Super Mario Replay: Super Mario Bros

My big project here this year is going to be a replay of the Super Mario series, mainline games only. That means no spin-offs or sports titles. Like previous projects like 25 Years of NES, the Wheel of Time Reread, Second Quest and 25 Years of SNES, I expect this year long project to take me at least 15 months and become a hateful chore by the end of it. Right now though, I am hoping the ending of this will coincide with the release of Super Mario Odyssey and I can play that game with the character’s history in mind. No promises, though.

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So we start with Super Mario Bros. Not the 1985 NES game, though; this time I am playing the Super Mario All-Star version on the Wii through the 25th Anniversary Edition. I decided to play it, and the other NES games, in this format because it gives me something else to say about them. There really isn’t much left to say about Super Mario Bros. I’ve already written about it once.  The All-Stars version gives me at least two things to talk about. One is the newly added save system. I am in favor of saving my progress and not being forced to complete a game in one sitting. Super Mario Bros is not designed with this in mind. In fact, it is designed to facilitate playing through quickly. I am avoiding warping so I can see more of the game than I usually do, but all the different hidden Warp Zones that were built into this game are a thing of beauty. Assuming you know what you are doing you can get to just about any stage in a matter of minutes. Saving robs the game of most of its challenge. You still have to get through without dying, but you can take it one World at a time and methodically take this game apart even if you aren’t any good at it.

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The other thing is interesting thing about the All-Stars version are the new graphics. It makes the characters look like SMB3 characters, but with SMW detail and color depth and fancy backgrounds. The original version of Super Mario Bros looks good in a primitive, familiar way. You’ve seen this game and those sprites for 30 years; that is what they are supposed to look like, the lack of detail notwithstanding. The All-Star graphics take some getting used to, but they actually look really good. It does create some dissonance with a game that looks like a SNES game but definitely plays like an NES game.

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As for the game itself, I don’t know what to say about it. I don’t think a game exists that has been more thoroughly discussed and dissected that Super Mario Bros. I’ve already written about it once. It is the ur video game, its primordial essence is a building block for nearly every game that came after it. Honestly, even all these years later it is still a lot of fun to play. It is perfect in its simplicity. Everyone should play it.

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25 Years 25 Games 22: Secret of Evermore

Secret of Evermore is a Squaresoft SNES game that is largely forgotten when talking about the 16-bit RPG giant’s output. It’s not Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger or even Secret of Mana. Though Secret of Mana is part of the reason the game is remembered by those who do remember it. Secret of Evermore is the first and only game developed by Squaresoft USA. It plays much like Secret of Mana and got a bad rep largely for supposedly preventing us in the USA from getting Secret of Mana’s real sequel. That loss appears to have more to do with Squaresoft’s falling out with Nintendo and the difficulties in compressing the dialogue to fit onto an American cartridge. Still, while the game is not actually connected to the Mana series, Evermore is built along the same lines.

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For better or worse, Secret of Evermore does feel “American.” It weird, but it is weird in a somewhat familiar way. The protagonist is an everyday kid that gets sucked into an alternate reality with his dog. The closest thing he has to a personality is that he loves what sound like terrible science fiction movies. His dog has more going on, if only because the dog changes form in each area of the game, going from a monstrous cave dog to a sleek greyhound to a fancy poodle to a jet power toaster. It is something at least.

The game starts with the main character getting sucked into a prehistoric world and movies through a few different realms before ending in a science fiction world. Each world is the creation of one of the people who were originally involved in an alternate reality experiment, and each one created a world to their liking. The game plays out a little like Chrono Trigger, moving from one setting to a completely different one every handful of hours. The game looks good, though not great. The music, though, is pretty great. It does play a lot like Secret of Mana. It has that same hit and wait battle system, with a meter at the bottom that must charge before you can effectively attack again. It has the ring menus for choosing spells and weapons. There are some changes to how spells work, but the game is definitely a sibling of Secret of Mana.

