Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sarcasti-tasting Vol. 1: Mystic Descendant Suffolk Dark Ale Batch 01

The first batch of Descendant was released on 10/21/2011. Let us take a bit of a look at how this was stored and consumed.
This is a cat. He is standing in snow. Snow is outside. There is sunlight outside. Sunlight is bad for beer. I did not keep the bottle here.
This is a cellar. Notice the lack of light in the cellar. That, in combination with a fairly constant temperature, is much better than the backyard when it comes to storing beer for prolonged periods.
The above pot was just used to make gravy. The residue would taint the beer. In addition, it is still hot from the cooking. The bottle text of Descendant is so gracious as to suggest a serving temperature of 50 degrees so I did not serve the beer in this vessel. Furthermore, it is in fact what we call a "dick move" to serve beer in a tainted vessel then post a review.
For beer consumption, I prefer to use what we call a glass. Notice that it contains this wonderful substance called water. It is very handy for cleansing both glassware and palates. This particular glass was used with an IPA earlier. Allowing this to mix with Descendant then writing about it anyhow would be bad. Instead, I opted to clean it out thoroughly Then to be sure that the aforementioned gravy didn't taint my taste-buds, I rinsed those using water.
This is a glass of mead. It was poured for someone else. I will not be discussing this beverage as it has nothing to do with Descendant and using review text to go off on tangents about something completely different makes the person a beer advo--- er dick hole.
Notice that the bottle of beer is now sitting next to the clean glass. I cannot yet discuss the beer as seeing the vessel is not the same as seeing, tasting, or smelling the beer itself.
This is a cork. It is attached to a corkscrew. I used this as I intended to review/discuss the beer and spending any portion of the text on how pretentious, stupid, or dangerous corks are is sort of like saying "I am not evolved enough to use anything but a bottle opener. You should listen to me!"
Now the beer has been put into the glass. The massive head is partially the result of what we beer geeks call a "shitty pour." In my case, this occurred because I got distracted by a 65 lb. puppy. What I should do is take another try at this image where the head is half as thick like every other glass. However, I am now cuddling said puppy on the sofa and do not have a camera handy. So fuck journalistic integrity. This is a beer review, not something that is really held to any objective standard.

Mystic Brewery says the following about Descendant:
"Mystic Descendant is a beer descended from the cultural history of the Boston harbor area.  A dry Irish stout meets an English porter and is then fermented in the fermentorium with our saison yeast with a touch of the ubiquitous ingredient from the area's past: molasses.  The result is a uniqe[sic] beer; it has more dark fruit than a porter and less roast than a traditional stout, while having a different ester profile than a Belgian stout.  We thus dubbed our recipe a Suffolk Dark Ale, as an homage to our immigrant ancestors." Source:

As an IPA, this is absolutely terrible. It is dry like a nice stout but has these fruity undertones with less roast and this nice underlying hint of molasses. There's also a hint of a yeasty undertone that plays nicely off the aforementioned flavors. However, everybody know that the good beers are IPAs out of Vermont. So maybe this gets better as it warms up and the molasses comes out more. But I got it at Julio's while waiting for the wife to get out of work and didn't drive 5+ hours so it can't possibly be good! 
All assholery aside, I've got to say that this beer is absolutely delightful. The fruitiness with the sweetness and the dryness is borderline sublime. These elements were always there during previous tastings but seem to really pop with a bit of age on it. It makes me want to watch The Great Muppet Caper and dance along with Kermit as he sings about "Steppin Out With A Star." So you know what? Screw writing this blog. I'm giving in to impulse. Nice job, dudes. I'll hit the tasting room with my Muppet sometime and perform a musical number for you.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Douche Check 2013: Tree House Brewing Co.

As some of you might recall, I wrote a lovely little missive about Tree House Brewing Co. back in July of last year. A bit over half a year later, demand has forced them to upgrade from a very shiny little set up to something much larger and much shinier. Bartenders at the world-class Armsby Abbey have been heard plugging them. Hell, the dudes are such rockstars parking for the party that is a regular Saturday at the brewery got the cops called in at one point. So as a private service, I decided to swing through a few hours before the first major storm since Nemo and check if Dean, Damien, Nate, that guy whose name I will never remember, Maxine's Mom, or Lauren started making it easy to be a cynical douche yet.

The barn was more crowded than the average Metal Thursday at Ralph's in Worcester. Dean announced that some confusing regulation came down from a governing body and there would be no samples as it might possibly be illegal. Fills were taking an hour+ to complete. I had to defuse a near fist fight over parking in the driveway with mockery. The non-MC types were clearly wearied by an intense brew day. Yet, people were happy as all hell to be there. It was as though the knowledge they were getting Tree House beer over rode all the usual pettiness and snide hipsterism that makes me pretty okay with not being active in the craft beer scene anymore. At least until they went outside and saw the parking situation. Then they'd come back in, notice the wood stove, have some presumably tasty salsa, and snuggle in contentedly. Even the guy who'd driven down from CT at the behest of his son seemingly because the kid couldn't wait in line himself was in good spirits.

Of course, none of that would matter if the change of equipment impacted the beers or the guys decided to pay for expansion by downgrading ingredient quality. I'd love to analyze in detail but  they weren't doing samples and That's What She Said is a Milk Stout which I avoid due to issues with lactic sugars and I forgot my 750ml to grab some Dirty Water (a. k. a. MY PRECIOUSSSSS even if Nate insists that isn't Gollum on the label art) for reference. So all I can go on is 64 fluid ounces of Julius.
My previous experience with this one was so fantastic I dropped an extra $6.00 and bought the official Tree House glass. Something I love to do with a good IPA is inhale deeply as I take my first swallow. It makes the hops pop to the forefront more. While there are glasses with space for my schnoz in the house, they (GASP) go through the dishwasher and are used for things other than beer! With Flower Power or Double Trouble, I'm fine spending ten minutes scrubbing then sanitizing with my mead making supplies. But Julius? This mother deserves a virgin vessel untouched by clingy detergents or food residue.
In my head, I've been hyping this beer as at least equal to the (admittedly few) Vermont IPAs I've met. Despite being unable to get a drop since July, I knew in my heart of hearts that this delightfully drinkable little juice bomb would easily be worth the two six packs of damned impressive IPAs I'd give up in its name. What makes it hardest to be a cynical douche about Tree House is the fact that I really didn't over hype this beer. It is fucking fantastic. Maybe it's the Folk Metal talking but I find myself thinking that the guy who tries to make me feel like a charlatan for not making pilgrimages to Burlington, VT once a month should be put to the sword. That first sip thing I mentioned where I inhale deeply? 1/4 of the way through my second glass I'm still doing it because drawing every possible iota of delight out of Julius should be mandatory.

