Shin Godzilla: Scrap and Rebuild



This is my first bonafide original post on this “blog” (I’ve used it exclusively to retain copies of my output from Unreality and Gamemoir thus far), but with Amazon being a fetid wasteland and no other sites I’m actively writing for, I’ve decided to post the only review you need to read for Japan’s first Godzilla film in a dozen years. Why would a normally humble and self-deprecating fellow like myself declare his halfass amateur review the one review to rule them all? Because a) I’m a rabid kaijuphile and anime fan, but not an otaku, b) I’m a longstanding admirer of Japanese pop culture, but not a weeaboo, c) I’ve seen every last Godzilla film-including Godzilla 1985 (aka Godzilla Returns) in theaters when I was seven- and retain a undying passion for the big lizard that hasn’t diminished in the least, and d) if we’re using Wikipedia as a judge, I’m the foremost expert on all things Neon Genesis Evangelion and, by extension, Hideaki Anno. Okay, that was a bit much, but a quote of mine does head up the “Reception” section of my all-time favorite anime’s Wikipedia page (and I didn’t put it there), so I figure that’s got to mean something. Enough preamble. Let’s do this.

Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla Resurgence) is if nothing else, an interesting film.  I think I would have loved it if it wasn’t a Godzilla film. But it is, and in a lot of ways it simply does not live up to the legend that this icon of cinema has built. After twelve years, this is a bizarre way for Japan relaunch the brand and reclaim ownership of their most famous export. I was a huge fan of Gareth Edward’s 2014 American reboot. I was seven years old all over again watching the final act of that film. Edward’s Godzilla felt like a legendary rock act making a triumphant return playing all the hits. By comparison, Anno’s Godzilla is in its weird experimental phase. It’s got some truly inspiring ideas and a brand new approach, but it’s also confounding at times. I believe that Anno is a genius who always knows what he’s doing, but I also think he’s a madman and the audience doesn’t/can’t always know what the hell he’s doing.


Pictured: epic shot.

I was slightly concerned that out of the three feature length films (not counting the Eva remake) of his I’d watched, two out of the three featured a male character ejaculating into a non-consenting teenage girl’s hand. I mean what are the odds? On the other hand, End of Evangelion is a fucking masterpiece and the best series finale of any show ever, and Love and Pop put on display the director’s penchant for creative camerawork, making even the most mundane actions seem interesting with crazy shots from places you’d never expect. And really, what’s a little errant semen between an auteur and his fans? Thankfully, Godzilla keeps it in his pants, and there are definitely some awe-inspiring shots, but overall, I feel that the Big G’s return to his native stomping grounds is a bit of a let-down.

Without getting into too many spoilers, let me break down the good, the bad, and the ugly of the version of the king of monsters that I have dubbed “Godzillavangelion”. First, let me note the overall tone and style of the film. As other reviews have noted, the plot is less about the monster himself and more about the bureaucracy and logistics involved with a giant unstoppable monster laying waste to one of the greatest cities on Earth. While a great fresh take on the kaiju genre, in Anno’s hands that means a lot of the scenes are “shot of character/line/shot of different character/line/shot of a third character/line” and so on with rapid fire exposition. It’s not a particularly dynamic storytelling approach and it’s not great for building characters either, it only serves to convey information before moving along and the director’s apathy kind of shows.

The film’s score alternates between a limited number of themes that often brought Eva to mind, interspersed with some of the classic themes we all remember. All of is good-to-great music, but they often feel lackadaisically implemented. A well-applied soundtrack can make a cool moment goosebump-inducing or a killer scene truly epic. I feel like the material was there for Shin Godzilla, but seem to be used indifferently. Almost randomly. The classic Akira Ifukube pieces are among my most cherished cinema score classics, but they need an update. The way they are used here, they almost sound like they are being played through a gramophone or some other ancient audio technology. This may have been a deliberate choice to tug on our nostalgia strings, but it feels artificial. Those are evocative, powerful, and timeless pieces of music. But even timeless music can do with an upgrade every now and then. The cast gets the job done, but don’t really stand out much. Some ironic humor makes its way into the political wrangling, but the only character who really leaves an impression is a beautiful bilingual Japanese-American woman aspiring to be president of the United States in spite of the fact that she’s clearly not a native English speaker.


Jeepers creepers…wherever you got those peepers, take them back!

Then there is the titular monster. Shin Godzilla is most certainly a win for Godzilla as a metaphor for potentially apocalyptic disaster. But for Godzilla as an icon of cinema, not so much. The first time he is shown onscreen, I thought it was a joke. I literally laughed out loud in the theater and I was not the only one to do so by a long shot. I kept waiting for the real Godzilla to show up and eat that goofy-looking thing. But this isn’t even the resurgent Godzilla’s final form. He’s able to evolve himself with a thought. Yes, like a Pokemon. I don’t want to give away how far they take this silly idea, but let’s just say that by the end he’s more mecha than kaiju. And I don’t mean MechaGodzilla. And the fact that he spends a large chunk of the movie sleeping upright for no reason with his beady eyes wide open and his tail still sticking up in the air in the middle of Tokyo is just….why? Why would anybody do that?

Speaking of Godzilla’s eyes, if you were building a case that an entire film could be ruined by a single pair of eyes, Shin Godzilla would be your star witness. They looked better in the ’60s. Way better. From that first comedic shot where the eyes are obnoxiously large (they’d be cute if they weren’t so goddamn lifeless) to the climax where the eyes are still the same size but the rest of him is several times larger and his eyelids are metal sheets or something, I can’t imagine how they decided that was the look they wanted to go for. It’ becomes an unnecessary focal point that threatens to make the movie an unintentional comedy. Even the killer fish in Beneath looked more lifelike, and that was practically a Roger Corman flick.

The monster is designed, I think, to put the “God” back into Godzilla. He’s portrayed as extremely massive, indifferent, and all-powerful. Given Anno’s obvious fascination with religion -evident from Eva (Evadent?)- I’m pretty sure that’s what he was going for. He stomps through Tokyo tanking headshots from every piece of artillery the Japanese SDF can muster up without so much as turning his head to acknowledge them. Like a Lovecraftian elder god, he just does not care about the impotent and cosmically insignificant race known as humanity. We rage and flee and plan his demise while our cities crumble around us and he just keeps ambling along, oblivious to any of it. Until we really piss him off, that is. Again, cool as a metaphor, but is a Godzilla this boring and devoid of personality really Godzilla? I guess it has to be since the GINO acronym was already taken by Roland Emmerich’s 1998 abomination, but I feel like this is the least lifelike kaiju I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a whole lot of kaiju.

Along with some jaw-dropping shots, the interest generated by the new approach of focusing on the government’s dilemmas with figuring out what the hell to do when a gigantic irradiated beast starts tearing your country to shreds definitely saves the film, though. The Japanese government struggles with all sorts of problems of when and where to open fire while citizens evacuate and how much control to surrender to outside forces. Naturally, the good ol’ US is concerned about where the big lizard might go once Japan is stomped flat and their preferred reaction is to let history repeat itself and drop the bomb. I mean, they’ve already eaten two thermonuclear blasts. What’s one more? As one character says, they must be prepared to “scrap and rebuild” for the good of the nation and the world. Naturally, there are some in Japan who would rather not blow up their country’s crown jewel metropolis, and therein lies the fascination. At what point does a creature like this become a world issue and not a local one? As Godzilla evolves more and more powerful and destructive traits and could potentially even begin replicating itself, it becomes clear that something drastic must be done NOW. But what?


Moar of this, plz.

Personally, after all of the political intrigue I found the resolution of all this to be rather lame. While the artistic aspirations were clearly reaching for that first perfect 1954 masterpiece of Japanese cinema -the American cut was little more than a narrated highlight reel, check out the original Gojira for reference- for the first time since then, I’m afraid they fall well short. That said, I still recommend this film to any kaiju fanatic. It’s certainly not all that it could have been, and that hurts because it’s so close to great in some aspects. But the handling of the titular monster is stiff and often unnecessarily cartoonish, which is kind of a dealbreaker when dealing with such a beloved icon. Like I said, if it wasn’t a Godzilla movie, I think it would have fared better. But on the other hand, Anno’s fresh set of eyes have provided a lot that could be built upon and refined. Political intrigue is all the rage in pop culture and if they could integrate that approach into a more realistic and recognizable version of the king of monsters, I can see this as a stepping stone to a potentially amazing future.

