Friday, July 25, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Yu-Gi-Oh! Millennium Duels"

Merciful god, please! No! Wasn't the last time enough for you maniacs?! I don't want to play any more children's card games! I just don't! Please!

...oh, fine.  Let's get this over with.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Millennium Duels is another of the many, many simulators of the wildly-popular anime series known as Yu-Gi-Oh! More specifically, it's a simulator of the card game based from the widely-popular anime series known as Yu-Gi-Oh! Unlike...certain...other games, this one actually follows the set standard of rules put forth by least at the time that this game came out.  So, those of you who aren't at all familiar with the rules of Yu-Gi-Oh! by this point, the line starts here!

Luckily, there's a tutorial to give you some insight and then you're let loose into either the Single Player or Multiplayer mode depending on preference.  As I didn't play the Multiplayer (because anyone who's not in the same room with me is not bound by the most basic rules of social etiquette), the Single Player is split up into four categories - one for each of the main series of Yu-Gi-Oh! (that is to say, the classic, the one everyone hates, the one everyone thought was stupid until it aired and it was actually kind of awesome, and the one that's EXTREMEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!) - where you battle five duelists with a pre-made deck that's handed to you from the jump.

Like other Yu-Gi-Oh! games, you get a premade deck from the beginning that you can edit with cards you win from booster packs and from your opponents.  Unlike other Yu-Gi-Oh! games, you don't have the option of being able to enter the code on the bottom of cards to receive said card in-game.  In older games, you could do this but the code would only work once - hence you only received one copy per code.  Here, I assume the feature is absent to help balance the online gameplay...which, knowing the MMO mentality will mean next to nothing so, good job there, Konami!

Just to tell you how hilariously dated my knowledge of Yu-Gi-Oh! really is (the actual game, that is), I was completely confounded by the Synchro and XYZ monsters.  Just goes to show how different it is from the anime, particularly the first season when the rules were just sort of a vague notion of a suggestion than any actual guidelines to be followed.  At the very least, however, this game isn't misleading.  Unlike The Sacred Cards, this game doesn't make anyone who buys this think they're getting anything less than the legitimate Yu-Gi-Oh! experience.  However, like Eternal Duelist Soul, it's nothing more than that.  It's a simulator of the game with CPU opponents that have the faces of characters from the anime slapped over them.

It's appropriate that the first character you encounter is a computer simulator set up for teaching you the basics, because that's what this game feels like on the whole.  It is the bare basics - a computer program made for a task, with some garish paint smeared all over it in an attempt to connect it to something.   It's an obvious tie in and it really seems pointless to bring it up, but it has no soul.  Forbidden Memories might have had a system I violently disagreed with, but at least there was a point to it all.  It wasn't just a card game sim, there was a reason for all of it.  Even The Sacred Cards, as much as I've ragged on it, had a plot and a reason for doing what we were doing...even if it was just Battle City Fanfiction edition.

This, though? Good as a simulator of the game, but 0/10, would not duel again.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Millennium Duels is now available from Konami for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Metallica Through the Never" (2013)

Let me go ahead and start this one off by saying I'm a fan of Metallica.  Yes, even when Jason Newstead took over as bassist and the band "sold out" with the Black Album.  And, yes, even further on into the present, where they're apparently a bunch of talentless, money-grubbing assholes if the internet is to be believed.  I've listened to every Metallica album to date and found at least one song on every album I could enjoy - minus St. Anger and Lulu (sorry, guys, can't win 'em all).  I'm also not a music critic, I'm just a big fan of the band.  However, that doesn't mean I'm willing to follow them blindly and not point out when a short coming (the aforementioned two albums ought to prove that) is reached.  Case in point, and I already know that I'm not going to win any friends for saying it, Metallica Through the Never.

Written by the band and director Nimr√≥d Antal, this film is absolutely just...weird.  Touted as a "thriller concert film", I can go ahead and tell everybody that the concert parts of the film are awesome, taken from a show in Vancouver, where the narrative of the film is also set.  Having actually been to a Metallica concert, I can tell you that it's a pretty good performance.  The band has high energy and they get the crowd into it as well, though not to the level of - say - Iron Maiden (also seen them in concert).  Where the film suffers is in the narrative that the band and Antal are trying to bring to the screen.  And, with that, let's begin.

