Paul Kuliniewicz » Fanboyism After all, it could only cost you your life, and you got that for free. Mon, 28 Jan 2013 03:25:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Legend of Zelda Tue, 06 Sep 2011 00:40:53 +0000 I recently played through The Legend of Zelda, and to my surprise I found it to be a much better game than I remember it being from having played it many years ago. It certainly has its rough edges, and A Link to the Past improved on the gameplay in almost every way, but there’s still a lot to like about the original.

In no particular order, here’s a bunch of random things that struck me while playing.

There is a lot more freedom than in modern Zelda games. Right from the start, you can go pretty much wherever you want in Hyrule, including most of the dungeons. Want to go right to Ganon’s lair in Level 9? No problem! Granted, you won’t get past the Old Man in the second room without the Triforce, but you can still go inside. But if you know where Level 8 is, you can buy a Blue Candle, burn down the entrance, and see how far you can get. Heck, in the Second Quest, I cleared Level 8 before I found Level 7 at all.

Modern Zelda games have more of a tendency to keep you on a particular path, forcing you through a tutorial-ish segment at the start and blocking access to the next dungeon in the predetermined sequence until you complete its predecessor. You have some freedom to explore the world in between, but it always feels like you’re straying from the intended path, instead of freely exploring at your leisure. The otherwise fantastic Ocarina of Time took this to an extreme, with Navi frequently shouting her irritating “Hey! Listen!” if for whatever reason you hadn’t reached the next plot point yet.

Speaking of which….

Dungeons aren’t built around their treasure. In the original game, a lot of the treasures aren’t at all necessary to complete the game. In fact, a lot of players deliberately avoid getting the Book of Magic since it arguably weakens the Magical Rod‘s attack, which itself isn’t actually needed for anything. With the exception of a few critical items, if you fail to thoroughly explore each dungeon and miss something as a result, you’re free to keep on going anyway.

Contrast that with Ocarina of Time and later games, where each dungeon’s treasure is invariably necessary to reach the end, and is typically key for defeating the boss guarding whichever plot coupon you’re collecting. And once that’s done, the treasure will be needed to reach the next dungeon. Every time.

Puzzle solving is surprisingly lacking. The original game’s dungeons are much more fighting-oriented, with puzzles generally restricted to finding hidden passages between rooms and pushing the occasional block to reveal a staircase. This is definitely something that the later games improved on, striking a better balance between fighting and puzzle solving.

The real puzzle solving is in finding where some of the dungeons are in the first place. In the First Quest the entrances are out in the open up until Level 7, but in the Second Quest they start hiding them as soon as Level 2, with nary a clue as to where each one can be found. The Second Quest is actually a bit unreasonable about this, expecting you to find which tree Level 7 is hidden under armed only with a somewhat inaccurate clue and the Blue Candle (the superior, not-limited-to-one-use-per-screen Red Candle being hidden within Level 7 itself!). I’ll admit to resorting to look online to find out where Level 7 was, which was a good move, since it would’ve taken hours and hours of repetitive and time-consuming play to eventually come across it.

That said, however….

The Second Quest is pretty nifty, and adds a lot of replay value by upping the difficulty considerably. I thought the placement of the first few levels was well-done. Level 1 is in the same place in both locations, letting you get started in a superficially familiar environment. But where Level 2 would be in the First Quest, you find a fairyless pond. Of course you immediately suspect there’s a dungeon hidden below the water (and there is — Level 3), but you need the Whistle to reveal it, and the Whistle is hidden in Level 2. So where is Level 2? Where the hidden shop selling the game-critical Food was in the First Quest. A player familiar with the First Quest would have little trouble finding the first three dungeons in the Second Quest just based on his or her knowledge of where important locations where in the First Quest. But after that, however, the training wheels come off and the dungeons are hidden in much less obvious locations. Sometimes, excessively so. [glares at Level 7]

The dungeons themselves also have some nifty tricks to them. I was particularly amused by how Level 4 has a decoy treasure! The Book of Magic is fairly easy to find, but completely worthless since the Magical Rod isn’t found until a later dungeon. The real treasure, the Raft needed to reach Level 5, is only accessible through a series of rooms reachable from a hidden passage in the Triforce room! Pretty sneaky, but fair, since the Map of the dungeon makes it clear there’s a few rooms that are otherwise inaccessible, so you’re given a chance to realize something’s up.

