Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

Everyone in the galaxy is an idiot. At least, that’s what I learned from playing Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.

Let’s say you’re the Galactic Federation. You hire a handful of bounty hunters to hand-deliver an antivirus to your computer systems after the Space Pirates have (choose one: compromised, owned, 0wn3d, pwn3d) your networks. Suddenly, said Space Pirates launch a surprise attack, and while aforementioned bounty hunters try to stop a very unpleasant-looking glowing space rock from smashing into your military base, they get blasted by the nigh-unkillable antagonist from the previous game with something that makes their bodies start producing phazon.

Phazon, by the way, is basically concentrated evil in mineral form. It’s extremely toxic and mutagenic, with the tendency to mutate anything or anyone who comes into contact with it into something very deadly and something eager to be deadly. Naturally, the Space Pirates love using the stuff in their genetic experiments.

In other words, suppose someone shot you in the face, and suddenly you started pooping weapons-grade uranium. Now suppose that weapons-grade uranium is also sentient. Well, being the GF, you’re now stuck with four bounty hunters with this condition. What do you do?

Naturally, instead of trying to cure them, you figure out a way to weaponize this internal phazon production in three of the bounty hunters and send them out to fight the Space Pirates. And when you mysteriously lose contact with them after a couple weeks, instead of suspecting that the evil sentient self-regenerating substance has done something, you know, bad to them, you go ahead and make the same “upgrade” to your last bounty hunter, and send her out to find out what happened. And kill Space Pirates.

For whatever reason, Samus apparently sees nothing wrong with any of this. If it were me, I’d be a little upset about them making changes to my armor while I was busy being unconscious with a life-threatening medical condition. Especially when it turns out that the fail-safes in the upgrade to prevent runaway phazon production, um, don’t exactly “work”.

In the GF’s defense, they do apologize when they find out what they did.

That’s the premise to Corruption in a nutshell. The same sort of 3D Metroid action you’d expect from the rest of the sub-series ensues as you travel between planets collecting power-ups and upgrades hidden in implausible areas in (mostly) abandoned environs in between shooting Space Pirates and the eponymous metroids. In that respect, it does things a bit better than its predecessors, in that the plot coupons needed to access the final area of the game are less blatantly arbitrary. In Corruption, they’re energy cells needed to systematically power sections of what’s left of the GFS Valhalla as you explore it, whereas in the previous two games they were “artifacts” or “keys” needed to pass an arbitrary barrier leading to the final boss. (Echoes was particularly bad in this respect, requiring a series of keys to be collected to reach every major boss.)

The Wiimote+Nunchuk control scheme works pretty well, with the decoupling of movement and aiming eliminating much of the need to lock on to enemies in order to hit anything. There’s a lot of waving the Wiimote around to activate knobs and levers and such to activate them, but by matching the motions Samus makes in-game, it avoids feeling like the “arbitrary waggle” controls that apparently plague many Wii games. Plus, swinging the Nunchuk back and forth to use the Grapple Beam works well, especially when using it to rip apart annoying flying enemies.

One problem with the controls, albeit a minor one, is that although all the dials-and-levers type stuff is done with the Wiimote in your right hand, Samus does the motions with her left hand, which breaks the verisimilitude a bit. Of course, her right hand is sort of occupied operating her arm cannon.

I’m less forgiving, however, of the attempt to force more traditional FPS elements into the game play. It comes up a bit in the Spire Pod sequence in SkyTown where you fight hordes of Space Pirates, but it becomes much more blatant in the last areas of the Pirate Homeworld. The combination of the X-Ray Visor and the Nova Beam acts like a sniper rifle, letting you headshot Space Pirates for one-hit kills. Soon after that’s introduced, you’re stuck with the task of escorting a squad of GF tactical demolitionists who have a surprising lack of combat ability. None of this feels very Metroidy, and it weakens the final areas of the game.

Speaking of which, I didn’t much care for how the entire way your health meter works is changed in the final area, especially not the ham-handed way it’s explained to you via a series of four or five dialog popups. I suppose it would’ve been worse if the permanent-hypermode you’re stuck with on Phaaze worked the same way hypermode does in the rest of the game, where letting the phazon meter fill up results in game over, but still, I can’t approve of changing such a core game play mechanic like that, especially once that guts even the limited options for weapons selection you had up until then.

And weapons selection is almost as limited as in the original NES version of Metroid: the new types of beams and missiles replace, rather than complement, the old ones. Worse, missiles as a whole aren’t all that useful once you have enough energy tanks in reserve to abuse hypermode, which is effective against pretty much everything you fight. I don’t think I ever ran close to running out of missiles even before my stockpile hit triple digits.

However, I must give credit for how the game has you deal with the shield protecting the Leviathan Seed on Elysia. On Bryyo, getting past it involved fighting your way to a pair of shield generators and calling in airstrikes from your spaceship. It initially seems like the same will happen on Elysia, until the Aurora unit in SkyTown suggests you just drop a giant bomb on the shield and blow it up. Of course, you then have to run around SkyTown assembling said giant bomb, but still.

Also appreciated is the ability to have all the locations of hidden items marked on your map near the end of the game, if you figure out how to do that. It beats traversing the game world again looking for those last couple items if you’re going for 100% completion. Though to my credit, I did manage to get 98% of them through careful observation and obsessive note-taking, using the endgame map only to find the last two missile expansions.

In practice, however, that’s really only for bragging rights (and unlocking slightly longer endings), since as I mentioned earlier, there’s little reason to use missiles except to get past certain obstacles. Ship missile expansions are even more useless, since aside from getting past a couple obstacles on Bryyo you never need to call in bombing runs again. Actually, it turns out that all the different buttons in the spaceship are just for decoration except for the one that lets you fly from one point to another. Not that I was looking for a dogfight sequence in a Metroid game, though, but if the ship only serves as transportation and a mobile save point, why bother with a cockpit screen at all?

