Friday, December 30, 2016

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

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

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

10. Fallout 4
Review here

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

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

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

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

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

9. Doom (2016)
Review here

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

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

8. Star Wars Battlefront
Review here

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

7. Pokemon Go
Review here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


6. Dragon Age - The Descent
Review here

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

5. The Technomancer
Review here

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

4. Fallout 4 - Vault-Tec Workshop
Review here

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

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

3. Alice the Madness Returns
Review here

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

2. Pokemon Black and Blue
Review here

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

1. No Man's Sky
Review here

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

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

Monday, December 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 12, 2016

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Jingle All The Way"

...why does this movie exist?

It's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad in a mediocre comedy that any first year film student can write in their sleep. And it would still be better than this. It's an open and shut story about an overworking father who tries to do the most American thing in the world for Christmas and buy the love of his child (Jake Lloyd) that he's neglected.

Yes, it gave us memes. Yes, Schwarzenegger is as enjoyably bad as ever in his role. Sinbad is...someone I look upon more charitably after his stint on American Dad!. Jake Jake Lloyd and a grand total of "nope" comes out of giving any credit there, even if he was only a child at the time.

His acting's totally wizard, guys!

I know it's a holiday classic. I know that a lot of people love this movie. I don't. It's trite, it's cliched, and it's moderately funny but ultimately goes nowhere. Which is depressing when you realize it was produced by Chris Columbus...yes, that Chris Columbus who directed Young Sherlock Holmes and either directed and/or produced the first three Harry Potter films.

I guess even a broken clock, etc.

If you wanna watch it, do it, enjoy it. I'm going for the eggnog.

Jingle All the Way is now available from 1492 Productions and Fox.

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

Monday, December 5, 2016

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "The Muppet Christmas Carol"

Who doesn't love the Muppets?

They're pretty much a staple growing up in America, and Kermit the Frog alone has spawned so many memes that the internet loves. So, naturally, putting them into A Christmas Carol makes only too much sense. For over sixty years, they've touched the hearts of everyone with their colorful characters and wonderful humor, in several productions that both kids and adults can enjoy.

Christmas Carol is a timeless tale about a man who finds redemption through generosity after realizing he's been such a miserable bastard to everyone for almost his entire life. This is just one of many adaptations of Charles Dickens' original novel, and - at first glance - it may seem like an odd choice for the Muppets to appear in, but it actually works really well. That's due to, in no small part, to the fact that while the Muppets are here and their brand of humor is here as well, it doesn't detract from the story.

The story is, like I said above, timeless and has survived so many different adaptations largely because it translates well to everyone. Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) is a miser who despises Christmas and everything to do with it. After consenting to give his overworked employee Bob Crachit (Kermit the Frog, voiced by Steve Whitmire), Scrooge returns to his home on Christmas Eve and is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley...and his brother Robert (played by Statler and Waldorf, voiced respectively by Jerry Nelson and Dave Goelz), who was not in the original story, but it's definitely a lovely add-on.

The Brothers Marley inform Scrooge that, on that night, he will be visited by three ghosts - the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Future, and Yet To Come - and, as we all know from the original story, Scrooge's life will be forever changed by the experiences he has on this Christmas Eve.

And, before I go any further, Michael Caine is absolutely phenomenal as Ebenezer Scrooge. When hired, he himself said he wasn't going to play as he were surrounded by puppets, and it really shows. Not so much in the way it did with Liam Neeson in The Phantom Menace, but more that Michael Caine is a stunningly professional who is pretty much absolutely amazing in everything he's in. You can really tell that he's giving his all to the role and he's really enjoying it.

The Muppets are all in there prime here, both in spite of and because of their nature as being the characters we know and love playing the various roles they are given. That doesn't really take away from the story or the characters at all, and that's really a good thing. It goes to show that the changing of characters doesn't necessarily change the story. But, despite the title, this story really isn't about the Muppets, it's about Scrooge.

His redemption. His change in demeanor from being a cantankerous, hateful old miser to becoming a kind and generous soul. Scrooge finally being able to see the light after all the terrible things that happened in his life and learning that the answer isn't in being withdrawn and greedy, it's in being kind, generous, and loving. I love this film, and I know a lot of people out there do, too. If you're looking for a heartwarming adaptation done well, with a great deal of heart and plenty of good humor, you can't do better than this.

The Muppet Christmas Carol is now available from Walt Disney Pictures, Jim Henson Pictures, and Buena Vista Pictures.

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

Friday, December 2, 2016

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Super Star Wars"

...oh, god. This game.

This. Game.

This. Freaking. Game.

Okay, I can't hold it off anymore. I didn't ever actually play this while it was on the Super Nintendo, despite owning a Super Nintendo in my youth. No, I was saddled with the direct sequel to this game - Super Empire Strikes Back. And I will go ahead and admit that I am more than a little biased going into this one because of how much that game pissed me off.

But, when this game came out ported to Playstation 4, I...ignored it for the better part of a year. Then I picked it up around two weeks ago for something a little different after the bloom had fallen off of the rose that is Dishonored 2 and...this somehow pisses me off more than Empire did.