Shin Godzilla didn’t make me feel like a seven year old trying to stop myself from jumping out of my seat and cheer for my favorite giant fire-breathing dinosaur, but the adult in me appreciated a lot of the intellectual aspects of it regardless. Marrying the former with the latter is all I want from the franchise and it seems only a movie away at this point. There was greatness in this concept, but too many poor choices along the way that I feel will alienate both older fans looking for nostalgia and younger ones looking for more action and visual stimulation. The final shot before the credits roll implies the possibility of a sequel, but I’m not convinced that I want one unless the next is a different beast altogether. Literally. I feel like there’s nowhere else I want to see this version of Godzilla go. It was an interesting experiment with some successes that arguably trump the failures, but I feel like the best thing to do is to nuke this stiff, beady-eyed lizard and move on to yet another reboot a few years down the road utilizing more aspects of what we love about the franchise along with the more adult themes. In other words: scrap and rebuild. I just hope it doesn’t take twelve more years.


Four Things We Hopefully Won’t Be Seeing in Berserk Warriors


I had some serious mixed feeling when Koei Tecmo announced they were making a new game based on the brutal dark fantasy manga/anime series, Berserk, and releasing it in the West. On one hand, Japan’s strongest fantasy manga is begging to be an awesome video game and with the anime finally getting a second season after nearly TWENTY YEARS and it being a primary influence on the beloved Dark Souls series there is no time like the present to do that. This series has the potential to deliver one of the greatest action role playing games of all time.

But that’s where the mixed feelings come in. Because this is Koei Tecmo (the game devs formerly known as Tecmo Koei) and their bread and butter has somehow become the repetitive Dynasty Warriors series and its ever-growing list of offshoots, spin-offs, and franchise adaptations where gameplay consists entirely of mashing buttons while your chosen avatar obliterates dozens of idle bad guys with each attack. I’m not saying a hack-and-slash Berserk game is a terrible idea (it’s been done before) considering the amount of hacking and slashing present in the source material. I’m just saying they could do better. A more Dark Souls-inspired take could have been something really special.

And then there’s tone to consider. The Warriors series so far has consisted of things like fictionalized Asian history, Gundam, The Legend of Zelda, and One Piece. Going from there to Berserk…not the best idea. Gamers with fond memories of wrecking shop with the adorable likes of tomboy princess Sun Shang Xiang, elastic pirate goofball Luffy, or gender-swapped cutie-pie Linkle who decide to step into the shoes of Guts and his band are going to be met with a world of WTF.

This list is going to include some aspects of the franchise that some of us here in the West might refer to as “problematic”. As in this is one of the most brutal and twisted non-hentai properties I’ve ever encountered, and I seek those sorts of thing out. Berserk is full of horrific violence, misogyny, full frontal sex; pretty much all of the things your mama (and Tumblr) warned you about. So I feel like going from One Piece to Berserk is going to require a disclaimer. Here are some aspects of Kentaro Miura’s fantasy epic that probably/hopefully will not be darkening our virtual door.


Phallic Monstersberserk2

As stated above, the manga has a certain….flair for putting certain unsavory aspects of humanity front and center. If you think Game of Thrones has too much sex and violence, you know nothing, Jon Snow. Miura-san’s artwork is among the most detailed, revered, and stunning in all of the very large universe that is manga, but he is seldom shy about pushing whatever is in his head onto the page. And apparently his head is often filled with penises.

I’m not one of those people who goes around pointing out that every single thing that is longer than it is wide is a phallic symbol of our oppressive patriarchal overlords shoving their privilege into our faces, but sometimes a cigar (or a giant cock demon) is not just a cigar. Like I said, a lot of recurring aspects of this franchise are just not going to gel with Western audiences and I’m pretty sure that this is one of them. Miura deserves props for the creativity of his designs, but not all of his Lovecraftian monstrosities are video game material.

While the trolls’ prodigious shnozzes are no worse than, oh, say ALF’s, some of the creatures have more definitive features that make it pretty hard not to see a giant dick when you look at them. Also, some of them actually have giant dicks. In the manga most of these creatures make pretty brief appearances as background baddies in chaotic demon swarms and whatnot, but in a video game, you tend to see a lot of the same enemies over and over again and that goes triple for a Warriors game. I wouldn’t expect those designs to pass muster, so don’t expect to be wading through oceans of wieners with teeth. If that happens to be a personal fantasy of yours, I’m sorry in advance for the letdown, but as a condolence, don’t be too surprised if the above boss monster shows up.


Too Much “Reality”berserk1

Right off the bat, series protagonist Guts is the anti-est of anti-heroes. In the very first episode of the new anime he lets it be known that he has no fucks to give after his presence causes the death of two innocents (including a young girl), brushing it off by declaring that he’d never be able to take a single step if he was always worried about stepping on ants. Then he spends the next couple episodes mocking the Christian faith. No. Fucks. That’s kind of Berserk’s attitude about a lot of things, which is probably why nearly every story arc has scenes of non-consensual intercourse and/or constant threats of it whenever a woman is present. Hell, the very first shot in the new anime is of a dude dragging a screaming woman into a house by her hair.

A lot of fans of the series brush this particularly disturbing and prominent recurring theme off as being “reality” for that time period. But then again, when one is enjoying a series about demons and magic, a dude who swings a sword bigger than he is with one hand and wins fights against a hundred trained soldiers, I think reality may not be the most important factor in play. Still “reality” is a better word than “rape” when it comes to bold-face header titles so thanks for that, at least.

But yeah, I do think the Berserk game could do with less troll rape orgies, if that’s okay with everybody. I’m not saying that you have to censor the story and make it all G-rated, I’m just saying that there doesn’t have to a cutscene every other battle where helpless women are brutalized and violated by some hellspawn or bandits just to give you an excuse to cut them all down. On the other hand, a Berserk game just won’t feel right without a Rape Horse (see above image) boss battle, so it doesn’t all have to go. Just don’t make it seem like the main theme, yeah?


“Derp” Cascaberserk3

Moving right along from that note of Berserk not exactly being a safe space for women, we have perhaps the most questionable story development in manga history. After the initial eight issue arc in the manga, the story did something really super weird. It spent nearly a hundred issues on a flashback. That’s eight issues of present day story followed by eighty-four of backstory. That was six years worth. The Golden Age arc is what the franchise is best known for and it was adapted as an anime for television in the ‘90s and again as a CG film trilogy a few years ago, and it is confirmed to be a part of the upcoming game.

Serious spoilers are coming up so feel free to skip to the next section if you don’t want to dive down this rabbit hole of fuck. At its heart, The Golden Age is a love story between Guts and Casca, who is a badass warrior woman that falls for him while the two are fighting in the same mercenary band. It’s an amazing story worthy of the best that fantasy fiction has to offer. Then the end happens. It’s truly a stunning and horrible sight to behold and I love a great many things about it, but the aftermath is troubling. Long story short (and I am truly sorry for my language here, but it’s necessary to paint the proper picture): Casca gets raped retarded by a demon and that’s what kicked this whole shitstorm of death off.

Now, it’s bad enough that a strong woman is used as a sexual pawn in an act of violence between men and is rendered mentally disabled by the act, but the worst thing about it is that they kept her that way. I assumed she would recover her sensibilities, but nearly three hundred and fifty chapters in, “Derp Casca” (as she is often referred to by fans to separate her from the original character) is still drooling on herself and occasionally serving as the most depressing attempt at comic relief ever. I’m about 99% sure this is going to factor into the game majorly, seeing that the initial Japanese trailer partially depicts the act that left her in that state, but I’m still hoping her participation is minimal. Golden Age Casca is confirmed playable, but Derp Casca will just be an unwanted irritation that will make us long for the days of simple damseling.


berserk4The Voyage of the Damned

The Golden Age may have represented the most unusual pacing decision in the history of fiction but since then Miura has found more creative ways to test his readers’ patience. Six years of essential flashback is one thing, but seven years on a boat? Damn. The latter volumes of Berserk had the heroes spending sixty four issues at sea, essentially putting the entire main story on hold yet again as the characters journeyed to the elvish homeland. Adventures were had, backs were flashed, friends were made, characters were developed, and there were mermaids, etc, but still. Seven years is a long time to wait for…well, pretty much anything.

This thing has become such a joke that it’s pretty much all the fandom was for a while. The author’s repeated hiatuses and the lack of story momentum drove readers away (including this one) as the pace drew to a grinding halt. Instead of furthering Guts’ campaign for vengeance against the man who murdered his friends and derped Casca, we were treated to an irritating recurring villain in the form of a goofy pirate who began to feel like Ultros in Final Fantasy VI after a while. How do you make this into a hack and slash video game? Hopefully you don’t. A proper RPG maybe could use it as a character-building section, but as a Warriors-style game I just don’t see it happening.

