May 2008

05/31/2008

Four Years Of THIS

by Matthew Hawkins

Well, since it?s been over a week since the last update, and I could use a break from my latest freelance gig (I’m editing video for the National Enquirer, believe it or not), time for a quick update… Especially since May 31 is somewhat of a special day; it’s the four year anniversary of this website! Yay. Though truth be told, I did have something special planned for today to mark the occasion, that being the first real installment of the podcast, but unfortunately there’s been a slight delay; the current plan is to head over Mike’s tomorrow afternoon, and hopefully what is produced shall be decent enough for public consumption.

But it’s just as well and par for the course. The past couple of weeks, though this past one in particular, has been pretty “meh” due to a variety of reasons. First off, got sick again, which was completely unexpected and totally sucked; it happened while I was hanging with Carlos and the rest of the crew last Thursday… there I was, swilling beer, dining on greasy French Fries, and shooting the shit, having a great old time, and next thing you know, I feel my throat closing up and my annoying, just gotten rid off, cough comes back. Once again, getting old, lol.

On a semi-related note, this past week is also the one year anniversary of my big trip to Japan, and aside from missing the wonderful sights and sounds, I also really miss the feeling I had there, of feeling super healthy from all the awesome foods that were readily (and cheaply available). Plus I was just more out and about at that point… and here I am now, mostly just sitting around the apartment, on the computer. My health has been a primary concern as of late, though I’ve also been lazy too; today also marks the last day of my COBRA health coverage, but I’ve yet to sign up for the Freelancer’s Union, mostly for their health benefits. On another related note, the past couple of days I’ve been on the search for Wii Fit, and like many others, it’s been a frustrating hunt to say the least, but I’ll go into details in just a bit, though I will say that I’m no longer planning on using a video game as a focal point towards getting in shape, which is a silly notion overall when one sits down to think about it.

Oh, also, the weather last year was really nice this time of year, though I don’t think it was just central to Japan… meanwhile, aside from the already wacky weather 08 has provided we finally got the first real hot day here in NYC, and Christ do I hate the heat in the city.

Anyway, getting sick threw me out of the loop for the next following days, hence one reason for the lack of updates, though over-all it’s also just been a time in which nothing has really come together. Another plan for this weekend was to head to New Hampshire for Space War 2008, another classic gaming tournament going on at Funspot, and organized by Twin Galaxies. This one centers on classic, and somewhat recent shmups, and the long story short is, I know a guy from college who used to hold the record for Giga Wing 2 (it was something with 13 zeroes) but lost it to some kind in Brazil, and was going there to reclaim his title. So the plan was to go and watch him reclaim his record, or at least his attempt to, but again, things just feel apart.

Also, the MoCCA Art Fest is next weekend, and I couldn’t be any less ready. I was really hoping for a fourth UNLUCKY preview mini to debut, but that just ain’t happening. Furthermore, the first volume of Harvest is also not going to be there sadly. Hopefully everything will come together later this year for SPX… At least #3 will be making its premiere at the show, for those who haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy at Rocketship, Jim Hanley’s, and Forbidden Planet.

… Plus even your fine comic book establishment, that is if you live in San Fran, Chicago, or Baltimore. And if they don’t, ask for it! Or simply order your copy (or copies) directly from me; just look for the store link at the very top of this page!

So yeah, it’s just been one of those weeks. Though there has been more than just sitting around and feeling sick or bummed out…

It?s Not Like My Childhood Was Raped Or Anything, But Still

Saw Indiana Jones 4 last Friday night with Katie and Dave. In a nutshell: I thought it was pretty stupid. If I was a diehard Indy fan, I’d probably be more upset or annoyed. It was just this long, two hour long argument against digital filmmaking. And I was once again reminded how I used to be a fan of Spielberg (back when I was like, 15); it’s really depressing how many creative folks, as they get older, get so wrapped up in doing shit that’s “for the family” and what not. Though in the end, I just find mysticism surrounding Biblical artifacts a whole lot interesting than stuff relating to little green men, at least when it comes to a movie built around a globetrotting archeologist. But hey, at least Cate Blanchett kicked ass, at least in my opinion.

Actually, Katie told me afterwards how she wanted to walk about after the first twenty minutes. I guess I liked it more than her… at least in the beginning, which I didn’t mind, and felt as if it was an “homage” to the previous flicks. But along the way, it just got dumber and dumber… I recall folks at the time complaining about Tarantino’s Death Proof, particularly the dialogue, saying “It’s like he’s trying to write Tarantino-esque dialog” which made no sense in that case, but I do believe that vibe somewhat applies here I pretty much gave up on Indy 4, during the huge jungle chase scene, which started out “real” but turned into green-screen bullshit. Dave and his buddies on the other hand loved it, as do quite a few others, so I guess it’s just a case of different strokes, etc.

“A Rock Out Of Place, In A Japanese Garden? … SUPPLIES!!!”

Also last weekend saw a surprise houseguest: Travis Nichols was in town, and crashed at my place a couple of nights. Which also meant introducing him to the wonders of New York cable access. Plus, he played some games, including a bunch of old Sega Master Systems titles, via the PS2 (I have a disc that has the emulator and a shit-load of SMS and Game Gear roms… similar to one for the Dreamcast that I used to have, but have somehow misplaced). There’s nothing like the excitement that takes over a person when they come across a game that they loved dearly as a child and haven’t played in like 20 years… in Travis’s case, it was Ninja.

