Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jurassic World

I saw Jurassic World twice yesterday.  Once regular, and once in IMAX 3D.

I'd have to say it's the best movie I've seen in a long time.  No, it's not a Shakespearean masterpiece, but as a fun action movie / SFX showcase, it's top-notch.  There's no point where you're going to say, "wow, I didn't see that plot twist coming."  You'll guess pretty early which characters are going to die (hint: it's not the two kids).  And the bad guy's motivations are a bit floopy here and there, to the point where it felt like he was just the "designated evil dude".

So no, it's not going to win awards for the script.  The plot is forwarded by egotistical people making obviously bad decisions over and over again.  The occasional dramatic interludes felt like they were added as an obligation, so the writers didn't have to admit the whole movie was a tech demo.  And you know what?  I don't care.  It's okay if some movies are more like rides than serious stories.  And Jurassic World is definitely a ride.

The special effects have come a long way since the first one (or even the third one).  Watching the original Jurassic Park (which has been playing on TV non-stop) and JW in the same weekend has shown me just how much better CGI is now.  Back in 1993 JP had mind-blowing effects, and some of those shots make me cringe now. 

If you're wondering whether to see it in 2D or 3D, I would suggest 3D.  Trust me, I don't always like 3D.  I'm not an anti-3D snob like some people (*cough* Marty *cough*), but there are definitely some movies where it works better than others.  We saw Avengers: Age of Ultron in both 2D and 3D, and the 3D version frankly sucked.  But Jurassic World's 3D is crisp and well done.  Jurassic World begs for 3D.  It demands 3D.  It slaps its behind while moaning THREEEE DEEEE ME BABY!  ...or something.

It's funny, both the original Jurassic Park and Jurassic World both have a strong theme of "Don't play God."  In the first movie that meant, "Don't make dinosaurs."  But in the years between JP and JW, people have gotten used to dinos, and accepted them as just animals.  So now  "playing God" means designing brand new dinosaurs.  I guess in the next one, "playing God" will mean "don't give raptors jet packs and laser turrets."

Which makes me wonder where the next film will go.    Not to go into detail on the ending, but I doubt the next film will take place in the theme park.  Which is too bad.  I know they can't make the same movie over and over, but I love the Jurassic World setting.  Honestly, I would have been perfectly happy watching a movie where people visit the JW park and everything goes right.  I'd love it if the JW park was simply used as a background setting for movies in another genre.  A romantic comedy that happens to be set in Jurassic World?  I'm there.  I mean, 50 First Dates would have been 20% better if Adam Sandler had worked at Jurassic World instead of a marine park.

But given the military aspect of JW's plot, I have a theory that the next movie will be called something like "Jurassic War", and involve using dinos as weapons.  I'm not sure I want it to go in that direction, and if that happens I'll protest by only seeing it twice on opening weekend.

Anyway, to sum up:  I really liked Jurassic World, and I want a pet velociraptor.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner

All right, I've now seen several variations of "This soldier is a bigger hero than Caitlyn Jenner" or "While you were distracted by Bruce Jenner, this (other story) happened."  Two of the more prominent memes turned out to be based on misunderstandings (see here and here), but the larger sentiment - that Jenner doesn't deserve all this attention while there are real heroes out there - is still going strong.

As if nobody can read more than one article a day, and the entire reason the other stories were under reported is because people were talking about Jenner.  Believe me, if I didn't catch that other story, it wasn't because of Jenner.

There's always going to be a more important story or a bigger hero somewhere.  You can't just go through life saying, "This story isn't important because there's a better one over there."  Do you really want to live in a world where news outlets are only allowed to report one story a day?  Where they have to get together and vote, "Well this this earthquake destroyed more homes than that tsunami, so we won't report the tsunami at all."  

No reporting on the guy who saved a child from a bear, because somewhere overseas a soldier just saved ten people... but no reporting on him either, because a few days ago another soldier saved twenty people.  Fine, we'll track down which soldier has saved the most lives in human history, report the story, and never have another news story again.  No need to watch the news any more, people, it's been reported. 

