Tuesday, April 28, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: The Prince of Wails"

Oh, God...the Sliders found Hoenn!!!!
I'm an American, a proud American, and I honestly do love my country and don't really want to live anywhere else. But, of course, I'm not going to shove my love of my country down your throat, because let's face it, it'll probably make you ga-I mean, it would just be improper. Thus, I really don't understand what the obsession with the Royal Family of England is. Really, our ancestors fought a war to free us from the shackles of British oppression and you morons are more than happy to welcome them back if they say a few kind words and wave and smile at you? I can hear George III spinning in his grave having wished he'd tried that tactic to woo the colonists into servitude.

No offense to my British readers. Please don't stop making Doctor Who. Oh, and Iron Maiden, keep them going for at least another ten years, please.

However, some of the more hardcore Sliders fans will immediately chastise me for jumping to this episode instead of doing them in the "proper" order. You see, much like with Firefly, FOX aired the original episodes out of order. So, after the two-part "Pilot" was not "Fever" but an episode dubbed "Summer of Love", which is listed as the fifth episode by the order that FOX aired them in and on the Netflix instant Que. So, I'm doing them in that order. Why? Convenience. So, with that, let us prepare to hop into a world across the pond.

The episode begins with the Sliders clinging to life from a building in a flooded San Francisco, apparently having slid into a world where the polar ice caps had melted. As they cling to life, Rembrandt does some more whining about his inability to restart his career and Quinn rightly tells him to stuff a sock in it. After a not terrible CGI shark and the title sequence, the group manages to slide away before becoming shark food and fall right into a fountain. As they resolve to keep themselves low-key, a man bows to Arturo in a rather over the top fashion...how strange.They also notice the "Benedict Arnold Savings & Loan" and a British-style telephone booth.

Not, a blue telephone box, but we can't ask for miracles.

As they pass, more individuals bow to Arturo specifically, something that unnerves the Sliders a bit. After Wade is nearly run over and chastised by an overly polite British motorist, the man completely folds at the sight of Arturo and apologizes profusely for his "reckless driving" and offers him the use of the nearby hotel completely with the Royal Suite. Once settled in, Arturo reads the script, learning that this San Francisco is part of the "British States of America". Apparently on this Earth, the Americans lost the Revolutionary War and the monarchy still holds power.

They believe that they're manage to get through their time on this world in anonymity due to the British desire to mind their own business...until they see Arturo as the "Sheriff of San Francisco" on television.

Times the Sliders Have Run into Parallel Versions of Themselves: 5

Arturo in this universe is not only the Sheriff of San Francisco, but is apparently the acting Regent over the British government until young Prince Harold can be crowned the following week. Deciding to head out into the wild to avoid someone discovering that Arturo is not Arturo, the Sliders use his status one last time to get a car loaded down with various loot.

Remember, kids...everything he says is right.
They head out into the woods of downtown Oakland and apparently have some car trouble, forcing the others to push the car while Arturo touts more exposition. Apparently, not only the American Revolution did not happen, but also the French and Russian didn't either, leading the world to be ruled by a handful of monarchies rather than the governments that would rise in the wake of their respective falls. As the group takes a break from pushing and Wade brings up several quotations from newspapers to question why exactly Harold should be king, the military shows up.

Once more, Arturo uses his duplicate's status to bluff his way past the commander - another version of Quinn and Wade's asshole boss at the computer store - and tries to get the group to not interfere when it becomes clear that the military is up to something shady under the Sheriff's orders. Quinn, however, convinces the group to investigate.

Thus we are introduced to Prince Harold, apparently out hunting when the military swoops in. The Sliders rescue him. Once more, Arturo gets the military off their backs and the group escapes. Arturo attempts to explain that he is not the Sheriff...but Harold is a blithering idiot who thinks he's joking. They return to the car from earlier, apparently hoping it repaired itself by magic, and find that it's been completely stripped clean.

...well, that's downtown Oakland for you.

No, apparently, the car has been stripped clean by a guerrilla group known as the Oakland Raiders...something something sports joke here...who hold them all at gunpoint. Quinn improvs the hell out of the situation, claiming that they've come to join up with the resistance movement, presenting them with Arturo and Harold. Captured, they're taken into the rebel hold. Quinn does his best to get them to keep Arturo and Harold alive as Harold continues to be completely oblivious to the realities of the situation before them much to Arturo's exasperation.

Then we get a scene with the Sheriff, where his television show has a segment where he claims to be opening up to his critics for criticisms...but is in reality only setting things up to make himself and the monarchy look good by having only those who speak well of the establishment be heard and those who dissent being hissed by an electronic audience produced by a machine.

Thank God this show came out before Twitter or he would have just callously blocked all the "trolls".

So, going from a monarchy to a totaltarian state. However, the commander from earlier meets with the Sheriff and the jig is up about Harold still being alive following a message from the Raiders about having both him and Arturo in custody. In response to this, Sheriff declares that he wants Harold dead. He wants his family dead. He wants the woods burned to the ground. He wants to be able to go to the woods in the middle of the night and pis-okay, you get the point. Scorched Earth.

Back with the Revolution, we get a scene with Harold and Wade where he impresses upon her the knowledge that the tabloids about him aren't true and she upon him that the Sheriff might not be acting in his best interest. He denies that he's been set up for assassination...until he finally makes the mental leap that, being the last of his line, the person who would succeed him in the event of his death is...the Sheriff.

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to figure out how San Francisco became so important to the British monarchy, but let's press on.

The Palace is revealed to have rejected all the demands the Raiders have given, so they decide to make an example of Arturo and Harold with bullets to the head. At the last minute, Quinn manages to save them with the power of television, revealing that the Sheriff is doing a live broadcast and thus cannot be Arturo, who is right there. The rebel leader is convinced by Quinn after a speech made of fortune cookie sayings that somehow gets the rebels into action. What follows is a montage of the rebels robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, martial law being declared by the Sheriff.

It's also important to keep in mind, they're doing this in all of about a week.

The Sheriff does a public service announcement to try and calm public fears and threatens the Raiders with their annihilation.

Wade and Harold have a moment where Harold flirts with her mercilessly and Wade shuts him down. Whereupon he brings up her rather obvious love of Quinn, which leads into Wade and Quinn having a not at all civil conversations about their respective love lives...with people they've only really known for about a week (three days actually, as we later find out). And since the feelings are abundantly obvious between the two and Jerry O'Connell and Sabrina Lloyd have a surprising amount of chemistry in this scene in particular and seem right about to, I'll go ahead and say it.

HEY! Quinn! Wade!



Seriously...geez...

Later, however, there's trouble afoot as Prince Harold has escaped - apparently not being the complete moron that everyone thought he was. With him escaped, however, Quinn goes out to try and recapture him before the Sheriff kills him - giving Wade the Slide Timer just in case he doesn't make it back in time.

In the meanwhile, Prince Harold walks among the poor and destitute of San Franciscso, likely seeing for the first time how utterly oblivious he has been to the problems of his people. If it weren't for the hard rock guitar theme blaring through the background, it could actually be a very powerful scene as Harold looks absolutely horrified at what he has discovered.

To keep the plot going and leaving Harold no time to ponder his actions, Quinn gets arrested by the Sheriff's men and dragged off.

The Sheriff hops on the tube to reveal that Quinn is being held at a maximum security prison, apparently having become a big name terrorist in three days, and will be executed by midnight...seventeen minutes before the window for Sliding opens. The rebels resolve to make Quinn a martyr and devolve into violence, seemingly lost without the wise Fortune Cookie words of their lord and savior.

To the surprise of all, however, Harold returns and refutes their words of violence. Apparently, he somehow wandered back into the heavily fortified rebel structure because...the plot needed him to, I guess. He speaks of how naive and foolish he was and the rebels decide to try and rally the people to storm the prison due to his support of them.

That's right. We're at the ten minutes before the end of the episode mark, as Arturo has a plan.

We get an ominous scene of shadowy men preparing the electric chair, which will be broadcast live for...convenience. The rebels take the TV station and set up Harold to speak up so they can pardon Quinn, expose the Sheriff, and introduce democracy to the world at long last. Rembrandt and Arturo run him through the Bill of Rights as it exists on their world, getting through to the sixth amendment before telling him to "wing it".

As the Sheriff begins his broadcast, the rebels hijack the signal and the Prince lets the cat out of the bag. Quinn is freed just in time and somehow gets to meet the rest of the group just in time for their slide out, giving Harold some last minute advice to with things as well as the rough draft they worked up of the Bill of Rights,  including the acknowledgment that "James Brown is the godfather of soul."

Oh, Remmy, you so wild!

This is actually not a bad episode, though the story is a little bit rushed in it's resolution and the pacing is all over the place. While the Sliders say they have six days on this world, it only ends up feeling like maybe two at the most, montages aside.