Speaking of, been getting plenty of play with the Xbox 360:

Beautiful Katamari – So yeah, it’s not my imagination; the game is MUCH harder than before. Whereas in part 1 and 2 (can’t say for 3 since I haven’t played it that much, for perhaps obvious reasons) you are given more than enough time to complete the goal, so you can just go about at a somewhat leisurely pace and casually explore, now you’re given so little time that gone is that relaxing vibe, and instead it’s actually stressful, believe it or not. Plus, as stated previously, you have the awkward control scheme, with the twin sticks not being perpendicular, and the shape of the 360′s controller itself makes one’s hands hurt during gameplay after a while. BUT… almost all that bullshit is totally worth it for the absolutely brilliant last stage, which you get the sense is something they’ve wanted to do since day one, but only now with the power of the 360 is it finally possible. Plus, the new tracks are pretty awesome.

Dead Or Alive 4 – You know, I recently read in an article about Ninja Gaiden 2 in which the head of Team Ninja, Tomonobu Itagaki, stated how he had mastered the fighting genre with DOA 4. Ummm… It’s not a horrible game by any stretch. I mean, I am a fan of the Dead Or Alive series, though most it does have to do with its roster of scantily clad girls, and how the main chick’s storyline involves fighting clones of herself, which have gotten more and more naked as the series has progressed… Plus, it’s always been a pretty game, and at the end of the day, a decent button masher. Yet, after five or six or so editions (part 1 alone has had so many flavors), I’ve begun to grow bored.

Virtua Fighter 5 – …But not with the VF formula. Even though I was less than enthralled with part 4 for whatever reason; it just felt like a step backwards on numerous levels, since it really was (the elevated levels and extra action button was a HUGE turn off with many… and I for one didn’t mind either). Plus the game just looked ugly, and I only bother to pop in EVO every once in a while to play it in VF1 mode. But part 5, while still playing it safe, just feels and especially looks amazing. Also helping are the two new characters, who are pretty awesome (whereas I found 4′s first wave of new faces to be pretty boring). The Quest Mode is better than ever, and much like Joe, I’m building my Eileen up to be a hipster hottie. And call me crazy, but I don’t mind playing with the stock 360 controller, though I am thinking of getting a proper arcade stick (especially with Soul Calibur 4 on the way).

Devil May Cry 4 – Just the demo… and I don’t know why, but I feel as if I’ve missed out on the DMC boat. I’m more than happy to admit that what I played of parts 1 and 3 (passed on 2 since everyone said it sucked) delivered on the high-octane fueled thrills, but I also though the exploration aspects and collecting of stuff in part 1 was a real drag, and while I saw none of that with 3, it simply fell by the way side at the time. And part 4 seems to have a return of the former. Also, as silly as it sounds, and as neat-o the camera system is, I always end up struggling with it when exploring for some stupid reason, hence the apathy.

N+ – Once again, just the demo, and again, I feel like I’m missing the boat here. It’s certainly neat, but not “OMG, THIS IS LIKE VIDEO GAME CRACK” like everyone else whose played it. I also love how when Katie first saw me play the game, she groaned and went “Does EVERY game have to be all 8-bit?” She does have a point… hence another reason why I’m especially looking towards Braid.

BioShock – The demo of course, and surprisingly, I found myself not wanting to throw up after 20 minutes of play! Yet, I find myself stuck, and yes, I know that’s pretty sad.

Table Tennis – I actually liked this game when it first came out… I believe I even gushed over it in my GSW write-up. But years later, and more importantly, after experiencing Wii Play, it just doesn’t hold up.

Sega Rally Revo – You know, at a certain point, I actually kinda liked it. I always knew it was different, and not exactly the Sega Rally of old (1 & 2), but I always thought I should give it a chance. And… I’ve given up on it. The more I played it, the more it’s idiosyncrasies began to show, and they frankly got on my nerds. First off, and this coming from a guy that defends the framerates of PGR and DiRT, but whatever frames this game is running at totally sucks. It’s gotta be less than 30, and pretty much drags things down. There’s two other things: first is the less than stellar (and simply all over the place) handling, which I do believe is made worse with the framerate. And second is the graphics; it’s funny how the game looked really good in still shots, but again in motion, it’s not, to the point that everything looks like a bland mess. Very difficult to explain. Conversely, I decided to pop in Sega Rally 2 immediately after-playing, and despite the erratic framerate, its at least at a mostly steady, and never dipping below 30, plus the textures are GORGEOUS. Sorry, but my old, almost nine year old 128-bitter totally beats the shit out of the 256-bit (I think that’s what the 360 has) monster, at least with this particular game. Not helping is the God-awful soundtrack; the series has always been known about the phenomenal tunes (even the piece of shit Sega Rally 2006 had great music). And the front-end is as bland as can be… My God Sega, how the might have fallen.

… Otherwise, I’ve also been playing plenty of Project Gotham Racing 3, speak of the devil, which I picked up for dirt cheap, and my copy of Gears Of War just arrived, though I haven’t had the chance to give it a shot just yet. I’m also wondering about Lost Colonies. I guess I should just download the demo!

Nintendo’s “Game”

As mentioned previously, I’ve been trying to get ahold of Wii Fit, with zero luck. The thing is, I totally had a chance to pick one up last Thursday, when I saw a big stack of them at Toys R Us in Times Square, but didn’t cuz I didn’t feel like lugging it around later in the evening (and taking it to karaoke would have been a drag alright). But ever since then, I’ve yet to come even close to one.