Finally, getting back to my opening rant: the only reason Samus and the GF emerge victorious at the end of the game is that the Space Pirates are even dumber than the GF seems to be. The Space Pirates have hand scanners to activate their equipment. Space Pirate hands don’t look even remotely human, what with the three pointy fingers and all. So why do they have no problem accepting Samus’s hand, given that she is (a) human and (b) walking Space Pirate death. Samus is the last person Space Pirates would want using their stuff. It’s like if TSA made you use a hand scanner before boarding the plane, but the scanner was perfectly OK with bin Laden’s hand on it. Or a kitten.

And how exactly do hand scanners work when someone is wearing full body armor, anyway?

Calibration

NaNoWriMo is all about writing a 50,000-word novel, or at least a (very) rough draft of one, entirely in the month of November. Assuming that workload is spread evenly across all 30 days, that works out to be 1,666 and 2/3 words per day, every day. Call it 1,667 words, unless you’re planning on having a character die at the end of each day’s allotment, each time with his last word being cut off 2/3 of the way through.

OK, there might be some humor value in doing that, but I’m guessing it would wear a little thin by Week 2, to say nothing of having to teach your word count tool of choice how to interpret fractional words.

Last time I did NaNoWriMo, way back in 2002, I was just making things up as I went along, with little thought to how each day’s work would fit in with the overall structure of the story. As a result, I’d throw in chapter breaks wherever the plot seemed to call for them, and besides that just wrote in 1,667 word chunks. (In practice, more like 2,000 to 2,200, since I had to make up the day lost trying to come up with a story, and after that I didn’t want to ease up on myself until the blasted thing was finished.)

This time around, I’m going to take the approach that most others seem to take, and have each day’s writing be a chapter unto itself, with the goal being 30 chapters that total 50,000 words. This will undoubtedly work better for me this time around, since I do have a general idea of the storyline already figured out more or less, modulo an inconsistency here or deus ex machina there, but I’ve still got about 10 days to work those things out. I can go ahead and outline what basic events happen in each chapter, helping to keep things more or less on track, and avoiding the possibility of having the big epic showdown happen on Day 15.

Unless I wanted to come up with a sequel real quick, of course.

So now, during the planning stages, the trick is to get an idea of how much story can be reasonably fit into each chapter, again to keep things balanced and flowing smoothly. It’s hard to visualize how much text there is in 1,667 words, thanks to the human brain’s inability to have a good intuition of numbers larger than you can count on your hands.

Thus, this post is intended to serve as a calibration device. This post shall be precisely 1,667 words long, according to the word count that WordPress periodically displays off to the side while I type this. When all is said and done, I’ll at least have a visual reference for how much writing I’m getting myself into each day next month.

Of course, if I wanted to be really ambitious, I ought to leave open the possibility of writing more than one chapter per day, queuing up the extras so that you the reader still get them in daily installments. This isn’t entirely unreasonable, especially since November 1 is a Saturday, which in principle leaves more time available for typing furiously than does your average day.

Discipline is the key to winning NaNoWriMo. Blind stubbornness and a willingness to follow through with something that no longer seems like such a good idea also help, but mostly it’s discipline. To enforce that discipline upon myself to ensure that I don’t fall behind the minimum 1,667 words per day goal, I shall hereby set upon myself this constraint:

No web surfing until the day’s writing has been achieved.

No checking the online copy of the newspaper. (And seriously, does Firefox’s spell checker recognize neither “online” nor “Firefox” as properly spelled words?) No reading any of the blogs getting pulled into my RSS feed reader. (“Blog” isn’t in there either?) No following webcomics. And absolutely no, under any conditions, visiting TV Tropes. That server runs entirely on wasted time.

Distractions are the enemy. All distractions must be eliminated to assure that this year’s NaNoWriMo effort is a success. Or at least, not a failure. Victory is decided by the word count, but true success is in the eyes of the reader.

In other words, in case this wasn’t clear already, each chapter is going to be posted here, one per day, all throughout November.

But to really kill off any possible distractions, I ought to also forbid any video games until the day’s writing is in the can. That one could be rough, though. I’m almost through Super Paper Mario, and I’m pretty sure I can finish it before the end of the month, but NaNoWriMo’s going to be taking away time that could’ve been spent playing Mother 3. It’s going to be sitting there, the sequel to one of my favorite video games, taunting me while I type and/or bang my head against the keyboard repeatedly. And from what I’ve heard about the game so far, it’s right about up there with EarthBound.

And how the heck am I still nowhere close to 1,667 words on this post? I’m still mired in the triple digits. The high triple digits, to be sure, but triple digits nonetheless. This is taking longer than I thought, and I’m doing little more than spewing stream of consciousness at this point.

This could be a bad sign for the story. I really don’t want to wind up with a bunch of 900-word chapters padded out to nearly twice that just to hit my daily quota. I guess I won’t know for sure until I actually draw up an outline of the story and see what will be happening in each chapter, but I’m starting to wonder whether I truly have 50,000 words worth of material right now.

And just think, in the original concept of the story, the finale was going to be what I’m guessing will take place somewhere between chapters 10 and 15. A lot more stuff has accreted onto the core story since then, and much for the better, but I would’ve been doomed had I been going with the original concept. Well, I guess I would’ve had to start making up the better/extended version as I went along, without the benefit of having been able to set some things up before the big reveal that would’ve been at the climax.

