Sunday, December 14, 2014

Video Game Review: Desktop Dungeons

Let me start by saying I have nothing against the concept of blending genres. It can work and if done properly it can create a game far greater than the sum of its parts. Desktop Dungeons, a game which attempts to combine a rogue-like dungeon crawl with a puzzle game, could definitely have worked, if only the elements it chose to borrow from those two genres were actually compatible with each other.

Allow me to explain by way of example. As part of the puzzle aspect of the game, your hero only regenerates health and mana when exploring new areas, not when backtracking over old areas. Blind exploration is dicouraged, as doing so at full health means wasting precious healing. This forces you to think about where you want to go next instead of just going out willy nilly. I know it sounds like I'm praising the game and the truth is it could have been a good gameplay mechanic...

...IF you had any way of actually KNOWING where you should go next.

Unexplored areas are always completely blacked out, and since the dungeons are randomly layed out every time you have no way of knowing where you should go next. The fighter class mitigates this somewhat by automatically revealing the location of enemies that are your level or lower, but that hardly helps out the OTHER classes and even with this, you still have no way of knowing where to find valuable power-ups, equippable items, or spells.

The whole game is like that. In fact the greatest challenge in this game is not any enemy, but the game's own vague rules. I talked about this a little in my review of Windforge but it's even more true here: we really, really need to be given accurate, real information for a game like this to work.

For example, there's a speed stat that determines who attacks first in combat, but you can't actually see what your speed stat is. You can see that some enemies have first strike, but even enemies that don't have first strike and which you would expect to go after you in the combat order - like warlocks and zombies - can often end up going first... sometimes. Other times they go second, and since you can't actually see your speed stat or the enemy's the whole thing just comes across as arbitrary.

And that's why this game fails on both fronts. The puzzle aspects are too strictly demanding and the punishment for even one single misstep is too harsh, so the game fails as a rogue-like. At the same time, the rogue-like aspects add too much randomness and too much hidden information, so the game fails as a puzzle.

The worst part is the game has no idea. It demands care, but then forces you to go out blindly, and then punishes you harshly for doing so. It tells you it's all your fault when you fail (and you will) with condescending messages and taunts, but really it's no one's fault because everything is entirely luck-based.

Like I said, the idea of combining a rogue-like and a puzzle game is not entirely terrible. It could have worked, it just didn't in this case. Maybe some other game will come along and get it right. But this one ain't it.

KR Rating: [2] BAD

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Today, A Music Tribute For Veterans' Day

Warning: This post contains serious opinions and beliefs involving philosophy and possibly politics. If you can't handle that then skip this one.

Today, November 11th, is Veteran's Day here in the United States. In honor of that, I thought I'd make my own memorial to veterans, both here in the States and around the world. And what better way to do that then with something else I really like: metal! (Note that this is not actually a Top 5 list. Rather, these are 5 songs which help make the point I want to make this Veterans' Day.)

This post is dedicated to the two veterans closest to me: my father and my brother.

5 & 4. Star-Spangled Banner and Declaration Day by Iced Earth
While I do intend honor to everyone who has fought and sacrificed for what they believe and to protect their nation and its people, Veterans' Day is still an American holiday, so it seems only fitting to start us off today with Declaration Day and Star-Spangled Banner, both from Iced Earth's album The Glorious Burden. Now, on with the rest of the show.

3. Purple Heart by Sabaton
Freedom may be free, but the right to pursue that freedom without the influence of tyranny is not. That right has been purchased with the sacrifices made by countless veterans, both American and from all parts of the world. This song is in honor of that sacrifice.

Just because someone doesn't have a purple heart doesn't mean they haven't made that sacrifice. Often the cost is more difficult to see. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very real thing, which affects many veterans. These people need support and understanding. They are not just making things up, nor are they ticking time bombs waiting to explode. They're people who are legitimately hurting and need help.

If you know someone with PTSD be understanding and try to help. If you can, why not make a Vet's Day donation to a group like Patriot Outreach or the PTSD Foundation of America?

2. Rise of Evil by Sabaton
I'm reminded of someone I knew as a kid who asked me to consider how much better of a place the world would be without war. I thought about it for a moment, as I was asked, and could only imagine a world where the United States never won its freedom from England, the Nazis ruled the world, and every person lived their lives in fear.

I believe that friend had it backward. If the world were a more perfect place, then there would be no need for war. But there is a need for war, because this world is not a perfect place. There are evil people, and some conflicts simply can not be reconciled.

Sabaton's Rise of Evil tells the story of the rise of the Nazi party of Germany, and serves as a reminder of why, in this broken world, war is an unfortunate necessity.

1. Survivor Guilt by Rise Against
I firmly believe in the power of violence. I have nothing against fighting or against the idea of killing for what you believe, and I absolutely believe in the power of righteous hatred as a transformative catalyst. That said, I hate war. When violence reaches that grandiose of a level, it loses its meaning. People forget why they're fighting, and they forget why they hate.

Violence is a powerful tool, and it should be used responsibly. War should be a last resort, but often it isn't. Sometimes these sacrifices are made in the name of some pompous aristocrat's own ego. Survivor Guilt by Rise Against is all about the evil of pointless war, when good men and women are asked to sacrifice their lives and the lives of others for meaningless causes.

To those who have given your lives, you are not forgotten and you are not hated.

To those politicians who order such deeds in their name of their own selfishness, may that bloody sacrilege stain your soul and curse you forever.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Video Game Review: Windforge, Why Aren't You Good?!

With a game like this, a game that seems like it should be so good, it's difficult to tell from reviews alone whether or not it's worthwhile. I knew going in that the game had a lot of negative reviews, but it was impossible not to at least give it a try and I'll admit, I really, really wanted this game to be good. I mean, it just sounds like it should be awesome. It's basically like Terraria, a game I currently have nearly 2,000 hours of playtime in, with the ship-building mechanic from Space Engineers, and set in a richly detailed steampunk world of floating islands and flying sky whales. There's no way this isn't the greatest game ever made. Right?

Sadly, it's not the greatest game ever made. In fact, it's not a great game at all, or even a good game, or even a mediocre game. Windforge is a game which is fundamentally, fatally flawed. By way of explaining how, and because lists are easy to write, allow me to present to you The Top 3 Things Wrong With Windforge!

3. The Graphics
Here's the thing about the graphics: some of them actually look amazing. The flying whales and the krakens that live in the lower regions of the world, and the larger objects like the giant balloons and clocktowers, are all lovingly rendered. The watercolor background is pretty nice too. It's obvious that the developers really worked hard on the graphics. So what the Hell is up with this?

Click the picture for a larger image.

It looks blocky and awful, like my house is built from stacked up Lincoln Logs. This is because there's no blending or tiling with the graphics, which is weird because even Starbound and Terraria have that. Also, there's an awful lot of these blocks. In Terraria your character is three blocks tall, and in Starbound it's four. Here? Freaking eight! These blocks are tiny is what I'm getting at, which makes construction and destruction a massive chore.

What else makes construction a chore? The painfully bad attempt at 2.5D graphics. Everything is in this weird 3/4ths view which I'm sure the developers thought was just so cool, but really it just gets in the way. It's hard to know what block you're digging at with your jackhammer when you're mining, and it's hard to see what you're doing when you're building on a ship or a home base.

Also, what's with my furniture? Look at that. It looks like it's just painted onto the wall instead of actually sitting on the floor.

2. What Do These Numbers Mean?
I'll admit, math was never my big thing. I mean, I'm not completely stupid with numbers, but it never came as easy to me as other things. That said, what the hell do these numbers mean?

My ship weighs 524 widgets, but I have 1,389 whatsits worth of lift and 30,000 doodads worth of buoyancy! That's worth at least 100 million bananas!

My ship's mass is only 524, and I have 1,389 vertical thrust, so shouldn't I be able to move up and down fairly well? No, I can't. For that matter, why is my vertical thrust only 1,389? My three propellers provide a total thrust of 13,500 (4,500 x 3), so how is that counteracted so greatly by a mass of only 524? And shouldn't my buoyancy of 30,000 totally cancel out the mass issue anyway? Honestly, it wouldn't be that big of a deal if I just knew what these numbers meant. Is my mass 524 kilograms? 524 tons? Who knows? The fact that there are no units given for these numbers just makes them all feel arbitrary.

