Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Knights in Rodanthe

The title conjures images of armored champions clashing swords in the latest medieval epic.

As it turns out, the actual movie is Nights in Rodanthe, yet another weepy Richard Gere romance. Good thing I did some research before heading directly to the theater.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bangai-O Spirits

My last post about Blast Works reminded me of another recent four-player experience. I don't think I'd classify it as a shoot 'em up, however. I'm not even sure if the multiplayer was actually cooperative. Frankly, I have no idea what to think about Bangai-O Spirits.

Rather than offer a linear experience, Bangai-O Spirits allows the player to select from a collection of short stages. For our one and only attempt, I selected Stage 001, which seemed like a logical enough choice at the time. The very instant the stage began, we were immediately bombarded by missiles from seemingly every direction, their origins unknown. Screen-filling flares and flashing accompanied a cacophany of explosions that seemed to last forever as the slowdown took over. Eventually, we somehow completed the stage, even though I still hadn't figured out the objective. It was honestly the most baffling experience I'd ever had with a video game.

Apparently, the tutorial mode, while not strictly mandatory, is essential to understanding the game. I might give it another shot when I'm more motivated, but I don't think I'll be able to rope anyone else into trying it with me again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Blast Works

Blast Works, a budget Wii shoot 'em up based on a freeware PC game, received some good press mainly on the strength of its extensive level editor. I had no interest in that, but what caught my eye was that the back of the package advertised a four-player cooperative mode. The only other shoot 'em up I knew of that supported four players was the amusingly broken Giga Wing 2 for the Dreamcast. If Blast Works was even as good as that, I figured it would be worth the ten dollars I ended up paying.

As it turned out, the multiplayer is several times more broken than Giga Wing 2's. I haven't had a chance to play it with a full four players, but three players already proved to be three too many. The game's signature mechanic of snagging defeated enemy craft and attaching them to your own ship, already difficult to manage with one player, becomes a complete train wreck with multiple players grabbing everything in sight, quickly obscuring the entire screen with their overlapping monstrosities. Admittedly, the experience still produced some level of amusement, but the basically unplayable nature of the mode is not something I'm eager to revisit.

Even after my partners died off, wasting all of my continues before I had needed even one, the core game did not seem like a whole lot of fun. Playing alone and approaching it as a pure shoot 'em up, mostly ignoring the fusion mechanic, I found that, while perfectly functional, the game was lacking that sense of urgency typically associated with the genre. Even as bullets were flying toward me, my instinct to avoid them was not really kicking in. And every time I lost a life, I merely shrugged. It just didn't feel real. The abstract visual style and weak sound effects--audio cues being so important since enemies do not explode upon defeat--robbed the onscreen narrative of any impact. It was the first time I had ever found a shoot 'em up to be boring, and, when I finally died, I felt nothing but a sense of relief that I could move on with my life.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Code Geass

The final(?) episode of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 is set to air tomorrow, bringing a close to one of the most compelling anime television series of recent years. I've decided to post my thoughts on the series now, as, based on previous experience, my enthusiasm for discussing a show tends to evaporate as soon as it's over, regardless of its quality.

Set in a future where the Britannian empire has conquered most of the planet through its superior giant robot technology, Code Geass follows Lelouch, a ruthless young genius, who leads a rebellion in Japan, promising liberation for all oppressed peoples. The series does not come with a killer premise, but it excels in scope and execution. Featuring a Gundam-esque narrative of mecha action and politics, an attractive cast of characters designed by the all-female group CLAMP, and with some occasional high school hijinks to lighten the tension, it means to appeal to virtually every niche in anime fandom, and it succeeds as no other series has since Escaflowne in 1996.

Very much in the storytelling style of older shows, Code Geass is a fast-paced, event-driven action series, mercifully free of the pseudo-philosophical babble that has plagued so many post-Evangelion programs. Nor is it derivative mecha fanservice junk. Like Escaflowne and the better Gundam shows, Code Geass dares to take itself seriously, never backing away from the danger inherent to the premise. The plot often takes improbable turns, but this series has the skill and, more importantly, the rare conviction to follow them through to their transformative consequences.

If the show has a major shortcoming, it might be in its sometimes cold attitude toward its characters, treating them at times less like people and more like disposable pieces in a well-orchestrated game. This is likely a symptom inherited from Gundam, but Code Geass at least manages to avoid the out-and-out nihilism of that franchise. None of the major characters are actually soldiers; they fight because they feel they have to for the things they want, which, at the outset may be mere ideals, but gradually take more concrete forms. These personal motivations lend the characters just enough humanity to make the audience genuinely concerned for their well-being.

