Thursday, July 12, 2018

Don't buy the Crash N-Sane Trilogy you stupid mothers of fuck

at 6:00 AM
God why do they even make games that are this broken? And why do game reviewers feel like it's okay to equivocate to a middling score of 7 or 8 in the face of such fundamental flaws?

To get straight to the point, Crash N-Sano is a shot-for-shot remake of the original three Crash Bandicoot games for Playstation. It is a graphical update that preserves the exact level layouts of the original recreated in a new engine capable of rendering 1080p 30fps motion-blur visuals with gruesome lighting effects. Despite making no modifications to the level layouts, the developers have changed the height of Crash's jump* (accidentally or intentionally, who's to say). Crash, perhaps tired from years of overwork, simply can't hit the heights he once did, and now jumps a few pixels shorter than in the equivalent PlayStation titles. To retiterate, this is without any modifications to the level layouts to accommodate.

Now, if you're not recoiling in abject horror that a developer could modify a platforming character's jump height without expecting any repercussions on the experience, Crash Bandicoot may not be the series for you. See, the entire pleasure of the Crash games, very much like the Donkey Kong Country titles that clearly inspired them, is the rhythm and flow of platforming. It's the gradual accumulation of that melody for each stage, the building of muscle memory such that however hard each stage, it will feel perfectly natural by the time the player has mastered every jump. There are no stutters, no shimmies, no need for visual alignment or minor tweaks - it's all timing and technicality, hitting the right inputs without needing to think. This isn't every platformer, mind, just this specific subgroup that more or less boils down to Bit.Trip Runner. So when you change the properties of a particular move, it's like altering the time signature of a composition. The whole fucking thing changes. Though this doesn't necessarily ruin the song, if every note and break has been perfectly configured to sound right at its original time signature, you can't simply expect equivalent results after altering that. And, more importantly, you shouldn't tell someone they're getting the original when you've made that swap.

What bugs me nearly as much as the audacity of the developers and publishers in letting this slip through is the cavalcade of reviews that note that Crash's controls or mechanics 'feel off', but can't be bothered to investigate further than that. Many of them note that this may be because of the mapping from digital D-pad Playstation controls to an analog stick on Switch/PS4, and others observe oddities with hitboxes. Yet no one (that I saw published on Metacritic - surely some dude on Youtube has made this his life's purpose) sat down with a PS1 copy of Crash 2 and a handheld Switch and did a side-by-side comparison to root out the specific issue, something that took me far less time than it did to compose this screed.

*alternately, Crash's entire hitbox may have been shrunken, such that his head doesn't reach as high at the peak of a jump and his feet don't reach as far at the length. The effect is the same: overhead boxes that could previously be bonked with a normal jump are now out of reach, and ordinary gaps that could previously be spanned with a normal holding-forward jump now require a slide jump.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

People hate Raiden V, right?

at 6:00 AM
Picked up Raiden V: DX for a pretty good sale price at $13, gave it a spin just to see how it would run on my new PC. Lightning fast, you might say, although I've never played nor imagined a game so dedicated to the furiously denounced flaws of the widely derided Sine Mora. Can you say BLOOM LIGHTING EFFECTS? And while Sine Mora was able to light the shmup world on fire with just optional screen shake and two bullet colors (orange and blue), Sine Mora 2: Raiden V has individual enemy volleys that can mix as many as five colors (red, blue, green, yellow, pink!), not to mention any other enemies on screen and the player's two hues of their own (blue and your choice of red, blue, or purple). It even has a camera that will zoom in and out mid-combat! Boy there's nothing I love more than watching the playing area shrink to half scale (and double size) while an approaching bullet pattern become so small and orange that it's completely obscured by the sun glare blooming off the orange buildings in the orange desert and the whole game becomes a gleaming white blob.

