Archives for : Soap Boxes

The Days are Numbered for Comic Book Movies

I remember when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze reached its zenith in the early 90’s. I was a pre-teen boy – ideally positioned to sop up every bit of Ninja Turtles ephemera they could throw at me. But then I started to notice something weird… the turtles were looking noticeably crappier.

They went from looking like this, in the 1990 live action movie…

To looking like this, in the third live action movie…

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On Pokemon GO and Momentary Obsessions

Let’s go back in time to 1994. You’re 11 years old, the Phoenix Suns are the hottest basketball team around1, Nintendo and Sega are battling it out for home video gaming dominance, punk rock is just becoming mainstream (but you don’t know what punk rock really is, because you’re 11), and little cardboard discs called Pogs are the currency of choice on the playground.

I, along with just about all of my friends, became thoroughly obsessed with collecting Pogs. They sold them at the grocery store, the comic book store, and even the ice cream truck. I got my first taste at an indoor swap meet, where I bought 10 Pogs and a 1/4″ thick plastic slammer that didn’t really do anything. After that I was buying them every time I could scrape together a couple dollars, the slammers increased in thickness and weight and I invested in a two foot tall cylinder to hold it all. Collecting them was an addiction. Playing the game? Not so much. 

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The Root of All Evil

Click these! 2

There really is a “root of all evil”, you know. It’s not money, despite what the Bible says. It’s also not greed, or fear, or hate, or ambition. It’s self-centeredness. Virtually every act of evil, and every evil thought, from the little mundane daily evils like road rage and petty theft all the way up to things like racism, murder and acts of terrorism have their origins in self-centered thinking. There are a couple very rare, very specific exceptions to this (insanity for one), but I invite you to think on the forms of evil you’ve either committed or witnessed. The specific motivations can be broad, complicated, and varied, but the absolute reduction of it all comes down to one simple circumstance: considering one’s own needs and desires over those of others. The opposite of empathy.

Here’s why I bring this up… 

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A Few Words About the New Ghostbusters

Watch this trailer first, if you haven’t seen it! And click these little numbers!2

It’s not even weird anymore, the way our current culture picks apart entertainment. Every bit of pre-production news, casting rumor, casting announcement, leaked set photo, official press photo, teaser trailer, teaser for the trailer, and marketing nugget gets dissected, discussed, and analyzed to death, and opinions and judgments inevitably follow. In some ways, a movie’s legacy is cured and set well before the thing is even finished.

It wasn’t my intention to jump into that mess, though tempted I have been to do as much in the past. But people will ask me what I think of the new Ghostbusters now that the first trailer has hit. So here let it be known, my reaction. 

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The Season of (No) Cynicism

Charlie Brown Christmas

I’m going to make a confession here that, if you know me very well, is no confession at all. If you’re familiar with the content of this site, same. It may come as a surprise to some.

I like Christmas music. Only after Thanksgiving of course, and upon December 26th, let it be gone entirely. But I like it. I listen to the Christmas music stations on Pandora (Indie Holidays is good for the hipster in all of us), I have a pretty decent playlist going in my own music collection (including Bad Religion and Weezer’s respective Christmas albums), and in certain desperate times I even listen to it on terrestrial radio.

It’s not that I think the music itself is great. Some of it is great, some of it is mediocre, and some is downright God awful. And I understand that in most cases it’s completely fucked out. Crammed into our consciousness by retail stores that start playing it exclusively well before Thanksgiving, driving their employees mad. I understand that its saccharine, manufactured cheer can be grating, or immature. I understand all of this. And yet, I listen to it. I enjoy it. (December 1st – 25th)

Thinking on that fact led me to a revelation about my approach to the holidays that I didn’t see before. On my Halloween site, I often examine what makes me such a big fan of the holiday, and it usually boils down to a form of nostalgia, writ large. That and vague notions about simple happiness, which I couldn’t really articulate fully. But what I’ve come to understand just recently is that the thing I really enjoy about the holiday season, the thing that gets me on a deep level, is that the holidays are my own personal break from cynicism. 

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Time to Tear Down Remix Culture

Prepare yourself for some Earth-shattering news: There are a lot of sequels and remakes of movies around these days. 

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On Douchebags: A Prologue

Later this week, I will be publishing an article called “5 Good Things Douchebags Have Unfairly Monopolized“. As I was in the planning phases of the article, I realized that I was bristling about the use of the word “douchebag”, and even considered making it one of the entries on the list. So, I thought it would be useful to have a conversation about the word. 

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Mario Party Foul (Or, How Nintendo Started Hating its Fans)

Another year, another Mario Party. I guess there hasn’t been one every year, but I’m still surprised we’re up to 9 already. Especially since no other Nintendo franchise has ever numbered that high.