How un-cynical was I made by all of this? Here's the label for my first mead. I spent two months fussing over this thing, hours researching, and dropped cash I didn't have on equipment. It's named Dean in honor of the M. C. of Tree House and even includes a pun based on his profession. If this seems a lame way to close, I had honestly hoped anyone reading this had half a lick of sense, stopped reading, and was on their way to Tree House by now. If not, this song is for you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Drink Until It's AWESOME Vol. 1: Masters of the Universe

The basic premise of this blog series is that some movies/TV series suck. So I am trying to apply the beer goggles theory to them until they seem good.
First up is the live-action He-man movie Masters of the Universe. To try and make this one tolerable,  I have chosen a 4 pack of Hoponious Union from Jack's Abby and a pint of Heady Topper from the Alchemist. The former is a masterfully hopped lager that manages to be hoppy as all get out yet smooth and drinkable. Latter... well picture drinking hops. Glorious, tasty hops. So juicy. Mmmmm.
Of course, I started with an almost impossible task. This was the movie that taught me the phrase "cynical cash grab." I was seven when it came out. Even then, it was very clear that a bunch of people with no grasp or respect for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe had sat down said "kids like He-man and Star Wars. Let's combine the two!" Problem was they learned nothing from either source and produced a seething mass of laser blasts and forcibly sodomized scenery.
I'm not saying the He-man cartoon was any good. The thing was a toy commercial. However, it was delightfully clumsy in pretty much every way. The live action version, however, replaced charming Filmation art direction with very tightly budgeted makeup, shiny objects, laser blasts, and EXPLOSIONS. It's entirely possible that the next Masters of the Universe movie will tell a well-written story in a coherent manner with a very stylish look to it. Many folks who grew up with the show built its wafer thin plot into this epic thing in their heads then grew up to become talented folks in their own right. This mess was an attempt to revive a dying product line made by a studio on its last legs by a first time director facing very tight budget constraints.
What amazes me the most in this film has to be Frank Langella as Skeletor. The man has given Earth-shaking performances on stage and screen for several decades. Yet here he is making Alan Oppenheimer's downright campy original performance look like a masterwork of subtlety and understatement. Langella is half a step away from Graham Crowden as Soldeed in Doctor Who at the absolute most. Maybe it's the makeup. They did something really weird. Skeletor got his name because he had the face of a skeleton atop the body of a twink. For this movie, he's Emperor Palpatine with white rubber skin and fangs borrowed from Langella's days in Gorey's version of Dracula. It's like Langella felt he was drowning underneath that confusing monstrosity of a face and needed to overact to be heard/seen through it at all.
Billy Barty managed to do alright as a low-budget substitute for Orko. His makeup restricted facial movement far more than Langella's but he gave the character as much depth as a quirky-cute character in this sort of movie could have. Lundgren had this amusing thing going on where he'd do the action-flick badass gravel voice 99.9% of the time then slip into a very thick Swedish accent for a couple syllables. Maybe it's the beer talking but I found myself kind of curious where the hell he was getting all that oil on his body from. It's interesting seeing how the principal from Back to the Future can manage to be the principal from Back to the Future with a gun and a badge. Then there are the mandatory "young Earthlings to whom our audience shall relate." Their performances are thoroughly unremarkable but it's amusing seeing Courtney Cox in her first big post-Springsteen role. Plus, I keep enjoying Robert Duncan McNeil projects and here he is all... young. The only thing remarkable about either performance is they manage to not be as annoying as the Earthlings in Transformers or The He-man She-ra Christmas Special. 
Good lord. I can't feel my face and this thing still strikes me as utter shit. It's magical shit that helped me form a bond with my brother. Let's look at Heady Topper. The folks at the Alchemist take great ingredients. They use a combination of passion and experience to turn them into that rare insanely hyped beer worth dragging my handicapped ass 5 hours to grab. This is basically the exact opposite of what happened when Masters of the Universe was made. The worst elements of two divergent properties the target audience liked were dropped in the lap of a guy who directs theme park rides who was then told "you will finish on time and on budget using Dolph Lundgren now GO!" I guess the rating system for this series of blogs should be number of livers I'd need to go through to make the movie in question look good. I realize that makes no sense but come the freak on I just compared Heady Topper and Masters of the Universe so it's clear I'm not thinking so well right now. I'd say this is a 2.5 liver movie.Still think it might be a better Star Wars movie than Phantom Menace but then again no Jar-Jar makes anything seem superior.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

All you need is The Lad Chapter 1: The Roadtrip Years

There's nothing to make one feel old quite like going to an all-ages show and getting into a discussion with someone who's younger than your fandom. That happens fairly often at Devin Townsend Project gigs. The single most frequent area of fascination has to be seeing Strapping Young Lad "back in the day." I use the term loosely as the idea that a show I hit 6.5 years ago is referred to in the same tones I used to talk about Bay Area Thrash at their age makes me want to drink a glass of warm milk, throw on Matlock, and write irate letters to editors of these things called newspapers. Usually, my response is a very vague "fucking awesome" because I'm a shit conversationalist without a beer in my hand and am afraid I'll need a bloody walker if  the words "don't drink in front of the children" cross my mind.

So in more detail, it was far beyond any other concert going experience I've ever had in my life. The first time out, I was just at the age where one would get a learner's permit out here. There was no way I could drive myself because the excitement was more distracting than even this texting thing whippersnappers apparently do behind the wheel these days. So my brother drove me. This was during a tour in '97 to promote City so things started off with what I affectionately called the dinner bell to mark the beginning of "Velvet Kevorkian." Goosebumps started creeping up my spine. That bit of a march beat kicked in and they spread to my neck and face. Dev finished his venue specific ranting and they transitioned into "All Hail the New Flesh." Thinking back on that 15.5 years later, I can barely type because the SYL rush is washing over my entire body and I'm compulsively throwing horns at a stage long since overhauled roughly 35 miles away. 