Not many Zelda games reused the idea of a Second Quest, though. The only one I’m aware of is Ocarina of Time, which had a “Master Quest” version on Gamecube that significantly changed the dungeons. Granted, it’s more work to do that sort of thing in 3D than it is in 2D, but it’s still an idea worth revisiting.

The real villains are the Old Men. Think about it. Sure, Moblins will shoot arrows at you, but they’re just doing their job. They can’t help it that the Hyrule economy is in a slump and Ganon is the only person… er, pig thing… hiring. But when you catch them off-duty, chilling at home, they’ll immediately offer to pay you off to keep that little secret between the two of you.

But the Old Men are jerks through and through. Come into their home, and they’ll fine you for breaking down their door.

… OK, maybe that’s fair. Do you know how long it takes a tree to regrow after being burned down? But that’s no excuse for them giving you incomprehensible “clues”…


… or running illicit gambling operations …


… or making surprisingly stereotypically thuggish threats …


… is it no wonder that so many live in dungeons that are otherwise filled with monsters? Clearly, they are monsters too. If nothing else, they’re evolved from Cuccos — why else would they be impossible to kill yet relentlessly fight back if you attack?

Also, come to think of it….

If Zelda had the Silver Arrows, she could have defeated Ganon herself. The game’s intro text clearly states that she is the one who broke up the Triforce of Wisdom and hid its pieces in the eight dungeons, so somehow she managed to fight her way through all the same areas that Link does. So how did Ganon manage to capture her, if she’s just as tough as Link? Because she didn’t have the Silver Arrows, Ganon’s one weakness, which for some reason he keeps hidden in his own lair. If she had them, she could have used them, too — notice how in Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, she fires Light Arrows at Ganon while Link engages with his sword.

That’s a lot more impressive than Peach, certainly, who gets kidnapped by Bowser so frequently that she has to schedule board game nights and kart-racing tournaments around Bowser’s weekly invasions of the Mushroom Kingdom.

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Complaining about Metroid: Other M Sat, 11 Sep 2010 16:08:34 +0000 The core gameplay of Metroid: Other M isn’t bad, at least from what I’ve seen of it so far (just before entering Sector 2), but man, some of the design decisions are questionable.

The rationale given for why Samus doesn’t have all her equipment from the previous game is indefensible. Of course for gameplay reasons Samus can’t start off fully loaded with equipment, since that would gut the defining characteristic of the series: exploring the environment to find upgrades to enable further exploration. Except in Other M, she does have them, but decides not to use them until Adam “allows” her to.

This, by itself, could have been made to work. It’s not unreasonable to say Samus should avoid using devastating weapons like Super Missiles or Power Bombs when she and the GF troops on the so-called Bottle Ship haven’t assessed the degree of structural damage or whether there are any survivors nearby. It would have been far more interesting had these prohibitions been made voluntary for the player, with the consequences of using (or not using) certain weapons having an effect on how things play out. It’s just aggravating to see an upgrade lying there that could be accessed with a Super Missile, and knowing Samus has Super Missiles, but not being allowed to fire one.

But what makes this excuse for de-powering Samus inexcusable is how it applies to all of her equipment. She’s prohibited from using her Ice Beam until she’s already been fighting enemies in the requisite fire-and-lava level of Sector 3. But given how the GF marines have been using their own Ice Beam weapons from the very beginning, why wasn’t Samus allowed to use hers? Even worse, she’s not allowed to use her Varia Suit‘s heat shields until she’s already been running around in Sector 3 taking heat damage for several rooms, and Adam knows this.

