Video Game Review: Castlevania (NES)

Every kid in the ‘8os played Castlevania. Well, if they didn’t, they missed out on one of the greatest experiences of their generation. Sure, it wasn’t as massive as Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda but it is just as much a classic and has had a similar level of staying power, as sequels are still made and it even has an anime show on Netflix that is currently running.

The game sort of takes the Universal Monsters and throws them into a 2D side scrolling adventure of badass proportions. The big boss is Dracula but you also face Frankenstein’s monster, a hunchback, a mummy, several gillmen, as well as other classic monsters that weren’t in the Universal Monsters canon like the Grim Reaper and Medusa. There are also zombies, giant wolves, giant bats and dismembered Medusa heads that fly at you. There are deadly traps, pits and water that is instant death. The game throws a lot at you and pulls no punches.

Seriously, this really pulls no punches. The game is hard as hell. And maybe the difficulty level is it’s only real negative. It isn’t an unbeatable game, as I have conquered it. But man, it is an incredible challenge that takes hours upon hours of mastery before one can actually beat it. But that was what the best old school NES games were about: mastery.

Another slight negative is the mechanics. Sometimes the jumping is wonky and it’s easy to get overzealous and screw up. Also, the stairs can be a total pain in the ass but eventually you’ll get it.

Castlevania is one of the best games of its era. It had to be to create a franchise as strong as it did. It is a true product of the ’80s and a real blast for old school horror fans.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: The other NES Castlevania games: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, also PlayStation’s epic sequel Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Top 25 Console Video Games of All-Time

*Written in 2011.

For the record, I am only selecting one title per series, otherwise there’d be a lot of dominance from a few franchises. And chances are, I forgot something while in my drunken stupor.

1. The Legend of Zelda (NES)
2. Final Fantasy VII (PS1)
3. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2)
4. Red Dead Redemption (PS3)
5. Uncharted 3 (PS3)
6. Mario 64 (N64)
7. Metroid (NES)
8. Fallout 3 (PS3)
9. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (XBOX)
10. Twisted Metal 2 (PS1)
11. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1)
12. Goldeneye (N64)
13. Bioshock 2 (PS3)
14. Rygar (NES)
15. Spider-Man Vs. The Kingpin (GEN)
16. Killing Time (3DO)
17. Kingdom Hearts II (PS2)
18. Batman: Arkham City (PS3)
19. Silent Hill 2: Shattered Dreams (XBOX)
20. Double Dragon (NES)
21. Megaman 10 (PSN)
22. Just Cause 2 (PS3)
23. Dragon Warrior (NES)
24. Gun (XBOX)
25. Wolfenstein (PS3)

Film Review: Rampage (2018)

Release Date: April 4th, 2018 (Microsoft Theater premiere)
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Written by: Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal, Adam Sztykiel
Based on: Rampage by Midway Games
Music by: Andrew Lockington
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Marley Shelton

New Line Cinema, Flynn Picture Company, Rickard Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Like my grandpappy always said, ‘Us assholes gotta stick together.'” – Harvey Russell

I wasn’t sure what to think going into this film. I am a massive fan of kaiju movies and I was a big fan of the Rampage video game when I was dropping quarters into it on the reg back in the ’80s. However, the game didn’t have a plot, really. It was just about playing as one of three monsters: a gorilla, a werewolf or a lizard. The only real purpose was to cause as much destruction as you possibly could: punching buildings into rubble and eating people hanging out of windows.

The film’s story actually did a decent job of explaining the creation of these giant creatures and their physics defying abilities.

For the most part, I really liked this movie. It was ridiculous in the best way possible and a ton of friggin’ fun. This is what a blockbuster should be. It doesn’t have to be scientifically accurate or attempt to be overly serious, it can be a balls to the wall smash’em up festival. And while that formula has worn thin and I’ve been critical of it in the past (*cough, cough Man of Steel), when done right and with an organic purpose, it can still work. It works here.

From a storyline standpoint, this is more engaging than the first Pacific Rim movie. I liked the plot of the second Pacific Rim much better, by the way. Rampage just does a good job with its human characters and also really makes you feel for George, the Rock’s large albino gorilla friend who turns into a menace, only to be cured of his aggression and turn into a hero that teams up with the Rock in taking down the other two monsters: the giant wolf and the giant alligator.

I also love the cast. The Rock, who prefers to just be Dwayne Johnson now but is and will always be The Rock to me, leads the charge but is backed up by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello and Marley Shelton, the last two being in small roles, unfortunately.

