Friday, February 17, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Pokemon Sun and Moon"

Okay, so...first and foremost, because I just have to get this out of the way. I don’t have to wear a stupid hat anymore!

...yes, that is something to celebrate. Shut your damn mou-anyway, Pokemon Sun and Moon. Yay!

Nintendo taking another stab at that wildly and hilariously successful franchise that has managed to stay relevant for over two decades with very little change. It’s really surprising, in all honesty. For a series that’s all about evolution (or, transformation to be more scientifically accurate concerning a fictional universe where clumps of garbage are apparently sentient - has anyone acknowledged that Pokemon is kind of weird yet?), the series hasn’t really changed much beyond the core concept of “find monsters, train monsters, fight monsters”. Of course, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since Nintendo and Game Freak have shown that they really know how to change things up just enough to keep things from getting stale.

...nine times out of ten, anyway. Hoenn still has way too much water.

To begin at the beginning, however, the player character is unceremoniously dropped off in the land of Alola, where the player character’s mother has just moved them to...because of course, that’s how every game since Generation Three has had to start. Sure to face stigma as the whitest child in the totally not Hawaii-esque setting, I was instead completely unprepared for a shirtless hobo to break into my house and claim he was my cousin...I was also completely unprepared for one of the longest tutorial sequences ever.

Here’s a free tip on one of those ways to shake things up: let us have an option to skip the tutorial. Veterans of the game don’t need to be told for the seventh time how to catch a Pokemon, I’m pretty much babies born since 1996 have it coded into their DNA by this point. Just please, Game Freak, give us an option to skip it and just give us cliff notes on the brand new flavor adjustments that aren’t going to amount to anything outside of this generation.

One of those flavors is the riding Pokemon, which I do like. A nice evolution of riding in X and Y that you can do almost anywhere with various effects depending on the Pokemon used, though the double-edged sword of this cool, unique thing is that it takes up part of the slack left by the lack of Hidden Machines in Sun and Moon. Though the presence of them and a few different items like the Bicycle is missed, it’s an interesting change and it fits the setting where Alola is more about the connections between people and Pokemon than ever before...and with a series where that’s one of the major themes, that’s saying something.

But getting back to the plot, I am faced with a hobo that is apparently not only a relative of mine, but is also the local Professor. Thus, I am sent with my starter out to take on the Pokemon Lea-errr, to do my Island Challenge. There are no Gyms, Gym Leaders, or even a Pokemon Champion to battle this time around. Alola seems to be a bit behind the times in terms of having a working Pokemon League. And so we bounce around the islands and defeat the “Kahunas” to earn the right to eventually climb the steps of Mount Selaya and bring Spock back from the dea...wait a minute...hang on. Somebody switched this out with my Search for Spock script...

...anyway. In the end, you’ll climb the big mountain and fight the champion. That is, after completing the Island Challenge which, in an interesting twist in that it doesn’t simply mean battling a single trainer for a mark of approval, but rather battling them and then having to take on the Guardian Beast of one of the four islands. What should seem like needless busywork is, admittedly, something that does work to keep the game from following the same stale formula page for page. So, points for something a little different there.

You also pick up Z-Moves, which are essentially the move version of Mega Evolutions. There’s one for each specific Type and then several for all sorts of different Pokemon and this will turn into an analysis more than it will a review, so I’ll just say this: like Mega Evolutions in the previous generation, they can only be used once per battle. If you put your strategy together right, then you’ll only need to use it that one time. Something different, yes, but not too different.

And, again, highlighting that there is no real strategy to Pokemon. It’s elemental rock paper scissors. Find a Pokemon that has a type strength to whatever you’re fighting, bash its brains out, repeat as necessary, there’s really nothing to it.

There’s also really nothing to Team Skull. They’re just...kind of there. They lack the avarice-laden agenda of Team Rocket or the meglomaniacal, world-destroying plots of Team Flare. They’re just...around. And they’re really, really bad comic relief villains. Honestly, these are the guys who make Dastardly and Muttley look like effective pigeon stoppers…

...did I really just make a Dastardly and Muttley reference in 2017?

The point to all this ranting being simply this that Sun and Moon is a welcome change for the franchise. I can’t really criticize it anymore than I can the earlier entries in the series. It’s par for the course for Pokemon in that it does enough of the old, but has brought a different flavor and tries something new in order to keep it from drying up. For a series that’s managed to remain afloat for twenty years on that principal, that is pretty admirable.

