Thursday, June 20, 2013

Movie Review: Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever

Going in all I really knew about 2002's Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever was that it was directed by a guy named Kaos, and that it involved someone named Ecks fighting someone named Sever. Oh yeah, and that it was bad. Really bad. It was voted the worst movie of the decade by numerous websites back in the 2000's, and is still considered one of the worst movies of all time. It's even one of the few movies to score a perfect 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. So of course, I just had to watch it and see for myself just how bad it really was.

It's no exaggeration to say that this is one of the dumbest movies ever made. Ballistic takes the Big Dumb Action Movie stereotype to the most extreme limit possible and manages to be rock stupid even by the already low standards of the action porn genre. Case in point: if even one member of the Defense Intelligence Agency remembered that tasers exist, this movie would have been over at 20 minutes. Seriously, an early action scene relies on the premise that the DIA agents and police weren't allowed to actually shoot Sever in their attempt at apprehending her. Instead they try to shoot around her to pin her down until someone cand close in and subdue her. If they had just pulled out a taser, or some tear gas, or even just shot her in the damn leg then the movie would have been over right there.

"But come on," you say, "you can't rag on the movie for being dumb. It's action porn!" That's true. The world of Ballistic is one where the police carry rocket launchers, the FBI has a ritual suicide policy, and where US government agents can demolish most of Vancouver, Canada and no one minds. It's a world where having a child apparently makes it okay to commit mass murder, destruction of property, and felony kidnapping. Most of all, it's a world where a movie can be subtitled Ecks vs. Sever even though the characters named Ecks and Sever actually work together. So yeah, this movie shouldn't be expected to make sense. It's all about the explosions and gunplay.

Unfortunately, Ecks vs. Sever can't even get the action scenes right. For a movie that seems intent on caring for nothing besides explosions it's strange how little we actually get to see of the badass kabooms it gives us. The movie puts its action scenes completely backwards. It will spend five seconds on a lingering, slow motion closeup of Lucy Liu as Sever firing a machine gun, then flash a half a second of the resulting car explosion as if it was a subliminal ad for international terrorism. It's almost as if the movie is ashamed of its special effects or something. Imagine that.

The movie doesn't even bother to give us anything new. At least other action porn movies typically try to do things that are a little new and unique. The Ong Bak series had a guy punch out an elephant. Shoot 'Em Up managed to combine a sex scene and an action scene into one. Crank had its main character lick car batteries. This movie never even attempts anything like that. The hardware never advances beyond the standard trenchcoats and submachine guns, and the action never takes us anywhere more interesting than your cliché action movie locales like inexplicably foggy back alleys, city streets, and of course the old standby Steam And Flame Factory.

The movie does manage to pick up a little bit in the last thirty minutes or so, by which I mean it goes from "absolute crap" to "almost average." Of course, it takes the patience of a saint or a masochist to get that far in and even then it never gets past mediocre.

KR Rating: [1] HORRIBLE

I feel like there are two kinds of bad movies. There are some bad movies that you actually enjoy watching anyway, like Street Fighter. It's obvious that the people involved were having fun, there were a few interesting ideas, and the movie was honestly funny, albeit for reasons the filmmakers never intended.

Then there are movies like this. Ballistic isn't the worst movie ever made. It's not a spectacular train wreck of failure like Disaster Movie, and it can't compare to the soul-crushing madness of The Star Wars Holiday Special, but it's just... so... damn... DULL. By the one quarter mark I was already thinking about all the things I was going to do once this movie was finally over. The plot segments are incomprehensible and drag out interminably. The action scenes were poorly edited, boring, and formulaic.

To put it in a less classy way, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is the action movie equivalent of a porno that spends 80% of its runtime on lingering shots of the headboard bumping against the wall, only occasionally flashing away to scenes of boring, mostly clothed, missionary position sex.

This movie didn't do anything right and it isn't even fun to watch ironically. It's just plain awful.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Video Game Review: CIMA: The Enemy

Created in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance by Neverland (known for Rune Factory, Rengoku, and Shining Force NEO) and Natsume (known for Harvest Moon, Harvest Moon, and Harvest Moon), CIMA: The Enemy is another sadly obscure game which I would very much love for more people to try out. (I also think more people should use run-on sentences. They're lovely.)