Besides, the Jenner hoopla isn't all about heroism.  Transgender issues are new and confusing to some people, and they're going to talk about it.  There have been heroic soldiers all throughout history, and not to downplay them in the slightest, but at least people understand them.  I look forward to a day when transpeople are so accepted and understood that they aren't news.  But right now, it's legitimate news.  Yes, there's a lot of other heroes who deserve to have their stories told, and yes it would be great if these soldiers/police officers/firefighters/etc would get the recognition they deserve.  But blaming it on Jenner is ridiculous.

Bottom line:  There is room on my Facebook feed for more than one news story, and more than one hero.  Maybe the Jenner story is getting too much attention, maybe not, but I've still been seeing plenty of other stories in my newsfeed.  And seriously, if you do hear about a hero who isn't getting enough media attention, share their story!  Preferably without making comparisons to Jenner.  Chances are, the hero you're reporting wouldn't want their name being used to put down someone else.

Switching subjects a little... 
I do hope the increased transgender awareness is a good thing, but it still scares me.  I personally don't like being in the spotlight, and the extra attention makes me uncomfortable.  Plain old "gay" has become so mainstream that media can no longer get extra attention from it, so they're starting to make all sorts of TV shows about transgender people.  I hope that it succeeds in normalizing* it; maybe the next generation will be so used to the concept of transgender that they won't go into a murderous panic when someone comes out to them.

But my fear is that heightened awareness will just alert the wolves.  Twenty years ago most people didn't know the word "transgender".  They were aware that some people got sex changes, but it was so rare that the average person didn't believe they'd ever meet one.  Twenty years ago if a bigot saw an unattractive woman go into a women's restroom, they'd probably just think, "She's ugly" and leave it at that.  Not a nice thing to think, but at least they didn't immediately get suspicious about the woman's sex.  The increase in awareness has brought with it an increase in panic, with legislators drafting new bathroom laws and so on.

Overall this media attention is something that has to be done, and I'm not saying we should hold back.  I'm just saying the next few years are going to be scary for me.

* I'm not comfortable with the word "normalizing", though.  Even in a perfect world I don't know if I'd want transgender to be considered normal.  IMO, it's basically a birth defect, so calling it normal is like saying it doesn't need to be fixed.  We give artificial arms and legs to people born without limbs, so the last thing I'd want to tell a transperson is, "Just live with it, you're normal as is."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wii U - First Impressions

I got a bonus at work for having been there 15 years (yay me).  Don't worry, we're doing responsible stuff with the majority of it.  But I also wanted to splurge a little and get something just for myself.  So I, uh, got a Wii U.

I know, I know.  By most accounts, the Wii U is the least powerful (and least successful) of the three current generation systems, and I worry that I might be buying a failing product.

But as I get older, I find that I'm just not connecting with modern gamers. I have no interest in the first person shooters that dominate the XBox and Playstation systems. And when I do see an Xbox/Playstation game I actually want (like Alien: Isolation), it's usually also available on the PC.  But these days I'm more into playing retro-style games, and remakes/sequels of the games I played on my NES back in the 80s.

The Wii U is a really nifty system.  The tablet-like controller works very well, and seems like something all systems should do in the future.  They don't necessarily need to come with their own proprietary tablet controller like the Wii U, but I definitely think all future PS and Xbox systems ought to release apps that link the system to your iPad/Android/etc tablet (or even phone). Given how many things we do on video game systems now that don't even involve joysticks (Netflix, etc), controlling them with a tablet is a no-brainer.

A few minor complaints.  Setting up the system took forever, what with downloading and installing updates, and transferring everything from the old Wii to the new system.  And it is surprising that a new system in this day and age doesn't play DVDs or Blu-Rays.  And of course the game selection isn't very good yet, but I can live with that.  I only buy about one console game every six months anyway.

I got the bundle that comes with Mario Kart 8 and Nintendo Land.  Mario Kart has never looked better, and the tracks are extremely creative this time around.  I love the antigravity areas and the pretty underwater effects.  Even the retro tracks have lots of new features to keep things fresh.  The controls are spot-on perfect, and you can still use the wheel controllers from Mario Kart Wii.  It has a robust selection of characters and vehicles, and the DLC makes the selection even better.  I especially love the Legend of Zelda DLC.