And begin we do with the introduction of "Trip" (Dane DeHaan), one of the roadies (so named, I'm guessing, for a scene where he's skateboarding and wipes out onto the asphalt), arriving and getting cameos from the band before he gets an assignment from a manager to find a van stranded without gas that apparently was carrying something very important.  Before heading out, Trip decides to take a strange blue and red pill...and then things quickly go off the rails and firmly stay there.

Oh, and before you ask about the item on the van, we never find out exactly what it is.  Spoiler alert.

What follows is ninety-four minutes of trippy visuals set to, and interwoven with, the music of Metallica.  When it focuses on the concert, it's great! When it's focused back on the psychedelic journey of Trip, however, it's jarring, incoherent, and poses enough questions to have been written by J.J. Abrams...only for the disappointment of the un-reveals to happen several seasons early.  Trip makes a journey through Vancouver, which quickly turns more and more post-apocalyptic as time progresses, going from a full on riot in the streets, watched over by an enigmatic and frightening being known as Fallout Box Art...I mean, "the Rider".  Straddling a mighty steed and wearing a gas mask, he rides through Trip's drug-induced version of Vancouver with a penchant for hanging people.  Now, Trip must find a way to avoid the hangman and make his way back to the concert.

Now, the makings of an awesome narrative are here, I won't deny that.  But they're bogged down by several problems.  One, and probably the biggest of note here, is Trip.  Besides the fact that he's a roadie for Metallica, we know absolutely nothing about him.  Not his likes or dislikes or anything else that gives us insight into a character's mind.  Just throwing someone into a difficult or dangerous position doesn't immediately get us to sympathize and be interested.  We can surely empathize with Trip to a certain extent (after all, who wants to be hanged from a lamppost? Nobody, that's who), but as for getting invested? That's not quite enough.

The second problem is the item that Trip is sent to receive from the van.  We never find out what it is.  At all.  Whatever it is, it clearly has some great impact on Trip as he falls against the walls of the van in shock.  Shame that doesn't happen for the audience, who never gets to learn what is in the bag he finds there.  No, it's more concerned with showing the extensive visuals and glorifying the music of Metallica.  And those would be great, but here's my question - why? Why not just focus on making a great concert film or, if you want to go the artsy path, why not focus on the narrative and use the music of Metallica as a way to enhance the experience?

Either way, despite my gripes, apparently a lot of people seem to really enjoy this.   It made back its budget, plus a little extra, and was considered a success.  If you're a fan of the band and you're in for the music, enjoy it.  If you're of the artsy crowd and dig the visuals, go nuts. But I don't really think it's that great.  The entire film doesn't really make clear what it wants to do or what message its trying to bring across to us.  What was in the bag? Was it important? Evidently not, since Trip shows up with it after the show (or possibly before it, the film is rather confusing on that point).  But what's more annoying is that the bag that the item is in is prominently featured near the end...and yet we're not even given a hint as to what was within.

Pulp Fiction could get away with that, Metallica.  It had characters who were knew about and were invested in the story.  While the mystery of what was in Marcellus Wallace's briefcase is one that is debated to this very day, that wasn't Quentin Taratino's point in making the film.  He didn't put so much emphasis on such a thing that we were insulted that we didn't get an answer - because there were interesting characters and scenarios that had more focus put on them.  Here, in Through the Never, we have a character we don't really care about doing things that are better suited to a dark and gritty reboot version of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and it just doesn't come across the same way.  It's not bad, per se, but it really should have had the focus refined more.

Metallica Through the Never is now available from Blackened Records and Picturehouse.

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

Saturday, July 5, 2014

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "FDR: American Badass" (2012)

FDR.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Americans will know him as the thirty-second President of the United States of America, the man who spearheaded a great deal of what the Democratic Party is and stands for today.  In spite of his polio, something that was largely kept from the American public, FDR was a symbol of change and renewal to the American people during the dark times of the Great Depression.  With his Fireside Chats, Roosevelt told the American people about all the programs and legislation being put into place to get America back on its feet, and he had an optimism and charisma about him that greatly bolstered the morale of a nation so deeply crippled by fear and doubt.

...or, if you go by this movie - he was a wise-cracking, foul-mouthed, gun-toting, werewolf-killing American badass.

Or did the title give it away?