The manga is only a few issues past the loooooooong-awaited arrival at Elfhelm, a world away from the enemies Guts seeks to eventually defeat, so there’s no good reason for the video game to include the voyage when there’s nothing to adapt beyond that, so it’s pretty safe to say the trip will not be in-game unless it’s start is the finale. As for the manga, now that our heroes have finally arrived at their island destination, there’s only question in the minds of longtime Berserk fans: how long is the trip back home going to be?

One way or another, I’m fated to play Berserk Warriors (if that’s the title they go with). If nothing else it’s going to be really interesting to see how Koei Tecmo integrates these insane elements and story pacings into a cohesive video game (if they do) and how gamers deal with it when they go in expecting another typical Warriors game and get a faceful of all that is Berserk. At least it won’t take seven years to find out.


The Trials and Tribulations of Waiting for ARK: Survival Evolved on Playstation


Last year I happened across a trailer for a video game that has been one my most-anticipated releases ever since. It just looked….really awesome. Basically, it’s an MMO version of Minecraft’s survival mode with full current-gen muscle and it revolves around my favorite thing since I was a child: dinosaurs. You could fight them and, if you were too badass to stop at that, you could tame and ride them into battle against your foes. Who wouldn’t want to play that?

ARK: Survival Evolved went into Steam early access a little later and sold a million copies inside of a month, quietly becoming a massive hit. And I mean really quietly. Looking on IGN, there are only ten articles involving it on the entire site. Compare that to Overwatch, which seems to get that many a week over a month after release. There was very little available in the way of updates, but in December I became aware that the game was also in early release on Xbox One because a coworker of mine wouldn’t shut up about it. The dude was really hyped to be playing this game, and that sort of enthusiasm is contagious as hell.


Do I want to start a giant scorpion biker gang? So much.

After hearing it talked up to such extent, I went looking for info and found that the PS4 was getting no early access love, but went to preorder it at Gamestop anyways. The employee looked baffled and informed me that it was a digital-only release set for May. Think maybe you could have told me that, internet? Oh well. Something to look forward to, right? Then the release got postponed to “late 2016”, which in my experience means “sometime in 2017. Maybe. If you’re lucky”.

Normally when a game gets pushed back my reaction is “good” because it means they are taking the time to properly polish the game and deliver you the best possible product, which is as it should be. But with ARK, it’s different because everybody else gets to play it but me. And oh, the tales that have been told. Tales of tribes of merciless griefers imprisoning players and forcing them to commit fecal suicide or feeding them to their feral pets like action movie villains. Tales of riding giant sharks like Aquaman and soaring through the sky on pterosaurs. OH MY GOD, I MUST PLAY THIS GAME!

In March, it was announced that the game may be pulled from sale altogether, because of course. By that time it had sold some four million on Steam and over a million on Xbox One and the full game wasn’t even close to the full release yet. That is no joke for an indie release, and it’s no surprise that people would be trying to get a piece of that pie. In this case, a former member of ARK’s development team at Studio Wildcard had been under a no-compete clause with another company who were looking to cash in on that fine print. Fantastic.


Do yourself a favor and browse the Steam reviews for Ark. I promise you will not be disappointed.

In late April, it was announced that Sony would be the first to host a free-to-play standalone multiplayer build of the game called Survival of the Fittest that would be all about PvP and release July 19. Other gamers had had to pay for their early access, but we are going to get a chunk of it for free! Or are we? Once again, the lack of coverage leaves me baffled. An update on the Playstation Blog states that the release has been put on hold in order to focus on the full game. Really?! I don’t know. I can’t seem to find any confirmation of this fact a less than a week from the title’s supposed release. Every site reported the announcement of the release date, but this supposed cancellation just got an updated annotation on the old announcement article on a single site; not even it’s own article. Am I ever going to play this game?    

Eventually the lawsuit was settled out of court, so at least it won’t stop the game from coming out entirely, but this has been a lot to go through for one indie game. The constant shuffling of release dates and taunting from PC and Xbone gamers and the search for updates has left me feeling a bit burned out. But thanks to our early access friends, the game’s number of prehistoric species has increased from seventy to over a hundred and the game has expanded in all directions as a result of its success, so at least there’s that.

With any luck, Sony gamers will be riding T-Rexes and imprisoning noobs in fecal death pits like our gamer brethren by Christmas and won’t have to suffer through the gameplay bugs and growing pains of a game in development. Better yet, those of us who have been reading the chronicles of their adventures and get in first will be prepared to quickly form up tribes and consolidate power so we can be in charge of griefing new players. Hey, survival of the fittest, man. You want to play on my server, you’d better EARN that shit.  

While daydreaming of my future conquests and horrifying deaths and awaiting more news on when we can bring them to fruition, now just seemed like the time to reflect on a game that came out of nowhere and has kept people more captivated in its pre-release state than most games ever will. It’s been a strange road waiting for it to hit the PS4, filled with delays and disappointments and I’m more ready than ever to play what may be the best dino game of all time. Let’s ride.    


I Experienced Mass Effect: New Earth and Didn’t Even Get a Lousy T-Shirt

Mass Effect: New Earth (PRNewsFoto/3D Live)

You know, I’d actually forgotten that they were making my favorite video game series into an amusement park ride when I suddenly found that Mass Effect: New Earth was opening last month in Santa Clara’s Great America amusement park in my home state of California. My first instinct was to run out my door and drive straight there, forsaking the earthly amenities of job, home, and family for the opportunity to be among the first to experience BioWare’s masterpiece in ride form.

But being the calm, cool, and collected geek I am, I bided my time, let the hype and the crowds die down a bit, and scraped together some cash to do this properly. Hell, I even brought along the wife and kid because why not. The words “Great America” hadn’t really entered my mind since I went as a teenager due largely to the inordinate number of awesome theme parks residing in Cali, but one way or another, I knew I was not getting out of this summer without experiencing firsthand the temple they’d practically built in my backyard paying tribute to my most revered gaming franchise. And last week, experience it I did.

mass effect new earth entrance


In the month I waited since the ride’s opening, I was careful to avoid any and all articles that may have spoiled the experience. I wanted to go in knowing nothing, and I succeeded. Was there any possibility that this thing was going to live up to the hype I was burdening it with? Fuck no. It’s a five minute amusement park ride. It was never going to encompass the insanely epic trilogy spanning dozens of hours and worlds and hundreds of cosmic possibilities. You can’t even adequately sum up the basic concepts of Mass Effect in five minutes.

And then there’s the fact that Disney’s Star Tours had done the same thing with the Star Wars franchise nearly thirty years ago and many have trod that ground since. Hell, the Minions have their own 3D ride at Universal Studios. So maybe a little underwhelming, then? Yeah, a bit. But still, anything worth doing is worth redoing Mass Effect style. New Earth is a fun little romp through a small section of the Mass Effect universe during the events of the third game that revamps the old concept with some added twists borrowed from other Disney attractions.

When you read that this is a “4D holographic journey” you may wonder what kind of mind-bending astrophysics are implemented to bring this fourth dimension into play in a world that consists of a mere three. All it really is an added immersion factor that stimulates you with various well-timed sensations during the ride. Ever wondered what a rachni’s breath smells like? Well, now I know. That and the temperature of their slobber. So basically, I’m a better fan than you now. Thanks, Great America!  

Where Star Tours put you inside of a room that moves in time with the show to give the illusion of movement, New Earth has each individual seat move while blasting you with air and occasionally water as well as some scents, so you see, hear, feel, and smell it all. You can even smell the dust when your ship brushes against a mountain. Along with the live performer acting as your captain and the gigantic screen with 3D effects, it’s a really cool experience.

mass effect new earth spectre armour display

Spectre armour on display in both fem and bro models.

There’s plenty of fanservice on hand (both times I rode it, fangirls screamed when the captain mentioned that a certain Commander Shepard may have once ridden that very ship) including appearances from the Normandy and some of her crew, but the experience is very friendly for non-gamers as well. A pre-boarding video gives you the basics of Mass Relay travel and you don’t need to know much to enjoy a virtual space ship ride with 3D lasers and monsters and stuff.

All in all, New Earth is a great premise whose only downfalls are that it’s already been done and the experience is all too brief. The games are better, but after I shut them off I don’t have an entire amusement park full of badass thrill coasters, water slides, and churros at my disposal either. Great America was more than worth the cost of its admission (assuming you get the online discount) so the addition of a Mass Effect attraction is just geek-flavored icing on the cake. And the lines weren’t even bad on a Sunday.  

