Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Top 5 Halloween Songs

It's that time of year again! It's that special day when we all dress up like Booker T. Washington, hang the stockings over the fireplace, stuff ourselves full of turkey, and light the sky on fire with illegal rockets! Well, at least that's how I celebrate my Halloween.

The point is, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. It combines all of my favorite things: darkness, fire, ghosts, and sitting in my house with all of the lights off hoping the screeching vermin my neighbors call children don't egg my house! For those of you who aren't schizophrenic sociopaths, however, I've put together this fun list which combines two of my other favorite things: music and talking endlessly about nothing of importance.

Grab a slice of pumpkin pie and warm yourself over the burning corpse of an unsupervised minor, because here's my personal top 5 Halloween songs!

*Disclaimer: Do not actually burn any children to death. Unless they belong to my neighbors.

5. This Is Halloween, by Marilyn Manson
Winner: Best Halloween Movie Theme

One song that keeps cropping up on lists of the best Halloween songs is the Ghostbusters theme song. Alright, fair enough. It's a catchy tune. But I can do you one better. Let's take a theme from a movie that's actually about Halloween, then have the creepiest artist you've ever heard of remake it.

This cover is from the album Nightmare Revisited, an alternate soundtrack for Nightmare Before Christmas featuring covers from KoRn, Rise Against, Shiny Toy Guns, Marilyn Manson, and others. Manson does a really good job here, turning Jack Skellington's goofy intro song into one that not only rocks but is pretty damn sinister to boot.

Everyone hail to the Pumpkin King now!

Also Try: The Ghostbusters theme song. I told you it was catchy.

4. Trick And Treat, by Rin and Len Kagamine
Winner: Best Foreign (and Super-Nerdy) Halloween Song

Rin and Len Kagamine don't technically count as musicians, being as they're not actually human. They're actually singing computer programs from Japan, called Vocaloids. Since it's the funniest way of describing it, imagine if a text-to-speech program and an auto-tuner had a baby, only the result is about 1,000 times better than what I'm sure you're imagining. As it turns out text-to-speech only sucks in America. Also probably in Turkey. I haven't checked but, you know, it's Turkey.

The lyrics to this one are in Japanese (so, yeah, admittedly probably not the best choice if you're looking for music for a Halloween party) but essentially the song is from the perspective of two evil spirits who disguise themselves as children, lure an unsuspecting victim to their house in the woods with the pretense of friendliness, then proceed to drug and murder her. This is, to me, the very best of the many great Vocaloid Halloween songs, and one of the best Halloween songs period.

With apologies to any Turks reading this. Congratulations on getting the internet to work on your rock!

Also Try: While I'm being the huge nerd I am, here's a bonus version of the Ghostbusters theme for those other nerds who will get it.

3. Day of the Dead, by Voltaire
Winner: Best Reason Voltaire Is Awesome For Halloween

Voltaire isn't a particularly well known artist but he really should be. He's a great and often hilarious musician with a unique sound most often described as dark cabaret, with folk, symphonic, and even country influences. Voltaire perfectly captures the dark and spooky essence of Halloween, even when not singing about Halloween.

Day of the Dead, from the album Ooky Spooky, is actually based on the Mexican version of the holiday: Día de los Muertos. It's one of Voltaire's funnier songs and one of his most unique, combining his usual violin-heavy style with mariachi influences.

If you're a fan of dark wave at all then you're probably already a fan of Voltaire too, or at least you should be. If you're not a fan then listen to this song anyway because it really is a great tune.

And here's to the only entry on this list with a title that doesn't start with the letter T!

Also Try: Because Voltaire's Zombie Prostitute is not even remotely safe for work, you get Blood Red Sandman, by Lordi. Because the main point of this entry is clearly to show the people calling Manson "devil music" just how wrong they are.

2. Thriller, by Michael Jackson
Winner: Best Michael Jackson Song

Don't even pretend you didn't expect this song to be on this list. Unless you were recently discovered in an ice crevasse and thawed out by scientists you know who Michael Jackson is, and even if you despise everything about him if you have any appreciation for music at all then you have to love this song.

Okay, so technically Thriller isn't about Halloween at all. It's about horror movies, with the 14 minute short film specifically being about 1950's era drive-in serials. Regardless of any of that Thriller manages to perfectly capture the essence of Halloween and why being scared is fun. Also, come on, it's seriously one of Michael's best songs.

This is the short film. If you just want to hear the song, skip to 4:40.

