Diamonds in the Rough: Banjo-Tooie (N64)

Welcome to “Diamonds in the Rough,” a feature in which I take a look at a few lesser-known and under-appreciated titles of the past. These are games that were fun and original, many of which I fettered away hours of my young life with, but for whatever reason just didn’t get the credit they deserved.

Banjo-Kazooie was an amazing game for its time. Original and engaging, it took what Mario 64 did and fine-tuned it while adding its own comedic charm. It was both a commercial and critical success and went down as one of the all-time greats of its console.

Then Banjo-Tooie came along and…well, most of the people I talk to don’t really remember it. If Wikipedia is to be believed, this is chiefly due to the game being released at the end of the N64’s lifetime. Whatever the case, it’s a real shame that it didn’t have the same popularity as its predecessor, because I really think it is a better game in almost every way. One reason for this is simply the increased polish – the game looked better and control felt a bit tighter. There was a wider variety of mini-games, and you were no longer relegated to a single character as you could take control of friendly shaman Mumbo Jumbo or split bird and bear up to be controlled separately. The trademark humor and great tunes from the first game also return in spades, leading to an even more irreverent and enjoyable storyline.

You were also given access to a vastly expanded repertoire – rather than stripping you of the abilities you learned in the first game a la Metroid, Banjo-Tooie let you keep everything and built on top of your already considerable skill set. Although this led to a higher barrier for entry (a player who hadn’t gone through Banjo-Kazooie might feel a bit lost), it led to a huge variety in gameplay and puzzles. And speaking of variety, the Banjo games share an almost obsessive fixation with collectables of all shapes and sizes, and this is only expanded in the second outing, lending a fair bit of Pokemon “gotta catch em all”-style replayability.

Then there’s the world. While the first game was content to copy the Mario 64 formula, providing a mostly abandoned hub castle with pictures acting as portals to levels, Banjo-Tooie created a more open-ended and complete world. Levels were actual places, and they connected to each other in myriad and often secretive ways. Not only was this more immersive, but again it led to some crazy open-world puzzles, some puzzle pieces only being accessible if you entered from a hidden passage in another level, or if you found a way to send a certain item or character from one stage to another. This game embraced and ran manically away with a part of Mario 64 that has sadly faded away from modern games: the freeform puzzler element. You aren’t given a straightforward left-to-right path or objective. The game simply drops you into a world, says “there are some stars / puzzle pieces you need to find in here,” and sets you loose.

In fact, Banjo-Tooie seems like one possible interpretation of Mario 64 taken to its extreme*, with Mario Galaxy being the opposite approach. Where Galaxy advanced the 3D platformer in the name of concise, minimalist experiences (insular levels with well-defined objectives and a small, simple moveset), Banjo-Tooie went the route of complexity and exploration (big interconnected levels presented with no context, and a huge moveset that provided lots of problem-solving options). Each method has its merits, and I can’t wait for Galaxy Round 2, but I do really miss the heaping spoonfuls of exploration my platformers used to be served up with.

What games do you think were tragically underrated? What hidden gems do you fondly recall from your own childhood? Let me know in the comments!

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*Okay, DK64 might have it beat in terms of sheer quantity of collectibles and characters, but IMHO it was also really repetitive and didn’t have as open or immersive a world.

(Reposted from Platform Nation)

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July 6, 2010 at 11:10 pm Leave a comment

Diamonds in the Rough: Plok (SNES)

[I just realized I haven’t been reposting my feature articles on P*N over here.  Oops.  Well, on the upside, this means 3 retro game reviews in 3 days.]