I mean it. I know that games back in the pre-DLC era were made to be especially hard in order to make them last longer to the consumer, and boy does the Super Star Wars franchise take the cake. This game in particular has one of the most amazingly unforgiving opening levels in video game history.

In a "faithful" recreation of the first film, A New Hope, Luke Skywalker heads out across the Dune Sea looking for...oh, wait.  Yeah, no. The game just immediately throws us into controlling Luke Skywalker. Luke's play style this way is very Contra and Castlevania. Luke starts out with a blaster, though he does end up getting a lightsaber a bit later on. The blaster can shoot directly in every direction around Luke, but only one shot per holding of the "shoot" button (unless you have an upgrade for rapid fire) and unfortunately it locks him out of the use of certain angles that enemies will love to run up and screw you over with.

And yes, I do compare this to Castlevania as I mentioned before. Only with the Castlevania games, there's generally some challenge in learning the patterns of an enemy in order to fight it effectively. Medusa Heads you can learn the patterns of and work around. But infinity spawning womp rats from behind a boulder? Impossible even if I didn't have two other ones at any given time to contend with. And that's just the womp rats.

In the first level, the player has to contend with scorpions, some kind of snake thing that pops up out of the ground in a few places, and birds that attack you are angles that you can't necessarily shoot them at, and womp rats. ALL IN THE FIRST FEW MINUTES OF BOOTING UP THE GAME!. Even Castlevania had moments of forgiveness...they were few and far between...but they did give them. And, more to the point, Castlevania's enemies all had patterns that you could learn from and figure out how to beat.

...I mean, unless the game just hated you.

Super Star Wars is very much that through almost the entire game and rarely lets up. There are brief moments of (relative) calm such as the landspeeder part of the second level, but it eventually dives back into what can be a very irritating mess of enemy attacks combined with not all that great jump controls to be used in platforming sections. As I said before, you can play Luke, Han, and Chewbacca by the end of the game, but until you get to the Mos Eisley cantina, you're stuck with Luke and his rather irritating jump that takes way more button presses than it should take to initiate.

Say that I suck, call me a moron, whatever, but Luke's spinning high jump takes too long to get going and would be complete and utter bullshit even if you weren't dealing with everything trying to attack you at once. Maybe I was just too traumatized by the endless loops of falling from the platforms of the Sandcrawler that I'm honestly trying to figure out why they're there...

Oh, right. Platformer game. Logic is irrelevant.

Some high points I can give the game are in the sound direction. The music is astounding in its renditions of John Williams' score for the film in glorious 16-bit. When you fire a blaster, it sounds like a blaster and the ethereal hum of a lightsaber is as satisfying as ever. So, aesthetically, they hit every note they needed to in order to make this a feast for the eyes and the ears. But the game suffers from being one of the most unforgiving and balls-out insanely difficult games I've ever played.

So, it's good, yes, but it's highly unfair and a pain to get through. It is possible to get through it without saves (which the PS4 port so graciously gives), but so is performing a successful lobotomy with nothing but a spoon and an open mind, and, frankly, I could stand to be a little comfortably numb right now.

Super Star Wars is now available from the Playstation Network from Disney Interactive Studios and Code Mystics.

Original release for SNES was through Nintendo of America, Lucas Arts, and Sculpted Software.

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

Friday, November 25, 2016

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dishonored 2"

Yep, time once more to step back into the shoes of Corvo Attano, the greatest assassin in Dunwall who nonetheless keeps getting duped every few years or so by someone. But it's okay, because the game gives us the lovely option that any adventurer in a Dungeons & Dragons game will eventually go for: mass executions!

And, much like the original, Dishonored 2 delivers on that pretty much in the same way that you well as a completely different way, as you can now play as Emily Kaldwell, Corvo's daughter who is now the Empress in place of her mother, who was killed in the first game. Emily has likewise been trained by Corvo in the ways of the assassin, no doubt him hoping that he can prevent the mistakes of the past.

Yes, you have the very different playstyles of Corvo and Emily except...they're really not that different beyond aesthetics. Do you want the voice of Mercer Frey or a less gruff, more feminine voice narrating in a game where narrating wasn't necessary in the first one? Corvo being suddenly voiced is...weird, to say the least. Kind of like Isaac Clarke in the sudden shift between Dead Space and Dead Space 2.  And, much like those games, we're just expected to take the change with no real issue. And, if I hadn't just slayed him in order to save the Thieves' Guild, I might have been able to do that.  Alas, no dice there, Bethesda and Arkane.

Even the campaign pretty much plays out exactly the same way with only a few changes in dialogue. Indeed, even either Corvo's or Emily's meeting with the Outsider (the maybe good maybe evil maybe God maybe Satan figure who gave Corvo powers in the first game) plays out much the same regardless of who you pick, with you even being given the option to completely turn away from the Outsider and play the game without powers.  While I do appreciate the commitment to giving us a choice here, why would I ever choose to be a super badass assassin without magical powers?

Seriously. Why?

But yes, if you played the first one, this pretty much goes the same way.  There are some new powers, but you can pretty much blitz through the entire game with just Blink maxed out as Corvo or Far Reach as Emily and you're pretty much okay. There are, of course, the options to use runes to beef up your attributes as well, and that's pretty much the only thing I ended up using the Runes to upgrade for in the end.