It’s kind of annoying talking about the story in vague generalities like this, but there’s not really any getting around it without dropping spoilers about key plot points, or committing myself to things that may well change over the course of the coming month. Given that most of the changes I’ve thrown in to the mix so far have improved things overall, I don’t want to cut that off just yet.

Which leaves me wondering just how exactly I’m going to squeeze another 500 words or so out of this post. And here just four paragraphs prior I was complaining about how low the word count was. I’m clearly running out of ideas, so I think I’m going to resort to a complete change of topic to pad things out some more.

In fact, since I mentioned Mother 3 up there not too long ago, I’m going to ramble on about EarthBound until I can finally kill this experiment and weep at how much work this sort of thing is going to be come November.

EarthBound is, at some level, a deconstruction of the Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) genre. A lot of the humor in it is playing the standard tropes to the point of absurdity.

For example, in JRPGs the silent main character‘s only “dialog”, per se, is answering a “yes or no” prompt, and usually re-answering it until you answer the correct way. EarthBound also has you answer yes or no to questions like “Pop quiz: a Beatles song, ___terday”. Another area has an NPC rattle off pages and pages of types of nuts, asking “Which one do you like?”, with a yes/no prompt for your answer.

EarthBound also likes to make the reasons you can’t go to the next area until doing something else as absurd as possible. For example, the Onett police close roads whenever anything happens. Later, an inexplicable statue of a pencil blocks your path, requiring you to fund the development of the Pencil Eraser. Much later still, an inexplicable statue of an eraser blocks your path, requiring the development of, yes, the Eraser Eraser.

Then, of course, there is Dungeon Man, the ultimate fusion of man and dungeon. Besides doubling as both dungeon and NPC party member, he is full of signs pointing out the standard tropes in JRPG dungeon design, noting how monsters inevitably move in once you build a dungeon, and how he forgot to put a treasure at the end of a particularly long dead end path.

Speaking of treasure, most “treasures” aren’t found in standard treasure chests. Gift boxes are commonly found lying around dungeons, and let’s face it, those are just as explicable as treasure chests would be. But you can also find items in trash cans, such as finding a hamburger in the trash can outside the Onett fast food place. (Yum!) And when you first get control of Jeff, you have the option of loading your inventory up with cookies, if you don’t mind unwrapping all the presents Jeff’s friend stayed up all night wrapping for a birthday party. (And yes, the friend gets upset if you take any.)

Other things you’ll find in EarthBound: A cave full of five giant moles who each boast that they are the third strongest. A monkey that comes free with a pack of bubble gum. Beating up New Age Retro Hippies. Fighting the kid who lives next door as the part of the final boss.

Bonus tip before I hit 1,667: you can damage Giygas’s first form by Brainshocking him, which oddly doesn’t get reflected back at you like everything else does. If he attacks himself, his attack will bounce off him and hit… him.

And that’s 1,667.

Mother! Mother! Mother!

For all you Brawl players out there wondering where Lucas came from, you may be interested to know that the unofficial English translation of Mother 3 (i.e., the GBA sequel to EarthBound) is now out.

I’d be playing it right now, but I’m currently working through Super Paper Mario, and I don’t like playing more than one game at once. (Though I am willing to make an exception if the game is sufficiently awesome.)

This has been a public service announcement.

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For Everlasting Peace

Mega Man 9 'box art'
Even “better” than the Mega Man box art: here he has an arm cannon and a gun!

Having now completed a play-through of Mega Man 9, I can safely say that it ranks right up there with Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3.

The level design in the Dr. Wily stages is very impressive, balancing the fine line between challenging and unfair. You’ll die plenty of times — I certainly did — but each time you’ll know it’s because you screwed up, not because something came out of left field and killed you. There’s plenty of ways to meet a quick death, but never without first giving you a chance to figure out a new type of obstacle in a relatively benign environment. The level design loves to play with your expectations, with lots of twists on mechanics you’ve seen (or think you’ve seen) before. By the time you reach the screen deep in Wily Stage 3 with three 1-ups in it, you’ll know to be on your guard, even if you don’t yet know why.

A fantastic instance of challenging the player’s expectations comes in one of the screens in Wily Stage 1. I won’t spoil it for you, but if you’ve played the game, you know exactly the one I’m talking about. It took me a long time to figure out the trick needed to avoid certain death, and it’s sure to fool Mega Man veterans — heck, especially Mega Man veterans — the first time they encounter it. Whoever at Inti Creates who came up with it is a diabolical genius.

Plus, in retrospect, it’s amazing it’s taken this long for Mega Man to enter a boss’s chamber from the right side of the screen instead of the left.

The bosses in the Wily Stages are also excellent. They nicely avoid the cliche that Mega Man 4 and later fell into of a series of well-drawn but unremarkable screen-sized bosses with a single weak point. Each one here is unique, ranging from a sort of reverse tug-of-war using giant spiked balls, to a multi-screen behemoth, to a twist on a classic Mega Man boss that requires pattern memorization and/or getting into the zone to beat.

Also, Dr. Wily finally realized how effective the mandatory skull-themed robot he pilots during the final battle could be if he made the whole thing out of whatever alloy it is that deflects all of Mega Man’s weapons. And not to spoil the ending, but he even seems to have anticipated his inevitable defeat, beyond just having an escape plan.

Alas, though, the game isn’t perfect. Dr. Wily’s final form sadly follows the stale “disappearing and reappearing saucer” thing that started in Mega Man 4. I never cared much for that type of final battle, though at least the weapons available this time give you a few options for hitting the saucer when it’s well outside of jumping range. Also, even though Rush Jet works just fine underwater, I would’ve kind of liked to see the return of Rush Marine for that purpose, just because.