And no, I'm not so stupid that I can't figure out adding a few extra propellers will let me move again, but I shouldn't have to guess at it. And if you DO want me to have to guess at it, then why bother giving me the numbers at all? It's not like they matter.

This issue doesn't only affect airships either. It's also a problem with armor, weapons, pretty much everything. Earlier in the game my character picked up a set of bronze full plate armor. I was excited because it gave her 30 more defense than my old set of leather-bronze bandit armor, so I put it on and went out to fight some people, and noticed that the bandits who were previously dealing 46 points of damage a shot with their pistols were now doing... 46 points of damage a shot. Seriously, what the Hell do these numbers mean?!

1. Movement
So, if I was designing a game about floating islands and airships, and I had to name what I thought would be the single most important aspect of the gameplay, the one thing that I absolutely had to make sure I didn't screw up no matter what, I would have to say that would be a good jumping mechanic. I mean, we're dealing with a game world where one missed jump means, at best, you fall and break your everything on the next floating island down, or at worst you fall all the way into the planet's core and burn to death. That's not a pleasant way to go.

That said, this game has what might just be the worst jumping algorithm of any game I've ever played. You move too fast, and it's too hard to control where you end up. Even walking is dangerous, as stepping off a slope means the jumping algorithm takes over and sends you rocketing over the nearest ledge straight to your death. I found that latching my grappling hook on to the ground was a necessary step whenever I was near a ledge, so that when I fell I would at least be able to stop myself.

Oh yeah, and let's talk about the grappling hook. I'll admit it's fun to swing around on and feel like I'm a steampunk Spiderman. Even so, the grappling hook isn't much better than anything else. It's too fiddly and too slow to fire, it never seems to connect when you need it to, or else it connects to the wrong thing. Even when it does connect right, it's too unpredictable; sometimes you just stop and hang there, and other times you spin around at high speed, usually straight into your airship's propellers.

That brings us to the last mode of movement: airships. Airship movement is... passable. It's a bit wonky sometimes itself, mostly due to inertia and the difficulty of making yourself come to a complete stop. (Seriously, Space Engineers had the inertial dampener system for a reason, Windforge developers.) Also, my ship felt like it had a weird desire to keep drifting upward which always made it very hard to dock properly. Of course, there's also the weirdness of the numbers which I mentioned before, where you always seem to have either not enough thrust so you can barely move, or else too much so you rocket across the map with a slightest touch of the buttons. It's a good thing repairs to your airship are free, because you will crash into things constantly.

KR Rating: [2] BAD

I find that the games I give a rating of 2 out of 5 are generally ambitious failures, and this is no exception. It's clear to me from the detailed nature of this game that the developer really wanted to do a good job. The artwork is great, aside from the afore-mentioned problems. The game world is very interesting and well thought out. (Seriously, just watch this video - this world is amazing.)

It's just a shame that the game they built around this concept is so poorly built. Like Dr. Frankenstein before him, the developer brought his creation to life as a shambling mess that can barely function and will probably end up being the death of us all - I know it's sure killed me more than a few times.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Video Game Review: Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy. This game really bothers me, and it's a bit difficult for me to explain exactly why. Still, if I had to explain (and I kind of do, otherwise this isn't much of a review) then I would put it like this:

Like most people, I originally loved this game. The exploration-based platforming and combat were fun and simple. More, the "inheritance" system - wherein each time you die you take over one of your character's children with a new class, special attack, and collection of traits - was something completely new, which I had never seen any game attempt before.

But of course, you do eventually realize the game's problems. For me, this realization came near the end of my first day with the game I looked over and realized I was level 60 already... and I was barely into the game. I hadn't even beaten the first boss. I wasn't even close to ready to beat the first boss.

This is because you advance SO slowly in this game. At that point, and heck still where I am now a really good run through the dungeon might net me a rune I'll never use and enough gold to get +1 attack power.

But that's not what bothers me.

Then I realized, this game is basically built to reward luck over skill. Everything about this game is luck; the luck to get a nicer build for the procedurally generated castle, the luck to get better rewards in the chests and from enemies. Even combat rewards luck over skill, as the one truly skill-based class (the Hokage) is quickly overshadowed by the others and you're forced to rely on things that are by definition unreliable to win: things like critical hits, MP-using magic attacks, and tanking with high HP.

But that's not what bothers me.

I realized that the game is basically just a time sink. If you really look at it, there's really not a whole lot of content here. If you could go straight through on one try you'd have about four hours of content. It gets stretched out because you die constantly, you advance so slowly, and every time you re-enter the dungeon you've got to run through the same regions you've already been through again and again.

But that's not what bothers me.

No, what bothers me is the fact that this stuff DOESN'T bother me.

The game is just plain fun. The platforming works really well and, while it can be difficult, you always get the sense that you could totally do it if you were just a little bit better. Combat is simple and enjoyable, but also a fair challenge.

The presentation is great, as well. The enemies and environments are beautifully drawn, and the music is the perfect amount of atmospheric without becoming just dull and moody - Diablo's music composers could stand to take a few lessons from these guys.

This is a game I can get into and just play again and again. It's just too bad that every time I load it up I feel like I'm giving in to something evil...


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Top 10 Things Non-Writers Don't Get About Writing

My two biggest long time hobbies are drawing and writing. I don't always put my work up for everyone to see and I admittedly got really lazy for a long time, but I do spend a lot of time doing both.

Having recently gotten into a new writing project, however, I was reminded of just how little non-writers really understand about the writing process. To my friends who aren't writers, I love you all but seriously, some of the things you do are really annoying, and so I'm here to let you know. These are the top 10 things that you really need to understand about writing.

10. Writing dark stories is not a cry for help.
For some reason I don't understand - maybe some strange leftover urge from Lit class - all non-writers always seem to assume that anything you write is a secret allegory for your own life. This is especially true if you tend to write darker stories like I do; if I had a nickel for every person who read one of my stories and then tried to play armchair psychiatrist to me... well, I'd probably have a few more nickels. No, people. The fact that I'm writing a character with an abusive father does not mean I hate my dad. The fact that a character dies at the end does not mean I'm suicidal. It's called creating drama, you uncultured philistines.

9. I can hate any character, including my main character, and write them anyway.
Of course, liking them does make writing a whole lot easier, but it's not a necessity. This one, as near as I can tell, ties into the above entry. Non-writers assume that the main character is meant to be the author him or herself, so obviously if I hate my main character then I must hate myself, right? No. It doesn't work that way. The truth is that as you write your creation will take on a life of its own, which is also why...

8. Yes, your own writing can legitimately surprise you.
Non-writers are always flabbergasted by this one. How could a story you write and that you presumably had planned out in advance surprise you? It's true that I usually have some idea of where my story is going to go before I write it. It's also true that often, by the time I get to the parts I had spent so long planning in my head, I suddenly realize what I had planned is not something that the character would actually do. At all. I've had entire stories pull a 180 on me before. It happens.

7. Don't ask me what my story is about.
This one I'll admit is kind of weird. If you ask me about a book that someone else wrote I can tell you all about it. It's about a guy who does some stuff and then stuff happens as a result so he has to do some other stuff, the end. But ask me what my own story is about and suddenly I draw a complete blank. It's not that I don't know, I just don't feel like I can do it justice with a short description. If you really want to know what my story is about do me a favor: wait until it's done and read it. But do remember that...

6. No, you can't read it yet.
Even though stories are not necessarily auto-biographical they are a writer's emotions being put on display. It's been said before that being a writer is like showing your butt to the world; well, if you've gotta do it, then you at least want to make sure it's clean first, right? Just relax. You'll get to read it at the same time as everyone else. Honestly, you probably wouldn't like what's there right now anyway since...