Welcome to “Diamonds in the Rough,” a feature in which I will be looking at a few lesser-known and under-appreciated titles of the past.  These are games that were fun and original, many of which I fettered away hours of my young life with, but for whatever reason just didn’t get the credit they deserved.
We’ll start off with Plok, a bizarre platformer released in an SNES-era inundated with furry mascots hopping from block to block.  On one hand, this may well explain the game’s lack of commercial success – the market was simply flooded with platformers, and there was a new IP trying its hand at the genre at every turn.  However, there are a few things that make Plok stand out from the usual crowd of the day.  The first is the general atmosphere: its graphics are both slightly psychedelic and surreal, and also reminiscent of Saturday-morning cartoons.  The enemies are goofy and memorable (though the plot was vapid and forgettable), and this art direction, combined with a killer soundtrack, has a tremendous amount of character.  The game also throws a few curve balls at you, such as the series of levels on legacy island, a flashback sequence in which you play as Plok’s “grandpappy.”  These levels are presented in the style of a silent movie, complete with a grainy, black-and-white filter, old-timey music, and a pause screen that displays the word, “Intermission.”  This playfulness and attention to detail is a large part of the game’s unique charm.
The game’s soundtrack is again fantastic, especially for the technology that the designers were working with.  Usually upbeat and at times eerie, its synthesized beats emulate everything from electric guitars to the harmonica.  The music reminds me a lot of Banjo Kazooie’s, and it’s enjoyable for the same reasons: great melodies, whimsical choices of instruments, and a feel-good nature.  But really, why bother explaining it when we can use hyperlinks?

The gameplay itself is pretty standard action-adventure stuff done well on its own but with a unique hook: Plok’s primary means of attacking his enemies is by launching his limbs at them.  Under normal circumstances, they return like boomerangs, leaving you with unlimited ammunition and full mobility as long as you don’t blow your entire salvo at once.  However, most switches will take your limbs upon activation and deposit them on hangars elsewhere in the level, leaving you disarmed (pun not intended, I swear) until you can reach the restocking point.  This leads to some great puzzles and high-pressure moments as you try to figure out how to fight with only your legs, or how to get around and evade enemies without any limbs.
Unfortunately, Plok also has some major flaws.  The biggest problem is one shared by many of its contemporaries (though this is a meek excuse at best): the lack of both battery-backed saving and a password system.  This means that if you want to beat the game, you’d better have the time to do so in one sitting.  However, given the brutal difficulty of the latter half of the game, this is easier said than done, and even pros will likely have to play through a few times before achieving total victory (something I was sadly never able to do).  The vehicle sections that compose the bonus stages at the beginning and the tough-as-nails levels in the final area are also widely hit-or-miss, the vehicles being by turns fun and frustrating to control.  Because these vehicles are absent from the majority of the game, this lends a sense of unfairness to these last levels, as though they were pulled from a different and more poorly designed game.  However, despite these flaws, Plok was a great game that I think still stands the test of time today.

What games do you think were tragically underrated?  What hidden gems do you fondly recall from your own childhood?  Let me know in the comments!

(Reposted from Platform Nation)

July 5, 2010 at 4:24 pm Leave a comment

E3 Awesomeness: A List

So I’ve been writing E3 news posts in lieu of articles this month, which has led to a dearth of material over here.  So in the interest of remedying that, here’s a quick rundown of the games of this E3 season that have me stoked.

The Big Ones

Portal 2: The first game was awesome sauce.  You know this.  And while it would have been easy for Valve to follow the same template as before and cash in, that isn’t what they’re doing.  The setting and story look great so far (I especially like the idea of game sections corresponding to different facets of GlaDOS’s segmented personality), and I can only imagine the sorts of mind-bending shenanigans that will arise with two players and two portal guns.  The fact that it’s being released for PS3 with Steamworks support is icing on the infamous cake.


Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Here’s a game that most people never thought would ever get made.  The SF4-style visuals, great background sets, and colorful text give this installment more of a comic-book feel than any other in the series, and it looks great.  While the roster is going to be smaller than its predecessor’s, it’s still appreciable at 30ish characters.  If the developers are to be believed, this is a result of making each of those characters more developed (though graphic constraints undoubtedly played a part).  It’s still too early to assess the gameplay, but from the videos it looks like the basic structure and hectic feel of MvC2 have been preserved.  Here’s hoping it’s a bit more balanced…or maybe that was part of the fun.


Epic Mickey: Alright, so I’m not completely sold on the 3D segments (though the paint / thinner mechanics have some promise) or what seems to be a rudimentary morality system (it’s Mickey for f***’s sake – I’m not going to play him like an asshole), but what we’ve seen of the 2D platformer sections looks great.  I also like that the developers are drawing from the super-retro cartoons and theme parks.  There’s a lot of charm in those settings and it looks to translate well to a (hopefully) light-hearted game.  Oh, and stop overusing the word “epic.”