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There are two things that stop the game from being one of the SNES’s greats. The first is one of those changes from Secret of Mana, the differences in the magic system. Magic in Secret of Mana was already a low point, since you had to level it up by repeatedly casting spells. That seems to be somewhat alleviated by having only one character in Secret of Evermore, but something new added to what in Secret of Evermore is called Alchemy makes it even more tedious. In order to alchemy, you have to have the spell ingredients. That means you have to scour levels with dog to find invisible ingredients or spend all of your money stocking up on ingredients so you can cast the magic. Plus, you still have to level up each spell individually. So you cast the spell repeatedly to level up so it is strong enough to be useful, but then you run out of ingredients so you can’t actually cast it. It really makes you want to stick with some magic you learn early in the game, assuming you stocked up on enough spell ingredients to keep casting the high level versions of it. Without checking a guide there is no way of knowing which spells are actually worth using, other than leveling them up some and comparing, but that leads to even more ingredient hunting.

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The problem with alchemy is connected to the game’s other big problem: it is horribly balanced. One area will be super tough, but it will be followed by one that is super easy. One boss will be little more than a speed bump, but the next one might be a game ending obstacle. One spell you get fairly early (Crush) is super powerful, but the effectiveness of alchemy is all around a crap shoot. The whole game just feels super uneven.

That unevenness is not particularly surprising given that this was a rookie team making their first game. It feels like a rookie effort. There are quite a few good ideas here and a lot to like, but the game also feels kind haphazard. It is a good game, but there are a lot of good action-rpgs on the SNES. Games like Illusion of Gaia or A Link to the Past. Secret of Evermore doesn’t belong in the upper echelon of SNES games, but it is a worthy addition to the system’s library and still decently fun to play today.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

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xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is not a good movie. It might be the most preposterously stupid spy story ever committed to film. The acting ranges from passable to “supporting role given to a pro athlete.” The laws of physics and common sense aren’t ignored; they are pantsed and pushed into a mud puddle. Still xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is largely an enjoyable experience. It is purposefully crass, but also very inclusive, with just enough self-awareness to keep its stupidity fun instead of unbearable.

Vin Diesel stars as Xander Cage, a former secret agent who is pulled out of retirement after his mentor is killed. He is out for revenge, and to retrieve Pandora’s Box, a device which can make satellites drop out of sky on people’s heads. It has been stolen by Xiang and his team for unclear purposes. Cage recruits a new team, with skills such as marksmanship, DJing and crashing cars, to help him get it back. Once he tracks down Xiang, he learns that his foe is a former agent as well and the real bad guy is somebody different. Eventually they team up to thwart the real villain and save the day.

It is easy and almost inevitable to draw comparisons to Vin Diesel’s other big franchise, Fast & Furious. Like in that series, this motley gang of spies forms a makeshift family. This one is even more diverse than F&F’s already multi-racial crew. While they remain only vaguely fleshed out, there is a lot to like about this team. The marksman Adele is the highlight, aside from maybe Donnie Yen as Xiang. Like Rogue One, this movie will leave you wishing it had more Donnie Yen. They don’t have the deep connection to each other that F&F crew has, but as they form a formidable team over the back half this movie really takes off.

This would truly be a trash masterpiece if it weren’t for some shoddy special effects and a third act that can’t quite top the previous over the top action sequence didn’t stall it out. There are a ton of moments of unnecessary slow motion or jumbled actions scenes that keep this from being pure over the top nonsense. But still, it hits close enough to the mark to be satisfying. Plus, there is a last minute reveal that nearly brought cheers.

It can’t be overstated just how gleefully stupid this movie is. It introduces Xander Cage as he skis and skateboards down a tropical mountain to steal cable for a poor Brazilian neighborhood so they can watch a soccer match. At one point Diesel and Yen get into a dirt bike race that ends with them racing them on the ocean. One of Xander Cage’s recruits only skill is being a DJ. During a footrace, Diesel and Yen are hit by about 4 cars apiece. They keep running. I’ll not mention Cage’s Bondian sexual exploits but they are over the top, though still PG-13. From the device they are after to the plot they are unraveling, this entire movie is all nonsense.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is the action movie for people who find the Fast & Furious movies to be too high brow. It is James Bond for dirt bags. It is also nearly a fun as it is silly. This is not a movie for everyone. It is certainly not a good movie. But by certain measurements, it might just be the best movie.