To give due credit, Harold's transformation into someone who cares seems quite genuine even over the short period of time. After seeing the plight of his people, having been cooped up and kept away from the realities of the world, he is really horrified and wants to use his power to make things change. He's not malicious or cruel, just oblivious, and so he sees the need to fix what is broken when it's revealed to him. Bravo!

Also, due to the nature of the show, we don't really see the consequences of the Sliders actions after introducing the noble virtues of democracy and self-government...though under the monarchy (or, at least, the Sheriff) it was an utterly totalitarian police state, so it's perfectly fine. Or some other justification for completely eschewing the established social order (nobody ever said being a hero was a good thing, see also: Dune).

Next week, we're going to a world that's FOX News would love to be in, and Hippies that wish they were here.

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: Fever"

"Hey, Remmy, have I got something in my teeth?"
We begin the third episode of the first season with the Sliders apparently being in a world where everyone in San Francisco has oil, so everyone is rich beyond their wildest dreams. Never mind basic economics where having more of something will actually make the thing in question less expensive due to more supply to fit the demand, but we can't expect writers to actually do any research on that, and I'm going off on a tangent about a cold open gag, and if I do that on this show we'll never see the end of it.

They slide off after getting all the dough they can stuff into their pockets and end up in a rather 1984-esque world. Where the CDC has taken over, and Wade is saved from being run over by a man with severe jaundice who chastises her upon kissing him on the cheek as a thank you.  Rather depressingly, they learn they will be on this Earth for a little over two days. Heading into a diner, they find that the food is prepackaged and apparently worse than the airline version. Throwing up part of a burger, Rembrandt finds a wanted poster for Quinn Mallory of this world, who is subtitled in a rather foreboding manner as "Patient Zero".

Times the Sliders Have Run into Parallel Versions of Themselves: 4

Rembrandt shows the poster to the others and they decide to beat a hasty retreat from the dinner, though not before a scene where several men in hazard suits rush in and subdue a man standing behind Quinn...only for Quinn to be recognized by one of the waitresses at the last minute. As they escape, Wade begins to feel dizzy - which certainly has nothing to do with the yellow man she kissed - so Quinn and Arturo enter a nearby pharmacy with such stock as witch hazel and wormwood on its shelves, but lacking in so much as Aspirin, which they chalk up to it being an alternative medicine store.

However, a crazy employee recognizes Quinn for his double and calls up the CDC so he can die like a martyr, who manage to subdue him after a fight, leaving Arturo behind. Wade and Rembrandt have checked into a hotel and the Professor arrives to tell them the news, as well as telling them that the Quinn of this universe was a failing medical student who released a plague out to the general public. Where did he learn this? I assume he read the script, because there are a few logic problems with the thought that he might have been asking around about the background of the man who is quite literally public enemy number one.

Wade, as it turns out, has taken a plot related turn for the worse. She experiences some creepy hallucinations while Quinn is put through a severe detox shower so that the female viewership can gawk at his abs, which are admittedly not unimpressive. In scanning him, however, they find that Quinn does not have the infection that his double on this Earth has while he explains that he's not from this Earth. The doctor overseeing his tests wants to look further into it.
Y'all futhermockers need Lysol!

Back with the others, Arturo is likewise getting sick after exposure to the disease...and Wade has somehow managed to escape the room, still afflicted by the fever hallucinations. Luckily, Rembrandt and Arturo find her just in time to be accosted by the Morlocks! ...okay, they're not the Morlocks, but people who have been affected by the plague Quinn's double created, whereupon they actually meet this version of Quinn.

Apparently, he's set up a quarantine area to try and cure the plague if at all possible. Red Eye Quinn reveals that he himself did not actually create the Q, he was merely given it by a scientist he signed up for a test trial with who released him back into society. He also explains the situation of society - the rich stay in a hygienic utopia while the poor get sick and die. And thus, we come to the topic the episode is soapboxing about - corporations and the rich hording high end medicines while the poor are left to die. This isn't so blunt force as later stands the show tries to take, but it's still pretty intense, Red Eye Quinn angrily pointing out two of the people in the shelter and teling Rembrandt to "ask them" if he didn't believe him about the state of things.

Then, the twist occurs when Arturo asks why the plague is resistant to antibiotics, and Red Eye asks him what those are.

Then we get a short scene where our Quinn is further interrogated by the Squeaky Clean Health Police who refute his claims that he is not the Quinn Mallory that they know.

Back in the sick house, Arturo begins to dig through the trash to make penicillin, bringing up the very real point that they can't leave with Wade or himself infected as they risk becoming the Patient Zero of another world if they don't have a cure there either. Rembrandt gets a pep talk from Red Eye, learning that Quinn has been taken to the CHC's facility nearby and that he's the only one who can save the day...because he's the only healthy one.  He also mentions the doctor currently testing Quinn, saying that she's a friend and will help.

And indeed she is helping, bringing Quinn a hazard suit and telling him to put it on and the pair of them escaping so they can work on a cure together. There's a shootout with the surprisingly efficient CDC troops...and sadly, Red Eye's Doctor friend dies in Quinn's arms. With the help of the taxi driver from the Pilot, Quinn and Rembrandt escape.

The Professor and Red Eye work on the potential cure, the former giving the potential reason why Wade's sickness is progressing so fast being that they're from a different Earth and thus have different immunities. Wade has more hallucinations, this time of of Quinn professing his undying love, and Quinn arrives to finally meet Red Eye and the both have a nice, wholesome, WTF?! moment.

With luck, the Professor has finished his first bit of the potential cure and prepares to take it, Red Eye pointing out that there are many others who are far sicker than he. In one of the moments that remind me why I love his character, Arturo brings up the fact that he has no idea if the cure will work and that it could possibly kill him due to the fact that the ingredients not doing the same thing that they do in the universe he knows. Rather than have it not work on someone sick or kill someone, Arturo elects to take the potential sacrifice himself.

It's a very interesting idea that sadly never really gets explored over the course of the series. Besides some minor quirks, everything in every other parallel universe sadly runs the same way as it does in the main universe throughout the rest of the show.

However, we're less than ten minutes from the end title card, so the Medic Militia tracks down the Cabbie of Destiny and has him point out where he dropped off Quinn and Rembrandt and charge off to break down the resistance.

Also, Rembrandt gets the disease at the last minute, but apparently the Professor's cure has been duplicated and thus it's...completely pointless. Because yes, Arturo is cured and his fever broken, thus Wade can be cured and so can everyone else. All is well with only twelve minutes to go before the Slide. Nice that everything in the episode was wrapped up in a nice little bow like tha-oh right, the CDC, I forgot.

The CDC gets in and starts tagging everyone, the Sliders held up some steps for their slide with only a minute to go. Red Eye faces off against the doctor leading the swat team (only in reviewing things like Sliders do I ever get to say something like that), declaring that he's somehow managed to get word to other infected in other quarantine zones about the cure and how to make it, and that the government won't be able to keep it just for the wealthy. I'd question how he managed to do that, but the Sliders are about to escape so it's not really all that important.

They jump and we cut to Wade waking up next to a fire, apparently all better now minus a little grogginess.  Quinn tells her that she'll be fine and about that they found a cure for those people. Sliding made a difference. Wade settles in to get some rest, and Rembrandt and Arturo arrive to ask him Quinn if he told her about the cannibals...who have ominously stopped playing their drums. Cue audience laughter as the episode closes...
"Hey, babe, I'm Jerry O'Connell. Don't you wanna say you got with Jerry O'Connell?" 

As I said before, this episode is very obviously a jab at the pharmaceutical companies and the like that withhold cures only for the rich, building a society that is built around that crux point.

Also as I said before, it's not as anvilicious as many later Lessons of the Day are, the only scene where it really shines through and beats the viewer over the head in Red Eye's showdown with the doctor. It brings up the interesting idea that maybe the very chemistry of a universe is not necessarily the same as another, even if that idea is never really brought up again or followed up on. The ending is a little rushed, but that's the case with quite a few endings so it would be rather unfair to rag on that too much.

A good enough episode and a better concept for introducing the multiverse theory to the audience than the Pilot episode gave.

Because, y'know, a world where the Soviet Union took over is way less believable than a world where the government controls the people through a campaign of disease and fear and holds up the only cure for how much money it can make off of people.

...actually, given recent events...eh, too topical, too topical.

Come back next week for a hop across the pond.

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

Monday, April 20, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "The Incredible Hulk" (2008)

Doctor Bruce Banner. Physician. Scientist. Searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have. Then an accidental dose of gamma radiation interacts with his unique body chemistry. And now, whenever Doctor Banner becomes angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs...

Yes, it's time to re-start my Marvel Cinematic Universe retrospective I suddenly stopped a little over a year ago. Why? Oh, it's very simple...

...I got lazy.

...that's it.

Still, with Avengers: Age of Ultron on the horizon at the time of writing, I think it's time to pick back up where I left off and see what I can do about retrospecting the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because the sad truth is that this film as well as Iron Man came out seven years ago. Why yes, that does make me a bit sad.