Oh, and the Alola forms...yeah, they’re weird.

And yes, that is all I have to say about that.

Also, the rival being uber-friendly is almost weird. I miss Gary Oak. Or, as I like to call him, “Buttface”.

Pokemon Sun and Moon is available from Nintendo and GameFreak for Nintendo 3DS.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, January 13, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition"

Well, honestly, this is about five years overdue. Seriously, this game shut down my blog for SEVEN MONTHS! Seven months where I didn't post a thing, I didn't do anything. It completely consumed by gaming life for seven months, fueled on the insane amount of hype. At the time, this game was literally everything I could have hoped for in a fantasy RPG: running around the landscape with a sword in hand as I completed quests, stood stalwart against the forces of evil, and battled...wait for it...FREAKING DRAGONS!

Had I reviewed this game in 2011, it would have been me gibbering in fanboy-induced insanity, likely in the form of a video of me belting out a Dragon-themed version of the Narwhals song at the top of my lungs to a montage of me killing said dragons. an alternate universe where I can make videos that aren't me sitting in a room with really, really poor lighting and bad audio, but I'm working on it!, in 2016, five years later and going back with a fresh perspective on things, how exactly would I rate the fifth main series entry into the Elder Scrolls series? Let's take a closer look.  First, the various plots...

The (Main) Plot & The Civil War
You are a prisoner (because every Elder Scrolls protagonist starts off in the klink) being transported to an execution at the hands of the Imperial Legion. However, you're saved by Turbo Man's sudden arrival that causes a fiery cataclysm and allows you escape with either a member of the Legion or a member of the Stormcloaks. You see, you have come to the land of Skyrim, where civil war has broken out after the death of the King at the hands of Ulfric Stormcloak.

Having jumped two hundred years after that escort mission that ended in tragedy, the Empire is heavily fragmented now and Skyrim symbolizes it better than any of the other provinces, with Ulfric leading his Stormcloak army against the Empire, who have just gotten out of a nasty war with the Aldmeri Dominion - e.g., the Nazis if they were elves. However, the player soon discovers that they are the legendary Dragonborn - a warrior who can kill dragons and take their souls and thus their power.  Basically, think of it as a draconic version of Highlander.

So, the Civil War really just falls to the wayside as you deal with the fact that you're a warrior blessed by the gods with the soul of a Dragon and destined to fight other dragons...sort of. It's not actually completely clear as to what your destiny is, but you nonetheless have one. Are you supposed to defeat Alduin and stop the return of the Dragons or are you supposed to just let all of Tamriel burn? Well, if you take the second option there isn't much of a plot to be had.

As for the Civil War, it basically comes down to whether you want structure and some freedoms taken away in order to maintain stability and peace, or if you want freedom (both political and religious freedom) at the cost of minorities getting squashed underfoot and what is the equivalent of complete and utter anarchy...

...totally not something that very much parallels real world political events in America at the moment.

But overall, no, the Civil War doesn't heavily factor into the plot besides in changing a few quests and swapping out a few key players in the various cities.  But at least both it and the main plot against Alduin are a great deal better than Oblivion's main plot, which I already made a joke about above.

Oh, and the Blades suck. Jauffre and Caius would be ashamed of how far they've fallen.

The Dark Brotherhood
very sad follow up to the Dark Brotherhood plot in Oblivion, and I shall explain why (with some spoilers for Oblivion's plot regarding everyone's favorite assassins) here.  In Oblivion, the Dark Brotherhood was very much a family that ran by the strict code set forth by Sithis and the Night Mother.  But, more than that, they were honestly some of the most interesting characters in that game. Through a sea of poorly animated faces that were nestled nice and tight into the Uncanny Valley, the people of the Cheydinhal Sanctuary made the player feel welcome.

Sure, they were a bunch of murderous, insane psychopaths. But damn it, they were your murderous, insane psychopaths. They were there encouraging you right from the start in your various methods of murder, would sometimes offer alternative methods of taking out targets, and all seemed genuinely interested in your upward movement through the ranks of the Brotherhood, happy to see one of their Brothers excelling so well and all in the name of Sithis and the Night Mother, long may they reign from the Void!

