Monday, February 27, 2012

Late Night Kitchen Adventure

I have insomnia. Anyone who follows my Twitter, or my Miso which feeds into my Twitter know this, as they have watched me rip through entire seasons of television series in the dead of night. Yes, it's true, not being able to sleep at night, the devil does make work for idle hands. I still write from time to time when I can't sleep, watching TV on my iPhone is recent bad habit.

When I first got married, playing Atari was my can't-sleep go-to. We inherited The Bride's grandmother's condo, and with it, most of her furnishings. Thus we had a tiny TV in the kitchen, one without cable. No cable, so not much point in watching it, but I got the bright idea to hook my old Atari 2600 up to it.

Now when I say 'old' Atari, it's not an original system. It is one of those wannabe Gemini systems popular in the mid-1980s when Atari was having its first nostalgia resurgence. Back in the day, the Ataris I played belonged to seemingly everyone else in the world but me. This was my first Atari, circa 1985. The months after the purchase were spent madly collecting old 2600 games I loved years earlier at places like decrepit K-Marts, dead Kiddie Cities, and the Berlin Farmers Market.

One of the prizes of that game search was Adventure. Back in the day, this was the closest we had to a Dungeons & Dragons video game. There was no Warcraft, or Diablo, or even Bard's Tale, just this great little vague pixilated game full of fun and forced imagination. This was a game with buzz, with everyone talking about what may or may not be the first videogame Easter egg - the dust speck. More on that later.

In Adventure, you were a small square that moved via joystick through a maze visiting castles of different colors seeking out keys, the sword, and finally the chalice. Along the way you had to dodge or kill the three dragons - Yorgle, Rhindle and Grundle (how's that for having a brain that's a vast storehouse of useless knowledge?). There was also a bridge that allowed you to pass through obstacles, and the mysterious dust speck hidden in the wall that led you to the game designer's credit. Now that's what the dust speck really did, although there was much speculation as to its other abilities.

It's a fun but simple game, and by simple I don't mean to imply easy at all. There was quite a lot of difficulty to it. And there still is. I play it today on my iPhone with the Atari's Greatest Hits app. I miss the days of the original Atari, except for waiting my turn, which was maddening with Adventure, but most of all, I miss my insomniac late night kitchen adventures, they were the best.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

But I Wanna Play The Vision

After trying to download this one seemingly a million times, I finally managed to get one to stick, and I got a free download from the PlayStation Store of Marvel Vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes. Now I'm a non-gamer so I'm a little fuzzy on who the competition is (I don't even recognize anyone from Street Fighter), but I know my Marvel Comics heroes, so hopefully this should have been fun.

One thing, you have to buy the game. Usually the concept of the whole game vs. the demo game doesn't really affect me, but here it does. The character choice is extremely limited. You get to be Captain America, Wolverine, or Cable - or one of the anonymous unknown anime fighter characters from the Capcom universe. Game play is nothing but button mashing and hoping for the best, so it's another game where I would benefit from five minutes with the instructions. But that said, I don't know if I would enjoy it more if I was doing things right.

It was another one of those games I could not enjoy by myself, another player was needed to even test it out so I recruited my buddy Ray, whose first remarks were about the introductory artwork on the Marvel characters, "worse than Liefield." Now while I don't share his thoughts on Rob Liefield, I have to admit the art is not great. Even the anime representations in the game itself are not so hot.

This was really not as much fun as it could have been, especially considering it was such a limited demo. But then even if it was the full version, featuring twenty-eight different Marvel characters, there really aren't any that jump out at me to make me want to play. Maybe I'm just hard to please, but how about the Vision, Hellcat, Moon Knight, or the Human Torch as playable characters? With an entire universe to pick from, really, these are the best you got?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Totally in the Dark

I'm a comics guy, not a gaming guy, but this one completely eludes me. The Darkness, and The Darkness II were both hard games to get into. It's based on a comic book by Top Cow, so you'd think I'd be into it, but the fact is I don't know all that much about The Darkness. And that's the comic, not the band. I like the band.

Here's what I know about the Darkness: published by Top Cow, he wears a mask over the lower part of his face, and the guy who created him - his favorite band is Journey. That last bit stuck with me from a nearly all forgotten Wizard Magazine article about the creator. I can't remember his name but I remember that little tidbit because The Bride is such a big Journey fan. That's it.