If I may boast for a second, I managed to get about 25% of the challenges completed on this first play-through quite by accident, including half the beat-a-robot-master-under-10-seconds ones and the one that involves never stopping in one stage (Galaxy Man’s stage for me, if you’re wondering). (I’ve also managed to beat Dr. Wily’s first two forms without taking damage, but there’s no prize for that.) I don’t know if I’ll ever pull off the harder ones like the never-miss-a-shot or never-take-damage ones, or even the tedious ones like beat-the-game-five-times-in-a-day, but I’ll definitely be playing through the game many more times.

Peeking at the downloadable content coming next month, there’ll be options for increasing the difficulty even more, and adding an option to play as Proto Man. Arguably these could’ve easily been part of the main game, but given that I would’ve gladly paid $20 for Mega Man 9 as-is instead of $10, I really can’t complain about shelling out another $8 for all the extras.

Inti Creates could’ve easily relied on exploiting old-school Mega Man nostalgia and produced a lump of 8-bit shovelware, but they took the effort to recreate the quality of those games, not just their appearance. If there is a Mega Man 10 in the offing, let’s hope they don’t start slacking off.

Mega Man 9!

Mega Man 9 is shaping up to be precisely as awesome as I had hoped. If you wish to remain unspoiled in regards to this awesomeness, you best stop reading right now.

First off, they’ve nailed the old-school Mega Man look and feel and sound. One could imagine an alternate universe where this game came out after Mega Man 2. Except for being able to save your game instead of scribbling down grid passwords. And the challenges ranging from easy (kill a robot master using only the Mega Buster… yeah, that’s how you have to kill the first one) to nigh-impossible (beat the game without taking damage!). And the online leaderboard for speed-running the game. And the hooks for downloadable content. But hey, the menus for all those things are downright 8-bit.

The plot is, well, nobody plays a Mega Man game for the plot, and Mega Man 9 delivers what you’d expect, with the right amount of ridiculousness in the no-seriously-Dr.-Wily-isn’t-the-villain-this-time-honest!-ness. Eight of Dr. Light’s robots are running amok, and Dr. Wily insists that he’s finally reformed right before Dr. Light turned evil (and if you donate money to Dr. Wily’s Swiss bank account, you can fund development of something to stop Dr. Light’s robots!). Apparently everyone swallows this, and it’s up to Mega Man to blast some sense into the robot masters after Dr. Light’s arrest. (Why the police apparently have no qualms about Mega Man, clearly Dr. Light’s deadliest creation ever given his undefeated record against dozens of Dr. Wily’s robots, running free while all this is going on, has not yet been addressed.)

The level design has been pretty good, putting new and interesting spins on the classic elements. Anyone who’s ever played a Mega Man game knows that eventually they’ll come across two things: disappearing blocks over spikes and/or pits, and multi-screen drops through spike-lined corridors. I’ve played two levels so far, each fairly arbitrarily chosen, and I’ve already seen both.

Plug Man’s stage has several disappearing block sections, and manages to find new tricks with them that previous games never tried. I wonder how many players will fall to their doom when a block suddenly appears in front of the platform they were trying to jump to. Nice. (In fairness, you could very much see that coming if you bothered to watch the pattern before you started jumping around.)

Splash Woman’s stage has the spike drops. Early on, you land on a platform in the middle of the screen. The left drop has no spikes, the right one does. You get to choose which one to jump down. Choose wisely, and you can get a 1-up. Later on, you have to go up a series of spike-lined rooms, relying on platforms that slide across the screen to reach the next ladder. In a way, it’s like a block puzzle mixed with a spike drop, in reverse. I haven’t gotten past the third screen without wimping out and using Rush Coil to avoid the pair of spikes deviously placed in the dead center of the room, but I’m sure it can be done.

So far, even when there’s clearly inspiration from a previous game, there’s something new in the implementation here that keeps it from being the series of retreads that Mega Man 7 wound up as. Again in Splash Woman’s stage, the part where you have to ride bubbles to the top of the screen is straight out of Wave Man’s stage in Mega Man 5, but this time (a) it’s underwater, so you can jump really well, and (b) enemies shoot out at you from the sides of the screen.

The attention to detail is pretty nifty, too. Get hit by an octopus’s ink blob in Splash Woman’s stage, and Mega Man stays covered in ink until you switch to a different weapon. You can also buy a “book of hairstyles” from the item shop on the stage select screen to take off your helmet… until you die. There’s also a “book of costumes”, which I haven’t tried yet, but from its icon I’m assuming it dresses Mega Man up as Roll. (For the record, there are also items available which are actually useful, if you’re in to that sort of thing.)

The robot masters themselves haven’t disappointed so far. Plug Man’s shots travel along the floor, up the wall behind you, onto the ceiling, and then drop down right above you head, so you have to keep your eye both on what Plug Man is doing and the shots you’ve already dodged once. Splash Woman swims to the top of the screen while fish move across the screen, and then she drops tridents on you. The Mega Buster is much more effective against hear than Plug Man’s weapon.

Another great nostalgic thing: Splash Woman and I managed to kill each other simultaneously, just like the first time I won-for-all-intents-and-purposes-even-though-the-game-didn’t-count-it against Cut Man way back in the original Mega Man. And just like then, Mega Man 9 counted it as a death rather than a victory. On my final life. Game over.

Count yourself sort-of-lucky, Splash Woman, for your days are numbered. Specifically, numbered 1, since tomorrow night it’s go time.