Cut ahead to Skyrim and...that feel is just gone. The Brotherhood is now on its last legs and is about to topple right over.  The once proud organization I left behind when I last played Oblivion has become a handful of people huddled in an old crypt in the woods and have completely abandoned the Five Tenants and their patron deities! It's a disgrace! And, of course, Astrid insists that it was done in order to save the Brotherhood, but that's a massive pile of nonsense if ever there was one. The Night Mother and Sithis have proven themselves to have been very active deities in Elder Scrolls, being able to set up for things that would happen ages down the line and-

...and I've already lost most of my audience by writing this all out, much less getting fanboy-y. Nevermind.

The point is, Astrid messed up and she pays for it. The only thing this has over Oblivion's questline is that you at least have radiant assassinations after the plot ends instead of just collecting gold.

The Companions
That which is not the Fighters' Guild, totally. The Companions actually have a very deep and interesting backstory that I won't get into here for the sake of brevity (as if that's ever in any way mattered to me). Even if I were to, that's not why most people took up this questline. No, most people went for it in order to become a werewolf, and I gotta say...I'm not 100% sold on it, even now. It's fun, but you don't have access to your gear and can't cast spells. You have to rely solely on your wits, reflexes, and your DPS in order to survive.

Also, on higher difficulties, getting stuck in a kill cam loop can see you offed if too many enemies are around. Be wary of your surroundings before you go into a power attack.

The College of Winterhold
Okay, not having to go around to every Guild Hall to get a recommendation to be able to enchant? A definite plus over Oblivion. Having access to enchanting everywhere over having it just restricted to one place? Again, a plus.  Getting to save the world from destruction with the help of the Psijic Order and getting to snub the Aldmeri out of a victory and a powerful potential weapon in their battles against the Empire? Priceless.

In all seriousness, it's a nice questline and you might as well do it because the College is the only place where you'll find all the Master trainers for magic. Granted, if you aren't a magically inclined character, there is no real appeal here.

Thieves' Guild
I can only imagine the people at Bethesda were sitting around after Oblivion thinking "Crap! We took the idea of pulling a heist on the Imperial Palace and used it! How do we top that?" Why, by becoming the ultimate soldier of Nocturnal Herself, of course!  The Thieves' Guild in Skyrim has fallen on some hard times until you show up, but you hop in at an opportune time to start turning things around, all the while investigating a mysterious individual who has been working against the Guild...or are they? Not all is as it seems, and an enemy could very easily be hiding in the skin of an ally. After all, honor among thieves only go so far...

Really, this is a Thieves' Guild questline that makes you feel like a thief. Before, in Oblivion in particular, thieving was just a way to get to the next questline. You did it because your Doyen wouldn't give you jobs to do otherwise. Now, you do it because there's loot and thus you have a reason to break into people's homes and steal their things - profit! But beyond that, you also have the questline that allows you to become a Nightingale, a soldier of Nocturnal who has access to some unique powers of stealthy goodness.

You can't weave around in combat like you could in Oblivion, but that's alright. You have the standard fantasy setting assortment of melee, ranged, or magic. If you know anything about my play style, you know I'm the manliest of manly men and am only too happy to charge recklessly into combat with a sword and shield. Melee combat is pretty involving, but it's nothing you haven't dealt with if you haven't played with in an RPG. Same goes with ranged, though some of the perks do make a few changes.

Magic, on the other hand, has changed greatly from both of the previous games in the series. Instead of the constantly failing spells despite being Master level in Morrowind or having a spell holstered for any situation in Oblivion, spellcasters in Skyrim must equip spells to their respective hands. You'd think this would allow you to combine different spells to produce cool and unique effects, a la Fable III, but that doesn't really enter into it in any meaningful way besides adding DPS.

And yes, with the right combination of leveling, enchantments, and alchemy usage, a player can easily turn a mage into a full-on nightmare for literally anything that they come across. Of course, the same can be said with any class, particularly if one uses the Oghma Infinium glitch (which, after patching, can no longer be used...though that doesn't stop PC Gamers with their damned console).

The Shouts
And yes, the biggest draw of the game is the Dragon Shouts and...they're not impressive. I know, I'm disappointed. When I first played, I was completely fascinated and entranced by using this unique power in various ways...and with five years of wisdom, I've come to a conclusion - most of them really suck. Unrelenting Force is good and is more than a little useful in many situations, but the rest...? Not as much.  And this coming from a guy who tried to build a specialty character around the concept of using Shouts.

Basically, they can flavor combat, but overall you won't need them besides making combat slightly easier. Get Unrelenting Force, Dragonrend, and Marked For Death, and you pretty much have all the immensely useful ones.