Surprisingly, I actually had trouble finding any merchandise for the recently opened ride, unless you count getting my picture taken with a life-size cutout of Urdnot Wrex. I went into most of the shops over the course of the day and found everything from a giant dragon skull replicas to multiple stores dedicated to Peanuts to a t-shirt of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy that was suggestive enough to prompt my wife to photograph it and text it to her lesbian friend, but no Mass Effect gear.

mass effect tali shirt

You shall be mine….

I’ve always wanted a Mass Effect t-shirt, but have only ever run across some pretty bland N7 logos. I was really hoping to go home with a really awesome one, but as we headed for the exit and the park darkened around us, my quest had failed. Ironically, I am irritated when other theme parks dump you from a ride directly into a themed gift shop, but the one time I actually want a whole store dedicated to an attraction, I can’t find anything. But wait! What’s that? The gift shop right at the entrance so you don’t see it coming in, but can’t miss it going out has the shirt I need but never knew I wanted sitting in the window! A killer stylized design of notorious space waifu Tali’Zorah vas Normandy herself stared back at me, beckoning.

If this seems like a fairy tale ending to a quest for merchandise from a man who normally despises souvenirs, it is. That is to say, it didn’t actually work out in real life. The shirt was there on display, but when I ran in to sing “how much is that Tali in the window?” they were sold out. My entire life, in a nutshell, folks.

It was a great day I had prompted by my love of Mass Effect, but I do have to question Great America’s merchandising stratagem. I mean, come on! You just opened this awesome ride based on one of the greatest gaming franchises last month. You knew Biodrones would be coming from near and far to throw their money at you and you drop the ball on stocking t-shirts? Shame!

Still, if you’re in the NorCal neighborhood and looking for a great way to spend your time, you could do a lot worse than stopping by Santa Clara to give Mass Effect: New Earth a go. It’s -as Tali would say- totally worth it. It doesn’t reinvent the Star Tours wheel, but it does give it a nice new video gamey coat of paint (and monster drool). Who’d have thought video game rides would turn out better than video game movies? Admission to the park is about forty dollars a pop if you order online, the crowds were extremely manageable, the roller coasters are top notch, there are carnival games and an in-house water park; there’s literally something for everyone. Just don’t go for the Mass Effect merchandise.

Mighty No. 9 Presents: How to Turn an Entire Industry Against You

What do you get when you mix the hopes and dreams of millions of old school gamers with a legendary video game artist, a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, and more bad choices than Election Day? You get Mighty No. 9, Keiji Inafune’s spiritual successor to his classic beloved Mega Man series.

It was a high profile game with everything going for it. Fantastic-looking characters, recognizable gameplay with a fresh coat of paint just how we like it, a legit pedigree, and an army of backers ready to shell out their money for what was essentially a rebirth of one of gamings’ most famed franchises that has lost its momentum over the years. How exactly does this not spell success? Weeeellllll……

dina karam tweet

Interesting idea, but I would suggest examining the sustainability of that reproductive model before carrying it out…

It started small enough with the game’s online community manager baiting “gaters” on Twitter with ill-advised rants and calling for them to boycott of the game in addition to the occasional call for male genocide (gendercide?) and banning people from the forums. You know, the usual internet stuff. But still, as a general rule a company shouldn’t hire a community manager to represent them that publicly threatens to murder half of their game’s potential user base, calls for people to boycott the game, and generally attracts, agitates, and embodies the exact elements that it’s a community manager’s job to keep under control.

But then again, they only gave her the job because of her personal relationships within the development team. It’s not like that’s a dealbreaker. As fans awaited the game after paying for the entire development process out of pocket, they were treated to multiple delays that saw the game postponed by over an entire year from its original release date. But hey, that’s more quality time to spend with the charming community manager (who was eventually removed) while you wait!

The game had to come out at some point, and come out it did. All of the years of hype and drama and four million dollars in donations and finally gamers were able to purchase this mythical unicorn of a beautiful 2D shooter last week. Surely the pre-launch trailer was going to be epic. Surely. Let’s check it out.

Oh. My. Fucking. God. Did that really happen in 2016? I honestly don’t know where to begin with that train wreck so I’m going to go with my line-by-line thoughts on the single worst advertisement in video game history; one that makes us long for the days of “she kicks high”.

“Hey, you! Looking at the screen!”

How did he know?!

“Let me ask you a question: do you like awesome things that are awesome?”


“Then you gotta play this game, dude.”

Okay, dude.

“It’s freakin’ COOL. And CRAZY addictive! Like popping BUBBLE WRAP addictive!”

Bubble wrap doesn’t cost four million dollars to make, though…

“See, that’s your dash move. There’s a short dash and a long dash, jump dash, spiral, slide. There’s probably a dash that makes you breakfast, I don’t know!”

Is this the first trailer to list every control in the game and then make one up just to be stupid? SETTLE DOWN, MAN!

“Point is, you’re dashing around like a friggin’ moon man and I love it.”

Do moon men have a reputation for dashing around?

“Oh, and look at this! There’s all these combo moves you can do.”

Go on.

“And you can do combos on combos to rack up your score.”

If you say so.

“And I know you like that combo on combo action.”

Please stop now.

“But I saved the best for last: absorption boosts.”

Breath status: baited.

“You kill an enemy, and you can absorb their power ups!”

What a wild idea for a video game.

“Stuff that’ll make you faster, and stronger, and make the bad guys cry like an anime fan on prom night.”

I’m not sure you’re understanding who your target audience is here, friend.

“So what’d’you think? Are you ready to play?”

I was up until the exact second you started talking…

Just…. How? Why? Condescending and insulting while giving off that desperate vibe of a middle-aged grandparent trying to sound hip and cool hanging out with teenagers without any knowledge whatsoever of current popular culture. Far out, brah! Totally tubular! Raise the roof! I can see some imbecile writing or even recording something like this in an awkward “that sounded better in my head” situation, but I can literally not imagine anybody in any corner of the gaming community trying to sell people a game giving that a pass. I wonder how many people were instantly unsold with that one fell swoop of stupidity.

But really, if the game is amazing, who cares? A little half-assed marketing here, a possible homicidal maniac on the internet managing the forums there, it’s not like these things will make an awesome thing that is awesome not awesome, right?

mighty no 9 sonic tweet

As far as commercial slogans go, “better than nothing” may beat “cry like an anime fan on prom night”, but it still needs work.

But what if the game is just kind of meh and filled with technical issues? You may have a problem on your hands. And when the creator’s apparent response to gamers’ lukewarm reception is that it’s “better than nothing”, it may be time to worry. Or perhaps when the most popular meme generated by your game is based on how the explosions look like cheap pizza, it may be a bad sign. But when Sonic the goddamn Hedgehog (who hasn’t had a decent game in how long?) starts looking down on you, you are officially in trouble.

It’s one thing when a company hypes a game to the gills and it comes out less than great. Gamers still swarm upon them like a plague of entitled mosquitoes to publicly shame them and attempt to drive them from the industry, but when the game is a Kickstarter project promising a return to the good old days if only you, the gamers, will pay for it to be made it tends to make things more personal and nasty.

So fair warning to game developers both aspiring and legendary: here is a list of things to keep in mind if you don’t want everybody to hate you. A) if you take fans’ money, make damn sure you can deliver on quality. B) Don’t hire a community manager who expresses a desire to massacre your player base or suggest boycotts of your product. C) Don’t speak to gamers like you are the people who bullied them in junior high in your advertisements. And D) maybe consider that fans of old school Japanese video games with anime-style art may also be anime fans.

Instead of a glorious statement about the power of crowdfunding to put the Capcoms of the world on notice, Mighty No. 9 has become a cautionary tale about mismanaging assets, overreaching, and general cluelessness about your target audience. It’s kind of sad that I still want to play it. And maybe I will some day, but the thing about the current gaming industry is that we are being served up an absolute glut of quality titles at all price ranges at all times. We just don’t have time for games that don’t deliver or developers that don’t respect their audience anymore .

When you put the wrong foot forward as epically as this game has, there may be no way to recapture the attention ormighty no 9 hype train comic regain the trust of your audience. Crowdfunding is a great way for artists to cut out the corporate middleman and let gamers choose what they want to play. But the double edge of that is that the artist assumes all responsibility for the product and the funders are gambling on the dev’s ability to deliver.