Honestly, Mario Kart 8 has quickly become one of my top ten favorite games of all time.  No, better than that; I believe MK8 is one of mankind's top ten greatest achievements.  I'm not sure where it falls on the list, probably somewhere above the telephone but just below the Cheesy Gordita Crunch.

Nintendo Land, on the other hand, isn't exactly knocking my socks off.  Like the Wii's "Wii Sports" disc, Nintendo Land is pretty much a tech demo - a collection of shallow mini games designed to show off what you can do on the Wii U Gamepad.  I've only tried three or four of the games so far, and none of them made me want to play them again.  However, some of the reviews rave about how fun it is as a multiplayer game, so I'll hold off judgement until I've had a chance to play it with others.  I will say that all the tutorials are driving me nuts.  Nintendo Land could very well be called "Tutorial: The Game". 

So far I'm incredibly happy with the system.  If you want to friend me on the Wii U or any other system, here's all my friend codes:

MiiVerse: Fury1958 
3DS: 1306-5310-8353
Steam: 1958Fury
XBox 360: MattAndKJ

Friday, October 24, 2014

Super Smash Bros 3DS (...and Almost Good Games)

I've noticed a pattern when I review video games; I tend to give more backstory than actual review.   In my blog about Injustice: Gods Among Us, I spent as much time talking about the history of Mortal Kombat as I did about Injustice itself.  In my Alien: Isolation blog, I wrote more about the Commodore 64 Alien game than I did about Isolation.  I think this may just be my style.  If a game reminds me of other games, I like to make comparisons.  And don't get me started on ramblings where I talk about how I blog, such as this paragraph.  So if you want to skip to where I talk about Super Smash Bros, just scroll down to the bolded part.

Anyway... Before I write about Super Smash Bros for the 3DS, I want to talk for a minute about games that are awesome... except for the "game" part.  Games where the programmers went all-out in making the game as complete as possible, but still failed in the basic aspects of making it fun.

A lot of my examples are going to be from the Commodore 64.  The C64 was a peculiar machine - it was a computer that wanted to be a game system, or possibly vice-versa.  It had graphics that were a fair bit better than the Atari 2600, but not quite as good as the 8-bit Nintendo... except when they were.  Some programmers managed to get more out of the graphics than others.  Well, that's true of any system, but it was particularly glaring on the C64.  But the C64 controls were even more erratic.  It had ports for Atari 2600 joysticks, which aren't the most precise controllers in video game history anyway, but used on the C64 they were particularly mushy.

So anyway, the games:

Project Firestart (C64, 1989)
As far as I'm concerned, Project Firestart was the first "Survival Horror" computer game.  If ever a game came out that could be called "Resident Evil in space", this is it, and it was released years before the first Resident Evil.  You're sent to investigate a deep space research station, which sent out a distress call before going silent.  You dock with the station, and the first few halls are completely empty.  You hear nothing but your own echoing footsteps. Then you enter one room and see the mutilated body of a scientist, who used his last bit of energy to write a warning on the wall in his own blood.  The game shows you a quick closeup of the body as the music plays a scare chord.  As you continue to explore the station, you find many more bodies.  You access computers to find clues.  One one computer you find some journals that explain what's going on - the scientists had created some creatures for labor purposes, and those creatures got loose.

That's when you finally see the creatures themselves.  These tall, green tentacled monsters show up and you have to run or fight.  You encounter them several more times during your explorations, and several plot twists keep you from just running back to your ship and hightailing it out of there.  All told it's not as long as Resident Evil, and it does resort to backtracking to prolong the length of the game.  But for the time, it was revolutionary.  The graphics may look ancient now, but at the time it was some of the best I'd seen.  All in all, it was a brilliant game...

