Friday, May 23, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "1943: The Battle of Midway"

Now, my dear readers...we can return once more to that classic and timeless era of the arcade machine and...oh, right...Sonic the Hedgehog...I was going to.  But this came up.  So deal.  That being said, 1943.

I’m not going to go into the awkwardness present at the mention of a Japanese game company making a game based around the Battle of Midway (y’know, one of the battles that pretty much turned the tide of the war in the Pacific theatre during World War II), and just get into the game itself.  You’re an American fighter pilot scrolling from the bottom to the top of the screen as you shoot everything in sight., really, that’s it.

It’s in the style of Galaga or Galaxian, though at a much faster pace.  Even in the beginning, the game can be very easily unforgiving.  The main objective, as I say, is to get through each screen while trying to destroy every single plane on the screen besides your own.  It’s buttonmashing at its finest, but also very satisfying.  Things blow up with an awesome effect and it just feels downright good when they do (proper hit detection is important, after all).  However, it also gets very tiring just pushing down the button to fire.  Again, like my problems with Black Tiger a few weeks back, couldn’t some of these things have been fixed in the port to the 360 - till playing from the Capcom Arcade Cabinet, by the way - so I don’t have to bust my thumbs in order to keep firing?

That’s about the only strategy I can give, either.  Just keep shooting until all the enemies on the screen are dead.  Again, simple, but it can get a little monotonous as all such games can.  So Capcom decided to liven it up.  Must like in Contra, your fire can be changed to several different modes.  There’s a direct shot, a scatter shot, and a a scatter shot with a wider range.  I’ve personally found the direct shot to be the best and just to keep spamming attack until, again, everything on the screen is toast.

But wait!  Capcom decided that that would not simply be enough, and gave some special attacks.  The first, when down into fighting aircraft carriers mode, sees a tidal waves wipe the entire screen clear of enemies.  The second, when up in the sky, unleashes the wrath of God upon anything on the screen, electrocuting them with lightning.  So, basically, God was on America’s side in World War II because he gave them the powers of damnation and the cost of fuel.  Huh.

The player has a constantly depleting fuel meter that drops whether you’re using special attacks or not, though it can be brought back up by taking out an entire group of red fighter planes.  Easy enough in the early levels, though later on the sheer mass of attackers will see you neglecting to do that and wondering just why you’ve blown up.  Luckily, 1943 doesn’t penalize you for dying (except for resetting your high score to “0”, but who really cares?) and you can start right from where you were, no quarters needed.

So your plane magically reappears in the midst of the Japanese fleet for you to lay a smack down on them once more…

...nevermind, without the arcade stuff you really DO seem to have the powers of God.

Mind you, this game is dated but is Galaga.  Doesn’t remotely keep them from being enjoyable.  If you’ve got some time to kill, go through the sixteen levels and take on the Yamato (no, not that one!) and save the day.  For a Japanese game about one of the decisive battles of World War II…

...the world’s a very strange place, isn’t it? 1943 is now available from Capcom. It can be played from the Capcom Arcade Cabinet, available on Xbox Live, the Playstation Network, and PC. For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

MadCap's Comic Reviews - "Original Sin #0"

I’ve been a fan of comics ever since I could first read.  Well, to be more accurate I’ve been a fan of superheroes since I first had working eyeballs and I’ve irregularly kept up with certain titles - most prominently least until One More Day, but if I go into that you’ll click off this and go onward on your journey through the web be ever so diligently reading rantings that people have already made since 2007, so I feel we best move on.  Besides, I’m not here to talk about the fallout from one of Marvel’s most ridiculously overblown and really rather stupid crossovers (again, if you’re on the opposite side of a moral debate as Captain America, you are wrong.  Period.), I’m here to talk about the set up to what may be a really rather good crossover - “Original Sin”.

I first heard about this through my friend EpicApathy (That Handsome Devil!™), when he told me about what sounded like a very interesting plot involve the actual death of Uatu the Watcher.  Now, any Marvel fan worth their weight in back issues knows who Uatu is.  For those that don’t, or are just getting into comics, “Original Sin #0” is clear in its intentions with the issue title “Who is the Watcher?”.  Well, to delve into the history a bit, Uatu is a member of an alien race known as the Watchers  They’re an immensely powerful race that keeps an eye on the universe as a whole but are sworn never to interfere.

If you’re wondering why I’m not making a Time Lords joke here, it’s only because Uatu predates the Time Lords by about six years.  So, honestly, if anything, Doctor Who is ripping off Marvel.