If you know me, you probably know I don’t care for board games. The precise reasons might deserve their own post, but suffice it to say I don’t like victory conditions that are determined largely by luck. That’s why I play video games. I’ve tolerated Mario Party because it at least includes a strong element of skill in the mini-games that break up the monotony of the dice-rolling and space-hopping. However, as the series progressed it became clear the element of control over your destiny was just an illusion. The randomness factor was robust.

This comic says it best

So I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw a review for Mario Party 9 on IGN. Here is a choice quote:

…throughout its many generations, Mario Party has carried a fatal flaw, buried deep in its DNA: In spite of your proficiency at mini-games, or penchant for board game strategy, Mario Party is dictated by the dice roll. Randomness, which Mario Party 9 flaunts with a particularly annoying brand of euphoric abandon, ultimately ruins what could be a very good game. 

This sentiment is reflected in 1up.com’s review as well:

 No matter how many stars you may have accumulated throughout the game, a bitter Lady Luck will inevitably step in and level the playing field like some sort of Marxist phantom. Far too often it feels like winning in MP9 requires the same amount of strategy as a Rock, Paper, Scissors match. The game seems Machiavellian in its goal to screw you over at every possible moment via terrible dice rolls, Bowser’s hatred of first place, and arbitrary rewards to the player in last.

There’s a point I’m going to make here besides participating in the Mario Party hate, and I’m slowly working towards it. But first, a bit more detail. There have now been 9 Mario Party games (not including portable versions) spread out over three generations of Nintendo consoles, and every single one has had the same set of flaws. This series didn’t “jump the shark” – it never got good enough to warrant wheeling the shark out in the first place. The bubblegum presentation is as grating as an episode of Blue’s Clues, and seems to be targeted at the same audience. Characters are shrill and obnoxious, and for some reason they feel the need to wrap a one-sixth-assed storyline around it that you can’t ever seem to button through fast enough. And on that note – the way every game presents the initial tutorials suggests that you are A) new to Mario Party, B) new to video games, and C) just old enough to read. Getting into the meat of a Mario Party game is like waiting in line at the DMV.

Over nine games, the innovation seen in this series has been more randomizers, thrown into a game that was already too random to begin with. And finally, in the year of our Lord 2012, Mario Party, a game DESIGNED for multi-player, still does not include online play.

Here’s that point I mentioned before. The point that Mario Party as a series proves to me: Nintendo does not care about what its fans want. Ever since the Nintendo 64 came out, they have relied on their “tentpole” first-party franchises as the money-makers. Mario, Donkey Kong, Mario Kart, Metroid, Zelda, etc. For the most part these releases have been reliably solid, and often brilliant. However, we generally get only one or two of each in every generation, sometimes less. The Nintendo 64 had one “core” Mario platformer, as did the Gamecube. The Wii has two, if you don’t include New Super Mario Bros. Zelda had two releases on N64, two on Gamecube, and one on Wii (I’m counting Twilight Princess as Gamecube only since that’s the platform it was meant for). Metroid never came out on N64, had two on Gamecube, two on Wii. You get the idea. These are the games people want, and as good as they are, I know that they could be better. I’m sure there are people who disagree with me, but there hasn’t been a Mario game that was better than Mario 64. There hasn’t been a Metroid better than Super Metroid, and there hasn’t been a Zelda better than Ocarina of Time. Some have come close, but these 15 year old-plus games have yet to be topped. In many ways, Nintendo never evolved past 1998.

Remember this?

I’m not saying that Nintendo should fall in line with their competitors and start releasing Call of Duty games. Their stubborn refusal to conform to industry standards has a certain charm. But they are leaving too many great opportunities on the table. None of Nintendo’s characters seem to speak – robbing them of the ability to develop into characters we connect with and contribute to a mature, well-written story. Samus didn’t speak until Metroid: Other M, and that game failed to make good use of it. I guarantee, she’ll be mute again next time around. In 1992, Legend of Zelda’s text-driven, mute-hero, save-the-princess storyline was cutting edge. In 2011, it’s dated.

Nintendo’s response to the pleas of its now-adult fans has always been “we think focusing on gameplay rather than cutting-edge presentation is what makes truly memorable games.” And “we’d rather innovate and create something new rather than incrementally improve what already exists.” That’s all well and good, but look at Mario Party. A series that has existed since 1999, and still carries the same flaws it had since the first installment, all the way into 2012. It’s not the only example of course, I could point to other series, (Mario Kart has become awfully Mario Party-esque with its blue shell treachery, don’t you agree?) or I could point to baffling business decisions like using inadequate storage media for its games or the continually lackluster online service.

Nintendo as a company is simply lazy. They thrive by appealing to children, keeping their hardware prices low, dumping heaps of predictable crap upon us and occasionally producing a masterpiece. But one or two masterpieces a year isn’t enough for me, and nostalgia only goes so far. It’s time for Nintendo to surprise us again.