WTF? What possible excuse could Adam have for prohibiting Samus from using a purely defensive and life-saving feature of her armor? And more importantly, why would Samus let herself be subjected to this level of dickishness? The first time Adam tried to make her step foot in a lava-filled chamber without the Varia Suit, she should’ve cut off all contact with him, quit cooperating with the GF marines, and struck out on her own. Anyone willing to needlessly put her in harm’s way like that is no one she should be taking orders from. Especially when she’s not under his command to begin with!

I’m not sure I’m looking forward to any forthcoming cutscenes that might try to justify this dysfunctional relationship. The cutscenes so far have ranged from mediocre to painful, especially with the drearily flat narration by Samus’s voice actress. For example, how many times can we make Samus say “baby” during the opening cutscene? Are we supposed to take that bizarre and overly-long thumbs-down cutscene seriously? Unless I see evidence otherwise, my interpretation is that Adam always resented Samus’s asinine youthful-rebellion nonsense while she was under his command, and is using his newfound control over Samus to exact revenge. Meanwhile Samus, who thought her displays of insubordination were somehow being respectful and endearing, is subjecting herself to Adam’s abuse because she’s desperately seeking approval from the person she subconsciously sees as a father figure. It’s a pretty drastic change from how Samus had been portrayed as a self-reliant unflappable warrior in pretty much every other game, and it’s no wonder why some reviews call the plot downright sexist.

Also, why are there vast lava-filled caverns on a space station anyway? Wouldn’t that kind of melt the station’s hull? The holographic emitters hiding the walls in the “outdoors” areas of Sector 1 made sense, but holographic lava wouldn’t be hot, and certainly wouldn’t have giant monsters swimming around in it. No doubt one of the other sectors will turn out to be the ice caverns. What space station doesn’t have those, right?

Adam’s dickishness also extends to locking doors at various times, keeping Samus largely limited to following a linear path through the station, cutting out a lot of the opportunity for free exploration of the environment. The Metroid Prime games didn’t fall into this trap: there’d be a hint of where you were supposed to go next, but the game wouldn’t actually prevent you from going wherever you wanted to explore or look for items. At some point Samus will no doubt be allowed to revisit the areas, if only because there’d have to be some way to collect all the items she’s had to pass up on account of not being allowed to use the ability needed to reach them.

There’s a pretty good game under here, but you have to suffer through the presentation to find it.

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A remake that is (not) terrible Tue, 13 Jul 2010 01:44:11 +0000 A little while ago I complained about the abominable remake of The Prisoner. As further evidence of how that review was not just a case of “they changed it, now it sucks“, I present you with this:

It’s time to play inappropriate music and chew bubblegum. And Unit-03 is all out of bubblegum.

Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance improves on the original.

You may recall that my assessment of the first Evangelion remake movie is that it stuck far too close to the first several episodes of the original series, to the point of often being nearly shot-by-shot identical save for the increased budget. A nice visual upgrade, sure, but compressing six episodes’ worth of material into a movie left the plot feeling rushed and the overall effort seeming rather unnecessary.

Evangelion 2.0 instead retells the other twenty episodes of the original series. It manages this by streamlining plot and character development and excising filler wherever possible. The core of the original’s storyline is still there, but it’s been extensively reworked, and mostly for the better.

Unit-00 wielding a missile against the Tenth Angel
For Unit-00, anything can be a melee weapon.

The clearest example of that is the fight scene with the Tenth Angel. Instead of just being an upgraded version of the corresponding scene in episode 19, it also incorporates quite a bit of the fight scene against the Sixteenth Angel in episode 23 of the series, particularly the so-called director’s cut version of that episode. (And the movie does it much better than the episode did; I always thought the shorter, non-director’s-cut version of that fight more effectively conveyed the emotional impact of <spoiler>Unit-00′s destruction and Rei’s death</spoiler>. But I digress.)

