Monday, August 7, 2017

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "The Last Starfighter" (1984)

So...let's talk about the ultimate video game nerd power fantasy film.

Because I, the MadCapMunchkin, am here to tell you that this film here is basically it.  I don't know about you, but it's the dream of every single video game nerd I know (myself included) to be told that you are so amazingly badass at playing video games that a group of aliens who made said video games want you to come from boring old Earth to their planet halfway across the galaxy to fight in an intergalactic war against a nigh-unstoppable foe who seeks to conquer or destroy all sentient life in the universe. And all you have to do is be blackmailed and guilted into it, and then eventually pick up your girlfriend that you so totally have and do the same to her in a never-ending cycle of shame and misery!

...wait a second. Let me start over.

The Last Starfighter is the tale of Alex Logan (Lance Guest), the assumed alias of Jimmy Lloyd after the terrible events of Halloween night of 1978 (the good version), now living in California in protective custody. However, this protection is not so restrictive that he can't spend time with his sort of sort of not girlfriend Maggie (Catherine May Stewart) or play his favorite (and only) arcade game in the trailer park Starfighter.  So what if he has no prospects at going to college? At least he'll always have video games.

But when Alex gets the high score on Starfighter, he finds himself kidnapped by a stylish con-man by the name of Centauri (Robert Preston) and pressed into the service of Rylan Star League as a Starfighter, which is apparently a very rare gift among the civilized societies of the known universe. So much so that there's only a handful of pilots and navigators to battle the dreaded Ko-Dan Armada and defend the planet of Rylos and the Frontier.

Why the Rylans themselves can't get into their Gunstars and go fight off the Armada is something they skillfully avoid mentioning.

But yes, thus begins an epic adventure as Alex must lean to actually pilot the real spacecraft and save the galaxy from the Ko-Dan and the dreaded Xur (Norman Snow). Xur, by the way, winning the award for least intimidating villain ever...except maybe when put up against Lisa from The Room. He hams it up and does practically nothing the entire film that is in any way remotely menacing. Even the Ko-Dan are wondering when they can get rid of him. He does have a really cool mace thing.

A few things before I dive into what I enjoy about this film - because, yes, I really, really love this movie - yes, it's a Star Wars-ripoff and yes, it's a Galaga rip-off. Neither of those things happen to be criticisms. It's a 1980s science-fiction film, of course it drew large amounts of inspiration from Star Wars. And it's one ship going up against an entire armada of other ships, Galaga. That being said, those don't detract from the film in the least.

What does kind of detract from the film is the fact that we're not actually given that much detail about the Rylans or the Star League or even their conflict with the Ko-Dan.  For things that are seemingly so very important, they're either glossed over or not mentioned at all. I will give it credit that the simplicity of it is realistic seeing as Alex isn't told all of this either, but we as the audience really know nothing about any of it beyond the fact that the Rylans say that the Ko-Dan and Xur are pure dang nasty evil.

In A New Hope, you get some exposition through the opening crawl and some dialogue between characters that set up the Empire almost from the jump as an incredibly evil, oppressive regime and we see our heroes have very clear reasons for fighting against that regime. With this movie...you're just told that and given vague mentions of a "dark betrayal" and just told to go with it. No real attempts at world-building, though we do see some very unique designs for the various alien types and both the Gunstars and the Ko-Dan ships.

The Frontier in particular is one of several special effect shots that honestly look really cool for the time. While the sets where the actors are is done by physical locations while the space scenes are done with early CGI. Cheesy by today's standards, sure, but in 1984 it was cutting edge.

However, the film isn't about paper-thin plots or outdated CGI. It's about Alex pushing himself beyond what he believes he's capable of an unlocking the hero within...after being emotionally blackmailed into doing so by various individuals, up to and including his own robotic duplicate (also played by Lance Guest). However, this does work and Alex does eventually step up to the plate after an attack by the Ko-Dan makes him...the Last Starfighter.

Despite the forced blackmail to do the right thing, the film is definitely a good one. Yes, we don't know much about what's going on, but Alex never learns it and I suppose that's realistic to his situation as a whole.Yes, it's outdated in terms of special effects, but it holds up better than most for a movie that's over thirty years old. I love it, and will be happy to watch it time and time again, until I'm battling evil in another dimension.

The Last Starfighter is brought to us by Lorimar Productions and Universal Pictures.

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

From MadCap's Couch - "Castlevania" (Season 1)

A show review? I thought that would never happen again after Netflix took off Sliders and I became far, far less than inclined to ever review Supernatural ever again. But it seems that just when I think I'm out, Netflix drags me back in with a Netflix original Castlevania series. Based on Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, but with an art style reminiscent of Symphony of the Night, my favorite game in the whole Castlevania series (that I've played)? I couldn't resist that, could I?

And now, four episodes later, I really, really wish I had.

Let me go ahead and get the things I like out of the way. The animation is phenomenal. It follows on from the art style of Symphony of the Night as I said before and it definitely shows. The voice acting is good. Beyond good, actually. Richard Armitage does a great voice for Trevor Belmont in particular, showing in the The Hobbit trilogy that he has the gravely voice that makes for an excellent vampire hunter.

And now...into some gripes.

The music is composed by Trevor Morris of Dragon Age: Inquisition fame and...none of it is memorable or indicative of Castlevania in any way. None of the music from the games is heard! At all! Though that may be because of the lack of truly awesome moments worth of epics like "Vampire Killer" or "Bloody Tears" as I'll get to in due course.

Another reason this is a full Season 1 review instead of the individual pieces? There are only four episodes as I mentioned above and they're all about twenty minutes a piece. It's bad when the Telltale Guardians of the Galaxy game I've reviewed the first two episodes of a few weeks ago have a greater length than four episodes of this. So, without further adieu...with spoilers to follow beyond this point.

Episode 1: "Witchbottle"
A young woman named Lisa is either brave or stupid enough to march into Dracula's castle in order to learn how to drop science. Sometime later, she's burned at the stake by the Catholic Church because we haven't seen enough of the Catholic Church being dicks in fiction.

Seriously, they've proven more than enough in reality that they aren't on the level. Let's make some new villains, screenwriters.

However, Dracula and Lisa were married and Dracula is understandably rather pissed about the fact that they burned his wife at the stake and...rather generously gives them a single year to leave the area or suffer a terrible fate. They don't, so he kills them all.

Or, if you don't want to read all that: The Catholic Church were dicks and Dracula did nothing wrong. Because, honestly, he didn't.

When Satan tells you to move or die, you move!

Episode 2: "Necropolis"
We are finally introduced to Trevor Belmont, a layabout drunk who runs around in clothing that bears his family crest. The Belmonts apparently having been exiled from Wallachia for reasons that don't exactly pan out because it's the Middle Ages and the Catholic Church are dicks.

Are you seeing a recurring theme here?

But this episode really highlights the main problem with the series as a whole - a lot of talking. A frankly outrageous amount of talking. I'm fully aware that exposition has to get out, but the show itself seems to be built up entirely around just getting out exposition.