Mick Faldo v. the LHC

Damn you, Jamie, for planting the idea in my head. This is all your fault. The LHC won’t create a black whole and swallow the planet, but the following, a lyrical fanfic of an obscure parody song crossed with particle physics is so dorky it may collapse upon itself, forming a dork singularity from which nothing can escape.

I hope you’re pleased with yourself.

Well everyone hails
All their stories and tales
And Geneva now is a provider
Of stories that might
Tell of the epic fight
Of Mick Faldo and the large collider.

‘Twas a supercooled ring
Through which protons would zing
In hopes of maybe detecting Higgs bosons.
But a few people thought
It would turn all to naught
‘Cause they listened to credulous morons.

The scientists heard
Of these fears, quite absurd,
And explained that the worries were baseless.
But the fear-mongers told
About mini black holes
And reality-consuming strangelets.

Those fears and concerns
Failed to discourage CERN
And their plans to probe energies larger.
The opponents screamed “no!”
And they turned to the bow
Of Mick Faldo, the world-famous archer.

They asked, “If you have the time –
It won’t cost you a dime –
Could you stop it before things get much worse?
It packs far more power
Than a meteor shower
And it might destroy the whole universe!”

Mick Faldo replied,
“How would I get inside?
My success I could never guarantee.
And please done be miffed –
Though my arrows are swift,
They’re slower than .999c.”

But he tried nonetheless,
Aiming towards the ATLAS
And adjusting for underground weather.
But did his arrow trick work?




No, he felt like a jerk
When his shot pushed two hadrons together.

Still everyone hails
All their stories and tales
And Geneva is still a provider.
The story lacks harm
But it has a strange charm:
It’s Mick Faldo and the large collider.

Moderniization

Shockingly, I have broken with my usual practice of being as current with gaming hardware as Strong Bad is with computers. In my defense, however, much of its runtime will no doubt be put towards playing old games with the occasional playing of games that only look like they’re old.

I’ve been told that stuff and/or things will happen if I swap the following code with people who (a) don’t suck and (b) have the same hardware:

1685 2057 2828 8658

If I’ve got my end set up right, there could well be a Mii version of The Monarch in it for you. If that isn’t enough inducement for you, I don’t know what is.

DIY kosho?

Surely someone at some point has been inspired by watching The Prisoner and set up their own kosho ring. Preliminary searches on Google and YouTube only turn up things related to “real” kosho and not the product of Patrick McGoohan‘s imagination.

Come on, in the post-Jackass era, can you seriously tell me no one has done this? And videotaped the results and posted them on the Internet?

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, watch this (from the episode It’s Your Funeral, if I’m not mistaken):

EPIC ADDENDUM

Since I’ve had this running through my head ever since I put last night’s post together, I figured you should have the opportunity to suffer/enjoy it similarly:

(It’s also available in the original Japanese with Engrish subtitles, if you’re in to that sort of thing.)

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EPIC WANT

Speaking of things that are either going to be awesome or completely suck: Mega Man 9 is coming out on WiiWare later this year. And it’s going back to its 8-bit roots:

Mega Man 9 screenshot

If Keiji Inafune is indeed trying to channel the greatness of Mega Man 2, which everyone knows is one of the greatest video games of all time, Mega Man 9 could indeed rescue the series from the mediocrity and repetitiveness it slid into after Mega Man 3.

(Side note: in retrospect, the ability to charge normal shots introduced in Mega Man 4 threw off the game mechanics by making the weapons you get from beating robot masters much less useful. Since charged shots works pretty well against almost everything, there’s little reason to switch weapons unless you need to exploit some gimmicky trajectory they have to get through an area. Mega Man X made it work, but the original series never did.)

(Another side note: I know nobody plays a Mega Man game for the plot, but Capcom wasn’t even trying with Mega Man 6. Not only was it the fourth game in a row with a less-than-credible “no, Dr. Wily isn’t the villain this time, really!!!” premise, but “Mr. X” was clearly just Dr. Wily with a fake beard.)

Anyway, announcements like this are going to finally make me get around to buying a Wii one of these days.

On the other hand, if Mega Man 9 turns out to somehow be three worse than Mega Man 6 was, I’d be willing to play whatever the hell this is (especially the part starting around 5:26):

(Fun fact: if you ever find yourself wondering “is that a …” while watching the above, I assure you, the answer is “yes”.)

(Fun fact: if I put any more parentheses in this post, it might be mistaken for Lisp.)

On On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness

Last weekend I bought Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 1, and spent entirely too much time this past week playing through it.

I was curious about the game for two reasons. First, I like Penny Arcade, which happens to be the very first webcomic I was introduced to, way back when I was a freshman. Second, they actually produced a Linux version of the game, which you see pretty rarely in the world of commercial games. It seems like the sort of thing I should encourage.

Since they had a free demo of the game, I was first able to see if the game would actually run on my four-year-old laptop, which meets the minimum specs, barely. It does, albeit with swapping everything else out of RAM on startup and taking a long time to switch between areas. But doing the game itself, performance is acceptable, at least one you get used to the slight amount of lag in areas where timing is important. (Most noticeable in the Vandalism minigame, where I’d need to hit the space bar when the meter was centered over the left or right stack if I wanted it to stop over the center one.) Of course, this is more the fault of my old, ill-suited-for-gaming hardware; the game is indeed entirely playable.

The demo got me hooked, and the rest of the game didn’t disappoint. The battle system is nicely done, encouraging you to do more elaborate things than just “attack enemies until they die” to get the bonuses. There’s no random encounters — in fact, enemies never respawn, period, so there’s no grindiness to be found. Plus, you get to beat up barbershop quartets, which is always fun.