...and no, I'm not going into ones like Bend Will, particularly since that's from Dragonborn. But, needless to say, the DLCs did not add many immensely useful ones to help out the concept either, and that's a shame considering the in-universe descriptions of the power of the Voice and all the power and destruction you can wreak. Really, the Dragonborn, empowered by the souls of dragons and with the full upgraded power of the Voice should be a warrior unparalleled, basically a living, breathing demigod walking across the face of the Earth...and you just, don't. And that sucks.

Like the previous two entries in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim has some good, has some bad, and a little bit of both.  You take the good and you take the bad, you take them both and there you have...Skyrim. But is the game itself good? Yeah, it is. It's not great, and in terms of complexity, I still hold up Morrowind as an altogether better game thanks to the complexity of its storyline over this one. Also, when you were the actually had the magical equipment and backing by Azura to actually feel like a badass demigod. In Skyrim, even if you do take the time and effort to hunt down the Dragon Shrines (which, by the way, will take you through every questline), you don't get a lot for it.

So yes, not so much enjoy the super power fantasy on this one...though that's really why you make your own fate. And Skyrim does give you the agency to do that and isn't particularly restrictive, so I guess I shouldn't complain overmuch.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is now available from Bethesda Game Studios.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

...what's that? This is exactly the same as my review in November of Skyrim with only a minor graphic update?

Huh...weird. It seems like it's almost kind of wrong for me to repackage something that isn't even a decade old yet and try to insist that there's loads of new content in it, doesn't it?

Friday, January 6, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "The Best of 2016"

Wow...2016 was a shit year, wasn't it? Let's get on with some of the good games I played in the Year That We Wish Never Was. Remember, like my worst list from last week, this is a list of games that I played within the year 2016 and reviewed, not necessarily games that came out in 2016. So, without further adieu, here's some shining gems that I managed to dig out of the cesspool.

10. The Movies
review here

I'm not much for the god games, but this was just fun. Managing the ins and outs of a Hollywood movie studio was an enjoyable experience, getting to be a part of every facet of it from the writing of scripts (as sophisticated as that wasn't) to casting to shooting to post-production and beyond! Sure, it could be monotonous at times, but overall its a very enjoyable experience and there's plenty of wiggle room to allow the creativity to flow.

...also, Randy Pitchford is still off my Christmas card list.

9. Until Dawn
review here

 Now, I know a lot of people really don't like this game, but I did. Sure, it barely qualifies as a game in the strictest sense that you can move an avatar and complete objectives, focusing a great deal more on the story (such as it is), but I did really like the story despite the fact that it hit pretty much every single horror trope ever in rapid succession. The only reason this isn't higher on the list is because of the fact that, ultimately, your choices don't really mean anything, which ultimately hurts the experience overall.

8. Far Cry Primal
review here

Caveman. Beating things with sticks. No need to go any further.

7. Super Star Wars
review here

I hate myself for having this on this list, considering how much I absolutely abhorred so much about it. I still call it completely and control-eatingly unfair...but I can't deny it's just damn good. It's a slog to get through, for sure, but there is a clear feeling of elation whenever I do actually manage through either skill or sheer luck to plow through a part I've been having difficulty on. It's...not an elegant weapon...and one could hardly call the early 90s civilized, but...

...yeah, nevermind. The metaphor is dead. Next game.

6. Doom (2016)
review here

Like I said last week, I do genuinely like this game. It drives me absolutely mad, but I love it. Like the original, it's fun, it's visceral, and there's something about the masculine brain that gets a lovely itch when we're tearing apart Hellspawn with big guns.

5. Fallout 4 - Automatron
review here

Building robots? Yes. Fallout 3 reference? Yes. Complete waste of time? Yes. But, like I said in my review, it's a fun one. It really makes it worth to it to go looking for the components you need to make yet another robotic sidekick.

...still need more adhesive opportunities though, Bethesda.

4. Shovel Knight
review here

Retro homage to the likes of Mega Man and Super Mario, set in a universe of medieval shovel and sorcery? Sign. Me. Up!

3. Fallout 4 - Nuka-World
review here

What if there was a place with all the zip of Nuka-Cola? Wouldn't that be the cheer-cheer-cheeriest place in all the world? me, the song is really catchy.

Also, the DLC in general feels well thought out, oozing with creativity and ingenuity, and fitting right in with Fallout's major theme of things that seem all bright and clean and pretty being some of the deadliest and most frightening things out there...from before the Bombs fell and ended the world.


