Friday, August 28, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems"

Oh, this game...

Believe it or not, I was once not the snarky twenty-something who posts reviews about games (and various other things) on the internet. Once I was a snarky six or seven year old and I got my hands on this for my Super Nintendo. Being that I'd been a fan of superheroes ever since I was a kid, as I've gone into many times here on this blog, seeing this as the cover, how could I resist? It looks awesome!

I mean, you have Spidey front and center, Wolverine with his epic claws out, Captain America letting out a freaking death howl, and Iron Man with a fist raised to punch some evil-doer right in the fact, and - to top it all off - you got Hulk at the back ready to smash in the face of any fool stupid enough to get in his way.

Basically put, this game - by its cover alone - looks so stupidly awesome!

And now we've come to a time where Marvel is bigger than ever...something I did an entire retrospective of the pre-Age of Ultron films of and have been keeping up with the movies as they've come out, something which I do so very, very little. So, looking back on this little gem (no pun intended), I decided to dig out my old SNES and see if it was indeed the awesome button mashing adventure it was in my youth.

...only problem was I couldn't find my SNES. No idea where it is. Thus, to the internet and emulators. Huzzah indeed! Hence, I was taken back into the 90s and the War of the Gems. Adam Warlock has summoned to him five Heroes with Attitude in order to collect the Infinity Gems. Separately, they are six artifacts of extreme power in the Marvel universe. But when brought together, they can create an even more powerful artifact - the Infinity Gauntlet.

And, of course, with the likes of Doctor Doom, Thanos, and the Magus out and about trying to get a hold of them, he'll need the help!

The game allows you to pick from a computer at the Avengers Mansion, showing the Earth and various locations upon and above it in space where Infinity Gems might be found. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a crapshoot in that you're not guaranteed to find a Gem in each area, just that you might. So the player has to go through every section until they find the two or so Gems in each sections - baring the events that separate the plot, where a Gem is guaranteed to pop up after defeating a boss.

But after selecting a stage, you have to select one of the five heroes that have already been mentioned. The group is fairly balanced - Spidey is the smallest but also the fastest, whereas Hulk is largest but stronger than the rest. In between them, we have Wolverine as not as fast as Spidey and not as strong as Cap, and Iron Man who's stronger than Cap, but faster than Hulk.

As you might have guessed, it's a beat 'em up slide-scroller. You move from left to right (directional orientation changing only rarely), you punch a bunch of lower-tier enemies before moving on to punch a bigger enemy. There are, of course, occasions where there's a mini-boss shows up, but for the most part, it stays true to form.

When the player gets a Gem, they are actually able to use them as equip items for certain bonuses - such as the Power Gem increasing a player's physical combat strength or the Soul increasing a player's health meter - items can also be picked up in the levels or awarded for completing the Avengers training room, which will pit the player in a one on one fight against one of various enemies from the game. If the player does well enough, they can get health pickups or a Revive for a fallen character.

On the whole, it's not a difficult game. Once you learn the boss attack patterns, it can be ridiculously easy (I found even Thanos could be taken down by Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man without breaking too much of a sweat). My one major criticism would be when your character takes a particularly nasty hit, they're thrown back in a needlessly dramatic fashion, lie on the ground for a second, and then slowly get back up, which is wasting my time and several frames of animation that could have been used elsewhere.

Upon reflection, this game is pretty good and ridiculously addicting.  I found it frustrating as a youth, but that happens when you're six years old, you have no hand-eye coordination, and you don't know any better as far as video games go. It doesn't get more complicated than "punch things to get through to punch other things", but it doesn't have to. It's a beat 'em up, simplicity itself. And for a Marvel game, you could do a lot, lot worse.

Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems was developed and published by Capcom for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: Invasion"

And you thought your billboards were annoying...
Now we come to an episode of Sliders that I've been both excited for and fearful of. Excited because of the new ideas and concepts that it brings to the table...and fearful of those concepts being thrown to the wayside for cheap pathos and action schlock in the later seasons. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, let's focus on the episode before us.

We open on the TARDIS evading a missile shot from the Moon. The Doctor manages to land with his two companions, Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe Hariot, in late twentieth century England where...

[EDIT: Apologies. The intern responsible for making sure I have the right notes for this has been sacked.]

We open on the Sliders falling out of the vortex into an urban area. There's some banter about Remmy using some pads to avoid the worse aspects of falling onto the pavement while sliding before they notice that the world around them is...quiet. Very quiet. There's a definite feeling of emptiness as they walk through a San Francisco that looks, for all intents and purposes, to be completely deserted and barren, only graffiti and the garbage blowing in the wind seem to be their company as they try to discern what happened.

It's really a rather chilling scene straight out of an apocalypse film like On the Beach. The Sliders begin to poke around, Quinn realizing that something is interfering with their timer, making it impossible to get a fix on the next window. Somehow, Quinn is able to pick up the location of the disturbance on a cell phone screen - this, I remind you, being 1996 - and the group heads off to investigate.  As they head toward the source of the disturbance, they reason that whatever happened here must have done so only recently, signs of mass looting of only a short while ago are all over the place.

As they find themselves in an amusement park, an ominous hum cuts the air. Everyone wants to run away, but Quinn tells them that if they don't find the source of the disturbance, then they're likely never to get off this world.  Then Arturo points to the sky as we see...a decidedly better special effect than the Allosaurus back in "In Dino Veritas".  A mysterious, sting ray-like craft is looming down toward them, and Quinn realizes that it and the timer have their energies in sync somehow. They attempt to flee, but it's clear that the ship has them...until Quinn prematurely activates the timer. The ship goes berseker at that point, losing all control and crashing not far off and safely with our heroes not right under it, leading into the main title sequence...

Quinn explains some technobabble as to how the ship crashed thanks to him activating the timer, Arturo and Quinn taking the time to examine the ship.  Arturo has determined by a sight examination that the ship is made of an organic metal...somehow. They're also met by a man in a tuxedo and overcoat, who tells them that the "Kromaggs" (a name that has been seen by the protagonists graffiti'd onto many surfaces) aren't going to like that and will retaliate.

He tells them that the Kromaggs are marauders, conquerors, who came to their world and will eat their eyes.  However, he says that they're not from space...they're from right there. He walks off with his twin daughters (in reality two completely different looking women in garishly different dress), claiming that he does not wish to be here when the Kromaggs arrive.
"Do you read Sutter Cane?"
Because Wade has an astounding bonus to her Spot check, she managed to notice the medical bracelet on the man's hand, apparently from a place called "Gatehaven".  She mentions that her uncle worked at Gatehaven, on their world, a loony bin.  Quinn theorizes that, when the Kromaggs invaded, the inmates were set free in the city while everyone else ran off.  In spite of all of this, Arturo still wants to pick apart the space ship.

Remmy and Wade not being complete idiots insist that they should leave well enough alone, but Arturo won't be dissuaded and Quinn says that someone or something might be hurt in there, tells the others to keep their eyes peeled for any other ships, and promising that they won't be long. Again, the music is very ominous and the environment is very dark and foreboding as they navigate their way through the wrecked spaceship. Quinn and Arturo begin to investigate the technology, Arturo apparently able to identify that they're breathing an oxygen and nitrogen mix almost immediately, thus theorizing that the Kromaggs must come from a planet similar to Earth.

Outside, however, Remmy and Wade are both less than pleased at the idea of sticking around.  Remmy starts to rant about his backstory just before he was first picked up by the Sliders, but Wade - in a rare meta moment - tells him to stow it, since they all know how they ended up here. She laments being left out of things and we do a crossfade to reveal that it's now night.  So much for "won't be long", eh, Quinn?