...except for the gameplay.  While I loved exploring the space station, fending off the creatures was annoying because the weapons were terrible.  There were a couple of different types of guns you could pick up, but they were really more like cattle prods.  Instead of firing any sort of projectiles or beams, just the tip of the gun lit up and became lethal.  Safety-wise, this actually makes sense not having weapons that could breach the hull.  But gameplay-wise, it was way too difficult killing monsters this way.  If you were close enough for your weapon to hurt them, they could hurt you as well.  Now if the game were more of a run-and-hide style game like Alien Isolation, this would still be fun.  But Project Firestart often put you in situations where you had to fight to survive, by putting monsters on both sides of you with no other ways out.  This issue is the only black mark on a game that was otherwise years ahead of its time.

Mail-Order Monsters (C64, 1985)
Buy a monster.  Customize him with bio-upgrades and weapons.  Take him to the arena to fight other monsters.  Use your winnings to upgrade your monster, or to buy more monsters.  There's been a few modern attempts at similar games, but none of them have had the charm of MOM.  It was so fun playing this game with my friends, each of us loading up our own monsters and making them fight.  I spent hours cheating by playing the two player mode by myself, winning battle after battle so I could earn enough money to build an entire menagerie of fully-powered beasts.  It was a wonderful experience...

...except for the gameplay.  While the build process was well-done and had decent graphics, the actual battle part was pretty dull.  Each player controlled a tiny solid-colored sprite, trying to get close enough to the enemy to hit the button for a melee attack, or trying to line them up for an easily-dodged ranged attack.  I know I shouldn't expect much from the C64, but there were plenty of other games that managed to make this kind of combat exciting.  I just wish the programmers had worked as hard on the fighting as they did the construction mode.

Autoduel (C64, 1985)
Based on the tabeltop RPG "Car Wars", Autoduel was an open-world vehicular combat game set in a Mad Max style future.  The freedom was incredible - you're just a guy with a car, what you do next is up to you.  Enter a demolition derby to earn more money.  Or take a courier job, braving the lawless streets to deliver packages to other cities.  Or go bounty hunting, living off rewards for the outlaws you defeat.  Use the money to improve your car, buy better cars, and equip them with the best weapons.  The game came with an instruction booklet as thick as the RPG itself, designed to look like a vehicle owner's manual.  I'm not sure I've ever seen so much stuff you can do in a C64 game.  It was an incredible sandbox game...

...except for the gameplay.  The cars moved too sluggishly, making it very difficult.  It was hard to practice enough to get better, because of the extraordinarily long loading times.  The rules were as harsh as an RPG - if you died, you had to make a new character.  So a typical game session might go like this:  Wait 10 minutes for the game to load.  Start a new character, spend several minutes making your first car.  Several more minutes getting your first courier job.  Leave town so you can drive to your courier destination.  Wait 5 more minutes for it to load the area between the towns.  Get attacked by outlaws.  Try to flee, because the starting cash isn't enough to buy weapons that don't suck.  Get killed because your car is slow and hard to control.  Realize you have to start the entire game over because of the harsh death rules.  Play a different game because this one is so frustrating.

WWE All-Stars (3DS, 2011)
But games that are almost perfect aren't limited to the C64.  More recently I owned "WWE Wrestling All-Stars" for the 3DS, and it was nearly incredible.  It had an impressive roster split between classic and modern wrestlers.  The classic wrestlers included all my favorites from my teen years, with multiple outfits to represent different years of their career.  We have Andre in his classic black on-strap leotard, but we also have him in his early years, with the long hair and the more traditional briefs.  There were multiple rings, a create-a-wrestler mode, and all the match types I've come to expect from wrestling games (singles, tag team, steel cage, etc).  In short, it is the perfect WWE game...

...except for the gameplay.  The matches just feel slow and tedious.  To be fair, I haven't had a lot of luck with wrestling games, even the ones that received great reviews.  So this is probably just me.  I haven't played a wrestling game I liked since the days of 2D sprites.  Something happened when they converted to polygons - they stopped being fun arcade button mashers and started becoming wrestling simulators.  Which is fine for a certain type of gamer, but I don't think I'm the target audience.