Also Try: There's a thing musicians do called sampling, where they take sound bites and insert them into their songs. In Threatened Michael takes this to the next level, editing together Twilight Zone sound bites to create an entire verse "rapped" by Rod Serling. Check it out.

1. The Monster Mash (Remake), by The Misfits
Winner: Ultimate Halloween Song of Ultimate Destiny

The Monster Mash, by Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kickers, might be considered just a goofy old song now but for a while in the 1950's it was number one on the Billboard Hot 100. It's also been on just about everyone's list of the best Halloween party songs for more than half a century. Love it or hate it, it's become a fixture of the Halloween season, the same way It's A Wonderful Life has been linked inextricably with Christmas time.

Horror punk band The Misfits have been rocking slightly less time than that (since 1977) but in a lot of ways they embody the macabre feel of Halloween even better than Voltaire, with songs like Skulls and, of course, Halloween.

In 2007, these two came together at last with this remake. It's still all the goofy cheese you know from the original song, but in a way that rocks hard. It might not be the best song ever, or even the best song on this list, but it is pretty much the ultimate Halloween song and that earns it its spot at number 1.

Dracula still wants to know what happened to the Transylvania Twist.

Also Try: Alice Cooper's Feed My Frankenstein, which totally would've made the list if I had anything to say about it except that it's freaking awesome. Back on the topic of the misfits, though, how could I not include this? Halloween, by the Misfits.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Television Review: Mighty Max (The Show)

Anyone who was a child during the 1990's is doubtlessly familiar with the name Mighty Max. If you're not, a little background. In 1983 Chris Wiggs invented a toy called Polly Pocket. It was basically a miniature dollhouse built into a case the same shape and size as a makeup compact. In fact, Wiggs' prototype was literally built into one of his daughter's old, used up compacts. The toy became relatively popular and in 1992 the company started producing a version marketed toward boys, called Mighty Max. Mighty Max was the same basic concept, except while Polly Pocket was all about pretty clothes and bright colors, Mighty Max playsets had gruesome monsters, wicked villains, and a boy protagonist instead of a girl.

Even as kids we all instantly recognized that Mighty Max was totally a knockoff and it instantly became known as "Polly Pocket for boys." That said, that didn't stop us from buying the toys, and Mighty Max quickly dwarfed Polly Pocket in popularity. In fact, screw it, even though Mighty Max came second, I'm calling Polly Pocket "Mighty Max for girls" because, like with almost everything else, the boy version was just so much better.

Please allow Kenner to make my point for me. Click on the picture for a better view.

The toys became so popular, in fact, that they eventually (as in, one year later) inspired an animated television show. The show lasted for two seasons and features characters from the toys as heroes and villains. It also added two other heroes: Vergil, a chicken-like humanoid creature with the ability to see the future, and Norman, a gigantic swordfighter. (Incidentally, both of these characters would end up appearing in later toys too.)

If I had to describe the show in one word, that word would be "weird." If I had to describe it in three words, it would be "pancake bunny mushroom" because after watching this show I'm pretty sure part of my brain leaked out. The sky tastes like yellow.


Wait, let's try again.

So yeah, this show is really, really weird. This show is so weird sometimes that I honestly can't even tell if it's racist or not. I mean, yes, I get that if a show depicts all Africans as spear-chucking savages with bones in their noses that yes, that's racist, but what does it mean when a show's depiction of an average Congolese native is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white man wearing bear pelts and wielding a caveman club? When that same show's depiction of Haiti includes an Aztec pyramid filled with mind-controlling zombie bugs, what does that mean?

Sometimes, though, the show is weird in a good way. My personal favorite part of the show is how ridiculously violent it is. Max, Vergil, and Norman are the polar opposite of politically correct. When they meet ice aliens, there's no "we come in peace." Hell no! Max lights their asses on fire and blows up their spaceship. Screw you, ice aliens! The best part is, that despite this the show never depicts any acts of "traditional" violence. You hardly ever see anyone use a gun and when they do they never hit anything. Also, while Norman does have a sword he only uses it on things without blood, like rock monsters and giant skeletal turtles. So what do they do with humanoid enemies?

Well, they choked that guy with a chain, then threw him into an iron maiden, then dropped the iron maiden into a pit of freaking spikes.

Holy shit, Max and Norman do not play around!

KR Rating: [4] GOOD

Like most television shows based on toys that were developed back in the day (for example: Transformers, GI Joe, My Little Pony), the Mighty Max television show was pretty obviously mostly intended to sell the toys. That said, there's definitely something here that's worth a look, and the show does manage to do some things that are fairly original. I like the way the show depicts the concept of destiny and prophecy, and it's also an interesting choice to have the main character be less heroic and more...well, kind of a dick really.