Oh, and Bonecharms. For some reason now, you have the option of crafting your own bonecharms. There's...really no reason to do it, and you also have the problem of Corruption, which amounts to a negative effect on Corvo/Emily while still giving a benefit. There are also naturally corrupted Bone Charms out in the world, which can be found with their clean counterparts and the various Runes out in the world, via the mechanical heart gifted to Corvo/Emily by the Outsider.

Again, much like the last game.

That's actually the truth with a lot of the game. Unfortunately, once you've done the revenge plot to regain your innocence plot, you really can't do the same thing over for the sequel. To the credit of Arkane, they did put in enough variation plot-wise to keep it interesting. The game really emphasizes a "play it your way" mechanic, where you can do everything between sneaking around and killing only essential enemies or go through making all of Dunwall look like the set of an Eli Roth film.

Sure, you get the "bad" ending, but bite me. I had to save my daughter from spending eternity as a statue. It's the Corvo Way. You petrify my daughter, I hunt down every last one of you, make you take back your lemons, and then I make a combustible lemon that...

[EDITOR'S NOTE: He goes on like this for a while. Just smile and nod and it'll be over soon.]

In conclusion, it is literally more of the same as the first game with a few minor cosmetic touches, and that's not bad. As much as I ragged on it, the option to play without powers is kind of interesting and tells me that it's possible to play through the game without powers, not that I would.  While there's not much variation, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Familiarity is often a very good thing, and there really was no need to fix what wasn't broken to begin with.

So, as I predicted, decent sequel. Might see more, might not. Time will tell.

Dishonored 2 is now available from Arkane Studios and Bethesda for PC, Xbox One, and PS4.

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

Friday, November 18, 2016

MadCap At The Movies - "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them"

When I was a youth, I was caught up in the rise of Pottermania.  I read the first three books before the first movie had come out. My mother and I would go to the midnight releases for each of the books, take them home, and read them until we passed out. Then we would wake up and read on until we finished them. Then came the long, grueling wait in the years between books five, six, and seven...which later became movies five, six, seven, and eight. The movies...I've had less of a wondrous relationship with, so you can imagine my raised eyebrow when I heard that a brand new production was being entered into, even with JK Rowling as the writer.

And yes, I know that's going to sound like blasphemy to a lot of people, but writers of prose do not always necessarily have that translate well into screenplays - see also The Goblet of Fire film adaptation - but then there was something else that came up that I found most interesting. The film was set to be a prequel film to the Harry Potter films, set in the same universe but utilizing new characters and perhaps a few references to others within the mythos. And, to the film's credit, it did largely stick to that criteria. Newt Scamander had been name dropped as the writer of a book on Harry's course list (I can't think of the name at the moment) and Gellert Grendelwald had been mentioned and even appeared in the series as the evil wizard that Dumbledore was most famous for apprehending.

To get to the plot, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is traveling into New York in 1926 to buy a birthday present (or so he says). He has brought with him a suitcase filled with magical creatures that gets him the attention of disgraced former auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and gets accidentally swapped with the suitcase of another man, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) during some hijinks at a bank.

Kowalski accidentally opens said suitcase, which gets the attention of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (basically America's Ministry of Magic), who are already dealing with some issues between wizards and "no-maj" (the American word for muggles). One auror, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) is working the cases of various troubles seemingly being caused by magical creatures in the city...and yeah, he's the villain.

Oh, c'mon, it's Colin Farrell, it isn't a spoiler. You hire the man to be menacing. Although, to their credit, I was honestly hoping it was a red herring...but nope! He's the villain! And he's working to manipulate a young man named Credence (Ezra Miller) who is tied to a group called the Second Salemers...which is honestly like naming your group the "New Inquisition" or the "New Ku Klux Klan". Really, really, really dumb.

And on the nose. Shame on you, JK.

But yes, Graves - and seriously, "Graves"? Was "Judas McScrewsyouover" taken? - is trying to manipulate Credence because he believes that he's connected to a child who will have untold magical powers that he could manipulate to his own sinister ends. Again. Villain. No ambiguity or even an attempt to pretend to be something else, he's a villain...though there's some problems with that that would get into spoiler territory.

Needless to say, Colin Ferrell does it well.

Actually, the cast largely pulls in solid performances. Eddie Redmayne is excellent as the nebbish, but good-hearted Newt Scamander. He's more druid than wizard, caring much for the animals and not wanting them to come to harm. Indeed, in the course of events, he even says that he wants to try and teach the wizard community that creatures of a magical nature shouldn't be feared and that co-existence is possible.

Wanting them to take...Care of Magical Creatures...something like that. Not sure how it'd apply.

Dan Fogler plays an excellent every man, bringing a sense of awe and wonder to a world that is largely mundane to everyone else around. He has his aspirations to rise above his job in a cannery and own his own bakery, and has a stroke of goodness that sees him facing down magical threats even though he can't do magic himself. He even gets a romance subplot. Can't hate him.