Back on the ship, having been there for at least a few hours, Quinn and Arturo finally find a shrouded body...it's the Master from Buffy! Actually, it's a Kromagg - an ape-like creature in a ridiculous-looking flight suit. They determine that it's dead, Quinn lamenting that he caused it much like he did back in "The Good, the Bad, and the Wealthy", but Arturo cuts him off, claiming that - if he did cause this - then he's a hero. The Kromagg was an invading soldier, after all. Examining its arm, Arturo finds a strange device on the wrist that he begins to try and pull off...which activates a shrieking alarm that gets them both to turn tail and run from the ship.
"I wouldn't worry, Mr. Mallory, he's only mostly dead..."
Meeting up with Wade and Remmy outside, they take off running with two Kromaggs in pursuit having apparently come from...somewhere. It's here that we get our first good look at the Kromaggs and...well, to be frank, they look ridiculous. The creature design is fairly solid with the appearance, very ape-like and beastial. But where it gets killed is their outfits - black or dark blue jump suits with red stripes all about.

And given what we will see of the Kromaggs in later seasons, this outfit and appearance are null and void anyway, so...let's move on before I go cross eyed.

The Sliders run through the abandoned amusement park in the shadow of a roller coaster, where they hide as the Kromaggs actually managed to pass them.  With twenty-three seconds until the next slide, Quinn gets ready to open the vortex...and the Kromaggs turn up the lights.  Of course, panic at being discovered doesn't keep the Sliders from having a moment together where they discuss it, Wade being freaked out by the ape-man look of the Kromaggs. Arturo points out an even more chilling revelations - the thing in it that's disturbing isn't the ape, it's the man.

Unsettling as it is, Quinn activates the timer and the vortex is opened. Remmy and Arturo head through, Wade preparing to do so as well before they both hear the sound of a vortex opening and gaze up into the sky.  Instead of the calming blue-silvery appearance of their vortex, a portal of crimson red and dark black tears open in the night sky...and a Kromagg vessel pours out from it.

The Kromaggs are Sliders!!!!

Full disclosure, the first time I ever watched this, my jaw actually dropped at that, so kudos there.

Nevertheless, with the Kromaggs on their tail, Quinn nudges Wade toward the vortex and likewise follows, leaving the two Kromaggs looking just nettled. Through the vortex, we find an enthusiastic crowd applauding as the Sliders come through - apparently Arturo landed in a bread cart upon arrival and the people found this most amusing. Arturo has learned from that interaction that they are in Versailles West on the continent of New France. And, as the Englishman that he is, Arturo is just nettled.

Super nettled.

We get some visual gags and later some snarky French waiter before there's some serious discussion about the Kromaggs, Quinn and Wade apparently having gotten Remmy and Arturo caught up onscreen. From his studies on the ship, Arturo has determined that the Kromaggs actually aren't alien, they're just as human as we are - just from a different parallel Earth where a different kind of ape evolved instead of those that became humans as we know them. But with the Kromaggs being sliders, it's determined that they need now more than ever to get back to their world and warn them.  In fact, Wade goes so far as to say that they should warn every world - starting with this one. Arturo brings up the fact that they've got no way of doing that.

We get some more snark with the waiter because...funny? Then we come back to the downed Kromagg ship on the previous world.  Kromaggs have perfected the art of convenient closed circuit television and watch a replay of Quinn and Arturo's entrance into ship, thus having a positive ID on them.
"YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP!!!! OH, GODDAMN YOU!!!"
Back in New France, Arturo has to sell off his watch due to Remmy having lost his wallet. Arturo has a rant about French stereotypes that the others are amused by until Remmy notices something in Arturo's pocket and he's forced to pull out the Kromagg wrist device.  They are naturally a little shocked that he would do this, but Arturo points out that it is the only thing that would corroborate their story about the Kromaggs should they ever return to their Earth.

A good idea, in theory, though given that tampering with it was what got them into trouble in the first place...yeah, no, Professor. That's...really rather stupid of you.  Especially when you notice that it's flashing and you can't imagine why.

Needless to say, the Kromaggs show up and scoop them up before Quinn can shoot the ship down with the timer. The four of them awaken paralyzed to four sections of wall, a woman telling them that the Kromaggs have mastered gravitational science.  She introduces herself as Mary, saying they are "prisoners of...guests...of the Kromagg Dynasty". They try to talk their way out of it, but Mary and her masters are having none of it. The Kromaggs apparently refuse to learn any human tongue, so they psychically project their words to Mary so she can interpret.

This, again, goes against almost everything we see in later seasons, but that's a bridge we've yet to cross.
I've heard of sticking around, but this is ridiculous...
Mary explains they're being taken to Earth 113, with Arturo spelling out the revelation that the Kromaggs can control sliding, something that they are still unable to do. The Kromaggs, it seems, want to know how they disabled the Kromagg ship. The Kromaggs, according to Mary, did not invade but were called in to settle a dispute, in which the Sliders intervened.

Which brings up a very interesting idea...but we'll cross the bridge when we come to it.

Mary also explains a bit as to how she became a mouthpiece for the Kromaggs, and that her world had basically accepted the Kromaggs as their superiors and the world prospered and so on.  Mary tells them that they will be debriefed on Earth 113, and their willingness to cooperate with the Kromaggs will determine their fate.

On Earth 113, Remmy laments not having food or knowing what the time is. Quinn agrees, not knowing the same given their predicament - being in a room with no windows or clocks. Quinn notes that the four of them have never been together since they arrived, the Kromaggs trying to divide and conquer them.  Remmy is called out of the cell, Quinn demanding to come along, but the Kromaggs refusing him and likewise refusing to answer Remmy's questions.  Quinn urges him to stay strong, not tell them anything.

In a large chamber, Remmy encounters an older gentleman, who he identifies as his father. Mr. Brown tells Remmy that the Kromaggs now control Earth Prime, thought apparently - as on Mary's Earth - they were welcomed. Remmy's suspicious, noting how nervous that Mr. Brown is, but he goes on to say how much the Kromaggs have benefited their world and that dozens are going to the Kromagg homeworld - a paradise to outdo Eden itself.
"No, Remmy...I am your father..."
The Crying Man, naturally not being an idiot, does not buy any of this. When Mr. Brown tries to get him to let the Kromaggs cross-check the coordinates, claiming that the Kromaggs might even let him come live on the Kromagg homeworld with him...and his kid sister. Thus, the jig is up, as Remmy didn't have a sister on Earth Prime.

We cut to Arturo returning to his cell, Remmy meeting him there. Apparently, they've been brown-nosing Arturo if he just reveals the whereabouts of their Earth. Another prison knocks on the wall and talks a bit about how the Kromaggs are keeping prisoners...some for slave labor and some for food. Arturo claims that from all he's heard, the Kromaggs are supposed to be a civilized people. The other prisoner tells him about the black market price on human eyes, echoing what the crazy man said earlier.

Apparently, though, the sliders are protected...provided they tell the Kromaggs what they want to know. Arturo reaffirms with Remmy that they keep their secrets to themselves...and then turns to see Remmy entering the cell, the one he had been speaking to gone!

...no, I already used the "What a Twist" gif.

Nevertheless, it seems the Kromaggs have more abilities than they were led to believe. In an interrogation chamber, Wade is being...interrogated...for the location of her Earth, which Wade insists she doesn't know. They also are not the advance scouts of a Sliding army. Of course, Wade tells them that even if she did know, she wouldn't tell them...at least until Quinn is brought up and they pull a Bond villain on her.

Back in the cell afterwards, Wade tells Arturo and Remmy that she told the Kromaggs about some of the worlds they had visited to try and buy them time. They realize that they're all off balance because of the Kromagg techniques, Arturo coming up with the revolutionary plan of a jailbreak. Wade brings up that they need to find Quinn, though both Remmy and Arturo point out that he may already be dead thanks to the Kromaggs.
Looks like Wade's a little blue.......stop booing me!
Quinn Mallory however - who did not die - is in an arboretum with Mary. Mary tells him that this is her private sanctuary outside of the Kromaggs' watch, that she was only able to arrange for Quinn to be here. Mary reveals that the Kromaggs have been testing them, being that they're the first homo sapiens who knew of the secrets of sliding.

...besides Quinn's double from the pilot episode who was the one who...oh, wait...wait...nevermind. Bridge crossing to be determined...