A high profile flop like this one casts shade on the potentially bright future of crowdfunded indie games. While I personally don’t care for the idea of major game developers putting development costs entirely on their customers, I am all for choice and an alternative to corporate gaming so it hurts to see something like this happen. I can only imagine how the backers must be feeling. Inafune appears to not only have burned bridges in the industry, but he’s now lost the trust and respect of his audience as well. Let’s hope that this can somehow be salvaged.

Positive Contact: OPUS is a Universe of Emotion in a Tiny Game


“Drift by a star, absorb it, and leave tourists porous.

My galaxy’s gorgeous.

Quantum jump, I’m right at your doorstep…”

 -Deltron Zero

There’s a lot of discussion in the game community about value and content. As gamers we have only a finite amount of time in this meager life to absorb all of the sights, sounds, and sensations that this universe holds for us while trapped in hopeless relative immobility on this cosmically insignificant ball of rock, water, and atmosphere.

opus cast

Happier times.

Video games are one way we have of vicariously experiencing things digitally that we will just never get to do in real life. But with so much to choose from, how do we decide what to play? That brings us back to the question of value. With only so much time and money, do we measure a game’s worth by it’s depth, width, and length or by its quality? And when we say “quality”, what are we even talking about? Fun factor? Artistry? Emotional impact? The answer varies from person to person.

While playing through the extremely brief and largely bereft of gameplay indie game OPUS: The Day We Found Earth, I found myself seriously considering this once again. You can clear this game in the time it takes you to watch an episode of Game of Thrones, and it’s not one of those games you play through again and again to get different endings. But it’s not quite a precedent setter in that regard either.

In the past, amazing works of fiction like The Killing Joke and Voices of a Distant Star (do yourself a massive favor and watch that on Crunchyroll) have proven themselves to be brief experiences well worth their cost in spite of their premium price tags, and OPUS carries that obscure tradition into gaming like Journey and many indie titles before it. As with all works of art, the experience of the journey far outweighs the destination and I’ve seldom seen so much packed into so little.

opus galaxy


In OPUS, you play as Emeth, a lone chibi robot awakened after an indeterminate amount of time offline on the titular space station with one mission: find planet Earth. After traveling across the galaxy, mankind has lost track of their homeworld as their gene pool has degraded, putting their future in doubt. A single scientist, Lisa, and her gruff partner, Makoto, were the only people who volunteered for this insane dream of locating the planetary needle in a cosmic haystack and perhaps recovering a sample of our original DNA.

As Emeth, you can explore the station and the cosmos (using a telescope) along with the onboard AI (a digital duplicate of Lisa). Each newly discovered star system is one infinitesimal step closer to Earth, but OPUS is on the verge of shutdown and the scientists are nowhere to be found. Still, the universe awaits…

Gameplaywise, most of your time is spent following directions to locate potential Earth candidates. It’s quite simple and not particularly challenging, but the main purpose it serves is to advance the story, as each valuable discovery is accompanied by a furthering of the plot back on OPUS. Emeth’s child-like single-minded determination to locate “Doctor” and the AI Lisa’s existential crisis make up the bulk of the characterization, but by unlocking rooms and exploring the station in classic point-and-click fashion, a truly tragic narrative builds towards a climax that can make even a machine cry.   

opus distort emeth alone

So say we all, little guy.

The mood is intensified by a truly stellar (pun intended) soundtrack and, of course, the awe-inspiring beauty that is our universe. I also found some fun in naming each heavenly body I discovered, doing my best to further expand mankind’s mythological roots from all religious pantheons across the galaxy. Maybe a little too late in the game as my knowledge of ancient deities waned I figured I should have named them after video game characters to spread geekology throughout the stars, but them’s the breaks.

The well-paced story picks up a surprisingly urgent velocity as you approach the end with the system on shutdown and the monitor (YOUR monitor) distorting as the station loses power. It’s a very nice touch. The implications of what you learn from exploring the various leaving of the scientists leave as many questions as answers and forces you to look stark reality in the eye and question whether your mission has any worth whatsoever. But like Emeth himself, you’ve been given a task as a gamer and you must see it through at all costs, even if only to honor the memory of a loved one or to remind yourself that even out in the infinite, indifferent void of space with nobody else there to see it, there is still beauty to be experienced.   

Under an hour’s worth of gameplay -most of it spent stargazing- and yet I feel as though OPUS: The Day We Found Earth is an experience I will carry with me for a long time, even with the minimalist graphics and lack of voice acting or meaningful gameplay. This game is exactly what I mean when I talk about the power and potential of interactive fiction. No other medium could have provided this experience.

opus emeth lisa

Hark! What light from yonder galaxy breaks? ‘Tis the solar system and Lisa is the Earth.

A story well told molds itself to any format and this one was made with care to successfully convey a breadth of emotions from melancholy loneliness to humor to despair and hope. It’s in the music, it’s in the character designs and cutscenes, it’s in the text notes and files left around the station and in the original Lisa’s comments that accompany her past discoveries.

It may be tiny by video game standards, but OPUS: The Day We Found Earth manages to encompass not only the vast wonder of exploring the infinite universe, but the trials, tribulations, and fortitude of the human spirit (even with no humans around) in an hour’s time. That’s an amazing accomplishment no matter how you look at it and it’s one I’m happy to have experienced.    


Five Signs that Overwatch Came Out too Soon


Now that we’ve had a little while to live with Overwatch and ponder the latest gaming sensation that has taken over the internet it’s about time to assess it without the hype of Blizzard’s marketing machine, its game of the year-tier metascores, and fifteen-foot tall action figures. And I think a lot of gamers may be thinking the same thing at this point: is that it?

Overwatch, if nothing else, may represent the best pure PvP multiplayer experience of the year so far, but even that fantastic gameplay comes with a lot of flaws; too many to justify the scores, at the very least, when compared to its more complete competitor, Battleborn. In fact, in a lot of ways, it seems like half a game, even when sitting next to a title that even the developers admit was incomplete upon release. Street Fighter V, I’m looking at you. When that one came out, I questioned whether this was going to be the new industry standard, and with Overwatch‘s massive success to prove you don’t need to put a lot in to make a blockbuster, we’re sure to be seeing more of this.

It’s a known fact that Overwatch was cobbled together partially from elements of Blizzard’s scrapped MMO project, Titan -which spent seven years in development before being cancelled just prior to the announcement of Overwatch– in order to recoup the cost of Titan’s failure. And it shows. As much fun as it is, there are a lot of very unusual elements and mistakes in this game that make me feel like it wasn’t given the proper time and attention to be all it can be. Here are five examples.

Lack of Game Modesoverwatch menu

Basically, Overwatch has only two game modes: Escort and King of the Hill. These two objectives are mixed up a bit, but basically, you capture and/or hold a given area or you escort or stall a payload vehicle. That’s it. And no, I don’t count the Weekly Brawl (which seems to serve no purpose other than diminishing the number of selectable heroes) as another mode so much as a bad idea that eliminates the game’s greatest strengths. Compare this to…..oh, every AAA shooter ever. Imagine a Halo or Call of Duty game launching with only two game types. Even Street Fighter V has it handily beat on this front.  

I was actually shocked when I bought the game and it was literally the exact thing I played during the beta test. There may be an extra map or two, but the entire game was pretty much the beta.. And Blizzard is currently working on a ranked mode as well. The fact that they couldn’t manage this before release is probably the most blatant possible evidence that this game was released unfinished. I’ve played massive single player RPGs that launched with ranked multiplayer.

It’s not super hard to come up with fun stuff for gamers to do. The cast of Overwatch is awesome. We’d do anything with these characters and call it fun. But two basic modes of play is weak sauce to justify a full retail price tag. How lazy do you have to be to limit your games to “stand by this vehicle” or “stand in this square”? Capture the Flag could be really fun and strategic with this lot. Just saying. Say what you want about Battleborn, but each of its multiplayer modes are deeper by miles and there are more of them in addition to a serious single-player/co-op campaign.  

overwatch tutorial

Gee, thanks for the info…


While adding brilliant features like highlight videos made Overwatch stand out from the crowd with stylish flair, it alternates between treating its players like they’re firing up babby’s first shooter and pro-tier memorization. Right off the bat, the tutorial insults you by teaching you how to walk and move your reticule and shoot and push buttons and stuff. If you need to be told how to do these things in a hardcore online-only PvP shooter, you’re going to have a bad time.

And once you’re in the game, it doesn’t bother telling you about little things like, oh, the game types. I actually didn’t understand how the Payload objective worked for a good long while; I just busied myself shooting folk and eventually found out that the vehicle moves when you stand next to it. Seems like that may have been good information to mention while they were teaching me how to walk. And maybe some brief character tutorials for intimidated beginners?

