- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.