Mary explains that Quinn that the Kromaggs were a tribal people who warred endlessly until they discovered sliding and found world after world inhabited and dominated by homo sapiens who were even worse than they.  Hence, the Kromaggs formed into a Dynasty and set about conquering Earths for their own good. Quinn asks why Mary would take the risk to tell him this, and she tells him that she knows his time is numbered - the Kromaggs will put him to death - and she does not want him to die, seeing as she has never seen someone resist the Kromaggs so.

Quinn urges her to get the timer so that he and the others can escape, even offering to bring her along, but Mary says it's too late - tomorrow, the others will be killed and Quinn will be carted back off to the Kromagg homeworld for interrogation of a higher caliber. Quinn vows to resist 'til the bitter end, Mary saying that there's nothing she can do...but she passes him a plastic card with Kromagg markings on it.

Quinn comes back giving us some details about Mary that we won't care about after this episode - spoiler alert - and Quinn uses it to open their cell and let them out. The four resolve, trick or no, to get through...getting the attention of the prisoner (who might be Bennish, it's hard to tell) from earlier. Wade goes over with the card, resolving to get him out...with us seeing that his eyes have been torn out by the Kromaggs. He tells them that it's too late for him...and for them.
"You don't need eyes where we're going!!!!"
 He screams for the guards and the others take off down the corridor. They fight and run through the few they run into, Quinn destroying some sliding equipment of the Kromaggs along the way to see that they can't use it. This time, however, sees that the Kromaggs catch up to and corner them...

...and then Mary shows up with a laser gun to cover their escape. With the timer back, they can slide but it has to be on the world that they came from. Conveniently, Mary has set the slide device to take them right back there! The others head through, but Quinn remains behind as Mary is shot, dying on the floor as she says that the Kromaggs had taught her more than they ever knew...never knowing she'd do something like this. She urges him toward his freedom, Quinn telling her that the Kromaggs were wrong concerning her backstory...etc., etc.
"I never took...the Kobayashi Maru test...until now. What do you think...of my solution?"
She dies, and Quinn goes through the gate. The Sliders return to New France, where Arturo decides that it isn't so bad after the Kromagg prison world. Wade and Remmy chuckle at this, but Quinn is still somber after Mary's death.

EXCEPT SHE'S TOTALLY NOT! OH, MY GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWD!

We return to Earth 113, a Kromagg is debriefing her on the events - speaking aloud in English.  They have come to the conclusion that Quinn and company really don't have any idea where their world is and have actually been sliding at random this whole time. However, the Kromaggs have implanted a tracking device into one of the Sliders that will allow the Kromaggs to track their journeys.

Got all that? Good. Now forget about it, because it has almost nothing to do with what happens in Season 3. At all.

No, I'm not joking. I don't even think they get so much as a vague mention until the end of Season 3.

Mary is allowed one hour of freedom in the garden before she returns to her cage, which she tearfully thanks her Masters for...bringing into question just how much of an act she was performing.

So, let's get down to brass tacks - is this episode good or bad? Definitely a good one in my mind. The beginning is rather dark and foreboding with all the hinting of what Kromaggs are. It's very clear that there was a lot of thought put into them, rather than just making them a sort of villain of the week. It's also clear they were intended to be recurring foes, though likely not at the volume they were used in Seasons 4 and 5.

Really the idea of an enemy that not only has access to sliding technology but has more control over it than the heroes do really builds up the Kromaggs as a really, really tough and frightening force. With such power at their disposal, the Kromaggs would always be a looming threat as the Sliders traveled from world to world - the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads through every encounter with the knowledge firmly in their minds that the Kromaggs merely existed to continue conquering parallel worlds. They could show up anywhere, at any time, and the Sliders would be almost powerless to fight them or even warn other parallel worlds about them.

The keyword in that last sentence being "could" show up, not "should show up every freaking episode".

Thanks, David Peckinpah.  Thanks a lot.

The other idea that this episode brings up a little more overtly is the fact that, in new worlds, Sliders have no idea whether or not their inventions are actually doing good. Granted, this idea has been brought up before like in "El Sid", but the fact is that the Sliders generally have no idea of the history or current events of the places that they land until a little bit later in any given episode. This has most recently been demonstrated in "Greatfellas" when Remmy took the one hundred thousand dollar bribe meant for his double.

Of course, the Kromaggs are pretty irredeemably evil and bloodthirsty, so I'm more than willing to give the group a pass this time around.

Also, this is a minor note, but I actually prefer how the Kromaggs look in this episode as opposed to the later appearances where they look like Sontarans in S.S. uniforms, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Now, with all of this out of the way, you'd probably think we're done with Season Two. This feels like a season finale, am I right? A new threat established, the heroes escaping just in the nick of time, but with the promise that we'll see the enemies once again due to the tracking device implanted in one of the Sliders - all of it seems indicative of wrapping up the season. But, nope, we've got ourselves one more episode before all is said and done for Season Two.

"Knock-knock!" "Who's there?" "A completely pointless and needless complicated episode!"

Stay tuned for the end of Season 2!

Sliders and all related materials are the property of Universal.

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

Friday, August 21, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Doom & Destiny"

Remember way, way back when I reviewed Cthulhu Saves The World? Of course you do. I mentioned I liked the retro game feel and how they took a concept and made it twenty times more hilarious than it ought to be. Here I am with another game in a genre I seem to be on a kick about lately, Doom & Destiny - a game about four friends getting involved in some whacky multidimensional hijinks.

It's a little bit Dungeons & Dragons, a little bit Army of Darkness, and a little bit Sliders blended together with the retro feel of the old Final Fantasy games for the SNES, and it comes out as a wonderful butterfly of complete and utter amusement.

The game itself begins with a choice of difficulty settings before throwing us into the story of a woman trapped in a pentagram, surrounded by four magic crystals. Apparently, she is to be the instrument in some white-faced evil man's plans to enter the "Ultraworld". Unfortunately because she's not a virgin (after having some worries about how this experiment would go and deciding to have a party and inviting the entire science team), the lab is blown to smithereens.

We begin with the first chapter "Cellars and Lizards", where we're introduced to four friends heading over to a friend's house to being a new D&D campaign. Their Game Master, Benjamin, is apparently wanting to do something different and has called the four of them - Nigel, Mike, Johnny, and Francis - over to get started. When they arrive, however, they find the front door locked from the inside and decide to enter the house via Benjamin's cellar, where they find a locked door to the DM's playroom and several source books for a new roleplaying game.

Looking it over, it's a standard RPG. Going around, collecting keys, opening doors and chests, and apparently even wardrobes and closets, kill monsters, and gain levels. Your vanilla set of actions for any RPG-based hero. Between them, they end up picking up the traditional adventurer classes of fighter, rogue (ninja), healer (paladin of the Flying Spaghetti Monster), and mage.

There's a brief tutorial level where they mull around through Benjamin's basement...though the lines between reality and fantasy have clearly begun to blur. When they do finally complete the main objective of getting the key to the DM's Playroom, however, they find that it's not the room they remember, but are immediately sucked into a dimensional portal to another world. Brought before the King, they are assumed to be great heroes because of their ability to survive travel from a parallel dimension. The King decides that they can prove that their Heroes if they're bad enough dudes to save the princess from the evil Orcus.

And then, they can go recover the Necronomicon...I mean, go and fight the sinister "Unnamed".

Who is, in reality, named Dark Eidous!

...my apologies to whoever was just struck by lightning from the heavens.

Though really, this doesn't come as a huge shock  (ha!). While they react to this with the amazement you would expect, they clearly are bad enough dudes to rescue the princess. After all, any skill you get from a role playing game clearly translates into the real world. It's the same reason why I'm a ninth level fighter, a sixth level swashbuckler, a thirteenth level bard, and a fifth level wizard with a necromancy specialization.

Y'know, in real life.

Joking aside from there, the world is largely open as the mighty foursome journey out partaking in the traditional RPG activities of traipsing around opening containers, killing monsters, earning loot, and gaining levels in their respective classes. Standard stuff. Unfortunately, that comes with the same problem as many RPGs - grinding. Which, at the very least, this game bothers to make somewhat fun much like in the Symphony of the Night way with making it bright and colorful. And of course, with leveling up and killing things comes with taking their loot and adding it to your own.