There was a snow emergency the night of their return to my region some six years later. My college shut down. My brothers told me they were considering confiscating my car keys for even considering driving half way across the state in that mess. The driveway had a good foot of dense, crunchy snow in it. I think they backed down because I made a call beforehand to check conditions. If either of them realized that translated to calling the venue to verify things were up and running on their end I'm guessing there would have been an intervention. 
My curiosity was burning bright. The City tour marked my first non-family sanctioned or chaperoned gig. Since then, I'd seen giants of the Metal scene tear down venues and drive crowds twenty or thirty times the size into a frenzy. Most of them made me go "meh" as they weren't up to the expectations set by The Lad. I had a tendency to be a pretentious d-bag back then. Was the scarcity of Strapping Young Lad on stages out here at the time even a minor part of why I was ready to bow down and swear eternal fealty? Then out they came to "Dire/Consequence" and I basically lost control until all shreds of doubt were utterly obliterated. 

So what made the gigs so special? Well, first off there were the songs themselves. My guess is anyone still reading knows that the weakest Strapping songs beat the living hell out of the best most competitors had to offer (and still do). The real key, however, was in the delivery. No matter how complex things got the dudes made it look fucking easy. I've been told a few times that "Oh My Fucking God" is pure studio wizardy and no part of it could possibly happen live without overdubs. It's rare for me to strike another person for stating an opinion but that particular one strikes me as utter blasphemy. I've been close enough to Jed while taking photos that there's been a need to dodge some rock moves. He didn't skip shit. When listening to the studio version, I can see Gene pounding away never missing a fucking beat despite having both eyes closed. He knew every millimeter of that kit and the chemistry between the band was such that I always had the impression everyone else did too. The boys clearly understood one another inside and out. There was a lot of love and trust on that stage and those of us in the "elite" cadre of people smart enough to observe multiple sets picked up on it.
That's not to say they ever slid into complacency. There was one show out in the Albany area during touring for Alien. The promoter screwed up, double booked the original venue, and communicated the change so poorly that I wasn't entirely sure the show was still happening much less where until maybe the day before the four-ish hour drive. To top off the unsurprisingly poor turnout, Byron looked about ready to fall asleep on his feet when I strolled over to say "hi" before the set. He also licked his chops at the mere mention of food as awesome as sandwiches crammed into a cooler for six hours. So clearly the friend I'd all but bullied into coming along because he missed every local show would be disappointed and there'd be communication faults out the whazoo, right? Wrong. The guy still talks about the show to this day and how utterly perfect it was. Since he's the type to spend 12 hours a day for a full week before the show reviewing every aspect of every version of every track to all but ensure disappointment and/or frustration, I'm considering his raves as glowing an endorsement as any.

I used to hate when people would say something smug-sounding like "pure fucking magic" in response to "how was seeing this band that I probably never will" type questions. Truth is sometimes that's how things truly were. In the course of my 13 or so times seeing The Lad there were hotel rooms, a replacement car, hours spent in brutally disgusting bathrooms due to sudden diet changes, and probably more money on gas than I earned in six months last year. Yet, I legitimately consider having been to each of those gigs a fucking privilege. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

. . . and Then Some Dreamcast Happened Vol 4: The Voyage Home

Ecco - Defender of the Future
This is the one Dreamcast game covered so far that I've never played. Always swam away from the opening tutorial and had me some nice mellow dolphin sim time. Using it to soothe the mind is so ingrained by this point  I'm not entirely sure I could go save the world from aliens. Very nice to look at and not creepy even after reading all about dolphin sex.

Fighting Vipers 2
I fired up this fighter hoping for a 3D version of Tapeworm for the 2600. Instead, it turned out to be some sort of fighter. So I used my usual level of skill at character selection and went with the dude wearing aviator goggles. He turned out to dress as a car and bellow "VROOM" at a guy who strapped his 10 speed to his back. Then I pressed the same two buttons a lot and won 5 rounds. The game made me miss Bloody Roar on the PS1 a bit and ultimately came nowhere near replacing it.

Fire Pro-Wrestling D
Everytime I play a wrestling game, part of me hopes for those old Technos arcade games like Wrestlefest. The controls were simpler, things didn't get bogged down by brutally forced attempts at storytelling, and the character models didn't have polygon cut out problems. So naturally when I finally find something one could consider a descendant, it has to be very heavy on the Japanese text. Thing is even without instructions, I managed to start some matches and get the controls down. As a bonus, the roster is pretty ridiculous. If the person was remotely famous  and active at that time, no matter the country, there's a good chance they'll be available. You can form that Austin/Goldberg tagteam you always wanted and have it beat the ever loving crap out of Kevin Nash. Good engine, very effective graphics, a wide array of options... my only real issue with the game stems from my own ignorance of the language and absolutely nothing on the part of the developer.

Super Floigan Bros. Episode I
I really wish they didn't use the words "super" and bros." in the title of this game. Creating the expectation of a Mario-clone never works out. That's especially true in a case like this where the game is actually fairly unique. It's got the look and humor of a classic MGM/WB animated short and is only a platformer sporadically. You're trying  to help a big lunk assemble a special present for your character and guiding him along the way by solving puzzles, playing mini-games, and all things considered rarely jumping around a lot. I wished there was a jump button when it came time to try and shimmy along some thin pipes to hit a switch using the joystick but that's very typical of me. What is pretty universally annoying about the game is its length. For a moderately skilled gamer, it should take a bit over an hour. Seeing as it came out near the end of  the system's life but was hyped in pre-release video, that is especially anti-climactic. Of course I am wondering if there were some big plans for it due to the whole "Episode 1" subtitle and the fact that one of  the save files on my VMU featured the word "monthly." If this had been an early instance of an online serialized title, it could really have worked. As is, it's a decent engaging little bit of Of Mice and Men/Tex Avery love that ultimately feels incomplete.