But with The Rock, Morgan and Manganiello together in the same film, there is a testosterone overload that matches the beastly intensity of the three actual beasts in the film. I also loved Malin Akerman as a villainous corporate bitch in this. She was perfect, cold and still looking damn fine. In fact, having her and Morgan in this makes the film a mini Watchmen reunion.

I also really liked the Easter egg of having the old Rampage arcade game in Akerman’s office.

There are some goofy things about the movie. Okay, “some” is an understatement. However, it works for a movie with giant monsters tearing up Chicago and literally toppling the Sears Tower. I’m not going to get nitpicky and bitch too hard but sometimes the dialogue was forced and felt unnatural but this was usually in the moments where The Rock was yelling at green screen. There just seemed to be a disconnect at times, which isn’t the actor’s fault but for some reason certain bits felt off.

The creatures and their physical embellishments all worked for me and the special effects used to bring them to life was well done. I also like that they didn’t make the monsters too big like the Pacific Rim kaiju or the modern versions of Godzilla. The monsters don’t have to tower over the largest buildings, they just need to tower over the humans running away and the military might that confronts them.

Rampage isn’t a great motion picture in the terms of being cinematic art or something that the Academy would see as worthy of their consideration outside of special effects. However, it is a solid popcorn movie. Especially for those of us who can’t get enough modern kaiju films.

And if you are wondering if there is a scene where a monster eats a lady like in the video game, well… you won’t be disappointed. And frankly, it’s an awesome f’n moment.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The 2014 Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island and the Pacific Rim movies.

Video Game Review: Spider-Man (Sega Genesis)

Also known as: Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin

Review:

Spider-Man, the 1991 game, is what pushed me towards getting a Sega Genesis over a Super Nintendo for Christmas when I was in 7th grade. I was reading Spider-Man comics daily, at the time. Who can blame me though, as the artists during that era were Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen? To say that I was a massive fan is a massive understatement.

When I finally got my tiny mitts on this game, I was not disappointed and playing it became an obsession because it was super fun but it was also really hard. But it wasn’t unbeatable hard. It was the kind of hard that you had to work at to overcome. Eventually, I beat the game and when I did, I felt a sense of real accomplishment that I hadn’t felt since the original Legend of Zelda.

For 1991, the graphics were sick, the gameplay was incredible and the mechanics were really cool, as I had been relegated to simpler 8-bit titles before this.

The game also featured a good group of classic Spider-Man villains and Venom, who was still actually new at the time. The villain lineup was almost like a Sinister Six lineup. You had Doctor Octopus, the Lizard, Electro and the Sandman with Hobgoblin and Venom replacing some of the traditional Sinister Six members (Kraven, the Green Goblin, Mysterio and the Vulture were rotated in and out in the comics). You also had the big boss of the game, Wilson Fisk himself, the Kingpin.

Some of the boss battles were easy, some were hard but each one required a different strategy, almost like what would become more common place in video games of the future. You didn’t just try and jump on some character’s head a bunch of times or throw a fireball, you had to figure out each battle like a puzzle. However, even figuring things out didn’t guarantee victory, as you needed to also rely on timing and your skill.

I replayed through Spider-Man recently and even though I got to the end and got my ass kicked by the Kingpin, it was still a lot of fun.

I know that a plethora of Genesis titles are considered classics ahead of this. However, this was why I chose the Genesis platform and it continues to be my favorite game put out for that console.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Other old school Spider-Man games: Maximum Carnage, the original Gameboy game and the two games released on the original PlayStation.

Video Game Review: Fallout: New Vegas (PlayStation 3)

*Written in 2015.

Fallout 4 is finally out. I haven’t played it yet. But I did want to talk about the previous console Fallout installments before getting to the new game.

Fallout: New Vegas was the unnumbered sequel to Fallout 3. But as has become the trend, direct sequels aren’t usually numbered anymore, at least until the next console or generation of games. While this usually leads to confusion over what the chronology of games is in certain series, Fallout has only done this once. It certainly isn’t anywhere near as confusing as the clusterfuck that is the Assassin’s Creed series.

This game came out exactly two years after Fallout 3 and it plays exactly the same. It is an amazing game and pretty close to the masterpiece level of its predecessor but there just isn’t enough new stuff to set it apart and the story is less interesting. Also, the Wasteland seems more vast but the geography makes it more diverse. But even with that environmental diversity, it just feels like it is retreading the same formula.