However, getting to the main point of this particular review - the Hulk. As the opening monologue tells, Bruce Banner was working on a form of bomb powered by gamma radiation. Accidentally caught in the blast, Bruce was surprisingly not burned alive by atomic fire but instead found himself cursed with a forced transformation into the giant green rage monster known as the Incredible Hulk, the strongest there is.

Now, some of you might remember at this point a 2003 film known as Hulk that starred Eric Bana and was directed by Ang Lee.

...stop it. Right now.

Mostly due to the fact that this version ignores all of that and doesn't have the unbelievable sin of opening credits that drag on for half of the film's run time or the Hulk poodle. In fact, the opening story is summed up rather nicely via a montage in a nice send up to the opening title sequence of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno television show.

As it gets implied in this film (and outright stated in The Avengers), Bruce Banner (Eric Norton) was performing tests with gamma radiation in order to try and replicate Doctor Abraham Erskine's original Super Soldier serum. But a horribly accident occurred that left Bruce's lady love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and her father General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) heavily injured and their lab destroyed.

Unlike the television show, however, the world does not think that Bruce Banner is dead. With General Ross on his trail, Bruce has been forced to be out on the lam in Brazil, where at the beginning of the film he's had nearly one hundred and sixty days without an incident. So, for the one white guy in all of Brazil, he blends in pretty well and keeps his head down.

However, following an accident at the factory where he works, some of Banner's blood gets traced back to him and the government closes in on them. Eventually one of their number, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) ends up being injected with a similar serum to Banner's, which inevitably turns him into a monster not unlike the Hulk and forces a showdown between the two.

I will say, right off the bat that Edward Norton has a lot of love for the character of the Hulk, that much is unquestionable. His performance as Bruce Banner shows a great deal of heart his performance reminds me a great deal of his in Fight Club, what with contending with a similar alternate persona that the plot revolves around (spoiler alert - though the film's been out since 1999). However, instead of Brad Pitt...it's a giant green rage monster.

I like that the film takes great pains - much like The Amazing Spider-Man - to show off the fact that Banner is a scientist, doing things such as repairing machinery in the factory where he works in Brazil and working on cure for his gamma poisoning while learning various anger management techniques in order to keep his heart rate at a manageable level.

Liv Tyler's version of Betty Ross is several steps above Jennifer Connelly's in...that other film, but both of these are due to this being a far more superior film. Though heartbroken at losing Bruce, Betty has moved on with her life and even became engaged to Doctor Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell), though predictably Banner being thrown back into her life flips the whole thing upside down. I know she gets garbage for being the bland, uninteresting female love interest in many films (Armageddon and Lord of the Rings come to mind), but she actually is good here and - like Gwen Stacy in the later The Amazing Spider-Man films - actually has some use to the plot and does things rather than standing around looking utterly helpless the whole time.

...at least until the final fight, but anybody who willingly gets in the middle of the Hulk and the Abomination fighting has got to be suicidal.

Or Thor.

And speaking of foolhardy warrior types, we have William Hurt playing General Ross and he's surprisingly fresh out of his incredibly bland monotone that usually carries his performances (Lost in Space, anyone?), though I'm beginning to wonder if that's just from the director he usually gets, since director Louis Leterrier has coaxed a rather good performance out of him. Though I'm not as big a fan of the Hulk as some, I know enough about Ross to know that he's a man who is enraged at how much of a fool that Banner made him look like and, enraged, is perpetually hunting the man and failing and then becoming further enraged and emasculated because he cannot capture Banner, who he uses as the scapegoat for his failures.

Rounding out the main cast we have Tim Roth playing Emil Blonsky. Though in the comics he was a Russian KGB agent, in this modern retelling he's a Russian born British commando. In dealing with his advanced age and lack of advancement within the army, begins sufering inadequacy issues after fighting the Hulk and actually managing to survive the first time, Blonsky volunteers to undergo testing that will give him the same powers as the Hulk, but end up turning him into a twisted Abomination. He's also, amazingly for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the main villains who isn't outright killed by the end, and so perhaps might appear in another Hulk film.

Oh, and also of note is Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) who Banner has been working with via encrypted computer transmissions to try and find a cure for his cellular mutation. Eventually, he will become the villainous Leader as we see here with him mutating from some exposure to Banner's blood. With any luck he, too, will also show up in a future Hulk film. Here, though, he's a well-intentioned extremist who wants to use the Hulk's blood for medicinal purposes. A noble goal.

I mean, incredibly stupid given what is known about it, but noble.

The story is pretty solid, though the rewrites do so themselves in a few places. Overall, however, it's a pretty good story that shows a lot of love for the characters of Banner and the Hulk, as well as the mythos that surrounds them. The performances are very solid thorough and there are more than a few little mythology gags spread around (such as Banner mocking the stretchy purple shorts Hulk is iconically known for), which make for an enjoyable time.

We get Banner having to not only deal with the beast within, but the fear that that beast may spread and harm others, thus doing all he can to see that it doesn't happen. It's suitably dark, heavy, and tragic for a story about the Hulk. But as I said with the purple shorts, it's not afraid to occasionally point and laugh at the silly bits that pop up because this is, after all, a comic book adaptation.

Speaking of the adaptation side of things, we get a nice little post credits scene at the end where Tony Stark shows up to Ross in a bar and mentions that a team is being brought together. And since we've finally gotten to that film...guess where we'll be going next time?

Stay tuned!

The Incredible Hulk is now available from Marvel Studios, Valhalla Motion Pictures, and Universal Pictures on DVD and Blu-Ray.

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

Friday, April 17, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dragon Ball: Xenoverse"

A game review from me of something somewhat vaguely topical and current? Say it isn't so!

Now that I've gotten that bit of snark out of the way, let me just say that I don't consider myself an anime fan. I enjoy certain animes and have many friends who are very big into it, but as a genre I'm just not all that keen on it with very, very few exceptions. Three of those exceptions would be Pokemon, the original Yu-Gi-Oh!, and of course, Dragon Ball Z. I remember back in the era of Toonami or the later 90s and early 00s when they would air DBZ along with a pheltora of other shows like Thundercats and ReBoot and I was blown away from how utterly different it was from anything else I had ever seen before.

And, of course - like every other anime and its mother that got localized for America - games were made for animes that got shipped to the States as well. As part of the Dragon Ball saga, I've played the first Legacy of Goku on the GBA (which I enjoyed), Ultimate Tenkaichi 3 (which I did not), and Raging Blast (which I still wish I had). Though considering the sheer mass of them, I was inevitably going to run into yet another game I'd want to play and thus I did when I heard of Dragon Ball: Xenoverse.

I also saw TeamFourStar's Let's Play of the game (or, at least, the first five or so episodes) which both sold me on the game and prepped me for what is to come, so I admit I did have a little bit of foreknowledge going into the game.

Several iconic moments from the show have been well recreated.
The plot is about as simple as one would expect from an anime - that is to say, somewhere between "Do You Read Sutter Cane?" and the ending to Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 - with Future Trunks from the anime working alongside the new character the Supreme Kai of Time and finding out that someone or something is going back through the timeline of the Dragon Ball Saga in order to distort it...for some reason. Thus, Trunks gets a hold of the Dragon Balls and makes a wish to Shenron for a warrior who can help him stem the tide of evil.

And thus, to character creation! You are given the option of starting as a Human (male or female), a Saiyan (male or female), a Majin(male or female), a Namekian, or a member of the Frieza clan. Each race has their own respective pros and cons, such as Saiyans having high fighting ability but low health but get stronger when revived in combat, or the Namekians having high health and defense, or Majins being able to tank like nobody's business. There's also a fair amount of customization with the faces, eyes, and hair as well as the height and build of your character regardless of race or gender. As well as voice sets, which is a bit dd for a character that never speaks, but then I get to hear battle dialogue in the voice of Abridged Nappa and everything is alright.

Personally, I went for a Saiyan character and christened him "Butarega" coming up with the mental backstory that he was a Saiyan from a timeline where Bardock had killed Frieza and thus Planet Vegeta had been saved from annihilation. No doubt pissed about being pulled away from wherever he had been at the time (I hadn't gotten that far in thinking him up at the time), he was nonetheless happy to beat Trunks from pillar to post in the tutorial before getting the chance to do some more fighting.

And a side note for when you create your first character: I hope you're satisfied with them, because the other slots will be locked until you complete the main game.

The combat is actually fairly fluid, perhaps a little too much so. Matches can be up to as many as 3 vs. 3 in any given situation, and the map environments all definitely have a lot of space to move around in. Of course, that won't keep the enemy AI from turning everything into a big ol' fustercluck by ganging up on one member of your team - most likely you - and pounding them into a lovely Senzu Bean paste.

"I am the hope of the universe!!!"
And thus, the importance of grinding levels is learned when - after a few missions of some fair challenge - the player gets blindsided by certain enemies such as I was by Frieza during his first appearance in the main questline. Luckily, the hub world of Toki Toki City also hosts "Parallel Quests" that are unlocked with each chapter that the player can repeatedly play in order to grind levels and even occasionally acquire unique moves or gear. The player gets three points for every level up to be distributed to their attributes.