Of particular note is Lelouch himself, a charismatic antihero in the vein of Light Yagami from Death Note. In those older shows that Code Geass is in so many other ways inspired by, a character like Lelouch would have been the sympathetic antagonist a la Char Aznable from Gundam, but, here, it is actually his friend, the exaggeratedly heroic Suzaku Kururugi, that serves as the foil. A schemer whose acts verge on terrorism, Lelouch deftly manipulates all those around him in his struggle against the tyranny of Brittania. But, again, it is not Lelouch's well-intentioned grand designs, ultimately, but his rather less noble motivation--revenge against those he holds responsible for the death of his mother--that makes him a palatable character, granting him a human element that makes for the fine distinction between Lelouch and Death Note's Light, and setting him apart as a uniquely compelling character in anime.

While it may not actually be the most broadly-appealing or Western-friendly anime, Code Geass has a lot to offer. For long-time genre fans, it is a welcome reminder of what drew them to anime in the first place. For others, it is simply a gripping, adrenaline-fueled story that outclasses just about every other action series out there.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Economy (or "Sh** just got real")

Walking down the frozen aisle at the grocery store, I noticed that the classic drum carton for ice cream had shrunk considerably. This was true of nearly every brand, not just the pictured Dreyer's. The Safeway Select store label was one of the few still using the old size. I won't say it's an outrage. Such are the times we live in, and I have no answers. But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Barack Obama: War Hero

I had a dream that Barack Obama was on television praising video games, noting in particular his affection for 1942, the classic vertical shoot 'em up from Japanese developer Capcom. While Obama had never actually played 1942, as a WWII veteran, he was honored to know that the game was allowing so many kids to enjoy such a defining moment of his life and America's history.

Dragon Quest VIII

I've been playing Dragon Quest VIII on and off for about two years now, picking it up most recently this past weekend. It didn't take long to remind me why I stopped the last time.

I had never played a Dragon Quest title before, as my impression of them had been mostly negative based on things I'd heard. Even seven installments in, the simple mechanics and grind-heavy structure had apparently remained almost entirely unaltered. With Final Fantasy constantly reinventing itself, and games like the Star Ocean and Tales franchises managing to implement more progressive gameplay on top of traditional storylines, I couldn't understand why anyone would want to go back to the most primitive JRPG around.

With Dragon Quest VIII being the first installment from then recently-formed powerhouse Square-Enix, however, it looked like the series was headed in a new direction. The visuals were stunning--Akira Toriyama's distinctive artwork had never been so perfectly realized in 3D. And the archaic gameplay looked to be streamlined, no longer requiring selecting from a menu just to talk or use stairs. Most significantly, the globally-minded Square-Enix was really pushing the U.S. release, even implementing several improvements just for the English version, making me think that maybe they had more than just hardcore Japanese fans in mind.

My initial impressions were mixed, but leaning toward positive. The mechanics were still extremely primitive, with most of the many random encounters settled with just the "Fight" command, but I was able to overlook that as long as I was winning. The real highlight came in the storytelling. There was a genuine sense of adventure, with the party constantly heading to new destinations and meeting colorful characters as they explored the truly vast overworld, all without ever losing sight of the main objective that drove the journey in the first place. It made me better appreciate the extent of Yuuji Horii's contribution to Chrono Trigger, which, without him and Toriyama, might as well have been a Final Fantasy game.

The crucial turning point in my experience came when I reached a particular climactic boss fight. After several failed attempts, I eventually won by the very slimmest of margins. I was down to my last character, with no means of healing, facing an enemy who got several turns per round and could have slain me with any one of its many attacks. Having no idea how close I was, I input what I knew would be my last "Fight" command and was shocked when the enemy fell defeated. This all would have made for quite a thrilling story, if indeed that had been the final boss, as I had believed. To my shock and horror, not only was the game not over, but, on further research, I found that I was only about halfway through.

Since then, the situation has become desperate. I barely made it through another boss fight, and, upon checking the in-game progress report, I was explicitly told that I was at too low a level for that point in the story. I simply don't have the energy to grind for the hours that it takes to level up in this game, so my options are limited. During the last session, I decided to consult some guides for help on the item synthesis, a feature I've pretty much hated in every game that's had it. After some headache-inducing hours spent just trying to itemize my extremely limited budget for all the purchases I would need to make to even begin synthesizing, I had to take a break. I do hate to leave things unfinished, so I still intend to beat the game, but, the more I play, the less realistic that seems.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Angel: After the Fall

The success of the Buffy: Season Eight comic was followed quickly by the release of an official comic continuation for Angel, which I have also been reading. Although Joss Whedon does not write the comic, he has acknowledged it as canonical and continues to receive a plotting credit.