Your main attributes are split up into four categories - Might, Charisma, Grit, and Dexterity. Each attribute governs two stats - Might covers Hit Points and Strength, Charisma covers your Mana and Special Attacks, Grit governs Resistance and Critical Hits, and Dexterity lords over Evasion and Speed. If you've any inkling of Dungeons & Dragons, you can likely translate to which you need to work on for which class though, top tip, make sure you're putting points into Strength and Charisma on level up as well.

Hit Points and Mana Points are used by everyone, yes everyone, and the Special Attacks are pretty awesome to boot. You're gonna wanna use them often.

Beyond that, it has the mechanics of any RPG of the Final Fantasy variety. The combat system is turn-based, which I have issues with normally, though as it's homaging the original FF games...no, I still can't really get over it. People don't fight like this, they just don't. Of course, I'm not going to hold it against the game.

Really, I can't hold much of anything against this game.  The humor is absolutely smashing. As I said before, it's a homage to the likes of Final Fantasy games of old, but it's so much more than that. There are references peppered all around to various things such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Dragonball Z, Huey Lewis and the News, and so, so much more. Really, I could make an entire review out of just all the references I was able to catch, that's how many there are!

Needless to say, with great reference comes great responsibility, and there's a lot of work done in that regard. As well as being a deconstruction of Western RPGs, JRPGs, and just about everything in between, and showing a extensive love of many, many fandoms, and yet it never feels like it's overdoing it when they dev team threw in winks here and there, some far more blatant than others and to glorious effect.

That's all I can say and all I really need to say for this. It has a fairly easy to learn system, it has good humor, and it's definitely some of the best entertainment I've ever had for five bucks. Also, there's a wonderful sequel out now. Hmm...I guess I'll just have to get on that...

Doom & Destiny is now available from Heartbit Interactive and Benjamin Ficus Productions for Xbox 360, various mobiles, Windows 8, and Steam.

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: The Young and the Relentless"

"Check his pulse, Yugi!"
Finding your own dead body? Impossible, you say. Not if you're a Slider, as we see demonstrated when our four amigos drop out of the Vortex and onto a new world...where they find Quinn Mallory face down in a swimming pool and try to resuscitate him with good ol' CPR.

And even though he is technically dead...

Times The Sliders Have Run Into Their Doubles: 10

But that's not all the double reveals we have time for today, as it seems that Wade also has a double on this world who was connected with this Quinn.

Times The Sliders Have Run Into Their Doubles: 11

You just make up for that lost time there, Sliders. Get all the doubles in!

Naturally,  the two Wades are stunned by one another's appearance...and the opening credits roll. After them, Wade with 80's hair is speaking to someone named "Gillette" about the situation while the others browse around the study, Wade finding an article about a young boy (must younger than the required age on our world) running for President.

Yuppie Wade (here after referred to as "Yade") is stunned by Quinn running around as well, given his striking resemblance to her late husband.  She is also taking the concept of parallel worlds amazingly well...likely because the plot won't work otherwise.  Quinn changes clothes and we get a short scene between himself and Wade to build on the romance subplot between the two of them that David Peckinpah will ignore.  Yade enters and introduces Mr. Gillette, a servant. While she explains the set up for the first few minutes of the episode - namely a party that she and her Quinn were throwing - Gillette takes their wet clothing to be laundered...and takes the timer as well as he is unnoticed by all.

She also explains "Edu-Learn", a computer program to give all children an education, from the rich to the poor. All of it in a bid to replace the crumbling public education system. If you're thinking this is too good to be true, it is, but that would be skipping ahead a bit.  Without her Quinn, however, the entire thing might go down the tubes...and thus Quinn, off screen, agrees to help.  In spite of Arturo and Remmy insisting that this is not a good idea in the least.

Also, Arturo mentions that if Quinn isn't convincing, there will be inquiries...which will mean the authorities and that it could compromise the slide.

Remember that. It's going to hurt later.  Twice, in fact.
"You look incredible...ly terrible, Quinn..."
Nevertheless, Quinn tells them not to worry and goes along with it.  Yade lies through her teeth about how good he looks in something that A-ha would have been embarrassed to wear circa 1985 and when Remmy and Arturo mention being there for morale support, she mentioned that they can't - they're both over 30, and her Quinn had few senior associates outside of the house staff.

Quinn suggests that the two of them head to the city, which will in no way lead to shenanigans. Whomp-whomp.

Quinn and Yade attend the party, Quinn having a few hits and misses as we're introduced to some characters including actual important ones like Kyle Beck who wants to reaffirm if Quinn is 100% onboard on Edu-Learn. Yuppie Wade pulls him away, however, before the questioning can get too direct.

Meanwhile, Rembrandt and Arturo have made their way to the Lamplighter Pub. From an Almanac of Exposition, Rembrandt learns that the youth of America took over in 1980 when it was determined that Social Security stood to bankrupt the economy.  So, after some well-chosen words by Howard Stern (of all people), the voting age was reduced to 9 and Baby Boomers were kicked out of the job market. Now, the age of mandatory retirement in the United States is thirty.

On the plus side, Recycling and Waste Management is at an all-time high.  And no, this isn't a cheap set up for a Soylent Green joke, but I wouldn't have put it past them if they'd gone that route.

Arturo and Remmy head into the bar for a drink...only to be told that they don't serve their kind here. The sign above the bar says no drinks for the aged, which could have just been left there...except for the fact that bartender tries to talk smack to Arturo. The Professor, naturally, gives that British charm we've come to know him for...until the man comes at him with a bat upon which occasion he rather politely shows him just which of his knees he can pull it out of before he and Remmy bet a retreat out of the bar.

"Bye! Enjoy the 30 seconds of screen time you ate up, Nameless Lady! Bye!"
At the party, Quinn is approached by a stunning blonde woman who asks him why he hasn't told Yade about them. When he doesn't answer, she leaves in disgust and tells him to call her when he gets it together. When he asks Yade about her, she just says that she's nobody and doesn't comment further.

And she's right. She never appears again or is even mentioned in the entire episode.

At all.

Between her, Michelle, and the con woman from last week, we could start a Sliders-spinoff of the minor undeveloped characters of the day.

In important character land, however, a Kenny Hatcher is introduced and makes himself known, pulling Quinn away and trying to convince him to not go ahead with Edu-Learn.  Apparently, Edu-Learn will get a bunch of old teacher's out of work...and Kenny wants to make an alternative to it on their own outside of things, instead.  Getting him back, Yade says he ought to stay away from Kenny.

Upstairs, Wade is looking for pills to pop in the bathroom when Quinn walks in on it.  It seems that Yuinn and Yade took a lot of stimulants.  We get reaffirmation that people have to pull a Logan's Run or it's into the homeless shelters and under the feet of the young by the age of thirty.  The party ends...and it's revealed that Kyle was in on the whole thing thanks to Yade pulling him away. It seems, however, that Kyle is about to pull the rug out from under everyone...wanting Quinn to come to the senator's meeting for Edu-Learn and, if he doesn't, then the Sliders won't have the timer.
The Crying Man says: "Fornicate the constabulary!" 
The next morning, it seems that Arturo and Remmy were arrested for the scrape in the bar.  Arturo is confident that they will plead their case, pay their fine, and leave.  Standing by order of the twenty-something judge, they are introduced to Tiffany August - their court appointed public defender. She wants them to play dumb, she gets them off with senility and they get thirty days. Naturally, they are less than pleased with this plan. They are about to get off (nearly) Scot-free when Arturo has to mouth off to both the judge and to Tiffany...which gets them the thirty days in lock up.

Unfortunately, Arturo and Remmy pull a N.W.A. and escape (largely because instead of an armed escort that have one guy in business casual taking them away from the court).

As they head to their meeting, Quinn and Yuppie Wade talk, Quinn asking who Melanie White is - Yade telling him that she's a housewife who is trying to cut herself in on the profits of Edu-learn...and then admitting that her husband has been head of their R&D. Apparently, he was jealous of Yuinn and - when he realized he couldn't beat him - he killed himself.