Seriously it's a nightmare. It's also baffling that anyone called this game "burdensomely latched to hoary conventions of shmups yore", when it's in fact so modern that it barely feels like a Raiden game at all (unless this is what the Fighters subseries is like). It has a long-form story mode with incessant voiceover during gameplay (you may say - hey, isn't that a Star Fox thing? but only Sine Mora and Raiden V are smart enough to pair it with subtitles covering part of the gameplay area), save points, branching paths, three ships with different stats and fully customizable weapons loadouts (three choices each for red, blue, and purple, for a total of 81 different profiles!), achievements, and a goofy-ass networked parallel-play power-up system. Like, Raiden III and IV are 90% the same game, IV is a loose remake of II, and the original Raiden has like eight variations and ports. This is a series about on par with Mega Man for variation, so continuing from IV to V feels like going from Mega Man 4 straight to ZX Advent without the 15 years of connective tissue explaining how you got there.

Did I mention the lifebar!!!

Okay I just hit up YT and WP and yeah looks like most of the new weapons and the branching paths are just carryover from Fighters. Why not now, nearly 20 years after the final entry?

Monday, July 2, 2018

A review of Ponyo in the format of Jeopardy

at 6:00 AM
Boy, that screenplay left me with more questions than ANNIHILATION. Although, one lingering issue there - why does Lena Kane refer to her husband only as Kane, even in private? Seems very strange. Which leads me to my first question on PONYO...

Why does Sosuke call his parents by their first names? Was this supposed to be a trick, or tell us something about their relationship? They seem kinda childish in their own right, and there's the seeds of an interesting conflict in Lisa's tantrum over her absent husband, but it never goes anywhere.

Why does Fujimoto want to destroy humans, and is he still planning that? He doesn't need a backstory, but he doesn't even learn to like humans in the end. He's just suddenly nice. And we're not going to address that Ponyo's mother abandoned her to be imprisoned, yet they're all fine in the end? Are they going to go through this crisis 175 more times as all her sisters grow up? Why is Ponyo's real name Brunhilde, and never brought up again? Her father should be calling her that the whole movie! Just a throwaway opera reference?

What's with the ship graveyard? It's a cool visual, but did Sosuke's father just turn around and head the other way? Because they said they were lost. Why bother setting up Koichi at sea if the tsunami was harmless and he just sails safely home? Shouldn't Ponyo or Fujimoto have had to use their magic to help Sosuke rescue him, after the "trial of love"? The engine magically going out and being restored in a single scene doesn't really count. And why is Ponyo falling asleep? Is that a ticking clock a la Cinderella or did Fujimoto put a spell on her (a la Sleeping Beauty)? He has a line of dialogue that kind of hints the latter, but why is it so ambiguous? I don't know how to respond emotionally when I'm this confused.

Why is the moon falling?

And how flat is that climax? "Do you love her as a fish"? They fell in love and loudly proclaimed their love at the very beginning, when she was a fish! There's no development there at all. There's not even a conflict by that point - every single character wants Ponyo and Sosuke to reach the senior center and be in love. The scene where Mad Granny catches the kids as they run from Fujimoto makes no sense, it is a moment of completely forged emotion. She was wrong - the other old ladies weren't being tricked. (also, TWILIGHT ZONE reference).

All of these reek of the same core problem, that the movie sets up conflicts and simply erases them at the end, like it would have been too mean to let anything come to a head. It's a bit ironic - Miyazaki movies are known as incredibly forgiving, yet Ponyo skips right to the forgetting, leaving an almost sinister aftertaste. Did they live happily ever after, or did Koichi die at sea, Lisa become an angry shrew who envies Ponyo's beauty and beats her at night, and the kids fall out of love by middle school, ultimately to be drowned out of existence when Fujimoto collected another few gallons of Ooze? This goes hand in hand with the overabundance of cutesy crap. It's a kids' movie, I can't criticize that too much, but I was cringing pretty hard through some of the ogling preciousness, like either of the scenes with soup. The characters are perfectly lovable without that stuff - the moment they bonk heads waking up is the perfect medium.