The stats are neatly arranged to cover everything - Your character's Ki, your Stamina, and your attacks of different varieties. Top tip for anyone planning to do a Saiyan character (and thus a Super Saiyan, because you know you're going to): Make sure to boost your Ki and Stamina especially. I've only gotten so far as the Buu Saga now and unlocked Super Saiyan 1 through an absurd Parallel Quest and it eats through your Ki at a ridiculous rate, leaving you with no Stamina once you drop out, which is a real pain if you don't realize you're about to run dry and three versions of Majin Buu are just waiting to gang up on your sorry Saiyan butt.

Which does bring up a complaint I have about the combat. The game features a lock-on mechanic to keep track of a certain enemy and display their remaining health and the like. It works in theory, but it seems to only serve as that display and little else. While it doesn't happen often, I've had situations where my character will be targeting an enemy right above him and then fire a Light Grenade or a Kamehamaha straight down.  If I'm going to lock onto an enemy, then that's the target my attacks should be firing at. And no, I'm not complaining about an enemy dodging an attack, I'm simply asking why there's a lock-on feature when it doesn't lock-on?!

But going back into things I like about the game, player character have the option of training with heroes and villains from the show (almost all voiced once more by their VAs from the Funamation dub) in order to unlock the use of new moves and other goodies. Butarega ended up seeking out Piccolo, then Vegeta, and luckily discovered that you can switch between trainers with no penalty and eventually come back to finish up with a previous one. While it's not necessarily to train up with a character, it is encouraged and as Piccolo puts it in-game "one move can be the difference between victory and defeat".

Moves can also be purchased from the Skill shop in the industrial area, as can various outfits and accessories that can be equipped. While the accessories are all just aesthetic, the outfits can provide various boosts or reductions to skills and attacks. Butarega, a proud Saiyan, eventually took up the armor of Raditz when he got it, but soon switched to the more practical (and stat improving) Ginyu Force set, complete with a sapphire blue "new" scouter.

Further helping in the boosting area are Z-Souls and Capsules that can be purchased or created in the Item shop or the Mixing shop, respectively. Z-Souls are items that can be equipped and can provide help in battle provided certain conditions are met. When a player completes training with a master, they'll get a unique one specific to them that can be anything from a stat boost to the master showing up in battle to assist. Hell of a morale boost when Lord Beerus shows up to bring the thunder of damnation down on your enemies, I tell you what.

Capsules are filled by Shards, which can do anything from giving a player health to refilling their Ki and some can even scatter health and ki around for teammates in battle. They can also be equipped to one of four "Battle Item" slots that can be used while out on missions. However, each slot can only be tapped once during a battle, so don't expect to be able to pull out 100% healing more than once in a battle.
Goku's just jealous of his Super Saiyan swagger...
Also, you can unlocked certain moves and items through missions. Before anyone tells me there's some kind of method to it, there isn't. It's just pure random number generation. Basically, use whatever you like. If the game doesn't want you to get the Big Bang Attack, you're not going to get it this round. Keep grinding.

Beyond the mechanics, most people would probably rag on the story given that time travel in the Dragon Ball anime doesn't work like the game has set up (something that was made very expressly clear in the Trunks and Android sagas of the anime), but the game does actually bother to try and explain that so that the hardcore fans won't maim them.

God has time machines that don't create parallel timelines.

...no, I'm not kidding.

This, along with classifying GT as a splintered off timeline that isn't in canon with the rest of the Dragon Ball universe, is pretty much sure to keep the more rabid hardcore folk off of their backs about all the continuity problems.

Also, if you're sick of the plot or the Parallel Quest, you can go into a more tournament fighter-style mode where you select two characters and they battle in an arena of your choosing from maps you've unlocked. Nice as fighting practice to get the controls down, but it's important to keep in mind that your character only gets Zeni (money) from it, not experience.

There's also a 2-player fight that for some reason is with the multiplayer "World Tournamnent" mode...but I didn't got for that because I don't care for multiplayer as a rule as my long-time readers will well know.

But with my only real complaint being the sharp spikes in difficulty (very sharp, seriously they need to nerf some of the NPCs in quests significantly) that force the player to grind continuously and a lock-on system that does anything but, I have to say that I do find the game enjoyable. Yes, even the grinding occasionally. The combat is rather fun and engaging, which is all you can ask for in a fighting game. The difficulty curve needs a hell of a tune up and sure, it's self-insert fanfiction of the highest caliber - your character being this super badass that shows up out of nowhere and suddenly has enough power to stand shoulder to shoulder with Goku and take on 100% Power Frieza - but at least it feels like you earned it.

It is hilariously satisfying to be beaten down by Perfect Form Cell only to come back after some more training and beat him into the ground. It's an awesome feeling when you, in base form, are stretching out Majin Buu like long strings of Laffy Taffy with the techniques that you've learned and the power that you've gained. Leveling up, growing stronger, it all feels very reminiscent of the show as you grow stronger to take on the next big threat, even pushing yourself to your limit time and time again to do just that.

Get on out there, Future Warrior, time needs a-saving!

Dragon Ball: Xenoverse is now available from Dimps and Bandi Namco for Playstation 4, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, and Steam.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.

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

Thursday, April 16, 2015

MadCap's Pokemon Emerald Nuzlocke Challenge - 22 - "Whom Gods Mildly Irritate"

Alright, fellas, I want a nice, clean cataclysm...
And so, when we last left Andrew D. Luffy, the ten year old had arrived back in Sootopolis to find the legendary beasts battling for dominance. Speaking to Archie and Maxie, who had apparently put aside their differences in the face of the fact that they managed to bring on Armageddon because they were stupid, Andrew learned that the Red and Blue Orbs could not control either of their respective Pokemon.

All hope did indeed seem lost until Andrew surfed on Leviathan over to Steven, who had shown up impeccably right as the plot needed him. Seeing the need to stop this madness, Andrew journeyed with Steven up the shore to the Cave of Origin, where he was instructed to find a man named Wallace. Journeying in, Andrew met Wallace - who apparently knew of him.  Apparently, he was once the Gym Leader of Sootopolis and left his mentor in charge of it...apparently not aware that telling Andrew that is a bad idea given his track record with Gym Leaders.

Which has been anything from "violently murder" to "turn off the city's electrical grid for". Makes me wonder what part of the boy's reputation he's heard of.

Nevertheless, Andrew was told of Rayquaza, the only Pokemon that could possibly calm Groudon and Kyogre. Wallace told that he knew not where the Pokemon was, and even asked Andrew where it might be. Andrew theorized that it might be at the Sky Pillar. Wallace left to go seek it and Andrew followed after consulting the map, swearing, and getting a lot of Max Repels.
What a remarkable coincidence.
Arriving, Wallace apologized for leaving the ten year old child behind in a dangerous cave. He also, because the plot needed to advance, opened the door to the Sky Pillar. An earthquake pushed them even further as they headed up to the door...and then Wallace decided to once more abandon the ten year old to a dangerous god monster. While I am well aware of the long-standing tradition that the ten year old protagonist is the only one who can get anything accomplished within the world of Pokemon, I would just like to note that Andrew has...to date...

Produced and distributed illicit drugs.
Arson.
Engaged in piracy.
Theft of an unstable meteorite.
Theft of various items from houses of people in various cities.
Destruction of property.
Caused mass panic by turning off the Mauville City Power Grid.
Murder.

.,,but is not nearly asshole enough to leave a ten year old child alone to face a raging god monster, regardless of whether or not he has the power of six monsters of his own to try and fight it. Andrew crept up the steps of the ancient tower, the environment absolutely ripe with excitement and danger...and at last, he came to the location of Rayquaza in its ancient slumber. Carefully, cautiously, he approached it and then...
...well, that was anti-climatic.
...it flew off! What an asshole!

Andrew only hoped that awakening Rayquaza had not made the situation worse, so he journeyed back to Sootopolis to see if the situation had changed. As he arrived, it seemed as though Rayquaza had indeed returned to restore balance...or possibly grant a wish from the Dragon Balls. However, the Eternal Dragon did indeed engage both Kyogre and Groudon, sending them both away before it too had disappeared.

The cataclysm, such as it was, had been averted. All was well. Next time, we deal with the clean up from everything - who is Wallace and has he any connection to the cult in Littleroot? What happened to Rayquaza? Tune in for Part 23 of MadCap's Pokemon Emerald Nuzlocke Challenge!

Pokemon Emerald is brought to us by GameFreak and Nintendo.