The writer of Castlevania is Warren Ellis, who some of my readers will know for his comic book writing (particularly the "Extremis" storyline of Iron Man that was developed into Iron Man 3) and video game writing (Dead Space).  Was he just in a rush with this? If so, I find it hard to believe since this has been in development hell since around 2008.

C'mon, dude. You can do better than mountains and mountains of exposition. That would be like writing paragraph after paragraph of insane rants on an internet blog about geeky B.S. that nobody cares about! Who the hell would want to read that?!

But besides that first paragraph, the only actual thing that happens is Trevor getting to another town where he is given crap by the Church and given an ultimatum to leave, and meeting with a group called The Speakers after saving the Leader, eventually agreeing to enter the catacombs beneath the city to find their leader's granddaughter.

Episode 3: "Labyrinth"
Trevor enters the catacombs and finds a cyclops in what is literally the first Castlevania-esque moment since the first episode. It's a good fight and there had been a few action scenes before to solidify Trevor as a combat badass before, but this is literally the first one where he takes on a monster rather than another human.

Definitely have been getting a Castlevania: Colonial Marines vibe with all the human vs. human fights...

But yes, it's good even if it is surprisingly short. In slaying the cyclops, Trevor releases the Speakers' leader's granddaughter Sypha Belnades from being a stone statue for all eternity. And then, we descend into more talking about the Speakers and their missing "Lost Soldier" who is apparently the only one who will stop Dracula, before the Church starts to come down on the Speakers because of the lie that they're responsible for the plague of Dracula because witchcraft and not anything to do with Christian hypocrisy.

Once again. Anyone? Theme? Do you feel the anvil hitting your head yet?

Episode 4: "Monument"
And now we finally get to something even vaguely Castlevania related. It's here that the show actually shows that it could be something fantastic...and it's a fight between a bunch of townsfolk and demons after Trevor outs the Church for their part in Dracula's mass slaughter in Wallachia.

...at this point, I'll take what I can get.

And it's a good fight, using bits of Castlevania lore to their advantage such as the use of holy water and Sypha's magic. It's only after the fight that we get more and more into the games themselves as Trevor and Sypha have to navigate a deeper part of the catacombs in order to find the Lost Soldier...who is revealed to be Alucard, the son of Dracula and Lisa. What follows it a fantastically choreographed fight that shows Alucard to be a badass where it took Trevor four episodes...and I'm still not very convinced.

But in the end, yes, the three of them band together once Alucard is convinced of their intentions of killing Dracula. And...the season ends.

All that build up. All that exposition. All that distinctive lack of things Castlevania-y...and then it's over. Luckily, it has been renewed for a Second Season with eight episodes instead of just four, so we'll likely get more. Hopefully, they'll work on what has gone horribly not good for the first season as I've described here.

1. Cut down on the exposition. We don't need so much and we don't need to know everything right away and have it repeated over and over again.

2. More monster fights. We have all of two. And they're in the last episode. I don't know anyone who comes to Castlevania to see the Belmonts fight other humans.

3. MUSIC! I cannot stress what a big part of Castlevania that was completely left out of this and it's a major let-down. They were able to use the designs from Symphony of the Night and follow (for the most part) the story from Dracula's Curse, so why didn't the music make it in? Why? WHY?!

If you have Netflix and you want to get into it, go for it. Just be ready for more talking than there is actual monster hunting in a show that is based on a series of games that is literally all about monster hunting.

Castlevania is now on Netflix from Federator Studios, Powerhouse Animation Studios, and - of course - Netflix.

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Ladyhawke" (1985)

If you're a new reader of my blog or you're completely unaware of the fact, I'm a big fan of the sword and sorcery genre, be it in films, books, video games, or whatever else have you. I'm also a big fan of Eighties movies and the cheesiness inherent in most of them. This film, Ladyhawke, has a great deal of the later with very little of the former. Oh, it certainly shows that it's from the Eighties what with a very out of place soundtrack that uses synthesizers in what should be a Medieval European setting, but it isn't as if the characters suddenly run into the band playing their instruments during a sequence or anything of the sort.

Also, for a sword and sorcery story...there isn't much sorcery.

Let me unpack this a bit. The tale takes place in the Middle Ages in that one area of France where everyone somehow has British accents. A thief by the name of Philippe Gaston (Matthew Broderick) is breaking out of an impossible to escape from prison, pursued by some guardsmen sent after him by the dreaded Bishop (John Wood), Philippe finds himself saved by the uber-badass and possible ancestor of Miles Teg known as Etienne of Navarre (Rutger Hauer).

Both we and Philippe learn over the course of the story that Navarre was betrothed to a woman named Isabeau (Michelle Pfeffier).  However, Isabeau was of such beauty that all who looked upon her fell in love with her...even the Bishop. When he learned of their union, he seethed with anger and called upon the Devil himself to curse them both. For the rest of their days, they would be apart. During the day, Isabeau taking the form of a hawk and at night, Navarre becoming a wolf.

Always together, eternally apart.

And Philippe's part in the tale? As he escaped from the city, Navarre reasons that he can help him sneak into the city in order to kill the Bishop and break the shared curse. The best part? The film actually delivers entirely on its premise. More than that, it actually is able to craft a believable, complex, and tragic love story between two characters who share, all told, about five minutes of screentime combined.

That's right, Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeffier share all of two scenes together, and it still works.

The film also, for the major plot point of the transformation between human and beast, doesn't have any scenes that show the transformations besides a single one that drives home the hopelessness of their existence and really helps to build on the romance subplot.

There is fantastic acting all around to help the believability as well. Rutger Hauer plays a total badass hardened warrior on a mission who will not be dissuaded. He is desperate to be free of his curse and to free his beloved from the same fate. There is a surprising amount of chemistry between him and Michelle Pfeffier for them only sharing two scenes together, which is a testament to the acting talent of both of them. It's an onscreen romance that works better than many I've seen in film or television. It's well developed, built upon in almost every scene with the plot being centered around it, and the two of them make it believable.

And then, of course, there's Matthew Broderick. He's absolutely phenomenal and Philippe is one of the funniest characters in all of fiction. Every single scene - and I mean it. Every. Single. Scene. - he's in, he steals it. Philippe's continuous struggle in trying to be good for the Lord (in monologues, no less) are an absolute stitch and he serves also as a silver-tongued messenger between Navarre and Isabeau during their switches in what are some genuinely heartwarming moments.

Really, the only critique I can give him is his slipping accent, but that's easy to look past. At least he's attempting to do an accent instead of pulling a Kevin Costner.

This film is magnificent and I would happily enjoy it again any time. It is the very height of excellence and, yes, by the end of this film, you will believe a lady can hawk.

...yes, Richard Donner directed this. It was either that or a "What a guy, Gaston!" joke. Be grateful.

Ladyhawke is brought to us by 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

MadCap At The Movies - "Spider-Man: Homecoming"


Spider-Cap!
Spider-Cap!
Does whatever a Spider-Cap does!