Zelda: Skyward Sword: I’m not sure how I feel about the art style of this game, which seems to meld Twilight Princess and Wind Waker, two games with very disparate visualizations of Link and Hyrule.  Initially I was a bit put off by it, but I could see it growing on me as long as it has a unique personality and isn’t just a faceless mash-up (I’m not too worried – It’s Zelda, after all).  However, tales of precise sword play that works and gameplay that strays from the formulaic mold of past installments really have me excited and optimistic about the game.


Metroid: Other M: Nintendo and Team Ninja is an odd pairing, but from initial reactions it looks like the two have successfully combined action platformer and FPS into something cohesive and fun to play.  That said, I’m not too thrilled about the emphasis on story.  Metroid is at its best when you’re exploring a strange world free of dialogue or context – when people started talking or guiding me in Metroid Fusion it was jarring, and it ruined the atmosphere.  On the other hand, it wasn’t so bad in Prime 3 because it was kept to a minimum, and never cropped up in the middle of a level.  Hopefully Other M will make the right move and keep the story and gameplay seperate.


Kirby: Epic Yarn: Let’s move past the silly pun of the title for a moment.  It’s been a while since Kirby’s shown up on a console (the under-rated Kirby 64 to be precise), and it’s nice to see something completely different in terms of style and mechanics.  Some people didn’t like it, and I’ll admit that seeing Kirby as a string outline takes some getting used to, but I think the visuals look good and fit with the innocent, childish theme of Kirby.  What really makes the game for me is the fact that the art style isn’t just a gimmick, but rather forms the basis of the gameplay.  Kirby uses his newfound yarn composition to lasso enemies and parts of the scenery, and to tie himself into different shapes like a parachute or a car.  It’s a clever twist, and one that looks really fun to play with.


GoldenEye 007: Oh hells yes.  GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, and Super Smash Bros: My friends and I wasted our childhoods together on these three games, and GoldenEye is the only member of that trifecta that hasn’t gotten a follow-up.  The original hasn’t aged particularly gracefully, so a remake is welcome – and new material is always a plus.  Here’s hoping Activision can capture what made the original so fun.


Donkey Kong Country Returns: Speaking of classic Rare games, there’s a new DKC coming out!  While it’s great to see another side-scrolling DK platformer after all these years, I worry that the developers may be borrowing too heavily from DK64 for inspiration.  Aside from Diddy’s jetpack, the graphics are a colorful 3D rendering that I feel falls short of the original.  Though the technology of the time was inferior, Rare used it to greater effect: graininess, warm textures, great lighting and a superb soundtrack all coming together to really pull you into the game world.  Rocket Knight did the same thing recently: its 3D models looked okay, but lacked a lot of the charm of the original sprites (are sprites strictly regulated to flash and DLC games now?).  But then again, maybe this is just nostalgic whining.  Mark me down as cautiously optimistic.  …Oh yeah, and two hearts per ape?  C’mon, guys.

Some Quickies

Skulls of the Shogun: A speedy, pared down, competitive SRPG with some comical style.  I wish I had an XBox.

Hard Corps: Uprising: A Contra game developed by Arc System Works?  Yes please.

Lost in Shadow: A platformer where your character exists only as a shadow, and you have to manipulate 3D objects in the foreground in order to change the shadows they cast to get around.  Looks like visually pleasing, cerebral fun.

Child of Eden: A trippy, synesthetic on-rails shooter from the guy who made Rez and Lumines.  Not sure about Kinect or its implementation here, though.

Journey: From thatgamecompany (of Flower and flOw fame), it features expansive deserts – not to mention painstakingly realized sand physics to play with – that you wander through to…well…some sort of goal.  Details are sparse, but it looks gorgeous.

So yeah.  I wasn’t sure how much there was to be excited about for this E3, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I probably won’t have the time or money to play all of these, but they’re all games I’m keeping an eye on.

June 19, 2010 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

Who Else Is Sick Of Realism In Games?

Maybe this title is a bit misleading.  After all, realism does have a very important place in the gaming world.  But there’s a time and place for everything, and certain elements of realism, such as life-like graphics and gritty story lines, have become a bit too prevalent in Western games lately.  It’s not quite as bad as it is in modern cinema (Campiness seems to be a relic of the past, only coming up outside of comedy and the B-list in throwbacks like Crystal Skull or Die Hard 4, and even then it gets nitpicked to hell and back.  And let’s not even start on the hyper-reality of the HD movement and CG effects.), but it’s nevertheless present.