2. Dragonball Xenoverse 2
Review here

Pretty much improvement on the first game in every way, minus the constant attacks on Guru's House. Also, humans are still lame.

1. Broforce
Review here


...seriously, this game is great. Absolutely, completely, and utterly great. Free Lives. Revolver Digital. You guys are forever on my good list and I hope to see great things from you in the future.

Let's look forward to some more great games in 2017!

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, December 30, 2016

MadCap's Game Reviews - "The Worst of 2016"

Well, it's time that time once again! One of the worst years on record is now getting its due games, anyway. It's not like we call kill off a a year for killing off a slew of our favorite celebrities, allowing an rotting Pumpkin with a loud mouth to be elected President, and overall sucking more intensely than a well-maintained Hoover vacuum. But here are the worst games of 2016 as told by me. And, like previous years, this is not a comprehensive list of games that just came out this year, but a list of games that I personally have reviewed this year. So, if it's not something I reviewed this year, it doesn't have the remotest chance to be on this list. This is admittedly also a biased list, as it has been in years past. If I didn't like it, I'll at least come up with a good defense as to why I didn't like it.

Now with that in mind, let's get into number 10...

10. Fallout 4
Review here

Now now...don't start panicking, you haven't gone completely insane. Maybe.

This is on this list for two reasons: the blunt force trauma in getting the story along (something which previous games in the series didn't do, at least not nearly as heavy handed a manner), and the crafting mechanics. I understand Bethesda wanted to do something new and were no doubt following the wide-spread popularity of creativity games like Minecraft.

You know what I don't come to the Fallout series for? Settlement building. Running around to find every scrap of adhesive and steel I can to upgrade my Power Armor. It's ridiculous. Sure, it's true to the situation of being in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but I don't look for realism in a game where I regularly fight scorpions the size of a mini-van.

Apart from those complaints, the game is actually not too bad, which is probably why it's so low on this list. I do actually like Fallout 4, it's just that so much was changed that didn't really have any reason to be changed. Would Fallout 3 or New Vegas have been improved by you traipsing about the Wasteland for scraps in order to build up settlements in the Capital or Mojave Wastelands? I have my doubts.

And yes, you can easily leave the Minutemen to rot up in Sanctuary and just horde your own things, but that still ultimately has the same problem of either finding it all for yourself or just having to outright ignore a major part of the game that Bethesda was clearly very proud of, and that irks me more than a little.

9. Doom (2016)
Review here

Again, another low entry on the list because I do genuinely like the game, it's just a certain aspect that I feel the need to re-iterate: it does its job too well. I recently tried to boot it up again and found myself still in that panicked state whenever combat got more than a little fusterclucky. It's visceral and enjoyable, but I find myself getting anxious very quickly.

Good game. Too good, really. Hence why it's so low on the list.

8. Star Wars Battlefront
Review here

Yes, EA got the rights to produce Star Wars games for the forseeable future. No, there's nothing you can do about it unless you stop supporting any games that offer online multiplayer, which you aren't going to do. No, this is not a tirade against people who can't enjoy the single player experience. Move on!

7. Pokemon Go
Review here

"Hey, have you ever wanted to play Pokemon anywhere?"

"...I can do that, I have a 2DS."

"No, no...I mean, like...on your phone."

"...why would I do that? That sounds really stupid."

"No, man! It's great! And you can use a satellite to track your movements and it's great! Honest!"

"...y'know, I'm just gonna go back to playing my 2DS and wait for Sun and Moon. Bye!"

"But MadCap, you know that Sun and Moon are already out, right?"


6. Dragon Age - The Descent
Review here

If you're going to send me on a trip for several hours, Bioware, there better actually be a good reason other than vague foreshadowing about Dwarven things. Or to let Steve Martin explain it to you...

5. The Technomancer
Review here

Want to be Batman crossed with a Sith Lord on Mars? Too bad! Ultimately, a game that's too big for its britches. As I said in my review, it wants to be a Bioware game so bad when it grows up, but its ultimately bogged down by the same problem as Final Fantasy 13 - namely not telling you anything and still expecting you to be invested.

4. Fallout 4 - Vault-Tec Workshop
Review here

See my complaints about the crafting mechanic in the #10 slot. Really, it's all that and then multiplied by a thousand. I actually went to video review because the mere existence of this depressed me as much as it did. I know I was really mean to Hearthfire when it came out, not undeservedly so, but at least that was just building one player home, not scrimping and hording away every single resource you could find to build and expand settlements.