The exchange of metropolitan D.C. for Las Vegas isn’t that exciting either. Sure, Vegas has a totally different vibe but it is much smaller than D.C. was and the casinos don’t serve much purpose, as they are simply aimless mazes with no real function other than a few plot points.

There are new creatures added to the mix of this game, as it is in a different region of the United States. However, most of them are more annoying than exciting when engaged. The damn mutant wasps are just a nuisance. I’d rather smash giant scorpions and blast on radioactive crab people and mutant bears.

Had this come out before Fallout 3, it would probably have been heralded as one of the best games of all-time but it came out after and just didn’t live up to the Fallout 3 experience.

I also had issues getting the DLC content to work. I played through one of them but there was a glitch preventing me from accessing the second and third ones, which is never fun after you pay for them. No patch seemed to fix the problem and that just adds to the other technical issues I faced with this game. I’d often times get stuck in the ground or a rock surface, the game would freeze, it would lag or I’d lose companions and never be able to find them again.

Even with all the negative points I’m making, this is still a thoroughly enjoyable game. It just isn’t as great as Fallout 3 but perfection is hard to replicate, even when you’ve created the formula already.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Fallout 3 and Fallout 4.

Video Game Review: Fallout 3 (PlayStation 3)

*Written in 2015.

Fallout 4 is finally out. I haven’t played it yet. But I did want to talk about the previous console Fallout installments before getting to the new game.

Fallout 3 was a masterpiece. It is also my favorite game of the series up to that generation.

The world was vast. In fact, it was the most vast world I had ever played in, up to that time. The graphics were solid, the game play was incredible and the story was pretty good. The game also introduced me to the magical world of DLC content and produced some of the best DLC content of all-time.

The reason I like this game better than its follow up, Fallout: New Vegas, is because it just seemed grittier, more dangerous and a lot more interesting. It also took place in Washington D.C. You could walk through the Capitol Building, the museums, access the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. The final battle of the game took place around the Jefferson Memorial. There was also a massive aircraft carrier that was converted into a city.

The game also featured D.C.’s subway systems and sewer, which were full of ghouls (essentially radioactive zombies) and other terrors. The city streets were overrun by raiders (savage human gangs) and super mutants (giant hulking beasts with heavy armor and big guns). The Wasteland, the area outside of the city, was a vast desert with all kinds of danger and monsters.

Fallout 3 came chock full of side quests that made the game pretty much endless. You could play this thing for well over 100 hours and still find new things to do. It never got boring, it never got stale and I still fire it up on a regular basis and storm the wasteland looking for action.

This game was the precursor to what Skyrim became. It took a formula successful from the Elder Scrolls series and repackaged it in a more modern setting. It was nothing like Fallout and Fallout 2 before it and it benefited from the change.

The VATS combat system was unique and a cool new way to experience a fight in a video game.

The greatest thing of all, were the humongous super mutants called “Behemoths”. Battling one of those is one of the greatest experience you can have in a video game. It was like one man versus King Kong. But a sick, twisted, yellow, hairless King Kong.

Hunting Deathclaws in caverns was also a huge thrill. It was more frightening than most horror games and this isn’t really a standard horror game. It is a post-apocalyptic action game with a lot of scary threats that will make your survival a real challenge.

Fallout 3 is pretty close to a perfect game. There really isn’t much that one could do to improve upon it with the technology and capabilities of its time. Well, except for the bugginess and lag that I experienced on the PS3 version. My friends who played this on Xbox said that it ran smoothly, all the time.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4.

Film Review: Ready Player One (2018)

Release Date: March 11th, 2018 (SXSW)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Based on: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance, Letitia Wright, Clare Higgins, McKenna Grace

Village Roadshow Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, De Line Pictures, Farah Films & Management, Warner Bros., 140 Minutes

Review:

“People come to the Oasis for all the things they can do, but they stay for all the things they can be.” – Parzival

*There be spoilers here!

The first thing that people who read the book are going to ask is, “How much did they change?” The short answer is, “Everything.”

In fact, there is so much that has changed that it’s too much to list out. As my friend Greg said once the credits started rolling, “They should change it to say ‘vaguely inspired by Ready Player One.'” And that’s pretty much how I feel, as someone who read the book first.

The main thing that this film is lacking is heart and soul. The book did a decent job building up characters and making the first time meetings meaningful and sweet, the film just drops the real humans in with no warning, halfway through the story. In the book, none of these people actually meet until the very end, as they unite in the real world for the big final battle.