Actually, let’s back up.  For the sake of argument I’m splitting the notion of “realism” into three areas: graphics, gameplay mechanics, and storyline.  Graphic realism is pretty straightforward, and is the most prevalent of the three in the gaming world, developers constantly striving to make their characters and environments emulate the real world more closely, Uncanny Valley be damned.  Realistic gameplay mechanics come down to the developers deciding they want the game interactions to feel more grounded.  This means no jumping five times your character’s height or a second time in the air – your character’s interactions are limited to what a normal human being could reasonably do.  Finally, a realistic storyline in this case is usually defined by the dark and gritty approach which the Christopher Nolan Batman movies seem to be the poster children for.

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Graphic realism is widespread, and for good reason: in a medium where technology is ever-evolving, you have to continue to push the envelope in order to make progress.  Problems arise when designers mistake washed-out browns and tremendous amounts of light bloom for realism, but thankfully we’ve been moving away from these trends (at least the bloom) recently.  The real drawback, I think, is that the amount of money it takes to produce these graphics often makes developers play it very safe with other elements of the game, and the finished product comes out bland and uninspired.  It’s usually only the very high-end developers, who can afford these sorts of costs, that can play the graphic realism game and still try something new in other areas of the game.  For example, you have to admit that FFXIII is a visually stunning game that makes bold experiments with its combat system, no matter how you feel about the results of these experiments.  On the other side of the coin, there are a great deal of games like Lair and Dante’s Inferno that look great but play either poorly or like insipid copies of other titles.  Smart developers realize these technical limitations and look for alternatives – retro graphics and cel shading are two popular ways to make a game look good without sinking tons of cash into realistic visuals or physics.  Realistic graphics are pleasing and essential to the continued evolution of the technology, but I think that too many people are swept up by it when the costs are too high and their priorities should really be elsewhere.  Leave it for the heavy hitters and concentrate on making your game fun, I say.

More insidious, perhaps, though not as widespread, are realistic gameplay mechanics.  This mostly shows up in racing sims and FPS’s, where cars respond much as they might in real life, or your avatar is constrained by physical limitations or weapons that closely match their real-world counterparts.  Now, I realize that games like Gran Turismo and America’s Army have their fans, and that’s fine: they fill a niche for serious auto- and hoplophiles.  But it’s a direction I could easily see these entire genres move towards, which worries me.  Other than Team Fortress, what multiplayer FPS’s take themselves lightly?  Furthermore, I’m constantly seeing fans of these games complaining about the “lack of realism.”  Personally, as long as a game is internally consistent, I’m fine with this.  For example, if within an FPS the effective range of a weapon goes Sniper Rifle > Assault Rifle > Light Machine Gun > Submachine Gun > Pistol > Shotgun, I can accept these as the parameters of the game and not as an accurate representation of reality.  I don’t really care if a shotgun would have drastically increased range in real life, or if people couldn’t really take as much punishment as they do in game – as long as the game is balanced and consistent with its rules, these alterations are acceptable and often necessary to make the game fun.  Similarly, the steering in an arcade-style racer might be way tighter than it is on any car in existence, but as the recent releases of Blur and Split/Second show, this control scheme often makes for some great and hectic fun.

Finally, let’s talk about story.  As I mentioned earlier, the dark and gritty theme of Hollywood hasn’t really struck video games as much as one might think.  Maybe it’s because crazy, over-the-top shenanigans and campiness are ingrained in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that inform many gaming stories, but most games still embrace tales with little bearing to reality.  Even the ones based on movies tend to harken back to action flicks of the 80’s and early 90’s, a la Uncharted and Modern Warfare 2.  Other studios simply don’t put enough time or money into their stories, and they end up simple and childish – not even advanced enough to entertain these weary notions of disaffected irony or dark cynicism.  However, the dark n’ gritty element does show up in spades in one place in a gaming world – the protagonists.  Dour antiheroes are a dime a dozen, from Army of Two to God of War and everywhere in between.  Much like the anthropomorphic mascot craze in the 90’s, every developer is creating dark and brooding leads, and it’s wearing thin.  It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t so prevalent (and it does work in some cases – Kratos’s games are so over the top that he serves as the perfect engine of violence taken to absurd heights), or if these characters weren’t so often one-dimensional.  In most cases it just feels like a ploy to be hip and grab gamers’ attention – little more than a sales pitch.