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: Pilot, Part 2"

It seems that so many terribly bleak futures in fiction involve one of two scenarios - either the Soviets took over, or the Nazis. It makes me abundantly glad we have some forms of science fiction where those two groups aren't actually the biggest baddies in the world. Not to downplay anything they did in the main of their respective goals, but I find it rather boring when an alternate universe story immediately jumps to "What would happen if the Soviets/Nazis won the Cold War/World War II"? Though I suppose in 1994/1995, the Cold War was still a fresh memory in the heads of most Americans, which precipitated in the creation of the second part of Slider's Pilot episode.

Following the cliffhanger of whether or not Quinn would emerge from the wormhole...he does within a few seconds of the start of the episode.

Yeah, get used to that disappointed feeling, cliffhangers very rarely amount to anything in the show as you'll soon see.

The group is overjoyed to be back home, including Rembrandt...who immediately devolves into being really pissed off that his Cadillac is now debris in an ice-nado on another Earth (he does get better, I promise) and warning Quinn to never do that again...which is beyond hilarious, as we'll soon see. He takes off in a taxi, Wade decides to go phone home, and Quinn and Arturo debate the dullness of being back home and Quinn mentions that it's odd that the timer sent them to Golden Gate Park instead of his basement...whereupon they discover a statue of Lenin where there had once been a statue of Lincoln.

Wade, too has some difficulties in using a pay phone. An identity demanded from her, Wade hangs up the phone following what she deems a boring conversation, anyway, and discovers that :"PT&T" stands for "People's Telephone and Telegraph". Rembrandt, too, finds some difficulty with the Russian cabbie and has a moderately amusing moment where he mistakes the Soviet anthem for the Canadian one.

Quinn and Arturo, meanwhile, find the hobo from their universe is apparently running for the U.S. Senate on a pro-Soviet platform that is getting critical acclaim. With Wade's return, they determine that they are definitely not on their Earth.

Rembrandt is arrested at a toll booth for using American currency, illegal now with capitalism being crushed. While his fellow Sliders avoid the looks of the secret police and Quinn resolves to fix the timer, Rembrandt gets interrogated by the Secret Police who believe he is his double from this Earth who died twelve years ago. However, thanks to him knowing of his interrogator from the Prime Earth, he only digs the hole when the Soviets they believe he's part of the American Underground. So, his lawyer hands him over to the People's Court.

...no, really, as in the show, the People's Court.

Elsewhere, the other Sliders walk through some of the sets from the DS9 episodes "Past Tense, Part I" and "Past Tense, Part II", learning of the American Underground and that they're being followed by the phone company thanks to Wade's faux paus earlier - apparently reversing the charges is a capital offense to Mother Russia.

They head off with a resistance fighter who apparently recognizes Wade...who is the Commander of the American Resistance and had apparently been captured three days ago. Wade is brought in, but Quinn and Arturo are tied up. There's a short scene of only three lines of dialogue in which Quinn speaks of a dream he had where his mother could not find him, and his discouragement at being lost. Arturo does his best to raise his student's spirits in a nice little scene that shows their dynamic.

Eventually, they're brought before the Rebel Sub-Commanders, who apparently believe Wade's story that they're from a parallel universe. Apparently, this universe's Wade is being held at the former Southern California University, which is now a maximum security prison run by Civilian General Maximilian Arturo.

And now I get to do a counter gag.

Times the Sliders Have Run into Parallel Versions of Themselves: 3

Nobody tosses a Russian!
Enjoy that number. It's going to get ridiculously big by the end of this.

Long story short, the Sliders learn that America lost the Korean War, which ended with America being economically isolated from the rest of the world and collapsed, the exact opposite of what happened on our Earth. On a television set, the group apparently finds a live broadcast of the People's Court as Rembrandt is indeed on the show in question. Because the easiest way to get rid of a suspected guerrilla freedom fighter as quickly and quietly as possible...is to put him on national television. Rembrandt attempts to summarize the events of the first part of the episode to the Judge, who'll have none of it and throws the book at him.

The Underground determines, somehow, that Rembrandt and their version of Wade Welles are being kept in the same facility - how convenient. Quinn comes up with a plan to get them into the prison using Arturo to imitate his double. Thanks to Arturo putting on a rather stuck up commandeering attitude and passing a handprint scanner, they get through. While they assume all will go to plan, one soldier is suspicious and decides to call this universe's Arturo up.

In the prison, Rembrandt gets released and the search for the Resistance's version of Wade gets underway...then the alarms go off and all hell breaks loose. After a hectic firefight, the Resistance makes it's daring escape with Wade...who has been shot in the back. In another moment of "Jerry O'Connell deserved a way better career than he got", we see Quinn completely overcome with despair at the thought of Wade dying...only for us to learn that it was, in fact, the duplicate of this universe who perished, not our Wade.

Kind of a callous moment, all things considered, but his Wade is okay, so that's all that matters.

Also, Quinn promises to get Wade home. Stow that thought away for a while, it's going to hurt later.

Nevertheless, the Resistance gathers he wounded to be disposed of properly and Rembrandt gives a hell of a rendition of "Amazing Grace". With resources from the Resistance, Quinn and the Professor are able to repair the timer and, with the Professor's calculations, they might be able to have a better chance at controlling where they slide. The four leave the resistance and are immediately accosted by an official who demands to see their papers. Wade does the only logical thing at this point and kicks the guy right in the joy department, after which the group flees back to Golden Gate Park whilst being pursued.

After a tense few seconds of the timer playing dead, Quinn opens the wormhole and they escape. Finding the statue of Lincoln instead of Lenin, and the hobo from before sleeping and dreaming of the joys of Communism, they seem to have returned home. They take a taxi back to Quinn's place, Quinn doing the final test with the squeaky hinge on the gate to determine that they are, in fact, home at last. It is a joyous return and Quinn's mother invites them all to dinner. Over it, they debate what their next move is, Arturo giving the suggestion that they should destroy it due to the negative repercussions it could have, though Quinn is the more optimistic about sliding in general and the multitude of worlds that could be paradise out there on the dimensional plane.

Nevertheless, it seems that they're all back home and all is well...until Michael Mallory walks in the door. Quinn's father who, as it was mentioned in Part One, died in a car accident twelve years ago...which lets the Sliders all know they're not on their Earth and the journey still continues. The last scene is particularly powerful, all of the Sliders giving non-verbal reactions to the news that they're not on their own Earth as they believed, everyone very well displaying feelings of despair and agony.

That is until Quinn melodramatically drops a wine glass that ruins the subtlety of the moment.

So, for the second part of the first episode, it's pretty good. There's a bit too much in the way of conveniences as far as the plot goes and you can tell right away that the Sliders running into duplicates of themselves is not only going to be a thing, but is going to become old very, very quickly. Even so, pretty much everything I said about Part 1 applies here as well. We have our characters, they're pretty well defined, they have their mission, and the writers and producers have five whole seasons to completely demolish all of it. What a journey we have before us!

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

Monday, April 13, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins" (1985)

There are certain films that you see that just defy all explanation. You sit mesmerized, wondering how this script got greenlit and how what you're seeing on the screen is even possible. Then there are films where you do all that, and then come to a conclusion: this film is awesome!

And that is the only way I can describe Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. The film had director Guy Hamilton behind it, who you might remember as being the director of four separate James Bond films, which is a hell of a pedigree and fits perfectly for an espionage action film.

Couple that with the 1980s and the likes of Schwarzenegger and Stallone wielding implausibly big guns and spouting off witty Pre-Mortem One-Liners and you're sure to have an epic film, no?

What? Did my opening paragraph not make that clear?

We start with NYPD cop and Vietnam War veteran Sam Makin (Fred Ward) on patrol through a neighborhood, business as usual. However, he has no knowledge of the fact he's walking right into a trap set by CURE, a secret organization that wants to recruit him to be their next assassin. His death is faked and as the funeral of Sam Makin takes place, "Remo Williams" is born. His face is surgically altered, as are his fingerprints, to give him a whole new identity.  And before you start crying about how this is a Robocop rip-off, let me remind you that that came out in 1987 - two years after this film.

Also, this film very quickly moves into definitely-not-Robocop territory.

It's also important to note the origin of Remo Williams. The character's first appearance was not actually in this film, but in The Destroyer series of novels by authors Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, and this film pretty faithfully follows the concept.

Getting back to the plot, "Remo" gets the lowdown from his handler Conn MacCleary (JA Preston) and the head of CURE Harold Smith (Wilford Brimley) about their organization. "Remo" was chosen because he has no connections and thus wouldn't be missed as he was taken in to train as an assassin for CURE - an organization that operates outside of the law in order to see that those who corrupt or pervert the American justice system receive their punishment anyway.

To this end, he is taken to meet Chiun (Joel Grey), a Korean martial arts master. Thus begins Remo's training in the art of "Sinanju", a martial art that is as deadly as it is fictional. All three of the supporting roles play them very well. Grey as Chiun is a purebred and proud Korean who has rather outrageously hilarious moments of sexism and racism (against non-Koreans) and a fondness of soap operas. He's also completely able to defy the laws of physics thanks to being the world's only master of Sinanju.