The story of CIMA: The Enemy is pretty unique, set in an interesting world. You play as Ark J, a rookie gate guardian. As a gate guardian your duty is to protect humanity from the CIMA, a race of life force vampires who feed on the emotion of hope. The CIMA abduct humans through dimensional gates, trapping them inside elaborate dungeons where the thought of escape gives the humans hope, which the CIMA feed on... by killing their prisoners at the last possible moment and devouring them.

As a gate guardian your job is to serve as guardian of a community and protect it from the CIMA. On your way to your new town, however, your train and everyone on board is swallowed up by a massive gate. Your job is to travel through the dungeon, find and rescue your fellow human prisoners, and escape the CIMA world alive.

As for gameplay, CIMA works a bit like old-school Zelda - top-down (well, isometric anyway) hack-and-slash with a focus on strategy and some pretty solid puzzle-solving. Each of your fellow prisoners has different skills and abilities which they can use to help you through the dungeon. Some of them, like the stubborn and self-reliant Vanrose, can actually fight alongside you. Others have skills that are useful out of combat, like the children Halley and Emmy who are light enough to cross rickety bridges that would break under an adult's weight, or the blacksmith Doug who can upgrade your attack and defense.

One interesting system which I wish the game developers had done more with is the trust system. The people you're trying to protect here won't automatically trust in your abilities. You have to earn their trust first - you gain a point with them for every few times you protect them by killing a monster near them, and you lose a point whenever they get hit. Once a character's trust in you is above 0 you get access to their crafting menu and the special items they can make for you.

Unfortunately, that's the limit of the trust system. As I said, I really would have liked to see the developers do more with this mechanic. Maybe characters could unlock new skills or strengthen existing skills as their trust in you grows. Perhaps there could also be more ways of gaining trust than just "kill monsters where your allies can see you."

In all, a really good game, I just wish they did more with it.

KR Rating: [4] GOOD

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Action 52 OWNS: Final

This is the final part of my my Action 52 Owns review. You can find other parts of the series at my Action 52 Owns post tag, here.

(Also, I highly recommend that if you interested in this, skip the previous links and get the Action 52 Owns Launcher.)

I said when I first started this that I was going to keep reviewing games from Action 52 Owns until I finished them all or got bored. Sad to say that as I was playing the games of A52O... well, I got pretty bored with them. I mentioned in my review of the Jigsaw remake that the game was extremely short. Well, that's pretty much the case with all of these.

To be honest, most of these aren't even worth reviewing, either because they're so boringly average they're not worth writing about or because everything I have to say about them could be summed up in one sentence. This puts me into an inconvenient spot as a reviewer where I'm expected to explain why a game is bad when it's really not worth it.

For example, I could tell you all about how Star Evil pads out five minutes of gameplay into hours using impossible difficulty, which might sound good (hours of gameplay!) until you realize there's still only about five minutes worth of interesting stuff (hours of boredom!). I could tell you about how the game's morality meter and multiple endings seemed like an ambitious and cool idea until I realized the morality system was completely broken and neither ending is really all that interesting anyway.

I could tell you all of that stuff, except that Star Evil is a worthless piece of shit game and I'm pretty sure I've already spent more time and thought playing the game and explaining it to you then the game's creator put into planning and developing it.

Don't get me wrong. Not all of these games are bad. I meant every word of praise I gave for Illuminator and Jigsaw. Really, all of the games can be put into a few distinct categories:

Actually Good (Or At Least No Glaring Problems)
Illuminator: See my full review.
STREEMERZ: A Bionic Commando homage that borrows a lot of the goofy stylings of its original counterpart, including clowns and bouncy balls as enemies. Warning: is hard as Hell.
Bubblegirl Rozy: Also a short game, but in a way that feels like it fits for a collection. Good platforming with hidden areas and unlockables, and a decent level of difficulty.
Rocket Jockey: A side-scrolling shooter involving a cowboy riding a rocket, lassoing space-cattle with his laser-lasso. It's goofy but it works.
Non Human: A side-scrolling action game reminiscent of old school Castlevania, wherin you pilot a mecha through the countryside, destroying mutant monsters. Pretty cool and has a lot of replayability despite its short length.
Sombreros: As sherriff you must defeat the thieves that stole your sombreros. Collecting sombreros gives you the ability to slow down time and shoot incoming foes. Has an interesting story, good (if sometimes creepy) humor, and is lots of fun.
Beeps And Blips: A top-down shooter where you navigate through rooms full of enemies and traps. Has an interesting story and decent gameplay.
Storm Over The Desert: The obligatory political game from the original anthology, involves driving tanks through the desert to destroy the evil Satan Hosain. A top-down shooter with no particular problems.

Good Except For A Few Annoying Issues
City of Doom: You climb a building while shooting at alien bugs to kill them. Suffers from a flashing sprite glitch which sometimes causes enemies and projectiles to disappear off your screen, yet still be able to hit you.
Silver Sword: A top-down hack 'n' slash like the original Legend of Zelda, with an interesting gameplay mechanic involving throwing your sword or something, where it changes type based on distance it travels. Hindered by limited saves, "meh" graphics, and poor level design where it will appear you can travel off the edge of a map in a certain spot but you actually can't.
Operation: Full Moon: A top-down shooter involving a moon buggy that shoots at stationary turrets. Boring and repetitive gameplay is made even worse by unresponsive controls.
Meong: A decent puzzle game in the style of old school Legend of Zelda games, where you have to make your way through a series of chambers filled with traps. Fairly long and always gives you something new. Sadly, most of the puzzles are based mostly, if not entirely, on timing and luck rather than skill and logic - a mortal sin for any puzzle game.

Promising But Way Too Short
Jigsaw: See my full review.
Chill Out: Okay, so it's mostly a knock-off of Ice Climbers, but it is still fairly decent with interesting gameplay that kept me entertained for the 12 minutes it lasted me on my first playthrough.
Fuzz Power: The story of a disgraced barber which plays like Mario with Sonic's spin power thrown in. Lasted about 6 minutes.
Time Warp Tickers: A unique and interesting game with a fun mechanic involving flicking enemies with your cat's giant hand mecha. (It's a weird game.) Despite only consisting of one level which you can beat in about 3 minutes, the game has loading times on the order of a minute and a half!
Shooting Gallery: Picture Duck Hunt without a zapper. Actually, don't do that because that sucks. Anyway, you move back and forth and shoot at targets. There's also two-player mode, and a game type called Keepy Uppy where you earn points by shooting a falling ball to keep it in the air. Decent idea, but super short and with so few unique targets to shoot at.
Jupiter Scope: Your spaceship flies back and forth along the bottom of the screen shooting down meteors before they can hit the city. Too bad there's only two types of meteors and one type of enemy. Gets old really fast as a result.
Dedant: You play an ant who has to fend off incoming ants by throwing rocks at them. Similar to Jupiter Scope, it's a promising idea held back by the limited number of opponents - you'll have seen everything the game has to offer after the first couple of levels.
Mash Man: In the developers' own words: "It wasn't much to work with in terms of gameplay, so we decided to focus more on the mood that the original game sets." It is certainly an experience with an interesting story and an awesome alternate ending, but also one of the shortest on here.

Ambitious But Poorly Executed
Critical Bypass: Attempts to be a 3D Starfox-style space shooter, but fails spectacularly. Unlike Starfox, where you could sort of dodge attacks, in CB enemies will shoot you with 100% accuracy lasers after spending about a second on screen, meaning you'll die quick if you can't shoot them first. With a mouse that would be easy, but you have to aim with the arrow keys, which is ridiculously clunky.
Star Evil: You know what Star Evil considers a morality system? Kill enemies to be good. Press the C button to make your character scream cusswords and become evil. No, really. That's it.