Flails his hands! Everywhere!
Sometimes wears,
Underwear!

Look out!
He's got some bad B.O.!!!

Spider-Man Homecoming is now in theaters from Marvel and Sony.

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series" (Episode 2)

Once more, we pick up with the Guardians of the Galaxy! Episode 2 of the titular "Telltale Series" picks up with the group right after Peter Quill is suddenly resurrected by the awesome might of the Eternity Forge!

Spoiler alert.

Again, choices are made and backstory is given. The big focus this time around is Rocket Raccoon and his life before joining the Guardians...and it's pretty damn tragic all around. What was really only hinted at in the films is brought up in full force, and it really does help to explain Rocket's more callous, harsh attitude in the present.

And in the present, the trouble with the Kree and the Eternity Forge continues, along with the addition of Nebula, who is none too happy about the death of Thanos and seeks revenge as well as use of the Eternity Forge once she discovers it actually exists.

Apart from the plot, it's second-verse same as the first. Quill (and Rocket, for a bit of flashback) moves around environments until they discover things he needs to progress, makes decisions that will either please or alienate others, and hint at looming choices later to come.  The only criticisms I can levy against it are the same I had for Episode 1 - the QTEs are not immersive in any sense of the word, and I have yet to see full-blown consequences of my choices, if any as of yet. Just different bits of dialogue and either Gamora or Rocket being somewhat more snippy at or happy with me depending on the ones I made.

I really don't have much to say on this one, unfortunately because...it's not a complete game. It's a piece. And that might work just fine for some. Not for myself. Unfortunately, I've determined to milk this out into five reviews and so I shall...whenever the next parts actually come out.

Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series is now available from Telltale Games for Android, iOS, Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series" (Episode 1)

Well, seeing as I liked both the movies, it was only natural that I would eventually tackle the Guardians of the Galaxy game by Telltale. I was interested when the first trailer was released, and I was equally interested when it actually came out, I just didn't get to it. But thanks to my local Gamestop, I have the entire season pass. And because the game itself has been milked out into five sections for maximum pointlessness, I'm likewise going to milk out this review in five parts for maximum page views.

That's right! MadCap has officially sold out!

Bring on the money!

In all seriousness, I've never played a Telltale Game before, though I've seen plenty about their Walking Dead series via internet memes. Mostly jokes about how the choices ultimately really DON'T matter. Needless to say, in the first section, I haven't seen much despite several menacing warnings that Rocket will remember this.

And that.

And that, too.

To begin, the Guardians are mucking around and apparently are completely divorced from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in that Peter Quill looks absolutely nothing like Chris Pratt. And I mean it's BAD. Really, really BAD. I'm not sure if they couldn't get the rights to the likenesses of the actors, but oh LORD does it just look bad. Quill looks more like Sean Gunn than he does Chris Pratt. Fortunately, the character's trademark wit and snark remain. The other Guardians are also very true to their counterparts, though the animations are a bit off for some. It may just be Telltales' style, but why is Gamora's hair purple? Why do Rocket's eyes look like he's seen some serious shit? It's curious to me, though it may just be a stylistic choice and I really just need to get over it.

But the art design isn't what people come to Telltale for! If the memes are any indication, it's because of something that someone will remember! That's right, choices! You get plenty. And plenty of Quick Time Events to break up your decision making. And that is basically the only mechanics there are in the game. You make some choices in conversation and in conflicts, you have a Quick Time event laden action scene, and repeat the process.

The actual game play boils down to that LA Noire style of things where you wander around environments and interact with them to find clues. Eventually, you trip over everything enough times to find the things you need. Rinse and repeat.

The plot, however, is where the game is actually very interesting and is  - as I've acknowledged before on this very blog - something that will get me to play almost any game regardless of how the mechanics are. The Guardians of the Galaxy go out and pursue Thanos, who has beaten the Nova Corps left, right, and center in order to get his hands on an ancient artifact known as the Eternity Forge. He does retrieve it, though after some minor puzzle solving and a lengthy series of quick time events, the Guardians do the unthinkable...and kill Thanos.

Let me repeat that, since I know those of my readers who read comics are going to be shocked.

The Guardians of the Galaxy go out and kill Thanos.

Y'know, Thanos? That guy who worships Death? That guy who once went out and got a gauntlet that let him casually wipe out half the universe with the snap of a finger?

Yeah. That guy.

And he goes down like a bitch, too.

Yeah. I can't get over it. The guy who it took half the Marvel universe to stop. Not kill, stop. He goes down so, so easily.  Of course, it turns out the Eternity Forge is able to resurrect the dead, so I doubt it'll be the last we see of the Big Purple Bastard, though they do try to lay it on thick as the galaxy celebrates the death of one of its greatest threats.

But the choices come onward again through lengthy cutscenes, having the player take the role of Peter Quill (for the most part) and interacting with the other memories of the Guardians in order to have conversations that will build on later events. Presumably, anyway. As of this writing, only Episode 2 has been released (yes, I'll be doing that next week) and the long-term effects of everything have yet to be seen.

On the whole, it's definitely not a bad first effort in a Telltale Guardians universe. It has the same problems of a lot of force decision games, but it does retain a great deal of what is beloved about the characters, as well as the somewhat goofy, somewhat serious style of everything. And, of course, excellent music as one would expect from a Guardians-related product.

Not much else I can say. Looking forward to the rest.

Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series is now available from Telltale Games for Android, iOS, Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Yooka-Laylee"

...yeah, no. Totally still topical, right?

I was a big fan of Rare when I was growing up, still would be if they weren't the dilapidated corpse that Microsoft has turned them into, producing...that game I cannot mention without breaking out into a rage-induced rant.

No, not that one.

But yes, I was a fan of Rare. When I heard that Playtonic was made up of former Rare employees and they were working on a spiritual sequel to the Banjo-Kazooie series, I was delighted! Ecstatic, even!

Then they dropped JonTron as a voice.

And yes, I'm aware of all the things that went along with that. It's their business and he himself even said he was understanding of their decision. So that's put to bed as far as I'm concerned, much as it would have been nice to have him in the finished product.

Then we got the finished product.

Let's unpack this a bit, shall we?

Yooka-Laylee is the tale of a lizard and bat who totally are not suspiciously-similar to a certain bear and bird. They live in a shipwreck that they dub the "Bat Ship Crazy" (HA!) and are the keepers of an old book that suddenly gets sucked up into the sky because of the machinations of an evil bee known as...Capital B. This bee, working from his hideout in the Hivory Towers is totally not at all similar to a certain evil witch in that served a similar role in that other game. It appears the book that they got a hold of is "The One Book" - a book that can rewrite the laws of reality completely. Thus with the pages (called "Pagies") out and about across various worlds within the hub of the Hivory Towers, Yooka and Laylee head out to reclaim it.