Much like the Doctor, Uatu is the being that regularly breaks the non-interference rule and has done so a few times in order to save the Earth.  When he first appeared, it was to help the Fantastic Four save the Earth from being consumed by Galactus.  Since then, Uatu has interfered more than a few times in the course of Earth’s history, as well as appeared before several critically important events in the history of the Marvel universe.  However, that’s really been it.  For the very big cosmic events, he’s been known to intervene and even for seemingly minor events he is at least watching.  It’s been this way in Marvel for more than fifty years now.  However, “Original Sin #0” poses a question about Uatu that I don’t think has really been approached before this point.

What is Uatu watching for?

Well, that question gets answered in “Original Sin #0”, which begins with some narration by Sam Alexander aka Nova about his backstory, and his connection to his missing father - who was a member of the Nova Corps (basically Marvel’s answer to the Green Lantern Corps) and worked a janitor at his son’s high-school before mysteriously going missing.  Nova, being a teenaged superhero in Marvel, has no doubt been given the pamphlet by Spidey on keeping your girlfriends away from bridges, not making deals with Satan, and avoiding archvillains that for bizarre and completely out of character reasons feel the need to mindswap with you and be “superior”.

...I said I wasn’t going to rant, didn’t I? Oh, well.

But still, Nova gains his powers from the Nova Corp and - after a battle with the hilariously named villain “Tomazooma”, Nova gets some recognition from the Big Three of the Avengers, and here I’ll take a minute to talk about the artwork.  It’s pretty good.  Cap looks a good deal like his Marvel Cinematic Universe counterpart which is both a good and bad thing.  One of the criticisms I’ve heard for the latest film adaptations is that Cap’s original outfit from the 616 universe wouldn’t translate well to the screen (lampshaded in that hilarious USO scene in the first film).  While I disagree, this issue does the opposite and brings the MCU version into the comics and it looks...out of place.  Not bad, necessarily, and a lot more like a military universe than the classic look...but it just feels rather strange.

I don’t know how long Captain Rogers had been rocking the look, of course, but if it’s new because of the recent films, I wouldn’t be overly surprised.  And of course Thor is looking like himself, though not very Chris Hemsworth-y...and Tony Stark is outfitted in Suit #9001, the gold and black look is pretty cool, though.

Getting back to the plot, Nova poses the question of the issue.  When none of the Avengers assembled can give him an answer, Nova decides to take a trip up to Uatu’s home on the Moon.  He even brings Uatu a gift, a piece of the field where the Avengers and the X-Men stopped the Phoenix Force (assuming this was in Avengers vs. X-Men...another overblown crossover) and he is allowed into the Watcher’s compound, where Nova’s helmet begins alerting him to danger, and he sees several versions of Uatu that he theorizes are not duplicates but alternate versions of him, the implication being that they’re all the same man over various potential realities.  This followed up by Nova joining Uatu to review a video record of the event that led to the Watchers declaring their non-intervention policy.

A society that the Watchers gave nuclear weaponry to ended up completely destroying itself.  But the big twist being that the one who managed to convince the Watchers to grant that primitive race the technology was none other than Uatu’s own father.  Huh.  Suddenly, his interest in such a tiny, primitive race as humanity makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

But it’s even more than that when we learn that Uatu hasn’t just been watching the mainstream Marvel universe but every...single...possibility...that branches off from every...single...choice or event.  As Nova puts it, Uatu literally sees into infinity.  All the time.  And all for the reason of trying to find a single reality where his father was right and interfering didn’t result in the destruction of that race.  Sadly, however, across all of infinity...such a reality doesn’t seem to exist.

Now, a more cynical person might all bull on this.  Then again, anyone who wants to bring up the multiverse theory might want to give Sliders a look.  Trust me, all parallel universes have their own degree of suck. So, if there isn't actually a universe where everything is hunky dory with the Watchers helping a caveman race create the atom bomb, I'm more than willing to believe.

But really, I believe most would describe this as “feels”, and these are Uatu feels of the highest caliber.  The only thing he really wants is to find one reality where his father was right...something that Nova sympathizes with heavily.  Eventually, having learned part of the reason why he had come to visit, Nova gets around to asking about the ultimate fate of his father - really only wanting to know whether he’s dead or alive.  Uatu, speaking the only three words of dialogue that he has, tells him that his father is indeed alive and Nova leaves as he joyfully shouts the words through the void of space...somehow.

And the story ends with Uatu taking the piece of earth that Nova gave to him and setting it on a podium, observing it for a panel before walking away.

“Original Sin #0” is pretty good, and was an excellent doorway to get back into comics with my long absence.  It showed us a side of Uatu not yet seen, and managed to make us empathize with a great and powerful being that is one of the most inhuman things that exists (DC, take note).  It manages to introduce the character of Sam Alexander to the reader as well, which definitely got my attention and personally made me want to pick up his series outside of the “Original Sin” storyline.  And it made a good intro to “Original Sin” itself, even though it’s getting us to care about a character right before they’re killed off, it’s done well and actually manages to succeed in doing that.