So Damn Bad They Shouldn't Exist
Atmos Quake: Sort of like Star Evil except even worse. Boring, goes nowhere, and looks and plays like it was made in a single afternoon.
Alfredo: An uninspired Metroid-wannabe with no enemies save the bosses and only the most basic of platforming challenges. Also shitty graphics, generic powers, and a half-ass story given up on partway through for an even MORE half-ass story.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Action 52 Owns: Jigsaw Remake

This is part 3 of my Action 52 Owns review. You can find other parts of the series at my Action 52 Owns post tag, here.

Jigsaw is one of the games in this remake which I must say I was quite curious about. In the original Action 52 it was meant to be a jigsaw puzzle game, but when the inexperienced developers couldn't figure out how to do that they made it into a Mario-style platformer instead. Would the update be the same, or would it be the puzzle game it was originally intended to be?

It turns out it's the first one. While it's not my favorite (sorry, that title still goes to Illuminator) Jigsaw is easily the best platformer in the bunch. The whole game just looks and feels completely polished. Take a look at this screenshot and tell me you couldn't imagine this being a real game on the Super Nintendo, or the Gameboy Advance:

Speaking of Nintendo, have you ever wondered what the point is of Mario's backstory saying he used to be a plumber? It's not relevant to his games at all, it doesn't grant him any special abilities. In Jigsaw your main character's status as a carpenter actually does matter. See those nails in the wall in that screenshot? I fired those. Jigsaw Guy's nail gun can be used as a weapon, you can fire nails into the wall to jump on to reach high places, or you can even use them to activate switches.

All in all, Jigsaw is a very fun game with an interesting gameplay mechanic and a lot of really cool puzzle solving. My only real problem with this game is the same problem I have with most of these games: it's way too short. I know that Illuminator was short too, but it wasn't nearly as short as this; Jigsaw is extremely short, even for being part of a compilation. On my first playthrough I beat the game in about an hour. On my next playthrough, knowing how to solve all of the puzzles, it took me about ten minutes. I would love to see this stretched out into something a little longer, or even into a full game. As it stands, however, it's still worth taking a look at.

KR Rating: [4] GOOD

You can go ahead and download Jigsaw from this link here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Action 52 Owns: Illuminator Remake

This is part 2 of my Action 52 Owns review. You can find other parts of the series at my Action 52 OWNS post tag, here.

On a dark, yet peaceful night a young boy sleeps soundly. Suddenly, he's awakened by a terrible inhuman sound. All the lights in the house are out and his family is gone. He grabs his flashlight and goes to find out just what's happening here.

The original Illuminator from Action 52 can be best described as an arena platformer. The playing area is a series of floors and ladders, with zombie-like enemies wandering back and forth, which you vaporize with your light-projecting gun until they're all gone and you can move on to the next level. An interesting gimmick added to the game was the blackouts, where the level would periodically go dark, rendering the play area in silhouette and making it hard to tell where enemies were. In all, it was an interesting premise executed very poorly.

The updated Illuminator takes that premise to the next level, creating a platformer survival horror game, like Castlevania meets Resident Evil. Each level takes place in a new house, or on occasion group of houses, which you must navigate, defeating monsters as you go until you find the portal to the next region. Your only weapon is your flashlight which, when fully charged, can release a blinding flash of light when turned on, instantly vaporizing the zombies, vampires, ghosts, and assorted other monsters you'll encounter.

Strategy plays a part in the game as well. Since you can't easily see what's out there, you'll have to take it slow, clear rooms and shut yourself in while your flashlight recharges, then ambush the monsters and destroy them before moving on. Along the way you can find various objects to help you out, like nightlights which illuminate small areas of the house to help you see what's out there, or strings of Christmas lights which don't provide any real illumination, but will let you know when a monster is walking over them.

Illuminator isn't perfect, of course. It's a bit on the short side, though that's to be expected of a game that's intended to be part of a compilation. Still, it's longer than some of the other games here - it probably took me about 3-4 hours to complete all 9 levels on my first playthrough. What I can tell you is that of the handful of A52 Owns games I've looked at so far, this is my favorite. It's got a solid gameplay system and a fairly challenging difficulty level. In all I can't really think of any problems I have with the game; I would recommend it for anyone who isn't afraid of a few scares.