**1/2

The Modern Stone Age Family

When DC announced a revamped Hanna Barbera line, it was met with a lot of derision. They announced four titles, but the only one that didn’t meet with immediate hate was Future Quest by Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner. The weirdo sci-fi version of Scooby-Doo took the brunt of the mocking, but the post-apocalyptic Wacky Races didn’t escape unscathed. Neither did The Flintstones, which at the time only had a fairly normal rendition of cast done by the incomparable Amanda Conner. In the end, only Wacky Races turned out poorly. Scooby Apocalypse is fine and while Future Quest is good it hasn’t managed to maintain any momentum since Shaner has only been able to do about half of each issue. The Flintstones, though, has been amazing.

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The art is by Steve Pugh, who has previously worked on Animal Man, Hellblazer and 2000 AD, and it looks really good. His art is clear and friendly, capturing the sitcom-esque look of the Flintstones perfectly. The cartoon was a take on The Honeymooner’s set in Prehistoric times, a broad sitcom family with the usual sitcom problems that just happened to be cave men; hence “the modern Stone Age family.” Pugh’s art is perfect at grounding this series into something that looks friendly and inviting. Which is necessary, because The Flintstones is anything but friendly.

No, this Flintstones comic is pitch black satire that is equally razor sharp and hammer blunt. Mark Russell wrote last year’s under-read Prez, also from DC, about America’s first teenage president, which was a similar satire that introduced Carl the End of Life Bear, a marijuana dispensing nursing robot for terminal patients. The Flintstones is even more biting than that already caustic title. Russell does this without doing a lot of re-imagining of the title. The Flintstones here are in many ways the same characters they have always been. Fred and Barney are best friends, they work at Slate Rock & Gravel, are married to Wilma and Betty and have kids in Pebbles and Bam-Bam. But instead of the cartoon’s broad sitcom problems, the comic has satirical social commentary, existential dread and scathing looks at very modern problems. It is amazing.

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In the first six issues alone, The Flintstones has dealt with issues like consumer culture, marriage equality, religion, war, politics, and veteran care, among others. It has essentially touched on most of the issues we face in our lives today. The first issue has a Neandethal, when leaving Bedrock, describe civilization as “getting someone else to do your killing for you.” That references back to both his friend dying trying to kill a mammoth at Mr. Slate’s behest, and Fred’s experiences in a war that Mr. Slate gave Mr. Slate the chance to open his quarry. Not only that, it is also dripping with existential dread, with the confusion of life forcing characters to contemplate the meaning of their own existence and generally not liking what they find. When Fred is asked if he has any worries about the new fad called “marriage” he wonders if all his marriage is doing is keeping Wilma from finding something better. It is kind of heartbreaking.

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There is some lightness to all of this, the possibility of hope. Wilma only thought about why she married is that she loves Fred. The hope in this series almost always found in its two families, the Flintstones and the Rubbles. Wilma might have been embarrassed at her art show, but learning about her art helped bring her and Fred closer together. That marriage retreat ends in disaster, but Fred and Wilma come out of it stronger. Even the war flashback, which shows Fred and Barney joined the army and committed genocide on the false pretense of an impending attack – easily the darkest tale in these six issues – ends with an event that brings the Rubbles closer together, giving at least the glimmer hope to a bleak, bleak story. All through the satire is the undercurrent that individual people doing their best matters, even if society at large is fucked. This element of hope is perfectly expressed by the baby mastodon vacuum cleaner, talking to his friend the armadillo bowling ball about what gets him through his dread as he spends his days locked in the closet – I told you it was dark – is knowing his friend is on the other side of the door. “Maybe the only meaning to life is that which we get from each other.”

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DC had a rough couple of years after they carpet bombed their own line with the New 52 at the same time that their reliable arty Vertigo titles largely dried up. But after the last year or so, I would say they are back on track, having published some of the best comics of the decade. Both of their books written by Mark Russell are on that list. Prez is amazing, but was left unfinished. Hopefully that same fate doesn’t befall The Flintstones as well.

Superhero Movie Rankings Revision

Last March I made of list of every superhero movie* ranked by goodness. Since no less than five new superhero movies have been released and instead of redoing the whole list, I’ve just made a few edits to the post and stuck the post to the top bar so it can be easily accessed. At some point I will go through and add links to my reviews of the films that I have reviewed on this site. So what changes were made? I added seven movies to the list and changed the ranking of one other.