And while I’m whipping out the spoiler tags, I might as well add that the fight also has a big surprise for those familiar with the original series, who surely aren’t expecting the fight to include <spoiler>the beginning of Third Impact</spoiler>

The characters, particularly the three main pilots, have been toned down from the series. Shinji isn’t as mopey and angsty and manages to actually take decisive action a bit more. Rei is still mysterious but less aloof; we even see her try to get Shinji and his father together, which isn’t completely out of left field given that she’s <spoiler>a clone of Shinji’s dead mother</spoiler>. Given how Shinji and Rei have a closer relationship in the movie, it’ll be interesting to see what happens this time around when he eventually learns Rei’s backstory.

Asuka's doll... thing...
This is several kinds of wrong.

Judging from the Internet, toning down Asuka’s whole set of issues is a much more contentious topic, but if you ask me, the “resolution” we see of them in the movie is superficial and won’t last. (Or perhaps she doesn’t know certain details of her own past yet?) I mean, she carries around a doll or puppet of herself. Now if you haven’t seen the series before, that might merely seem a little odd, but believe me, once you learn where it came from, that’s seriously messed up.

No, my biggest complaint about how Asuka is treated in the movie is not her character development or (<sarcasm>horrors!</sarcasm>) her changed last name, but the repeated gratuitous fanservice shots of her. I’m willing to accept giving her her own version of Shinji’s toothpicks scene, but pretty much everything besides that is way too blatant and unnecessary. Sure, some of it was in the original series too, but not to the same degree, and even there it also served to torment Shinji. Here, it’s clearly just to titillate the viewer. (And no, hanging a lampshade on her test plug suit doesn’t make up for it.)

I just destroyed Unit-05; better make myself scarce for the next 45 minutes of screen time.

I can only assume that if new character Mari had gotten more screen time, she would’ve been subjected to similar treatment. (She certainly seemed to enjoy her redesigned plug suit….) It’s hinted that there’s more going on with her than we see, but then most of what we do see of her is her effectively filling in for Asuka after Asuka gets written out a little after the halfway mark.

And while I’m complaining about things, I might as well point out that the soundtrack dissonance used during Unit 03′s fight scene just doesn’t work for me. Using Komm, Süßer Tod during End of Evangelion worked, as does the scene with the Tenth Angel around the end of Evangelion 2.0, but this definitely does not. Maybe it’s just me, though.

But really, that’s about the extent of my complaints about this movie. This is what a remake should be: true to the spirit of the original, but not afraid to take liberties with the source material. Approachable to newcomers (assuming they’ve seen Evangelion 1.0, naturally), yet enough that’s new to keep those familiar with the original engaged. In all honestly, I have no idea what’s going to happen in the first few minutes of Evangelion 3.0, let alone the remainder of the remake. And most importantly, I’m looking forward to see what they come up with.

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The Prisoner remake: a load of number 2 Sun, 30 May 2010 23:00:38 +0000 Title for The Prisoner remake
When the title screen tells you to give up, you know you’re in trouble.

The short version: don’t waste your time watching last year’s remake of The Prisoner. Stick with the original.

Considered on its own merits, the remake isn’t terrible, but it never rises above mediocre either. There’s an over-reliance on camera trickery to create confusion on the part of the viewer, with lots of disjointed cuts between scenes that, at it worst, makes some episodes (particular the fifth one) simply difficult to follow. It can be hard to tell whether something is happening concurrently with another scene, or is a flashback, or a dream, or or an hallucination, or something else. Given that each of those happen with quite a bit of regularity, trying to disentangle the editing while making sense of the plot is a nontrivial task.

6 carries 93, wearing a dark shirt 6 seconds later, 6 is wearing a light shirt
Hey, no one noticed when John McClane’s shirt changed color, right?

It would have been nice if the editors had remembered to check for continuity between successive shots, though. Let’s get the basics before we start getting all fancy with the cuts, OK?