It's also important to note both Wilford Brimley and JA Preston's roles in the film.  As MacCleary, Preston reminds me of a kinder version of "X" from the X-Files, very enigmatic and covert but without being a complete asshole to the person he's helping out. Though I suppose killing a man off and then forcing him to assume and identity is a bit of an asshole move, even if it's for the greater good.

And Wilford Brimley...well, he's Wilford Brimley, no explanation needed. The man is quite believable as the head of a covert chapter of the U.S. Government and you know very well that if Remo steps out of line, Brimley will waste his wise-cracking ass with diabeetus.

Also, rounding out the main cast, we have U.S. Army Major Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) and Weapons Mogul and Department of Defense contractor George Grove (Charlies Cioffi) as the romantic lead and the villain, respectively. Mulgrew's Fleming is an individual who's in it to do her job as she demonstrates in her opening scene and pretty much follows that through the entire film even to the point of following Remo's rather bizarre and improvised strategies for getting to and taking care of Grove.

Grove, as the villain, is a bloodthirsty businessman who tries to strongarm the military into taking the contract on the new rifles his company has made for them, regardless of the fact that they're defective to the point of killing a soldier during a test exercise. That along with many other crimes that are described in the film by Wilford Brimley's Magical Computer of Exposition, have put him in the sights of CURE and thus Remo.

And so as to not leave the main character out of my short analysis, Remo is exactly what you'd expect from the typical 80s action hero minus the one-liners. He's cocky, snarky, and just plain arrogant to a point, all of which get tempered by his training with Chiun. Though he gets to near superhuman levels, Remo at first is a pretty adequate combatant and is not afraid to use his environments to his advantage, such as a rather tense sequence on the Statue of Liberty (no, really, the poster doesn't lie) where he takes out some thugs sent after him rather creatively.

Of special note is the relationship between Remo and Chiun who are the two characters who share the most screen time. Though Remo is at first reluctant to be taken under the Sinanju Master's wing, they quickly develop a master-student relationship to a point where Chiun is very proud of what Remo has accomplished in such a short time in spite of his handicaps - namely being White and not Korean - and if he were ordered to kill him by CURE, he would do so but would be very disappointed because of that fact. And the fact that it's Remo and Chiun who ride off (on a boat, no less) into the sunset speaks to...needing a rather hilarious line from Chiun to close out the film. But it does show the pair of them, heading off for another adventure...which sadly never got made.

The last twenty minutes or so of the film very much feels like a Bond movie - with the villain putting to use an elaborate death trap for Remo (a gas chamber) and Remo escaping it by ridiculously awesome means (using a henchman's diamond tooth to cut through glass), as well as how the villain is finally dispatched...or how he would be before he survives it and then Remo puts to use his skills in Sinanju to blow up a vehicle using only a twig that he rubs fast enough between his hands to set on fire and a trail of gasoline. Kind of goes from a Bond film to Looney Tunes right there, but it's so ridiculously awesome that I didn't even care.

While this may seem ridiculous in a film, it's important to note that the source material wasn't meant to be taken one hundred percent seriously either. The Destroyer series of novels were actually meant to heavily satire old pulp action adventure novels from the 1930s as well as many other aspects of martial arts, espionage, and politics. Something like that, of course, makes for a perfect 80s action film - a shining jewel in an era of super serious and yet utterly cheese action films.

Sadly, the public in the 80s didn't think so. The film got mixed reviews from critics and didn't do all that well at the box office, though it's since gotten a cult following with video and DVD re-releases that are likely more popular now in an era where we can point back and laugh at the absurdity of the previous years.

However, this doesn't mean that the film had no impact and that the novels wouldn't once more be brought back into the public consciousness through a new adaptation. Apparently, even as we speak, Sony is working on a new version "The Destroyer" with Shane Black helmed to direct it. Though if we get him, I'm cautious because of the fact that he directed Iron Man 3, which was a gigantic pile of shi-oh, wait, I haven't reviewed that yet, have I?

Guess I'll have to get my Marvel retrospective up and running again.

But summing up Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, it's an awesome film. Good action, decent pacing, quotable as all get out, and an all around fun time. What's not to love?

Remo Williams: The Adventure begins is now available from Dick Clark Productions, MGM, and Orion Pictures on DVD and on Netflix Instant Streaming.

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

Friday, April 10, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge"

If I haven't made it clear before, let me do so now: if there's two things I love, it's time travel and games in the Banjo-Kazooie series before 2007. So, when I found out about a Game Boy Advance release known as Grunty's Revenge that involved copious amounts of time travel, I figured it would be a shoe-in for a game I'd enjoy.

And I was right.

Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge is a game that is supposed to be slotted into canon just after the original Banjo-Kazooie and before Banjo-Tooie, making this a sort of inter-equal between the two good games in the series. Of course, with time travel you have a bunch of potential wormholes that will crop up with Banjo and Kazooie meeting some characters that they won't until Banjo-Tooie and then not remembering them in those games. My answer to that? Shut the hell up, we have a good Banjo-Kazooie game.

The story picks up two months after the bear and bird rather epicly rescued Banjo's sister Tooty - not appearing in this game (or any of the others after the first, which probably bugs me more than it should) - with Banjo and Kazooie kicking it old school and Gruntilda the witch still trapped under a rock. However, Gruntilda decides that where magic has failed she can apply the cold hand of science to defeat the bear and bird. So she has her minion Klungo make a robotic chasis for her which she then puts her soul into, no doubt contributing to her body's skeletal state by the beginning of Banjo-Tooie.

Deciding to kill two birds with one stone (or rather, kidnap a bird with a robot body) Grunty kidnaps Kazooie on the logic that splitting up the pair will make them unable to stop her dastardly plans. To further complicate the issue, she travels twenty years into the past with the bird. Getting help from Mumbo Jumbo, Banjo gets a DeLorean spell cast on him and after speeding up to eighty-eight miles per hour is whisked back to Spiral Mountain in the past.

Grunty's castle is still being built and a mole by the name of Bozzeye is around to be the move teacher this time around, Banjo having forgotten all of the moves from the previous game thanks to plot amnesia. And so, the race is on to save Kazooie and then defeat Gruntilda for the third time...which is really the second time, but also the first time.

Confused? Don't be. Wibbley wobbley, timey wimey and all that.

The loop is closed at the end of the game by the defeat of Gruntilda and her return to her robot body, whereupon she orders Klungo to send a letter off to her sisters to come and save her, setting into motion the events of Banjo-Tooie. No doubt, also, the mucking around with time deleted Banjo's sister Tooty and allowed L.O.G. to claw its way into the Banjo-Kazooie universe. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The move sets had to be changed up a bit for the handheld, which I can get behind. Kazooie not being able to fly this time is at least excused by something other than "wanting to reach out to a new demographic". But pretty much everything else is what you'd expect had you played the two console N64 games. Various jumps, eggs Kazooie can use, various ways to smack against the ground and lay down some hurt on any enemies unfortunate enough to be underneath the bear and bird, and so on.

The graphics are also pretty good for the area, using a top down design to try and replicate the feel of the console versions...with mixed success for obvious reasons. And while it doesn't feel altogether cluttered, there are points where Banjo won't be able to go somewhere that it very obviously seems like he should be able to and force the player to do walk around until they can actually find the proper elevation that they're at.

This also makes the very, very rare fall several hundred feet down to one's death hilarious.

But those minor issues aside, the game is pretty solid overall. Definitely has that Rare magic and lets it flow, perhaps one of the last truly great efforts of that once proud developer. It's a bit short, even for a handheld but as the first game that Rare made after being purchased by Nintendo, it may very well be one of their last truly good games. A bit of an underwhelming note considering the heights they had achieved, but considering the depths to which they later sank...we could have seen a lot, lot worse...

Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty's Revenge is now available from Rareware and THQ for Game Boy Advance.

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

MadCap's Pokemon Emerald Nuzlocke Challenge - 21 - "Current Events"

Oh, look. More water...how refreshing.
Okay, so following some trouble with direction - apparently the Shroomish Highs were getting to him - Andrew found his way to Route 126.  With the power of the mighty Q-Tip, Andrew was able to swab out a Chinchou that was put under the name of "Fryfish" and brought onto the team to fill the sixth slot on the team.  He also found his way to Route 127...and then finaaaaaaally found the damn sub...that...he was urged to do because...plot monkeys.

...alright, I haven't been good about separating in-universe from out of universe up to this point, why start now?