KR Rating: [5] GREAT

Go ahead and download a copy of the game from this link right here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Video Game Review: Action 52

Those of you who are up on your video game lore may have heard of a little game from the NES days called Action 52. For those of you who haven't, or for those of you who have but may not know everything there is to know about it, a little backstory. According to the game's creator, Vince Perri, he was inspired when his son brought home an illegal NES cartridge from Taiwan, which contained bootleg copies of 40 different games. Seeing how popular that cartridge became with the children of his neighborhood Vince decided that he could do the same thing legally and ten times better at that. With his friend, Raul Gomila, he founded Active Enterprises, a development company created for the sole purpose of developing and publishing Action 52, which Vince believed would be the ultimate video game.

Action 52 was nothing if not ambitious. Vince envisioned an ensemble of amazing platformers, action-packed shooting games, and diabolical puzzles. The feature game of the collection would be The Cheetahmen, a game that was half Battletoads and half Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Cheetahmen would become the crowning jewel of Vince's multimedia empire, with plans for comic books, action figures, and even a Saturday morning cartoon show which would be, in Vince's own words, "Disney quality." When all was said and done, Action 52 debuted in stores for $199 USD, an unprecedented price for a video game. Still, if the games on the collection lived up to Vince's vision, 200 dollars would be a bargain, right?

Unfortunately for Action 52, Vince Perri had far more ambition than interest. He put the absolute least amount of effort and resources into the project that he could. Instead of proven game designers he hired on college students, some still in their first year, and paid them next to nothing for their work. Most of the games ended up as carbon copies of other games on the collection, especially the puzzle games, Jigsaw and Bits And Pieces, which went from a jigsaw puzzle game and a Tetris clone, respectively, to generic platformer games before finally being dummied out entirely, crashing the game if the player tried to select them. All of the games ended up riddled with glitches and gameplay problems, both beause of the inexperience of the coders and because Vince Perri refused to allow beta testing, since he wanted the game released as soon as possible.

Just how bad were the glitches? One of the games on the collection was a platformer called Ooze. Intended to be the hardest game ever made, Vince Perri made the challenge that anyone who made it past Ooze's fifth and final level could send in a special code to be entered for a drawing to win $104,000 USD (or 52 x 2000). It turned out Vince was right about the game being impossible to beat, but only because of a glitch that caused the player's NES console to crash at the end of level 2. Every game on the anthology is about the same, or worse. In some games enemies flicker, or even become invisible altogether. In others, the enemy AI will get stuck in areas where you have no choice but to get hit by them and die, or an enemy will spawn and then despawn in less than a second. More than a few of the games are impossible to finish, not that it matters anyway since none of them actually has an ending, instead just sending you back to level 1 when you're done. Even the "star game," The Cheetahmen was this bad, only featuring a handful of the planned levels and crashing your console if you used the game's shortcut system to progress further.

Needless to say, Vince Perri's get rich quick scheme detonated in his face. Word of mouth spread about the shitty quality of A52 and that, combined with the nearly $200 price tag, ensured that the game crashed and burned. Vince got enough money from his investors to create a sequel to Action 52 on the Sega Genesis, and he had plans for another on the Super Nintendo, as well as a sequel to The Cheetahmen which would turn it into a full game, but he ran out of money before either game could be completed.

KR Rating: [0] SHOVEL

While that's the end of the story of Vince Perri, it's actually not the end of the story of Action 52. Someone on the internet just couldn't let Action 52 rest in peace, which leads us to my actual reason for doing this review. There is, on the internet, a fan-based remake in the works, called Action 52 OWNS, or just The Action 52 Remake Project. So far, 23 of the 52 games have been remade, and while working versions of the originals would have been fine, they're even more than that, with each being a completely reimagined and remastered version of the original game.

For the next few weeks I'm going to be playing and reviewing the remade games of Action 52 OWNS, explaining how they differ from the originals, and whether they're any good. I intend to continue this until either I've reviewed them all or I get bored, whichever comes first.

Until then, you can find Action 52 OWNS yourself, here.