I guess this is what feels like for all those frustrated folks who had such a bitch of a time getting their Wii’s. Actually, from what I understand, people are still having a hard time getting the console, what, two years later? And not during the holiday season? Oh boy… I will admit that I’ve been lucky; one of the definite perks of my job is that you often get to ask for free stuff, and you get it. Nintendo has been super nice to me in the past, with the complimentary Wii and DS Lite, both during times when they were in heavy demand. And I just don’t feel like being a jerk asking for one, even if it “business related”; I suppose I just want to go through the same headaches that Joe Consumer is going through, had been going throw, and it totally sucks.

I checked all over the place, and it would seem that the only place to have a regular stock of the stuff is the Nintendo World Store, here in NYC. It was explained to me on the phone that each morning they get a brand new batch. Though when asked how many was usually on-hand, no given an answer, but was told that each morning they run out within the first half hour to hour of opening. So yesterday morning, I went out with Katie as she headed towards work, while my destination was the store. Got there around 10:15… I thought they opened at 10, my mistake. And naturally they were all gone. I asked at what time they had sold out, and how many they had available in the first place, but again no answers. At least from the first person; I managed to pry from the second person that each morning there’s a line that forms up front. 30 minutes before the store opens, a store employee goes out and gives wristbands. I asked how many had showed up that morning, and was told around 150. And when I enquired how many of those got what they were waiting for, no clear answer was given, but it was definitely less than a quarter of the group. Which totally sucks. And I’m a diehard Nintendo fan for sure, but I kinda don’t feel like getting up 4:30 in the morning to head down to Time Square to wait in line till 9.

Many people are getting really sick and tired of how difficult it is to come by Nintendo’s hardware offerings. Some wonder what the hell is going on, and the official explanation has always been that Nintendo simply has very strict guidelines when it comes to production (the complete antithesis of the Xbox 360, of course). But others are wondering if there are other reasons, such as Nintendo distributing a very limited supply on purpose, to help generate demand. Most folks who have any real business acumen believe this to be an absolutely insane notion; what company would willingly sacrifice profit for buzz? Well… buzz is pretty damn important, especially at this stage of the video game war. It’s pretty much one of the few things the system has going for it, to be honest. Another major point of discussion is the serious dearth of software for the system. We’ve seen it before; starting with the N64, and getting worse with the GameCube, and finally even more so with the Wii, Nintendo appears to be the only ones making any good games for their device. As for the notion that money that would go towards a Wii and its software would then move onto a competitor, well, the playing field has changed and so has its audience; it’s safe to say that a good deal of those wanting to invest in Wii might not turn to the 360 or PS3 as an alternative since most of them are not your typical video gamers. So perhaps there is less perceived risk involved with such a strategy? And as asinine it might sound, I have to admit, I keep hearing more and more people state that it might not be some wacky conspiracy…

The ones getting the biggest shaft to an extent are the traditional/hardcore video gamers. But, and I think the success of the PS3 has proven, they are indeed becoming less and less important. They still matter, but they no longer help to dictate who is number one as clearly as they used to. As for Wii Fit, I still want one, but I’m not going to kill myself by going on some wild goose-chase. And as much as I wanted it to be by my side as I attempt to shed some pounds for this summer, I guess regular old exercise, plus boxing, will simply have to do.

CRANK DAT SUPER SAIYAN

Anyway it’s been a busy week in general, news-wise, but instead of scouring the web for highlights, and because I’ve already gone on too long, plus its been a while, how about I just stick to the highlights as found on my neck of the internet woods?

- The countdown to Soul Calibur 4 continues

- And for those who don’t know it yet, one definite front runner for game of the year will be Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. Imagine, Gotchaman vs Mega Man!

- The Brawl thread has recently become a great place to find out how to hack one’s Wii without the need of a mod chip! And since I’m tired of waiting for Starfox to appear on the VC, may as well make it happen myself!

- Hey, the Live A Live translation patch ver. 2.0 is finally available! Now you too can a caveman, cowboy, ninja, spaceman, and fireman I think, all in one handy-dandy jRPG!

- My God, the PlayStation has had some fucking AWFUL advertising for it

- In addition to teaching little girls to take care of animals, figure skate, and be a fashion designer, they want to teach their parents how to quit smoking.

- There is no real Tetris movie in the works, but we are most definitely getting the game show.

- Hooray for WiiWare! I’m being sarcastic btw.

- Related… so I guess the consensus is, Mario Kart Will flat out sucks?

- So why do I all of a sudden give two shits about Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3? Two words: Gina Carano.

- Have I already mentioned the FPS experiment I will be engaging in, with Mike’s help?

- Yet another gaming shirt on my want list…

- Got a whole slew of awesome random video game videos to share, and not just from the random video games video thread, though I have a bunch of those as well:

… while most have cringed, the trailer for Guitar Hero On Tour has TOTALLY sold the game for me!

this one is for you fans of both Metal Gear Solid and Lupin the 3rd fans out there.

…in case you didn’t hear, when it comes to video games, us Koreans are HARDCORE!!!

… Gradius, if it was a text adventure.

… as far as fan/parody videos go, this Mortal Kombat one is pretty damn good. SEXUALITY!

… believe it or not, this slightly NSFW animu-a-rrific game is supposed to teach English.