At the meeting, Quinn stops the presentation after a demonstration of an addition problem using "Impact Cola", claiming that it's just an advertisement for the brand name and not actually helping kids in any way.

Like most education programs, though this one is admittedly a little more honest.

Yade attempts to save some face, getting everyone to leave the room. We get a short scene with Kyle and Kenny where Kenny tells Kyle to keep an eye on Quinn, reasoning that something's up.  Back in the board room, Yade and Quinn talk as she tries to school him on the finer points of how their world works...then bringing up that everything will be over a week from Wednesday when they meet with the Senator...which Quinn naturally takes issue with, since it means they'll miss the Slide. They share a kiss to tease the shippers before the secretary calls to tell them that Melanie White is there to see him...Yade angrily telling her to contact his lawyer.
It was as if millions of shippers suddenly squeed out in joy...and were suddenly silenced...
Quinn then talks to Wade, explaining the situation. Wade laments that Gillette is still watching her and tells Quinn that she called the Dominion, learning that Arturo and Remmy never checked in, though Quinn doesn't think there's any reason to worry.  Out on the mean streets, Remmy can't get the number of Yade and Yuinn's mansion, seeing as it's unlisted.  He and Arturo try to find somewhere to sleep for the night, only to be accosted by four teenagers on bicycles...the local police racket.  Having even less intimidation factor than grown men police on bicycles, Arturo is derisive as ever, though Remmy stopped him before he can cause another incident.

That statement he made about getting the authorities involved hurting yet?

Quinn is heading out to Yuinn's car after the meeting, stopped by a woman who gives him a subpoena. She, it seems, is Melanie White. She promises that the cover up is coming to light - Edu-learn and Yade, the whole thing. She claims that Yade fabricated the details of her husband's suicide, saying she killed him.  Naturally, not being an asshole and wanting to help, Quinn asks her if she has any proof of this. Melanie doesn't take it well, angrily declaring that she'll prove it if it's the last thing she does and warning Quinn that, when they're finished, they'll kill him too.

And we know who they are, do we not?

Quinn heads into his office to find Kenny rooting around.  The two talk, Quinn trying to play his way through and not realizing that Kenny sets him up with a comment about going sailing next weekend...as Yade tells him when she comes in.  Apparently, Yuinn was deathly afraid of water.  Quinn, however, confronts Yade with the words of Melanie White and, while Yade tries to seduce him into compliance, he has none of it.  He has also checked with the Senator's office, the Senator not getting back into the country until the weekend.  In essence, everything that Yade has told him has been a complete lie.

Yade doesn't take this well, but Quinn tells her to stow it. He wants the timer back.

Nevertheless, Quinn does agree to do a call with the Lieutenant Governor in exchange for Yade talking to Kyle about the timer. Yade praises him, but Quinn isn't flatter and tells her to call Gillette and let Wade off house arrest.  Yade tries once more to seduce her a Quinn, but he has absolutely no interest, claiming that the only thing they have in common was wishing that the person they were with was someone else.

Back with Arturo and Remmy, Remmy laments the slop of the homeless shelter they've found themselves in and that he'd rather just try and find themselves a way back to Quinn and Wade.  Arturo reasons that they should stay put and rejoin their fellows right before the slide.  Mind you, however they intend to accomplish this is left delightfully in the dark, but I don't guess it really matters seeing as the writer didn't much think of a way to weave the subplot in better.
"Ceiling Gillette is watching your escape attempt..."
Back with Quinn and Wade, they attempt to sneak through the mansion to find some kind of evidence against Yade. Quinn reasons that all he needs is a computer and some time and he can access the police records from the murder. Y'know, because this was the 90s and hacking was A-OK! As they escape, however, they fail to realize that they are not alone...Gillette is watching.

At the shelter, a sleeping Remmy and Arturo are roused by Tiffany. Arturo is surprised that she found them, but she turned them down because...plot. Despite their begging to be let go, since they're sliding in the morning, she tells them to stow it and rebukes the "remember why you became a lawyer" argument with the fact that her grades weren't high enough to get a high-priced corporate job, so that's out.  However, Remmy gives an impassioned speech about how her desire to have climbed up the corporate ladder got her nowhere and if she really wants to get out of being a public defender, she'll have to start standing out and impressing people and actually trying to win a case.

She rolls her eyes at this and it seems all is lost.

Back with Quinn and Wade, Quinn is committing his act of cyberterrorism in an internet cafe, and determines that Mr. White had enough amphetamines to kill a small elephant in his system...Wade mentioning the drugs she found in Yade's medicine drawer, though Quinn says that Yade wouldn't be that stupid...though he quickly theorized that Yade might have killed his double as well.  Sparking inspiration from this...Wade has an idea.
"There's a storm comin', suckers...and his name is Gillette. CAN YOU DIG IT?! CAAAAAN YOU DIG IT?!"
Outside, Wade elaborates that they don't need a smoking gun...just the illusion of one.  Before she can explain further, however, Gillette sits up in the back seat with a gun, smooth as silk, and tells them they need to head off on a little drive...Yade is more than a little upset at Quinn and Wade playing detective.

Later, after the board, Quinn is apparently more than alive and confronts Kyle...or rather, Kyle confronts him about his meddling and Quinn plays a tape for him.  Wade, dressed as Yade, confesses to everything - killing Melanie's husband even killing off Yuinn.  Despite Kyle's insistence, Quinn tells him that he'll leak the tape to the public unless he gets the timer back.

SMACKDOWN!

Even later, Quinn and Wade discuss if everything is set in place over the phone.  Neither of them have heard from Remmy or Arturo despite the fact they slide in three hours.  Now everyone's worried.

Back in the Murders' Anonymous meeting hall from "El Sid"...err... I mean, the courtroom, Remmy and Arturo are once more before the judge.  To the shock of both Remmy and Arturo, Tiffany actually shows up in decidedly more professional dress than before.  With a bit of errata, she gets the pair of them out of all the charges.  It seems that Tiffany took Remmy's words to heart, thanking them for their words at the shelter.

At the Mansion, Yade busts in and gives Quinn and Wade hell, apparently having been wrongfully dismissed from the company by Kyle.  But Quinn and Wade turn the tables on her, showing a video of the security camera from the pool...when Yade did in Yuinn.  She destroys the tape, but Quinn tells her they have back ups. While she insists that it's not a problem, seeing as they won't be around to testify...they reveal their trump card, someone who will MOTHERFUCKING GILLETTE!

In short, Yade gets arrested, Gillette inherits Yuinn's will, and the sliders reunite to slide away at the last minute.  Arturo brings up, as they're leaving, that the doubles that they meet on alternate worlds are essentially them, just that they've made different choices that have changed the courses of their lives.  Depending on that, they could be good or bad either way.

He also brings up Edu-learn and wonders what will happen to it, Quinn theorizing that with the bad publicity from the murders and Yade's arrest that the Governor might think twice and the public schools will stay open.  Arturo makes the rather depressing, though truthful, comment that they can't save every world before they all head through, Quinn leaving a picture of Yade and Yuinn in happier times sitting on a table nearby before they all jump through the vortex.

This is a mixed episode for me. On the one hand, the intricacies of corporate espionage can make for a very interesting plot. And they do. On the other hand, Remmy and Arturo's subplot is largely filler and doesn't really amount to anything.  Not that this is uncommon in Sliders, but this is really where you could have cut it out entirely and lost nothing but screen time - perhaps using it to build up on the single scene appearances of that blonde woman at the party or of Melanie White or others.

Arturo also almost immediately going against his warning to Quinn also makes me slap my face into my palm while shaking my head.

Still, this episode does have some really good points. Rather than simply a plot where the Sliders are screwed over by one of their doubles - either by accident or design - this is actually a pretty cool plot where the Sliders (particularly Wade, showing a stroke of genius as in "Time Again and World") use the fact that they are the exact physical doubles of their...well, doubles...to their advantage in achieving their aims.

Sure, it's not the most noble of ways to solve problems, but you play the hand you're dealt.