Rounding out the trio, we have Katherine Waterston bringing Tina Goldstein to life. She has a great deal of respect for the law, but was dismissed from her post as an auror and put into Wand Permits when she used magic against a No-Maj to defend a young man from abuse (Credence, if you're wondering). She's headstrong and no-nonsense, seeking to do what's right not matter the it to the wizarding community or herself.

And Colin Ferrell I've already gone that only leaves Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). And, here's where we come to a rather dark spot in this movie for me...and I know my readers who are devoted Potterheads will likely disagree...but...


Not. One. Reason.

And no, you can't justify it to me by saying that it's a prequel and it's a set up to his big duel against Dumbledore in the near future. Johnny Depp speaks all of thirteen words (yes, I counted) within the last twenty minutes of the film, and then he's gone. La-di-da, absolutely pointless.

And while I have issues with Johnny Depp being cast for much in general when his one note these days is "Lol, weird guy!", he could honestly make an interesting mark on the role. It's a shame then that his appearance is a literal last minute twist that I'm still kicking myself for not getting (namely because the biggest freaking clue is literally dangled in front of us late in the film), though I was maybe hoping they wouldn't do something like that...sure, we'll go with that and not that just my powers of clairvoyance aren't terribly dodgy.

And as for the Fantastic Beasts themselves...the CGI is hit or miss for me. Some scenes it looks really good, some scenes it looks like something the previous films would laugh at. But rarely, if ever, did I actually come close to believing the illusion that anything I was seeing was actually there. That being said, the creature designs are - for the most part - rather nice and show a lot of creativity and thought put into them...provided you just kind of gloss over the rhino creature with the big glowy head., I don't know or care what the actual name is. Go back to Pottermore.

Despite my minor complaints, some of which I can't really get into without spoilers, I did actually enjoy this film and want to see a continuation. There are definitely the seeds of a series here and I really would like to see them blossom into a franchise that can sustain itself both because of and in spite of the series it was spawned from. Do I think that this one will grow to rival the original Harry Potter series?

Of course not. Much like the original Power Rangers series, lightning never does strike twice. Like the ebb and flow of the tide, this too shall pass. That being said, it doesn't mean we can't sit back and enjoy the ride.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is now in theaters Heyday Films and Warner Bros. Pictures.

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

Friday, November 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 4, 2016

MadCap At The Movies - "Doctor Strange"

The MadCapMunchkin takes on the Master of the Mystic Arts.

Doctor Strange is now in theaters from Marvel.

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

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2"

...yeah, I know, this isn't a video review. Eat me, I'm getting ready for a rant on the big one next week. Y'know, the fifth anniversary of that game I hyped to holy hell and yet didn't actually review. And, again, oops! But let's save that for next time.  This time, we have the sequel to the smash hit video game release of last year, Dragon Ball Xenoverse. And no, for the record, I'm no more of an anime fan than I was a year (more, actually) ago. I've seen some of Dragon Ball Super, but overall, my connection to this series is largely with the releases on the Cartoon Network Toonami block in the early 2000s.  So, needless to say if I hadn't played the first game, I'd be really confused as to the people and locations I'm seeing in this game almost from the jump.

And yes, for the record, I am a fan of TeamFourStar's DBZ Abridged and have seen both Battle of the Gods and Revival of 'F', if my reviews of the first game's DLCs didn't give it away.

But getting to the game at hand. It's been two years since the great Saiyan warrior Butarega defeated the evil Demigra and saved all of time...and then was replaced in this game by a completely new protagonist that wasn't wished from the Dragon Balls into existence.  This time, you're a promising rookie from the ranks of the Time Patrol, entrusted with a sacred mission from the Old Kai to run around the most important battles in the Dragon Ball Saga (from Z onwards, anyway). Nevermind that the Future Warrior in the first game, in my case the aforementioned Butarega, already fought in all those places and thus it should be me revisiting those and having to deal with the consequences of so many people time traveling to the same place and creating paradoxes out the wazoo...

...however, I don't think trying to have a workable system of time "It just works because God says so" is really that important in a game where the primary object is "You have to punch the thing".

So touche there, Dimps on making me overthink and then not think at all about what I'm supposed to be doing, because "Yay! Punching things!"

However, the newbie this time is Parsnap who is, in my headcanon, the son of Butarega having to live up to the legacy set by his father. The Saiyans, as well as the other races, are very much unchanged from the previous game. In fact, the racial selection screen is unchanged from the previous game.  In fact, very little in terms of mechanics has changed from the last game. The missions have only minor variations, now having brought in several of the movie villains such as Turles and Lord Slug, and the AI remains pretty much the same - i.e., your allies suck and you are facing some pretty nasty odds.

Seriously, one of the missions in the Namek Saga will have you going up against both Frieza in his Full-Power form and Cooler in his Final Form, and Cooler on his own was enough to make me want to eat my controller in frustration.

The combat hasn't changed at all, but it doesn't really need to. You lock on, you press the heavy and light attacks until you work up enough ki to blast your opponents into atoms. Rinse and repeat. Granted, there's the absurd jumps in difficulty that will cause you to grind Parallel Quests until your thumbs are bleeding. Blame it on the MMO style of the game.