Determining that the traitorous bastards did indeed steal this sub back in Part 18, Andrew decided to head up to the shore and give them a piece of his mind. Before that could happen, you know it and I know it, there was an epic leveling montage. And of course, since we're surrounded by water - use the appropriate music. Yep, just like that.
Stop taking all my pun, I'm almost out of fish shtick!
Following an epic montage, Fryfish became a Lanturn and was further leveled to meet the standards of the rest of the team. With the team ready, Andrew and his brood moved from the shore and into a cave without resistance. The mighty Strength of Veruca could push boulders and open the way...and then Andrew had to go back out again because solving a simple floor puzzle was beyond his puny, little, drug-addled ten year old mind. He decided to take out some of his aggression on some Team Aqua Grunts, who all lined up happily for their beatings.
That's what she said...
Following that, Andrew was subjected to more wandering and more floor puzzles culminating in a water current puzzle...which is just asking me to hate this with a fiery passion. After some imagined difficulty in figuring out the pattern, Andrew was accosted by more Team Aqua Grunts before finding ANOTHER friggin' boulder puzzle. This was, of course, only helped with a healthy dose of the Pokemon's own version of cave herpes - the Zubat.

But after getting through some more artificial difficulty, Andrew found his way into a chamber with a giant whale Pokemon known as Kyogre and was assaulted by former comrade in eyepatch-y pirate-y-ness Archie. Furthering the betrayal, Archie challenged Andrew to combat. It was a tough fight, with some close calls, but Andrew and his team prevailed and got to witness Kyogre rising from the waves at the beckoning of the Red Orb.
"Don't move...can't see us if we don't move..."
Archie is informed of heavy rain and decides to head out before the Origami Killer shows up. In reality, it's apparently raining so hard that it's harming the members of Team Aqua...which wasn't part of the plan, or something.  And then, suddenly, Team Magma grunts led by Maxie showed up apparently wondering what in the Hell Archie had done. With them, Andrew heads out to see the world that has been created by the massive downpour. Apparently, upsetting the balance of nature by releasing two legendary Pokemon who can command both the land and the sea is a bad thing...never would have imagined that!

Maxie and Archie head off to right the wrongs they've created, and then suddenly Steven arrives out of nowhere.  Apparently, Hoenn's going both hot and cold with the drastic weather changes and if something doesn't change quickly, all of Hoenn may drown...considering about eighty percent of the damned land mass is water, Andrew didn't really get the worry.  However, Steven is dropping hints that Andrew must journey back to Sootopolis, since the answers will most likely be there and the plot can continue.

So Andrew did indeed take the first Q-Tip there, whereupon a cutscene showed an epic clash between Groudon and Kyogre...which could very well spell disaster for the City...see if it does, next time...

Pokemon Emerald is brought to us by Nintendo and Game Freak.

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

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: Pilot, Part 1"

"What if you could slide into a thousand different worlds? Where it's the same year and you're the same person, but everything else is different? And what if you can't find your way home?"

Hi, I'm the MadCapMunchkin, and that pretentious little opener is the intro to my new segment, "From MadCap's Couch", where I'll dvelve into the untapped market of television show reviewing (because, y'know, nobody does that or anything). And the quote in question comes from the first series on the chopping block - Sliders.  Some of you who were actually around in the mid-90s might actually remember Sliders, a show that was pitched as "Quantum Leap with an edge".

Personally, I find that a bit of a overstatement - Sliders isn't nearly that good.

But this show brought the Multiverse theory into popular consciousness in the mid 1990s. A young man living in his basement in San Francisco is somehow smart enough to build a stable Einstien-Rosen bridge and be able to "slide" between parallel universes, which can only lead to whacky hijinks through the multiverse.  And indeed it did, for five seasons. Three of them were on FOX, and anyone who knows the history of FOX and science fiction will know that that is one hell of an achievement.

But we're starting at the beginning of the little show that could, and start it does with a title card reading "In a San Francisco basement...". Via video recording, we are introduced to Quinn Mallory (Jerry O'Connell) doing his best insane spastic impression as he describes the first appearance of a wormhole through his research. Quinn is a brilliant scientific mind, rather lazy and unmotivated, but with a good heart.

I'm not saying that Jerry O'Connell would have made a better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire, but I am saying if he'd been bitten by a radioactive spider during Sliders, I wouldn't have been all that surprised.

Cell phones were also a good bit bulkier in the 90s.
Sadly, that doesn't happen, but it appears that Quinn has been working in his mother's basement on an anti-gravity device that didn't remotely go as planned - instead creating a shimmering silver portal. Through the use of VHS tapes (VHS tapes, for my young viewers, are those things we had before DVDs and the internet), we see Quinn's documented progress as he does careful examination of these portals, coming to the conclusion that he's been creating wormholes.

Following this, we get a chuckle-worthy scene with a hobo shouting out the praises of Communism as Quinn runs to class and meets Professor Maximilian Arturo, played by the legendary John Rhys-Davies.  The man is British as all get out, and highly based in logic and reason as we'll soon see. His main purpose in his introductory scene is to show that he does not remotely approve of Quinn's rather lackadaisical attitude toward his studies, the young man instead sketching wormholes during a lecture. Though conversely, Quinn holds him in high esteem - going out of his way to read the man's published papers that aren't on the class list.

The next scene introduces the third future Slider - Wade Welles, played by Sabrina Lloyd, who works at the Doppler computer store with Quinn. Wade is the more humanizing element to the cold science of Arturo and to a lesser extent Quinn (when she's being written properly, anyway). It's also abundantly obvious that there's some not-so-repressed feelings between her and Quinn, though on who's side it's greater can vary from episode to episode (and indeed moment by moment). More on that later.

They also have an irredeemable asshole boss...who is an irredeemable asshole boss.

This is a wormhole. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
Quinn later returns home, going through a fence with a squeaky gate (remember that, it'll be important later) and heads back into his basement and stares at a chalkboard where he has worked out his formula for generating the wormholes. He watches another video, showing that he has been sending objects through the wormholes and has developed a device to bring said objects back from the other side...which apparently works as demonstrated by a basketball returning from the wormhole. So, being that he's unwilling to send his cat and apparently trying to send the camera through ruins the picture (how convenient!), Quinn decides he will go through the gateway himself.

Normally I'd have a problem with this, but from the clips from his tapes we can see that he's been doing this for several months and running several tests. So one really can't say that he's rushing this, but after all if he didn't do it at all, we'd have no plot. With the device set for fifteen minutes, Quinn leaves some blunt force foreshadow-y words on a video tape for his mother before opening a wormhole (which, I forgot to mention is a pretty cool effect for the time) and journeying through...to find that he apparently just walked through into the same room with no luck.

Everything seems to be normal...until he runs a green light. This is couple with the announcer on the radio spouting statements that make no sense, such illegal immigrants going into Mexico, global cooling, and vinyl replacing CDs as Quinn begins to work out that something has gone very, very wrong. This is capped off by the ultimate alternate universe wish - Elvis alive and apparently performing at the Mirage in Las Vegas.

Quinn returns home to find the front gate makes no squeaky noise as it does in his universe...and his mother is pregnant by their gardener...upon which time his timer goes off and he's pulled back into his own universe via the wormhole. Though this creates a bit of a plothole with a simple question...is San Fransisco traffic so minute that you can literally go out driving for fifteen minutes and get back so easily? I'd imagine at some point after seeing the Elvis advertisement he'd slide out and the car would hilariously smack into a newstand or something...but that would require more budget.

Nevertheless, Quinn does actually return to his own basement and universe. He's overjoyed until he arrives in Arturo's class...where apparently the man is outright furious with him, leaving Quinn rather completely confused. This continues when he arrives at the computer store, where Wade tells him that he's been fired and he apparently kissed her. Naturally, Quinn's completely out of sorts and Wade is not amused. And so, depressed about the loss of his job and his civil relationship with his mentor, Quinn decides to head down to his basement and get in touch with himself.

...that is to say, an alternate version of himself.

...okay, this sounds bad any way I put it, an alternate version of Quinn has arrived in this universe and has apparently been causing his counterpart all the trouble that's been going on, but has also solved the equation on the chalkboard. He explains the multiverse theory for the audience, and coins the term 'Slider', which Quinn (the main Quinn, not the other Quinn) takes a liking to. He also explains that the sliding is completely random, likening it to a roulette wheel with an infinite number of slots. The alternate Quinn speaks of the universe he's traveled to, the wonder of sliding, and tries to impart something important...before he disappears without being able to tell what it is.

The Stargate is open! I repeat, the Stargate is open!
Following this, Wade and Professor Arturo (the latter no doubt bribed with a role in a Peter Jackson film) arrive at the Mallory residence at Quinn's behest. And now, finally, almost thirty minutes into the first part of the Pilot episode, we are introduced to the fourth and final Slider, Rembrandt "Crying Man" Brown, played by Cleavant Derricks. Rembrandt ends up becoming not only the only cast member to remain for all five seasons of the show (spoiler alert), but also one of the most beloved and proactive characters in the series (when he's written right).

Starting out, however...he's a largely shallow, egotistical washed up has-been of a singer who is only concerned with his career, his comeback, and his Cadillac.

In Quinn's basement - the "Batcave" as Wade calls it - Arturo sees that Quinn has solved the Unified Field Theory, something which he is far, far less than pleased with. He takes issue with finding out that the answer to how to travel between parallel universe could be found in a junkyard, Quinn just deciding to say nothing and simply show them that a wormhole is indeed possible. Thus, with the chance to travel between parallel universe before them, the trio decide to take a joyride, increasing the power just enough so that the wormhole not only takes them in...but also journeys to find Rembrandt and drag him in while he's on his way to sing at a Giants game.