But while it's not as bad as some, the issues do bog it down a bit, at least for me.

Next week, we are introduced to an antagonist that is either beloved or loathed by Sliders fans...and no surprisingly, I'm not talking about David Peckinpah.

Next time: INVASION!

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

Friday, August 14, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale"

I know that this is going to shock a lot of people out there, but I feel that I need to be entirely and completely honest with you. After all, you're my audience and you've been with me for over 100 game reviews - not even getting into my television, comic, and film reviews that are also available here on my blog (click now and avoid the rush!). So, I have decided that I need to come clean with something about myself.

I love Dungeons & Dragons.

...

I'll give you all a moment to absorb that.

...

So, needless to say, you shouldn't be too shocked that I'm covering a Dungeons & Dragons game. Considering, you know, I've done a couple of reviews in that vein before now. Thus, Daggerdale, a hack and slash game set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons and I know I'm losing a lot of my more mainstream audience. You don't really need to worry all that much about the D&D settings - of which there are several - as playing this game doesn't actually require you to go into the specifics of the setting in order to enjoy it.

Basically a mage from a group of evil mages is trying to take over Daggerdale for Bane, the god of darkness and naughty black evil who he worships.  A former Banite priestess decides to craft four special rings and gives them to four special adventurers so that, with their powers combined, they can summon Toril's greatest champion - Captain Planet!

Actually the game immediately hits a wall before the cutscene that sets everything up when the player is given options for character creation - and I say "options" in the loosest sense of the word.  Whereas pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons and several of the video game adaptations give you a staggering amount of races and classes to choose from...Daggerdale only gives you eight.  And they're all locked by class and race so, really, only four - a human fighter, a dwarven cleric, an elven rogue, and a halfing wizard. And no, actually, you can't customize your character even within those limitations. At all.

Now I can understand that programming has its limitations, but this game originally came out in 2011. By comparison, Neverwinter Nights - which I already covered - came out in 2002, and allowed all Third Edition Core Classes and several Prestige classes on top of allowing several different races. And that was nine years before this came out. I've read that future DLC would add more, but that doesn't help the game here.

Not that the game here can be helped that much.  The game is listed as an action RPG, but is really not much more than a hack n' slash. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but this is D&D. It deserves to be more than a simple hack n' slash game that is third person and thankfully doesn't have a fixed camera angle. You have your four attacks, the inputs for the interface are fairly self-explanatory and you can very easily just pick it up and start hacking. Simple enough for a hack n' slash.
And as a hack n' slash, it's alright. It's even good.  As a Dungeons & Dragons game, though?  Not so much. And because it has the Dungeons & Dragons name slapped on the cover, I'm afraid I'm going to have to give this one a thumbs down.

Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale is now available from Bedlam Games and Atari for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC.

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: Greatfellas"

"Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger. Can I take your order?"
Who doesn't love a good mafia story?

...eh, forget the intro, let's just get down to brass tacks.

We begin with Wade narrating that the Sliders are feeling more desperate than ever about finding their own Earth in spite of Quinn's continued insistence that Sliding isn't a journey from point A to point B.  As for the world they're on now, Quinn reads from the newspaper of exposition and reveals that even movie critics are afraid to be critical, citing a review of a Pauly Shore movie that is so neutral that it would seem a good color to redecorate my bathroom with.

Although, this is 1996, so the whole thing is likely a swipe at Biodome, a film staring Pauly Shore, which came out the same year as this episode. But that's a whole other can of worms.

Regardless, eighty-four percent of the American population has attended law school, which is further demonstrated when Arturo comes back in disgust after trying to order a hamburger.  Rembrandt, not to be dissuaded, heads up to the counter only to learn that he needs to have the right insurance and other paperwork. No insurance, no doctor's note, no ID, no burgers.  Luckily, they slide in a few minutes...but not before Rembrandt bumps into a woman and is approached by a lawyer offering to take the assault charge case he's just been slapped with...

...and is left to be traumatized as Rembrandt and the others slide to a new world.

Following the title sequence, and in a way that completely ignores the set rules about time being constant in all dimensions (but it's Sliders, so we can't fault them too much), we start up on a bright, sunny day facing a ritzy mansion where a shindig is occurring.  The men attired in wedding dress are walking up some steps to the mansion, the eldest - the head of a powerful crime family - is speaking to none other than...Mel Tormé?!

Bless my soul! Holy smokes! Gesundheit! It's the real live Mel Tormé!

Don't know who he is? Remember the Christmas Song? "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" etc.? That's the guy. And no, don't feel bad if you don't know him for anything else, I didn't even know he was famous for that before I did some research for this episode.

Oh, and he's Tracy's father. Funny, since that usually works the other way, doesn't it?

"Hey, did you hear the one about us?"
It seems that the Greenfelds and the DeBellos, an Italian and a Jewish family (who are, because plot, big crime families), coming together in a wedding. And Mel is going to be singing for the Don's daughter. So, the wedding march is played and the beautiful bride herself heads up the aisle to meet her fate.  As a priest and a rabbi (no, really) try to discern which of them goes first, we hear a familiar sound coming from not far off.  The vortex has opened and out pops...well, who do you expect? Rembrandt takes a fall into the shrubbery, and the wedding (which apparently has everyone up to and including the flower girl packing) recognizes Remmy and calls him and the other Sliders the "Incorruptibles".

Remmy tries to charm his way through the proceedings, shaking the proud father's hand and congratulating the bride on her special day before making a hasty retreat...but not before fingering Mel before Wade pulls him out...

While the other Sliders think that something must be up, Remmy just chalks it up to his fame and charisma, saying they're just stunned by it.  Later that evening, the San Francisco is lit up like a Christmas tree, very Las Vegas complete with neon signs and all sorts of mess.  Arturo theorizes that Bugsy Siegel decided to build up his gambling empire in California instead of Nevada on this world, explaining the very Las Vegas strip-esque feel of things.  They also pass a sign showing that Ronald Reagan is running for re-election as governor of California, apparently having been President on this Earth as well.

Before they could ponder this, they decide to get Remmy of the streets for fear of people coming up asking him for autographs.  At the Dominion, they find Will Sasso waiting for them...recognizing Rembrandt and calling him and his traveling companions the "Incorruptibles".  They work out trying to get a low-key stay, Will giving them their key...and then picking up the phone the call someone the second they went upstairs.

Back at the Mansion, the Don consults with the heads of both families to learn how Rembrandt and the others got past security.  No explanation could be given, they had all the exits cover.  Mr. DeBello inquires about Mel, stating that it's strange that the one outsider of the group at the wedding was a friend of Rembrandt's, but the Don Greenfeld's son insists that they'll find the informant...Mel or not...and...take care of him.

"Wait, wait, don't tell me...you're Inspector Gadget!"
At the hotel, Wade marvels at the choices of entertainment on this world. "Goodfellas", "Casino", "Return of Goodfellas"...on the Disney channel. Arturo notes, in a more plot-related manner, that there's no booze in the mini-fridge. Quinn heads out to find a newstand, hoping to get some exposition.  While he's out, Will gets a hold of him and points him toward the stairwell, saying someone wants a word...and it turns out to be Mel, who is actually a friend of the Rembrandt of this world...or, at least, a working associate of.

Mel thinks they're trying to get him killed for the jig being up too early, and we go through the same wacky misunderstandings that the Sliders go through on many worlds where Quinn insists they're not who he thinks they are.  Mel drops some exposition about the Greenfelds and the DeBellos merging to create the world's biggest gambling paradise and the FBI wanting to take it out.  As it turns out, they did actually out Mel as an informant...to every criminal within about a hundred miles.

Umm...oops?

Mel tells Quinn to tell Remmy to wait for his signal or they'll all just be nothing more than obituaries.  Quinn heads back, stopping at the door to see a well-dressed man leaving the hotel room before he goes himself, learning from Remmy that the families apparently bankrolled the group one hundred thousand dollars, nobody getting that they just accepted a one hundred thousand dollar bribe on behalf of his counterpart on this Earth.

Mo' money, mo' problems indeed.