Given realism’s ubiquity in gaming, then, it’s a bit strange that there are actually some places I feel would benefit from a bit more of it.  Horror is one such genre, one that has trended away from its bearings in the real world towards crazy shoot-em-ups like RE5 and Dead Space.  These are both fine games, but they lack the grounding and thus much of the horror element of their predecessors*.  Another area that could use a dose of reality is the RPG, esp the J- variety, this time in the story department.  Any genre that has its roots so firmly in the realm of high fantasy is bound to be a bit airy and cliched, but this is just ridiculous.  It’s one thing to have a setting in which magic exists.  It’s quite another to have great, primal evils and plucky bands of heroes and damsels in distress and predictably vapid plots and oh dear god i’m bored just describing it.  JRPG’s broke the mold in the late SNES-era with Crono Cross and Earthbound, and Western RPG’s seem to be taking another stab at originality with Fallout 3 and the like.  The genre’s stories as a whole are still mired in repetitive mediocrity, though, and I feel a more realistic setting and characters might serve to ground a generally flippant and inane body of works.

So realism has its place in the gaming world, but sometimes it gets applied a bit too liberally and across too many games.  Pepper is a great seasoning – hell, it’s a staple of cooking – but just keep it out of my cereal.
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* This is another big topic, though, and one I’ll save for another day.

(Reposted from Platform Nation)

June 4, 2010 at 10:19 pm 1 comment

“Dream Teams”: 5 Gaming Collaborations I Would Love To See

So I guess my brain’s been in a weird list-centric mode recently, as this is my second one this month. Apologies to those of you who are weary of the format (God knows there are enough of them on the good ol’ interwebs): sometimes ideas just lend themselves to little numbered bullets. Anyway, enough of my prolixity.

Sometimes, in any genre, there are supergroups. When two or more accomplished and beloved creators team up to weave an otherworldly tapestry of pure delight, integrating their work together seamlessly and elevating their art to new levels in the process… or that’s the goal / expectation caused by rabid hype, anyway. Actual mileage varies quite a bit: for every Cream or Good Omens there are a baker’s dozen of disasters where the artists in question never really click together, or all the different elements just don’t fall in place correctly. Examples in the gaming world might be Crono Cross on the good end, and Brutal Legend on the not so good. So, I realize going into this that collaborations between high profile (or really any) artists can be fickle things, and the end product might not always be what people had in mind. Nevertheless, a man can dream, and so these are my top 5 pie-in-the-sky fantasy team-ups in the gaming world.


5. Valve + Irrational Games: Between these two developers we’ve seen some of the greatest single-player FPS experiences of this or any generation. Half Life. System Shock. Portal. BioShock. Not only do these games present something original and innovative in their gameplay far beyond that of the usual run-and-gun, but they also raise the bar for immersive and just plain good storytelling. They also make you think more (or at least, on a more abstract level) than the average shooter, whether you’re setting up elaborate Rube Goldberg-style traps in BioShock or figuring out a particularly difficult momentum-based puzzle in Portal. Outside of some slight RPG inclinations on the Irrational side, the two companies seem to have their goals in the same places, and they consistently achieve them year after year. For this reason, I think they’d work well together.


4. Tim Schafer + Golden Age Rare: Okay, so not only is this one impossible given that Rare’s time in the sun has passed, but I’m suggesting a legendary Tim Schafer team up after dismissing Brutal Legend? What can I say: I believe in second chances, and Rare in its heyday (which I’m defining as roughly Donkey Kong Country through Banjo Tooie) could do no wrong in my young eyes. Pumping out excellent, expansive, and comedic platformers like clockwork, they sparked a renaissance on the aging SNES, and almost single-handedly justified the purchase of an N64 console. Playing through Psychonauts is somewhat reminiscent of games like Banjo Kazooie and DK64 due to it’s rock solid platforming and irreverent humor, but it has even better presentation, playing like a lost Saturday Morning cartoon classic. Neither Schafer nor Golden Age Rare limited themselves to one genre, of course, lending their considerable talents to adventure games, shooters, racers, etc., but it’s the common bond they share in this matchup, and where they truly shine.