Overall, I would say that, while no comic version could ever entirely live up to the show, Angel: After the Fall has thus far fared better than Buffy: Season Eight. Part of this may be my lowered expectations after being underwhelmed by Buffy, but the idea of an Angel comic also just makes more sense. For one, unlike Buffy, the Angel TV series was canceled prematurely, and, while the unforgettable finale did not feel in any way compromised, there was always the sense that there was more story left to tell. Toward this end, the comic has remained consistent with the few details known about what would have been the sixth season of the show, specifically developments concerning Gunn and Illyria.

Apart from that, Angel is also a better fit for the comic book format. The structure of the Angel TV series was much more serialized than Buffy, with episodes often bleeding into one another and cliffhanger endings quite the norm. Compared to the outwardly inconspicuous cast of Buffy, the stars of Angel were larger than life, with more extreme, though no less charming, personalities that translate easily to an action-oriented comic. Even the shift from actors to artwork is less distracting. While there are no awesome covers as with Buffy, for the pencil work inside, the artists have mostly favored a more classically realistic style, focusing on dynamic action poses rather than facial expressions.

As for the dialogue, although writer Brian Lynch was not connected to the Angel TV series in any way, nor to Buffy, he has ably captured the distinctive speech of most of the characters, albeit they were more narrowly-defined to start with than the Buffy crew. Moreover, Lynch actually seems to be improving with each issue, such that I have no difficulty now attaching James Marsters's voice in my head to Spike's wry dialogue as written by Lynch.

It's not the TV series, no, but fans of the show looking for more are encouraged to give it a look.

I should probably also mention the Spike: After the Fall miniseries. As more of a supplement than a spin-off, it is also written by Lynch and retains the same feel and quality.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Buffy Season 8

I came to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series somewhat late in the show's life, watching it mostly in reruns when I was unemployed, but, along with its spin-off Angel, it has since become one of my favorite shows of all time. Its effortless blend of humor, supernatural action, and genuine character-oriented drama was like nothing else before it, nor has it been equaled since in that regard. In the wrong hands, the premise of a valley girl who fights demons could have yielded one-note camp. Such was the case with the original 1992 film. Thanks in large part to the talent and finesse of creator and show runner Joss Whedon, however, the series was regarded as a groundbreaking classic. So, when I heard that Whedon would be continuing the story in comic book form, I was understandably excited. While I was content with the manner in which the series ended and did not exactly feel that more stories were necessary, it was also true that I still felt the show's absence every time I watched trash like Smallville or Heroes.

Unfortunately, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight comic has thus far failed to fill that void. Some difficulties are unavoidable in the transition from screen to illustrated page. Although the gorgeously painted covers feature stunning likenesses of the show's cast, the actual artwork within the books is fairly cartoony in nature. This is surely a stylistic choice and not really anybody's fault, but it's still very jarring, since, for me at least, the characters are so strongly identified with the actors who portrayed them. This style also tends to ramp up the melodramatic feel with its exaggerated expressions, but that's standard for comics.

The real problem lies, not with the art, but with the writing. Despite the fact that Whedon himself has written most of the issues, much of the series feels like stuff that an overzealous fan might dream up. The gratuitous reuse of several minor villains, including Dracula in a recent arc, almost reeks of creative bankruptcy. Especially groan-inducing is an ongoing conspiracy subplot involving the U.S. military, a needless repeat of one of the worst ideas from the show.

Additionally, while Whedon's stories need no longer be restricted by a television budget, I would argue that the comic takes things too far with this newfound freedom. Much of Buffy's appeal originally stemmed from the fact that, although Buffy dealt with literal monsters and was herself superhuman, she and the other characters felt very real. The fight was only one part of their lives, while, the rest of the time, they still experienced the regular joys and sorrows of real-world teenagers. The adolescent allegory largely went out the window already with the last season of the TV series, but the comic now feels entirely removed from reality, with Buffy serving as the full-time commander of an army of slayers engaged in a battle with no end.

