Rambley Bits

  • An eternal question has been answered.  Well, maybe not eternal, but it’s been on my mind since at least last week.  What is the difference between a Heath bar and a Skor bar?  I had not realized the Hershey Company made both.  Why would one candy company need 2 separate chocolate covered toffee bars?  To unravel this mystery I gathered a group of candy experts, my brothers B-Dog and Clebob (their names have been changed to protect their anonymity) and we each sampled both bars, washing them down with that greatest of fruit flavored sodas,, Black Cherry.  All three of us came to the same conclusion.  The Skor bar is smoother, while the Heath bar is somewhat nutty, but the Heath bar is far superior in taste.  So if you feel the desire for a chocolate covered toffee bar, go with the Heath.
  • There are many things I wanted to have gotten done in the last week or so, including several half-finished blog posts, that I just haven’t been able to do.  And there is one big reason why:  Dragon Quest 9 for the DS.  DQ9 hits me in most of my video game pleasure centers.  It’s an old school RPG with a job system, a do it yourself party, and good old fashioned adventuring.  Best of all: it’s multiplayer.  It’s DQ with a healthy dash of Diablo and it’s perfect.  Also, a humongous time sink.  A more thorough write-up will come later, but right now I’ve several hundred more hours to put on this baby.
  • I’ve been getting back into my reading lately.  I just finished a reread of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.  I really need to read some criticism on it and write something marginally substantial about it or at least a decent review on this here blog.  I really love how the novel combines the classic romance with an eerie fairy tale.  I mean looked at just right this is a downright horrifying novel.  The man keeps a person locked in his attic.  This has always been one of my favorite classic novels.
  • I also reread Francis Burney’s Evelina just before I read Jane Eyre.  An epistolary novel, one written as a series of letters, Evelina is something of a Proto-Austen novel of manners.  At times, this is a bit dull, but if you enjoy the works of Austen and others like her, it is a worthwhile read.  I like it at least.
  • The last book I’ve read recently is The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street.  I love spins on classic novels that tell the story from a different characters perspective because they often have interesting ideas or insights about the events of the novel, but this one manages to be pretty dull.  If you want to read Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s perspective you will probably not be that disappointed, but it is entirely unchallenging.
  • To make myself look a little manlier I’ll write about sports for a little bit.  Specifically the Lebron James signing.  The criticisms against him are bordering on ridiculous.  Except the jilted lover comments from Cleveland.  Hurt feelings are appropriate there for at least a few months.  But he will not be the first great player to play with other great players.  Jordan had Pippen, Magic played with Kareem, and Bird played with Parish, McHale, and Walton.  Even Kobe played with Shaq.  And not the zombie Shaq that has been shuffling around NBA courts for the last few seasons, but prime of his career Shaquille O’Neal.  James playing with Wade and Bosh will not damage his legacy as long as they win.  I do predict a loss in the conference championships for them next year though.  You’ll see.
  • For someone who rests a ridiculous amount of his self-worth on his skills at Mega Man, Mega Man 10 is handing me my ass far too regularly.  I wiped the floor with 9, but 10 is giving me fits.  I’ve only managed to down 2 bosses in over an hour of play.  It’s sad.
  • I have also been playing Zombie Panic in Wonderland.  No, it’s not quite as awesome as its name would indicate, but its still loads of ridiculous fun.  Who wouldn’t want to play as Little Red Riding Hood or Dorothy from Oz as they immolate rotting reanimated corpses with flamethrowers?  Only soulless monsters wouldn’t.
  • So new Futurama continues and even though I’ve not managed to review each episode on my blog here, I have watched and enjoyed greatly each new episode.  It seems to be hitting that great Futurama stride, though there haven’t been any truly great episodes yet. Still middle of the road Futurama is better than 90% of what’s on television, so rejoice at out good fortune of continued animated goodness.
  • Also returning to T.V. is USA’s great detective show Psych.  I love how Shawn is just short of being a complete sociopath, but is reined in just enough to be a likeable and relatable character.  I also loved that they called the inferior knock-off “The Mentalist” on being an inferior rip-off.  With no Monk, Psych is easily the best detective show on T.V.
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25 Years of NES Part 5: Super Mario Bros. 2

Now that Mega Man is taken care of its time to move on to another great sequel Super Mario Brothers 2, the secret best Mario game (If you do not get the reference you should listen to Retronauts).  Super Mario Bro. 2 is a game with a complex history and some of the best platforming on the system.