Aided by a snake named Trowser (HA!), a scientific octopus named Dr. Puzz, and sentient vending machine known as Vendi, the duo will gather all the moves, transformations, and tonics they need to defeat the Capital B and keep him from using the One Book to rewrite the universe to his whims.

No doubt the pages will inevitably lead to a wide conspiracy about the meaning of background items and their references to future games.

Or, y'know...they could just spend their time cracking jokes about Swop N' Stop and other Banjo-Kazooie related things.

I joke, but there's legitimately two (count them - one, two) Ice Keys that crop up. Because references to past glories are far better than making anything new.

And that, really, is the problem I have with this game on the whole - it really, really wants to be a Banjo-Kazooie game so hard it burns. So much so that it doesn't really try anything new. Sure, there are a few tweaks and variations on things, but it's trying too hard to recapture the feeling of the original two games and not focusing enough on being its own thing. Some would say I shouldn't complain. After all, Playtonic could have just thrown non-sequitur cars in for no adequately explored reason because a man with a television set for a head told them to.

Yes, I'm still pissed off. What of it?

But the fact remains that this would make a very good Banjo-Kazooie game. And, mechanically, it does. Yooka and Laylee homage the bear and bird they're spawned from in their movesets, species-oriented differences aside. I could see many of these moves easily fitting into Banjo and Kazooie's arsenal with a little bit of a name and anatomy change.

I understand the use of the formula and them wanting to tap into the nostalgia. But from both the standpoint of creating something new...they really didn't. Even Yooka and Laylee could very easily just be replaced with Banjo and Kazooie and there'd be no real difference. Their personalities are so similar as to be indistinguishable (Yooka being perhaps a bit more eager to get on with the adventure than Banjo was).

The collectibles nature of the game was enough, and there's certain plenty to collect: pages, quills, and ghosts that are totally not Jinjos. But the game is self-referential to the point where the original game (which was, itself, self-referential) is telling it to stop. It doesn't allow us to really go in different directions or explore anything new that hasn't been or wouldn't have been in a proper Banjo-Kazooie game. In trying to recapture the past, Playtonic didn't really get what made the game a huge success in the first place.

While Yooka-Laylee does bring some colorful characters to the table, not a lot of them are memorable. In Banjo-Kazooie? Some of the background characters are memorable. They were awash with personality and humor. The humor is here...if it's a little less leaning on the fourth wall and more breaking it entirely when the characters have to refer to the fact that they're in a game every five minutes...but none of the personality. If we had some unique development of the main duo as characters, that would be something.

And that's not to say that there aren't some unique and interesting characters in Yooka-Laylee, there are...but they just lack that memorability, or are Banjo-Kazooie characters who have been painted over. There's nothing new here. You have the full recaptured feel of a platformer from the Nintendo 64 days...but that's it. It's a recaptured feel, and it's definitely good if you want that particular itch scratched. But it doesn't really do anything new, and it feels like a game that was pulled right out of that long-ago era.

So yes, it's good mechanically as I've said...but it's also because the formula is a tried and true one, not because of anything Playtonic has actually done to update it, or to create a memorable cast of characters and carry the game through on their charm. If you haven't already and want to get your collect-a-thon on, go for it! If not...this probably isn't the game for you, sorry to say. Even if you were a Banjo-Kazooie fan.

Yooka-Laylee is now available from Playtonic Games and Team 17 for Linux, macOS, Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

MadCap At The Movies - "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"

Twice the Guardians! Twice the Galaxy! Twice the fun!

Also, spoilers. And obscure references.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is now in theaters from Marvel Entertainment.

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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

MadCap At The Movies - "Power Rangers" (2017)


Teenagers with actual attitude?

Zordon being a dick who berates children and throws them into pits because they don't do things he likes?

Alpha looking like something out of HP Lovecraft?

All of this and more as MadCap gives a review of Saban and Lionsgate's attempt to tickle the 90's nostalgia bone.

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

And be sure to subscribe on YouTube for more videos, here!

Friday, April 7, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "This Is The Police"

Covering the downfall of a good man into a spiral of chaos, confusion, and darkness is something that's been covered before. Most recently in pop culture is that of Breaking Bad, though where that was the tale of a man driven to his edge and then driving right back in order to do the only thing that he felt really gave his life any meaning, This Is the Police is the tale of a good cop gone horribly, horribly wrong as he deals with the effects of aging and the feeling that his best years has passed him by.

Set in the incredibly sort of vague time of 198...something, we follow the tale of Police Chief Jack Boyd during the last 180 days of his tenure over the city of Freeburg. It's worth noting that he's voiced by Jon St. John, most famous for being the voice of Duke Nukem and now giving me the hilarious headcanon that all of Duke's adventures are nothing more than metaphors for Jack's tortured subconscious as he deals with his drinking and crippling addiction to pills. But, to his credit (as he has voiced many other characters besides everyone's favorite Masculinity parody), he brings a voice to Jack and helps to make him a very sympathetic character.

You would think, given the heavy emphasis on Jack Boyd, that the game would be heavily story-driven and that you'd have a great deal of direct control over Jack as he operates during his dark descent into the criminal underbelly of his city like in the aforementioned Breaking Bad. Perhaps this could be done in a third-person style similar to LA Noire, you might think.

You could think that, but you'd be hilariously rather wrong.

No, This Is The Police is a real-time strategy game.

Yeah, no, I was confused, too.

Via an isometric map, you as Jack command the forces of the Freeburg Police Department. You can hire and fire from your two squads, A and B. You send cops out on calls and detectives out to solve cases in a way that is really more reminiscent of a dispatcher than a police chief (and, having served in the former job, this game is a great deal more tedious). I'd say that's all you do as far as the crime solving goes...because that's really it. The success of the policemen in question is based on their own ratings (150+ is generally what you want to aim for), how well they interact with others they're sent in with., and other seemingly completely random factors.

I'm not kidding, either. Everything I've read says that the aforementioned two factors are really the meat of what decides if a cop lives or dies. However, I've had several cases where I've sent out officers on a call and they've all been killed off. Out of nowhere, even when a call doesn't seem like it should have had all that much risk involved. And seemingly for no reason other than the game just decided to piss on my shoes that particular day.

The detectives you have a bit more to work with, assigning them cases and piecing together crime scenes via frames collected in their investigations. Complete the picture, solve the crime, and go arrest the culprit(s). Sometimes, this will even lead into hunting down criminal gangs within the city to give a far more police-y feel to things. However, like with the beat cops, if you put inadequate detectives on the case...you aren't going to have the evidence you're looking for. And sometimes, depending on the descriptions given by witnesses, you may get conflicting information and never be able to solve certain cases.

And if that were all, I bet you'd imagine that the last 180 days of Jack Boyd would be rather boring to play through. And you'd be right, hence where the story comes in. Thanks to the indiscretions of a former deputy Jack ends up, in one way or another, working for the Mafia. To make matters even more interesting, Jack has set himself up with a goal by day 180 - make $500,000. Why that and not a million? Simple. Everybody goes for a million and he wanted to do something different.