Super Smash Bros for the 3DS

Still reading this far?  Cool.  So anyway, the new Smash Bros 3DS game.  I'm really enjoying this game.  It has a lot going for it.  For one thing, it has a huge roster of fighters (51 once all are unlocked), with several alternate looks for each.  Some of those alternate looks are practically new characters.  For instance, instead of alternate colors, Bowser Jr's alts are the other 7 Koopalings.  A couple of the characters have male and female versions, Little Mac has both his NES look and his green wireframe arcade look, one of Peach's alts is Daisy, one of Fox's alts is Wolf, and so on.

The game has a ton of modes, and hundreds of unlockable things, so you never run out of things to do.  If all you feel like doing is random fights, you can just go to the highly-customizable Smash Mode.  But there's also Classic Mode where you fight a lot of different types of matches until you get to the boss.  Not to mention Smash Run, where you run around a level fighting enemies like a traditional platformer, collecting powerup icons, until it ends with a traditional Smash battle using the powerups you collected.  It even has a mode where you fight every fighter in the game, in the order their games were released.  With characters like Pac-Man and Mr Game & Watch, it's practically the history of video games in the palm of my hand.

The addition of Miis is particularly nice.  I always like Create-A-Fighter modes, so the ability to put myself into SSB is wonderful.  You start with any Mii in your collection, then choose three basic fighting styles - fists, sword, or gun.  Then you can choose from a few special moves, pick some stat-boosting icons to help you specialize your character, and pick an outfit and head accessories (more of which are unlockable).  It's not perfect but it's a really great feature.

All in all, I'd have to say it's the perfect Nintendo fighting game...

...except for - you guessed it - the gameplay.  Now to be fair, I enjoy this game's controls more than any other game mentioned in this blog.  It is highly polished, and everything I dislike about it is just personal taste.  I still think it deserves all the 9 star reviews it's getting.  Unlike the C64 examples, this game's controls were not a casualty of limited technology; this is exactly the game the programmers were intending to make.  However, I personally hate being forced to play 2D games with the circle pad.  I have a firm belief that 3D games work better with analog pads, and 2D games work better with d-pads.  Fighting games in particular should be mapped to d-pads because they require a lot of precise button-tapping, and often involve a lot of pounding that's harsh on the more delicate analog sticks.  And before you think I'm being paranoid, there have already been a lot of reports of people breaking their circle pads playing SSB.  I really hope these breakages cause Nintendo to release a patch that lets you use the d-pad.

I also have trouble keeping track of my character in the chaotic battles.  The game does attempt to make this easier for you: it has a couple of options for putting an outline around characters, and it puts "P1" above your head at all times... but it's still easy to lose track of where you are.  And while the game has a lot of different play modes, most of them aren't very good.  I'm glad they're there, but after trying each once, I generally found myself going back to the plain old Smash mode over and over.  Some of the minigames in particular are tedious - I've hated home run stadium since the last game.

But despite these shortcomings - most of which are really my shortcomings - it's a fantastic game. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Alien: Isolation

I didn't like scary movies as a kid.  I was easily frightened, and didn't understand why people would want to feel that way for fun.  Whenever I heard about the movie "Alien", I was curious because I liked sci-fi, but I was too scared to want to see it.  I saw a doll of the creature on store shelves, and that alone was scary enough for me.  When Aliens came out in 1986, I let that pass me right by.  I remember thinking "Cool title", but that's about it. 

Then my grandmother died, and we inherited a box of her old books.  My Mom asked me to look through it to see if there was anything I wanted to read.  I found a copy of the novelization of Alien, read it, and fell in love.  I then went to the bookstore and picked up Aliens, and finished that just as quickly.  Next I rented both movies, and they immediately became my two favorite movies.  I picked up any other Alien merchandise I could find, which wasn't much at the time.

I bought games based on both movies for the Commodore 64.  The one based on Aliens was an excellent (for the time) collection of minigames, with cut scenes that take you through all the events of the movie.  Some of the minigames were better than others, but you could tell the programmers loved the movie, and really put their best effort into keeping it faithful to the source material.  It would be almost unplayable today, with the primitive graphics, but at the time it was the best movie-based game I'd ever played.