Building  your own Vault should have been fun, if you were going to do it at all (Vault-Tec, canonically, are bastards and so is anyone following in their footsteps), not a chore to this extent. Much less having to run experiments and the like after setting everything up for the lazy ghoul Overseer.

3. Alice the Madness Returns
Review here

I stand by what I said in my review: It's boring, it's been done, and there's long stretches of absolutely nothing that serve no purpose. Even the Mad Hatter won't touch this...

2. Pokemon Black and Blue
Review here

Once again, Nintendo, if you come please sue PETA into the ground so they will stop making these incredibly boring, preachy, and overall idiotic parody games, that'd be great. I know you guys have read my e-mails. Get on this!

1. No Man's Sky
Review here

Yeah, I tried hard to avoid the controversy here, but I was unable. This game just blows. And that's sad, because it literally had so much potential behind it. Hello Games promised an epic masterpiece and while we got a beautiful visual side to things...that's all we got. It's very pretty to look at, but ultimately is lacking in any substance.

Which is sad, because the pieces of a great exploration game are most definitely here, they're just so muddied and dimmed out that they might as well not be there at all. When you give an endless sandbox to explore, but nothing to do in it, I get bored very quickly. And get bored very quickly I did. The exhilaration of taking off from the starting planet and going to another galaxy...very quickly shriveled up like a cold day in the locker room when I realized that that was literally all there was.

And that, ultimately, is why this game ranks so low. It had such promise...and it failed so amazingly. Why it failed isn't necessarily important, but the results are before us and...frankly, it's sad. Rather like the year 2016 in general.

And so, that's my list. As always, feel free to tell me why I'm wrong in the comments or on Twitter. I look forward to the new year and I hope all of you will join me in staying up until midnight on New Year's Eve just to watch this annoying pain in the ass of a year die.

Happy New Year!

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, December 19, 2016

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "It's A Wonderful Life"

How many lives are affected by your own? How many choices lead to the opportunities for choices for so many others? What difference do you really make in the grand scheme of things? Almost none of us ever really see how much we affect the people in our lives, and indeed even people that we come into contact with in the world as we live our lives. George Bailey (James Stewart) is a man who gets the rare opportunity to see just how much differently the lives of everyone around him would be if he never existed, on the most terrible night of his life.

The film details the life of George as seen by several angels from heaven itself. Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class (Henry Travers) is briefed by his superiors on the details of George's life from his early days all the way through to the present, covering a time gap between 1919 and 1945. The many acts that George performs are made plain, up to his marriage to Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) and the birth of his children, as well as taking over the Savings & Loan in the town of Bedford Falls and building affordable housing for the people there.

Why is this important? Because on Christmas Eve 1945, George Bailey is nearly driven to suicide when it appears as though he's going to go to prison for being unable to pay the debts of the Savings & Loan.  Luckily for him, that's when divine intervention literally comes to him in the form of Clarence, who shows him a world where he was never born. The town taken over by the evil Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), his brother having died in 1919 and thus being unable to save the soldiers he did in the Pacific during World War II, his wife being a lonely spinster...all of these in more just examples of all the things that were different because he had never existed.

In the end, much like Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, George learns that his life is a precious thing that hasn't at all been a waste.  While he was unable to pursue his childhood dreams of traveling the world, seeing new sights and learning new things, he has spent his life building a community and raising up others. It's deep, touching, and highly sentimental. Sure, it can be incredibly sappy at times and critics even back in its day hailed it as having surprisingly unrealistic portrayals of people. But it's still a touching story and a reminder that we never know just whose lives we touch with our own.

Consider the life of George Bailey. So many people's lives were changed simply by his very existence. Some died, some suffered greatly, some had never even been born. Indeed, without his selfless generosity that had led him to help so many others, Bedford Falls would have - and, in the alternate timeline, did - become a much, much darker place.

There's no debating that this film is dated. And very much so. But, much like A Christmas Carol, it has endured through the ages as a story that virtually everyone can connect with regardless of its time. There are times where everyone feels like they're worthless and their lives are without meaning, and this film serves as a nice reminder that we may feel that way, but we really have no idea how much we mean to others, even outside of our loved ones. It says something when so many people in Bedford Falls were praying for someone to help George Bailey through his darkest hour.