The remake does do a couple interesting things with the premise, and it certainly takes things in a very different direction than the original, but it does neither well enough to really stand on its own. And as a fan of the original, it’s impossible for me to evaluate the remake without constantly comparing it against the 1960s version. And there, it comes up far, far short of the mark.

Obviously, a remake is going to change some things. I understand that. Heck, the last time I wrote about a remake of something here, my major complaint was that it changed so little for most of the running time, except for the effects budget. But the The Prisoner remake makes the mistake of changing absolutely fundamental aspects of the original without providing a satisfying payoff for those changes.

The most grating is the issue of 6′s identity. In the original, Number 6 refuses to ever refer to himself as Number 6, the identity imposed upon him in The Village. He never calls himself by any number. He never wears the numbered identity badge that everyone else wears. There’s even an episode where Number 2 struggles to get him to even say the number six in any context.

Contrast the remake, where at the end of the second episode we see 6 screaming at 2 “I am 6, you bastard!” In the following episodes 6 shows no resistance to being identified as 6. The real Number 6 would die sooner than accepting that.

The Village
The remake’s Village is no Portmeirion.

The remake’s version of The Village and the people living there defies suspension of disbelief. The Village is surrounded by desert, and allegedly there is nowhere else. That’s right, the majority of people there accept The Village as being the entirety of human civilization, despite it obviously not having the industrial base needed to manufacture the cars and buses and everything else within it. This is taken to the extreme in the last episode, where we see people arriving by bus to The Village; not only can the new arrivals not explain where they arrived from, but no one besides 6 considers people arriving from allegedly nowhere as something worth questioning.

OK, maybe this isn’t entirely inexplicable, since it’s pretty obvious that the people in The Village live in abject fear of 2, and it would make sense that they would be terrified of voicing any opposition to what he tells them. Even though 2′s weapon of choice is sadistic psychological manipulation, he isn’t above orchestrating acts of terrorism to keep people in line, such as having a diner full of people blown up in the first episode in order to silence 554, where “silence” in this context means “put into a coma.” Although, given 2′s fondness of hand grenades, he may have simply done it himself.

2 holding a grenade
2′s the kind of guy who will throw a grenade at you and ask if you’ve had sex with your mother. I am not making this up.

In the original, most of the Number 2s didn’t sink to that level of obvious evil, and there was some ambiguity as to whether at least some of them were prisoners themselves who capitulated to The Village’s unseen masters. No, the remake’s 2 is pretty clearly evil. Nor is there any question in the remake as to 2 being in charge. This time around, when 6 asks “Who is number one?” — a recurring question in the original — the answer simply comes back that 2 is called 2 instead of 1 as a show of humility. Period.

I’m reluctant to call the remake The Prisoner In Name Only, but then there’s the issue of the episode titles. Each title is a one-word version of an episode of the original, but in only two of the six episodes is the plot even remotely related to the plot in the original. What’s the point, other than trying to slip in a shout-out?

It’s fitting how in the opening of the first episode we see 6 bury 93 in a shallow grave in the desert. 93 is wearing the same distinctive outfit that the original’s Number 6 wore. According to the commentary, the creators of the remake had even tried to get Patrick McGoohan to play the role of 93. I think that pretty much sums up symbolically what the remake does to the original.

Spoiler warning: If you don’t want me to spoil the endings of both the original and the remake, you better stop reading here.

The ending is downright depressing for fans of the original. Why?

2 wins.

Only in the last episode do we finally learn what 2′s goal even is, other than tormenting 6 and, to a lesser but still crucial extent, 313. 2 wants to escape, and to have 6 replace him. All of 2′s machinations throughout the series lead to 6 and 313′s decision to take over the roles of 2 and his wife, M2.

Curtis (2) and Helen (M2)
2 Curtis knows the secret to a happy and healthy Village is keeping your wife on a steady diet of potent drugs.