… and dudes will love this one, while girls will cringe; it’s EASILY the best ad for the Wii Fit yet.

- Via the stupid tattoos thread…

- And yeah, I most certainly will NOT be watching this show.

- Dick put it best with: “Mmmmmmmmm?jihadist donuts.”

- Once again, Cracked.com delivers a rather intriguing article: “5 Psychological Experiments That Prove Humanity is Doomed.”

- And here we have “The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clich?s”.

- Best laid plans indeed…

- Believe it or not, the awesome random pictures thread keeps getting better, and better, and better…

- And here we have some fine offerings from the random (non-video games) thread:

this here is clearly the best CRANK DAT video yet.

and this is what hipsters who love Indiana Jones do with their time (and money).

… what if Nazis went to the moon in 1945…and came back 73 years later?

the best argument against the Large Hadron Collider yet!” When in doubt, blame Satan!

… we all know that all 14 year olds think they know how to fix the word, but Jesus…

… we also already know that all 14 year olds are indestructible.

Russians sure do know how to dance!

… Remember the 80′s? Remember bread? Remember bread in the 80s?

… time for another, grade-A battled of the YouTube video bloggers! Whoever wins, we all lose.

Dragonball Z in Malaysian.

a totally hawt Alice In Wonderland mix.

… and Katie recently unearthed that MTV furry documentary. And it more than lives up to the hype!

- So there’s a now a fight club in Union Square? LOL.

- And MTV’s Real World is coming to Brooklyn. I still think the Bronx would be far more interesting.

- Boo, fucking, hoo rich kids.

- Oh God, I totally forgot… This is the weekend for I THINK I’M A CARRIE WHAT DO YOU GUYS THINK!?!? Ugh.

- “three girls, one stoop.”

- I don’t think everyone got my “So I’m assuming folks are gonna ride their bikes in protest, right?” line. But it’s funny cuz it’s true!

- How many times exactly have I mentioned that I’m so fucking glad that I don’t live in Park Slope anymore? Not nearly enough is the answer.

- In this corner, man babies

- And in this corner, Xalynne Blackblade

- Fathers loving their daughters a bit too much, in my opinion.

- Sorry I haven’t passed this along before: the official poker douchebags thread.

- Believe it or not, Google Maps is a lot of fun sometimes!

- Yet another “please let this be real”: Gay Thug Dating Dot Com.

- The animated gif thread, now featuring a netty pot.

- Finally, the Soul Cancer/LOL Japan thread features highlights from my new favorite corner of the web, Sankaku Complex, including some of the most of nicest (dare I say beautiful?) looking hentai you’ll ever see. Seriously…

Oh, and then there’s this…

One last thing… I’ve kinda talked about it before, but after thinking about it, and also after noticing the absolute dearth of programming that’s currently available on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, I’ve decided to go ahead and find out what’s the necessary steps to get my own cable access show. But I also need to figure out what it’s exactly going to be… so any suggestions are welcome. The plan right now is to have a plan, or a general outline by mid-summer. Naturally, I’ll pass along more as it develops…

And last, happy anniversary everyone! Hope some of you folks have gotten a kick out of this place for the four years. How about four more?

4 comments

05/23/2008

And This Coming From A Guy Who HATED The Matrix!

by Matthew Hawkins

Okay, first off, review week has been somewhat of a misnomer. I had plans to present a different game review each day, and as anyone might have noticed, there was no update yesterday, due to various reasons, plus the game that I want to write about next requires a bit more playtime to be perfectly honest. But now that I’m a bit under the weather, thanks to partying a bit too hard last night (well that and I’m still suffering from bronchitis, so I should have really taken it easy), I at least have some additional playtime as I rest and recoup (though I am seeing Indiana Jones 4 later this evening).

Back In… White?

Anyway, yesterday I got the chance to check Rock Band for the Wii, which comes out mid-June I think. First off, it’s basically the same exact package that came out for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PS2… well, it’s mostly like the PlayStation 2 edition, which I’ll explain in just one second. But all the songs that come with those retail versions are present, plus five additional songs. You also have the same wireless guitars, drums, and microphone. Everything is identical to before, except the drums are white, to match the Wii.

So going in, I was curious how the guitars were going to be. I totally love the look of the GH3′s axes… for the 360, PS3, and PS2. But the Wii’s all white styling, with the stupid door for the Wii-mote up front, has always looked like an eyesore to me. Thank God the Wii Rock Band guitars are no nonsense; it was explained that since there’s no motion-sensitive moves, so to incorporate the remote would have been pointless.

As for the game itself, graphics-wise, it’s more or less the PS2 version, Meaning, the performers you see playing along to the music are all rendered before-hand, and presented as FMV, whereas the 360 and PS3 editions have your band in real-time, allowing for dynamic changes to their demeanor, depending on your performance. The reason? The Wii… much like the PS2 I’m afraid… just does not having the processing power to handle all the inputs as well as the eye candy. Which will piss off hardcore gamers, to be sure, but most folks will not give two shits. I mean, when you’re playing the game, you’re more than likely too busy to notice what’s going on in the background.

When I asked how additional tracks will work, since one can easily download new songs via XBL or PSN, and the Wii… just doesn’t have that infrastructure in place, it was explained that several options were being considered. The plan right now is to present expansion discs, though other media is being considered, such as SD cards. But, given the slow as hell transfer rates for SD cards, unless they utilize the much faster (and much more expansive) high speed variants, it’s almost certain that additional songs via disc will be the only way to go. Given the limited size of the hard drive on the Wii, you can all but guarantee that downloading new content is not an option.