And yes, I could go into the different changes that have come up for each of the separate races, but it's really more fun if you do it yourself. Everything is pretty much as you expect with a few changes here and there.  Namekians finally have a useful Super Namekian mode. Buus get a Kid Buu-esque mode and the Frieza Clan take to their Golden form.

Oh, and Humans? They get a that's cool, I guess. I mean, they haven't been relevant since Tien mildly annoyed Semi-Perfect on them, I guess?

 I'm sure the line here would be that if you enjoyed the first game, get this because it's more of the same, but it's not just more of the same. It really is the same. Granted, there are a few aesthetic differences. Toki Toki City is now replaced with Conton City and is much bigger, so much so that the developers felt the need to add a powered hover board for the player to get around least until they can fly in the hub world!

Seriously, why even have that option after we learn to fly? Whose going to choose to not fly? Probably the humans.

One change I will debase myself in gratitude for is the ability to have a mentor, but to also learn from other NPCs in the game world. I can keep Piccolo as a mentor and be able to go far and wide learn a variety of tasty techniques as the mighty Saiyan Parsnap, whereas in the first game you were stuck with just one and had to suffer some dialogue if you switched mentors, which always made me feel rather guilty (except when switching from Vegeta, because he's an ass).

Also, you can get missions to defend Guru's house which (like several other locations) is accessible because of rifts in time. Coincidentally. Nail is the new Preston Garvey, as I said on Twitter. Should have gotten Guru the big screen TV, Nail!

Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 is now available from Dimps and Bandai Namco Entertainment for Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

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

Monday, October 31, 2016

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Halloween II" (1981)

Happy Halloween, my dear readers!

As always (except, y'know, when I don't), I like to end Horror Month on a high note. And there's not much of a higher note than a film that John Carpenter wrote, but never actually wanted to do and didn't actually direct himself.

...yeah. Apparently he was in that "I'm done with this" phase before he decided to take Halloween into an anthology series...and that didn't go particularly well, but that's a story for another time.  What I like about this film, and it's something that not a lot of films bother to do even today, is that it's more of a continuation than it is a straight up sequel. It still has, overall, the same feel as the original 1978 film and is actually not one that tries to pull a "one year later" or an even longer time period after the original.

Halloween II picks up right where the original left off, with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) absolutely traumatized after she's saved from Michael Myers (Dick Warlock) by Doctor Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence) and his magical six-shooter that can fire seven shots.  However, the power of editing errors is not something that can put Michael down and he's soon gone, leaving Loomis to go after him, Laurie to be sent to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, and both of them to learn a terrible secret about Michael's origins...and his motive for killing.

Yes, this is where the series' long-standing plot device of "Michael killing his loved ones" comes into play. To give credit where it's due, it's a legitimately good twist if you're seeing this film for the first time and it's actually done pretty well.  That being said, it is a blatant retcon and you would think that Laurie would remember trips to Smith's Grove to visit her older brother...even though, to the best of my recollection, Michael's name isn't ever actually spoken to her in the first movie. But, regardless, a legitimately good twist and something that provides good motivation for Michael.

It's just a shame the sequels will run it right into the ground.

The feel is very much the same as the first film, director Rick Rosenthal apparently wanting to follow as close to the original as possible.  He succeeds in this, though the style is not exactly the same in a few places.  One of the biggest ones, of course, being that there's a great deal more violence and gore than in the original. This is, of course, because the 1980s were in full swing.  The original had unfortunately given birth to the slew of imitators and copycats that would follow on from it,'s where things get a little confusing.

Rosenthal claims to have wanted to do "more of a thriller movie than a slasher movie", as the original was.  The original Halloween had almost no gore and a minimum of violence (the most traumatic death onscreen happens by a character being strangled by a phone cord, of all things), relying largely on suspense and - in John Carpenter's own words - "jack in the box moments". It was meant to be suspenseful, not a gore-fest as so many films of the 1980s were.

He claims that John Carpenter took control and refilmed several scenes in II to add more gore, which he says ruined the movie overall.  Carpenter, however, was apparently afraid audiences wouldn't respond well to a lack of gore giving the rise of the copycats who had upped the gore significantly (much like Friday the 13th), and thus did so in post-production.  And while it's positively tame, even for the standards of then (and laughable by the standards of today), it isn't hard to see Rosenthal's point. I really wish that Carpenter has stuck to his guns and let the suspense speak for itself, showing up all the horror films of the time without feeling like he needed to surpass them in the cesspool of blood and gore that they'd fallen into.

The film also suffers from the slasher film trope of a pile of victims that we don't actually care about.  Michael walks his way through many members of the hospital staff in order to get to Laurie. Note to screenwriters, making a character comic relief does not necessarily make them endearing (see also: Jar Jar Binks). It also doesn't help when humor is the only trait of a character besides being an asshole, which only makes every single moment that they're onscreen and not a corpse completely unbearable. And while the supporting cast isn't all that great (again, no attempts at even developing so much as one character), both Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence turn in excellent performances as one can expect from either of them in a film.

Despite the few problems, I do actually enjoy this film. It's not as good as the original, but given the nature of the film literally being a direct continuation, I almost consider this and the original as just one extended film. It meshes pretty well, minus a few blemishes, and is very enjoyable. Much more so when you consider the slew of sequels that followed it, some of which we've already covered here much to my own trauma.