3. George R.R. Martin + Bioware: Perhaps the predominant name in fantasy literature today (if you somehow haven’t heard of him yet, HBO will ensure that you do soon), and arguably the leader in storytelling in the gaming world. They even have similar tale-weaving techniques, fleshing out a wide variety of characters, dealing with more gritty material than the usual scifi / fantasy norm, and working in a fairly episodic (but also epic) form. Hell, Dragon Age: Origins was directly inspired by Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, and wears this influence on its sleeve. Bioware has a fantastic team of scene and character writers working on material familiar to Martin – the man himself helming the story development of one of these games sounds like a recipe for success.


2. Masahiro Sakurai + Arc System Works: Let’s face it: Yes, the Super Smash Brothers titles are some of the most entertaining and unorthodox fighting games ever to grace the genre, but they are also woefully unbalanced and chock full of exploitable glitches. This is in part due to the difficulties raised by a physics based system and the strange Smash Bros. damage modifier, but it’s also because the folks at Nintendo are aiming towards a casual audience. Arc Sys, on the other hand, creates some of the most original and fun character designs found in a 2D fighting game, and does so while serving its competitive community first and foremost. Yes, their latest BlazBlue franchise is more casual-friendly with its slower speed and Easy Specials, but it never oversimplifies things at the sacrifice of upper end play. It’s a top-down model that makes more sense to me – develop for the harder-to-please competitive community first, and then include things that allow the newbie to join in and learn, having fun at an introductory level as well. ArcSys is a slave to the arcade scene, watching the strategies that dominate and tweaking their power in future installments to ensure the continued growth and balance of the gameplay. Combine the pure, unadulterated fun-in-a-bottle feel of Smash with the unparalleled devotion to balance and competition that ArcSys delivers, and you’d have a fighter like no other.


1. Shpongle + The Team Behind Rez: Perhaps a strange one for #1 pick, but I’m standing by it. It’s no secret that I love synesthetic games, and Rez is one of the best (though the team behind the Bit.Trip games would be almost as good), and unmatched in its enthusiasm to draw the player into the experience in cool and strange ways. The trance vibrator should stand as evidence to this. All wired up, your game interactions are translated musically, and you feel the musical beats physically. Combined with the trippy, abstract visuals, it’s a feeling that stimulates some primal pleasure center of your brain. It’s awesome. Enter Shpongle, kings of psybient music. It’s electronic / trance that’s incredibly layered and complex, not to mention bizarre as hell. It makes no attempt to conceal its hallucinogenic inspirations, rather striving to be a sort of sonic representation of such experiences. What better soundtrack for a game that hopes to evoke synesthesia than that of a band that’s been doing this on a purely musical level for years? Such a pairing would be fascinating to me because I wouldn’t be able to wait to see what the two teams would come up with a common mindbending goal in mind. But even samples from Shpongle’s back catalogue would trounce the electronic examples found in Rez. Imagining such a game set to beats from a song like Dorset Perception or Nothing is Something Worth Doing makes me happy on a deep, deep level.

(Reposted from Platform Nation)

May 26, 2010 at 11:50 pm Leave a comment

Review: Black Dynamite

Let’s get this out of the way: if you haven’t seen Black Dynamite, you need to remedy that as soon as possible.  This is seriously one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time.  A parody of poorly-executed blaxploitation flicks of the 70’s, it purposefully contains misspoken lines, gaping plot holes, and camera crew errors all in spades.  Much like the Grindhouse films, it sends you back in time with loving nostalgia, and it gets away with its altogether not-PC content by delivering it with a self-conscious wink and a nudge.  Also like these movies, it is completely and utterly over-the-top, abandoning any reasonable premise about halfway through (dismissing the heretofore main villain in a wonderfully off-the-cuff manner) and escalating the action and double-crossing “intrigue” to absurd heights.  After a while this does begin to wear a bit thin, but trust me – it’s all worth it for the final scene.
The writing is clever and hilarious, and the overt inconsistencies are believable enough that you might forget that they are intentional.  Taken with the theme-perfect production values and music it’s easy to believe that this is a lost relic of the 70’s.  Outside of these errors, the dialogue is wonderful – taking the slang and swagger of the source material just a bit further into the realm of absurdity.  It plays, for the most part, like the most enjoyably bad movie you’ve ever seen.  My only qualm is that at points the writing devolves into puerile dick jokes and visual gags – not only are these moments not as funny as the parodic humor that surrounds them, but they remind you that there are people behind the scenes deliberately trying to be funny, and this takes you out of the experience.