Did I mention I really like Jack's character? I think I did. The humor really is good when it's good, it's just a shame that it gets relegated to cutscenes between the days.

Nevertheless, in order to do, Jack ends up double-dealing with the Mafia. And for those of you who think you don't have to thanks to a comment made early on that Jack could just spend his 180 days and just make his money and quietly leave...no, he can't. And you can't white knight either. The Mafia will put you in the ground for it (yes, I tried). It's a literal case of damned if you do, damned if you don't. One way or another, some blood's going to be split and Jack's going to go on his journey.

Luckily, with the mafia comes a few perks, namely being able to discretely get rid of officers and detectives who decide to get too mouthy or threaten the stability of Jack's department. Of course, such things don't come cheap...and that's not including when the Mafia asks for some police assistance or for them to turn a blind eye to certain crimes. Of course, that doesn't mean the Mafia isn't willing to compensate Jack for his trouble...most of the time, anyway.

But double dealing with the Mafia, getting cops and detectives killed, and letting crime go unchecked will put Jack on the bad side of City Hall. The Mayor is a Grade A bag of dicks who will force Jack to perform unethical acts (such as using violence to end mass protests...three times), have his pay reduced for not performing up to expectations, and continually cut down the funding of the police department (which means getting rid of officers).

Because the best way to make your cops more efficient is to make sure there are less of them.

So the game becomes a balancing act between pleasing City Hall and pleasing the Mafia.

There's also a gang war early on, but it ultimately doesn't amount to anything in the grand scheme. You can actually completely ignore it (and I did. Twice) and eventually one side will triumph with no real consequences. It's a rather pointless interlude.

And, of course, the intense strategy game ends with a bigger war between the Mayor and the mysterious French-named vigilante, where Jack places troops and then waits for results. Like he's been doing the entire game.

I'm not going to sugar-coat it, this isn't a good game. It's not bad, either, there's quite a bit to like. Jon St. John makes a very compelling and interesting character out of Jack Boyd and his story is triumphant, tragic, and everything in-between...even if it has more emphasis on the latter than the former by the end. However, I feel the focus is in the wrong place mechanics-wise and that this game really would have been better suited to be more in the style of LA Noire as I said earlier.

The story is pretty good, but you have very minimal choice as to how things play out and it takes forever to get there. The third and final leg of the game feels particularly stretched out in a way that wreaks of padding.

If you're up for strategy and a lot of it, go for it. You will get a very nice tale to go with it about a man coming to terms with aging and the fact that the past never really can come back, no matter how hard you want it to. When it's gone, it's gone. There's no getting it back.

Rather like the time you waste in the longer, dragged out sections of this game.

This Is The Police is now available from Weappy Studios and Nordic Games for Windows, OS X, Linux, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

MadCap Unboxes - "Marvel LootCrate Gears + Goods March 2017"

MadCap fights with phonetic spelling and an X-23 "water-bag".

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

And be sure to subscribe on YouTube for more videos, here!

Friday, March 24, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Horizon Zero Dawn"

So...humanity has a weird fetish for post-apocalyptic fantasies, doesn't it?

I'm not making a joke here, it just amazes me how many games, television, and films use the time after the end of civilization as the entry point to their plots. Such as it is with Horizon Zero Dawn, a game from the loving arms of Guerrilla Games and Sony. And if Guerrilla isn't familiar to you, don't worry, it wasn't to me either. Their most known for the Killzone series of games...which I haven't played.

Now, instead of the "sort of" future, we have the far future. In Horizon Zero Dawn, we are introduced to the infant child Aloy on her naming day by the badass mofo Rost, who is an outcast from a tribe called the Nora. It seems that humanity has regressed to a tribal state while occasionally applying the technology of old to their weaponry in order to hunt...the technology of old.  If the cover wasn't a dead give away, robots are roaming the Earth like the dinosaurs of old.

I can practically hear Ubisoft facepalming at their lack of foresight in terms of DLC.

That being said, this game really does blend the best parts of Far Cry Primal and Blood Dragon, and I do mean that as a good thing. The game feels very much like a Far Cry game with both its mechanics and its level progression...as in, at least in the latter case, it's a carbon copy. But that's not a bad thing, since I really like the level up system in the Far Cry series.

Unlike the Far Cry series, Horizon Zero Dawn finds itself in my good graces right off the bat (besides in its premise) by not locking me into first person mode! I know that seems like a minor complaint, but it is really something you really appreciate only when you can't do it. Shooting from over the shoulder (bow combat is very much the attack of choice besides the few bits of melee) is actually a lot easier for me and Dawn provides. Also, one can appreciate the work the animators put into the character model, which is nice. There is a good bit of detail in every pull of the bowstring...even if the faces are more than a little...off...in some places.

Along with the bows (and there are actually a nice variety of bows), Aloy can also get a hold of a variety of tasty gadgets like a tripcaster, and starts with a lovely spear for light and heavy attacks. And, of course, there's the crown jewel of the set...a shotgun. Of a sort. And for the longtime readers of mine who know the joke well, let me allow Rocket Raccoon to express my feelings on the matter.

The combat is pretty involving and very much in the "hunter" vein of things. Aloy sneaks through the tall grass to stalk her prey and avoid their gazes, making this a post-apocalyptic game as a bizarre mirror universe version of the Pokemon games. Instead of catching them all, Aloy mercilessly takes down the robots opponents to gather scrap metal and wires and other components to either craft items with or to sell off for scraps of Metal.

Yes, metal scraps are the currency in this game. Like the bottlecaps in Fallout, don't think about it too hard.

Aloy's main bit of flair, however, is a Focus. Not the Final Fantasy XIII type, no no...it's basically a Dragon Ball Z scouter. Aloy can tag enemies for attack and use the device to track the movement patterns of enemies to make them easier to take down and/or work around. And while the scouter does not, in fact, let Aloy know her enemies power level (OVER 9000!!!!! or otherwise),

The story is good, if a little coconut and banana sandwich crazy (not Fallout crazy, but we're getting there). The combat is nice and involving and even the resource collecting is more than a little fun. The protagonist is engaging and her journey to discover her origins is compelling and wrought with peril.

 If there's anything I can say I don't really like about this game (y'know, if you put a gun to my head), it's that it has the Bethesda problem of too many side quests popping up to distract from the Main Quest...and since I rather like that in Bethesda games since (nine times out of ten) it really helps to open up the world and give it more depth than just the Main Quest does on its own, as well as giving a reminder to the player that things do actually happen independent of their actions, that would really make me a hypocrite, wouldn't it?

(Go ahead and pull the trigger, Spunky)

It keeps me interested and is engaging, looking at the post-apocalypse in a surprisingly fresh way.  Even if just about everything has been done before, it feels like new and it's a good first effort by Guerrilla in the RPG department. There have been teasings of extra plot to come, most likely as DLC.  Believe me, I am more than ready for it!

Horizon Zero Dawn is now available from Guerrilla Games and Sony Interactive Entertainment for Playstation 4.