Unlike the original, which keeps the purpose of The Village and the goals of its unseen leadership vague, the remake ultimately explains everything. The Village is a shared subconscious construct that its inhabitants live in while still going about their lives in the real world. (Those “flashbacks” 6 has about what happened after he resigned? Those are actually happening concurrently.) Keeping The Village in existence somehow requires a “dreamer” to spend their time completely zoned out on sedatives and hallucinogens; that’s the role M2, the discoverer of The Village, plays. If she becomes lucid, The Village starts to literally fall apart.

According to 2, The Village’s purpose is therapeutic, allowing the people within it to go about their daily lives in the real world; the surveillance 6 had been doing in his job in the real world was being used to identify new troubled people to bring into The Village without their consent. In the real world, 2 shows 6 that 313, 6′s love interest, is hopelessly insane, and The Village is the only way for her to have a normal life. (Why 6 believes 2 at this point, especially regarding psychological treatment techniques, is beyond me. But then, 6 wasn’t there when 2 lobbed a grenade at The Village’s therapist.) 6 offers to go on the drugs to keep The Village from falling apart and dooming everyone there, and then 313 takes them instead to save 6 from spending the rest of his existence completely zoned out. 2 offs himself with a hand grenade, and 6 takes over; our last shot of him is sitting in the desert next to a zoned-out but crying 313 as he vows to do The Village right.

Meanwhile, 2 and M2 are just fine in the real world. It turns out dying in The Village has no ill effects on the real world, so 2 and M2 (who had been murdered by her “son” 11-12, who was himself purely a construct within The Village) suffer no ill effects. In fact, now that M2 is no longer taking the drugs that let her maintain The Village, she’s completely back to normal.

313 and 6-the-new-2
“It took me all this time to see how beautiful [The Village] is. [...] It has to be possible to do this the right way.”

That’s right. 2 escapes from the village, and 6 stays there voluntarily in order to improve it, instead of freeing everyone and destroying it once and for all. He as no qualms about keeping everyone in it there against their will, or even making any changes at the company managing the entire project.

Contrast that with the original’s ending, where Number 6 unmasks Number 1 and escapes The Village with Number 2 (who was himself a prisoner in The Village who failed to resist as long as Number 6 had done) in tow. Or at least, he escaped The Village as much as it’s possible to escape something that represents society, but he does preserve his independence and freedom. He is not a number, he is a free man. He most certainly does not pledge his love for The Village and work to continue it.

Patrick McGoohan must be rolling in his grave.

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Not so Humble Tue, 11 May 2010 00:18:22 +0000 Does the fact that Linux users are contributing almost twice as much for the Humble Indie Bundle as Windows users prove that we’re twice as generous as they are?

Yes. Yes it does.

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Still got it Sat, 01 May 2010 01:17:15 +0000 Remember how I was briefly pretty OK at Mega Man 10′s Special Stage 1?

Well, my time on clearing Special Stage 2 is holding up quite a bit better. Monday evening I managed to get the #6 spot on the leaderboard with a time of 2:27:83. The score was still there, albeit having dropped to around #27ish, Thursday evening. I then managed to slightly improve my time to 2:24:91, which is as of this evening at #22. That’s five days on the Special Stage 2 leaderboard.

I guess either the other players are having even more trouble with Special Stage 2 than I, or there simply aren’t as many people trying to get on the leaderboard this time around.

I don’t think I’m going to improve my time much more than 2:24:91, certainly not without figuring out a way to effectively use the Mirror Buster against Punk. It’s his weakness, but I have a really tough time trying to hit him with it. The only way to use it offensively is to reflect the enemy’s shots, and I haven’t figured out Punk’s pattern well enough to do it reliably. It takes me significantly longer to beat him with it than it does just using the Mega Buster on him, since at least with that I can hit him rapidly.

Also, it takes me about 1:40:00 to get to Punk’s room, which is about the same as the #1 score on the leaderboard to clear the stage entirely, so there’s clearly room for improvement elsewhere too. I have an idea what parts I need to speed up in (since they’re the ones where I’m not constantly moving forward), but it’s really hard to keep moving without getting hit and losing even more time from getting pushed back.