Really, beyond a few jarring moments where it shows its age, there's no reason to not like this movie. James Stewart is an absolute joy to behold as George Bailey, showing off his acting chops like the master he is. Some might question his casting in the film before seeing it, and I would respond by placing "This is why" in subtitles under many of the scenes in the film. He manages to go from a young man in the bloom of youth to a tenacious and perceptive man just trying to do the best he can for his customers to a man about to end his own life in grief to a man who realizes that his life is, in fact, a wonderful thing and the world has been made so much better by his existence than it would have been without him.

As this will be the last movie review before it happens, Merry Christmas to my readers who celebrate it! I wish you all the very best, and I'll see you again on the 26th for one last Christmas film...and it's one I've been admittedly somewhat dreading...

It's A Wonderful Life was originally made by Liberty Films and RKO Radio Pictures, current rights rest with Paramount.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, December 16, 2016

MadCap At The Movies - "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...actually, last year and around this time of year, I reviewed the first six films in the Star Wars saga to celebrate the premiere of The Force Awakens.  This year to celebrate the premiere of Rogue One I...did absolutely nothing.  Unless you count me reviewing Super Star Wars, but that doesn't exactly count as a celebration of the franchise up until that point.  Naturally, I wouldn't want to just retread ground and just do the films leading up to this one...because that would mean I'd have to acknowledge George Lucas' fanfiction jamboree, and who wants that? So, naturally, I try not to retread ground by going back to the past.

I can say with complete confidence that Star Wars fans finally have a prequel movie that they don't have to be ashamed of. Set directly before A New Hope (which, if haven't been paying attention, is the first movie...which is really the fourth - and now fifth - in chronology), Rogue One details the adventure of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she becomes involved in that epic struggle of the Rebellion against the Empire. Her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), is a scientist who is strong-armed by the Empire into a secret project to construct the ultimate weapon - the Death Star.

Jyn manages to avoid capture after her father is taken in and her mother killed, being raised by Saw Gurrera (Forrest Whitaker) and eventually becoming a drifter who is constantly getting into scrapes with the Empire, getting herself arrested repeatedly until the Rebel Alliance finds her, hoping to get to Saw and eventually her father, who they know is working for the Empire.

She is joined by a cast of all sorts: a blind monk (Donnie Yen), a weapons specialist (Jiang Wen), a wise-cracking reprogrammed Imperial statistics droid (Alan Tudyk), and a Rebel soldier named Cassian (Diego Luna) and together, they embark on a mission to find the plans for the Death Star and help the Rebel Alliance to exploit the one weakness that Galen left in its design - a small thermal exhaust shaft that's only two meters wide.

...and yes, we all know how this story goes. But really, this story is just a good one overall. Rather than taking an already established story and throwing our mental picture of it out the window for the George Lucas Fanfiction Hour(s), Rogue One actually bothered to try and answer a question that we'd never thought to ask...mostly because the Expanded Universe already did it with Kyle Katarn. That being said, bringing Jyn in and making it more personal to her does make me a little bit more invested than "badass mercenary does it for the Alliance because that's what he does", so there's that.

That also, however, means that Jyn gets the lion's share of the character development in the story. She goes from being the nihilist to being one of the most passionate believers in the cause of the Rebel Alliance, stirring them to the belief that right is right regardless of its futility or cost. She wants to clear her father's name and prove that he wasn't a traitor to the galaxy for submitting to the Empire's orders and that he did, in fact, get the last we know from the movie that follows.

Of course, that means the other characters don't get a great deal of development. We see some things hinted at and doors are left open for things to be explored but, without wishing to spoil, there's not a lot of potential for that going forward. Not that that's a bad thing, but referring to things without any actual intention of explaining what they mean is a old Russell T. Davies trick, and you all know how I feel about that particular brand of cow manure that erupts violently from the tip of that man's pen. Cassian's backstory about losing people? More details about the Order of the Whills and their connection to the Jedi Order? Not a word. Though, ultimately, this isn't their story. It's Jyn's.

Visually, just about everything is lovely here right down to the production design that does its best to blend the old and new of Star Wars into a cohesive whole. This goes right down to how you have new props and CGI standing alongside the 70s style of A New Hope and it works very well. However, there are two glaring flaws in the parchment that are notable simply because everything else in the film looks so good that it makes it even more apparent - Grand Moff Tarkin (Guy Henry) and Princess Leia (Ingvild Deila).