All that said, I did like the movie, and it was certainly never boring. The character designs are great (I loved everything with Fujimoto riding his sub), the sea adventure through the Devonian era is exciting for all 10 minutes that it lasts, the action is inventive, and the soft colored pencil backgrounds are sleepily comforting. And I'll take a story that makes no sense via omission over one that makes no sense via overcrowding, as is the case with HOWL'S MC.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Weak franchises

at 1:00 PM
I was thinking that the movie franchise equivalent to Mega Man vs. Mega Man X (in terms of quality, disregarding that the two series are related) is probably Friday the 13th vs. Hellraiser. With Friday the 13th, you know exactly what you're going to get - it's never going to be particularly great or special, but it's never going to go off the rails either (except the one time it did, catastrophically, with Mega Man 8 GOES TO HELL). Hellraiser starts off genuinely great and hits one solid riff on that, takes a wrong turn but is still kind of tolerable for a few more entries*, completely jumps off a direct-to-video cliff by the fifth, and hangs around for four more things and a reboot that no one was asking for.

*I hated HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE ("in space") until I saw its pathetic shadow EVENT HORIZON.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Revisiting Jurassics Park

at 6:00 AM
I guess I'm joining into the chorus of not really loving JURASSIC PARK? That's surprising. I'm a '90s kid I guess (born '88), and I remember it being a huge deal, but thinking (at that age) that the idea of a dinosaur theme park was really lame, and why not just make a real movie about dinosaurs, like LAND BEFORE TIME? As an adult I understand that the concept exists to be a lead-handed metaphor, although I can't say that adds to the appeal. On the other other hand, perhaps dinosaurs in the present day are a scarier concept that a fantasy about dinosaur world - horror being best defined as the invasion of the uncanny into normalcy.

Overall though the movie feels too much like Spielberg by numbers, and watching it fresh just a couple months ago, I was surprised how much of it I know by heart, because I went in thinking "surely there's more to this movie than I remember, because otherwise why would it be considered such a masterpiece?" The characters but for Hammond are paper-thin, and the hammed-up performances are enjoyable but don't exactly alleviate the superficiality. Then there's the fact that our protagonists are deliriously insane, declaring from the moment they hear the concept that Jurassic Park will lead to the apocalypse, unquestionably, and I think at one point I saw Michael Crichton lean into frame and wave. This will affect the sequels in both good and bad ways.

For all the quality execution, too much action is wasted on things that aren't dinosaurs (the car in the tree kinda galls me - it's an immaculately directed and edited sequence, heart-in-throat thrilling, but why are you wasting a set piece in your dinosaur movie on something that doesn't involve dinosaurs!), and even the dinosaur sequences feel incredibly limited - in a way that makes them memorable and scary, yes, but not in a way that takes advantage of the concept and makes for an exciting adventure. A T-rex attacks a car, a brachiosaurus sneezes on a little girl, velociraptors in the kitchen, T-rex smashes T-rex fossil, roll credits. Spielberg is too locked into his idea of a motion picture as a roller coaster for my taste - it works sometimes, and Jurassic Park is still good, but this formula worked a lot better with just a shark.

LOST WORLD I've only seen one-and-a-half times, because the second time I was so disinterested by the midpoint that I turned it off. All I can say is that the idea of centering the story on Doctor Ian Malcolm, a character whose prior existence was solely as a font of pop-science drivel, is a poor one that never stops feeling forced.

Which leaves JP3, the great unsung hero to come save the day and give us a fully satisfying experience. Yes it's dumb, yes it's far removed from the glamourous sheen of the first two, but it's competently and even breezily made, taking no time at all to declare what it's going to be doing with the next 90 minutes of your time. It's just actually unpredictable and fun in a way Spielberg never could be, because his entire career is staked on being The Sure Thing. Yet I can't but be amused as hell at the weird variety of second-tier dinos and the hilarious boldness of the raptor-talking-machine and the Tarzan-of-the-dinosaurs boy. Yup, the ending is dogshit, the cast is fine but forgettable, and some people will not like jokes about a kid jerking off a dinosaur (or something??). But it also has one inarguably great point, which is Sam Neill's better performance as Grant with a much better arc to permit it. Him screwing everything up and becoming a real downer is a great starting point, and we do something more interesting than reiterating the same "learns to love kids, barf" lesson. We see him correct the attitude and mistakes of the first movie and finally realize how wrong they all were at that first awkward dinner party.

(this comment prompted by the weekly podcast chat at the always great Alternate Ending)