Really, the game is largely devoid of the typical set of annoyances you find in games. No random battles. A “Case Log” that reminds you what needs to be done to advance the plot. Auto-saving after any significant event (including battles). Automatic healing after battles. A tutorial level (the demo) where the tutorial content is both entertaining and skippable. You can tell the game was designed by people who play a lot of games, and decided not to put in the things that make games stop being fun.

But where the game really shines, naturally, is the humor. All the cutscenes are filled with precisely the sort of dialog you’d expect from Penny Arcade. My favorite, for some reason, is when the player tries to get a reaction out of The Silent Pope by singing The Name Game for “mime”, pausing after each line to wait for a response.

The game is fairly small in scope, but the level of detail is impressive. Loads of things on each screen have a humorous description or two to be found when you click on them. It turns out there’s a lot of things you can say about trash cans, or ice cream cones dropped on the boardwalk. It’s also a nice touch to have the little robots — you know the ones — say “01100110 01110101 01100011 01101011″, which means exactly what you think it does.

And for the record, the cat is not worthless. It is possible for its attack to do non-negligible damage, and it happens with greater than the roughly 1-in-2,000,000 probability claimed in-game.

Now they just need to come out with the next episode. My character needs revenge. And a house.

You Are (Not) George Lucas

[Editor’s note: You knew this was coming eventually. Deal with it.]

Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone, the first movie in a four-part “Rebuild” remake of Neon Genesis Evangelion, was recently released on DVD in Japan. And while no distributors have apparently bought the rights to print money release it in the U.S. yet, a little thing like that’s not going to stop me from reviewing it.

As with any remake of something, there’s the question of how closely it will follow the original. Something has to be different about the remake, or else what’s the point of making it? (The answer: shamelessly cashing in.) There’s the opportunity to improve on the original and trim the filler. But there’s also the trap of losing what made the original good, and deviating from what fans liked about the original will lead them to declare that the remake sucks.

In other words, a good remake needs to stick to the original, but do something different, but not too different. And in this case, keep in mind that anime fandom is more, well, fanatical, than a survivor of the Kirk-Picard flamewars wearing a “Han Shot First” T-shirt. Squared. We’re talking about fans that sent the director death threats over how the series ended. Screw up the remake, and you can imagine how they’ll react.

So, does 1.0 pull it off?

Yes.

Blood Rainbow
When it’s raining angel blood, you do (not) want to know what’s in the pot at the end of the rainbow.

The first half of the movie roughly corresponds with the first four episodes of the series. Well, “roughly” might not be the right word, since most of the scenes are virtually lifted directly from it. They’re redrawn and reanimated everything in much higher quality, granted, but the scenes in the movie reproduce the originals almost shot-by-shot.

Of course, squeezing four 25-minute episodes into about 50 minutes of movie means that the scenes that aren’t copied from the series pretty much get left out entirely. Given that the episodes in question didn’t have much filler to begin with, the pacing of the movie ends up being way too fast, rushing from one major plot point to another. Shinji‘s relationship with his classmates, for example, is cut to the bare minimum: he gets punched; he rescues them during battle; they apologize. That’s it. If you haven’t seen the series, you’ll wind up wondering why you should even care. Likewise, Shinji running away — the bulk of episode 4 — gets reduced to a few minutes on screen.

As a result, the first half gives you prettier graphics but poorer storytelling.

Once the movie gets to episode 5′s material, however, the pacing slows to something more manageable and the movie starts realizing its potential. The basic plot of episodes 5 and 6 is mostly unchanged, but the scenes start unfolding differently, so it no longer comes across as something you’ve already seen, but rather as a different take on the same story.

The first engagement with the fifth sixth angel, Ramiel, illustrates this dramatically. In the series, Unit 01 deploys, immediately gets the bejeezus lasered out of it, and is promptly (after an end-of-episode cliffhanger) lowered back underground. In the movie, the fight is much more elaborate. Ramiel is no longer merely an animation-budget-saving regular octohedron, but now shapeshifts before each attack like a cross between an evil Rubik’s cube and the Windows flower box screensaver. Now instead of having Unit 01 retreat immediately, NERV raises a blast shield to block the laser, and Ramiel responds by firing a quad laser to melt through the shield. With the launcher melted by the blast, NERV rescues Unit 01 by blowing the supports and lowering the entire city block until Unit 01 is out of sight.

Just about all the scenes building up to the sniping mission at the climax of the movie are similarly “epic’d up” and made more elaborate, which ends up working quite well. The core of the plot stays unchanged, which is good; there weren’t any problems with episode 6 story-wise, but seeing its events rendered on more than a shoestring budget is appreciated.

But given how closely the storyline follows the series, it’s particular interesting to note the ways in which it explicitly diverges from the series, and speculate how they’ll play out over the next three movies. [Spoilers ahead.]

First, as I noted in passing, the angel that attacks the city in the opening scene, Sachiel, is now designated the fourth angel, rather than the third; the other angels that appear in the movie have their enumeration similarly adjusted. (Now I get to look up their names so as to refer to them unambiguously. Yay.) So what’s the third angel going to turn out to be? Hmmmmm.

Then there’s an added scene where Shinji is stuck between mope and angst (i.e., being Shinji) before the final battle against Ramiel. As part of a pep talk, Misato takes him down to Terminal Central Dogma, shows him Lilith, and tells him that NERV is defending it because if an angel reaches it, that will cause Third Impact and wipe out mankind. In the series, everything involving Lilith is a very closely guarded secret; Misato only discovers it when Kaji shows it to her in the second half of the series (and he only found out about it by snooping around being a triple agent), and even then they mistakenly think it’s Adam. The fact that in the movie Misato apparently knows all about it already is interesting to say the least.