The comic also feels excessively drawn out, despite the fact that it is mostly event-driven. Running on a monthly schedule, each issue covers less than an episode of the TV series, with the opening four-issue arc feeling roughly equivalent to a two-hour season premiere. This is again a problem with the format, and it might read better in collected editions.

One final complaint concerns the dialogue. With the TV series, I often felt that the dialogue, so brilliantly facetious and laden with pop-culture references, lent a lot of personality to the characters. With the comic, the characters still speak in the same way, yet I now find it annoying rather than charming. Looking back, I realize now that, as much as the dialogue contributed to the characters, the actors in turn contributed equally to the dialogue. Without the pitch-perfect delivery of the show's cast, it loses a lot of authenticity. Moreover, the characters now all sound largely indistinguishable from one another in their speech. In fact, as I read, I cannot help but perceive all of it as coming from Whedon's own mouth. I haven't even gotten into the most recent arc, which sees Buffy transported into the far future world of Fray, the titular slayer of Whedon's 2001 comic series set in the Buffy/Angel universe. If you're familiar with Whedon's notions about language in the future, as depicted in his sci-fi series Firefly, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect, for better or worse.

Despite all of the problems, the comic is far from awful. There have, in fact, been many good issues. Issue 5, a mostly standalone story by Whedon, is an impressively moving piece about a high school girl just realizing her potential as a slayer--in other words, exactly the sort of story that made Buffy appealing in the first place, which sadly highlights how the comic has gone astray. Brian K. Vaughn's four-issue Faith storyline, meanwhile, is a well-paced and satisfying read in its own right, but it also really makes good on the promise of a "Season Eight" by providing a plausible and meaningful advancement in Faith's character arc. While these bits are not enough to make me recommend the comic as essential Buffy material, they do prove the potential for it to become a worthwhile addition to the canon. And, even with my complaints, I still remain a fan of Mr. Whedon and look forward to whatever he might do in the future. More stuff like the delightful Dr. Horrible, for example, would be most welcome.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


I recently played the demo for Haze on PS3. It was laughable at its best, simply godawful most of the time. But this is not really about what the experience of the demo was, but rather what drew me to such a poorly reviewed title.

The story of Haze casts the player as a soldier in the employ of the Mantel multinational corporation. Fueled by the company's performance-enhancing drug "Nectar", the player character is sent on a mission to suppress belligerent rebel forces in some South American jungle. In gameplay terms, Nectar, once activated, aids player performance by making enemy targets glow bright orange against a gray background, thereby making them easier to target. Once killed, they no longer register as targets and thus conveniently fade from the Nectar vision.

This makes me think of other action games, where defeated foes blink out or otherwise disappear from the battlefield. No doubt a memory conserving necessity, this motif is rarely ever given a narrative explanation and is usually accepted by most gamers without a second thought. But what if something went wrong, and, all of sudden, the bodies of all those slain reappeared littered about the floor? I can only imagine that the sheer volume would be startling in a game like Contra, where enemies are gunned down by the thousands.

The protagonist of Haze faces this very scenario, leading to revulsion followed by defection upon the realization that Nectar is less an aid than a system of control, deliberately blinding Mantel's soldiers to the reality of the atrocities they are expected to commit. Of course, the protagonist is a proxy for the player, who has likely been gleefully mowing down moving, man-shaped targets for far longer. Can Haze snap the gamer out of his own Nectar high, that rush of momentary insanity that one surrenders to while partaking in simulated mass murder? No, of course not. Even within the game, the dynamic does not alter in any truly meaningful way. The player character does not stop killing. He just does so with greater awareness of the consequences. But I wonder if most gamers might not be already too far gone to notice even that would-be epiphany.

The gaming world exists according to its own often deranged set of rules, and, when immersed in that fiction, it is our real world instincts that fade away, becoming subservient to video game anti-reason, perhaps submerged in the back of the mind like a dream or a nightmare. So, when a game like Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, or possibly Haze, attempts to appeal to both senses, the player may lack proper perspective to appreciate the levels.

When, after a successful purge in the demo, one Nectar-powered soldier crudely declares, "We knocked those asses down like skittles!" it does not stick out as insane, but seems rather mundanely idiotic. Anybody who has spent time shooting other people online has no doubt heard far more distasteful remarks delivered with greater bloodlust. Such instances are annoying but expected. They are not regarded as insights into profoundly disturbed psyches. They're just games, after all, not reflections of who we are.

Okay, that's probably taking things too far. Video games tend to lack real feelings of consequence precisely because they are not real. That's usually the point. But I would argue that games have the potential to be a whole lot more real.