5. The first draft is never, ever worth publishing.
I often hear non-writers ask what is the purpose of a "rewrite." They always have this idea of a master writer sitting down and writing out a flawless masterpiece on the first try. This idea is absurd. Even Stephen King's first drafts are crappy messes of loose plot threads. You just don't realize, because you never see it. And while we're on the topic of publishing...

4. Don't ask me when I'm going to get published.
I don't know. I might never get published. I might not even be trying to get published. Believe it or not a lot of writers write as a hobby, and even those who do intend to get published might not want to publish every work they write. Among writers there is what's known as "trunk works." That is, works that you finish and then hide in a trunk in your attic because, for whatever reason, you just don't want anyone to see it. Maybe it's not as good, or too personal, or maybe you were just using it to try out new ideas. Whatever the reason, it's not going to be published. (And people, please stop posthumously publishing trunk works from famous authors. You have no idea how much of a dick that makes you.)

3. Also, if you try to read my story over my shoulder, I will punch you.
As I mentioned at the start, my two major hobbies are drawing and writing. Needless to say I quickly developed a habit of sitting at the very back of a room with no one around me, because both of these hobbies draw in looky-loos like flies to a trash can. If I don't want to let you read my story yet, then I definitely don't want you looking over my shoulder at it.

2. And if you try to take my notebook away so you can "fix" my story, I will kill you. (And it will be a closed-casket funeral.)
Now that I'm a 6'6" grown man with a shaved head who looks like he could stomp most people flat and occasionally makes small children cry, people don't do this anymore, but back in high school I was just a fat nerd and yes I had people try to snatch my notebook away so they could "fix" whatever it was I was working on. The worst part was they didn't even think they were being jerks. Both of the people who did this to me were close friends who honestly thought that they were helping. They were not helping.

1. It is extremely @#%$ing obnoxious when you disturb me while I'm writing.
You think it's no big deal. You are wrong. Writing is an extremely emotional process. I actually have an entire ritual I go through to "clear the air" and get myself into a proper mindset before I sit down and write. Once I get into my writing it's not something I can just stop and then pick back up on a dime.

I'm going to put this as clear as I can for all of my non-writer friends out there, and keep in mind that there is no exaggeration in this statement at all: Being interrupted while you're writing is exactly the same as being interrupted while you're having sex.

Monday, September 15, 2014

4 More Obnoxious Internet Commenters I Missed

Way back in 2012 I was inspired by a combination of and a handful of trolls at the Agony Booth to write my article 6 More Obnoxious Internet Commenters Cracked Missed. Unfortunately, I quickly realized I had left a few out, and so I was inspired again to create this list, of four more obnoxious internet commenters. Oh, and just as with the last time, you'll likely never be able to get rid of these guys.

4. The Like Button Warrior

You know what's scary? People. They believe in things and they don't like assholes slandering them.

You know what's easy? Hitting the "Like" button on a post that slanders those people for you! It puts the message across, but no one can get mad at you because technically it wasn't you that said it!

Just to be clear, we're not talking about just any person who hits the "Like" button on an insulting comment. No, this is about people who hit the "Like" button on insulting comments, while simultaneously feigning reasonability themselves. The funniest thing about these people is, they honestly believe that they're being sneaky, and that no one will ever figure out their secret motives.

Why you can't get rid of him:
Because what he did was such a pusilanimous gesture of passive aggressive defiance that most moderators can't be bothered to do anything about it. And, you know, it's probably fine. Simply being the coward that he is is already a worse punishment on this guy than anything that anyone else could possibly give.

3. The Sad Sack

You've defeated his arguments with mountains of evidence. And so it is with a sigh of sad reluctance he finally breaks down and admits defeat. Perhaps it's true that you know more about the constitutionality of the capital gains tax than he does. It's no surprise. After all, he's nothing but a poor starving little boy from Ethiopia, with five types of brain cancer caused by all the abuse he receives from his evil stepmother. The doctors have given him only five weeks to live, but he still loves his family and his life so much more than a person like you could ever understand. So congratulations. You win. Monster.

There's just one thing his miserable life story left out: even if it's true (It's not.) how exactly is it relevant at all to what you were discussing? (It's not.)

Why you can't get rid of him:
Because what sort of wretched person would want to punish a poor nine year old boy with only a head and a burlap sack filled with leaves for a body?

Okay, no. Actually, it's because as with the like button warrior, above, this one is so pathetic that it's not worth bothering with. If you think about it, that's probably the best course anyway. Acknowledging his claims only serves to give them validity. The best way to combat this one is to just ignore it completely.

2. The Parrot

Everything this guy needs to know about debating he learned in Kindergarten.

"Oh yeah? Well everything you need to know about sucking you learned in your mom! HAH!"

When challenged the parrot reaches back to his elementary school training days, gathers all the skills he learned arguing with other kids on the playground, and valiantly recites your own argument back at you with one or two words changed to make it more insulting.

Not always its own thing, parroting is also a tactic of many other obnoxious commenter types. Humorously, the parrot truly believes that this is the height of wit, and will always be convinced that he totally just "got you."

Why you can't get rid of him:
You might be able to get rid of him, but since what he's saying is basically only two degrees off from what you're saying, getting him banned generally means getting banned yourself. As with most of these the best thing to do is ignore them. Just ask yourself, who's dumber: the parrot, or the person arguing with it like he expects a real conversation from a mindless animal?

1. The Contrarian

The world is full of morons, believing things that are so obviously wrong, often for reasons that are poorly considered, if they've even been considered at all. As far as the contrarian is concerned this group includes absolutely everyone that's not him. Everyone else is just so obviously wrong, and it's up to him to let them know it, at any cost...or so he'd have you believe.

More than just being argumentative and stubborn, the contrarian is so deadset on being against the maximum number of people possible that he'll even go so far as to reverse his own opinion to do so. Maybe he's just so convinced that everyone but him is stupid that he sees people agreeing with him as proof that he was wrong all along. More likely, though, he's just a troll.

Why you can't get rid of him:
You can, sometimes, if he's caught early enough or if he's stupid about it. Often times the contrarian is smart, though. He takes it slow and after a while he'll build a collection of followers just like the one line wonder from the last list - people who mistake his trolling for wisdom and think he's some sort of guru. Banning him at that point risks angering his followers, so you'll need to wait for an incident that can provide a reason to get rid of him and prove his idiocy all at once.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Creepypasta Review: Jeff The Killer

I know what you're asking. What is Jeff the Killer? Jeff the Killer is what's referred to on the internet as a "creepypasta." Creepypasta, for those not in the know, is basically a sub-genre of horror defined as being exclusively written by hyperactive 12-year-olds who have never read a horror story before. None of them are scary and most of them aren't even particularly good stories.

Let me make this clear: I'm not a particularly brave person. I absolutely believe in ghosts. I grew up being scared witless by R.L. Stine before graduating to being scared by H.P. Lovecraft. Plus, my revolver is located across the room from where I sleep which is going to be terribly inconvenient when my home finally does get invaded by an undead serial killer. So believe me, it's not some sort of heroic valor that lets me resist being scared by these things, they're just not scary.

Jeff the Killer is one of the most well known of all creepypastas, and also one of the worst. It's also where the infamous creepypasta face came from. You know what I'm talking about.

This is supposed to be a real face. Apparently Jeff is made out of magic marker and Photoshop.

That's the reason why I read it, and after doing so I just knew I had to write a blog post on just how much this thing sucked.

The story begins with a misguided attempt at setting itself up as a "true story" with a fake Newspaper bit about a boy surviving a serial killer. Naturally, it completely blows it by including an action scene, because real reporters always use those in their articles, right?

It goes on to tell the origin story of Jeff the Killer, a little boy who moves to a new town and who is immediately ambushed by knife-wielding middle-schoolers. I'm not joking. After fighting them off, somehow, the police decide that he and his brother attacked the three kids with no provocation and send his brother to a Juvenile Detention Center with no trial or investigation.

Later, the three kids attack him again and he kills them all, while getting his own face horribly scarred in the process, at which point he goes insane, mutilates his face even further, and kills his whole family for no real reason.


So, where do I even begin?