If you can pick up a copy, or you can find it on cable, give it a view! Bonus points if you can find it playing back to back with the original.

Halloween II is available from Universal Pictures and The Dino De Laurentiis Corporation.

Halloween and all related properties are owned by Dimension Films.

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

Monday, October 24, 2016

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Blade" (1998)


Okay, one would have to stretch pretty far to call Deadpool a "superhero film" and they'd likewise have some difficulty calling this a superhero film.  Blade (Wesley Snipes), born Eric Brooks, is a unique fixture in the Marvel universe. He is a half-vampire, due to his mother being bitten by a vampire while he was in the womb. He has all the strengths of the vampire - strength, speed, and endurance - and none of their for the thirst for human blood. Teaming up with vampire hunter Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), he now hunts the abominations that took his mother's life, trying to protect humanity from the curse of the vampire.

And that's pretty much the entire plot recapped right there. Yes, there is a subplot involving the audience surrogate/love interest Dr. Karen Jenson (N'Bushe Wright) having been bitten by a vampire and trying to develop a serum to cure herself and potentially others. Also, Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) is trying to summon up the powers of the vampire god La Magra, which will spell the doom of all mankind unless Blade stops him. Unfortunately, Frost is also the vampire who bit Blade's mother, so he's iceskating uphill already before he even begins.

The film is very much a product of the late 90s. Doing the whole Matrix vinyl look for Blade a full year before the Matrix came out, the cinematography in speeding up the footage and the like. That being said, the fight scenes are pretty damn enjoyable and it has one of the best villain deaths in a film I've ever seen. The acting is pretty good, and it's clear that Snipes and Kristofferson have a lot of onscreen chemistry that really shows a good student-mentor bond.

And yes, you might say I'm cheating with this one, but it is horror! Blade is constantly trying to fight his vampiric nature, not giving into his thirst and become the monster that he fights (or worse, given that he holds none of the vampire's traditional weaknesses). What's more tragic than the story of a man whose trying his hardest to not become a terrible creature of the night?

...okay, a lot of things. But don't be so pedantic.

Blade is now available from Marvel and New Line Cinemas.

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

MadCap's Comic Reviews - "Spider-Man vs. Dracula #1"

Spider-Man is my favorite superhero of all time, largely because of what he represents.  More so than a lot of superheroes out there, he stands out to me.  While Captain America is (when written by people who are not Mark Millar) a symbol of integrity, never compromising in the battle to do what's right and Iron Man is (when written by people who are not Mark Millar) a symbol of perseverance, of what people can accomplish through hard work and dedication, as well as a living example of the miracles that science and technology can accomplish, Spider-Man has, to me, always exemplified a single thing:  hope.

Peter Parker was originally crafted as the everyman by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko waaaaay back in the 1960s.  He was supposed to be the average joe who just happened to be a superhero, having to balance the problems that came with squeezing himself into a red and blue onesie with things like relationships with his peers, constantly trying to make ends meet financially, and caring for his constantly-dying Aunt May.

No matter his struggle, no matter the peril he finds himself in - be it dealing with a supervillain preying on his loved ones, having to battle a cosmic being that is hunting other versions of him from across the multiverse, or the simple struggle of making enough cash just to keep his lights on, your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man will always find a way to bounce back and come out on top.

...yeah, totally sets you in the mind of a Halloween story, right?

And I won't go into how bizarre it is that Dracula is suddenly in a superhero comic, because I have done so already and managed to give a quick, concise history with it all the while. Basically put, Dracula exists in the Marvel universe, being that the Marvel universe operates on a standing policy of "All Myths Are True". So, naturally, throwing Spidey into a knock down, drag out fight with Dracula makes sense.  No, that's not a joke.  After all, one of his biggest villains (and later anti-hero and sometimes partner) was one, so it doesn't seem all that far-fetched.

And honestly, after his battle with the X-Men, it seems only natural to take a big step back and focus on a specific character rather than his efforts against a team.  Simple enough, right? Take a well-known hero, Spidey being a big seller for Marvel in any case, and have a tight, well thought out story that has a satisfying bout between the two that will obviously end with the knowledge (at least to the reader) that Dracula isn't really dead.  They had the potential to do something really neat here.  Did they do it? Well...

...yeah, no, this is...this is not that comic. I won't go so far as to say that it's bad, just that it's really pointless. The worst part about it is that the title is actually a complete and utter lie:  Spider-Man and Dracula do not, at any point, fight in this comic.

I know, I was disappointed, too.

The comic itself begins with Spidey coming across a jewelry store having been broken into. He soon comes across a shadowy figure and they tussle for a bit, but they manage to escape and completely elude the Webslinger.  Notably, during the fight, the webbing doesn't stick and Spidey slips on a patch of ice on the sidewalk...which he notes is odd in the sixty degree weather.  It's a good opening that shows us Spidey's fighting abilities as well as sets up vampires...though we don't actually get any indication that it is a vampire.  It's clearly supposed to be, but it's not Dracula (the figure's silhouette doesn't look a thing like Dracula as he appears later), and there's no follow-up on it later.