Perhaps Haze had some good ideas but was just too crappy a product to realize them effectively. This disappointing disparity between narrative potential and game playability is more or less unique to the medium, but relatively common within it, and, unfortunately, a title that is not at least competent in the latter receives very little credit for whatever it may offer in the former.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stoned out of my mind

Back when I was working regular 12+ hour shifts in my former job as a game tester, there would often be moments when I would blink my eyes, only to find that, when I opened them, several minutes had passed. I would then repeat the process involuntarily several times before the shift was up. Such was the weariness brought on by, yes, long hours without enough sleep, but even more so by the mind-numbing tedium of the job.

In my current occupation as a laboratory gemologist, I work a standard eight hours, all of it spent looking down a microscope inspecting diamonds, usually about forty per day. The job comes with a comparable level of tedium but without the frequent stretches of aimless wandering, since there is never a shortage of stones to grade. Given that I am continuously and actively focusing on my work, one might think it unlikely that I could fall asleep on this job, despite the boredom.

Today, on a day like any other day, as I worked my way through my usual count of stones, I found myself struggling to focus on a diamond, spending far more time than usual while observing far less. It was not in any way a remarkable diamond, that being the problem most likely. My mind sufficiently numbed by the monotonous task, I was fading fast. I was roused ultimately by the feeling of my face slamming into the oculars of the scope.

In fact, episodes such as I have just described are not rare, whatever I may have implied earlier. As per usual, upon startling myself back to reality, I looked around to see if anyone had noticed my embarrassing moment, and, as always, I saw only rows upon rows of bodies focused on their own scopes, oblivious to their surroundings. I supposed they were all too "stoned" out of their minds to notice me. Harharhar--it's a joke, see?

Move along.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Soulcalibur IV

I've long been a fan of 2D fighting games, Street Fighter II having been one of the first video games that I really played seriously. In fact, I've probably logged more hours playing Street Fighter than all the other video games I've played combined. Yet, up until now, I'd never been able to get into the 3D fighters. I had dabbled with Soul Calibur II on the GameCube, but that was only because Link was in it. Once the novelty wore off, the massive move lists and unrelenting pace proved too intimidating.

Due to a misprice on Amazon.com's part, however, I was able to score Soulcalibur IV for the PS3 at substantial discount. Initially, I wasn't too excited about playing it, and I even considered flipping it for profit. After looking around online, however, one feature caught my eye.

All fighting games are inherently designed to be enjoyed playing against other people, but, as the genre has waned in popularity, it's become difficult to find regular competition. In lieu of this, the character creation mode has offered an unexpectedly engrossing experience for the lone player.

At first, I tried to design a cool-looking avatar for myself. With initially limited options and a lacking imagination, this yielded mostly disappointing results. Then I realized that every piece of equipment actually had associated stats, at which point my objective shifted toward maximizing my character's abilities. This quickly led to regret as I observed my finished product: a Frankenstein-esque design monstrosity.

I couldn't help but question the developers' decision to integrate stats in this manner, thereby forcing a difficult compromise of form and function; I could already imagine some wizards figuring out the exact formula for an "ideal" fighter, thus leading to tons of guys across the world decked out in the same clothes. (Such a nightmare scenario could never really occur in a game of this depth, but that was exactly what happened in the case of The Con.) Even disregarding the stats, however, it quickly became apparent that my character would inevitably end up embarrassing just due to the fighting style I had chosen.

After sampling all of the original characters in the game, I had eventually settled on Amy's style as the basis for my custom design. Unfortunately, although my fighter was male, he exactly retained all of Amy's exaggeratedly feminine poses. This turned out to be the case for all styles derived from female characters--a grotesque side effect of the game's often blatantly sexist design. By this point, however, I was through compromising.

I began to simply embrace the system's charming inadequacies and turned my attention toward crafting a suitably flamboyant design to match my character's mannerisms. As humiliating as it might be to use such a design, it should be several times more so to be defeated by my well-muscled, deep-voiced dandy.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


So a co-worker asks me today, "McCain or Obama?" In hindsight, the appropriate response probably should have been "Who?", or "What the hell are you talking about?", or maybe just "You're a damned fool." But this random co-worker, whom I barely know, who I'm certain knows nothing at all about me, prefaces his out-of-nowhere query with "Since I value your opinion..." And, what can I say, I'm not immune to flattery, so I foolishly try to make up something profound and worthy of the compliment. Instead, what comes out is "I don't believe that picking one man over another makes a whole lot of difference."