I got the chance to play a few tracks, and not surprisingly, I totally sucked with the guitar. I’m not the best Guitar Hero player in the world, mind you, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’m “okay.” Though I’m pretty sure any Rock Band player can already tell you that it’s not the same thing; my timing was just way off. I guess GH is a lot more forgiving? But like the last time I played RB, I totally kicked ass on the drums. Mind you, I played it safe by going easy, instead of doing medium on an axe, but I would like to think that 151 notes in a row is not bad for a dude’s second time only playing.

REVIEW: F-Zero The Movie

I also saw Speed Racer yesterday. Don’t what compelled me exactly… after-all, the general consensus has been that it totally bites, plus I TOTALLY hate the Wachowski brothers. But a part of me simply needed to see the live-action adaptation of one of my favorite cartoons as a kid (so that’s one reason right there), and as it was pointed out at movie night, it did appear to be a big screen version of F-Zero.

And dear God… I was completely blown away. Seriously. While I feel weird to call it the movie of the year… I kinda need to? 24 hours later and I am still in total awe of how incredible Speed Racer was. Many have tried to fuse traditional Western cinema with Eastern animu bullshit, but no one has approached the territory that Speed Racer boldly traverses. I know I’m making a pretty bold (as well as ridiculously stupid) statement, but you can quote me on this… as much as the film is misunderstood and maligned today, I bet you cold hard cash that in a few years time, Speed Racer the movie will be viewed as a work of genius, one that was way ahead of its time. At the very least, I can see this film being a future cult classic, with a very loyal legion of devotees.

I almost want to state “well, its not really a good movie per say, just an awesomely bad film” but that would be a total cop out. No sorry, I honestly think its a great piece of cinema. Though it is also no knock to identify the flick as a live-action cartoon, pure and simple, from top to bottom (especially since it’s based on one, duh). Speed Racer tries to do the same thing that Dick Tracy did in 1990, which attempted to emulate the 4 color strip scheme, with having everything painted in bold, rich primary colors, but the execution is simply greater and more effective this time around, thanks in large part due to the fancy (and completely mesmerizing special effects at play). Never before the term eye-candy has been so grossly appropriate.

And regarding the original cartoon, those who fondly remember and loved the show will have their minds blown by the degrees to which the film pays homage to the source material. The cast for example is superb. They got Race down, as well as Trixie, Pops… fuck, even Inspector Detector! I knew things were gonna be awesome when I heard that Chim-Chim was being portrayed with a real monkey. Speaking of, I was also impressed by the all the kids in the movie, like the one playing Spritle; none of them were annoying! Well, I would imagine that some might find the kid and his monkey pal’s antics annoying, but they were dead-on true to the cartoon, so I can’t complain. Though the real treat was the appearance of K-pop superstar and heartthrob Rain, who I was already a big fan of from I’m A Cyborg But That’s Okay. It’s also all the little things, such as the use of classic sound effects from the show that make Speed Racer, SPEED RACER!

Oh, and I guess I should mention the action. The racing sequences, to borrow a term from Katie, were totally sick. I can’t think of a single film that embodied the thrill and excitement of racing in a very real manner, despite how over the top it all was. Everything felt very speed racer… but also very F-Zero, primarily X and GX, with vehicles doing all sorts of crazy spins to knock each other off the road. I also thank God that I saw this movie on an IMAX screen. Everything gets so bat-shit insane as things progresses that, by the end, and not to give anything away, but it’s pretty akin to the end of 2001, if that can be believed.

Speaking of the classics, the thing is, one particular staple of American cinema is the story of some kid that’s brilliant at a particular sport, but is not a superstar due to various reasons, and struggles to be acknowledged as the best of the best among his or her peers. Issues related to family or class invariably gets in the way, and also at a certain point, said prodigy becomes disillusioned by what the point of it all is. Well, Speed Racer is much like Rocky, though with the added ultra bright colors and infusion of animu, which of course makes it similar (and more relatable) in my book. And perhaps I’m easily impressed, but I actually found the emotional core to be rather genuine… at least as much as any other cheese-ball sports flick that goes for the heart-strings. But yeah, both Susan Sarandon and John Goodman do great jobs as very real parents in a cartoon world.

So yeah, much like Rez HD will be the reason why I should get into HD gaming, the inevitable Blu-ray release of Speed Racer will be reason to build a home theater. I’m pretty sure that the home video release will be the fave disc that folks at Best Buy use to show off the display models.

Reaching The Right Audience

Immediately after the film, I had some time to kill before meeting up with Mike and Joe (Salina). The original plan for last night was to either take another stab at the podcast or do some boxing, but since Carlos was once again back in town, Mike and I decided to hold those plans off and join up with him and and Joe. But before that, I had to go game hunting, or a review actually, and not for this site but someone else’s. And… as is often the case, hunting down a game in New York City, one that’s not super well know, it was quite the task. Not to get into specifics and naming names, but I will say that this game was possibly already out, but I wasn’t 100% certain, hence the greater part of the hunt: the seeking out of facts. The thing is, I tried contacting the publisher twice already for a review copy, but no dice. And because it’s so under the radar, it was impossible to know what the situation was from other sources.