Apparently he's a mob guy who is possessed by evil dark stuff or beings. Not much else of it makes sense. For the real scoop, I consulted Wikipedia for this entry. Does that make any sense? Here's what I got from that. Jackie Estacado is a mob hitman who is cursed on his twenty-first birthday to carry the curse of The Darkness, an entity that can access the otherworldly dimension of the Darklings. Thus he is granted a gamut of super powers, not the least of which is darkness manipulation, yet somehow, especially in the videogame, he depends mostly on guns. Got it?

The opening to The Darkness is disturbing and creepy, like 1990s Nine Inch Nails music video disturbing. By the way, if I haven't mentioned it yet, this game (nor its sequel) is not for the kids. From all appearances it is a first person shooter crossed with Japanese tentacle porn. So, best of both worlds, I guess. There's a sweet voice cast involved, including Mike Patton from Faith No More, and Lauren Ambrose from "Six Feet Under" and "Torchwood: Miracle Day." Beyond that, and a lot of shooting, it doesn't really make a lot of sense. At least not to me.

First there's a crazy race through a tunnel, crashing and being shot at, then a shootout in an abandoned building. Once the controllers are gotten used to, and what they do memorized, it could be fun. The thing is, every single button, every single one, is used. I should have a diagram in front of me to play. This could be fun, maybe.

Darkness II still has a creepy opening, the protagonist, played in first person shooter style by you, is being crucified, and the makers of the game, Starbreeze Studios, take full advantage of the shaking rattling controller. It is unnerving. The actual game is kinda realistic with a Grand Theft Auto vibe. You enter an Italian, obviously mob-related, restaurant, sit down and somebody tries to whack you. You're hurt and must make your way out, someone carrying you as you shoot anyone following, again with full on shaking controller. This was actually kinda fun.

So I vote maybe on the first one, and a hesitant yes on the second. All things considered, I think I will pass on the comic, and the video games… even if the creator (apparently Marc Silvestri, among others) does like Journey.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Who Plays the Watchmen?

Who Watches the Watchmen? was the question spray-painted on walls in defiance throughout perhaps the greatest superhero story ever told. The answer is that everyone does now. Especially with DC Comics' recent announcement that this summer would be highlighted by an extensive series of prequels to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' classic twelve-issue maxi-series.

In 1986, Moore and Gibbons revolutionized the comics industry, and how we think about superheroes with Watchmen. It brought four color comics storytelling to a whole new level and told a tale of intrigue, betrayal, romance, politics, adventure, and even pirates and nuclear suspense. Utilizing a nine-panel grid layout and nonlinear narrative, it jumped through time and space and even plot to create a masterful and complex story of superheroes deconstructed in a real world setting. It was, and is, epic.

Now I'm not going to pass any judgment on "Before Watchmen," or at least not here on this blog, but it should be noted that a year or two back a movie was made of the comic series, one that I really did like, and from that, a videogame came into being, one that I've downloaded not just one part, but two. Yeah, this time, we're talking about Who Plays the Watchmen? That'd be me.

Watchmen: The End Is Nigh comes in two parts as a downloadable demo for the PS3. I've talked a little bit about the first part here. Part one happens during a prison break, and part two you get to go to a strip club. As the two playable protagonists, Rorshach and Nite Owl, in a time before costumed vigilantes were outlawed, the 1970s, you are promised to encounter villains from the comics who are only mentioned, like the Underboss, the Twilight Lady, as well as more famous (or infamous) folks like the Comedian, and even Woodward and Bernstein.

Now that might al sound like a blast to those of us who love the comics, and dig story in our videogames, but for folks like me, who have trouble with the controllers and aren't seasoned gamer professionals - we'll barely get through the prison and/or the strip club to any actual plot. Also, knowing there's a programmed-in ending, no matter what, is also a bit of a disappointment even before you play. The fight moves are repetitive, and it's always raining, so there's really not much to see, but it is always a treat to see characters you know as opposed to unfamiliar gaming characters.

And as an added bonus, this is technically a pseudo-prequel to the great comic series. Like the DC Heroes RPG module "Taking Out the Trash," a panel or two in Countdown, and of course The Question #17, this is one of the real addenda to the Watchmen saga before the announcement of Before Watchmen. Watch out, the universe is about to get bigger...