Frogger 2: Swampy's Revenge
This one surprised me. I remember it being leprosy on plastic. Seems that with some distance from the near constant release of totally pointless compilations, ill-conceived franchise revials, Frogger 2 isn't half bad. The "plot" amounts to a gator being pissed at serving as a log and stealing some kids to get even. It's not belabored and adds some item hunting to the gameplay mix. At the core, it's fairly similar to the original but with revolutionary enhancements made since then such as jumping. This will probably get added to my list of enjoyable once in awhile titles which is more than I can say for Centipede.

Gauntlet Legends
Do you like Gauntlet? If so, this is the same basic thing but with much less stylish graphics and some pretense of a plot. I'd much rather play on the NES and drive my dad insane by informing him that red warrior is in fact "it" repeatedly.

Gigawing+Gigawing 2
Vertical scrolling shooter. Fun at parties. Easy to control. Enjoyable to play. Not much  else to say really.  Besides oooh pretty KABOOOOM! x2.

That's it for this week. Next on deck there's maximum boobage, some more shooters, METAL, and cel-shading. 

. . . and Then Some Dreamcast Happened Vol 3: Search For Spock

This appears to be some sort of interactive erotic horror novel thing. An interesting curiosity but I'm not entirely sure I'd read it in book form, never mind when I need to press a button and select locations to keep things going. Nice to have one of these translated if only so I have some clue what in the hell geeks are talking about at our monthly gatherings.

Draconus Cult of the Wyrm
So there I am, a big burly knight chock full of fairly anachronistic tough guy cliches strolling through the woods when WHAM! George Takei fairy lord and friend to all guides me to the location of some ancient treasure. Some hacking and slashing took place. Found it a bit awkward as I seem  to in a polygon environment. Adjusted fairly quickly and was soon beating up pigs with aplomb. Not a badly made bit of medieval fantasy action-hack n slash type thing. Could do with some better lighting though. Often seems like every passageway in a remotely shadowed area is a secret.

Dragon Riders
Well, they worked with the author of the fantasy series. It shows. There's some good storytelling happening here. What isn't so grand, however, are the controls and camera. I almost put the controller through the screen during the tutorial because I would wander off screen, lose my character behind an object, or even wander along the rim of something then have a collision detection problem and warp a bit off course. It'd be great to get lost in this game and blow hours but I find my tolerance for the awkwardness is about 30 minutes at a time and even then that's solely because I really like the story.

Championship Pro-Surfer
I try really hard not to stereotype. Then a game about surfing tells me to catch some waves with Trevor and other smugly named blondes. Part of the reason I won't bill this as a videogame review blog is that would obligate me to learn enough about the genre to do a comparison. This one turned me off enough that I would prefer not to look into things enough to establish that this isn't a fluke and there actually is a genre it belongs to. Wiggle stick. Fall. Glide towards wave. Wiggle stick. Launch board at what appear to be mines. Fall asleep on sofa. Wake up to the name "Trevor." Curse the day the publisher's CEO was born. Brah.

ECW Hardcore Revolution and Anarchy Rulz
I'm all for not lumping games together, even if they're part of a franchise with inherent similarities. However, I can't help but think that would involve more effort than Acclaim games put into development on these games. Hardcore . . . came out and was basically a new set of polygonal blobs dropped into a WWF game. This pissed fans off so they made Anarchy Rulz more "true" by apparently adding a couple match types and marginally improving the character models. Part of me wonders if the WWF looked to these games and said "heeey these guys are right!  ECW is us! Let's just use the name and release more of the same shit!"

E. G. G. (Elemental Gimmick Gear)
This game struck me as a bit out of place back in the day. It was a Link to the Past styled adventure that looked like it began development back in the Sega Saturn days. My brother wrote it off due to that but I spent a week or so doing  nothing but playing it. Still have very fond  memories which a recent playtest brought flooding back. Just a really well done title all around. Find myself thinking of it every time there's a "new, primitive society coping with ruins of an ancient, more advanced one" plotline.

Evil Dead: Hail to the King
I really enjoyed the interactive cheesy zombie movie aspect of Resident Evil. So when I heard that my  favorite reaction/homage to cheese-tastic horror, Evil Dead, was being made into a similar style game, I did a happy little dance. OMG! SURVIVAL HORROR! OMG OMG OMG CONTINUATION OF THE STORY! OMG OMG OMG OMG NEW VOICEOVERS FROM BRUCE CAMPBELL! O. M. . . shit. In order to witness the last two, I need to actually play this turkey? I am absolutely fucked. Just spent five minutes hopping around spastic trying to attack the first deadite with a chainsaw. Why the hell do I keep jumping backwards? Is the stick really that oversensitive? Going to need a Codebreaker just to survive through to the second enemy. This blows. I hope that someday it's feasible to stream video over  the Internet so I can catch all the relevant bits without having to schlep through this inept excuse for a game. Ah memories. Now of course I'm older, wiser, and a much better gamer. It was actually somehow a worse experience. Worth playing if only to make one appreciate well... pretty much any other game really.

Fighting Force 2
 In demos showing how freaking awesome this game is to play, the computer gets beaten up because it takes too long to turn around and face an opponent. That honestly was a fairly accurate portrayal of the gameplay. Start swinging at an enemy. Have him sidestep. Get half your lifebar eaten before you manage to turn around. Repeat until death. That combined with the GRRR WE SO SERIOUS plotline/dialogue make this game an utter and complete chore to play. If you have a craving for  the genre, dig up Dynamite Cop. It was an arcade port made by Sega and knew how to have some serious fun with adapting the beat-em-up genre to 3D.

Oddly enough, the 4th entry will include a game  that features whales. There shall also be frogs, fighting, men in tight tights, and a sprite doing an impression of the dude who played Super Shredder in TMNT II: Secret of the Ooze.

. . . and Then Some Dreamcast Happened Vol. V: I would rather pretend the 5th movie never happened, thanks.

Godzilla Generations 2: Maximum Impact
I guess this is one of those on the rail shooters? Godzilla lumbers forward through a city very slowly. Things attack him. You try to stop them with your magical fire breath, get a whole bunch of confirmed targets, then shoot wherever anyhow. Then there's a boss battle against one his foes from a movie. It all looks quite nice. Plays a bit like the controller is encased in cement and you're trying to mash buttons with a chisel. Fairly vile gaming experience, all things considered.