But we're not supposed to think much about it before Peter goes to visit his dear Aunt May who, in spite of her instance that she's fine, has picked up some strand of super flu that regular vaccines are immune to.  Her only hope is one A.J. Maxfield, an eccentric doctor who apparently discovered a new vaccine.  However, because of their eccentricities, they won't fly and is coming to America by boat.  Fearing that may be too late, Peter does what any rational superhero would do...hits up the Baxter Building and harangues Johnny Storm until he gives him a rocket to use.

...oh, don't look at the screen like that, you totally saw that coming.

But after that intrusive cameo, Peter somehow manages to have the exact coordinates of the ship bringing Maxfield to America and shoots off to it, arriving and sneaking aboard out of costume.  Coincidentally, Dracula is also arriving at about the same time and the two literally bump into each other, each one thinking about how the other one is an asshole.  And my spoiler from earlier actually gets worse, because this is literally the only interaction that the two of them have during this entire comic.  It's not even like X-Men vs. Dracula where the two at least came into conflict, no.  This is literally the only time the pair of them even speak to one another, much less fight.

The rest of the plot is Dracula looking for A.J. Maxfield because of the vaccine they discovered for...reasons.  Dracula mentions something to do with his "carefully laid plans", but there's no elaboration on it and it's frankly just a little to Vampire: The Masquerade for my tastes.  Nevertheless, while you would think this would bring Spidey into conflict with him, it doesn't...because Spidey has your standard thugs who are also looking for Maxfield.

So, in summation, while Spidey does end up getting Maxfield (who is apparently a she and whose only eccentricities seem to be having her date lie for her and wearing Viking attire) and getting the vaccine...there' reason to have called this Spider-Man vs. Dracula.  Besides to simply put it on the cover (and it is a pretty neat cover), which I suppose is the point in the end, but with any crossover, you have to have something to the story.  It's the same reason why Freddy vs. Jason was a forgettable mess of a film.  It tried to go solely on brand recognition without actually bothering to tell any sort of story.

Rather like this comic, in fact.

"Spider-Man vs. Dracula #1" is brought to us from Marvel Comics.

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Friday the 13th Part 2" (1981)

What happens after Mother's gone? Well, if you're Jason Voorhees, you pick up a machete and start chopping away at teenagers.  Thus is the entire set up for Friday the 13th Part 2.  Jason Voorhees actually takes up the machete (no hockey mask yet) after the death of his mother (Betsy Palmer) at the end of the first movie (spoiler alert!) at the hands of Alice (Aridenne King).  To set up what would be the standard treatment for protagonists in the series (with the exception of Tommy Jarvis, but we'll get to him), Alice is unceremoniously killed off in the first twenty minutes by a mysterious man who breaks into her home near Crystal Lake (having come back two months later to try and find some closure after the terrible events) and has some very interesting ideas about what to put in her fridge.

This was done as King's request, as she was stalked by a fan after the first movie had premiered and given her some prominence, and started the long trend in slasher movies of the previous protagonist being killed off so as to allow a new cast to deal with the killer...even though, ironically, most protagonists within the Friday series would never actually appear again after their first film even if played by a different actor.

Nevertheless, it's five years after the first film, putting this firmly in 1984...and beginning an arc that would carry the series through to Part 4, some confusing hiccups in continuity notwithstanding.  A new group of late teenage/early twenties youths are, rather than being counselors, being trained as summer camp counselors not too far from the original Crystal Lake. Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney) is still biking around spreading his gospel, and a new arrival to the trainees comes in the form of Ginny Field (Amy Steel).

Yes, she's the Final Girl. Don't be shocked.

She is the first protagonist to realize the untapped potential of the series by pointing out that Jason may have survived his drowning and lived out in the woods in Crystal Lake as some kind of feral man thing, and that he had potentially witnessed the death of his mother...

This movie isn't one of the well-remembered ones in the series, but it's definitely not bad by any means. Nobody's favorite, certainly, but it was the springboard by which the entire rest of the series flows...for good and for ill.

This was also in the era where film makers were still aware that the people in their films were actual people and not just crash test dummies filled with blood that occasionally went topless for the T'n'A quota to be fulfilled, so there is several scenes dedicated to building character so that we actually care when the killing starts.  It's certainly not to the level of Aliens or Predator, but we do get a sense of who these twenty-somethings are, how they interact with one another, and even a bit of their histories.  It's really something I can't praise highly enough, seeing as we almost never see that anymore in movies, and that's a real shame.

It's the reverse of the problem I have with the Godzilla movies I've seen - not enough humanity to make me care.  So, it's honestly nice to see those bits of character development, make some actual investment with the characters before they're thrown into peril.

Apart from that, yes, this is a paint by numbers slasher film.  Killer kills, victims die. Rinse, lather, and repeat.  Though it's important to remember that this is one of the first in the big craze that followed Halloween.  Take it for a nice viewing in a marathon, enjoy some of the cheesier bits, then move on to others that will follow.

...maybe not Part III, though.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is brought to us by Paramount Pictures with the current rights behind help by New Line Cinema.