To start with, I added Hellboy (at 25) and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (at 5) to the list. I left them off last year because I didn’t really consider them superhero movies, plus I hadn’t seen the first one in years and had never seen the sequel. Late last year I got on a Guillermo Del Toro kick and watched all of his movies. It turns out that the Hellboy movies are very much superhero movies and also that Hellboy 2 is goddamn awesome. So I slotted Hellboy down around the not bad movies and put Hellboy 2 as high as I could justify, which is at the bottom of the movies I love.

As for last year’s movies, I moved Deadpool, which was already on the list, down a few notches to 33. I wasn’t crazy about it when it came out and I like it even less a year removed from it. I put X-Men Apocalypse, my least favorite superhero movie of last year, at 36. Then it was Suicide Squad at 28. Dr. Strange enters at 20 because it had to go below Ant-Man, which I liked more. Then it was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: The Ultimate Cut at 17, which is above Man of Steel and below Batman Begins, the two I was really comparing it to. And finally, entering the list at 12 is Captain America Civil War, which I put just ahead of the Avengers.

I will keep this list accessible and I intend to adjust it every year after seen that year’s superhero movies. And I will make any other changes that I feel necessary, whether that be reconsidering a movie or finally watching one I hadn’t seen that got left off. Next year will see some significant changes thanks to the plethora of superhero movies coming out over the next 12 months. We’ll see how LEGO Batman, Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League stack up.

25 Years 25 Games 21: Uncharted Waters: New Horizons

This is going to be the second game I didn’t complete. With Lufia I just got bored and couldn’t force myself to keep with it at the time. I don’t feel the same way with Uncharted Waters: New Horizons; it may in fact be a masterpiece. With this game I am drowning. There is just too much. It is a detailed and complex game with little in the way of tutorial or explanations. It is just the sort of game I would have spent months when I was younger, now I just don’t have the time to devote what could be hundreds of hours to learning the ins and outs of this game.

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There is a lot to love about this game. The graphics are not the most impressive on the SNES, but while the characters are squat, they are sufficiently detailed to get things across. It actually looks a lot like Final Fantasy IV, a game that was released three years before Uncharted Waters: New Horizons was. Still, the look of the game is more simple than unappealing. It manages to convey a lot of information with a small number of sprites. The trading and exploration systems are fairly deep, especially for a 16-bit game.

Where the game trips me up is just how much there is to do in this game. There are eight protagonists to choose from, exploration, trading and combat to sort through as well as a metric ton of other factors to take into consideration. Each of the characters has their own storyline and their own focus. Otto and Catalina are focused more on combat, being a privateer and a pirate respectively. Then there is Ernst and Pietro, who have stories mostly about exploration. There is also Ali, who is a straight up merchant. And finally Joao, who does a bit of everything. I tried Catalina, Ernst and Joao and was able to make a little bit of progress as each of them. But the game is big, and I never really felt like I knew what I was doing or making any real progress.

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The game starts with a brief story segment outlining each character’s goals. Then you outfit a ship, guessing blindly at first at exactly how to make that happen, and set sail. You can fire on other ships, though there isn’t really any explanation on how combat works you’ll have to figure it out on your own, or stop at other towns to buy or sell goods. You do have to keep track of your supplies, like food and water as well. There are just so many things you could do, with little to no in game explanation on how or why you would do those things that the game makes me feel as though I am drowning. I am doing things, but I am not sure I am making progress or even treading water.

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I’ve tried to read FAQs and watch videos to get a better idea of how to play the game and what I’ve learned is that I need to play the game a lot more than I have time for. I have enjoyed what I’ve played so far, but this game is too much of an undertaking for me to really complete. Still, from the dozen or so hours I put into the game it is clear that there is something here. I just don’t have the time or inclination to plumb its depths and find its treasures.