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

Friday, March 10, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age"

Isn't fanfiction just super fun?

No, really. That's what this is. Believe it or not, The Shadow of Mordor saga isn't the first time that someone's taken the epic saga of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and gone completely and utterly off the rails with it.

That would be Rankin/Bass. NO! END SENTENCE, BEGIN ANEW!

With the release of the trailer for the new Mordor game, I figured it was a good time to look at The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age (which totally makes this topical, right? ...sure, let's go with that).

It was an attempt by EA Redwood Shores (now Visceral Games) and EA to create a story set within the universe of Middle-Earth that coincided perfectly with the Lord of the Rings' story without upstaging it. Also, due to the joy that is licensing rights (see also: the cluster that is Marvel Entertainment at the time of this writing), the developers could only use assets that appeared within the films rather than any of the books or other related materials.

...except that two of the characters, Berethor and Morwen, are actually named from characters within the obscure lore of Tolkien's books, but one could be forgiven for not digging through the literal over-sized athenaeum of lore that Tolkien had as background for almost every single imaginable facet of his world. I'm sure there are plenty more they snuck in. Crafty bastards.

The game itself takes place within the Third Age of Middle-Earth (just in case the title had you confused, it's understandable if you thought it was in the year 10,191). A Gondor citadel guard by the name of Berethor is travelling to Rivendell to find Boromir, son of Denethor. On the way, he's aided by a Hippee elf chick against some Ringwraiths before going on an epic adventure to follow the path of the Fellowship of the Rings through Mordor, into Rohan, and eventually to the fires of Mount Doom itself.

No, seriously. Mount Doom. Spoiler alert: The final boss is Sauron.

Yes, that Sauron.

As in you climb up the Black Tower and punch him in the Eye.

I'll leave you to contemplate how nuts that is.

Getting back to the plot, the human and elf are eventually joined by a ranger and his dwarven buddy, and then later Morwen, a Rohan shieldmaiden, and a Rohan royal guard named Eaoden, rounding out their fellowship of...well, six. I suppose asking for a full squad of nine was too on the nose? That being said, you do get a fourth NPC to join you for the big important battles, such as Gandalf against the Balrog.

Yes. You actually help Gandalf fight the Balrog.

HAS THE CRAZY BEGUN TO SINK IN YET?!

Mind you, that's not so much a surprise when it's on the cover, but when you look into the lore of what the Balrog actually is and what others of its kind are in the Tolkien mythos, Sauron starts to look vaguely passable as a boss fight.

...ironically, my memory served me well and I found that Sauron was astoundingly easier...but that's a whole other can of worms.

The game basically plays like one of the earlier Final Fantasy games, particularly Final Fantasy X (which it came out a little while afterwards and was understandably maligned for being too close to). You have certain characters (mostly Berethor and Eaoden, though a few others can easily fill the slot) for tanking and DPS, you have Idrial for magical attacks and buffs as well as healing. In fact, everyone has some sort of buff and debuff that can contribute to the party's efforts.

What really surprised me when I was a kid was that EA actually got Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee to come in to record original audio as Gandalf and Saruman for this game. Most of Saruman's plot involves tormenting Berethor after he's stabbed by a Morgul blade (long story), and setting him to chase after Boromir as a sort of sleeper agent to get his hands on the One Ring. A good plan...if incredibly stupid and really not exactly what one expects of the conniving, scheming wizard who has managed to subvert the path of goodness and brew an entire army of orcs under his doorstep.

That being said, it's a stark contrast to the few appearances by the rest of the cast, who are all just recycled clips from the Lord of the Rings trilogy (including a particularly bad, yet noteworthy scene with Aragorn after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields).

But getting back to Saruman, yes, stupid plan, but impetus enough to get the game going, I guess. Are you going to care about halfway through the forty to sixty hour trek that Berethor is being mind-controlled into some kind of Manchuarian (or is it Gondorian?) Candidate by Saruman and later by the Witch-King of Angmar? Of course not. But still, it's there. Even if it breaks the lore. Then again, we did that about twenty hours earlier when we helped Gandalf fight the Balrog.

There's also a love triangle between Berethor, Morwen, and Idrial that goes nowhere and serves no purpose. Not that there's much time for chemistry when you're running around grinding out levels in the Mines of Moria or battling packs of Uruk-Hai and Wargs in the plains of Rohan. At the very least Final Fantasy X, while completely flubbing the "love" between Tidus and Yuna, at least attempted  to do something. There's...really no reason for any of the three to be all relationship-ish.

Though I guess...wide mass appeal?

But if that all doesn't interest you, then there's Evil Mode. Yes, for the first time, you too can take over the Forces of Darkness!TM and lay waste to a computer-controlled version of your heroes. It's mostly for flavor, but also can get you some interesting items that can be used in your game. I will say that it at least shows that they were thinking at least a little about what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot, so that's nice. The only difficulty is that you do actually have to play through each section of the game to unlock it in Evil Mode, and unfortunately Evil Mode itself is just a string of battles as whatever baddies are in that region.

Even with that working in its favor, I'm not really sure who this game is for. I'd say fans of Tolkien, but they'll get caught up on the lore hiccups. I'd say fans of the films, but they'll most likely wonder why these six idiots have been running around just out of earshot of the actual main characters. Gamers? They can juts play a similarly-crafted RPG, such as the aforementioned Final Fantasy.

That's not to say that it's bad by any means. It's just...ultimately a cheap cash-in and an attempt to grab the interest of someone...which, technically, I guess it did. I played the crap out of it, and I spoke to all my friends and all three of them enjoyed it as well, so there must be something to be said for that. Not that I'm really sure what it is.

It does break canon into itty-bitty tiny pieces, though. So there's that. That can be said.

The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is available from Electronic Arts and Visceral Games for Nintendo GameCube, Xbox, and Playstation 2.

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

Saturday, March 4, 2017

MadCap At the Movies - "Logan"

The character of Wolverine aka James Howlett aka Logan is a character that is definitely a breakout character among the X-Men. His past is long and storied (and overdone multiple times in the comics as well as in film) and many alternate futures see him as either an old, bitter man who has outlived everyone around him or a...actually, no, it's pretty much just that. Hence, we come to Old Man Logan, set in a dystopian future where the Red Skull has become President of the United States, the Abomination, Doctor Doom, and Magneto have likewise taken over portions of America. Naturally, being that FOX only had the rights to 50% of the aforementioned characters, some cutting down had to be done for this film.

I haven't read Old Man Logan, but it seems a natural choice for Hugh Jackman's final (or so we're led to believe at the time of this writing) stab at the character he has played now for seventeen years. The entire film, in fact, feels like a good last hurrah for the character overall, whether he's further played by Jackman or not (and indeed, I do hope Wolverine fades a bit more into the background in years to come).