Blood on the Moon
SEELE’s space program was funded by cutting the janitorial budget.

Finally (literally), there’s an added scene at the end, immediately following what was the final scene in episode 6, that opens up all kinds of questions. Apparently there’s some kind of secret SEELE base on the moon, where Kaworu (!) and a SEELE monolith make cryptic comments to each other, and we see a Lilith-looking thing in a pit (!) in the middle of a bloody swath across the lunar landscape (!) with Earth and its blood-red oceans (!) hanging in the background.

I mean, in a post-Second-Impact economy, how exactly does an organization, secret or otherwise, manage to construct a lunar base? Especially when that organization had already committed to constructing what are effectively giant fighting robots, and a city that retracts into the ground for them to fight in and only partially destroy with the collateral damage.

Plus, Kaworu’s totally not wearing a helmet. Or, um, anything else. Moving on….

Evangelion Unit 06
Now that the Cylons have an Evangelion, humanity is frakked.

Then there’s the next episode movie preview after the credits, revealing even more surprises. Intermixed with events from the series (Asuka and Unit 02 deploying; Unit 04′s destruction; the fight with the thirteenth whateverth angel, Bardiel) are things without any analogue in the series: Unit 05 deploying, weird ghost-and-halo-looking things bracketed by the text “ADAMS” (!) and “LILIN+?”, Unit 06 descending from the moon (!), and a new pilot. Needless to say, Evangelion 2.0: Division is going to diverge quite a bit from episodes 7 through 18.

(If you’re wondering how quick the pacing the movie would have to be to cover all that, keep in mind that episodes 7 through 13 have a lot of filler and you could safely cut entire episodes without too much damage to the story.)

Here’s my theory: the secret backstory from the series is the cover story used by NERV in the Rebuild continuity. Misato doesn’t actually know the truth about Lilith, because it’s a different truth this time around, thus suckering fans of the original series into thinking they know what’s going on as well. I don’t know what the truth is going to be, but a hint might lie in a comment one of the SEELE monoliths makes to Gendo about needing to fulfill a “contract with Lilith”. Whether that’s literal or metaphorical, I don’t know.

Or, as Gendo said in End of Evangelion, “The truth is, _____________.”

Moon Pit
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot or lookin’ at a thing in a pit.

Another theory: the creature in the pit on the moon is the as-yet-unnamed third angel. Kaworu makes a cryptic comment about “the third again, huh?” while looking at it. Though “the third” could refer to Shinji (the third child), since Kaworu’s next line mentions him while looking up at Earth. If that’s the case, than the thing in the pit would be a naked Unit 06, before its armor/restraints have been put on. But why would SEELE be building Unit 06 on the moon in the first place, unless there were a very good reason for it, such as cloning it from the as-yet-unrevealed third angel, if it’s also there somewhere? We’ve seen Lilith (the second angel) under NERV headquarters, and presumably Adam (the first angel) was in Antarctica and caused the Second Impact, just as in the series.

“Presumably.” But by my first theory, the secret backstory in the movies are different, so Second Impact could’ve had some other cause, since none of the details surrounding it have been mentioned in the movie yet. Hmmmm.

Or, a less out-in-left-field theory would be that Kaworu has been designated the third angel this time around (instead of the seventeenth), but that doesn’t explain what’s on the moon, or why Unit 06 would come from there, or why NERV would know anything about Kaworu to begin with — in the series, SEELE sent him to NERV as a replacement for Asuka, and they didn’t realize he was an angel until he took over Unit 02 and took it down to Terminal Dogma in episode 24, thinking he’d find Adam there.

So, even though the movie closely follows the storyline of the first six episodes, streamlining and possibly simplifying it, there’s just enough changes and added material to launch rampant wild speculation among fans of the series to try to figure out what’s really going on. The director, Hideaki Anno, managed to figure out a way to cater both to newcomers and the existing fanbase, and did so without ruining any of the classic scenes in the first set of episodes in the series.

Well played.

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na

The old 1960s Batman movie would, by any objective measure, be awful, if not for how awesome it is in its sheer, unmitigated ridiculousness.

Properly documenting all the examples of why this is so would end up reproducing the plot in full, so I’ll focus on a few highlights. In the first action sequence, Batman fights off a shark biting his leg while holding on to the Bat-Ladder hanging from the Bat-Copter. (Spoiler alert: Batman ultimately fends it off with Bat-Shark-Repellant, which is stored on the Bat-Copter alongside repellant sprays for other marine life.) What makes the scene great is how not only is the shark obviously made of rubber, but as Batman punches it, it makes exactly the sound you’d expect from someone punching a rubber shark.

Also, when the shark is ultimately dislodged, it falls into the sea and explodes. In case you’re wondering why the United Underworld (i.e., The Joker + The Penguin + The Riddler + Catwoman; see also: greatest team-up ever) didn’t rig the shark to explode when it bit Batman’s leg, well, obviously then the movie would only be a few minues long.

If that doesn’t convince you of my thesis, then consider the fight scene in the Bat-Cave that, in my opinion, reveals the truth behind Batman’s superpowers. To set this up, the villans have obtained an instant dehydration gun that reduces anybody to a pile of powder. The Penguin does this to five henchmen and scoops the powder into separate vials. He then disguises himself as the person the villans stole said dehydration gun from, and introduces himself to Batman and Robin.

The Dynamic Duo immediately see through his ploy — the nose and talking like Jon Stewart impersonating Dick Cheney are dead giveaways — yet for some reason see the need to scientifically prove The Penguin’s identity to The Penguin, so they take him to the Bat-Cave, which apparently has the only retinal scanner on the planet. Once there, The Penguin goes over to the Drinking Water Dispenser — like everything in the Bat-Cave, it is prominently labeled with its function — and hooks the vials up to it, thus rehydrating his henchmen.