You pretty much have to memorize which game type goes with which map if you want to choose your hero accordingly. Some characters excel on certain maps/objectives more than others, but Overwatch only tells you where you’re going, not what your objective will be once you get there so to choose accordingly, you either have to memorize the objective of each map or hurry up and rechoose your hero while you’re still in the spawn point. Either way is an unnecessary pain in the ass. Also, the inability to mute your audio-griefer teammates on the fly is crazy in this day and age.

And then there’s the lack of anything beyond hero loot. There’s a meh intro cinematic (Youtube has already done better) and almost no in-game lore or reason to keep playing aside from maybe someday earning a really cool skin or highlight intro by luck of the draw. But instead uses the scarcity of in-game currency to fleece players with microtransactions, as if we didn’t already pay full price for half a game. Come on, man; give us something. Even some unlockable fan art a la Blazblue would have been nice, but once again, Overwatch leaves gamers are left with nothing but the barest of bare bones.

overwatch lag kill ping

Overwatch: official sponsors of in-game lag.


I noticed this in the beta and didn’t solve it until a few days after I bought it, but this game gave me the nastiest lag I’ve seen since Call of Duty 2. As in the second Call of Duty. Ever. Over ten years ago. Blizzard was quite unhelpful, suggesting that maybe people need better internet service or to check their RAM, but I have overpriced broadband that can typically have Netflix and/or Hulu running while I game online with no issues and am playing on a console. This was an Overwatch thing.

After scanning several message boards and articles filled with an equal measure of complaints and non-help, I found one gracious soul who suggested that the game was too demanding for wi-fi and to try a wired connection. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me so I’ll just blame it on the fact that EVERY OTHER GAME I OWN PLAYS FINE OVER WI-FI.

But yes, the correct answer to fix the insane lag occasionally rendering my game borderline unplayable was to stretch an ethernet cable across the room and plug it into the router like we’re back in the nineties. Remember the nineties? Cool times, man. Crappy internet, but cool times. To any aspiring game developers out there, do us a solid: please optimize your games properly before you release them so we don’t have to use ancient technology to play modern day multiplayer.   

overwatch widowmaker tracer

Who needs a narrative when you’ve got ship-bait?


What story? Something, something super team of super heroes doing super things, world needs us, blah blah. Why are they all killing each other over cars and small colored squares and how is it saving the world? And since when are video game stories told in cutscenes on Youtube instead of, you know, in the game?  

No, Overwatch does not have a story, and that’s okay because it only needs to kick ass and chew bubblegum. Then run out of bubblegum. Maybe that’s three things.  Still, it would be fine if it didn’t pretend to have a story that is clearly being made up as it goes along and relates not at all to anything that happens in the actual game. Ideally, you make a story first and then design a game around the story, not try to come up with a story after the game is finished.

Battleborn barely has a story either, but the characters -which are even more numerous and diverse- are all so much more well developed with a lot of their backstories becoming apparent from their in-game chatter, including opponent-specific trash talk. I max leveled characters and was still hearing new lines of dialogue after ten hours or more of playtime with them. They also have unlockable audio and text lore to flesh them out.

These are inexpensive and simple things to put in a game if you’re willing to put in the effort. How many times have you heard “it’s high noon” or “our world is worth fighting for” by the end of your first week playing Overwatch? I don’t even want to know. Come on, man, flesh these characters out a little! The little pre-round mini conversations are a nice start, but that’s all they are: a start.

Bugs?overwatch onscreen text

It’s not like bugs are a new thing in video games, but I’ve seldom run across so many in such a small first person shooter. And some are so glaring that I wonder if they weren’t deliberate choices. Overwatch may look like a million bucks, but it’s just plain janky at times. And I won’t even mention the massive hitboxes that allow you to be head-shotted from around a corner without even being visible to your enemies. Whoops, I just did.

The biggest thing that sticks in my craw is having to select my character twice. Often when you select your hero, the game will drop you onto the map with the message “waiting for players” for a few seconds or so and then bring you back to reselect your character. Or sometimes the screen just blinks before forcing you to reselect. It’s not like it’s game breaking, but it does make the game feel cheap and glitchy.  

Speaking of glitches, the fact that the text from your last match stays on your screen until your next match is pretty awful, particularly for a game that warrants screen shot and vid sharing as much as this one does. When you go to save your highlights after a particularly nice session, every character change and other in-match message displayed at the end of your last game will be immortalized along with them because they never go away until you shut the game down or start another match. Removing text from the screen is so utterly basic it makes me think this was a deliberate choice, but if it is I can’t think of a single function it serves.

And then there’s the interaction wheel. It’s a cool idea; letting players exchange greetings and slogans and emotes, if only to pass the time in the pre-game lobby. Unfortunately, it’s occasionally a crapshoot as to whether it will actually do what you want it to do. You can select your emote and end up thanking somebody or announcing that your ultimate is charging (isn’t is always?) or try to say a line after killing somebody and end up performing a lengthy emote while the enemy team casually wanders over to you and blows you away. And a decent portion of the time the command just fails to register so nothing happens at all.

It’s a bit crazy that the positive reaction to Overwatch has been so over-the-top when so many games that have launched with more content and smoother experiences have been derided for much lesser offenses of the same nature. For an afterthought of a scrapped MMO project it’s an amazing game, but with all of the unnecessary little annoyances, rough edges, and the astounding difficulty of obtaining in-game currency, it’s hard for me to be as positive on the whole as the rest of the gaming community seems to be. Fun game? Absolutely. Addicting as crack? Slightly more so. Game of the Year? Only if it’s a really slow year. Sorry. Maybe the sequel will deliver a more finished product, but for the time being: hype denied.

Why Aren’t We Getting More X-Men Games?


Did everyone run out and see X-Men: Apocalypse last week like dutiful little geek girls and boys? Yeah, I’m sorry you had to see that. Even if brain bleach was a thing, there wouldn‘t be enough in the world. But it did get me thinking that maybe Hollywood just isn’t the medium we should be using to explore the complex and (let’s just say it) insane universe of Marvel’s outcast mutant heroes. The budget would be too big for a television series, and at this point I’m a bit tired of established actors halfassing these roles, anyways. Only video games are up to this task, and yet the industry remains strangely reluctant to give us what we want.

x men arcade

I don’t remember Samus Aran being in this…

The history of the X-Men in video games is a long and checkered one. Nineties kids swear by the epic SIX PLAYER co-op arcade beat-em-up, and it was a lot of fun for its day, in spite of its ridiculous quarter-devouring boss difficulty spikes. I spent hours struggling against the Battletoads-esque challenge that was Arcade’s Revenge on the SNES -which was actually pretty great in hindsight- and found Mutant Apocalypse to be a solid attempt at bringing the team to the small screen.

The Sega Genesis churned out some winners before the X-Men joined the growing army of Street Fighter clones along with a spattering of forgotten portable titles finally leading up to 2004 and the one game that finally captured them in all their glory. X-Men Legends was the game we’d all wanted and maybe never thought we’d get. A perfect action/RPG combining deep comic lore with a massive roster of playable and upgradable heroes while still capturing the co-op fun of that old arcade game. This thing was so true to the comics in its details that Cyclops and Havok’s powers didn’t even work on each other during that boss fight. That’s commitment to authenticity.

After only one sequel (which featured the first ever playable Deadpool) the X-Men Legends franchised was broadened into the awesome Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which cranked out one disappointing sequel and then vanished, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of Marvel action-RPG fans.

x men destiny emma frost

I’m assuming this is from a nightmare sequence where Emma Frost shows up to work in her underwear.

2006 brought a horrible video game tie-in with the third X-Men movie (you know, the one so bad they needed an entire other movie specifically designed to retcon it out of existence), and 2009 gave us X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a surprisingly great gaming tie-in to a horrible film, but not a true X-Men title. Then there was X-Men: Destiny, which looked to bring back that lovin’ feeling and instead got met with gamer apathy and savage reviews after the budget was cut and the final product came out feeling unfinished. That was nearly five years ago and since then Marvel’s legendary cash cow has been sitting on the shelf while gamers wonder what the hell happened.

My best guess is that Disney has put the kabosh on developing X-Men merchandise until the film franchise is back where it belongs with Marvel. The House of Mouse has a poor history with handling gaming franchises so until they figure out that this new-fangled video game thing that the kids seem to like so much is actually an industry set to rival and potentially surpass Hollywood itself as the entertainment opiate of the masses, we may not want to get our hopes up.