Monster Hunter Generations

There is no replacing the feeling of the first time a Monster Hunter Game clicks. I dabbled slightly in the PSP games and Tri for the Wii, but Monster Hunter didn’t really come together for me until I played Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. That game enthralled me. Then came Monster Hunter 4U, which was objectively better in numerous small ways. I still liked it, but it didn’t quite have that same thrill of discovery that MH3U had. When Monster Hunter Generations came out, I thought up a way to get that feeling back. I played the previous two games using the Hammer as my primary weapon. With MHG, I would make the experience fresh by not using my go to weapon. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Though the game is in many ways a backwards facing anniversary title, Capcom actually changed things up more than it initially seems with Generations. There are only a handful of new monsters, I believe there are exactly seven new beasts, and the graphics are all but indistinguishable from MH4U, but the combat has gotten a significant, for this series at least, facelift. The new wrinkles here are Hunter Arts and Styles. It keeps 4’s mounting, the ability to leap onto a monster’s back and inflict significant damage, and one of its four Hunter Styles exists just to facilitate mounting. There is also a style that is mostly the same as the old way of playing, one that gets extra Arts and one that rewards precise evasion. The Arts are mostly flashy new moves to supplement the usual array of combat techniques available to the player. While the game doesn’t really lose the deliberate pace of combat from previous games, the arts make things more flashy and video gamey. That is a terrible description, but I don’t know how else to describe it. For all the ridiculous weaponry of this series, it had an internal realism. You might be able to swing around a sword larger than your character, but you couldn’t shoot into the air like a rocket or perform a shoryuken. The Hunter Arts don’t break things, but they do push the series a little further than it had gone before.

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My goal going into Generations was to not use the Hammer. I had stuck primarily to that weapon in the two previous Monster Hunter games and I hoped that changing my weapon would help freshen up the experience. The different weapons in Monster Hunter play differently enough that changing them almost makes it feel like playing a whole new game. Unfortunately for me, I really only like the version of the game that involves bashing dinosaurs in the face with a giant maul. I did try to use other weapons this time, which I think is why this game didn’t initially click for me.

First I tried the lance. I love the lance in theory; it makes me feel like my character is a straight up Medieval Knight. The lance is also slow and cumbersome and defensive. It is basically the opposite of my beloved hammer. A few fights against easy monsters quickly showed me that neither the lance, nor its sibling the gunlance, was the weapon for me. Next was the long sword, which was a suitably aggressive weapon, but it ended up feeling too fiddly. It lacks the straightforward elegance of the hammer. The next pair of weapons I tried were the ones that worked best. The trusty sword and shield, while somewhat boring, are perfectly fine weapons. They were my go to when I absolutely needed to sever a tail in previous games. They are easy to use and are very adaptable, especially with the new oils that can be applied to the sword that gives it special properties. I also got some mileage out of the Charge Blade. Honestly, I think that is the weapon I should have spent more time with, but it takes time to learn a new weapon and I was tired of wasting my time at this point.

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In the end, I switched back to the Hammer and everything fell into place. That is the weapon for me. In the future I may dabble with a handful of other weapons. I like to use bowguns in multiplayer, the Hunting Horn is close enough that I really should learn it and sometimes you just need to cut off a tail. However, I don’t think I’ll ever attempt to make anything but the hammer my primary weapon going forward.

Monster Hunter Generations is just more Monster Hunter. The game’s fresher fighting isn’t really much different from what it was before and everything else in this game is intentionally a call back to another game in the series, which is a decade old at this point. If/when Generations U (called Double X in Japan since Generations was X) comes over here I may or may not pick it up, but I will definitely be right there when the inevitable Monster Hunter 5 shows up. This series is one of the few reliable joys in the current gaming landscape that doesn’t come courtesy of Nintendo.

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Live By Night Review

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Live By Night doesn’t really work. It has a lot of good or interesting performances and some really well done scenes, but it doesn’t come together as a cohesive story by the end of it. It wants to be a gangster epic, but in all of its sprawling detail, going from Boston to Tampa and covering a couple decades it struggles to tell a coherent story. Still, there is a lot here to like even if the end result is less than the sum of its parts.

Ben Affleck directs and stars as Joe Coughlin, a WWI vet and son of a Boston Police bigwig who came back from the war disillusioned and became a small time stick-up man. His desire to avoid getting caught up with the real gangsters ends when he starts dating Emma, the boss’s moll. After a bank job goes awry, Joe is caught by both the boss and the police and serves a few years in prison, while Emma is killed in a car accident. After Joe gets out of prison, he follows the boss to Florida to get revenge by ruining his rum running business. From there the movie goes all over the place, with Joe meeting a new love in a Cuban expat (Zoe Saldana), dealing with the KKK, religious groups and interference from his Boston boss. At no point does it acquire anything that could be called narrative momentum.

The biggest problem the movie has is Joe. It isn’t Affleck’s performance, which is solid; it is that there really isn’t a character there. He doesn’t want to be a gangster, until he does. He wants revenge, until he doesn’t. He wants to build a bootlegging empire. Or a casino. Or nothing. He is a void at the center of the movie that he is supposed to be driving. The movie keeps moving, letting Joe interact with a lot of characters, but it never really amounts to anything.