There's also the talent on hand. Mighty Max was voiced by Rob Paulsen, better known as Pinky from Pinky and the Brain and Yakko Warner from Animaniacs. He also did the voice of Rev Runner from Loonatics Unleashed, but we can forgive that because he was also on The Boondocks. Tony Jay, the voice of Vergil, was also Chairface Chippendale on The Tick and a whole lot of video game characters, most awesomely the Elder God from the Legacy of Kain series. Finally, there's Richard Moll who plays Norman, who also played Two Face on a whole lot of shows including Batman, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and The New Batman Adventures. He also had a part in Justice League, but it wasn't Two Face because that would be too awesome. It also has Tim Curry as the voice of the main villain, SkullMaster. You might have heard of him before.

Of course, the show does have problems too. For example, the season 1 finale, which really should have been split up over multiple episodes. I can't say much without spoiling it, so let me just say that when we're introduced to not one, but four major characters in just about six minutes, it's going to be very hard to make us care about them. This is actually a problem with quite a few episodes: the writers try to cram way too many ideas into their half-hour episodes and the results sometimes feel rushed.

Also, news flash, writers of Mighty Max: you can't spend an entire episode telling me that Africans and cavemen are interchangeable, then expect me to think you're smart because you end with an "educational" segment about how silverback gorillas are endangered. You morons.

At the end of the day, I would suggest this show to anyone who is a fan of action horror and animation, and I would definitely suggest watching it for anyone who was a fan of the toys. If that doesn't apply to you, there might still be something interesting here for you, but probably not. Unfortunately, the show isn't available on DVD or on Netflix, though you can very easily find episodes posted on YouTube.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Video Game Review: Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions

I've talked before about how much I dislike Final Fantasy Tactics. It occurs to me, however, that I've never entirely explained exactly why I hate the game. With that in mind, allow me to present to you the top 5 things I hate about Final Fantasy Tactics, or more specifically about the PSP re-release, Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions.

5. Blatant Sexism
There's an equippable item in this game called the Chantage. It's a perfume that permanently gives the equipping character the Reraise buff, which automatically resurrects them if they fall. Since it's persistent even after use this makes the equipping character immortal as long as they have it. Of course, they can still be turned into a frog or a statue, so you also give them the Ribbon headwear item, which gives 100% immunity to status effects. At this point the character is invincible. Oh, by the way, both of those items can only be equipped by female characters. There are no male only or even non-gender-specific counterparts to either of them. There' isn't even anything similar that males can use, and it's not even like they're ultra-rare items you can only ever have one of either. If you know what you're doing you can farm them by the dozens in the mid-game. The result? Using any male character in Final Fantasy Tactics is pointless, if not downright detrimental.

Don't get me wrong, I do realize how silly it would be to have your male characters running around with ribbons in their hair and wearing girly perfumes. But if that's the problem, why not just make the items something else? There's no reason the status protection item has to be a ribbon. It could just as easily be a magical crown or an enchanted helmet. Hell, if the developers really wanted to they could have made it a demonic circus peanut that you jam up your nose.

And to any feminists out there saying "well, it's about time we got something over you men" think of it like this: this could also be interpreted as saying that your gender is so disgustingly pathetic in all respects that you need godlike stuff to be able to carry your own weight.

4. It's Easy To Lose Everything
The main draw of Final Fantasy Tactics has always been the level of customizability for your characters. You want to make a ninja with a sword that turns people into frogs? You can do that. You want to make a heavily armored tank who teleports around the battlefield and bonks people with a book? Weird, but you can totally do that too, as long as you're willing to put forth the effort of searching out rare items, grinding out JP - job points - to purchase all of those abilities, and if you save your game compulsively.

See, it's really easy to lose all of the stuff you've worked on getting. Enemy knights can use the Rend skills to destroy your super-rare equipment, and enemy thieves can steal it, and in either case you can't get it back ever. Sure, you can also equip your character with the Safeguard skill to prevent item destruction, if you're okay with wasting your one and only support ability slot.

You can even lose your characters if you're not careful. When participating in random battles you'll find the game loves to put you up against hordes of massively powerful enemies, but even if it doesn't you can still lose your people. When a unit is reduced to 0 HP in this game, with a few exceptions, they are downed for a 3 count at which point they are dead forever. If you fail to successfully cast Raise or Arise on a fallen ally - which is entirely likely given the pathetic success rate of those spells - then kiss your hard work good bye!