And it does pose an even bigger question than simply who would want to kill Uatu and why.  What has he seen that someone thought he shouldn’t have?  I suppose the only way to find out is to pick up the rest of “Original Sin”...which I’ll more than likely be doing...until somebody decides to make a deal with Mephisto to bring Uatu back to life.

...yes, Joe Quesada sucks.  Now shoo!

“Original Sin #0” is now available from Marvel comics wherever comic books are sold.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin

Friday, May 9, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Fable II"

Before the time when the Hero of Oakvale failed to impress me and the Hero of Bowerstone managed to somehow irritate the piss out of me with an interface that a first year game design student would be sobbing in the corner after seeing…there was Fable IIFable II happened to be the first game in the series that I picked up, having no prior knowledge of Fable beyond having seen the trailer for it.  Of course, by the time I had actually gotten around to where I could play the original, Microsoft had jumped to the Xbox 360 and Fable II had just come out.

Fable II begins some five centuries after the events of Fable II, making it even easier to get involved without prior knowledge of the series for newcomers, with a boy or girl living with his/her sister in the city of Bowerstone. When a snake oil salesman comes to town trying to sell cheap knock-off magical merchandise, Sparrow and his/her sister Rose get a nod from the Lady Cassandra O’Brien dot Delta Seventeen to buy a music box that she claims really has magical powers.  After acquiring five gold coins in a tutorial level and buying the box, Sparrow and Rose use it and make a wish…which seemingly does nothing until they are met in the middle of the night by guards sent by Lord “Oh, My God, He’s So Obviously the Villain”.

This results in Sparrow and Rose finding out about their hero heritage before Rose is unceremoniously shot and falls dead on the spot, followed by Sparrow being shot and falling out of a window.  Saved by Theresa, however, Sparrow doesn’t die and lives for the next indeterminate number of years in the peace and safety of a gypsy camp.  Just enough time for them to get to the 18-20 years old range and be ready to pick up a rusty sword, a crossbow, and a spade and go out to kick the ass of the aforementioned Lord Villain.

...oh, and you get a dog. It barks annoyingly and occasionally tells you places where you can dig. Until it gets killed at the end like everything else you've ever loved. Spoiler Alert.
This is what happens when you roll a crit...

Theresa reveals the Tattered Spire, an artifact of the Old Kingdom that was immensely powerful and caused a massive cataclysm in Albion long before the events of the first game.  Now, Lucien’s trying to rebuild it to resurrect his dead wife and daughter…

…at the very least, that’s the implication if you don’t ready the diaries provided later in the storyline.

...obviously (and this does get lampshaded later), he’s eventually going to realize that bringing back his family isn’t all he’ll be able to do, so now Sparrow has even more motivation to stop him…depending on whether or not you get bogged down in the side questing.  In fact, you’re going to have to do some of that in order to get any progression in the storyline at points.  It really just kind of kills the pacing when I have to stop my quest to save the world from the Genocide Tower in order to go hunt down some bandits or dance around like a Russian in front of some villagers to increase my Renown.

Speaking of hunting down bandits, we have the combat. You have Strength, Skill, and Will – which translate to melee, ranged, and magic attacks – and I know that this joke has been made by every single game reviewer and their mother by this point, but with the area of effect spells available you basically pick one, pour points into it and spam until you win…no, really, that’s it.  It’s hilariously easy to pull off.  However, your other choice would be going the melee route and making flourishes your best friend.  Seriously, it’s nearly impossible to block them and will send all by the strongest of enemies flying.  Still, for crowd control, you can’t do much better than the Will area of effect spells.

Speaking of the three forms of combat – the three Hero Skills factor into the plot through three of the main supporting cast that form a strong trifecta.  Those would be Hammer – the Hero of Strength – Garth – the Hero of Will – and Reaver – the Hero of Skill.  Three heroes that Lucian needs for his plans in order to build the Spire…for some reason that isn’t ever really made clear.  Nevertheless, the three heroes make a colorful group and are very interesting characters in their own right – so much so that Reaver showed up in III and will no doubt be in later chapters of the game series.  Then again, when you’re voiced by the magnificent Stephen Fry, you’re worth keeping around.
The Rolling Stones tour in Albion was met with screaming fans...out of fear...

But as the Hero of Bowerstone, Sparrow is the mystical Fourth Hero that Lucien because he/she is the only one who can stop his plans…because…destiny?  There’s really no clear way to understand it – whether it’s just Theresa’s machinations or if there’s actually a prophecy involved, we never really know.  However, it quickly becomes clear that you’re the only one who can stop Lucien. Provided you can get away from the dynamic and in-depth NPCs…who…aren’t…really.