And for some reason, maybe because Spielberg is besties with George Lucas, this version has some sort of “rebellion” that already exists and abducts Parzival in an effort to get him to join. This leads to him meeting Artemis before the midpoint of the film. In the book, she’s so freaked out by her own appearance that she won’t actually meet Parzival until the very end. Here, her birthmark was something that could be easily covered up with foundation. I’ve seen plenty of girls who have looked far worse without makeup… hell, with makeup. And in a world where most people are poverty stricken and dirty with facial tattoos, the whole thing is ridiculous.

The biggest problem with the movie is it took a decent book with some good ideas and it made them worse. I was hoping that Spielberg could put his hand in the story and use his magic to fix up the weaker bits. But the story is so different than the book that those weak bits are gone. Sadly, they’re replaced with something much more superficial, artificial and monotonous.

Every time that something with real weight happened in this movie, it didn’t have the weight that it did in the book. I think the book benefits from having Wade/Parzival tell his story from the first-person point-of-view. The movie is just a movie without any narration, internal monologue or anything that can really add more the the story. You just don’t feel anything for these people, their situation or the events themselves. The film needs a lot more seasoning.

Additionally, the challenges were terrible. The first one is a motor race with a small detail no one was able to crack for over five years. Yet anytime a new video game comes out in the real world, our real world, some guy on YouTube finds all the Easter eggs and secrets within the first 24 hours of playing it. But in a future world where the population is probably double what it is now, where everyone is obsessed with solving the first challenge, not one single person thought to themselves, “I wonder what will happen if I drive backwards?” In reality, some noob would’ve done it by mistake and solved the puzzle.

The second challenge brought the characters into a recreation of The Shining but as cool as it was initially, it still didn’t measure up to the similar sequences in the book, where Parzival had to reenact a role in a film from start to finish. Whatever. We ended up with The Shining being populated by dancing, green glowing zombies for some reason.

The final gate was the closest to the original version but was still a heavily altered and simplified version.

One thing I was hoping would make it in the movie was the battle between Ultraman and Mechagodzilla during the big finale. Ultraman was replaced with a Gundam. Mechagodzilla was there but the design was something new and looked more like a generic metal dinosaur than any version of Mechagodzilla we’ve ever seen.

And what the hell was with Sorrento leaving his password right on his pod? Make your password something you can remember that way you don’t get easily hacked? You’re the top dog in the second largest corporation in the friggin’ world and you basically wore a t-shirt saying, “Please hack me! My password is…” I can’t accept the stupidity of this plot point, he’s not an assistant principal from a John Hughes movie. Plus, in the film they dumb him down and make him rely solely on the knowledge of his minions, as opposed to being savvy on his own and only calling for backup when stumped.

The film fails in comparison to the book and the book was hardly a literary classic. I could pontificate about all the shit I didn’t like and take this review to 5000-plus words but I think I’ve made my point about the negative side of the equation here.

On the side of positives there is sadly only really a few.

One, Mark Rylance was fantastic as Halliday and played the character in a way that was even better than what I saw in my own head while reading the book. He was really the only character I felt a connection to by the end of the film. Which is sad, as he’s barely in it.

Another positive is that it was fun in the right sort of way but it still wasn’t enough to make up for the soullessness and randomness of this adaptation.

I can’t think of another positive.

The biggest highlight of the film was the big battle at the end but it was still a mess. There were so many pop culture references running around on the screen that it was hard to focus on any one of them and you just sort of see this mish mash of shit where if the camera stops moving for one second, you might make out a Battletoad, Spawn, Ryu or a Ninja Turtle. But at least Chucky from Child’s Play got to kick some ass for a few seconds.

I don’t know, man. I had high hopes for this and I left the theater feeling empty and completely unemotional. This was like a vacuum that sucked everything out of me for well over two hours. I walked out of the theater a dumbfounded blank.

This film is like an excited toddler showing you all their toys by throwing them at your face with the speed of the Flash for two hours and twenty minutes. There is no real semblance of a plot, just toys bouncing off of your face and incomprehensible toddler rambling.

Also, Spielberg produces those terrible Michael Bay Transformers movies. This was the perfect opportunity to use accurate looking Autobots and Decpeticons. I mean, what the shit, dude?! You’re telling me the G1 versions of Optimus Prime and Megatron aren’t avatars in the Oasis?

Between the execution of this film and Spielberg’s weird comments about Netflix the other day, I think homeboy is starting to show his age.

Lastly, Zak Penn is awful. Truly, awful. How does he keep getting hired to write shit?

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Maybe the novel it is “based on” but the book is far superior.