3. Everything is Random
I already mentioned how even reviving your fallen allies is a crapshoot where you'll usually have about a 50-50 chance at best of your spell working with each cast. Thing is, that's only the tip of the iceberg. Basically everything you can ever do - buffing your allies, hurting your enemies, etc - has only a small percentage chance of actually working. While you'd think this chance would get steadily higher as you become more and more awesome over the course of the game the opposite is actually true, as your enemies become more awesome too.

The worst is reaction skills. As the name implies these are skills which activate as a reaction to some event, almost always being attacked, like counterattacking an enemy who hits you, or boosting magic power when struck by a damaging spell. Reaction skills, like basically everything else, have only a percentage chance to activate which is higher or lower depending on the skill in question. Skills like your basic counterattack will activate fairly regularly but anything cooler, like Parry (blocks melee attacks) or First Strike (stops enemy attack and attacks first) will activate so rarely you'd might as well not even have them equipped.

That's pretty much the game in a nutshell right there: the cooler what you're trying to do is the less chance it has of actually working. Anything more badass then a basic character using basic attacks will fail so often they'd might as well not even exist.

2. The Story Sucks
I can forgive a lot in a game as long as it's good. Even the randomness doesn't bother me too much. Hell, Class of Heroes is way worse about it and I love that game. The problem here is the story sucks. It's interesting, I suppose, and it's told well enough but it's ultimately pointless. The main character is Ramza Beoulve, a nobleman even amongst noblemen, from the most prestigious family in the world. When his best friend's sister is killed, essentially for being a useless peasant girl, he abandons his family and his duty and decides to put the world to rights. Spoiler alert: he fails.

Oh wait, that's not a spoiler because it tells you that he failed right at the beginning of the game. What is a spoiler is how he fails. See, despite Ramza's moralistic ranting you don't actually do anything to make the world better at all. You actually have to fight the people who are trying to make the world better, because Ramza doesn't like the way they're going about it. After you personally kill basically every good person in the world evil wins, your name and deeds are stricken from the history books, and the world is plunged into a thousand year long dark age. And no, that's not the bad ending either. That's the only ending.

I get that this was supposed to be "realistic" and "dark" and "edgy" and all of that drivel, but there's a reason people don't usually make games like this. It's because when we already live in a world where an elitist 1% opresses and humiliates us daily for fun we don't want to escape into a game world where the same thing happens except we help them do it.

1. There's Really Not That Much Customization
So yeah, I mentioned how you can do a whole lot with your characters, like making a black mage who wears heavy armor and can jump 500 feet in the air. But if you want that armored mage to also have a sword you can go to Hell.

Each character has five ability slots: two skill command slots (one of which is taken up by that class's default command set, for example "Black Magick" for black mages), one reaction skill slot, one support skill slot, and one movement skill slot. Trust me when I say each slot has a lot of good skills for it that you'll probably want to use. Buuuut, you can't.

Even worse, there are skills you need to have to avoid becoming gimped, but that means any other skills are useless. For example, if you're making a character to use for physical attacks then they need to have the Dual Wield skill to attack with two equipped weapons, or else they won't be able to deal enough damage to keep up in the later game. But what if you also want the Defend skill or the Concentrate skill which makes all attacks always hit, or the Arcane Defense skill to resist magic? Too bad. Melee attackers need Dual Wield, period. Oh, and forget about taking the Equip ___ skills so you can use the equipment you want regardless of class, because that's an enormous waste of your one and only precious support skill slot.

Mages have it just as bad. Mages need to have the Manafont skill, which restores some MP to them whenever they move. Without this skill they will run out of points to cast their spells very quickly, even if using the Halve MP skill. But what if you want your white mage to be able to teleport or fly, to get healing or raise spells to an ally who needs it more easily? Too bad because you need Manafont, period.

KR Rating: [2] BAD

I've often compared this game unfavorably to Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, but even taken entirely on its own merits, this game is really bad. That said, this is nothing against the game's developers, the Ivalice Alliance. They fixed a lot of these problems in later games in the series, like Final Fantasy Tactics A2. That, along with Final Fantasy 12 proves they're more than capable of doing really good work.