I know some readers are now crying out that the SMB 2 that I’m writing about is not the “real” SMB 2 and all I have to say is “bullshit.”  Yes, Japan did get an entirely different game named Super Mario Bros. 2 than we did here in the United States, but the one we got is the better version of Super Mario Bros. 2.  Japan’s SMB 2, known locally as the Lost Levels, is warmed over SMB with added spite.  The innovations in that game are terrible things like poison mushrooms and invisible wind bursts.  Our SMB 2, on the other hand, was greatly influential to the future of the Mario series.  Shy Guys and Birdo are enemies that continually show up in the various Mario Parties and Sports games.  Any time the secondary cast of Mario games – Luigi, Peach and Toad – are playable nowadays there is a great chance their controls will be based on their SMB 2 counterparts.  Most importantly the American Super Mario Bros. 2 is a great game with colorful, detailed graphics and solid, if a bit easy, gameplay.  So if any player feels ‘cheated’ by getting this game get over it; this is the real Super Mario Bros. 2.


I feel like I have to explain how SMB 2 came to be.  In Japan the game we know as SMB2 is known as Doki Doki Panic.  I have never played DDP, but I assume it plays about the same as Super Mario Bros. 2.  It was created by Nintendo’s golden boy Shigeru Miyamoto, his involvement is a big reason it feels like later Mario games.  The reason Doki Doki Panic became Mario 2 is that by the time for Nintendo to release a Mario 2 in America, the original Mario 2 would have seemed dated on top of not being any good.  So Nintendo basically did a sprite swap in Doki Doki Panic to make it the real Super Mario Bros 2 and everybody won.

One of the biggest changes from Mario Bros to Mario Bros 2 is that instead of Mario and Luigi being playable and playing identically there are four different unique playable characters.  In addition to Mario and Luigi this game has Peach and Toad.  They all have different abilities.  Well, the same basic moves, they just work in different ways.  Mario is the base character.  His momentum and jumping ability are the normal setting.  Luigi jumps higher than Mario, but he is also much harder to control.  He slides back and forth and is generally infuriating.  Luigi is the expert character; once you learn to control him he makes large parts of the game much easier.  If Luigi is the expert character then Princess Peach is the beginner character; she does not jump quite as high as Luigi but she can float for a limited amount of time before she comes back down.  It makes the jumps all much easier.  Toad’s jumping abilities are not that different from Mario but he can dig really fast and I rarely use him.  Still, having 4 different playable characters adds tons of replay value, which is good because SMB 2 is short.  As in beaten in about an hour short.

Another deviation from the Mario formula is that jumping on enemies head’s does not kill them.  You can ride them or pick them up and throw them, making for interesting but very different gameplay.  And instead of Goombas and Koopa Troopers the game has shy guys and Birdo.

While very different, SMB2 is also very good.  It is more of a puzzle game than other Mario games.  Getting to the end is not the challenge, at least not as much as figuring out how to get there is.  You must find keys guarded by frightening masks.  Passages must be cleared using a limited number of bombs.  Potions that take the player to a shadow area must be thrown in specific areas to get power ups.  All in all it is very different from other Mario games, but Super Mario Bros 2’s uniqueness is a large part of its charm.  There are other strange things in SMB2, though their uniqueness is debatable.  At the risk of spoiling a more than 20 year old game, SMB2 ends with an it was all a dream reveal.  The whole game is Mario’s nightmare.  Another strange thing is Birdo.  Of the manual it to be believed, and being an NES manual it is probably not, then Birdo is some sort of trans character that wishes it was a girl so it could lay eggs.  This is why it shoots eggs out of its nose.  Truly a bewildering creature.  And the 2nd best thing in all of ever (number one of course being Frankenstein’s Monster riding a motorcycle, swinging a sword and quoting Milton) is in this game you pull a turnip out of the ground and it turns into a rocket ship.  Yes, a turnip rocket!