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#17 is the new #1 Fri, 09 Apr 2010 02:56:57 +0000 For a brief time in the late afternoon (Eastern time) on Monday, April 5, 2010, I had the world’s seventeenth fastest time on Mega Man 10‘s Special Stage 1.

What’s that, you say? “Pics or it didn’t happen“?

17  CAPTDERIV  2:54:86

By around 9 pm that evening, my score had dropped to #30, the very last place on the leaderboard. Since then it’s fallen off completely, and now the bottom spots are dominated by the sorts of times that were at the very top when I was #17. As of this writing, the current #1 spot is over a minute faster than my time. This blog post shall stand as the only persistent record of my accomplishment.

What was the secret to my fleeting success? Playing Special Stage 1 many times the day it came out, before the people who have way too much free time on their hands had a chance to fully learn the stage and claim the top spots. It’s easier to rank if everyone you’re competing against is just as new to the stage as you are.

If you want to follow my lead, Special Stages 2 and 3 get released on April 26.

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Mystery Fri, 19 Mar 2010 23:36:01 +0000 The pilot episode of A Bit of Fry and Laurie isn’t particularly remarkable, except for this virtuoso performance by Hugh Laurie:

Man, Hugh Laurie sure looked different in the late eighties, before he started popping Vicodin.

Anyway, once you get past the pilot episode, the bits of Fry and Laurie on display are significantly improved. If you forced me to pick out a favorite from Season 1, I’d have to go with anything with Control and Tony in it, or, if you prefer your sketch comedy with a valuable moral, Doctor Tobacco.

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Mega Man 10 Wed, 10 Mar 2010 03:40:24 +0000 Mega Man 9 was a great game. It took everything that made the early NES Mega Man games terrific and built on them, and avoided the traps that made the latter games me-too rehashes of the same basic gameplay. It played off of the player’s expectations of how a Mega Man game plays out, slipping in traps to trick and surprise anyone who grew up playing the original games. (And its increased difficulty modes in turn played off the player’s expectations from having played the game in normal mode, instead of just making enemies harder to destroy.) The weapons are nicely varied and often have dual uses, such as Tornado Blow hurting all enemies on the screen and boosting your jumps a bit thanks to the updraft. Mega Man 9 easily ranks in the same tier as Mega Man 2, one of the greatest games of all time, period.

Mega Man 10, on the other hand, is a good game. Not great, but good. It’s a pretty solid game, but definitely not as innovative as its predecessor.

The weapons are somewhat harder to use effectively. Several of them have a two-stage attack, and only the second stage deals significant damage. For example, the Commando Bomb‘s blast waves are more effective than hitting something with the bomb itself, and the Thunder Wool‘s lightning bolt is much stronger than the cloud that rises up from Mega Man’s arm cannon to fire it. It’s good to not have each weapon just be a differently-shaped projectile, but it can be tricky to aim for something near your target.

(Speaking of Sheep Man, I get the distinct impression from playing the game that he was originally supposed to be something like Thunder Man. They tried to make him look like a robotic cloud, but it wound up looking more like a robot sheep, so they ran with it. It would certainly explain why Sheep Man’s stage is electricity-centric rather than pastoral.)

The individual stages aren’t bad, though the gimmicks in them aren’t quite as fun to play through as they were in Mega Man 9. The disappearing blocks (heh heh) in Sheep Man’s stage are neat, but the see-saw thing in Blade Man‘s stage is more tedious than anything. Some stages have branching paths, which is then taken to a bit of an extreme in Wily Castle 1, where the branches themselves have branching paths.

I don’t think pointing out that Dr. Wily turns out to be the villain warrants a spoiler warning.