Fortunately or unfortunately, he doesn't really care what I have to say and instead launches into a clearly premeditated speech in favor of or against McCain and/or Obama, which, as I stand there nodding, I hear none of, because I don't care about anything he has to say either. While that may seem a fair exchange on some level, the reality is that he sought out this farce probably knowing where we each stood and is likely satisfied just to have an excuse to hear himself talk. I, on the other hand, having walked unsuspecting into his trap, am not at all satisfied having my time wasted. And so, as whole minutes tick by and he keeps talking at me about nothing, I'm desperately thinking how to end this. Whatever this guy may think, my patience is not infinite, and inside I'm screaming, "Shut your damn mouth and just do your job." And then it dawns on me. We are at work.

A delicate situation. A dangerous topic. To proceed may offend, yet to walk away may be no better. But the decision ultimately is not mine. There are procedures in place. And so, after a quick glance in the direction of the bossman's office just a short distance away, door open, I say to this guy, "Actually, we probably shouldn't be discussing politics in here." He snaps out of it, seemingly taking the hint, and we both get on with our lives. Crisis averted.

Monday, September 8, 2008

U.S. Open 2008

So, having skipped work for the day, I tuned in at 2pm to CBS, expecting to see the U.S. Open men's championship. Instead, what I got was Guiding Light, the regularly scheduled soap opera. Accompanying it was a scrolling message informing me that regular programming--Guiding Light followed by Dr. Phil (ugh)--would not be preempted for the U.S. Open, meaning that the final of the last Grand Slam event of the year would not even be televised. Badly done, to say the least. I ended up having to watch the live stream online, and, while it was not a great match, it was noteworthy nonetheless as Roger Federer dispatched Andy Murray in straight sets.

Is Federer still the best? The result wasn't quite so conclusive as to answer that, but, based on the tournament as a whole, I think it's still up in the air between him and Rafael Nadal, regardless of the current rankings.

Nadal bettered Federer in terms of championships, including majors, but he was once again unable to prove himself at the U.S. Open, leaving questions of his surface versatility and stamina still lingering. In fact, for all the talk of Nadal's improvement, the only major difference between this year and his last two is that he won Wimbledon, whereas he was runner-up in the two years previous. One could reduce this down to a difference of less than one match's performance; he won a few more points, albeit crucial ones, against Federer that he could not before. Again, he has finished without making the final of a hardcourt major, and, based on his disappointing lack of fight against Andy Murray, a player he had owned in all their previous encounters, he may not have the endurance to ever duplicate Federer's former three-major-a-year standard.

Federer, meanwhile has had uncharacteristic struggles all year even against lesser players, which suggests more of a slide down the rankings on his part than a rise on Nadal's. While he had only one major title, it happened to be the last and arguably most difficult to win, coming as it does at the end of such a grueling tour. Despite a few hiccups, his showing at the U.S. Open was impressive, as he convincingly beat both Murray (#4) and Novak Djokovic (#3), two would-be contenders who have themselves each beaten both Federer and Nadal this year. Thus, while Nadal is certain to finish the year as No.1, were you to ask me who the favorite is going into the Master's Cup, I would still have to say Federer, and I suppose that answers the question of who the man to beat is.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bionic Commando Rearmed

After I got my wi-fi setup going, one of the first things I did was download the Bionic Commando Rearmed demo onto my PS3. I had never played the original 8-bit game, but I knew its reputation as a classic both for its unique mechanics and for its famously graphic end sequence. After seeing some attractive hi-res screens of the remake and listening to some awesome samples from the remixed soundtrack, I became convinced that this was how a remake of an 8-bit classic should be done.

Playing the demo, however, has made me realize that graphics and audio do not date a game nearly so much as the absurd difficulty so common among games of that generation. Sadly, it seems the difficulty level was one thing the developers didn't feel a need to update for modern sensibilities.

I thought I had a fair grip on the mechanics until I neared the end of the demo and faced a scenario that completely baffled me. I quickly proceeded to waste all my lives without ever feeling that I was close. Eventually, with a little help, I was able to grasp at least the theory of the solution, but I lost all my lives again before I could actually pull it off. I gathered then that that was what the game really amounted to: precision platforming combined with an unintuitive design. Were I to go back and play the demo again, I'm sure I could beat it effortlessly in about a minute. But I'm not sure I want to commit to a game where every minute of gameplay stretches into fifteen minutes of punishment before pulling through.