Yes, there’s more variety to the NPCs here, but they suffer the clone brush very fast and it shows when you can actually marry an NPC and have several hot, sweaty love children with them and go off and find three other copies of your beloved in the same area. Of course, you do have to have a house in Albion in order to actually have a wife and family…and it’s surprisingly easy to work up money when you get a set amount every five minutes from shops you own and houses that you rent out.  With enough time and patience, you can very easily buy out every property available in the game.  As soon as you own two million gold pieces worth, you can actually take the title of King or Queen of Albion.

…and then fork over a million gold pieces for the Castle.

Still, considering that you make however much money every five minutes no matter what, it makes making that money back insanely easily.  Just buy out the Bowerstone Market District and you can pretty much go about shopping at your leisure and have the money back with no issues within a few five minutes stretches.
Of course, if you raise the rent or the shop prices, you risk corruption points – something that gets brought in along with the Good-Evil Scale is the Purity-Corrupt scale, which pretty much just further changes the way you look.  Good luck trying to stay both good and pure, because beyond the neutral look it’s the only one that doesn’t look nightmarish (in the case of corrupt) or hilarious (in the case of evil).
She doesn't look a day over 10,000...

Tone wise, Fable II can be a little jarring.  The tutorial is a delightful romp through the streets of Bowerstone that gets capped off with your sister getting shot and you getting thrown through a window.  You can go about killing civilians, but as soon as you pay a fine or do a community service quest you can play a lute a few times or rip off an extreme powerful fart and the villagers love you again like nothing happened.  Even the art style is very cartoony and over the top and yet can easily sink into very dark and depressing areas – like the Tattered Spire or the soldiers of Lucien therein.  I wouldn’t mind this, variety is the spice of life and all, but it’s hard to get a grip on what they were going for and that distracts a bit.

When I first played this game, I absolutely loved.  Now, coming back to it after having played its sequel and its prequel, I still find some enjoyment out of it.  While not taking the broken promises of Peter Molyneux into account, this game is actually very good and provides a lot to find even within the linear set it has.  Seriously! Six years after this game’s release, I’ve still managed to find and realize things I didn’t before.  Still, though, the world feels open and it lacks that overpowering feeling of linearity that Fable III has, if only because the shackles feel a little looser.  Then again, that might actually be enough and the game does do well for what it is.

Fable II is now available from Lionhead Studios and Microsoft Games for Xbox 360.

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

Friday, May 2, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Rad Raygun"

It is the year 198X at the height of the Cold War.  Ronald Reagan’s in the White House and unfortunately he does not have the elite hacker skills of Ferris Bueller to aid him in defeating a horde of Communist robots that are poised to destroy America.  The answer to this? A Mega Man clone!

I’m not even kidding.  The very title screen is a homage to Mega Man 2, and it’s actually pretty awesome.

But the comparison doesn’t stop there as you take on the role of a robotic soldier named Rad who is charged by none other than the Gipper himself to defeat the Communist hordes in the Middle East, Germany, and other battlefields across the world all in the name of America’s righteous anti-Communist agenda!  After all, better dead than Red, am I right?

That being said, there’s really not a lot of red in this game.  Or any color other than green and black, with the stylistic choice to make this look like an early 1980’s computer game rather than one of the Mega Man games…at least in coloring.  Personally I like the design, though it sometimes makes it difficult to figure out where Rad can stand and where he can’t.  Luckily, there aren’t any insta-kill hazards to speak of in the situation, and the developers do actually poke fun at the style.  And, as we all know, I’m a stickler for games that aren't afraid to poke fun at themselves.

But it’s a platformer, so Rad moves around (usually) from left to right while either blasting or avoiding dangers that present themselves.  You fire bolts from an arm canon to take care of enemies, which can be upgraded with disks that can be found in the game world.  Along with some power ups that allow you to refill your health from the pause menu (like that one game of a similar style…with Sub Tanks…can’t think of the name…).

And really, that’s all there is to it.  You move from left to right taking out enemies throughout a level, then you take on a boss monster at the end of every level.  As far as your mechanics go, standard platformer shooter.  No, more than that, a really good platformer shooter...with some pretty awesome throwback 8-bit music to boot (by FantomenK!)   It has some good humor that pokes fun at the Cold War paranoia of the 1980s, as well as some other political humor.  Like DLC Quest and other games in the vein that I’ve played, it is long enough to get its point across without overstaying its welcome.  It’s only five stages leading up to the ending, but it was only a dollar and I really think it was worth the investment, and I think you will, too.

Rad Raygun is now available from Trufun Entertainment for Xbox 360 and PC.

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