On a lighter note, Michael Jai White plays his role as the titular Black Dynamite perfectly and with excellent comedic timing.  Other characters have their moments of glory as well, but it’s really White’s show.  Whether he’s bemoaning “kung fu treachery” or trying to “shake the crackhead” out of an orphan, he delivers his lines with an over-the-top zeal that captures the spirit of the project perfectly.  I just don’t know how he keeps a straight face at certain moments, and that’s to his credit.  Bottom line: unless you’re easily offended (and again, the whole thing is in good-natured jest), and as long as you know what to expect, anyone with a pulse should be able to find something to like about this movie.  There have been other movies to try their hand at parodies of the genre, but none come close to… Black Dynamite!

May 21, 2010 at 2:16 am Leave a comment

5 Things Characters In RPGs Need To Start Doing

RPG’s (especially those with the J- prefix) have gotten a lot of flak for being stagnant and outdated, or too conservatively tied to form.  While this is up for debate, I’m not going to sit here and delineate the underlying problems of the genre.  No, I’m being far more petty and going after all those fictional folks in the games who piss me right the hell off.

1.   Dealing With Great Evils the First Time – This is the big one.  Ancient races in RPGs don’t ever seem to solve their own damned problems, instead sealing their terrible villains away and never speaking of them again.  It’s like when your mom told you to clean your room as a kid and you just pushed everything into the closet, only to open the door weeks later and get buried in an avalanche of your own filth and laziness.  I can understand if you just can’t kill the guy, but if you’re going to seal him away somehow, at least make it clear to future generations exactly what you did.  None of this esoteric shit like “Do not allow the four fires to fade lest the black sun rise once more.”  You aren’t writing bad poetry here, you’re trying to give a clear warning to prevent the apocalypse.  You’d really think that would be something you’d put a little effort into.
2.   Barring Doors – RPG villains (and lesser monsters, for that matter) must be really paranoid about locking themselves out of their own towers of despair, because they put hide-a-keys everywhere.  Chests, pots, their guard staff’s food – you name it.  The one thing they seem incapable of doing is creating an impregnable fortress – heroes don’t even have to break and enter these places when checking under the welcome mat suffices.  If you’re a monster guarding a precious artifact you don’t want the hero getting his clammy virtuous hands on, where the hell do you have to be anyway?  Why even have doors in the first place, much less locks on them?  Protip:  Cave in the entrance and find a hobby.  I hear models are time-consuming.

3.   Speaking Up – Alright, guys, ready for our adventure!  Should we head to the kingdom in the East or the woods to the South?  What’s that?  Well, I guess you want to go to the South because you’re walking in that direction, but…okay, and I guess that villager ascertained what you wanted to buy from, what, your winning smile?  Are you a mute psychic or a Silent Bob wannabe?  Is it so much to ask for a protagonist with slightly more personality than a lemon?

60 hours and not one g-d word...

4.   Helping Heroes Out – So you own an enchanted weapons shop, and you’ve gotta make a living.  I get that.  And why should you give a free pass to every ragtag group of adventurers that passes by?  You’d go broke!  But when it’s two minutes to midnight, shit is perilously close to the fan, and said band of intrepid heroes is the only thing that could possibly save you and the rest of the world from an unspeakable death, maybe you could throw them a freebie or two.  And maybe you shouldn’t make them race giant birds or find obscure items to trade with you before you hand the goods over.  Time is sort of a factor.  You vendors are borderline psychotic and it scares me.

5.   Finding Entertainment – The typical RPG town has an inn, a weapons and/or magic shop, and a few houses.  If you’re really lucky, you’ll also have a bar.  What kind of awful monotonous existence do these people lead?  Their only entertainment seems to be beating monsters to death and drinking themselves to a deep, dark place.  Oh, and praying that some other villager doesn’t get so fed up with it all that he buys out the magic store’s stock and tries to blow up the world.

(Reposted from Platform Nation)

May 14, 2010 at 7:37 pm Leave a comment

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