There is no other game like SMB2.  No game has its convoluted history, its puzzley platforming, or the sheer amount of unique weirdness.  Some games may match it in places, but none has them all.  Despite being an entry in a long running franchise, Super Mario Bros 2 is unique.  Even if you do not think it is a good game, in which case you are demonstrably wrong, it’s worth playing just for the novelty of it.  This, the real Super Mario Bros 2 is one of the most fun and individual games on the NES.

pictures from the VG Museum.

Scott’s Almost on Sunday Comic Book Review

Superman 701: written but JM Straczynski and drawn by Eddy Barrows.

 

Part of me wants to make a spirited defense of this issue against the ridiculous reaction its gotten from around the internet, like I should have done for JMS’s Brave and the Bold 33, but I just can’t bring myself to when it’ll only amount to “it’s not that bad.”  But it’s not that bad.  Superman walks through Philadelphia, helping people along the way.  Most people have chosen to interpret his help as examples of “superdickery” but they really are not.  Superman tells a man his heartburn might be something more, but he doesn’t immediately fly him to a hospital.  So that makes Superman a dick?  He cleans a diner’s storeroom to pay for his lunch; fly’s an obnoxious reporter into the air to prove he still has his powers and cleans some drug dealers out of a neighborhood by lighting their drugs on fire with his heat vision.  All small things and fairly well done.  He also talks a jumper down off a ledge.  Grant Morrison did this better in All-Star Superman, but as that is the best Superman story ever it is forgivable.  The fact that he would have let her jump if that were what she really wanted is good.  He is there to save her if she wants to be saved and his power his convincing her she does.  It ends with Superman jabbering at some dog walker about being a hero.  That part, and much of his talking the woman down are done poorly, but overall Superman 701 is good, if a little disappointing.

Batman 701:  written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Tony Daniel.

 

Morrison continues his brief return to Batman proper by telling a story that doesn’t need to be told.  This and the following issue tell the story of what happened to Batman between the RIP storyline and Final Crisis.  Judging solely on this issue the answer to what happened is “not much.”  Batman escaped the chopper crash and went home to get a call from Superman about the inciting incident of Final Crisis.  I do not mean to say that this is a bad issue, just a pointless one.  If the next one tells a meaningful story ,this one will be fine as the set-up, but as of now I have a hard time forming any feelings about it at all.

Avengers Academy 2:  written by Christos Gage and drawn by Mike McKone.

 

The training of some would be heroes/villains by some third rate heroes continues.  This issue focuses on Finesse, who is basically a young Taskmaster.  I am not sure what to make of this comic.  Hank Pym, the former Ant-man, Giant-man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, and current Wasp, training youngsters who could possibly become villains is a good idea.  Despite his long career as an Avenger, Pym hit’s many marks on the villain checklist. (mad scientist, jealous of the heroes, possibly truly insane)  And the only story anyone remembers about him is that one time he smacked his wife.

(Mini-Rant:  Why can people not forget this story?  It wasn’t that good a story and in it, Pym can barely be called an abusive husband, as he is clearly not in his right mind when he smacks Janet.  His back-story includes multiple mental breakdowns and he is obviously in the midst of one there and not in his right mind.  Not that that wholly excuses his behavior, but crazy makes one not guilty in court.  Spidey wasn’t crazy when he smacked Mary Jane and I am sure I could find other examples of other Superhero husbands being dicks to their wives, but Pym’s only story is wife-beater.)

Still, this issue is okay.  I’m not sure what Finesse wants to learn from Quicksilver, but her struggles to fit in could be interesting.  I can’t say I’m in past the next issue, though.