How about by asking, why do the police blame Jeff and his brother Liu for the incident? (Also, why are two brothers named Jeff and Liu?) But really. The three bullies - Randy, Troy, and Keith - aren't exactly subtle. They skateboard around the city with knives and attack random people in broad daylight. In the story's climax they jump their skateboards straight over a privacy fence (some God damned how) and invade a backyard birthday party with pistols and knives so that they can beat up Jeff. Put simply, these kids are crazy and sloppy and there is no way the whole city is unaware of it.

The thing is, the story doesn't even care. Why do the police not immediately suspect the three underage knife-wielding hoodlums who the story clearly states attack people like this all the time? Just because. Why does perfectly normal Jeff go irrevocably insane after two fistfights, while the other characters don't? Just because. Why do Jeff's burns turn his hair black? Just because. Seriously, why are two brothers named freaking Jeff (an English name) and Liu (a Chinese name)? Just because.

They just didn't care, folks.

KR Rating: [0] SHOVEL

Here's the big thing, though: even if the plot made sense this turkey would still give you literary salmonella. The author writes with all the suspense of a textbook and the subtlety of that same textbook being thrown at your face. At no point does he come close to creating suspense or horror, and it's not even like he's really trying.

I want to make something extra clear here to any aspiring horror or creepypasta writers.

Horror is not about violence, gore, or surprise.

Violence, surprise, and gore are not scary because they are concrete. They exist in the here and now. That means they can be dealt with. Horror comes not from terrible things happening in the present, but from imagining terrible things happening in the future. It's about creating an atmosphere of dread. It's about suspense - that is the essence of horror.

That is also this story's greatest failure, and really the failure of creepypasta in general.

It's especially sad, because the story does have some interesting aspects which, if given more consideration, could have made for a decent story.

Jeff's struggle with the bullies, and the adults who refuse to believe the truth, could have made for an interesting plot. Everyone who has ever been a kid knows the frustration of having adults refuse to believe them when they're telling the truth. Couple that with having to deal with psychotic, knife-wielding bullies (who your parents refuse to believe even exist) and you've definitely got something that could drive a kid mad.

Sadly, the story never dwells on that. Nothing much comes of that storyline, plus as mentioned before the bullies are so over the top that the adults' disbelief just comes off as stupidity anyway.

For that matter, the dark force that drives Jeff, which takes control of him and allows him to easily defeat the three armed bullies in both of their altercations... what is that? Where does it come from? Again nothing much ever really comes of this. It's mentioned in passing a few times, but the author clearly isn't interested in examining it.

Perhaps even worse, Jeff after his transformation into the titular "The Killer" is not an interesting villain, and again it's disappointing because the author came so close. Again, here's a tip for any aspiring writers: a good horror villain has a reason for why he kills who he kills. Jason Voorhees goes after young adults who are negligent in their duty of protecting the younger generation, because those are the kind of people who caused his death. Dexter goes after other serial killers because he thinks it makes his own lust for murder okay.

What is Jeff's motivation? Maybe he could go after bullies like the ones who burned him and scarred his face? Nope. Maybe he could go after negligent parents who are dismissive of their children, like his were? Nope. He just goes after everyone, because he "snapped" and "enjoys killing now."

I honestly wonder why the author made the decision to write this story as a creepypasta when he was so clearly uninterested in any of the dramatic or frightening aspects. He's clearly far more interested in writing an action story, he even has one of the bullies utter a stereotypical action movie one-liner before lighting Jeff on fire!

Of course, it's not like the action scenes are any more plausible or better written then the rest so it's probably just as well. The only thing that could have saved Jeff the Killer is a better writer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Non-Review: Top 5 Foods You've Been Eating RIGHT All Along

It all started with the bananas.

That's not a sentence I ever particularly wanted to say before, but now that I have I'm wondering how I went so long having not.

For those not in the know, a video came out a while ago describing the way monkeys peel bananas, which starts at the bottom instead of at the top. While the video was new the method was not, it's been passed around on the internet for decades and no one ever cared because, truth be told, neither method is really any better or easier than the other.

But the internet doesn't care about sense, and as a result the video went viral. Stupid people all over the world watched and honestly believed they'd been peeling bananas wrong their whole lives. More importantly, semi-stupid people all over the world suddenly realized all at once that, holy shit, all you need to do to be hailed as a genius in this world is post a video of yourself opening fruit in a weird way!

Suddenly the internet exploded with terrible food advice videos, much like the explosion you would use to peel a banana in a Michael Bay movie. Also like a Michael Bay movie, all of these tips are stupid. I've looked at lots of them both new and old and come up with five of my favorites, as well as why they're wrong.

5. Cake
You know what's worse than stale, dried out cake? Nothing, which is why I don't feel bad about making human sacrifices to the gods of darkness in exchange for my cakes always remaining moist. But for those of you who aren't on speaking terms with the denizens of Hell, there's still hope! Enter Numberphile with his video The Scientific Way to Cut a Cake.

In case you're too lazy to watch the video, I'll sum it up like this: rather than cutting out wedges, which leaves the sides exposed to dry out in the fridge, you take a thin slice straight out of the middle, cut it in two, and then push the two halves together. It's so simple!

Of course, it does remove all ability to control the size of your slices for those party guests who may want more or less cake, forces you to mush your filthy hands all over the cake, and will utterly ruin any cake not iced with fondant. But that's a small price to pay for moist cake, right?

You know what else is a small price to pay? $1.72, which is the price of 200 square feet of saran wrap at Target.

...huh. Now I kind of feel like a dick for all those human sacrifices.

4. Peelable Fruits
If there's one thing I've learned from watching television commercials it's that most new inventions are useless, and that includes new methods for eating food. The second thing I've learned from watching television commercials, is that the only way to make these useless inventions look useful is to lie your ass off about the older, better products that everyone is already using. This video by Buzzfeed handily demonstrates this technique by decrying the old, outdated method of peeling fruit by lopping off enormous hunks of it with a knife, which is a technique I'm pretty sure has never been used outside of the fantasy land of TV commercials and internet videos.

Seriously, it's called a peeler. It's been around for almost 100 years now, and it's really cheap. There is no excuse for you not having one.

But the why isn't what's important here. If it was then I'd also question what sort of person peels a kiwi in the first place. What's important here is the method. Fortunately for us, the video also handily demonstrates its own worthlessness by showing us the leftover skin of their spoon-gutted kiwi, which just happens to still hold most of their kiwi on it. When your new method for peeling a fruit not only wastes more fruit than a peeler would, but it even wastes more than the exaggerated, idiot method that you're complaining about... you know you've done something wrong.

Speaking of wasting fruit...

3. Strawberries
Coming from fifty seconds into the same video, we get this brilliant advice for looking stupid while removing the stem from a strawberry. Just push a straw through the strawberry and the stem will pop right off, without the waste of cutting it off with a knife!

Except, wait, you're still wasting a significant portion of your strawberry, aren't you? I mean, just because the wasted portion is in the form a cylindrical core instead of a thin knife slice doesn't mean you're not still wasting it. I kind of feel like whoever came up with this just thought "strawberry has the word straw in it, and now I'm pushing a straw into a strawberry! Ha!" and then their brain died before it could figure out how stupid that was.

Also, speaking as a person who likes strawberries and also likes baking food items using strawberries I have to say, picking the stems off by hand is not only easier, it also doesn't waste any of the strawberry at all.

2. Tic-Tacs
In case you haven't noticed by now, one of the best parts about these videos is how they usually show, within the video itself, how terrible they are. This video by CrazyRussianHacker is no different.

According to this video and others, opening the Tic-Tac container and shaking one out is wrong. Instead, you hold it upside down, tap it once, and a single Tic-Tac will drop into the cap and then be "dispensed" when you open it. The reason I picked this video over the others is because of how beautifully it reveals the truth. As you see, the guy has to open the cap veeeery slooowly to avoid spilling, and he still screws it up most of the time anyway.

1. Apples
Everyone knows apples. They're tasty, they're usually red but sometimes green, and they have that inedible tough core, right? Not so, according to this video. It turns out that if you eat an apple from the top down or from the bottom up you get enough of the good part with each bite that you don't even notice the tough, awful core.