Still, there is a lot of strong stuff here. Joe dealing with the KKK and the Church are interesting because they are not groups built like the gangster businesses he is used to dealing with. He can’t buy off people whose motive is unthinking hate. Or any true believers. He tries to make a deal with the religious leader, only to find that they won’t budge. That pair of encounters does the most to show the kind of man that Joe Coughlin is. When confronted with the hatred of the KKK, he eventually goes to murderous lengths to deal with them. When confronted by the Church he refuses to take that step. He wants to keep thinking of himself as a good man, even as he does bad things. He has lines that he won’t cross, even if they lead to his undoing.

The movie is at its best when Joe is doing his bootlegging work with his number 2 man Dion. They have these sarcastic little side conversations that other characters can hear that add a lot of life to things. The highlight might be the two of them tracking the origin of a stray bullet that hit Joe during a shoot-out. Was it fired by their foe or was an accident by Dion? That stuff works better than the turgid musing on what makes a good man that is never fleshed out enough to really matter.

There are a lot of things to complain about with Live By Night. It is overlong, scattershot and while the setting looks good it doesn’t look lived in at all. South Florida should look warmer than that, especially to a couple of boys from Boston. It has a lot of good actors – Brendan Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Elle Fanning, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Chris Messina – given very little to do in roles that should have amounted to more. Still, the individual pieces and scenes assembled here are worth watching, though it reeks of a real missed opportunity.

***1/2

River City Tokyo Rumble

I love River City Ransom. It is my #2 favorite game of all-time. When I heard that one of those recent Japan-only follow ups was actually going to make it across the pond, I got pretty excited, especially when I saw that it was sticking with the classic NES look. Bad timing, a small print run and my reticence to drop $30 on a digital title led to the game passing me by early this fall. I was more than happy to find it under the tree at Christmas, though. That this game looks and plays so much like that NES classic is reason to be a little leery of my opinion of it. This is a game made to press my nostalgia buttons.

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River City Tokyo Rumble manages to be both a follow up to the game Americans actually like, River City Ransom, while not completely ignoring the crappy game that gave the series its start, Renegade. Last year I played through Shin Nekketsu Koho: Kunio-tachi No Banka which was enjoyable in a lot of ways, but was also clearly more of a follow up to Renegade than River City Ransom. River City Tokyo Rumble is very much in the same vein as River City Ransom. There are town areas, shops, RPG-elements and free smiles. While the game plays like a sequel to River City Ransom, the story is very much a sequel to Renegade. It starts with Kunio’s buddy getting beaten up in the parking lot and the characters that join Kunio are ones that were bosses in Renegade but didn’t appear in River City Ransom. While that does keep the game from perfectly hitting the nostalgia like it could have, but it also makes it feel somewhat fresh and new for those that rightly don’t much enjoy Renegade.

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There are some changes from the River City Ransom formula and most of them are sideways steps rather than strict improvements. Gone is getting stat increases from food, instead there is an experience system. It works, but it makes the restaurants and shops less important or interesting. They only refill health and willpower. Useful, to be sure, but not as important as improving stats. Players can now accumulate all of the special attack scrolls they can get their hands on without being limited to how many can be equipped. The map opens up slowly, but it is now broken up into freely visit able, once unlocked, areas instead of one big map. Each area is small enough that is hurts the game sense of progression, since the only difference between areas are the enemies in them. It is reminiscent enough of River City Ransom to delight that way, but different enough to not just feel like a cash in.

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Some of those differences add quite a bit to the game. Once change is a new system of odd jobs the player can take on. Most of them are pretty mundane, go to a certain place or beat a certain enemy, but it is more than enough incentive to keep the player running around the game’s world. Then there is the gradual accumulation of moves, which far outstrips those available in the NES game. By the end of this game Kunio is an unstoppable death cyclone. It also adds a few difference partner characters, with Shinji and Misuzu in addition to the usual Riki. The new leveling system works against that, though, since they each have to be leveled up with the player and soon fall far behind Kunio.