It would be easy to blame this game's problems on the fact that it was the first in the series, but that argument kind of rings hollow when you consider that they still made it after they made Tactics Ogre. (You may recall I've mentioned before they were made by the same people.) Final Fantasy was a huge step backwards for the development team.You can just look at the secret "bonus" dungeons from each game to see that. Tactics Ogre has the 115 floor Hell's Gate (Palace of the Dead in the remake) dungeon, while Final Fantasy Tactics has the comparably pathetic 10 floor Deep Dungeon.

That right there is a fairly accurate metaphor for the game itself. Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions is basically Tactics Ogre, except only one eleventh as good.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Movie Review: Hotel Transylvania

Hotel Transylvania. I was recently invited to go see this movie with someone else who, henceforth, is no longer allowed to pick the movies.

Basically, the story goes like this. Monsters do exist, but far from being murderous hellspawn out to destroy the world they really just want to be left alone. The infamous lord of the vampires, Count Dracula, spends all of his vast fortune to build Hotel Transylvania, a secluded castle where monsters can go to hang out and have fun without humans chasing after them with pitchforks and torches.

In the middle of all of this is his daughter, Mavis Dracula (more on that god-awful name later), a stereotypically rebellious teenager who wants to go out and explore the world, much to the chagrin of her stereotypically uptight father who wants to keep his baby safe at home. Eventually he relents and lets her go out into the world, but then orchestrates a fake torch-wielding mob attack to bring her back home. This, unfortunately has the side effect of bringing a stereotypically obnoxious human boy to the hotel. Mavis stereotypically falls in love with him, her dad stereotypically tries to break them apart, and we all get clichéd all the way to stereotypesville before ending with a really horrible musical number about zinging, and no not the kind of "zing" where you burn someone with a cutting joke, but the "love at first sight" kind of zing. ...more on that later, too.

Where to start? Well, I promised I'd say more about Mavis' name, so why not there? So, do I even need to bring up that Mavis isn't even remotely a slavic name and therefore doesn't make any sense for the character, or that technically her name should be Mavis Tepes if she's really count Dracula's daughter? I really hope not because if you don't get why that's bad then it's going to be really difficult to explain why referring to Frankenstein's Creature as a "Stein monster" named "Frank" is also stupid.

That brings me to another point. The premise of getting together all the popular movie monsters - Frankenstein's Creature, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and so on - and showing things from their perspective could be really awesome. If done right, it could deconstruct the characters and the very concept of monster movies. It is not done right here. At best the jokes they make about these characters are lazy as Hell, at worst they get the characters completely wrong, like with the hotel's head chef, Quasimodo, who...wait, Quasimodo? As in the Hunchback of Notre Dame? Not only is he not a quintessential movie monster, he's not even a monster! He's just an ugly guy with a messed up back! What's next, a pair of fleas who speak with high pitched voices? Wait, they did that too? WHAT THE HELL?!

KR Rating: [1] HORRIBLE

So yeah, this movie didn't do anything right, and it's not even like they were trying. I saw absolutely every plot twist and joke coming because there's literally not one single thing that happens in this movie that isn't a cliché, and they can't even claim it was supposed to be satirical because every one of those god-awful clichés is played completely straight.

The movie didn't even have a worthwhile message to put across. The moral of the story (or "theme" for you lit nerds out there) is true love at first sight, feeling the "zing" with your special someone, how you only "zing" once in your life, and honestly I don't even have to explain it because it's been in so many stupid movies. Okay, let's be completely honest here. How many people reading this have been in love before? Okay, now think back to the first person you ever loved, the first person you ever felt like you really connected think about how much your life would totally suck if that person was the only person you would ever, could ever love, and that you had to spend the rest of your life with that person.

Okay, so maybe it's not like that for you. Maybe you got lucky and managed to find your perfect match on the first try. If so, good for you and I hate your guts. For the rest of us, let's just take a moment to be really glad that this particular trope is complete garbage, shall we?

Ah...that does feel better.

Side Note:

I don't hate Adam Sandler. Everything I've heard about the man says he's one of the nicest guys in Hollywood and I do enjoy some of his movies. Hell, I know everyone on the net hates Eight Crazy Nights but I didn't even really mind that one, and while this movie was really bad I do have to admit Sandler's version of Dracula wasn't terrible and might have been one of the movie's few good points.

That said, it's time to admit something: Adam Sandler has never been in anything that can be called really good. Even Billy Madison, arguably his best movie, becomes seriously stupid and bad if you think about it too hard, especially when you realize it's basically the same movie as Happy Gilmore, Water Boy, and Big Daddy which also really suck if you think about them too hard.

I guess what I'm saying is that thinking about Adam Sandler is a bad idea.