Batgirl 12: written by Brian Miller and drawn by Lee Garbett and Pere Perez.

 

So ends the first year of Stephanie Brown as Batgirl and it’s been one pretty good year.  This title got off to a fairly rough start, but it has really hit its stride lately.  This was another great issue.  Batgirl and Wendy, the Calculator’s daughter and friend of Oracle, save Oracle and Gotham City from the Calculator and his techno-virus.  A satisfying conclusion to this storyline.  And Wendy gets set up where it was obvious she would be since this comic started; as Oracle’s official protégé Proxy.  I really like how Stephanie’s confidence and competence has grown so far and I’m really looking forward to more of this series.

Booster Gold 34: written by Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis and drawn by Chris Batista.

 

The writers continue to go back to their glory days with the Justice League International, with great results.  Booster’s sister returns to hear Booster and Rip Hunter talking about getting rid of the little girl Booster saved a couple of issue’s ago and immediately bonds with the girl.  Booster, meanwhile, goes looking for proof of Max Lords existence in the JLI again.  This time he gets roped into a mission with Blue Beetle, Mr. Miracle and Big Barda.  The fact that all three are currently dead is mildly morbid and the writers seem to desperately want Blue Beetle back alive to write a Blue and Gold comic, but it’ll never happen.  By a slim margin over Batgirl, this was the book of the week.  Mostly because it is hilarious and Barda punches out a dragon.  That is hard, nay impossible, to top.

I Must Break You

Rocky 4

This weekend I started what I hope will become a 4th of July tradition.  I watched Rocky 4, which is of course the one where Rocky wins the Cold War by beating a giant Russian.  It is one of the most American movies of all time and the last true Rocky movie.  Not that Rocky Balboa was bad, but it came out so far after that it feels more like strange coda than part of the series.  Rocky 5 never happened.  Nevertheless, Rocky 4 should have probably been the last movie in the series.  There was nowhere to go but down.  Even Rocky cannot top winning the Cold War.

Rocky 4 is smarter than most people give it credit.  Not that it that smart, or subtle at all, but there is more there than blind patriotism and propaganda.  It is about growing old and how to face that.  There is no one who grows old faster or more publicly than professional athletes do.  All sports fans have seen a favorite player hang on past their prime, winced at the struggles of those who used to be great.  For some, like Bret Favre, while their skills have obviously diminished there are still enough flashes and moments of the player, we used to know and love to make us believe that he still has something left.  Too often, it is just gone and is painful for both players and spectators.  Rocky and now friend Apollo Creed are both dealing with this.  Apollo cannot let go, despite the advice of all those close to him.  Rocky, not quite as old as Apollo, still has something left, but he can see the writing on the wall.  Due to his inability to accept the changes that time has, wrought Apollo pays the ultimate price.  There is also Rocky’s guilt because he did not throw in the towel.  Like Rocky told Mickey in the first movie, Apollo told him not to throw the towel and Rocky let it go.  He did what he would have wanted Creed to do foe him in the same situation, but he say why people do throw in the towel.

On top of the aging issue is the comparison of the USA and USSR.  Apollo is part of America.  He is loud, boisterous and arrogant.  He is also capable and honest, but even the honesty hurts the loud and arrogant part.  Drago is stoic and cold.  He is also just as selfish as Creed.  In their fight, he doesn’t care that it is an exhibition or that he is clearly the better fighter he still is relentless.  Because a resounding victory is helps him and his groups agenda, sportsmanship be damned.  The biggest contrast is in Rocky and Drago’s pre-fight training methods.  Drago has a committee that cares nothing for him and with the most advanced technology available.  Rocky has a few close friends and uses simple training methods.  While Rocky 4 is about as fair as a mid-80ies movie can be, they show the American methods to be better than the Russian ones. Like what actually happened, America wins in the end.