Like the comic, Logan begins with a severely aged and dying Logan (Hugh Jackman) working as a chauffeur on the US-Mexico border (in a way that totally doesn't bring to light current events at the time of this writing in any way whatsoever)  while he gets the aid of Caliban (Stephen Merchant) in caring for a dying and increasingly more and more unstable Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, also in his final turn as the Professor). However, his job and the dream of having a houseboat out on the seas with the Professor are completely thrown out when a young girl with a most curious connection to Logan, Laura (Dafne Keen) who is pursued by an evil corporation that created her.

And no, before anyone comments, I don't have any feelings about X-23 one way or another. In the comics, at least. In the film, she's actually a very funny character as well as serving as a good foil to Logan.

As does Professor X. Patrick Stewart is clearly having a blast doing this and it shows. Xavier is, at this point, a man who has embraced the fact that his mind is going and gives absolutely no regard for any of Logan's stick in the mud attitude when it comes to dealing with Laura. He serves not only as a far kinder caregiver for Laura, but also as a counterbalance to keep Logan from diverting from what needs to be done to help Laura to her destination.

And what is her destination? A place called Eden in North Dakota, supposedly a refuge for mutants. The nurse who took her from the Transigen Corporation (Elizabeth Rodriguez) apparently learned about this...well, I don't wish to spoil, so if you're looking to avoid spoilers...you may wish to go and watch the movie and come back later.

Don't worry, I'll wait.

...

...

...

...

...

...seen it? Okay, good.

Apparently, the X-Men...were made into a comic book. Within the fictional universe, the X-Men were apparently made into a comic book sometime between the "present day" films and 2029. I cannot begin to express how many plot holes this creates, its truly very staggering. I could understand how people would know about the X-Men, but how would Marvel, err...sorry...the "X-Men Comics Group" know about specific details about them? Very specific details? It's really surprising, but is pretty interesting overall. I honestly would have expected this to be a joke revelation within the next Deadpool movie, but no, it's here...in this rather dark film.

That being said, it's used both as a plot point and for Logan to speechify on how real life is nothing like the comics so we can further reinforce that he's bitter and jaded and highly upset...but I digress.

Besides that one little point, this movie is pretty much perfect. The action is well-paced, well-shot. It's brutal, visceral, and everything we've wanted out of a proper Wolverine movie in terms of sheer brutality. The acting is excellent as well, though that's not particularly difficult when you have Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart in their roles as the people who essentially wrote the book on those very roles.

But the film is heavy action when it needs to be, but also takes the time for quiet character moments as well, developing Logan's character to the film's conclusion. The film touches on themes of death, finality, loss, regret, bitterness, and new beginnings as well. In the end, despite his instincts, the Wolverine is a hero through and through, and will do the right thing...no matter the end.

Doesn't necessarily make him a good guy, of course. After all, he's the best there is at what he does, and what he does ain't very nice.

To sum up, without rambling any further, Logan is an excellent film that is really too good to be in the incredible mess that is the X-Men franchise. Is it the genre-transcending masterpiece that everyone's claiming that it is? No, but it's a film that knows it's characters and knows how to touch on things that work to their strengths as well as touch the audience. We finally have the Wolverine film we've always wanted after two dismal failures...and that's pretty spectacular.

Logan is now in theaters from 20th Century Fox and Marvel.

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

Friday, March 3, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Final Fantasy XV"

So, I have danced with the Devil and committed the unbearable sin of playing a Final Fantasy game. Why? Because I was honestly feeling cocky and figured I could handle it. Alas, the game has changed and yet feels so much the same.

I spent a tutorial and then about five minutes learning that apparently anime Satan was a big threat to to Techno-Medieval Fantasy Kingdom #5306 before I spent about ten minutes pushing a car through a desert.

No, I'm serious. Pushing a car through a desert.

At the very least, I had my collection of My Chemical Romance roadies with me, who were filled to the brim with...actually, sitting down here, I'm having a hard time really remembering any of them that much. Needless to say, their blandness did not help me as I made my way down the highway...very, very slowly...pressing forward on the left joy stick for what felt like an eternity as I narrowly avoided other cars that swerved to avoid me, but then just decided to allow them to run me over in the vague hope that this would all be over shortly.  No such luck, alas.

And then, at the end of that road, I came to a gas station and received the gift of ripe, luscious breasts for my efforts. Shame then that I could not really enjoy said sex appeal (not that I would anyway, since animated) what with my incredible cramped hand. Seriously, Square, if you are going to do this to me, don't be an ass about it.

Combat is a little bit coconut and banana sandwich crazy as well. Not the turn-based system of older FF games, we're in full on real-time now, baby! Woohoo...except it just feels really out of place, being that most of the games before have used turn-based. I should be the last one to complain about this, given my own long-standing dislike of turn-based combat with one notable exception, but even I know when you don't mess with something that works.

Here, there's really no involvement in combat. Sure, the player can do blocks and the like, but it ultimately comes down to be better equipped and having reaction times that are a little bit better than that of a can of paint and you ought to be alright. You also don't control your boyband, though you can give them commands via certain options and use your combined strength to hit enemies.

Also, there's magic and summons. They work pretty much the same as they do in previous FF games with some tweaking. La de da.

Not much to say, in all honesty. I haven't completed it at the time of this writing (deadlines are hard, people), but I have basically seen enough to spew my irate opinions on the internet, so that counts for something. Or not. I don't care one way or another.

Now excuse me while I go get some Bengay.

...stop laughing!

Final Fantasy XV is now available on Playstation 4 and Xbox One from Square Enix.

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Pokemon Sun and Moon"

Okay, so...first and foremost, because I just have to get this out of the way. I don’t have to wear a stupid hat anymore!

...yes, that is something to celebrate. Shut your damn mou-anyway, Pokemon Sun and Moon. Yay!

Nintendo taking another stab at that wildly and hilariously successful franchise that has managed to stay relevant for over two decades with very little change. It’s really surprising, in all honesty. For a series that’s all about evolution (or, transformation to be more scientifically accurate concerning a fictional universe where clumps of garbage are apparently sentient - has anyone acknowledged that Pokemon is kind of weird yet?), the series hasn’t really changed much beyond the core concept of “find monsters, train monsters, fight monsters”. Of course, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since Nintendo and Game Freak have shown that they really know how to change things up just enough to keep things from getting stale.

...nine times out of ten, anyway. Hoenn still has way too much water.

To begin at the beginning, however, the player character is unceremoniously dropped off in the land of Alola, where the player character’s mother has just moved them to...because of course, that’s how every game since Generation Three has had to start. Sure to face stigma as the whitest child in the totally not Hawaii-esque setting, I was instead completely unprepared for a shirtless hobo to break into my house and claim he was my cousin...I was also completely unprepared for one of the longest tutorial sequences ever.

Here’s a free tip on one of those ways to shake things up: let us have an option to skip the tutorial. Veterans of the game don’t need to be told for the seventh time how to catch a Pokemon, I’m pretty much babies born since 1996 have it coded into their DNA by this point. Just please, Game Freak, give us an option to skip it and just give us cliff notes on the brand new flavor adjustments that aren’t going to amount to anything outside of this generation.