Also, you will apparently be a boss.

I almost feel bad about debunking this one, because chances are doing so will actually save a few stupid peoples' lives. See, apple seeds or "pips" actually contain cyanide, which you might recognize as that thing that the bad guys take in movies to keep James Bond from interrogating them.

Ordinarily, the amount of cyanide in an apple seed isn't enough to bother you. The seed's outer shell keeps most of the cyanide inside, and even if you chew on one your body can break down and detoxify the cyanide without too much trouble. Problem is, you're no longer swallowing a seed or two by accident, you're now eating the entire supply of them with every apple and you know you'll accidentally bite down on more than one of them. Eat a few apples worth of seeds a day and you can expect headaches and nausea at the very least, or coma and death at the most.

What's more, detoxifying poisonous compounds puts a strain on your body's organs, which will add up if you're a big fan of apples. It turns out if you eat them like the video suggests an apple a day will make sure your doctor remains very close to you... because your kidneys are going to shut down.

Also, most real people who have actually tried this report that the core is still totally awful even if you eat the apple from the top down, so there's that too.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Video Game Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

I'll be completely honest here. After playing through the mediocrity of Lords of Shadow and the crapocrity of Mirror of Fate I had basically zero drive to play another game in the LoS series, and I'm not the only one. There's a reason why game review sites were giving Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 ratings of 6 out of 10 before it was even released, and it's not because they were thrilled to dive once more into the cesspool of boring that is Lords of Shadow.

Still, I've always hated people who can't be bothered to get informed or form a legitimate argument for their opinions, so I did eventually get around to playing the game and I was actually happily surprised to find that the game really wasn't bad. In fact, I'll go a step further and say this: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is the game that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow should have been.

In my review of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD I mentioned how the original Lords of Shadow was not developed as a Castlevania game and instead had the name slapped on at the end in order to sell more copies, and in my annotation for the first game I talked about how the biggest problem with the first game was a lack of ideas, and how I thought that if they had developed it from the start with the intention of it being a Castlevania game then they would have had a wealth of inspiration ready and waiting for them. Well, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is basically exactly what I was talking about.

The storyline is vastly improved from the first game, mostly since the writers actually had a direction for it to go in this time. Characters have also been vastly improved, both in writing and in artistic design, and again this is due primarily to them actually having inspiration this time. Even gameplay has been greatly improved. Enemies are more interesting which makes combat more interesting as a side effect, and the quick time events have been toned down with an option to play without them entirely.

That said, the game still has its flaws. While enemies are more interesting they're still not as interesting as they could be. They range in variety from "vaguely humanoid monster with a weapon" to "vaguely humanoid monster with a different kind of weapon" and again none of them look like they actually belong in a Castlevania game at all.

While I mentioned that the characters were more interesting this was both true and kind of misleading. Most of the characters are indeed more interesting and again this is due almost entirely to them having inspiration this time around which becomes abundantly clear when you see the new original villains, Satan's Acolytes. All three of them are boring, one-dimensional bad guys who look and act like they belong in DmC: Devil May Cry more than they do in Castlevania (though they would be bland and uninteresting in that game too). Well, except the second Acolyte with his Force Lightning. He belongs in Star Wars.

But here's the greatest sin against this game to me: I HATE what they've done with the music in the Lords of Shadow series, and this game did not do anything to fix this travesty.

One of the things Castlevania is known for is its iconic sountrack, ranging from classical-inspired pieces to gothic rock. Everyone knows songs like Bloody Tears and Vampire Killer, and Symphony of the Night's The Tragic Prince remains one of my personal favorites.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has none of that. I originally considered leaving this out entirely because I wanted to limit my comparisons to the rest of the series, but honestly it was a major sin against this game for me. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has one of the most boring, uninspired soundtracks from any game I've played in recent memory.

KR Rating: [4] GOOD

All things considered the music is terrible but only a small part of the game. The game itself is decent, even good, but it still isn't great. As I said, this is what Lords of Shadow should have been, but that's also kind of the problem. This is pretty much this new series at its best... and it's still flawed in fundamental ways that are impossible to overlook.

If you're really interested in the series then I would suggest you skip the first two games and come straight to this one. The opening narration explains pretty much everything and the things that aren't explained (like what the deal is with the mirror of fate) aren't really explained in the other games either, so there's no reason not to just ignore them.

At the end of the day, though, I wouldn't really suggest that anyone play this game either. It's good, but it's not a must play by any stretch of the imagination and has very few ideas that other games haven't already done better. If I want a game in this genre I'll go back to Devil May Cry or God of War, and if I want a Castlevania game then I'll play a Castlevania game.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Top 8 Picks For Super Smash Bros For 3DS and Wii U

It seems to me that I've done a great disservice by not bringing up this series before, even going so far as to overlook it in my 100 Posts Retrospective. While I've never mentioned Super Smash Bros on the blog before that doesn't mean I'm not a fan. Quite the opposite, actually. I've been a fan of the series since its debut on the Nintendo 64, I've been following the development of Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U from the beginning, and I was even an off-and-on part of the largest Smash Bros fanfic in existence, Super Smash Stadium.

So, yeah, to say that I'm a fan of the series would be a bit of an understatement. So, in anticipation of the upcoming Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U (God, I hope that game gets a better title before launch), I thought I'd join the crowd by listing my own personal top picks for the new fighters.

Also, note, I'm speaking specifically about NEW characters I'd like to see. While there are still plenty of as yet unconfirmed characters I'd like to see return, that's not what this list is about, so don't expect to see Snake or Meta Knight appear here.

And before you ask, no, this doesn't mean that I've forgotten my promise to review Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. This is coming first, due to both being on my mind right now and because I still haven't actually beaten that game yet.

8. Kevin, Captain N the Game Master
Captain N the Game Master, for anyone who doesn't know, was a cartoon that ran from 1989 to 1991 about Kevin Keene, supposedly the greatest video game player ever, who was brought into the world of Nintendo to become Captain N and win the fight against all the villains of Nintendo.

Okay, so he's not actually a video game character at all, but so what? He's pretty much the perfect candidate for a Smash Bros character. He personifies everything that is Nintendo, he fights using a Nintendo Zapper and an NES controller, and his cartoon series was THE original massive Nintendo crossover, teaming him up with characters like Megaman and Pit against villains like King Hippo, Mother Brain, and Eggplant Wizard.

Unfortunately, there are two massive obstacles standing in Captain N's way. Number one: Nintendo doesn't actually own the rights to the character, DiC does, and Nintendo doesn't seem to be interested in getting said rights especially since, number two: Captain N the Game Master was only ever really a thing in the United States. Japanese and European fans would have absolutely no idea who the Hell Kevin Keene was, and Nintendo is understandably not so keen (pun fully intended) on spending the money to acquire the rights to the character just to please a few nostalgic Americans.

7. Phoenix Wright, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Phoenix Wright isn't actually a Nintendo character, though he is closely tied in with Nintendo as (not counting ports to iOS and Android systems) all of the Ace Attorney games have been exclusive to Nintendo handhelds.

People will likely point out that Phoenix Wright isn't really known for fighting. I would counter that first off, that didn't stop him from being a playable fighter in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and second, neither was Captain Falcon prior to Super Smash Bros 64.

It isn't very likely that we'll see him appear thanks to the inclusion of Megaman as Capcom's representative. If, however, Capcom is able to get two representatives in Smash Bros then I would love to see their number two be Phoenix Wright.

6. Simon Belmont, Castlevania
As much as I liked Snake being in Smash Bros. Brawl, I have to admit that when I think about Konami games that helped to put Nintendo on the map I don't think Metal Gear so much as Castlevania, so much so that I was honestly shocked when Snake was announced as Konami's entrant into the series instead of a Belmont.

Like everyone else I played the crap out of these games back in the day, and unlike Metal Gear, this franchise has remained closely tied in with Nintendo, with numerous games on their handheld systems, as well as Castlevania Judgment on the Wii.

The obvious choice for a character to represent the series would be Simon Belmont. Not only was he the first protagonist in the series, but his games were among the top games that helped make the NES a contender, far more so than Metal Gear ever had.