The group then knuckles down and tries to decide what to do.  Arturo brings up that the best that they can do is to lay low and wait for the slide, arguing that no matter how long the arm of the mob is that they can't follow them to the next world. However, if that happens, then we have no plot...I mean, it would be morally wrong to leave such a black mark on the career of the Rembrandt Brown of this Earth.  Even though Arturo argues they have no responsibilities or ties to this world, but is ignored by the other three Sliders.

Quinn in particular takes the money to the Doubloon, where Mel will be performing that night, to try and get him to get them in touch with the real Incorruptibles.  He hits the casino floor where doesn't find Mel...but he does find a man hustling a woman and Quinn, being the heroic fellow he is, steps in to save her.  Outside, the woman thanks him and gives him a kiss as such...then leaves in a taxi...leaving Quinn to realize moment's later that the woman just made off with the envelop containing the one hundred thousand dollars.

Back at the Hotel, the group is watching television - complete with a campaign ad for one Joe Biacchi, who is running for Governor against Reagan. Arturo finally reads far enough ahead in the script to reveal that, on this world, Prohibition was never repealed as it was on Earth Prime.  Al Capone and other crime bosses in America grew rich on bootleg whiskey and eventually chopped the country up into crime empires that exist into the present.  Thus, they realize that they stopped the merge of two families in the only way they could be merged - a wedding.

Mel performs some hits (I presume), before giving Quinn the riot act for being pickpocketed.  Apparently, Quinn has revealed the whole story and Mel says he'll make a call to Washington and will do the best he can if the story checks out.  Quinn walks him out to his car, Mel warning him to keep his head down because San Fran is about to go boom...and so is Mel, once he gets into his car.
They set Mel up the bomb!
Quinn gets his big "NOOOO!!!" as we've come to expect every so often, looking utterly horrified at what he has seen.  After the commercial break,  however, we see Rembrandt at a train station...only to quickly realize that he is not the Remmy we know and love.  Rather, he is Deputy Director Rembrandt Brown of the FBI.  Filled in by an Agent Reed, he learns that he apparently broke Mel's cover...even though he was in Toronto.  Rembrandt the Crusader is just nettled about the death of Mel and he's determined to see things done right.

Quinn makes a quick call to Wade, apparently having to wait until morning to do so.  The fact that no news has come out about Mel's death despite his fame, so they can't trust that to make any traction.  Despite Arturo's protests that they have no plan and should just leave it to the authorities, Wade suggests they go to the FBI.  Then, it seems the Blushing Bride wants to stop by and speak to Remmy, mistaking him for the Deputy Director.  She brings a disk containing every politician that's been paid off by the mob, and asks for protective custody in exchange.  Remmy reveals that...they're not exactly who she thinks they are.  Cue massive awkwardness.

Especially since the wedding has been rescheduled to tomorrow night...and the mob will kill her for what she's done.

Arturo and Wade decide to go to the FBI, leaving instructions to not open the door or answer the phone for Remmy and the Bride.  On the casino floor, Quinn goes looking for the woman who conned him -  having to bribe the bartender to do so.  Pointed to the casino floor, he finds the woman...but learns that she lost all the money via gambling.  One hundred thousand dollars in total...down now only to five grand. And because the writers remembered that Quinn is a freaking genius, Quinn takes to the table to perform a little Rain Man and earn the money back.

At a warehouse, Arturo and Wade find the FBI offices...heavily downsized it would seem, and end up speaking to Deputy Director Rembrandt.  The eeriness of running into another Rembrandt is quickly gotten rid of as Arturo lays out what he believes to be the plan - merge the two families to have total control over California and Nevada so that they might secede from the United States virtually unopposed, even handing over the disk to the Director.

He seems nonplussed by the news, claiming that Witness Protection ran out of funds years ago and there's nothing they can do.  Wade assumes he's on the take, the Director threatening her with deep imprisonment if she accuses him of corruption one more time.  He also warns the pair of them to be careful - they're messing in the Devil's Playground here.

...an apt, if incredibly heartbreaking name for Seasons 3 to 5, but we haven't quite gotten there yet, so let's move on.

Back on the casino floor, Quinn has had a much better run of luck, attracting quite a crowd as he prepares to make the house go bust.  He succeeds, having won back a great deal of money before being forced to cash out by the casino management...who have caught on to his card counting scheme.  The woman as well, looks rather despondent and asks Quinn how he can just walk away from all this...but he simply replies with the fact that he has to go, asking her to pick up his last chips as he goes to cash out.

The Don Greenfeld, meanwhile, meets with Mr. DeBello, who reveals that the disk was taken by his daughter.

Elsewhere, Wade and Arturo go with Plan B, meeting up with Joe Biacchi and giving him the Disk, explaining most of the situation to him.  He feeds them the line about how grateful he is that there are some honest people in California, and even arranges for some of his men to come and pick them up at the Dominion Hotel.

...yeah, I know, it's skipping ahead a bit, but I marvel at how the physics professor and the otherwise rather smart college student don't see this coming when the corrupt government official practically has "I am an evil douchebag" stamped across his forehead.  Back at the hotel, Quinn arrives with the won money...and finds some well-dressed gentlemen with guns waiting for him.  Later, Wade and Arturo are in the back of an armored car being taken to the not-trap and talk a bit.  Arturo assures Wade that, under the circumstances, they have done the best they could.  When they Slide next, provided they survive for it, they can slide with a clear conscience.

The touching moment is immediately juxtaposed by the two being pulled out of the truck at gun point.  Dumbasses.

They are brought into a room and tied to chairs, where Quinn and Remmy have likewise been tied up because we're in the last seven minutes of the episode and any remaining plot threads have to be tied up as much as our protagonists are.  The Don Greenfeld comes in, asking for the location of his daughter...and Arturo comes up with the politest way of saying "Up yours!"  Not far off, the Director, Reed, and the Bride are all listening in...and the Director mentions he has to get in as they only have a few min-wait, Remmy?!

Yes, it seems the Director and Rembrandt have swapped places for this little exercise. And so...

Times The Sliders Have Run Into Their Doubles: 9

Back in the warehouse, the Director taunts the Don about the disk that's now in the possession of Joe Biaachi...only for the District Attorney himself to walk in and reveal that he's been on the mob payroll for years.  With his vocal admission, however, the FBI moves in.  The Don has payback on his mind...but the fuzz gets onscene, Wade and then Arturo trying to stall for just long enough...and a shootout takes place.  The Don gets arrested, Biaachi puts a face to the whole thing, and the Incorruptibles are cleared of any accusations of...well, corruption.
And on the third day, He rises again! Forgive me, Lord! I did not believe!!!!
Quinn asks the Bride to go find that woman we don't care about and give her five grand to perhaps start a new life somewhere else.  As Arturo opens the vortex, Rembrandt and the Deputy Director have a chat - where the Director affirms his belief that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.  They wish one another good luck before Remmy heads into the vortex.  As Quinn prepares to follow, a shadowy figure asks him the time...and it's revealed to be Mel, apparently far, far less explode-y than when he last appeared!  He tells Quinn to keep his nose clean and, with a little renewed optimism in his heart, Quinn heads to the vortex, turning back once to see...

...that Mel is gone.

...um...how awkward.

He leaps in and we fade to black, but not to the end title sequence.  Instead, we return to the bar where the Woman who hustled Quinn earlier is speaking with the bartender and the man who was hassling her earlier in the episode. Apparently, all three are in cahoots and enjoying their prize of not only the original one hundred grand...but also the five thousand she was sent by Quinn.  While the men laugh and plot what to do, the camera focuses on her lost in thought...

...shame we don't have any reason to care, seeing as we won't be seeing her again after this episode.

I'll be honest.  I have given this episode a fair amount of grief, but it's actually one of my favorites thus far and a high contender for one of my favorites overall.  One of the strengths Sliders has is in telling good stories, because of and in spite of the setting.  Y'know, when it's actually set on telling good stories and not on just creating a big mess that makes me cry ugly, ugly tears.  "Greatfellas" is a love letter to gangster movies like The Godfather and mafia films in general, the opening with the wedding being a particular tribute.  It's beautifully done and without any evidenced irony or sarcasm about the setting involved.  Everything is played straight, which works very well.