Gunbird 2
Nice to see classic sprites represented in a scrolling shooter. Nothing too innovative here but it's got all the ease of play and fun the genre tends to represent. As a bonus, it features multiple display modes to allow for slight changes to your gameplay experience. And you can play as Alucard, gather a bunch of elements, and make for the North Pole like Santa Claus has challenged you to a duel or something.

Heavy Metal Geomatrix
Sometimes, I feel the ESRB M: for Mature Players rating isn't clear. This game absolutely deserved it for deplorable (if slightly green-blooded) violence and acts kids absolutely should not duplicate. However, one really cannot be "mature" and enjoy a game where men on steroids and women whose backs would shatter from boob weight if  they ever actually jumped run around and attack one another with huge, phallic weapons to Heavy Metal music. It's as over the top as one would want something bearing the franchise's name to be and just pure freaking fun. oh and i was able to choose a comically overbusted Aeryn Sun lookalike with a chainsaw as my character so I'll break my rules and rate this one A++++++++++++++ for the teenager within.

There are tons of scrolling shooters on the Dreamcast and this seems to be the best reviewed of them. It's stunning to look at, well balanced, and has some gameplay innovations to boot. First off, there's the dark/light polarity swap mechanic. Instead of collecting bombs, you change colors to absorb energy from enemy weapons and build up a meter. Then there are boss battles which they can walk away from if you're not skilled enough to destroy them. It all makes the game feel fresh a decade+ after initial release. That said, I shall now bash it to increase blog hits as this one is very much subject to the Cult of Treasure Games. LOLZ DIS GAYME HAZ LAYME GRAFIX WHERE DA 3D AT YO AN IT NO CALL OF DUTY HUR DUR DUR!

Jet Grind Radio
I remember being absolutely blown away by this game. Part of it was the then-novel usage of cel-shaded graphics. Then there was the well-selected soundtrack. Could do without the Rob Zombie remix but  that goes with gaming in this territory. A decade or so later what still resonates with me, however, is the gameplay experience. The camera can be annoying at times but otherwise it just doesn't get old.

Kao the Kangaroo
The best part of inheriting game libraries are the WTF titles like this one. You play as this rat in yellow, long underwear with apples on its hands and bounce over pits then convulse at some enemies. Oh wait... that's a kangaroo! The apples are boxing gloves! Those convulsions are rapid fire punching; or maybe some sort of statement about long term effects of circus-type abuses on animals. Honestly it plays like an inebriated Crash Bandicoot and I don't really care about any aspect of the thing after a few levels.

This one is significant largely because it was the last officially released Sega Dreamcast game. It may honestly be the weakest of the scrolling shooters on the system I've played so far. My skills at this style of game are severely rusty. Me beating one without dying suggests something is amiss. My weapons were too powerful and blocked too high a percentage of enemy fire for one thing. That combined with the fact that pretty much everything but backgrounds and the final boxx were monochromatic made for one dull game. Yes, I suck at Ikagura and all the others.  However, I'm okay with that as it just provides inventive to improve. With Karous, my only motivation is to use a wider array of the angel-type characters moves in order to avoid being overwhelmed by repetition.

Next week I'm going to drop entirely too much knowledge of Twilight plot points for someone my age, reach a new low in revival of classic franchises. finally mention a FPS, and post a rant so bad that content isn't mentioned even once (and yes... that is entirely fixable but then the blog becomes work and it can't do that unless it gets monetized which it probably won't barring a change in terms of service). 

. . . and then some Dreamcast Happened Vol 2: Wrath of Khan

This game helps explain why kids hate us old folks. Our nostalgia created a perceived market for games like this. The included classic mode is nice to have for when our 2600 fails. At least that one has the decency to STFU and leave plot development to the kiddies. The enhanced though... it starts off trying to make Centipede sound like Tremors. Then in come the human character designs and it's Seuss? Gameplay, it's basically the original from a top down perspective with a few powerups thrown in. Part of me wants to see if maybe hackers have released a version where all FMV is replaced with Two Girls One Cup because that would feel a bit less assault-ish than what they did to one of the classics of my youth while trying to trick a newer generation into feeling similarly. 

Chaos Field
Top-down shooter. Always sucked at it and never made it past the first boss, which tells you how long I last as it starts you on top of said boss. Oops. Looks nice though! 

Crazy Taxi
Sega rocked the arcades and this game shows you why. It's fun, easy to play, and stylish. I wore the damn thing out (well okay it was more leaving the thing lying around without a case for a few years) and still come back to it for a round once in awhile.

Cool Herders
A nice bonus of the Dreamcast is it's relatively easy to develop for so there's some decent homebrew software out there. In this one, some guy swipes the world's sheep to piss off Zeus and you go around collecting them. Might sound ridiculous on the surface but that's the same dude who commanded a couple of scrawny dudes to "wise fwom their gwaves," 'roid up, and turn into electrified twinky animals. Still, it's a nicely balanced game that doesn't require a master's in gaming to play. Totally worth grabbing if you can find it.

Daytona USA
You know how I said Sega was amazing in the arcades? The Daytona series absolutely proves my point. The only thing more dull than NASCAR in my eyes are the legions of driving games mimicking it. Maybe it's the "DAYTONAAAAAA IT'S ROLLING" song (sadly have yet to find that on here) echoing in my brain alongside the patterns of a hundred flickering screens but I really enjoy tossing this game in once in awhile, playing a couple laps, then forgetting it exists until next year. 

Demolition Racer
This game may technically be crap. However, I like it when they reward my inability to drive like a sane person in games. I mean you can cross the line 7th and still win due to that massive accident caused when you leaned over to pet a pug instead of keeping two hands on the controller. Not amazing from a technical standpoint but fun to play which is what really matters in the end. 

Dino Crisis
Part of me wonders if the creators of Resident Evil heard Weird Al's parody of "Macarthur Park" and said "hmm you know Jurassic Park IS scary in the dark" and called it a concept for a new survival horror series. Burnt myself out on the whole genre by the end of Nemesis and still haven't made it back in but hey... PRETTY 128 BIT DINOS YAY!