However, while there is this veneer of real issues, Rocky 4 is still a 90-minute movie with about 35 minutes of music montages.  It is still a movie that has Rocky win the Cold War by punching out a giant Russian.  It is not as good as the first two Rockys, but it is possibly the most entertaining movie in the series for repeated viewings.  In the end, Drago turns on his uncaring trainers and the crowd turns on him.  Rocky draws strength from his friends and from the crowd.  Because everybody loves Rocky.

***

Significantly Delayed by the 4th Sunday Comic Book Review

The week of the 4th of July has really messed up my ability to get together posts for my fledgling blog, but this week I plan to review at least one more season 1 episode if Futurama and the new episode, with a mention of last week’s new ep.  Also at least one more installment of 25 Years of NES and one movie review.  There are many other things near completion that I hope to get out, but we’ll see.  On the the comics.  It was a big week for me buying comics and all in all a good one.
Flash 3:

Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Francis Manapul and Scott Kolins.
The new Barry Allen Flash series continues to be one of the best books coming out.  This issue continues the Flash’s struggles with the Renegades, doppelgangers of Flash’s Rogues from the future, and with the resurrected, original Captain Boomerang as he escapes from prison.  The art is distinct.   I do not possess the vocabulary or knowledge to accurately describe it, but I do know that it is unlike most other comics.  Johns is also doing a good job of setting up Barry and Iris Allen.  I would agree with the complainers that so far there is no reason the series could not have starred Wally West, but it doesn’t.  There have been 20 years of Wally stories, if the man who writes the best of them wants to write some great Barry stories more power to him.  And these have been 3 really good issues.  Barry is a hero through and through.  Instead of focusing on all of the implications that paint him as a murderer, he is helping someone else who has possibly been wrongly imprisoned.  Iris is helpful and equally busy.  Yes, so far, Barry has acted like Superman, but since DC has Superman doing other stuff, maybe Barry can become the moral center of their universe.
Green Lantern 55:

Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Doug Mahnke.
It’s big, loud, dumb and almost perfect.  Hal, Carol, Sinestro and Atrocitus fight with Lobo.  The leaders of four of the seven color corps throw power ring constructs all over the place in an over the top fight with one of superhero comic’s most over the top characters.  Lobo is a character, much like Marvel’s Deadpool, that is great in small doses but is easily over used.  His one issue appearance here is definitely a good thing.   Mahnke’s art is as over the top as the story.  This issue is just pure fun.  And the ending with the origin of Dex-Starr is both silly and somewhat touching.  While I was not a huge fan of Blackest Night, the Green Lantern book has come out of it still being great.
Justice Society of America 40:
written by Bill Willingham and drawn Jesus Merino.
This is the rather lackluster end to what has been a pretty good alternate reality story.  Obsidian returns and the JSA beats the bad guys.  I really do not know what to make of this issue.  It seems like it is either the last couple of pages of epilogue from the previous story extended to a full issue or 3 issues condensed down to one because after this James Robinson is taking over for three issues for a JLA/JSA crossover and Willingham could not set up the next story or fully finish this one.  So what is here is a few fun moments and lost of Obsidian monologue telling the reader what happened.  Everyone knows how this was going to end, so the least I expected was to be shown it in an interesting way, not having is flatly recited to me.  Not a good issue.  I’m growing increasing shaky on what is my favorite superhero team, especially since most of the interesting characters, Power Girl, Star Girl, Liberty Bell, Hourman, are going or gone.
Justice League of America 46:
written by James Robinson and drawn by Mark Bagley.
Robinson’s JLA/JSA team-up ramps up.  The story itself is actually pretty good.  The Starheart, a chuck of which is the source of Green Lantern‘s (Alan Scott) powers and through him powers his children Jade and Obsidian, is on Earth and driving many super powered individuals crazy.  It is an interesting start to the team up and a good way to involve both teams.  But his dialogue is terrible.  Jesse Quick, up until recently known as Liberty Bell, only thinks of her dad.  All the time.  Donna Troy rambles idiotically in what I believe is supposed to be funny dialogue.  Mr. Terrific talks down to Power Girl and she takes it.  Any of the instances could be forgotten, but they pile up enough to leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth.  I’m sticking with this title through the team up out of love for the JSA, my interest in the line-up Robinson has for the JLA and my previous enjoyment of Robinson’s writing in Starman and JSA.  After that, I may drop both Justice team titles.
Thor 611:
written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Rich Elson.
This is my attempt to get back in to Marvel after a series of terrible events, culminating in the horrendous Dark Reign, thoroughly destroyed most of my interest in the line.  But the “Heroic Age” sounds good, so I’ll look.  And seeing how Thor is the best Marvel hero, I started here.  Not bad.  The Asgardians mourn Loki; they question the leadership of Balder and the Desir plot to destroy the dead Asgardians.  I do know of the bulk of the events from Siege even though I did not read it and I read most of JMS run on the title, so I’m not completely lost.  This issue is not great, but it is pretty good.  If the next issue pays off the set up in this one I’ll be happy, but this is not getting me too excited.
Wonder Woman 600:
So to cap off the month we get Wonder Woman’s big anniversary issue to go along with Superman’s and Batman’s.  It is also the start of Straszynski’s run on the title.  The first story is written by outgoing writer Gail Simone and drawn by the person responsible for Wonder Woman when she was the best George Perez.  It starts with a team up of numerous super heroines to defeat the “Cyber-Sirens.”  It shows how all of them look up to her and how Wonder Woman is the greatest.  Then she skips out on the President to attend Vanessa Kapatellis’ graduation.  I really liked this story.  Perez is one of the best artists in the business and Gail Simone has few misses on her record.  I can’t help but see the end of this as a bit of delayed backlash against the writers who came after Perez (Messner-Loebs and Byrne used other characters, Jimenez destroyed them) that ignored the great supporting cast he set up.  To see Vanessa recovered from the indignities put upon her in bad stories that made both her and Wonder Woman look bad feels great to those who read and loved Perez’s WW.  The next story is written and drawn by Amanda Conner and is the best thing in any book this month.  Power Girl, (I love me some Power Girl, especially drawn by Amanda Conner) Wonder Woman, and Batgirl beat-up Egg-fu (basically super villain Humpty Dumpty) then PG and WW go to PG’s place so WW can tell her what’s bothering her cat.  It’s cute, funny and gives me hope for more WW PG team ups.  Next is Louise Simonson and Eduardo Pansica’s story where Superman and Wonder Woman team up to take down a terrorist who stole Zeus’s lightning.  It’s adequate.  I had to reread it even after taking some review notes to really remember it.  It is followed by Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins’s pointless lead-in to JMS’s story.  This was the most disappointing story because I really wanted to see Johns write Diana.  No writer is better at distilling why a character is cool into one sentence that can be used for years worth of stories.  Sure, his takes are often simplistic, but they lay great groundwork for other he and other writers to build on.  When he’s used Wonder Woman, it was generally in stories that were not about her and she did not feel right.  There was not enough to this story to even get that feeling.  Though the panel of young Diana staring out to sea wanting to see what else was out there was great.  Also in the issue were some great pin-ups by Adam Hughes, Francis Manapul and Phil Jimenez and one truly horrible one by Jock.
Then there is JMS’s highly anticipated debut.  I don’t like it.  The story could have potential.  It is going to end with the majority of her history restored to normal, maybe all of it, but the how could be intriguing.  The marketing is turning me off, as is the new costume.  WW old costume was just as messed up as Superman’s and Batman’s.  They are Superheroes; they are inherently ridiculous.  That is the fun of the stories.  And WW wears a patriotic one-piece bathing suit.  She looked like some sort of magical hooker.  DC decided to change this by making her look like an actual hooker.  They did not take out the suggestive part, they took out the magic that makes it okay.  And it’s not like this an original story.  Writers since Perez, except Simone, have destroyed Themyscira and the Amazons, only to return them with their version.  I see no reason to believe that this will be different of better.