It’s kind of sad since the X-Men defined comics for years, ruled our childhoods with an all-time classic cartoon in the nineties, and have just generally served up some damn fine entertainment while allegorizing important social issues for decades before the internet made meaningful discourse on such topics impossible. And I honestly can’t think of a better medium to relaunch and explore the franchise than video games.

As insane as the comic continuity is, it’s highly unwelcoming to newcomers as a general rule and the X-Men proper have been a bit of a shambles for a good while now, arguably because Disney/Marvel are trying to edge them out and replace them with the Inhumans (good luck with that).

Rebooting them as an ongoing video game franchise could be the best possible way to experience Marvel’s finest creation anew. X-Men Legends was practically a perfect game, but still had room to grow. Give it a Mass Effect level of cinematic character development and choices and more immersive 3D combat rather than the outdated top-down dungeon crawler perspective and you’d have a potential game of the year on your hands.

x men disney princesses

Courtesy of Diego Gomez.

Everybody loves the X-Men, and everybody loves gaming. Win. Win. It seems crazy to treat video games as a mere advertising tie-in when they could be as much of a moneymaking franchise as the films or comics have been. If Disney really is burying Marvel’s most storied superteam just to deny 20th Century Fox’s films exposure, they’re cutting off their own nose to spite their face. The Disney/X-Men fanart alone [see right] proves that.

Gamers, comic nerds, and sci-fi film fans are pretty much one in the same. We aren’t going to play an X-Men video game and then go “hey, this Wolverine dude seems pretty cool, if they make a movie with him in it, I’d totally watch it. Whhhhhaaaa? You say they already did? Hot damn!” As consumers, we know what we want and we know what’s available to us.

And if we are assuming that nobody knows who the X-Men are without Disney’s say-so, it would still work both ways; fans of the movies would be at least as likely to buy the games as fans of the games would be to watch the movies. Plus, now that the movies are officially crap again, offering up a superior alternative to fans of the property seems downright lucrative.

Film was never the best option to explore the universe of the X-Men anyways. Video games are able to provide more focused and expansive narratives and better-developed fictional worlds to boot. Add in the interactivity and customization allowing gamers to fully immerse themselves and affect the story and characters with their own actions and there you have it.

There they are!

A video game wouldn’t build an advertising campaign around Psylocke and Storm and then just have them stand around like lame background decorations. And as bad a rap as video game writing has, the last time they had lines as corny as “you’ve got a warplane….let’s go to war” delivered without tongue firmly in cheek, Jill Valentine was the master of unlocking. And they don’t write stories designed explicitly to shove flavor of the month celebrities down our throats either. That’s right, I’m calling it: Jennifer Lawrence is the female Keanu Reeves. Now where did I put my “deal with it” sunglasses?

It’s obvious that the X-Men still have a lot to offer gamers, and that the ever-evolving and mutating industry and art form gaming has become has even more to offer them in return. I really hope that things change and Marvel’s merry band of mutants has another chance to be represented at their best in virtual entertainment because in current comics and films, that simply isn’t happening anymore. This generation deserves a fresh look at what has made this property so iconic and gaming may be the only way to bring it back in the near future.   


Is the Single-Player First Person Shooter an Endangered Species?


There was a time when all you really needed to make a truly great shooter was a killer campaign. Half Life, Duke Nukem, Wolfenstein, and Doom were gaming royalty. The original Halo: Combat Evolved defined an entire console generation based mostly on a fantastic campaign. But it really seems like the focus has changed to multiplayer in recent years and most developers just can’t be bothered with quality stories, opting to tack on a few shooting gallery levels with dialogue to games clearly geared towards PvP.

Last gen we had BioShock and the sleeper hit Bulletstorm, but we also saw series like Halo and Call of Duty devolve into single player mediocrity with only multiplayer to justify the purchase. And now Overwatch has perhaps become the first true blockbuster to charge a full AAA price tag for a game with literally no in-game story at all; just an ongoing series of Youtube videos for those who actually want to get to know the characters a little. It was tried before with Titanfall and Evolve, but neither of those titles became the hits they were hoped to be and the lack of single player content was usually the reason given for players’ relative apathy. Sixty dollars for half a game just wasn’t what people were looking for.

duke nukem forever poop

Pictured: how Duke Nukem Forever turned out.

With video games emerging as a fantastic and ever-growing medium for telling all sorts of stories, it’s kind of disappointing to see a genre that lends itself so well to immersion apparently running in the opposite direction. Reboots of classics Doom and Wolfenstein seem to have failed to capture that early ‘90s magic (although the latter was a major hit in Europe and with many gaming publications), and we all know how Duke Nukem Forever turned out.

What’s going on here? Are developers out of ideas or are players just so focused competitive online play now that the single player experience has become an afterthought at most? Also: HALF LIFE 3, WHERE ARE YOU?!

While blasting my way through the various facets of Gearbox’s recent multiplayer-centric team-based shooter Battleborn, I noticed something different about myself: I didn’t want to play it alone. Historically, I’ve always been a solitary gamer who enjoys the occasional bouts of PvP and co-op, but single player experiences have always been my bread and butter. I never really got the hype for the lauded co-op in Gearbox’s flagship series, Borderlands, finding it kind of rushy and grabby whereas I prefer to take my time and explore at my own pace.

battleborn multiplayer

…or I could just do it all alone. I guess.

Aside from the relatively small amount of missions, Battleborn is a perfectly fine single player shooter with funny writing, tons of characters to choose from, and dialogue that is a little different each time you play it. But after playing through the chaotic battles that result from the difficulty spike that comes with adding extra players and more/tougher enemies to the mix, these full-blown epic throwdowns made the single player experience seem tame and joyless in comparison. I don’t know if it’s just decades of geeky isolation catching up to me and making me yearn for the comradery of my fellow gamers or just the game’s multiplayer-centric design, but I don’t really enjoy playing Battleborn by myself all that much.

And maybe this is becoming true of the gaming community at large. We’re so used to everything being connected to the internet -and the rest of the world- that some kinds of games just feel empty without sharing the experience with other players and now we’re ready to shell out the big bucks for games exclusively built for that.

This might be the way the mainstream industry is going, but I doubt we’re going to be terribly short on great single player FPS experiences for long. We may just have to look a little harder. The Shadow Warrior reboot is getting a promising-looking sequel, Dishonored and Alien: Isolation (while stretching the definition of what constitutes a shooter) have turned heads with their stealth approach, and Deus Ex is present and accounted for as well. And there’s still Far Cry.

deus ex mankind divided adam jensen stealth

Deus Ex: Gamerdom Divided

So to answer my own question: no. First person shooter campaigns may no longer be the industry-leading belles of the gaming ball that they once were, but if you take a good hard look, there are are still a lot of options out there for gamers looking to shoot up the joint without dealing with the added intensity of contesting with other players who run the gamut from gaming gods with inhuman skills to incompetent children to griefers who only show up to ruin your fun.

And maybe separating the two experiences somewhat is a good thing. What makes a great single player shooter doesn’t always make for a great multiplayer game and vice versa. Although I personally want a game that delivers both, I can see why the industry might start focusing more on titles like Bioshock Infinite and Overwatch that do one or the other exceptionally well. It leaves developers free to do what they do best and lowers budgets while catering to specific markets.

Hyper-competitive bros and art nerds are two very different gamer crowds that have mixed in this genre for a long time. The bros historically dive straight into the PvP while the nerds take their time soaking up the campaign and often find the multiplayer excessively hostile and unwelcoming. Maybe instead of promising epic Halo campaigns and disappointing the fans in that aspect when the multiplayer turns out to the obvious focus, splitting the series into two different campaign and multiplayer-focused titles would be better, with different studios each focusing on what they do best?      

I’m a sucker for value. I need bang for my buck. Naturally, we’d assume this means that a great FPS needs both single and multiplayer components.  But I sometimes wonder if I’m getting the best value when I buy a game with a weak campaign but good multiplayer or mediocre multiplayer and a solid campaign. Like maybe they could have taken the resources they used to tack on some half-ass single or multiplayer mode to make the best parts even better instead.

Sure the best of the best shooters have delivered both in the past, but the gaming community and the industry it supports are both evolving. Single player FPS’s may not be going away, but we may still be looking at the beginnings of a shift that may change the genre as we know it. And if devs can crystallize what it is that gamers really want from the experience, it may even be for the better.

Five Must-Play Characters for Overwatch Beginners


In keeping with my emergent pattern of playing the new team-based multiplayer beta, writing an article about how awesome it was, and then doing a list of characters to watch out for right before launch (as established by Battleborn), today I’m prepping for the release of Overwatch.