Next week will bring some epic fails, low-fi console pr0n, an argument for refusing to cover sports games, and one for giving at least action-RPGs on the console a try. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

. . . and then some Dreamcast Happened Volume 1: The Motion Picture

I loved the Dreamcast. It had some great games, the controller felt nice in my hands, and the thing didn't die easily. Fortunately for me, I'm somewhat alone in that sentiment among most of my friends and have inherited a console, 2 controllers, 2 VMUs, and 2 software libraries. So a couple controller extensions later and I'm good to comb through and write about what survived. Note that many of these are first impressions and not actual reviews where I feel some obligation to sit down and get past an awful interface or unappealing presentation. Nor am I going out of my way to explore every nook and cranny of the system's software library. Based on my (admittedly rudimentary) Dreamcast knowledge, it looks like sports, RPG, and FPS coverage will be almost non-existent. Plus the broadband adapter was sold off by the system's original owner and I'm not terribly keen on putting my laptop next to the box that makes the neat-o noises that OMG OMG OMG NEED POUNCING! for purposes of modem simulation.

My goal to post these once a week sometime Friday or Saturday. We'll see how that goes as past attempts with The Doctor watching would go 2-3 weeks sans updates. It's just tough for me to invest that much effort in something whose audience largely consists of people brought in by Google hits on the semi-relevant tags. The hope is I've been discussing Dreamcast with a friend or two of late and they will look thus giving me a kick in the pants. However, the appeal of purely text-based blogs is minimal and I'm not keen on cameraphone derived screenshots to liven things up or the ever popular "borrowing" of someone else's pro-shots.

Well, that's all for the rambling. I should technically have said that concisely enough to have a standard header/disclaimer week to week. However, I decided not to proofread or edit these entries at all to prevent myself from getting caught in a revision trap. So I may as well not make things even messier

Aerowings 2
I get that it's easier to pull optical media out of its original case then swap them to a book or spindle or pretty much anything else that will fit conveniently near your viewing area. However, if I weren't insanely lazy, pictures of the first Aerowing would illustrate why one really shouldn't do that. The disc got warped, came out of its sleeve a bit, received more scratches than Freddy's victims, and apparently took the brunt of an attempt to stomp out rage over Sega exiting the market. Fortunately for me, Aerowings is a flight sim franchise. I suck so bad at that sort of thing I waited for GTA: San Andreas to hit PC so I could easily download saves and bypass any and all flight missions. This one wasn't terrible and at least featured a detailed tutorial. Instruction and controls were so good it took me three minutes to fly my fighter jet into the ocean and fail my training mission. Can't even comment if the game is good for its genre as I never play such things. Still, gave me 5 minutes of fun.

Army Men 2: Sarge's Heroes
Toy Story made profound statements about the human experience through toys. Army Men made a statement about how people would let deplorable violence pass if it was presented in an adorable manner. Sure, everyone's plastic but they honestly look a whole hell of a lot like human character models from that period of gaming sans a few textures. This isn't a bad little 3rd person shooter. It's got humor, decent level design, a manageable control scheme, and some nice voice acting. Even if I could find the case, I'd hold onto the game.

On paper, a directional shooter featuring mechas would repulse me. In practice, this is very much a Treasure game and subsequently a blast to play. I may suck at it but it's so great getting oranges from buildings I just destroyed with my giant robot that frustration is eaten whole! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee.

Bomberman Online
This franchise may hold a personal record. Can't think of any other where I've managed to suck so bad on so many different platforms. It plays like Bomberman but has online access. The local equivalent is solid and enjoyable. However, someone needs to send me a broadband adapter so  I can comment on the online aspect.

Border Down
Neat take on the side scrolling shooter. If you choose the green path (or "border"), you get the longest track through a level but the A. I. is more manageable. Should you fail at that, then you move on to yellow which is shorter and harder. Then comes red which is chock full of enemies and explosions and insanity and BOOM to stress the fact you're almost out of the game. Nicely made game with lots of thought behind it.

Bust A Move 4
You shoot bubbles at bubbles of a similar color until there are none of the latter left! Things disappear! The dinosaur dudes from Bubble Bobble get happy! This series is somewhat hard to screw up, Difference between this and some of the other versions I've got is it includes a puzzle edit mode. Not too shabby.

Cannon Spike
Not entirely sure how I missed this one. It's a directional shooter featuring a cast chock full of Capcom icons. Saying much about this beyond words like "fun," "over-the-top," and "WHEEEEEEEEE" seems a bit silly. Not a very deep game. Fantastic for multiplayer. Easily picked up/put back down for single.

next week I will discuss the plague of poorly coded nostalgia, a bit of homebrew action, how much I suck at driving games, and then probably what I'll be covering the week after that.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

...and then some Geekery Happened 2013: Wrath of Khan

Nights into Dreams (HD remake) Windows
This game helped make me a pariah in high school. The N64 was soooo much cooler and had better graphics because it was SIXTY FOUR BITS according to the one other kid lame enough to try holding conversations about videogames. On days when I didn't mind being laughed at for supporting a huge flop like the Saturn, I would attempt to counter with the fact that Nights. . . had better art direction and more unique gameplay than even the mighty Mario64. Problem was I didn't understand the game at all. For a good 6 years before my brother took the console and moved out, I would just glide around aimlessly then get to Puffy, have polygons shit out all over the place, and run out of time. BUT GOD DAMN IT! SHIT WAS FREAKING AWESOME!
Now a good decade later, I got my hands on the port and confirmed that I was, in many ways, an idiot as a teenager. The gameplay of this one is astoundingly simple: collect blue balls to earn back the orbs taken from you at the start of each level and try to earn the best score possible so you can access the final world. I was spot on about the art direction though. Even in Saturn mode, the bitch is gorgeous. Part of me thinks that my gawking at things had a lot to do with previous failures. Even in non-HD Saturn-faithful mode, this bitch is gorgeous. When other games went to dreamland, you could totally tell because there were clouds and stuff. Here, there's some thought put into things and I for one would love to be flying through that dreamscape with the purple Jester-y type dude. Focus less on the plot and more on just enjoying the ride and this game is fantastic.
My only real issue with the remake is the presentation of Christmas Nights. I waited 15+ years to play the thing. So not being able to play as Sonic really cheesed me off. Even if  I did find a way to do that, I'm not entirely sure it's possible to swap over to the Saturn style graphics. I come from the videogame mascot era, back before the success of the PS1 despite the lameness of Crash Bandicoot proved a console could thrive without one. I used to play Sonic Jam and drool over the possibilities of X-treme and think maybe I wept openly when Sonic Adventure II made clear what was to come. So I wanted to run around as Sonic then bop that boss recolored to simulate Robotnik. This was true of the PS2 remake as well so I'm not shocked but still. Why not make dropping obscene coin on what's basically a one level demo even dumber and include the full experience?
All in all, a nice port of a great title. The HD version smooth things out and retains the charm of the original nicely. Plus, the main game features a Saturn mode that's pretty close to  the original. It seems a bit less prone to polygon drop out than my original.  However, that would  prove very handy against Puffy as she wasn't really playable on my console (which is apparently a freak thing). Buy it on Steam or I'll uhhh shit. I don't have readers to threaten much less a threat to hold over them. Maybe I'll not pet the cat next to me and tell her it was your fault? Shit. I'm going to bed and hoping for a dream half as awesome as this game.