However, while doing so, The Penguin accidentally moves the Drinking Water Dispenser’s control lever — let me remind you, this is a machine expressly for dispensing drinking water — from the “light water” setting to the “heavy water” setting. Yes, heavy water, which Batman later points out is also used in the Bat-Cave’s nuclear reactor. Obviously, this error results in the henchmen vanishing into nothingness as soon as anything hits them (something to do with antimatter, I think).

There is only one possible explanation for why anyone would ever connect a source of heavy water to what is, let’s face it, an overgrown drinking fountain. (Wow, all technology really was bigger back then.)

Batman drinks heavy water.

No wonder Batman can breathe in space.

And there’s loads more where that came from. The Joker and The Penguin wear masks across their eyes while pulling off various heists, apparently oblivious to the fact that they’re still dressed as The Joker and The Penguin. The Pentagon sells a fully armed surplus submarine to someone named P. N. Guin, and the admiral Batman talks to is oblivious to how selling something like that to someone who won’t even leave his address is not a good idea. The Riddler accidentally shoots down the Bat-Copter with a Polaris missile, but no one is hurt as the copter crash-lands on a pile of foam rubber. And, as Batman so eloquently observes, “some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

If I somehow still haven’t convinced you as to how awesome this movie is, how about this: Jet Pack Umbrellas.

But if strangely creepy is more your thing, try this on for size. The villans scheme to lure Batman into a fiendish trap (spoiler alert: it involves a jack-in-the-box and an exploding octopus) by kidnapping Bruce Wayne and holding him hostage. They lure him into a trap by dropping a riddle suggesting that “Kitka” (i.e., Catwoman not dressed like Catwoman) is going to be kidnapped, which leads Bruce into asking her out. Suspecting the villans will move against “Kitka” during the date, Bruce has Robin and Alfred-wearing-a-mask shadow them inconspicuously in the Batmobile and watch what’s going on on a monitor, presumably hooked up to an otherwise unmentioned Gotham-wide Bat-survillance-camera-network. (Holy 1984, Batman!)

The date ultimately leads back to Catwoman’s apartment, and it’s not hard to decode 1960s euphemisms for what Bruce is expecting to go on there. He shows no compunction, despite knowing Robin and Alfred are supposed to be watching all of this. That is, outside, in the car, in the dark, his young ward and his old manservant, one of whom is wearing tights and the other is also disguised, are supposed to be watching him “further international relations” with “Kitka”.

Fortunately, the disturbing potential of that setup is stopped by the intervention of, yes, Jet Pack Umbrellas.

In conclusion, I want a Jet Pack Umbrella, in case I ever need to escape from exploding marine life.

All Glory To The Hypnotoad!

Is it wrong if the detail that cemented my interest in the new Futurama movie is the fact that one of the DVD extras is a full-length episode of Everyone Loves Hypnotoad?

Just imagine… a full half-hour of this…

Don’t Panic

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: TV Series opening

I recently discovered by a lucky accident that Netflix has the old (i.e., from 1981) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy TV series available. It was obvious what had to be done.

Unfortunately, the disc Netflix shipped to me at first was, in topological terms, a sphere rather than a torus. I almost panicked, due to the lack of any instructions in large friendly letters on the packaging to the contrary, but instead of throwing in the towel, I reported the problem and got a structurally intact disc.

The six-episode series follows the plot of the books a lot more faithfully than the movie. (Yes, I know the TV series is based on the original radio play, which the books were also based on. Sheesh, it says so right there in the title graphic. Quit being so pedantic.) The storyline runs from the demolition of the Earth by the Vogons through to Magrathea and Milliways and up to Arthur and Ford being stranded with the Golgafrinchans on prehistoric Earth.

Without a doubt, the best part of the series are the sequences narrated by The Guide, with accompanying fake “computer” animations. Of course, this is hardly surprising, since Douglas Adams’s narrative style is a large part of what makes the books so great, and The Guide’s scenes allow that to come through with full force. The animations also supply some nice supplementary material, such as examples of the first and second worst forms of poetry in the universe that put Vogon poetry to shame.

Zaphod Beeblebrox

It goes without saying that if you’re a fan of the books (and who isn’t?), you’ll like the series too. There’s only a few things to quibble with. One of them is Zaphod‘s second head. Can you tell which one is the fake one? It’s supposed to be animatronic, but you hardly ever see it move at all, except for bouncing around on the actor’s shoulder as he moves around due to inertia. I know, I know, there’s really no good way to do the whole two-heads-side-by-side thing in live action, especially with 1980s special effects. And to be fair, at least they tried; the movie punted by making the heads one on top of the other, with the second head conveniently hidden from view most of the time, and even then they contrived a way to get rid of it entirely in very not-at-all-in-the-book subplot. So they did do about as well as anyone could expect with Zaphod. But still, it looks goofy.

There’s also one other thing. When the Heart of Gold enters orbit around Magrathea and the planet’s nuclear missiles launch, the Guide is careful to point out in advance that everyone is going to survive the attack and that no one will get hurt aside from one of them getting bruised on the upper arm (but won’t say who it is in order to preserve some level of suspense). Given that warning, why oh why does the Guide not warn the viewer about the scene where you see Douglas Adams’s man-ass on display? I mean, seriously.

(No, I’m not going to tell you when that happens in the series. Be glad you’re at least getting a heads-up.)

But needless to say, the series is worth watching, especially if you’re one of those people who thought the movie was OK but wished it didn’t diverge from the books so much. You know who you are.