The "Alien" computer game is another story. Graphically, this game was extremely simple.  Your screen showed a map of the ship, with dots representing where different crew members were.  You could highlight specific crew members, and order them to move to other rooms, pick up items, and so on.  However, they didn't follow your orders right away, and would sometimes ignore you completely if you asked them to do something too frightening.  Somewhere on the ship the alien was popping in and out of air ducts, occasionally killing crew members.  Your job was to somehow kill it, keeping as many crew members alive as possible.  Killing the alien was no easy task, considering there were no real weapons on board.  Theoretically you could blow it out the airlock, though I never successfully managed to do that.

My preferred method was setting the ship to self destruct, then using the escape shuttle.  However, there were a lot of rules that kept you from doing this right away.  First off, it could only hold three crew members, and it wouldn't allow you to leave any crew members alive on the ship.  So you would have to wait until there were only three crew members left to use this method (there was also a mode that let you start out with three crew members).  Which leads to the next problem - the cat counted as a crew member.  So before you could blow the ship, you had to get the cat carrier, find the cat, catch it, and bring it with you.  Of course, chasing the cat all over she ship increased your chances of running into the alien.  And whenever you saw the alien, the screen would change to an animated picture of the monster while alarms go off.  The graphics weren't great, but the first time it happened it still made me jump.

The lack of action kept the game from being a hit with my friends, but I loved the psychological aspects of it.  Whenever you highlighted a crew member, you could hear their heartbeat, while their current emotional condition (stable, shaken, etc) was displayed on the screen.  If you kept them calm, they were more likely to follow your orders.  These emotional conditions were affected by factors such as whether they were currently alone in the room, if they were holding something that could be used as a weapon, their location (being in the air ducts made them particularly jumpy), and whether they had recently seen the alien.  Some of the crew members were more easily shaken than others.  Lambert was particularly unstable, and could be killed simply by putting her in a situation so scary it gave her a heart attack.  This could even be a useful strategy if you still have one too many crew members to use the escape ship.

So it wasn't a very pretty game, and it could be incredibly frustrating at times, but in my opinion it captured the spirit of the movie more than any action game ever could.  This was years before Resident Evil coined the term "Survival Horror", but Alien easily belongs in the genre.  I always wished the game could be remade with modern graphics and controls...

...And here comes Alien: Isolation, scheduled to be in stores October 7th.  I have high hopes for this game.  It takes place sometime between Alien and Aliens, with you controlling Ripley's daughter as a member of a crew investigating the disappearance of the original ship.  Predictably, they end up getting an alien on their ship, and the plot runs similar to the first movie from there.  But the big difference between this and the 50 or so other Alien-related games that have come out in the past couple of decades, is you're not blasting waves of aliens with a machine gun.  Instead, Isolation is a tension-filled game of hide and seek, similar in some ways to Clock Tower.  You have to look for different hiding places, from which you might see parts of the alien as it hopefully passes by.  You even have a button to hold your breath so it doesn't hear you.

And they've even announced some DLC that adds scenarios based on the first movie.

This sounds just like what I've hoped for since the C64 game.  I can't wait to try it out.  Please-don't-suck-please-don't-suck-please-don't-suck...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Injustice: Gods Among Us (and the Mortal Kombat Series)

Lately we've been playing Injustice: Gods Among Us.  But before we talk about that, let's go back a little.

I always had a love/hate relationship with the Mortal Kombat series.  I was a teenager when the first one came out, and at the time it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen.  Yes, the violence was attractive to my tasteless 18-year old mind, but that wasn't the biggest draw for me.  I loved the digitized actors, and some of the special moves (Scorpion's rope, Sub-Zero's freeze) were a lot more interesting than Street Fighter's punches and fireballs.  Unfortunately MK1 didn't translate very well to home systems.  I don't mean the censorship (which was annoying but didn't really make the game less fun), it's just that none of the home versions really got the controls quite right.