Wily Castle is the high point in the game. The bosses in particular are pretty great, riffing on past games and, in one case, a minor Internet meme? I really like the music for the Wily Castle bosses, and I think it goes particularly well with the first one. I also suspect that anyone familiar with Mega Man 2 will do the exact wrong thing out of instinct when they first encounter Wily Castle 3′s boss, like I did. That’s the subverting-player-expectations thing that Mega Man 9 did so well. And the final battle has a decent variant of the requisite fight against Wily Capsule.

By the way, Dr. Wily has tried to take over the world nine, or maybe ten, times already. Who keeps issuing him building permits for new Wily Castles? It’s not like he could build his latest Wily Castle in secret.

Why do I say nine or ten? Mega Man & Bass is a classic-series but unnumbered Mega Man game, so technically Mega Man 9 is the tenth in the series, and Mega Man 10 is the eleventh. Mega Man 9 supports this by referencing each of its nine predecessors in its ending. However, Mega Man 10 only calls out to the nine numbered classic-series games before it, completely ignoring Mega Man & Bass. And it’s not as though Inti Creates isn’t aware of Mega Man & Bass, since they developed both Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10. It’s odd.

The plot makes no sense, even by the low standards of Mega Man games. Ostensibly, Dr. Wily needs Mega Man and Proto Man’s help to recover the components of the Roboenza cure machine from the infected robot masters who stole it from his lab. And it is reasonable to think a mad scientist who spends all his time making killer robots would be interested in not having them infected by a virus. But it turns out that Dr. Wily was behind Roboenza all along! So… why wouldn’t he already have the cure stockpiled somewhere, or design Roboenza so infected robots didn’t steal his stuff? They were his robots, too, since they have DWN-series numbers. Any why would he give Roll a functioning cure capsule, if he wants to trade the cure for robots’ loyalty? Or why not just use his close access to Mega Man and Proto Man to infect them directly? Was Dr. Wily just hoping that Mega Man and Proto Man coming into close contact with the infected robot masters would cause them to catch Roboenza? It seems needlessly indirect, especially when he’s right there in Dr. Light‘s lab working on the cure machine.

Dr. Wily’s plan here makes the whole Mr. X thing in Mega Man 6 look downright genius by comparison.

Mega Man 10 does have an easy mode, which apparently has some people up in arms. Normally I’d say “if you don’t like it, don’t play it”, but you do need to play through it to unlock some of the challenges, without which you can’t get 100% completion on those. Easy mode also counts for the in-game challenges, which I’m not entirely sure I like. My second play-through was on easy mode to unlock some of the challenge stages, and without trying too hard I passed the challenges for beating the game under an hour, beating the game without dying, and beating the game without using any E-, W-, or M-tanks. (Granted, though, I did go through a few Shock Guards — even easy mode can surprise you with spike traps.) I’d like it better if the in-game challenges distinguished which difficulty level you beat them at, just like how some of the challenge stages distinguish between getting through the stage and getting through without taking damage. But beating the game without taking damage would be difficult even on easy mode. Doing it on hard mode… wow.

The challenge stages are a good way to practice fighting the game’s bosses without playing through the appropriate stage first, and they also give you a chance to practice with each special weapon and explore the full extent of its capabilities. I wasn’t aware, for instance, you could use the Wheel Cutter to climb walls, until I went through the challenge stage where it was needed.

If Mega Man 9 is on the same tier as Mega Man 2, I’d say Mega Man 10 is somewhere between the original Mega Man and Mega Man 4: still good, but a bit disappointing, especially when compared to its predecessor. I’d be apprehensive about the prospect of a Mega Man 11, since it doesn’t look like they’re going to top Mega Man 9 anytime soon.

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Rockman Paper Scissors Mon, 01 Mar 2010 03:48:27 +0000 Given that one of the core mechanics of the Mega Man series is the rock-paper-scissors style system of how each robot master is vulnerable to another robot master’s weapon, and given that the original game had robot masters that attacked by throwing rocks (Guts Man) and scissors (Cut Man) (and yes, rock beats scissors), it’s surprising that there still has never been a paper-themed robot master.

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