Another reason I will praise this episode is because it features a scene where Arturo and Wade are alone together, something which rarely happens, and it doesn't result in the two bickering themselves into a pissing match over their ideologies.  It's really rather nice to see them agreeing and getting along, especially after so much of the writer's strong-arming their "messages of the day" that the two will quarrel about.  It really shows how far they've both come since the beginning and how, in a pinch, the Sliders will be there to look out for each other.

Also of note is Rembrandt, or rather the Deputy Director.  Whereas Remmy is theatrical - lively and egotistical to outrageous lengths - his counterpart on this world is more down to Earth.  He is a champion of all that is good and right, but it's easy to tell that he's far more subdued, bitter and jaded from his years fighting criminals all over America. He has a reputation for doing just that, and being a lawman who is truly incorruptible.   He even seems to take this personally, feeling that it's his duty to help, even saying that if good men do nothing, evil wins.

Sadly, we get no scenes of him dealing out some Ezekiel 25:17 on the mob, but that would have just made an already good episode even more awesome.

But his character goes to speak to what Rembrandt will become in later seasons. Remmy has proven a few times, even now, that he's a good man beyond just taking care of the Sliders. Wanting to get involved, wanting to help, and so on, even risking his own neck many a time for the right cause.  Seeing what he becomes in later seasons...and seeing what his counterpart in this episode is almost heartbreaking.

Then, of course, there are the negatives of this episode.  First off...Mel.  Look, Tracy, I understand you wanted to give your father the bump and I am totally for that, don't get me wrong.  Besides needing to pad out some of the time and give the Sliders a vague in for the plot...I just don't see why he was there for plot reasons, since Rembrandt's counterpart on this world provided more than enough of an in.  If Mel had "lived" to explain things to the Director, maybe it would have made sense, but he never even gets to make that call to Washington so he can do so.  So, besides for the sake of nepotism...I got nothing.

Also, the woman in the casino.  An even more egregious example of chewing up the episode's time.  In fact, in rewatching the episode, I don't believe they even bothered to give her a name, which is odd for a character given at least four scenes, including the closing one of the episode.  And while she does have a bit of what I praised Quinn for in Gillian of the Spirits, that is Quinn inspiring people to do better simply by being encouraging and kind...that's a trait of him, not of her.  I don't know anything besides the woman besides the fact that she's a con artist.  And while I don't need to know any more than that for the sake of the episode, I really just wish they had bothered to try and fill in those gaps.

Those minor issues aside, as I said before, this is one of my favorite episodes of the series.  I just like the feel, I like how the main characters are (mostly) not saddled with the Idiot Ball to keep the plot from progressing too quickly, and that it has a resolution  that actually doesn't feel too rushed...which is more than you can ask for most days with Sliders.

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Tribunal"

Y'know how messing with the established social order isn't a good thing? Yeah, it's not a good thing. I mean, most works of fiction don't often show that.  You get a D&D campaign where you save the land from the evil wizard, you're not going to often see a campaign dealing with the consequences of taking down his tyrannical regime that nonetheless brought stability afterwards. Tribunal is an expansion pack for Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind that ends up dealing with the consequences of killing of the Devil of a False Religion and destroying the ultimate power source for a trio of deities that were considered the personifications of good in said religion.

...yeah, some people are going to be pissed about you mucking around with their beliefs, Hero!

The plot picks up as soon as you install it...or rather, as soon as you sleep.  More often than not, your player will be attacked by a Dark Brotherhood assassin! But because you're the goddamn Batma-err, Nereverarine (if you've completed the Main Quest, as you should have by this point), you kick his ass and get a journal entry saying that you should probably tell a guard about the attack.  Not that it tells you which guard and it can be anyone from an Imperial soldier in Seyda Neen to a Telvanni guard and they will - because plot convenience - all point you to the same guy in Ebonheart.

Like in Oblivion, all the guards on Vvardenfell are somehow psychic.

But afterwards, you are transported to Mournhold, the capital of the Morrowind province to investigate further, leading into an interesting story with political intrigue, with more of the vanilla game's themes of how much holding fate and destiny have upon the course of one's life.

Y'know besides being the way they marked essential NPCs before just making them unkillable.

 While you don't have to have played Morrowind's Main Quest, it actually makes far, far more sense if you do given that you're adding more to the legend of the Nerevarine, such as working for his former wife and reforging his sword.

Oh, yes, for completing the Main Quest, you get a flaming sword.

A sword that is on fire.

That. Is. AWESOME!

But beyond that, it's actually a good story, even if the final citadel is a bit of a slog to get through. Don't be ashamed of having to use the Console to get through some rooms (one of the rooms in Sotha Sil's Clockwork City seems specially made for you to use it, because I've never been able to figure out how otherwise without severe magic use). And eventually, you will face the hardest fight that Morrowind and its expansion have to offer.  I'm not exaggerating. Even with plenty of potions and other buffs, I've never managed to get through it on just one shot. And even the almighty EpicApathy was brought down to a single hit point by the end of the fight.

But yes. Tribunal builds on pretty much everything Morrowind did, once more bringing the player into an alien environment and telling an interesting and engaging story. It's not overly long, but it doesn't need to be.

Also, with that final fight, we get an answer to the question "What's more awesome than one flaming sword?"

The answer is two.

Two. Flaming. Swords.

Awesome.

Tribunal is now available from Bethesda Softworks for PC and Xbox.

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

Thursday, August 6, 2015

MadCap's Tabletop Tales - "Promote Synergy, You Jerk!"

One of the biggest problems you can have in playing just about any tabletop game is conflicts within the party. This is probably the biggest problem in Dungeons & Dragons, what with alignments conflicting and all.  Generally, a house rule is that nobody plays an evil character - largely because all of one of the evil alignments (Lawful Evil) can even work with good or neutral characters with any success.  But even those of good and neutral alignments can, and often do, conflict in their methods and ideology. To me, that's one of the great things about certain tabletop games, particularly D&D itself.

However...

It can be a real pain in the butt to both DM and Player alike.  What's one to do?  In D&D, this can be solved by setting limits on which alignments characters can play. In my experience, this generally doesn't cause a great deal of problems with players. Most I play with will happy make a character within the confines given them by the DM.  Ripley, as a DM, generally doesn't make any restrictions on alignment, but is rather cautious about accepting evil characters, particularly after she allowed them for one campaign and it went...well, less than wonderful (a tale for another time).

But then you have games like Vampire The Masquerade and Shadowrun, that don't really have a system of alignments. Sure, they have Humanity and Essence, but there's nothing that really restricts the player to a single moral code.  In fact, particularly in Masquerade, you have a game where not only is disruption between the players allowed...but is sometimes encouraged depending on the situation.  So again, the question is, what's one to do?

As a DM...I have no idea, because I've rarely been the man behind the shield.  As a player, work with the others in your group.  Try to work on having a mix that won't be clashing on every single issue. Don't make a character that is there to be your expy of the badass that you want to be. That doesn't mean you can't be a badass, but you're not that one anime character. You know the one. The one with the deep and intricate backstory who's lived forever and become the greatest warrior alive, etc. etc. all those clichés.

And again, that's not to say that you can't be a complete badass. But don't be that complete badass who's going to be that way for the sake of being that way. Don't be the guy who's going to keep things from the party simply because "it's in character" for you to do so. For the first couple of adventures, I could see this being the case. But after that...why are you with this group still if you don't trust them? Why do you stick around if you don't want to work together as a team?

Granted, of course, things like that are house rules - there's not a rule that says the players have to work together (even in D&D), just that it's a great idea if you do. And it is, because that's how the game should be played. There is literally no reason for you to go around not working together as a team, because if you're all working against each other then there's literally no reason for the team to trust you or work with you and, if you go so far as betraying the team, there's no reason for them to not just kill you and hang you in a tree.

So yes, summation. Work with other PCs, not against them, regardless of the game. And if you're just itching for PvP, go play an MMO.

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