According to Blizzard, nearly ten million players (lifts pinky to corner of mouth) partook of the Overwatch Open Beta, practically guaranteeing the game will be a smash hit and that this list will be unnecessary since everybody and their grandmother probably already has strong opinions on victory pose bootyshots and transforming salt-powered turret bots.  

But this is video games on the internet. There is no dead horse we shall hesitate to beat, and besides, there may be some poor soul somewhere who was in a coma for the beta or sat it out  because the SJW’s had won but whose resolve is crumbling amidst friends’ tales of online glory. Overwatch is coming in hot and unlike Battleborn, every character is available from the get-go, making that first character select screen a little bit intimidating for newcomers.

But fear not, theoretical noobs; I’m here for you. This is my list of five characters that future pros are going to want to familiarize themselves with if they want to be the coolest of the cool. Overwatch has a fabulously charming and balanced cast to choose from, and I chose this motley crew based on style, usability, and general in-game effectiveness. With a little finesse, any kind of gamer should be able to wreak online havoc with one or all of these characters in any situation. These are five of the best Overwatch has to offer.   

D. Vaoverwatch d va

Let’s kick this thing off with the giant girly mech in the room, shall we? D. Va is just awesome. Tracer may have grabbed headlines as the face (and butt) of Overwatch prior to the beta, but it seems like most sites are leading with the pro gamer-turned celebrity mech pilot these days. And why wouldn’t they? She’s cute as a button and lethal as all hell. And did I mention the giant robot?

D. Va’s mech is equipped with dual scatterguns with infinite ammo. That makes her perfect for laying down suppressing fire. At a chokepoint, she can keep an entire team at bay if none of them has a shield. Also, she has a shield. Activating the Defense Matrix gives her a few seconds of anterior invincibility. It’s not much, but she doesn’t need much because D. VA CAN FREAKIN’ FLY! Jet boosters can be used to roadkill weakened enemies, attain better vantage points, or just close ranks with the opposition really quickly to cause some havoc.

And even if the other team whittles down the mech’s massive health bar, she’s not done. She’ll eject and become a nimble footsoldier. She may not be as effective as Tracer at this point, but her laser pistol can do serious damage so with a little hit-and-run, D. Va can still be a beast all by herself. And when you build up her Ultimate meter, she can call down another war machine and carry on as she was. When she builds it up while she’s in the mech, she can self destruct it and take out an entire team in one fell swoop and get an immediate replacement. Use while boosting to turn her mech into a room-clearing missile or even drop it on them from above. “Nerf this” indeed.

 D. Va’s personality makes her the star of every show. Her combination of geekspeak commentary and J-pop styled cuteness is as entertaining as her deathbot is awesome. Expect to see her around. A lot.

overwatch reaper poseReaper

Reaper is good at one thing and one thing only: killing every last motherfucker in the room. And boy does he have the tools for it. His backstory as a former military officer turned vengeful mercenary is somewhat mysterious, but his appeal as a playable character is not. I picked him in my very first game based on dat mask alone. He looks badass. He plays badass. He is badass.

Reaper is armed with twin shotgun pistols that are absolutely murderous in mid-to-close range. Three to four well placed shots and on to the next victim. Making it even worse for the opposition is the fact that he can teleport damn near anywhere he can see -regardless of elevation- with only a slight charging delay. He also has the ability to turn into an invulnerable wraith form, which is equally perfect for getting in close to attack or retreating when the odds turn against him. Nobody is ever safe from this guy.

Reaper can consume the souls of his victims after they go down, restoring his own health in the process. And expect to see a lot of Play of the Game highlights featuring his Ultimate attack, where he goes full John Woo and holds his weapons at arms length while twirling and spraying lead in all directions while chanting “Die! Die! Diiiiieee!” (the other team usually complies).   

Reaper’s personality as a no-nonsense evil assassin will make him a favorite among edgy teens and hardcore player killers alike. He’s a great pick-up-and-play character to rack up kills with and his teleportation skill makes him palatable to your inner strategist as well. He’s a no-lose choice.

Torbjörnoverwatch torbjorn turret pose

Because the world will never have enough cyberpunk dwarves. This Shadowrun throwback is the perfect man to defend any objective. He’s an old-school (by Overwatch standards) engineer with a distrust of AI and a knack for advanced engineering. He is among the last heroes I tried and I immediately felt like I’d been missing out. I did better with him than with any character previous.

Torbjörn is great for any situation and a major asset to any team. He can throw up a turret in seconds and given a few more, he can hammer it into killing shape. This alone wildy changes the balance of power in any area because his upgraded turrets track extremely quickly and deal out damage by the boatload. If any non-sniper character takes it on alone, I’m betting on the turret. But that’s just the beginning. His gun has both long-range and short range firing options and both are plenty deadly.

The dwarf can also salvage scrap from fallen enemies and convert it to armour packs that he can leave as power ups for himself and his team. Lastly, his Molten Core Ultimate skill upgrades both himself and his nearby turret into super mode to make them both killing machines for a short while. Neato.

Torbjörn’s personality is what one might expect from a crusty old mechanic; charmingly grumblesome and lacking in the humor department. But that’s okay because no matter how much he complains, the other team will complain much more about his goddamn omnipresent turret. Keep it up and running and watch the kills rain down like mana.

overwatch mei droneMei

Hey look, a fully clothed woman in a video game! And she’s not even wearing full body yoga pants. In a game where cute, sexy, and sassy ladies are at the forefront of the marketing blitz, Mei’s personality stands out. At first, the bespectacled Chinese eco-warrior’s ice attacks made her seem like a gimmick character because she plays very differently from most playable video game heroes, but with a little strategy, she can be one of the most fun and functional choices for any fight.  

Mei’s weapon of choice is her Wall-E-esque cryo-drone, which contains her life’s work in climatology. It may have been intended to save the world from global warming, but that makes for weak sauce in a PvP shooter, so you get to freeze people to death with it. Her gun has two methods of firing, a long-range deadly icicle projectile and a short-range immobilizing freeze spray. You can literally run circles around D. Va all day with that thing. In a pinch, she can also entomb herself in ice to recover health and get a few seconds’ reprieve from enemy attacks.

What turns out to be her best ability is surprisingly her ice wall. A match in Overwatch is largely about capturing and defending objectives, and whether you are approaching a group of entrenched enemies or buying a few seconds of cover for allies scrambling to hold onto territory, a wall of ice blocking enemies off can be a real life-saver. It can also be used to divide enemy teams and if you aim at your own feet, you can use it as an on-demand elevator to reach higher vantage points as well. Mei’s Ultimate ability sends out her drone to create a localized blizzard and freeze all enemies caught within it for a few seconds. A stationary enemy is easy pickens for any player on their worst day, and Mei has multiple ways of making that happen.  

As far as personality goes, Mei’s is as unusual for a woman in a video game as her attire is. Shy and introverted are not qualities one associates with first person shooters very often, and her demeanor makes her stand out in this game as much as her unusual abilities do. Judging from the amount of inappropriate fanart of Mei that’s been surfacing, I’d say her charms have struck a chord with the fanbase as well, for better or worse.   

Hanzooverwatch hanzo pose

I had a really tough time picking this fifth entry. I really wanted to go with a support character (Lùcio being particularly cool and unique with a good combination of team buffs and offense), but Hanzo is already such a standard that it’s hard to ignore how valuable he can be to a team. Plus: samurai archer. His mythology-steeped backstory is best explored in this official video but his combat abilities speak for themselves.

He’s got a bow. He’s got arrows. I doubt I have to spell this out for you, but Hanzo works at long range while your teammates get down and dirty at mid and close ranges. Ideally, you’ll be raining death from above and afar, and it’s easy to get a good vantage point because Hanzo can scale about any surface effortlessly. He can also fire an arrow that scatters, potentially damaging a whole group of enemies at once. Pretty basic stuff, really.

But what makes Hanzo especially valuable to any team beyond his sniping skills is his Sonic Arrow, which reveals the location of any enemies within its range to all allies across the map. In an objective based game, this kind of intel can be a game changer, particularly when paired with his Ultimate Dragonstrike attack, which sends out twin spirit dragons that can pass through structures to deliver instant death to unwary bad guys.  

Hanzo is pretty much what you see is what you get. Samurai are cool. Archers are cool. Hanzo is cool. And also really a dragon in human form, so bonus cool points to boot. And giving your entire team a strategic advantage while dealing out death by the quiverfull? Very cool. I guess what I’m trying to say is that his personality is cool, and cool players play as him.