The two have stand-ins for their actors in their scenes, but they have the likenesses of Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher as they appeared in A New Hope CGI'd over them and it's...unnerving, to say the least. Very much in the Uncanny Valley, looking so close to life-like but falling just short of it. One of my friends who went to the theater with me to see it said it looked to her as though they'd taken a Pixar character and placed it in the "real" world, and I think that's an accurate description. Really, words don't do it justice, it has to be seen in both instances.

Not having John Williams do the score for a Star Wars film is something akin to murder as a crime, but Michael Giacchino has proven his pedigree time and again with films such as the Abrams Star Trek and Doctor Strange, as well as following in Williams' footsteps quite well before with Jurassic World. He brings some new sounds to the table while also paying homage to Williams' original score in, what I thought, was a respectful manner. Side note to Disney, when the day finally does come for a main series Star Wars film that isn't scored by John Williams, this is the guy to do it.

Indeed, the score is very much indicative of the film, blending the old and the new to bring out something excellent. It's not so great as to overshadow what came before (or after), but it's a wholly unique thing that is definitely an excellent entry into the series despite the lack of polish as far as the characters go. I stand by the statement I started this all with, Star Wars fans finally have a prequel film that they don't have to be embarrassed by and that has to be a good thing.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is now in theaters from Disney and Lucasfilm.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

MadCap's Game Reviews - "The Temple of Elemental Evil"

How long has it been since I reviewed a game based on Dungeons & Dragons? Let me check.


...and that's enough of that. Sorry. Point is, it's been quite a bit since I reviewed a game based on Dungeons & Dragons. And why is that, exactly? I love Dungeons & Dragons! Besides being my favorite tabletop game, it's also something I've written several pieces on in what is totally not a shameless rip-off of an idea that TheSpoonyOne did with Counter Monkey (by the way, on the off-chance that he reads this: big fan, please don't sue!). Regardless of the lawsuits pending against me (either real or imagined), I love tabletop and Dungeons & Dragons is where that love was inspired from to begin with.

So, naturally, I picked up The Temple of Elemental Evil and took a crack at it to see if it was up to snuff. After all, it ran off of the 3.5 Edition Ruleset, which - as we all know - is the very best ruleset and is totally better than that 2nd Edition crap where they calculated negative hit points

Okay, yeah, truth be told, I only know about 2nd edition from my folks and have only even played editions past 3rd. 3.5 has just been the one my group and I have most consistently used. We've actually started using Pathfinder more after we started a rousing game in that setting, and I honestly like it a lot better...and this is just proof that I need to bring back Tabletop Tales and get back on track, sorry.

The Temple of Elemental Evil actually has its origins in a D&D module that was written by none other than Gary Gygax himself, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons. I've never actually played said module myself, instead only knowing about it by reputation (unlike Tomb of Horrors, but that's a story for another day...and also, Tabletop Tales). I've been told that the game is actually a faithful recreation of events. Without mods, you show up to the town of Hommlet destitute, penniless, and must build themselves up into an effective fighting force to battle the forces of naughty evil running around in the world of Greyhawk.

And indeed, the game only lets you (without mods) go up to about level 8 unless you use exploits and the like. You can build a party of up to five player characters that can be any of the D&D vanilla races and any of the D&D vanilla classes. Like in a good D&D game, it's good to have a good party balance. Like in an actual D&D game, you're probably not going to have that, but that's okay. The good news is, for anyone who is bored by doing your own dice rolls (and, if you are, why are you playing a Dungeons and Dragons game?), the game does it for you much like other D&D-based video games do.

The bad news? Combat is still turn-based...but that's not necessarily a bad thing here. The style makes the player work on strategy and tactics...though if you're like me, your tactics basically amount to "beef everyone up with the appropriate feats and then make them hit the thing until it dies". But, in all honesty, this is about as close to an actual D&D game as you can get in a video game.

That being said, it isn't perfect. I had to work very hard to get it to work on my computer (something that Troika Games has an unfortunate history of and is buggy and sometimes crash prone even when it does work, but I don't necessarily count that as making it a bad game.  It didn't have any game-breaking bugs like Bloodlines did, and I even still gave that game a positive review, much like I'm giving this one a positive review. It's not perfect, but it's definitely nothing to turn your nose up at. If you want a good representation of what playing the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons is like, you could do a lot worse than this.

It may not have the polish of Neverwinter Nights (the Bioware game, not the MMO), but it definitely shines, albeit with a little more dully.

The Temple of Elemental Evil is now available from Atari and Troika Games.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.