I actually went through a somewhat similar situation recently regarding another game and another publisher, one that had already come out by that point, yet I still really wanted to feature it for my own site. In that case… and again, not to call anyone out… I was given the snub for not being some big name in the world of gaming news and reviews. Truth is, reviews for this game were already available via other outlets, which had generally given very poor scores, due to at least some of them not “getting” the game. It was clearly not their cup of tea, and is often the case in such a situation, the reviewer felt it necessary to needlessly rip into the title. I tried explaining my case that this particular game’s genre is actually something I’m into, as our my readers, and therefore the game would stand getting a fairer shake when it came down to passing judgment. But the person I spoke too didn’t see it that way.

Now here’s the thing: I know small companies have limited budgets, and therefore can’t afford to pass along free copies to everyone and their moms, so therefore they have to be selective. Makes total sense. But if I was a PR guy and I had to choose between giving a review copy to either a big name publication that will more than likely not give it proper attention, due to the fact that it’s simply not in line with what their readers are into, which also means that the review will probably not service the game the way it should, though more importantly, the audience that said game is intended for more than likely could give two shits with what the publication has to say anyway… or, an outlet that, while not nearly as well known, would do a better job of approaching the game, and more importantly has readers who are actually interested in what said game is like… can you guess which one I would choose? How about you?

Okay /rant.

What, No Duran Duran?

Anyway, after I went game hunting, I swung by Grassroots to meet up with Mike and Joe, and not too long afterwards, Carlos showed up (as did Katie, but for just a few minutes; she was meeting a friend for dinner at Kenka, just across the street). Cuz most of us were hungry, we then got falafels next door, and since some of us were still hungry afterwards, we then swung by the pomme frites place. Carlos next expressed interest in getting some sushi, so we went to a joint I had been before in the neighborhood, which is when Dave showed up. After Mike had to head home, the rest of us ended up going to some dive joint in Chinatown, where Dave’s girl Mallory was at with some friends.

The place had karaoke, with just a dollar per song, which is not such a bad deal. But that’s where the highlights end; the beer was way overpriced, the crowd was pretty annoying, and worst of all, the song selection sucked dick. It was a struggle to find anything to sing (or scream) to, hence why I had to do We Didn’t Start The Fire. Dave and Joe ended up belting a few tunes together, and that was pretty awesome (oh btw, click here for free porn). So overall, we were the best things to happen to the joint, all night.

I made my exit when, and this seems to happen to me with some degree of frequency, some dumb drunk women got pissed at me for not giving them the proper amount (or kind) of applause. Basically, these three bitches who all looked as if they worked in some high class law-firm or something and are probably pulling 500k a year each, plus were probably each 25 but looked to be 35, due to following the fashion advice of women’s rags, and are all probably really excited for the Sex In The City movie coming out, had just done Like A Virgin, and I noticed that in the wacky video that accompanied the tune (anyone whose been in a karaoke joint is perhaps well aware of the strange footage that Asian like to affix to American songs) featured an image that could somewhat be described as racist? So I made the comment, and gave a condensing hand-clap for said racist imagery, which the women thought was for them. I tried explaining myself, but they were pissed and would not have any of it, and then when I went “whatever”, they all went “WHATEVER!” as dumb bitches are want to do. So yeah, what a cap to the night.

Actually, afterwards, Joe, Carlos, and myself decided to swing by the Chinatown arcade for a quick game of Rumble Fish, but it was closed. Mind you, it was 1:30 in the morning, but the city that never sleeps? Ha.

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As promised, I’m very proud to present my very good friend Dave Mauro, easily the best damn Brawl player out there period, and his long-awaited review. If there’s one guy who knows this game, inside and out, it’s definitely dmauro. So without further adieu…

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REVIEW: Super Smash Bros. Brawl

by Dave Mauro

The Super Smash Bros. Formula

The Super Smash Bros. series is a fighting game series for the layman. Unlike so many of its ilk, there isn?t a long list of character specific moves performed by describing thumb numbing shapes on the directional pad combined with one of several different power levels of kick or punch. Instead there are only two attack buttons: standard and special, which both vary in attack depending on which direction the analog stick is tilted. This simplicity makes for a series of games that are quick and easy for anyone to pick up.

Smash Bros. not only simplifies the traditional fighting game mechanics, it changes them up rather drastically. Rather than beating on an opponent until his health bar is empty, each attack will knock him around more and more until he is sent careening off the screen with a well timed smash attack. This mechanic allows for surprise comebacks from the brink of KO, as well as early KOs by cleverly guarding the edge, which tends to make the game much more exciting than the usual fight ?till you drop mechanic.

Super Smash Bros. further turns tradition on its head by allowing four players to battle at a time. Team up with friends against the computer, or have a chaotic free for all match. Throw in the option of randomly appearing items which can do anything from stun opponents to make players twice their normal size and now you?ve got something that?s more than just a fighting game.

But don?t let this simplicity fool you. The fact that the previous game in the series was one of the most popular tournament games on the Major League Gaming roster is testament to the fact that while these games make for great chaotic, ruled by chance party-games, there is a deep fighting system tucked within.


The cute veneer hides a surprisingly impressive fighting game

Some Essential Changes

A common misconception about Brawl is that it is the same as Melee but with additional characters. Well, certainly much from Melee has been retained: it has the same two-to-four player fighting game with most of the same mechanics; more than half of the roster is composed of characters from Melee; the auxiliary game modes are back with Home Run Contest, Multi-Man Challenge, Classic Mode, and others; and the collectible trophies have even returned. However, each of these aspects have been significantly changed and improved upon since Melee.