They made up for it with Mortal Kombat 2, which was uncensored and had better graphics, tighter controls, more characters, and lots of secrets to discover.  My fiancee KJ (now my wife) and I played that one for months.  Mortal Kombat 3 was a bit of a letdown.  No big graphical upgrade, and initially they took away some of the most popular characters.  These fighters returned in Ultimate MK3, which was nice, but it still wasn't as revolutionary as MK2 had been.  Eventually they released MK Trilogy for the home systems, and that was the pinnacle of the 2D series.  I've always preferred fighting games that have loads and loads of characters, and this was (at the time) the most I'd ever seen in a single game. 

The transition to 3D was rocky.  For me, Mortal Kombat 4 was basically a tech demo - like they were saying, "Here's the groundwork; eventually we'll be able to make a decent 3D MK game."  I didn't play much of Deadly Alliance or Deception.  Each one was better than the last, but at the time I just felt that I was "over" Mortal Kombat.

In 2006, I played Mortal Kombat Armageddon.  It was the best MK game up to that date, featuring nearly every character that had been in the series.  It was like the "MK Trilogy" of 3D MK games.  Like the previous games that I had skipped, it also had a decent single player mode that played like an adventure game.  I especially loved the Kreate-A-Fighter mode, and I wish more fighting games allowed you to build your own characters.  The only thing keeping it from being the definitive MK game was the Fatality system.  The designers tried to experiment this time, and instead of giving each fighter their own fatalities as usual, they had a weird sort of "create-your-own" fatality system where you linked together a series of brutal combos.  I never got the hang of it, and it's a dark mark on what was otherwise the height of the pre-reboot MK series.  I was certainly prepared for it to be the final MK game.

In 2008, they released Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe.  It was really fun for about an hour, but there just wasn't enough there to love.  It felt like the designers did just enough work to have a solid fighting game, then rushed it out the door.  I could see pulling it out again when friends are over, if I didn't already own some much better fighting games.  There is nothing hugely wrong with the game; it just goes through the motions and gets the job done.  If you see it for $10, there are worse ways you could spend the money.

In 2011, we picked up the Mortal Kombat reboot (aka MK9 or MK2011).  We bought it on a whim.  I hadn't been following the game's development, and I hadn't read any reviews of it.  KJ and I happened to see it on the shelf, and we had some extra money burning a hole in our pockets.  We were trying to decide between that and another game, and KJ was actually the one who said, "We like Mortal Kombat, let's get it."  And we played it for months.  It is so good, far better than anything the series has put out before.  The controls are tight.  My biggest complaint about the MK series was that it didn't control as easily as more serious fighters, but MK9's controls are so good that even Fatalities are a breeze to do.  It had a good-sized roster of characters, a lot of different modes and options, and a story mode that was actually interesting for a change.

Now let's be honest.  The Mortal Kombat series started as a gimmick.  First they wanted to see if they could make a fighter with digitized graphics.  Then they wanted to see how much gore they could get away with.  Later games in the series also tried to test how much skin they could show.  I recognize this, and while I have enjoyed these gimmicks in the past, I do recognize that they are gimmicks.  All these games I would enjoy until until I was out of shiny objects to find, then I'd look for another game.  So seriously, I never thought I would say this about a MK game.  But the truth is, MK9 is one of the best fighting games ever made.  If you haven't played it, and aren't put off by the violence and skimpy outfits, you can find the "Komplete Edition" (PS3, 360) for under $20 now.  It really is worth it.

And now we have Injustice: Gods Among Us.  Why did I preface my review of Injustice with a Mortal Kombat history lesson?  Well, for all intents and purposes, Injustice is the spiritual successor of MK9.  It was developed by the same set of programmers, and is very similar to MK9 in style.  The controls are a bit different (most noticably Injustice doesn't use a block button), but overall you can easily see the similarities.

So how does it measure up to its predecessor?  Well, overall I do think MK9 was a slightly better game.  It had a larger roster of fighters, and slightly more intuitive controls (in my opinion).  But truthfully, I'd have to be a more hardcore gamer to really care.