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While it is a far from perfect, River City Tokyo Rumble feels a lot like the Mega Man 9 to River City Ransom’s Mega Man 2. It isn’t as perfect a recreation of the old aesthetic as MM9, it evokes a similar feeling of playing a game just like the games you used to play. The changes to the system, the humorous off beat odd jobs and a story that goes real big by the end makes the game feel even more like a 2D take on the Yakuza series. I’ve always felt River City Ransom and Yakuza shared a lot despite originating nearly 20 years apart and this game doesn’t dissuade me of that notion. And while I am usually not one to complain about price, despite the addition of a dodgeball mode this game feels awful slight for the full $30 price tag. Still, for fans of old school brawlers and River City Ransom in particular, River City Tokyo Rumble is well worth playing.

Movies to Watch Early 2017

It is a new year, so it is a good time to look at what movies coming up over the next few months look checking out. I’ve had to widen that scope to fill up enough space to actually make this worthwhile as movies like The Dark Tower have been moved to later in the year. Still, there are a handful of intriguing titles on deck over the first third of 2017 that should provide ample reason the head to the movies.

January

Underworld: Blood Wars – The year gets started with this fifth (!) entry in the Underworld series. As great as Kate Beckinsale is, I have never found these movies to be anything dull, turgid messes. I am not especially interested in seeing this.

Live By Night – Ben Affleck directs this movie set during Prohibition. His previous directorial efforts have been very good, so I am hopeful about this one. Plus, I am always a sucker for that between the World Wars setting, so this looks right up my alley. I know this was technically released at Christmas, but it isn’t getting wide release until early January.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage – The first xXx was pure nonsense in a (somewhat) good way, something of an extreme James Bond sort of way. The trailer for this looks stupid, but the kind of stupid that can be entertaining.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter – I put this series as kind of a spiritual sister series to Underworld, both being horror themed action movies and also both being terrible. Still, as terrible as they are, the Resident Evil movies could maybe claim to be the best video game movies. The subtitle claims that this is the last movie in the series and I certainly hope so.

February

Lego Batman – Batman is great, the Lego Movie was great. This looks like it could also be great. The trailers, which are numerous, have been funny so far. I am really hopeful that this turns out well.

John Wick Chapter 2 – It looks bad ass. The first movie as good and this looks to be more of the same in a very good way.

The Great Wall – Mat Damon is great and I’ve enjoyed several Zhang Yimou movies. I hope it has plenty of wuxia style action and not just the usual CGI monsterfest. I don’t know that I am precisely excited for this, but I am definitely interested in seeing it.

March

Logan – Maybe the third and final Wolverine solo movie will finally get everything right. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a goddamn mess, but The Wolverine was mostly pretty good, even if it couldn’t stick the landing. This one is based off of one of my least favorite Wolverine stories, but it did have a great trailer. Plus, it is supposedly the last time Jackman will play the character, so I am definitely going to see it.

Kong of Skull Island – I hesitate to get well and truly excited for this movie, but I really like the trailer and I love the cast. Also, I love monsters and King Kong in general. I’ve got my fingers crossed and haven’t seen anything yet to make me doubt my excitement.

Beauty & The Beast – I haven’t been a huge fan of Disney’s animated to live action conversions, but I do love Emma Watson. Also, Beauty and the Beast is Disney’s best animated movie, maybe this version will be similarly excellent.

Power Rangers – Misplaced youthful affection for Power Rangers was just enough to get me through the miserable trailer. This looks like another Fantastic 4 situation, but sometimes you really feel the need to watch the train accident.

Ghost in the Shell – This is another one kind of like The Great Wall, with its controversial casting of a white performer in an otherwise Asian movie, but while I don’t disagree with those complaining about that, I still want to see both movies. I really liked the Stand Alone Complex anime series and I liked the trailer. Here’s hoping this turns out.

April

The Fate of the Furious – While the rest of April looks barren, the next Fast & Furious movie is almost enough to sustain a month by itself. While I doubt that the series can return to the heights of Fast 5, this looks more than good.

Did I miss anything? I know I passed by some comedies that might be promising because I know I won’t end up seeing them. While the spring looks kind of sparse, next summer should be jam packed if everything currently scheduled actually hits cinemas. There are some good looking superhero movies coming up and a new Edgar Wright movie to look forward to in 2017, along with several updates of classic sci fi movies and a few new ones. I hope people who are more in the know can lead me to the legitimately good movies instead of just the promising genre stuff that I am tuned in to.