One of those flavors is the riding Pokemon, which I do like. A nice evolution of riding in X and Y that you can do almost anywhere with various effects depending on the Pokemon used, though the double-edged sword of this cool, unique thing is that it takes up part of the slack left by the lack of Hidden Machines in Sun and Moon. Though the presence of them and a few different items like the Bicycle is missed, it’s an interesting change and it fits the setting where Alola is more about the connections between people and Pokemon than ever before...and with a series where that’s one of the major themes, that’s saying something.

But getting back to the plot, I am faced with a hobo that is apparently not only a relative of mine, but is also the local Professor. Thus, I am sent with my starter out to take on the Pokemon Lea-errr, to do my Island Challenge. There are no Gyms, Gym Leaders, or even a Pokemon Champion to battle this time around. Alola seems to be a bit behind the times in terms of having a working Pokemon League. And so we bounce around the islands and defeat the “Kahunas” to earn the right to eventually climb the steps of Mount Selaya and bring Spock back from the dea...wait a minute...hang on. Somebody switched this out with my Search for Spock script...

...anyway. In the end, you’ll climb the big mountain and fight the champion. That is, after completing the Island Challenge which, in an interesting twist in that it doesn’t simply mean battling a single trainer for a mark of approval, but rather battling them and then having to take on the Guardian Beast of one of the four islands. What should seem like needless busywork is, admittedly, something that does work to keep the game from following the same stale formula page for page. So, points for something a little different there.

You also pick up Z-Moves, which are essentially the move version of Mega Evolutions. There’s one for each specific Type and then several for all sorts of different Pokemon and this will turn into an analysis more than it will a review, so I’ll just say this: like Mega Evolutions in the previous generation, they can only be used once per battle. If you put your strategy together right, then you’ll only need to use it that one time. Something different, yes, but not too different.

And, again, highlighting that there is no real strategy to Pokemon. It’s elemental rock paper scissors. Find a Pokemon that has a type strength to whatever you’re fighting, bash its brains out, repeat as necessary, there’s really nothing to it.

There’s also really nothing to Team Skull. They’re just...kind of there. They lack the avarice-laden agenda of Team Rocket or the meglomaniacal, world-destroying plots of Team Flare. They’re just...around. And they’re really, really bad comic relief villains. Honestly, these are the guys who make Dastardly and Muttley look like effective pigeon stoppers…

...did I really just make a Dastardly and Muttley reference in 2017?

The point to all this ranting being simply this that Sun and Moon is a welcome change for the franchise. I can’t really criticize it anymore than I can the earlier entries in the series. It’s par for the course for Pokemon in that it does enough of the old, but has brought a different flavor and tries something new in order to keep it from drying up. For a series that’s managed to remain afloat for twenty years on that principal, that is pretty admirable.

Oh, and the Alola forms...yeah, they’re weird.

And yes, that is all I have to say about that.

Also, the rival being uber-friendly is almost weird. I miss Gary Oak. Or, as I like to call him, “Buttface”.

Pokemon Sun and Moon is available from Nintendo and GameFreak for Nintendo 3DS.

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

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

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.

...in 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!

ahem...so, 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
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.

Combat
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.

Summation
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 Nerevarine...you 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.

...what's that? This is exactly the same as my review in November of Skyrim with only a minor graphic update?

Huh...weird. It seems like it's almost kind of wrong for me to repackage something that isn't even a decade old yet and try to insist that there's loads of new content in it, doesn't it?

Friday, January 6, 2017

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

Wow...2016 was a shit year, wasn't it? Let's get on with some of the good games I played in the Year That We Wish Never Was. Remember, like my worst list from last week, this is a list of games that I played within the year 2016 and reviewed, not necessarily games that came out in 2016. So, without further adieu, here's some shining gems that I managed to dig out of the cesspool.

10. The Movies
review here

I'm not much for the god games, but this was just fun. Managing the ins and outs of a Hollywood movie studio was an enjoyable experience, getting to be a part of every facet of it from the writing of scripts (as sophisticated as that wasn't) to casting to shooting to post-production and beyond! Sure, it could be monotonous at times, but overall its a very enjoyable experience and there's plenty of wiggle room to allow the creativity to flow.

...also, Randy Pitchford is still off my Christmas card list.

9. Until Dawn
review here

 Now, I know a lot of people really don't like this game, but I did. Sure, it barely qualifies as a game in the strictest sense that you can move an avatar and complete objectives, focusing a great deal more on the story (such as it is), but I did really like the story despite the fact that it hit pretty much every single horror trope ever in rapid succession. The only reason this isn't higher on the list is because of the fact that, ultimately, your choices don't really mean anything, which ultimately hurts the experience overall.

8. Far Cry Primal
review here

Caveman. Beating things with sticks. No need to go any further.

7. Super Star Wars
review here

I hate myself for having this on this list, considering how much I absolutely abhorred so much about it. I still call it completely and control-eatingly unfair...but I can't deny it's just damn good. It's a slog to get through, for sure, but there is a clear feeling of elation whenever I do actually manage through either skill or sheer luck to plow through a part I've been having difficulty on. It's...not an elegant weapon...and one could hardly call the early 90s civilized, but...

...yeah, nevermind. The metaphor is dead. Next game.

6. Doom (2016)
review here

Like I said last week, I do genuinely like this game. It drives me absolutely mad, but I love it. Like the original, it's fun, it's visceral, and there's something about the masculine brain that gets a lovely itch when we're tearing apart Hellspawn with big guns.

5. Fallout 4 - Automatron
review here

Building robots? Yes. Fallout 3 reference? Yes. Complete waste of time? Yes. But, like I said in my review, it's a fun one. It really makes it worth to it to go looking for the components you need to make yet another robotic sidekick.

...still need more adhesive opportunities though, Bethesda.

4. Shovel Knight
review here

Retro homage to the likes of Mega Man and Super Mario, set in a universe of medieval shovel and sorcery? Sign. Me. Up!

3. Fallout 4 - Nuka-World
review here

What if there was a place with all the zip of Nuka-Cola? Wouldn't that be the cheer-cheer-cheeriest place in all the world?

...eat me, the song is really catchy.

Also, the DLC in general feels well thought out, oozing with creativity and ingenuity, and fitting right in with Fallout's major theme of things that seem all bright and clean and pretty being some of the deadliest and most frightening things out there...from before the Bombs fell and ended the world.

QUENCH YOUR THIRST FOR ADVENTURE A NUKAAAAAAAAAAAWORLD!!!!

2. Dragonball Xenoverse 2
Review here

Pretty much improvement on the first game in every way, minus the constant attacks on Guru's House. Also, humans are still lame.

1. Broforce
Review here

HIGH FIVE ME, BROS!!!

...seriously, this game is great. Absolutely, completely, and utterly great. Free Lives. Revolver Digital. You guys are forever on my good list and I hope to see great things from you in the future.

Let's look forward to some more great games in 2017!

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