Classic battles are some of the most fun to set up and play with friends

The core mechanics have changed in several ways (warning: this paragraph is full of technical details). Most notably the mid-air dodge no longer dodges in a certain direction and instead simply dodges in place. This eliminates the popular advanced technique in Melee called wave dashing. The air dodge has increased defensive air options as it can now be used multiple times and can be followed by an attack. The next most notable change is that gravity has been reduced. There is still the option to fast fall by tapping down on the analog stick, but right away the game will feel very floaty and a little bit slower. The lower gravity also makes it more difficult to perform combos. The sweet-spot for grabbing edges has been increased in size so recovery is much easier in Brawl, and tether recoveries are now easier as well (although they will not work if someone is already hogging the edge). An input buffer has been added so that moves can be executed much more quickly without the need to time them to the precise frame at which they can be activated (most other fighting games use this). And of course there is tripping: every time a player dashes, they have an approximately 1% chance of tripping and leaving himself open for attack (the effect is the same as slipping on a banana peel). These are the most major changes to the core mechanics although there are plenty of more minor changes most players will never even recognize.

These are all changes that the people who have been playing Melee steadily and competitively for the last eight years either love or hate, with the exception of tripping, which is universally despised because it is a foolish blow to the competitive scene. It was a wise decision to remove some of the most popular advanced techniques of Melee though. This allows time for newcomers to familiarize themselves with the game before new Brawl specific advanced techniques are discovered and widen the gap between experienced and casual players. For the casual players these changes will seem insignificant when compared to what has been added to the game.

Essential Additions

While Melee had an impressive 26 playable characters, Brawl has a whopping 35. There are about 12 characters that play in entirely new ways (while Ike, Lucas, Wolf, and Toon Link are new and interesting, they are mostly based on existing characters), and many of the returning characters have been tweaked (some for better, Luigi; some for worse, Jigglypuff; and some unnecessarily, Samus). Characters such as Olimar and Snake add an unparalleled level of depth to the game simply by virtue of how differently they play. Many people argue for quality over quantity and that bigger is not better, but when all of the roster additions are fairly balanced and bring new and interesting mechanics to the game, it?s hard to argue that Brawl?s expanded roster is not the greatest aspect of the game.


King Dedede combines the power of a heavyweight fighter with the recovery of a lightweight fighter

Of course they couldn?t make a new Super Smash Bros. game without new stages. The new stages are not as much of an upgrade as the new roster is, but some of them in particular stand out. There is a WarioWare, Inc. stage that forces the players to occasionally stop fighting to play a mini-game and have a chance at winning a starman, super mushroom, or a health boost; the Mario Bros. stage changes the fight to a mad dash to collect upturned turtles and crabs (they are extremely powerful projectiles); and there is a stage in which Pok?mon invert and flip the camera essentially causing everyone?s controls to reverse. Some of the stages drastically change how the game is played and others are simple variations of previous stages.

Final Destination and Battlefield remain intact, but not without drastically needed superficial renovations. Battlefield no longer looks like a cheesy VR battle room, and instead has been given a classical ruins theme to match the game?s new operatic opening score. Final Destination is no longer stuck out in space, but instead soars through the galaxy and above an ocean while a sunset provides a dramatic flair to accompany the music. Considering that these will be the two most often played levels, these updates were a fantastic idea.

Ten additional Melee levels return as well. These stages seem to be about three quarters of their previous size due to the fact that the Brawl character models are larger than their Melee counterparts. While I miss Pok? Floats, the broken but fun Hyrule Temple is back and much better now that it is slightly smaller.


Keeping the custom stages simple but interesting is the best approach

The included stages are enough to satisfy any player, but Brawl introduces a stage editor which allows players to make anything from a ridiculous multi-tiered all ice and spikes stage to a simple variation of Battlefield in which the platforms have been inverted. It?s a little generic with only three themes to choose from, but since there is an option to choose any song from those collected, a lack of more themes will have to be forgiven.

I will quickly mention that new items have been added to the game as well. There is the eponymous Smash ball which is so rare and devastating that when one appears, the fight shifts focus as everyone tries to get their hands on it. There are also the Pok?ball inspired assist trophies which summon various Nintendo characters. Kirby?s Dragoon is a one-hit-kill weapon which must be assembled by collecting three pieces that usually end up being juggled from player to player until someone collects all three. There are also several more minor item additions, but these are the three that can significantly change the game when turned on. Including all three is a recipe for a chaotic match.


The new assist trophies help to rack up damage and KO opponents

Another great addition that Brawl brings to the series is online play. After players have honed their skills by practicing against the much improved level 9 CPU, they can play against friends and strangers online. There are a few different ways to play online: play against friends with your own settings (the game uses the standard friend code system unfortunately); play against strangers with only the option to play two minute item-on matches as teams or free for all; or spectate and bet coins on other players? matches.

While this all sounds great, there are many problems in practice. First off, I have never been able to find and play a match with strangers (possibly because of router issues). Secondly, it?s a fighting game: any bit of lag, and there will be at least some lag, is going to make the game less fun. I?ve had decent latency between friends nearby such that I was able to have some seemingly lagless matches, but any time I try to play someone that isn?t in the greater metropolitan area, I have to stick to four player items-on matches in which the lag is a little less noticeable amidst all the chaos. Taunt based text messaging is nice to have, but it is a poor substitute for voice chat. The entire online experience is a little disappointing, and is certainly not suitable for competitively play.