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

Friday, October 14, 2016

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Until Dawn"

Choices...choices are what lie before all of us every day.  Every so often, they can have grand and long-lasting consequences.  But most of the time, they're mundane.  To paraphrase Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation: "the decision to go through a door will result in me being in the next room". And that is, ultimately, what the draw of Until Dawn is not supposed to be.  The choices are supposed to matter and, ultimately, they really don't. That being said, that doesn't make Until Dawn bad, per se. It's just not really a game except in the strictest's an 'interactive storytelling experience'. And, in that capacity, it actually tells a very good story.

I'm serious, and you - my dear readers - should know by now that I will play through just about anything if the story is any good.  The story admittedly pretty good, though it is riddled with every single horror cliche to be used in the last...forever, really.  To put it in perspective to all of you, let's play the Until Dawn drinking game!

The plot begins with a group of teenagers alone in a cabin in the woods (take a shot!) who play a prank on one of their friends that goes horribly wrong (take a shot) resulting in her and her twin sister going missing.  One year later (take a shot!) the friends regroup to try and honor their memory at the same place they went missing: the cabin in the woods, which is built near an old sanitarium (take a shot) and the entire mountain that both are built on is a cursed Native American burial site (take a shot) and they are stalked by a mysterious masked man with a machete (take a shot).

So yeah, a lot of them and that's just the plot itself without actually getting into the characters. You have the final girl (take a shot) played by Hayden Paniter...Panita...Panera...the cheerleader from Heroes, the jock (take a shog) played by that guy from Agents of SHIELD who was apparently in HYDRA (spoiler alert!), the bitch (tag a spog), the other bitch (tak a smok), the "nice girl" (gag a frog), the nerd (smoke a shod), and the incredibly creepy kid who is so obviously either going to die first or be the killer (COASTERS!).

Okay, I'm assuming now that you've woken up from the alcohol-induced coma, so let me continue with the fact that I honestly don't mind the cliches being used, as I much as I joke about them.  I'm a horror fan myself (or didn't you know?), so seeing the concepts highlighted and having fun poked at them is a joy of mine (also a fan of irreverent humor, or didn't you know?). What isn't a joy of mine, however, is two things that this game is absolutely filled with - quick time events and jump scares.

Let's go ahead and get the big one out of the way - jump scares are so inappropriately misnamed as to be libelous. The fact is that jump scares are not scares at all, they're startling.  Think back to any Screamer video you've ever seen (and no, you never have to worry about that from me, I'm not that much of a dick).  If someone jumped out at you in real life what would you do? Punch them in the face.  In the misquoted words of The Spoony One, using loud noises to slap someone upside the soul is not remotely fair as a scare.

Jump scares are the cinematic equivalent of the fart joke - rarely done well and, even if they are, it doesn't take away from the fact that there's a terrible brown stain on your underwear now.

As for the second problem, Quick Time Events.  This is where the game gets into barely qualifying as an actual game, because the player does actually have to pick up the controller to interact with the world.  Although interestingly enough, with the Playstation 4's movement technology, there are several times when the player is outright instructed to move as little as possible, so much so that they could just set the controller down on a flat surface and wait it out with no penalty.  That's right, a game that actively tells you to not play it.

But yes, as you move the characters through certain areas, cutscenes will trigger that will force the player to do a quick time event or three that will often determine the fate of the characters in question.  And, for horror fare, they do die if you fail in some very visceral and even some creative ways.  That being said, it is very cheap to have a split-second decision or a wrong-button press mean a character will immediately go down the wrong pathway or open the wrong door to be devoured by a hungry monster. Though, perhaps, I'm just missing the point.

That being said, we come back with the problem with the choices.  Much like life, only a handful of your choices actually have any consequences in the grand scheme of things.  Characters can die, though two of them are off the chopping block until literally the very end of the game when you make the last decision, which - now that you know that - kind of makes any dangerous situation they find themselves in rather pointless and lacking any sort of tension, doesn't it?

It feels like the developers are simply having you along for the ride.  This is their story, and you're just here to watch and occasionally press a button...and, honestly, I'm conflicted because the story is actually really good.  I mean it.  You can pick up items throughout the game - papers, photographs, and items, that will tell the various stories from the asylum, the mines, and even the house the characters are bunking over at.  While its to different degrees, the stories all have their own flavor and complexities and really show that the developers were thinking of the world beyond just the player and the characters that they control.

The problem comes with choices that ultimately are meaningless because certain events must always happen, quick time events that tie into that by unduly stressing a player at the beginning and then pissing them off once they realize they're pointless, and jump scares that serve no real purpose.  Couple all those with a game that you're barely playing as much as you are watching, and it's just...really depressing.  And yet, I still have to recommend this game, because the story is just that good.

I hope, when and if we get a direct sequel (from what I'm given to understand, Rush of Blood is going to be more a spin-off than a sequel, and I have no interest in a rail shooter...) that we see a little bit more of an actual game in the game.  Having big name actors is nice and (sometimes) brings considerable talent to the screen, and making the screen very, very pretty is good, but that doesn't sell me on a game and - even if your story is great - games are an interactive medium.  Put more game in the game, Supermassive, and I'm all aboard!

Until Dawn is now available for Playstation 4 from Supermassive Games and Sony Interactive Entertainment.

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