Klonoa Wii
Of all the $15.00 games at my local Gamestop, this one is probably my favorite. It's apparently a jump-for-jump remake of a PS1 game I missed. It might be a good thing we didn't meet back then as I got obsessed easily and now have a previously unknown franchise to explore at some point. The game falls into that awkward sounding "2.5 D" platformer category. Graphics are polygonal. You run along a fairly fixed path and don't really go exploring. As a twist, you can take aim at some things in the fore/background. That combined with the need to run around and re-explore territory sporadically helps add a bit of light puzzling to  things. Controls are intuitive and of the directional + 2 buttons variety. Another thing that differentiates this from Sonic or Mario clones is that you grab enemies to use them  as projectiles to progress or a means of defense instead  of just jumping on shit a lot.
My only complaint with it was the fact they redesigned the character from his PS1 days to look more like a Sonic Adventure reject that anything else. It's mostly in the eyes. The voice sounds similar as well. I just wish they'd thought things through and maintained distance from the blue dude. Klonoa doesn't need more things to resemble Sonic. The plot is fairly wafer thin, a skill I wish Sonic Team learned after S. A. instead of flooding the market with crap games. Go buy this. Now.

The Combatribes Arcade via MAME
Side scrolling beat em ups started to get repetitive after awhile. Don't get me wrong I still love playing through Streets of Rage II in a quest to try and use Max's kneedrop move on every boss. However, the same dudes keep running at you with the same attack patterns in levels where variety comes from going left instead of right, travelling up an elevator, or having maybe three possible endings caused by really basic choices. Combatribes is one of the weirder variations on that theme. There are some very tiny areas populated by a single gang. Your purely Technos designed character pounds the crap out of them with some downright brutal moves, gets charged at by a themed boss, and brutalizes them. I've always stuck to the arcade version because grafting a coherent plot onto this blatant quarter muncher seems stupid. It's all about style, brutality, and having fun. Who cares if the story amounts to "there were bad people. Good people who you could tell apart from the bad people because they responded to your joystick beat the crap out of them. There were no more bad people." Just grab a friend, pump in some quarters, and enjoy.

Muramasa: The Demon Blade Wii
I seem to keep on playing variants on the old side-scrolling-beat-em-up formula. This one uses swords and has its fairly linear plot structure imposed upon a non-linear version of feudal Japan. There's a bit more strategy than some of the traditional, more straight forward hack n slash type games. You build up stats as you go through and forge new, better swords. Then you need to choose which ones come along, what items to carry, etc. based on what obstacles you see yourself needing to overcome. As a further bonus, the art direction in the game is utterly fantastic. During a few of the more over the top boss battles, I didn't mind getting my ass kicked because the enemy doing it was so pleasant to look at. It's a good thing that the boss battles are so lovely as the "run down this road from that creepy forest to that field to that garden then across the creepy mountain tops as some combo of six or seven types of enemies jump at you" formula starts to get severely repetitive after awhile. Still, there's just enough strategy to keep proceedings engaging. Plus I found when I was really starting to feel the sameness, the final boss battle started. If anything else irked me, it was the Wiimote control scheme. I couldn't stop accidentally jumping until swapping to the classic controller. Muramasa . . . looks lovely, drags a smidge, and has a good old-school beat-em-up feel to it. I dig the hell out of it but will probably lose interest once my Saturn is running Guardian Heroes again. Maybe a multiplayer option might help it win that battle, provided it went online so I could play with my brother? I kind of doubt it as GH is that much closer to perfection and comparing the two is a total dick move. Thank fuck I don't need to have journalistic standards!

retro-bit extension cable for Sega Dreamcast
Pre-reliable wireless controllers, I was a big fan of extension cables. Leaving consoles in the middle of the floor posed undue risk to hardware. As a bonus, going with 3rd party cables of questionable quality wasn't as risky as compromising on memory cards. That is unless of course you're dealing with a Dreamcast where said memory units are seated within the controller. These were about 1/2 the cost of a single legit one for a 2 pack and it showed fairly early on. My initial connection was so bad that my first party VMU tweeted a lot to protest connection loss. My supra defuxe 3rd party 4x  capacity card with serial port flat out died until I strategically thwacked it. After evaluating things a bit, I determined the issue had to do with a fidgety connection point. Basically, I'm used to my originals which would do click into place perfectly with no pressure on every attempt. With these, one needs to double check for security and be ready to have a dashing kitten sever the connection. Time will ultimately tell when it comes to build quality but for the price, I expected worse.

Performance Super Pad 8 for Sega Saturn
One thing I didn't like about the Saturn were the default controllers. They didn't sit comfortably in my hands and the XYZ buttons were too small for my ample digits. So figuring that Interact's Eclipse Pad was kind of awesome, I opted to grab their Performance brand "equivalent" for my sporadic-at-best second player. Slow-mo comes courtesy of a poorly positioned switch on the back which my fingers tend to rest on top of. The build quality is so flimsy I figure that will snap off after a week's worth of normal use and possibly take the housing with it. My favorite aspect, however, is the fact that one must enable auto-fire to use anything other than the D-pad or start button. I am in awe of how poorly made this thing is and highly recommend pointing at one and laughing.