We are introduced to FDR (Barry Bostwick) on a hunting trip, where he is attacked by a werewolf, and thus contracts polio shortly before deciding to run for President of the United States.  Werewolves, it seems, being an accepted fact in this universe.  While FDR takes the news about his waist down paralysis in stride (with some penis jokes, of course), we learn that the werewolf responsible was none other than a German werewolf (as demonstrated by a Swastika tattoo, an English-German dictionary, the complete works of Wagner, and Mein Kampf that were found on his person) and that Germany, Japan, and Italy have all been overtaken by (horrifically racist) werewolves.

What follows is ninety-three minutes of absolute insanity, sparing no one and nothing.  Every aspect of FDR is touched upon from his polio to his extra-martial affairs (coincidentally, don't watch this film if you ever want to be able to eat hot dogs again) to World War II itself with various degrees of inaccuracy.  However, this doesn't seem to be from a lack of research so much as spoofing, which this movie does with various degrees of success.  Sadly, this flits schizophrenic-ally between a strong suite and a weak point for a film, as does a great deal of the humor in general. When it's good, it's great! There are just too many a scene where the humor is stopped dead by either an unnecessary crude bit (such as FDR's oldest son defecating into a flower pot - twice) or jokes that just aren't funny and are clearly trying to be, and they pretty effectively stall the film dead.

If it weren't for the obvious change in style, I'd liken it to Mel Brooks' attempt at spoofing a war propaganda film.  Except that would remind of actually good comedy films that I could be reviewing, so I'll just shy away from the comparison.  And even as I critique the film, I do have to acknowledge a single, simple fact about it that shines brightly with an actual reality.

If FDR could have stormed the beaches of Normandy and gunned down Hitler and Mussolini with a wheelchair decked out with rocket launchers and machine guns, you know he totally would have.

Why? Because FDR, like his cousin Teddy, was and is an American Badass.

Maybe not in the same sense as this film presents, but I really wouldn't put it past FDR to take down the Axis Powers singlehandedly with the aforementioned wheelchair, smoke weed with Abraham Lincoln (in a bizarre casting choice, Kevin Sorbo) on the roof of the White House, and send a signed note with a box of sake telling the Japanese to keep it out of his country, and probably several more things detailed in the film, as outlandish, crazy, and over the top as they are.

...okay, yeah, in all seriousness I'm sure even he would have had a limit here.

I get that this film isn't supposed to be Oscar bait.  No, indeed, it's supposed to be bad (I believe the term is "Stylistic Suck").  My advice? Watch it at least once.  Because this really is a film that loops around, passes infinity, and becomes something just...amazing.  It's not on the well of such cinematic atrocities as Birdemic or The Room, is definitely something wholly unique and all its own.  Absurd in virtually every aspect and not in the remotest sense ashamed of it, I do have to admit that I did find myself somewhat entertained for ninety-three minutes, which is more than I can say for a lot of the things I've reviewed.

"FDR:  American Badass" was produced by A Common Thread and Street Justice Films, and was distributed by Screen Media Films in the U.S.

It is also, at the time of writing, available on Instant Streaming for Netflix. So, if you have it, look for it there!

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

Friday, July 4, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Halo: Combat Evolved"

That's right. This is the Fourth of July.  And, as a proud American, I can honestly say that there is not a single activity in all of American culture that is more American than taking an American boot and shoving it up the ass of some aliens.  Don't believe me? Are you calling Bill Pullman, our greatest fictional President, a liar? That's right, I didn't think you were.  So, strap yourselves in and get ready to not go quietly into the night.  Not vanish without a fight.  We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today...we celebrate...our Independence Day!

...with a game set in the future in space.

Hey, I gotta keep the NSA from spying on me, right? Lack of fervent patriotism is un-American...or something.

Halo is a game that needs no introduction - a power armored space marine wielding every gun imaginable to take on a bunch of inhuman enemies and repainting every single surface with all their blood and internal organs.  Sound familiar? Well, of course it does.  This is every single shooter set in the future that you've played since 2001 and doubtless even before, being in the vein of such shooter classics as Doom.  Indeed, Halo does feel a great deal like an updated version of Doom, just with the ability to jump and with actual voice acting.  Despite the stigma against the sequels, prequels and other additions to the franchise, there are two things that pretty much everyone has to acknowledge about this game.

