Friday, March 30, 2012

Where Shannon Tweed and Video Games Intersect

No, I'm not talking about this blog.

Rather, it seems Shannon Tweed is getting her own iPhone game, Shannon Tweed's Attack of the Groupies by Gogii Games. This article here reports that the project came about when Tweed "was attending the Atlantic Brand Confabulation—a networking and informational event about personal and business branding, produced by momentum Group and hosted by Shelley Chase of St. John’s—and met Gogii Games president George Donovan." But I prefer to believe that the game was willed into existence by whoever also keeps Shannon Tweed near the top of my "Popular Posts."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It's That Time Again

The Red Cross is pestering me for my blood again.

On The Vampire Diaries, as well as many other "vampires among us" stories, the good vampires subsist off blood stolen from hospitals and blood banks. It occurred to me the other day that this isn't very funny at all. Actually, it's rather monstrous. I have the most common blood type in the world, yet still I get these annoying reminders that supply is dangerously low, and I can only imagine it's because vampires keep stealing the blood, thinking they are doing a noble thing by abstaining from feeding on live humans, when, in reality, they are causing quite a nuisance to society and to me personally.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What I've Been Playing #2: Guardian Heroes

Guardian Heroes for Xbox Live Arcade

After having heard for years that Treasure's Guardian Heroes for Sega Saturn was perhaps the greatest side-scrolling brawler of all time, I was quite excited to learn that it was being remastered for Xbox Live Arcade. This beat 'em all par excellence for a tragically doomed system would at last be getting a second chance on an actually viable platform, and I could not wait to give it a try.

Alas, the game is junk.

To its credit, the game had some ambition. It distinguished itself from previous beat 'em ups by including 1) an expansive, dialogue-heavy story mode with branching paths, 2) a Fatal Fury-style multi-plane field of play, 3) Street Fighter-style special moves, and 4) RPG-style level-up and character attribute customization systems.

The first thing you're likely to notice (well, besides the crap character designs from the same guy who did Radiant Silvergun) is that there's an awful lot of talk in this game. As the game begins, before you can commence whaling on guys, you must endure interminable screens of dialogue. Such breaks in gameplay recur with regularity as you progress further. As far as I could tell, the story was some cheesy and completely generic fantasy fare. Between the lame characters and the fact that I don't play beat 'em ups in order to read, I quickly ran out of patience for this. Mercifully, you can fast-forward through the story sequences, although I wish they had included an option to exclude them altogether.

Once you get into the actual gameplay, the next aggravating feature of Guardian Heroes is the multi-plane system. The battlefield is rigidly divided into three Fatal Fury-style planes, and there are buttons specifically assigned to shifting between planes. Presumably, the game was designed this way in order to help it play more like a 2-D fighting game. Pressing the up directional causes your character to jump, and you can perform special move motions (e.g. quarter-circle-forward (AKA "Hadouken")) without your character's feet sliding downward as you input the command.

Alas, I think the cost may outweigh the benefit. Personally, I found the planes system to be the most frustrating mechanic I'd encountered since the "turn around" button in Guilty Gear Isuka, itself perhaps this game's spiritual other half--a 2-D fighting game that wanted to be a beat 'em up. In both cases, players are asked to unlearn one of the most ingrained fundamentals of the genre, having now instead to handle with conscious intention what before had been easy as breathing. At least in Guilty Gear Isuka, I could try to keep my opponents on one side of me, so that I wouldn't have to turn around to face them. In Guardian Heroes, there's really no way to keep enemies from hopping off to a different plane, at which point I lose precious split-seconds before remembering that I must press the appropriate "shift to plane" button to go after them.

And what do we get in return for this cumbersome design? Some fireballs and uppercuts? Other 2-D beat 'em ups, such as Capcom's Final Fight 3, have managed to implement special moves without having to constrain the battlefield in such a manner. Admittedly, no other beat 'em up has implemented 2-D fighting game mechanics to anywhere near the same extent as Guardian Heroes (unless you count the Boost mode in Guilty Gear Isuka), and probably no other beat 'em up's combat involves as much finesse.