Chu-Chu Rocket Sega Dreamcast
I remember this one coming out. OMG ONLINE MULTIPLAYER! ON A CONSOLE! HOLY SHIT! WOW! That would all be irrelevant if the game sucked. Luckily for me, it doesn't. The primary condition for my acquiring a Dreamcast with 4 VMUs, 2 controllers, and 80 games free was not bitching about the fact the broadband adapter was sold to recoup losses after Sega murdered the console. So since I'm not ambitious enough to track down a dialup ISP or simulate on via a PC/DC server my Chu-Chu Rocket experience is strictly offline. Gameplay consists of escorting space mice to their rocket ships by dropping some directional tabs and avoiding a variety of obstacles in the course of your duties. It's one of those things you need to play to understand its appeal/charm. Ideally one could do so via local multiplayer but attempts to draw the wife in have thus far failed. That's really a shame as it's one of those fairly intuitive addictive puzzlers that everybody should play every once in awhile.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Doing Things Other Than Watching Doctor Who Pt. 4: Old people, camp,

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
I love the cast of this film. Sadly, they put less effort into writing than they casting. It's the standard "there's life after 60!" pap with very few twists. Mind you, it's well acted pap done by a pretty awesome group of actors.

Female Trouble
I love this movie. Taffy! Divine! John Waters! Gah. So much fun! So disgusting! So great! Shit. I need to sleep so I can learn to use punctuation other than exclamation points.

Sir Apropos of Nothing Peter David
When I was 13 wizards, knights, and heroic figures were really cool. Then around 13, I got really burnt out on the black and white-ishness of so much fantasy. Sure heroes can help people learn to hope again but they honestly seem a bit stupid and vapid after the fourth or fifth bloated novel in which you know their virtue shall conquer the dark. Peter David deftly parodies all that by having a very flawed human being perform the standard great tasks for decidedly un-heroic reasons. End result is a more believable fantasy realm chock full of some great dark humor.

Melinda & Melinda
Woody Allen tells the same story twice from two different perspectives utilizing two fairly delightful casts. Don't find serious Will Ferrell as annoyingly over-earnest as Jim Carrey, but he's close. Of course, I also found Larry David similarly clunky in the only other Woody Allen film I ever saw so maybe that's a directorial decision? Assuming this is a Woody Allen film? Really only watched it because it was of interest to the wife. Not bad but far from something I'll go back to soon.

The Man Who Loved Children Christina Stead
Wow. Sam Politt may be the least likable character I've ever run across in fiction. The way he treated others, his views on everything, all were so repugnant I had to skip some of his dialogue to avoid punching the library's brittle copy of the book in the equivalent of its face. Calling it all a bleak portrayal of American family life at its worse is an understatement. When a character died, I felt  jealousy at escaping Sam and not sorrow for their survivors. Well written, fascinating text.

Paper Mario N64 via 1964 ultrafast for Windows
The missus got herself the recent sequel for her 3DS. As the battery on that thing won't allow for both of us to play, I decided to go back in time a bit and try the first game to bear the Paper moniker. It turned out my N64 goodies were split between the retro-gaming cabinet and random box storage hell upstairs so it seemed a good time to bust out the ROM and see how far emulation had progressed in five or so years. I went with 1964 Ultrafast because the idea of fast forwarding in what was essentially a turn based RPG was freaking sexy. Truth be told, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of performance. With default plugins on a laptop pushing six years, I only had one persistent graphical glitch and application crashing rendering complication. Otherwise, I seem to recall cracked walls appearing a bit more visibly cracked but bear in mind that was on a 52" TV. Any other bugs were the result of my idiocy. If I didn't fire up the interface for my PS3 controller ahead of time, the mapping got weird. Trying to ALT+TAB out of Fullscreen caused 1964 to sit atop everything else until I managed to force a system restart. Both understandable issues that shouldn't have happened.
As for the game itself, I'm glad Nintendo decided to go with a hybrid platform/RPG presentation. The jumping around compensated for the repetition of turn based combat nicely. Well, for awhile. By Crystal Palace, I had to remind myself it was basically castle 7 of 8 and quitting now would mean watching the ending on Youtube. Bear in mind that I have the attention span of a kitten and am about as strategic. My not quitting to go piss someone off by senselessly smashing buttons in a network-capable fighter is a testament to the charm of the game. Which of course, it has in spades. I honestly would've preferred things be a bit closer to flat out ludicrous like Super Paper Mario on the Wii but there were still some decent gags present. All in all, I don't see myself playing this one again very soon but will probably encourage others more patient than I to do so.

Die Hard Arcade Sega Saturn via SSF for Windows
Seeing N64 emulation run fairly smoothly on my old P. O. S. made me wonder if any progress had been made with the Sega Saturn. I still remember when Yabuse got the system ID to pop up at an extremely jerky frame-rate and select segments of the Internet began jumping around like monkeys before a monolith. There are some major limitations on resolution and very few features beyond gamepad support and RAM cart emulation but video and audio reproduction were quite nice and there were no stability concerns. It's not as slick as 1964 with its cheat integration and capability to retain controller mappings or documentation explaining how to make it run but it's also far from obscure and there are some very friendly/helpful users kicking around emulation forums.
I'm really glad SSF didn't require much work to get running as Die Hard Arcade is far from something I'd kill to play again. The game is fun. It does a better job adapting the old Streets of Rage/Final Fight formula to 3D than Fighting Force. The excellent foley work on crotchshots alone makes it imminently playable. However, the thing has all of five levels which fly along at a breakneck pace. When my skills are anywhere near refined, the thing takes me half an hour to play through with kitten cuddling breaks. Mind you, if there's another player around there's a pretty good chance of multiple playthroughs. It's fun on my own but seriously begs for a buddy to beat the crap out of blocky baddies with. Sadly I don't see that happening as, while the franchise is blatantly tagged on, this is a Kevin Smith household and we pretty much banned Bruce Willis out of solidarity.

As a note for future blogs, the last Who Watch entry was most likely my final one. My library system simply can't provide the remaining serials. So rather than doing something sensible like starting in on the reboot via Netflix so I can watch the first half of series 7 on DVR and join in on live Who blogging, I'm going to integrate Who entries with everything else. I mean the other option might get me an actual audience so once I am off unemployment and my seven reviews per week reduce to 1 or 2 per month then there'd be someone to feel disappointed.