But when a friend calls me up and asks if I want to play some Brawl, I?m really happy to have the ability to play across town. This is a huge plus for the game, lag or not.


Settle old rivalries with friends online

All the Little Things

One of the appeals of Super Smash Bros. is all the fun junk that gets crammed into it. As I mentioned above, the game types from Melee are intact; Events, Home Run Contest, Training, Multi-Man, all with cooperative two player mode added. In addition to these there is now an adventure mode called the Subspace Emissary (SSE).

The SSE is a little difficult to describe, but it?s something of a cross between a platformer, a brawler, and Super Smash Bros. This mode pits players against little weenies and gigantic bosses in side-scrolling levels with the focus on action, but exploration encouraged. SSE can be played with a friend, and I highly recommend it because otherwise it gets a little boring. There isn?t a plot proper, but rather the story plays out as a patchwork of cutscenes with only the vaguest of connections to one another. Even the introduction of the final boss is completely free of any narrative constraints. As silly as each cutscene is, I found that I was playing to see each of them more so than for any sense of satisfaction that I was getting by killing koopas and goombas with Metaknight and Diddy Kong. There is something both hilarious and heart-warming about seeing Pikachu running alongside Samus for reasons unknown.


The boss battles help keep the Subspace Emissary interesting

Adding a layer of fake depth to the SSE are stickers which can be collected in nearly every mode of play. The stickers can be attached to the base of each character?s trophy and will buff that character?s stats. Since the SSE is not terribly difficult even on the harder settings, there is no reason to bother with this except for those that love stat managing. The real reason the stickers are around is to complement the pastiche theme of the game. And stickers aren?t all; we?ve also got the trophies again. And rather than a slot machine to unlock these extras, there is a more fun shoot ?em up styled arcade slot machine which uses the coins that are collected throughout the game. The sticker and trophy experience is entirely superfluous but fun.

There is also a wall of challenges devoted to taunting players with stages, music, trophies and stickers which can only be unlocked by meeting certain requirements. Some are easy and will be unlocked through normal play, some are difficult and will require a lot of determination to unlock, and some simply take a long time to unlock. The more difficult challenges unlock stickers and trophies so they can be ignored by players looking only to quickly unlock all the stages and music. The more compulsive players are free to bravely attempt clearing all of the challenges.

The most exciting new bonus feature of Brawl is the CD item. This is a random and very rare item drop that disappears very quickly. Each time one is collected, one of the hidden songs for one of the stages is unlocked. The frequency of how often the song plays on that stage can even be fine tuned in the My Music options menu. Considering how quickly I got sick of most of the Melee soundtrack, this is one of my favorite extras.

Brawl also introduces the option to change control schemes. It seems like such a simple addition, but it really helps the game realize its full potential. Several control configurations are available: GCN controller, classic controller, Wii remote (sideways), or Wii remote with Nunchuck. Not only that, the button arrangement for each control scheme can be configured independently. Controller configurations are tied to player profiles so every player can setup their own. I?ve made some very helpful changes to my classic controller layout and I?ll never be able to go back to default controls on the GCN controller.

The Vault section of the game contains other features I haven?t discussed for the sake of brevity, but I will briefly mention that Brawl allows players to save screenshots and match replays, look at a chronicle of every Nintendo video game released for every system, and even play demos of the classics whose protagonists are featured in the game. But for someone only interested in Brawl the fighting game, these extra features, SSE, stickers, control options, match replays, all can be easily ignored without missing a beat. The hidden characters will be unlocked simply by playing versus matches.


Arranging screenshots of trophies is a fun distraction

The Brawl Experience

Brawl has quickly become my favorite fighting game, and one of my favorite video games. Its combination of accessibility and depth of technique as well as its versatility in varying from a strict fighting game to an all-out party game makes it fun whether I?m playing against a single competitive opponent or three of my friends. The diversity of the characters ensures that while I have a favorite character (Olimar in case anyone is wondering), I have just as much fun playing any of the other characters, and because I don?t have to keep learning ridiculous input sequences for each character?s move-set, I am free to experiment with characters I am less familiar with.

The lower gravity, larger edge sweet-spot, and new characters come together to put the focus of the battle into the air. Chasing opponents off the edge to land an aerial hit before grabbing onto the ledge to prevent them from recovering with their up b technique is a thrilling experience even newcomers can appreciate and is no longer a rare, high-level play occurrence. Although Brawl feels a bit slower than Melee due to the change in gravity, it ends up being more exciting for it.

The near perfection of Brawl means its faults stand out all the more. Tripping does not have an on/off option (without a doubt the biggest fault), some characters have been unnecessarily weakened, the online component is weak, there is no option to use the directional pad instead of the analog stick (except when using the Wii remote sideways), and replays of matches longer than three minutes cannot be saved. Considering how complex the fighting system is and how much optional content has been stuffed into the game, it does well to make out with so few and so unobtrusive faults. When all is considered, the game is overwhelmingly positive.

Brawl is an amazing fighting game, it is a satisfying single or co-op brawler, it is an exceptional party game, and it is a silly and fun tour of the Nintendo universe. It excels at each of these facets individually and combines them seamlessly into a single experience that stands out even among the history of amazing Nintendo games featured within the game.


Epic battles are commonplace this time around

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