5. Ryu Hayabusa, Ninja Gaiden
Speaking of games that made the NES worth playing, nothing speaks to that quite so much as Ninja Gaiden. I personally didn't really play the game so much at the time, but I've developed an appreciation for it more recently, and I know a lot of people did play it back in the day. Let's face it: this series helped make the NES, period.

Since then, Ryu and his series moved on to other consoles, to the extent that they're now more commonly associated with the XBox and Playstation, though showing some love to Nintendo wouldn't be entirely unreasonable since Ninja Gaiden 3 got a rerelease on the Wii U as Ninja Gaiden: Razor's Edge.

There's also the fact that Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U now has the pokémon Greninja, who is basically Ryu Hayabusa as a frog. Full on ninja battles between these two, or perhaps a tag team pitting them against the player as one of the challenge levels, would be just plain awesome.

Perhaps the biggest roadblock in Hayabusa's path is his series' violent nature. Snake had this problem too, but Ryu puts even him to shame. Ryu Hayabusa soaks in more blood than your average Evil Dead movie.

4. Black Mage, Final Fantasy
Square-Enix has historically worked very closely with Nintendo. They created an entire game, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, in cooperation with Nintendo, and prior to the seventh game in the series Final Fantasy had always been a Nintendo title. Of course, fans know that Final Fantasy 7 was where the two parted ways, thanks to Nintendo's decision to make the N64 a cartridge-based system instead of a disc-based one. If there was any animosity over this it seems to have evaporated, judging by the existence of Mario Hoops 3-on-3, a Square-Enix game for the Nintendo DS that included Final Fantasy characters including Black Mage.

Okay, so a Mario basketball game isn't exactly the best precedent, but it does prove that Square-Enix is not averse to the idea of their characters appearing in Nintendo titles, and Black Mage is a perfect candidate. He's a well known character with powers that would be interesting in the series, plus he's an FF character who doesn't use a sword - between Link, Toon Link, Ike, Marth, Roy, and Meta Knight we've got more than enough of those.

And no, idiots, they wouldn't be forced to use Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy 7 instead. That's a stupid argument and you should feel like a moron for using it.

3. Isaac, Golden Sun
That's enough of the greatest third party hits of the NES, because the truth is there are plenty of Nintendo characters and franchises that aren't represented well or at all. Nintendo's handheld-based RPG series Golden Sun is one of these sadly neglected franchises.

I'll admit that I don't know a whole lot about Golden Sun, having never played the games. Still, I do feel that this franchise deserves to get some representation, and Isaac seems to be the most popular candidate.

2. Geno, Super Mario RPG
Geno first made his appearance in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. He's a spirit from Star Road, who took control of a wooden doll in order to help Mario save the Mushroom Kingdom from the villainous Smithy. He became easily the most popular character in that game, thanks to his interesting and powerful moveset, despite being a completely new character to the series.

Sadly, that was to be Geno's first and only starring role, due in large part to the afore-mentioned falling out between Square-Enix and Nintendo. Still, there is a chance for him to reappear. His cameo appearance in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga suggests that Nintendo does own at least enough rights to use his likeness, and he does remain a fan favorite even long after Super Mario RPG's release.

If he's going to appear again, the Super Smash Bros franchise would probably be the best place for it to happen. Smash has seen the return of obscure characters in the past, like Pit for example, whose appearance in Super Smash Bros Brawl not only re-introduced him to gamers, but also paved the way for a new installment in his long dead series, Kid Icarus Uprising.

1. Goku, Dragonball Z
Just kidding. This is a stupid idea and anyone who honestly wants it is also stupid.

The ACTUAL Number 1. Ridley, Metroid
Detractors are quick to point out that Ridley is too big for Smash Bros. I'll admit I used to say the same thing myself, but when you really think about it that's kind of a stupid thing to say. Size doesn't matter in this series. Kirby is officially listed as being 20 centimeters tall (just under 8 inches) which should put him up to Mario's shins, and Bowser is usually portrayed as being anywhere between two to three times Mario's size. That didn't stop anyone from including either of them

The point is, no one really cares how big Ridley is. Just as Kirby and Bowser were both altered in scale, they could easily scale down Ridley to make him the right size, like they did in the opening cinematic from Super Smash Bros Melee, where he's only a little larger than Samus. Ridley deserves to be a fighter. If you can get past the minor size problem he's a perfect candidate from one of the most underrepresented franchises in the series.

In fact, word of the developers states that he was originally going to be a fighter in Super Smash Bros Brawl before it was decided that he would be cooler as a boss fight in Subspace Emissary. Super Smash Bros for 3DS and Wii U could definitely see him become playable.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Video Game Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD

This review is the second in a series. Find the first here.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD. God damn that title. It's like something you would expect to see on a bargain bin game from some no-name company no one's ever heard of. For those of you wondering, Mirror of Fate is not actually part 2 of the series. It's more like Lords of Shadow 1.5, and its main purpose was to bridge a certain gap.

One thing I regret not mentioning in my first review (mostly because I didn't find out about it until said review was almost finished) is that Lords of Shadow was not developed as a Castlevania game. It was originally intended to be a completely separate IP, titled simply "Lords of Shadow." Then, at the last moment, Konami realized it was generic crap that would never sell without a big name like "Castlevania" attached to it. So they changed the name to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and then put the least amount of work possible into a half-ass facelift for it. They stuck some Castlevania names to it, put some old school Castlevania music in the Baba Yaga's Music Box level, and added the end credits scene where Gabriel becomes Dracula.

That was the gap that this game was meant to bridge: taking Lords of Shadow and turning it into an actual Castlevania game. Insofar as achieving that goal it was moderately successful, though the fact that they needed an entirely new game to fix all the bullshit they broke with their first game makes me want to take another point off of the first game's review score (or another 5 points).

But about this game... one of the first things you notice is that this game's presentation is much, much worse than the previous game. The dumbest among you will probably say, "well, of course! It was originally designed for the Nintendo DS!" It is true that the DS version was grainy and awful, but that's hardly a flaw of the Nintendo DS, especially when you consider Dawn of Sorrow came out 8 years earlier and looked like this...

While Mirror of Fate looks like this...

The first is beautiful, lovingly rendered sprite work. The second is... dark. Very dark. And the entire game is like that, if not even worse. I had to turn my brightness setting all the way up and even then I could barely see what was going on.

The second thing you notice is that this game abandons the 3D adventure style of the first game in the series to go back to the franchise standard 2D platformer style of gameplay, except it's not nearly as much fun. It's short, there's barely any really noticable variety in the different areas, and somehow it manages to be even more linear than the first game in the series. What little exploration there is in this game never feels like it's being rewarded at all. At least in Lords of Shadow you could find the occasional Life Gem or Magic Gem. In this game your reward is usually a flavor text scroll, or the occasional bestiary entry. (Yeah, that's right. You have to FIND bestiary entries in this game, they don't unlock on their own.)

Oh yeah, and Alucard is in this game! Except instead of being a badass supernatural predator conflicted over his dark nature and determined to right his father's wrongs, he's an emo Trevor Belmont with gray skin. Oh yeah, spoiler alert except not because you'll see the "Alucard is Trevor" plot twist coming almost immediately after he appears. The point is, yeah, this game ruins Alucard too. And Simon Belmont, who is now a Scottish barbarian apparently. And Sypha Belnades, who is no longer a witch! And... possibly the pirate king Grant DaNasty too; I don't know, only his name appears in a scroll that talks about how dead he is. Ugh. At this point I would rather they just left the two series disconnected if this is how they plan on treating the returning characters. I mean, who's next? Seriously, who? Is Lords of Shadow 2 going to include Soma Cruz as Dracula's pet talking dog? Ugh.

KR Rating: [1] HORRIBLE

The one good thing that this game actually did was give us some more interesting enemies to fight, though they still don't give us anything that looks like it belongs in a Castlevania game, and the enemies aren't really any more fun to fight than they were in the first game either.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow might have been a train wreck attempt at sticking the name onto a mediocre game in order to sell copies, but at least that meant it didn't ruin fan favorite characters like Alucard. At least Lords of Shadow looked good.