While Rembrandt and his Cadillac is thrown into a icy landscape, Quinn, Wade, and Arturo appear in the Mallory's basement on this new world. The trio in the house find a photograph of Quinn's family, including a sister he never knew he had (stow that thought away for a few seasons, it's gonna hurt later), and determined that they have indeed slid into a new world that has apparently been overcome by an Ice Age. They meet a confused Rembrandt and all crowd together in his Cadillac for warmth.

Tragedy strikes, however, when an ice-nado starts coming their way to ensure their demise. Despite his fear that alternating the timer will damage their changes of getting home, Quinn prematurely activates it and they escape right before the nick of time to emerge in what appears to be Golden Gate Park...though it appears that Quinn didn't make the journey through, ending the first part of the episode on a cliffhanger.

As for the first part, though, it's a rather strong start to the series. Sure, we haven't gotten into the "lost and jumping between parallel universes" yet, but we have had the rules established as well as the characters all being brought in and their motivations known - though it's important to note that Rembrandt almost feels like an afterthought by the writers. Almost thirty minutes into a forty minute episode, he comes in. However, he is established in just a few scenes as his starting personality type. He's not the loveable, endearing everyman that he becomes, but that comes with time and there are eighty-seven episodes to go from here.
"When this baby hits eighty-eight miles per hour..."
It's a strong start, throws us right into things, and doesn't feel the need to overexplain or use nonsensical technobabble. All things considered, it's definitely a strong start to the series. Come back next week, where we'll continue our exciting adventure into the multiverse, and things will be getting a little more Red...

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

Friday, April 3, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts"

Well, this is it...the shoe-in for the worst game of 2015. I'm not even going to act like I'm going to sugar coat it. When we get to the Worst Games of 2015 List, expect this to be at the top of the list, if not in the number one slot. It has taken me seven years - seven freaking years - to get to a place where I could write down anything on this without wanting to go into a murderous rage and killing every living thing in a ten block radius. This represents the complete and utter corruption and ruination of my cherished childhood memories of playing the original two games in the series - both of which I've reviewed here on my blog, go now and avoid the rush.

Now, I remember the premiere teaser, coming out when Rare was bought out by Microsoft and we thought things were going to do so very well - and the game looked great! Sure, it was just a trailer, but it showed Banjo and Kazooie looking pretty much as we'd known them since the previous two games. A little blockier, sure, but they were definitely the bear and bird without a doubt. And, for the first time in eight years, they would be back!

I remember my exact feeling the first time I looked at the cover. "At last! I can't believe tha-why does Banjo have a wrench?

...this game is gonna suck, isn't it?"

"Gonna Fly Noooooooow!" ...if only we had our old moves.
And suck it did, so very much.  I assuaged my fears with the old adage of "never judge a book by it's cover"...I wish I hadn't done that. I wish I had taken this game and thrown it into a wood chipper, giggling all the while. But I didn't know, I thought that maybe, just maybe, something could would come out of it. After all, this wasn't some other production company that came in and screwed everything up like Capcom did with Devil May Cry 2. This was Rare! The company that made some of the best games for the Nintendo for years!

...and now don't. Because of Microsoft.  Thanks, assholes!

But I'm getting off topic and there's a lot of crap to get through, so let's get started.  It's been eight years since the Bear and Bird suited up in that blue backpack and those yellow shorts to take on the evil witch Gruntilda.  In this time, they've gotten fat to the point where when Banjo jumps up, he shakes the camera upon hitting the ground.  Grunty has dug her way back to Spiral Mountain at long last, still nothing more than the skeletal head she was reduced to at the end of Banjo-Tooie. It will finally be an epic battle of bird, bear, and witch...until a self-righteous man with a television for a head intercedes.

He/it introduces him/itself as the "Lord of Games" or "L.O.G.", no doubt symbolizing the smelly brown expulsion that this game is. Believe me when I tell you, if you're not a fan of the franchise, this character is all you're really going to remember about this game.  If you are a fan of the franchise, this character is the physical manifestation of everything you hate about this game. L.O.G. is smug, condescending, and dismissive of the previous games and characters - calling Banjo and Kazooie's moves from the previous games "outdated" and referring to them and Gruntilda as "has beens" - and he just casually breaks the fourth wall rather than the minute references and jokes that the previous games had.
If I win, do I get a game that doesn't suck?
Yes, Banjo and Kazooie and others in the games were aware they were in games - that was part of the charm. But they didn't take every opportunity to point that out, then wink and smile at the camera in a ridiculously melodramatic manner that's just begging for an audience laugh track to play behind it to complete the superbowl of mediocrity.

Oh, and his face is every loading screen. I mean, all of them. You will get sick and tired of being sick and tired of seeing him.

But L.O.G., in his/its infinite wisdom, creates two vehicles for the bear and bird and witch and brings them all into a world of his creation - Showdown Town. Here is actually where I have some praise for the game - I like the art style. Showdown Town and the various worlds do have interesting visual designs and, while they're not all perfect or pretty to look at, are very distinct and have their own flavor - much like the previous two games.

And sinking back firmly into hatred - L.O.G. gives Kazooie a magic wrench instead of the moveset from the previous two games that allows the player to pull their car to them, pull objects to them, and have a melee attack. Of course, Kazooie doesn't do the rational thing and shove the wrench right up the Lord to Blame's ass and, of course, you can't kill him in the overworld because, y'know...he's a "god".

From there, we learn more of the car mechanics (no pun intended). Mumbo Jumbo and Humba Wumba, the magical experts who have aided Banjo and Kazooie through their adventures before with their might of spellcraft, are now the owner of a garage where Banjo can work on his cars and a vehicle parts and blueprints shop owner, respectively. Way to completely take out some of the whimsy and fun of the previous games, Microsoft. The magic transformations were a different way facing certain challenges without having to resort to throwing out everything about the game including the kitchen sink.

When we finally do get into the worlds - which, again, do look very distinct - I just have to ask a simple question: where is everything? For worlds that are split up into levels - yes, split up into acts when Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie needed only one world with no acts to put in all of its content, try to wrap your brain around that one - there is so much empty space. Vast empty strands of nothing.  I may sound like a broken record repeatedly saying "In the previous games" but...in the previous games...not an inch of the worlds were wasted. Everything that was there needed to be there and served some kind of purpose, even if it was just aesthetic.

Take the first world that opens, "Nutty Acres". If you bypass Klungo as you're instructed and just mosey your way on into the world on Banjo's motorized shopping trolley...there's nothing for you. You wander around through the island paradise and occasionally come across one of Grunty's clockwork minions to either run over or fight, but those are surprisingly few and far between. Why? Because that would mean you would have things to do as you explored the world and tried to enjoy the unique flavor and style of things.

And we can't very well have that, damn it! We've got cars to drive!
Next time, Mumbo not hit Mighty Mumbo Peace Pipe before signing contract...
The previous games rewarded exploration with finding secret areas and items, even something like a Jiggy that could have just been hiding out on a cliffside or a Jinjo under a dock.  It's part of what made the Banjo-Kazooie games. It wasn't some mad dash to collect a bunch of unnecessary objects, they were things that the duo needed in order to complete their quest. But here...you don't have that in any of the worlds. There's no reason to go exploring, you're just literally driving from point to point to point. Go here, talk to this NPC to get a quest, go complete the quest, come back to the NPC for your reward. Boom, end of act.  It's all formulaic and by the book and so not Banjo-Kazooie that it hurts.

There are moments -brief moments - where I still see some of that Rare magic. Banjo and Kazooie remain as engaging a duo as ever, Gruntilda has fallen back into her rhyming from the first game and remains as transparently evil as ever, and even most of the returning friendly NPCs still retain their hilarity and charm from the previous games. But it's bogged down by the almighty Lord of Things of Which Microsoft Should Be Ashame...d, the continued deprecation of the first two games, and the complete change in not only controls, but also the very feeling of the game. This is not a Banjo-Kazooie game. Hell, if it weren't for the slightly more than superficial trappings, I'd find it hard to call this a Rare game.  This makes no sense, it was nothing something that should have even been attempted.
Oh, go sit on an Atari joystick...
So, my question is...who in the Hell was this for? Fans of the previous games? No, you  alienated them from the jump with the Lord of Insurance Claim calling the characters a bunch of "has-beens" and all but talking smack about how much the first two games suck. Fans of car games? Then why not just make a car game? Microsoft certainly has no problem wasting whatever talent Rare has left in making things for the Kinect, they could have probably just made a generic racing game in no time at all.

If you didn't care, you shouldn't have attempted. If you did care, you should have found a way to do better than this.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts is now available from Rare Ltd. and Microsoft for Xbox 360.

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