Injustice has 24 fighters (with four more coming soon as downloadable content).  The roster is split 50-50 heroes and villains, featuring most of DC's major characters.  The basic controls are simple, though some of the more complicated combos are almost impossible for me to pull off.  Granted, I'm playing on the 360, and I hate the 360's controller for fighting games.  Still, some of the most powerful moves are the easiest to perform.  You can throw background objects at your opponent by simply tapping the shoulder button.  Each character has an over-the-top Super Move which is done by pressing two shoulder buttons together.

These super moves are basically Injustice's alternative to MK's Fatalities (or MK9's X-Ray moves).  Unlike fatalities, they can be done during the match, after filling up your super meter.  It's hard to imagine anybody surviving these moves.  For example, Superman punches his opponent into space, flies after them, and punches them back to the ground.  It stretches believability a bit that people can keep fighting after getting hit by these powers, but that's nothing new for fighting games.  Seriously, how many people in real life could get hit by Ryu's fireball or Dhalsim's yoga flame and still continue the match?  Injustice just takes it a bit farther.

Also cool are the stage transitions.  Most stages have two fighting areas, and if you use the right move in the right spot, you will knock your opponent into the other part of the stage and continue the fight there.  The Mortal Kombat series has been doing this for a while, but this time the transitions are especially funny (and damaging).  If you're fighting on the roof and your opponent knocks you off, you don't just fall to the street level.  No, first you get knocked into the side of a nearby building, where a wrecking ball hits you, then you fall and land on some elevated train tracks.  The train hits you, knocking you to the street level, while the train also crashes to the ground in the background.  Again, these transitions challenge your suspension of disbelief, but they're very entertaining.

Injustice's story mode is very interesting.  Several former DC voice actors have returned, including George Newburn and Kevin Conroy.  The plot is similar to one of my favorite episodes of the Justice League animated series, but it plays out much darker.  I'm only a couple of chapters into it so far, but it already looks very compelling.  And in case you were wondering, the story mode does explain how a human like the Joker can stand up to Superman's punches.  (Update: I've now finished the story mode.  It's really good.)

Like MK9, Injustice is filled with tons of unlockable content.  Each character has an alternate outfit related to the story mode's plot.  You can unlock these outfits by spending cards you earn while playing.  There are also a lot of extra costumes that can be earned other random ways, such as by completing other game modes.  It also has some extra battle modes you can unlock, as well as the usual miscellany I probably won't bother unlocking, like concept art or music.

There's a mode called "STAR Labs" that works a lot like MK9's Challenge Tower.  You are given specific missions that sometimes involve fighting, but are just as likely to be something off-the-wall like defending the Earth from meteors.  One early mission has you controlling Catwoman's cat while avoiding museum security guards.  You even have a "meow" button.  These missions are a cool break from fighting, but a lot of them are frustratingly difficult for me.

Is it balanced?  Are the combos easy to pull off?  Is the online opponent-matching any good?  I don't know; I'm not a very hardcore gamer these days.  I will say that some of the one-button-press moves (like throwing background objects) are just as damaging as some of the moves that take more complicated button-pressing.  So lots of matches become races to see who can reach certain background objects first.  Also, some of the ranged moves (like Deathstroke's rifle) are cheap enough to be somewhat cheesy in the wrong hands.  But it's balanced enough that when KJ and I play, either one of us could win no matter who we pick.  And in the end, that's all I really care about.

The bottom line:  While I do think MK9 is technically a better game, Injustice has a lot of charm and comic geekiness that makes me like it better.  I highly recommend this game to anyone who likes fighting games and DC characters, but if you want to wait a year until a "complete" version comes out, I wouldn't blame you.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Nintendo 3DS

Still no big long post here, as I've been using up all my blogging energy for my RPG blog

Just wanted to mention that I have a 3DS now, so if anybody wants to add me to their friend list, here's my friend code: 1306-5310-8353

Remember you'll have to give me your code as well for it to work.  As long as we're posting friend codes, here's my Wii Code (not that I play the Wii much any more): 7045 1920 7172 8881

And my X-Box 360 handle: MattAndKJ

I'm really enjoying the 3DS.  So far I've mostly been playing Mario Kart 7, New SMB 2, and a bunch of classic NES/Gameboy games.