This game really has absolutely nothing going for it and I can tell you that I was honestly tempted to just give up on this franchise right here. Nonetheless, expect part three of this review, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 next week.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Video Game Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

So it seems that very time I walk into my local GameStop store lately I'm assailed by advertisements for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Play as Dracula! Fight Satan! Whoo! So on a whim I decided to give this series a try. I bought Lords of Shadow 2 and the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Collection which came with the first game in the series, as well as both of the DLC chapters for said game and a download code for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD, and decided to play through and review them.

In the interest of fairness I should confess: I have experienced this particular game before. I watched my brother play this game years ago and was disappointed by the linear, simplistic nature of it. (I even eventually came up with a nickname for it: Casualvania.) But far be it for me to judge something based only on such a limited experience.

I should also mention that I'm a huge fan of the Castlevania series, but in the name of being fair, I'll hold off on comparing this game to its predecessors. We're going to be fair, here. Maybe too fair, honestly.

So, let's start with this game. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow set out to re-invent the Castlevania series, with a shift in focus away from exploration and RPG stylings and towards combat and storyline. Sounds good, so let's talk about those.

Right off the bat we see that combat in this game is a carbon copy clone of the combat from God of War, complete with combos and quick-time-event finishing moves. But hey, God of War was fun, right? If it ain't broke, don't... yeah, I'm sorry. I'm not buying this fairness act either. Let's start over.

Combat in Lords of Shadow is shit. It's drawn out, tedious button-mashing. This shouldn't be much of a shock; as I said before, this game's combat draws heavily from God of War, which was a very button-mashy kind of game. This problem is compounded by a lack of ability to upgrade your attacks and the fact that almost all enemies have enormous pools of health for soaking damage, turning every battle into a chore.

But what about story, the other focus of this game? The story is... not much better. It's melodramatic and cliché, and full of one-dimensional characters most of whom die horribly within minutes of you meeting them anyway. All of this will be introduced to you in boring narration and cutscenes that are entirely too God damned long. (It shouldn't shock anyone who is familiar with that series to know that this game was made by the same people who made Metal Gear Solid.)

And no, I know that story was never one of this series' strong points, but at least characters were cool in the other games in this series. Don't get me wrong here; as I mentioned in my review of Loonatics Unleashed I don't mind an alternate continuity story changing things as long as they do it in a way that's cool. So if they really wanted to re-imagine the hero of Castlevania 64 as a villain that's fine, but making him completely generic and one-dimensional is... less so.

It doesn't stop there. The game takes Brauner, the tragic villain from Portrait of Ruin, and makes him a generic, personality-free bat monster. Fan favorite villain Death is back as... a HUMAN SORCERER of all things. Dracula appears only in the end credits sequence (because this game is already trying its hardest to be a movie, complete with shaky-cam even, so it might as well have an end credits sequence too, right?) where it turns out (spoiler alert in case you've been hiding under a rock) the main character, Gabriel Belmont, was a pre-vampire Dracula all along!

Except, wait, why? The game ends with Gabriel saving the world, defeating his demons (literally), gaining forgiveness for his many sins, and most notably NOT becoming a vampire. This game has done absolutely nothing to earn this plot twist, and don't you dare bring up the two DLC chapters when you're defending this shit because this end credits sequence came BEFORE them.

KR Rating: [3] MEDIOCRE

To be fair, the game does get a bit better the further you get, at least insofar as learning more powerful combination attacks making combat a bit quicker. Unfortunately, it never gets to a point where it can be called good, and even more unfortunately, it doesn't matter.

I've tried to avoid comparing this game to its predecessors, but it really can't be helped. I won't sugar-coat it: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is an unwelcome attempt at "re-inventing" a series that was, to be totally honest, just fine the way it was. The result is a mess of unoriginal ideas that throws away everything that made the series unique while adding little to nothing of value.

Gone are the imaginative enemies, replaced with generic bat-like vampires and snarling werewolves, several varieties of giant animals, trolls and goblins... yawn. The game does take a few brief stabs at giving us something interesting like burrowing zombies that throw their heads at you, or the giant titans which were clearly stolen from Shadow of the Collosus. Sadly these are too few and far between and only ever appear once each anyway.

Gone is the iconic gothic music, replaced with generic "moody" tracks that you probably won't even notice. There's exactly one moment where the game teases you with the old style music, in a level with a music box, and then never does it again.

Gone is the quick and fun combat, replaced with endless, boring button mashing.

Still, I do still intend on playing and reviewing the next games in the series. So look for part two, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD next week.

Annotation From A Week Later:

As I mentioned in my review for the sequel, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD, one thing I regret not bringing up in this review was that this game was not developed as a Castlevania game. I decided to mention it here both because it should be brought up, and to make a point about it.

The game was first conceived as a new 3D Castlevania game, but Konami didn't want it to compete with Castlevania Judgment so they quickly re-worked it as an original IP, titled simply Lords of Shadow. The only real carryover between this game and Castlevania was the whip-like weapon the main character uses, and the fact that it involves fighting monsters.

However, somewhere near the end Konami decided that the game wouldn't sell without a big name attached to it (probably because it's an awful game that's mediocre at best and shitty at worst) and so gave it a half-ass facelift. They gave some of the characters Castlevania names, threw a few Continuity Nods into the narration (like referring briefly to the Combat Cross as "Vampire Killer," the whip from Castlevania), and tacked on the aforementioned out-of-left-field end credits scene, and called it a day.

This information certainly explains a lot of the bad things with this game, but it doesn't excuse them. If anything, it kind of makes me want to take another point OFF of the game's review score, but I won't.

What I will say instead is that, if the game had been developed with the intention of being a Castlevania game from the very beginning, it might have been much better. I'm not just saying that as an underhanded way of saying "they should have given us another regular series game" either. No, I'm totally fine with them creating an entirely new alternate timeline for this game.

The biggest problem that Lords of Shadow had, I think, is that they just didn't have any ideas. As I said above, enemies are bland and characters are one-dimensional. If they had developed this game with the intention of making a Castlevania game, they would have had all the ideas they needed already waiting for them to draw from.

For example, let's look at two of the worst characters in the entire game: Brauner and Olrox. They're two brothers who became vampires and are lieutenants in the service of the vampire queen, Carmilla. You know what? I'm actually totally fine with that. What I'm not fine with is how generic they are. Their personalities can be summed up as "rar, I'm going to kill everyone because I'm evil" and their designs are just generic bat people with swords.

But those names carry with them a wealth of inspiration. In Portrait of Ruin, Brauner was a tortured artist who developed a magic that brings paintings to life. In Symphony of the Night, Olrox was a sophisticated former master of the castle who had powers similar to Dracula's.

Why not go with that? Give these two some uniqueness. You could still have them be brothers. You could still have them be servants of Carmilla. But they would at least have been INTERESTING servants of Carmilla.

But of course, the problem is that they just didn't have that inspiration. They didn't develop these characters as Brauner and Olrox. They developed them as Generic Vampire Lieutenant 1 and Generic Vampire Lieutenant 2, and then pasted the names on later.

If there's one thing worse than a terrible game, it's a terrible game that honestly had real potential that was just totally squandered. And if there's one thing worse than that it's a terrible game that has no ideas whatsoever, which never should have been made, and which had the name of a great game slapped onto it so that the creators could make a buck.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Movie Review: Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore

Iron Man: Rise of the Technovore is an Iron Man quasi-anime movie, made in Italy by a Japanese man for American audiences, and I hope that's not too confusing because that is the least nonsensical part about this movie.

Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, has just completed work on The Howard, an awfully named high-tech satellite that allows Stark Industries to link into and control any computer system in the entire world, from personal desktop computers to top secret military satellites, which for some reason is heralded as a great step in the advancement of modern society, as opposed to Tony Stark basically crowning himself King of the Earth. If that sounds stupid well strap in, because the crazy train is just getting started.

The launching of (ugh) "The Howard" is nearly stopped by Technovore, aka Ezekiel Stane, who is played here by Cliche Anime Villain #42, a moderately attractive teenage boy who wants to destroy the Earth for no adequately explained reason, and who spends a significant portion of the film's runtime half naked.