One:  this game was huge.  Seriously.  Described once as the original Xbox's "killer app", it's been said that half of everyone who bought the original console also bought Halo.

Two:  ...well, this is less a fact and more of an opinion on my part but...this game is pretty good.

I've made my views on the Halo series pretty clear on this very blog.  It started out good and then immediately tripped over its own feet.  However, because a lot of people seemed to want to pay money for that, it continues to drag itself around as its legs dangle behind it and we're pretty sure it's suffering from internal bleeding, but it keeps on going anyway.

While I contemplate how dark that got, let me give a summary of the plot of the game.  The UNSC ship Pillar of Autumn has made a blind jump into space from the human colony of Reach, which has just fallen and sent most of humanity running.  In that jump, they've discovered a mysterious ring that floats in the space between a planetoid and its moon.  Discovering that it has deep religious significance to the Covenant - the alien force they're battling against - and that it might be used as a weapon.  The truth, however, is something far, far worse and...yeah, okay, it's Aliens, that's what we've got going on here.

However, unlike...certain...other properties involving Marines and Aliens...this one is actually concerned with something other than pointing to the fact that its based on a film series that deserves far, far better than that piece of smoldering...

...moving on, the mechanics of the game are fairly simplistic. The right trigger shoots until your either a) repaint every surface with your enemy's blood, b) run out of ammo, or c) both.  The left trigger throws one of two different types of grenades - the human frags and the Covenant plasma.  The main character, the Master Chief (otherwise known as Spartan 117), has an amazing ability to find weapons just about anywhere in his travels, and indeed many levels will have a variety of weaponry just strewn about for him to find.  Out of bullets for your assault rifle? Try a Plasma Rifle.  Or a Needler.  Or, in a pinch, another assault rifle from a dead Marine that just happened to be nearby.  Convenient, that.

Health bar? Yeah, you have that.  Although, you also have a handy, dandy energy shield that recharges when you're idle, too for extra protection.   Of course, there are many, many situations where you will not have the time or cover to trigger the recharge and will have to have immense good luck or...well, die.  As a side note to this, anyone who says that "The Library" is too easy, go play it on Legendary.  And then you can kiss the whitest part of my pasty white ass.

And, of course, the game itself is propelled along by the nearly mute Master Chief and his AI counterpart, Cortana.  While the sequels and spin-offs would further cement and develop the relationship between the two, this game establishes them as a duo and we do get a few vague hints about their past, as well as seeing some clear chemistry between the two in the few scenes where the Chief actually does speak.  Still, very little comes of it beyond several examples of them being an effective duo...Cortana being the brains and the Chief being the muscle.

The game has an overall very simplistic, back to basic feeling as far as first-person shooters go (indeed, Halo is credited with revitalizing the genre...for better or for worse), while still providing a storyline for those two do actually want to get invested.  Of course, if you're like 90% of the world's population, by the time that Halo 2 came out, all you cared about was the multiplayer...and with, I hate to say it, good reason.  Unlike 2, however, Halo doesn't suffer from having its development team shipped around to work on their short-term investments.  While the storyline itself isn't the stuff of absolute legend - being one part Aliens, one part 2001: A Space Odyssey, and one part Starship Troopers - it's enjoyable enough to keep you playing.

...provided, again, that you're not stupid enough to immediately jump to Legendary difficulty.

Seriously, don't do it.

No, not even for America.

Just stop.


My attitude has changed about the game series over time, obviously.  When I was younger, it was all great.  I enjoyed the depth of the storyline and how the world was building on itself.  And then, of course, there's the mass destruction one can cause with weaponry.  Nowadays? Some of that still applies.  Jumping back into Halo more than ten years after I first played it, I still find that I enjoy some aspects of it just as I did back then.  However, looking over everything that was spawned here, I'm reminded of the final scene where the Chief and Cortana escape from Halo, Cortana declaring that it's finished.  Of course, we all know how true that wasn't.

But, if it had, it would have been on a high note.  Alas, the terrible sequel monster decided to take over and see to it that absolutely every single penny could be wrung out of this as possible.  Hither came Halo 2...and 3...and so on.  Honestly, Chief, if you had wanted to finish the fight, I wish that you would have done it here...

Halo is now available from Bungie and Microsoft Game Studios, and is now available on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One games on demand.

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

For my American readers, Happy Independence Day!