The last unique feature of Guardian Heroes is its inclusion of limited RPG elements. Characters have different stats that you can raise by gaining experience from defeating enemies. Having to take breaks between stages to assign these attribute points further encumbers an experience that is already frequently stalled by the story sequences. This is especially unacceptable when playing with a second player, as the time you spend deciding how to allocate your points may leave the other player waiting impatiently.

That is probably the most serious flaw of Guardian Heroes--that it is not very conducive to a fun co-op experience. For one thing, it only supports two players. But, worse, the story mode seems to have been designed really more as a single-player experience. The constant lulls in the action make this much more of a ponderous and therefore solitary experience than one would expect from a game of this genre. Treasure did include a versus mode for up to 12 players, and this may actually be what Guardian Heroes is best known for. But, for all its Street Fighter-isms, it remains far too simplistic to ever work as a competitive fighting game, and so this arena mode is only fun for the occasional party.

As far as I'm concerned, this is Skies of Arcadia all over again--just another case of a truly mediocre game with a fan-manufactured reputation as a hidden gem. I attribute this to a mix of post-purchase rationalization--adopters of a total bust of a game system feeling the need to justify their purchase by desperately propping up one of that system's rare exclusives--and a will to elitism--the need for snobs to make themselves feel special by developing a cult around a game that was never actually remarkable, but only so hard to come by that nobody on the outside could try it for themselves to verify that the game was unremarkable. Well, I think perhaps that cult finally voiced its praise a little too loudly and proudly, encouraging Treasure to release the game to wider audience, whereupon both the game itself and its champions have at last been exposed for the frauds they have always been. Now excuse me while I sign some petition for Sega to never ever port Panzer Dragoon Saga to any viable platform.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

This Things I Believe

Have you heard about this "Invisible Children" thing?  I mentioned it some months back, but it's really blown up over the last few weeks.  So . . . most likely, you have heard about it.  And you've probably heard a lot of debate about it.  Far be it from me that I should think myself able to contribute anything to that discussion; I'm just some dude.  So let us speak of other things.

I visited an indoor rock-climbing facility once.  Other members of my party there proceeded to climb vertically toward the ceiling, but I just stood and watched.  One friend asked me why I wasn't climbing.

"Why would I?" I answered back.  "I can see from here that there's nothing up there."

"There's happiness!" she said.  "Fun!  Satisfaction!"

I rather seriously doubted there were any of those things.  But I told her, "Look, if you want me to go up there, I'll go up there."

"Okay, go up there."

And I did.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I watched this recently for the first time.  It was good--amusingly droll yet sweetly earnest.  It also struck me that the zombocalypse genre (and similar "last survivors" narratives) is largely about wish-fulfillment fantasy, reflecting actually a contemptuous desire to see the world and humanity go down in flames--a sentiment that Zombieland seems self-aware of, although it lacks the scope to explore just how short-sighted such a dream would be.

At the end of the movie, the male lead, played by Jesse Eisenberg, more or less acknowledges that his life is a lot better post-zombies, because the struggle to survive has brought him together with strangers who then become the family he has always longed for.  It's probably a nice bonus that anybody he might have disliked is now dead.  Basically, the zombies thinned out the human race to such an extent as to either remove all the people who previously were too good for the loner Eisenberg, or else brought them low enough to finally associate with him.  He even wins the heart of Emma Stone, which the movie tells us would have been unthinkable in the pre-zombies world.  Frankly, I find the pairing of these two characters (not the actors) unlikely even under such end-of-the-world circumstances.

Even supposing they could be mommy and daddy of this family, with uncle Woody Harrelson and little sister Abigail Breslin, I wonder how long such a group could hold together in harmony.  At the center of this arrangement, every other character defined by their relationship to him, Eisenberg, a worthless loser in his former life, is now the luckiest guy on the planet.  Emma Stone should have it pretty good too.  And Harrelson, who already lost his son to the zombies, can no longer expect his life to get any better than this.  But what about Breslin's character?  She's happy now because she's a kid.  But what happens when she gets older and hormonal, and the only guys in her life are the broken (and way old) Harrelson and the taken (by her sister) Eisenberg?  Her life at least would suck at that point, and personally I don't see that there's any answer to that question that wouldn't lead to the dissolution of the whole family.

I suppose if there ever were a sequel starring a teenage Abigail Breslin, they would probably just have the group meet other survivors, including conveniently a young man her own age (or, I dunno, 15 years older or so).