You'll be on the edge of your seat as Zeke Stane proves himself to be an extremely effective and frightening adversary for the first 30 minutes of the movie when he slaughters 300 people by himself, kills Colonel James Rhodes aka War Machine, and nearly kills Iron Man too. Then you'll be facepalming repeatedly for the rest of the movie as he proceeds to become one of the most incompetent supervillains in history.

It all starts going downhill as soon as we discover that Ezekiel didn't build the Technovore nanites himself or even find them in some alien crash site or something, he just bought them at an auction. Everything spirals out of control from there. Tony Stark tracks the kid down in about thirty minutes, and the only reason it even took that long is because of a ridiculous subplot about global peacekeeping agency S.H.I.E.L.D. deciding Tony tried to blow up the Howard himself and trying to kill him. Then Tony finally confronts Ezekiel and manages to defeat him with relative ease even though it's made clear that Technovore can disable and destroy the Iron Man armor with a single thought, because right when Ezekiel is about to kill Tony he randomly loses control over Technovore and gets blasted. Oh yeah, and this happens THREE GOD DAMN TIMES over the course of the movie. Seriously, the only reason Tony Stark even wins in the end is basically because Zeke sucks at his job. This is why most supervillains wait until they're at least old enough to drive before they decide to take over the world.

Oh, yeah, and the Punisher appears for what's basically a glorified cameo despite getting top billing for the movie, even appearing before Iron Man in the credits.

KR Rating: [2] BAD

I'm not lying when I say this movie is one of the most nonsensical things I've ever seen, and this is coming from a guy who once read the Time Cube website from beginning to end. This movie will leave you with nothing but questions. Questions like:

Why does Nick Fury decide that Tony Stark was the terrorist who tried to sabotage The Howard? He knows Tony way better than this. I mean, sure Tony's an asshole, but does Fury really believe that he would destroy his own greatest achievement and murder his best friend for no God damn reason? Sure, he says that he just wants to keep Tony in custody because he's their only witness, but then he publicly declares Tony Stark to be a terrorist and even goes so far as to order lethal force against him. Why?

Why does Ezekiel keep randomly losing control over Technovore whenever he's about to kill Tony? I thought that maybe Technovore didn't want Zeke to control it and wanted to destroy the Earth on its own, and Ezekiel even accuses it of betraying him at one point, but then he says he's still in control of it, and it even sits and reads to him in its human form when he's in his coma at the end of the movie. What the Hell?

Speaking of the villain, what the Hell is even his motivation? He says that he hates humanity for letting technology control them, but then he says that he hates Tony Stark because he's a "relic" and the Iron Man armor isn't technologically advanced enough. So... does he believe that technology is good or bad? And if he believes that technology is bad and that he needs to destroy it so that humanity can start over, which he claims he wants to do at one point, then why does he later say that his goal is to end all life on Earth? That doesn't seem like it would help at all!

For that matter, why does Tony Stark tell Ezekiel that there's "still time to turn his life around" after Ezekiel has already killed hundreds of people including Tony's own best friend? Are we supposed to buy that Zeke deserves a second chance just because he's a kid and his dad was mean to him? And why does Technovore bring Rhodes back to life at the end of the movie AND rebuild his War Machine armor? Why does Nick Fury suddenly believe that Tony Stark is a good guy after all as soon as they apprehend Ezekiel Stane? Why was Pepper Potts saying the word "vacation" the super secret password to let Tony Stark regain control of The Howard from Technovore, why did Tony randomly forget about it until the last moment, and why did he have to trick her into saying it instead of just asking her to do it? Why did Tony have to let himself be devoured by Technovore to blast it with that proton cannon satellite? Couldn't he have just had it lock on and attack Technovore directly? And how the Hell did he survive getting shot with a blast big enough to take out a creature that had grown to the size of an entire city? Hell, how did the city of Shanghai survive for that matter?

I'll be honest. The movie wasn't terrible. There were a lot of cool action scenes and it never left me feeling bored, but it was just so stupid. Seriously, this movie was even dumber than Ballistic, and that's saying something.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes (Asylum Version)

No, we're not talking about the Robert Downey Jr. movie. We're going to be talking about the OTHER 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie.

Oh yeah, and it's made by The Asylum, who also made Sharknado, Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus, and Titanic 2. Yeah, this is going to hurt.

So let's say you're a lazy asshole wannabe movie producer who wants to get rich with only a modicum of effort. What do you do? Obviously, you buy one of the countless shitty scripts nobody wants that are floating around Hollywood, have someone go over it and insert elements from a major blockbuster, blow through filming as fast and cheaply as you can, then release your movie under a name just dissimilar enough to the one you're ripping off to avoid litigation and hope to trick confused idiots into watching it.

And no, I'm not calling myself an idiot. I knew exactly what I was getting into when I watched this. So no, not stupid just way too curious for my own good.)

Our movie opens in the year 1940, early on in the Nazis' bombing of England. An aging Watson, on his death bed (well, death chair), tells the random woman with him that this is the second time London has burned. The first, of course, was the Great Fire of London which destroyed much of the city in 1666. Ha! No, I'm just kidding because that would actually be factually accurate.

No, according to Watson the real first time London burned was in 1882, during the most amazing adventure of Sherlock Holmes' career. Watson left the story out of his journals, but now that Holmes is dead and Watson is soon to die as well he can finally tell the story of how a gigantic robot dragon attacked the city and burned it to ashes. Wait, what? How does no one remember this happening? 1882 was only 58 years ago, most of the people who saw it would still be alive! Seriously, how does no one remember this?!

Anyway, what follows is one of the stupidest stories you'll ever hear as Sherlock blunders his way through mysteries so simple they are literally elementary school level, acts like a total asshole to all of his friends, and screams like a baby when given basic first aid, until finally the villain gets bored enough of Holmes' incompetence that he gives up letting the detective figure it out and just reveals himself. Spoiler warning: it's Sherlock's brother. No, not Mycroft. I mean his other brother, Thorpe Holmes. (Don't bother looking him up, he's not in any of the books. You'll find that's something of a theme in this movie.)

Long story short, Thorpe is angry at having been accidentally shot in the back by his former friend, Inspector Lestrade. (Wait, a character who's actually from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books? This must be some sort of mistake!) Thorpe decides to get revenge against Lestrade in the only logical way: by kidnapping a scientist and forcing that scientist to build an animatronic T-Rex, which will use its working arms and ability to blend in to human society to move unseen through the city (seriously, the thing is like a damn ninja) and steal mechanical components which Thorpe will then use to build a giant animatronic dragon to burn down London, and also an animatronic woman with a bomb inside her who will blow up Buckingham Palace. ...wait. That doesn't make any god damn sense, Thorpe!

Oh, and spoiler warning number 2: Sherlock wins.

KR Rating: [1] Horrible

It's been said before that a truly great mystery movie leaves you with just as many questions as answers. If that's the case then this must be the best mystery movie of all time, because it will leave you with nothing but questions. Questions like:

What was the point of randomly revealing halfway through the movie that Sherlock's real name is Robert Sherlock Holmes? (Also not in the books, don't bother looking.)

Why does the movie make a big deal out of how Sherlock shooting the villain at the end was "the only time he ever used a gun" when anyone who's actually read a Sherlock Holmes story could tell you that Sherlock Holmes used his revolver quite often?

Whatever happened to the tentacled sea monster that was destroying ships at the beginning of the movie? Did the filmmakers just forget about it or something?

For that matter, what happened to the animatronic T-Rex? It never gets destroyed, it just sort of disappears at the same time Thorpe shows up.

Seriously, how does nobody remember a giant black dragon attacking London?

Of course, the easy answer to all of these questions is that the narrator of the story is a senile 87-year old man and that the story is the product of his own delirium. The correct answer, however, is that this movie is stupid.

Bonus Information!

While doing research for this review I discovered two things. First, that I did more research then the filmmakers did, and second that in 2014 The Asylum is going to be making Sharknado 2. I can not frickin' wait.