing that DC will pull its head out of Nolan's *ss and put together a competent crew to tackle their vastly complex and delicately balanced universe.

Don't hold your breath though...