Video Game Review: Secret of Mana (PS4)

Nostalgia is a bitch.

And so it goes with SquareEnix releasing the Secret of Mana remake for PS4 and PSVita. From the announcement, I was very aware that this wasn’t going to be what everyone wanted it to be. I mean, come on, we’re talking modern SquareEnix here. With the occasional “update” showing off less than stellar voice acting, coupled with stiff gameplay, it was little surprise that this remake of Secret of Mana wasn’t so hot.

If you’re a fan of the Mana series, then you are completely aware just how abusive that relationship can be and how disappointment is just baked in these days. Even with the same director, Koichi Ishii, at the helm of most of franchise, the Manaverse isn’t really that good outside of Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3. With this remake, the legacy continues unabated.

What struck me most about playing Secret of Mana was that, warts and all, it’s stupefyingly faithful in its adaptation. I wish I could say I found it endearing, but more found myself just being stymied as to the “Why?” of it.


Why go through all the effort to maintaining the stiff, rigid nature of the movement from the old game? Every time I would saddle up to an NPC, I would have to wait for the entire party to slot in to place. When I would use the cannon service to move about the world, I would have to watch the rigid; 90 degree based grid movement as the party marched up the stares and then glided in to the cannon. The shopkeepers, who looked to just be jigging about in the old game, have been given updated animations that look like they’re having seizures and shitting their pants. Moreover, so many more just baffle the mind!

The game is sold as being “lovingly” crafted from the ground up, but I don’t think anyone would have been too upset that the characters moved about freely, hell, they adjusted the combat to be 360 degree movement instead of the stiff cardinal direction based of old. Outside of combat and interacting with NPC’s the game still maintains the fluidity of the old game, and in some cases adds to it, making it feel fresh…like you’d think a remake should.

But some of the decisions made in this game are mind-boggling!


The Action Grid, something the old game used to help mitigate the horrid nonplayer AI, is reduced to a fistful of options that do nothing to help those who wish to play Secret of Mana solo. In addition to this, the AI is much stupider in the remake, meaning you have a lot more of that classic babysitting to do if you want to have a good time. If you don’t tell your AI companions what to do, they’ll just chill out and stare at the wall or something.

In what you would think was an olive branch to modernization, an autosave function is introduced. It’s in the playing of the game, and the numerous times it crashes, that you realize that the feature was introduced as a lazy stopgap, instead of fixing and addressing the issues that cause the problem in the first place.

A lot talk around this game is the nostalgia-fueled disappointment that it’s not the Secret of Mana we all remember. Which is valid, and I empathize with those like Game Informer’s Kimberly Wallace, who talked about the fond memories she had playing the game multiplayer with her grandpa. I too, have a similar story, playing through the entirety of the game with my babysitter, back when the game came out. But there was a lot more surrounding the game than just the fun multiplayer of the game.


In fact, it’s been in the recent years replaying of the game that I discovered that Secret of Mana just isn’t a good solo JRPG experience, and I’d dare add that I think a lot of people that would play it multiplayer today would find it a bit…lacking. Because the game was of a time, and for a lot of us, myself included, it was the first JRPG we ever got a hold of that didn’t bore the shit out of us or bulldoze us with mechanics and game systems too dense for adolescent comprehension.

If I recall at the time, Nintendo Power ran a hybrid third person narrative/strategy guide that really fleshed out the gappy, threadbare plot of the game and gave the player some direction in a game largely devoid of it. In later years, we would learn of Secret of Mana’s storied development and how much of it had to be scrapped to fit on a tiny SNES cart instead of the CD based system it was planned for. You could also say a rushed English translation didn’t help things either.

Multiplayer RPG’s have also come a long way, and when you have something like the Diablo series out there to take the place of something like a Secret of Mana, going backwards just doesn’t scratch that itch anymore. Especially considering how even this remake includes the late game obtuse difficulty spike.


Again, the decision-making on display leaves a lot to be desired. Building the game from the ground up, SqaureEnix could’ve balanced out the entire gameplay experience. Instead, they do that here and there with some of the enemies, namely the werewolves that would mercilessly kick your ass all over the place if you weren’t careful. Now, they present little issue, meanwhile the Chobin Hoods remain the most lethal ass snipers in all the land…growing even more proficient with the addition of total 360 degree movement.

Then again, it’s hard to judge just how well balanced the game really is. I regularly play through Secret of Mana every so often and know its wrinkles and bullshit well. With the new game being a one-to-one remake, I breezed through bosses and enemies like it weren’t no thing. Even assholes like the Spiky Tiger, which was a hell of wall in the old game, presented absolutely no challenge.

I don’t envy SquareEnix when they decided to remake Secret of Mana, but I wonder whom they were aiming the games release at. Old gamer fogies like me? I absolutely had no problem forking over the ridiculous $40 asking price, because I love Secret of Mana and wanted to see just how badly SqaureEnix would mangle it. Then they just literally remade it, warts and all, and I can’t be too upset about it. Though I do wish the game didn’t look and feel so cheaply made and rushed. But what can you expect from modern day SquareEnix, tender love and care for their old games and their respective fan bases?

Nevertheless, I do wonder what the kids these days think about the game. They hear legends from the olds about how revolutionary Secret of Mana was, and at the time, it was absolutely true. Robbed of that context, and most of the modernization a remake would likely bring, they surely can’t be that impressed with what ma and pa gamer were prattling on about.



Video Game Review: Secret of Mana (PS4)

Worst of 2017


While 2017 was indeed a great year for entertainment and the like, there was plenty to dislike…nay, hate about the year.


Comic Books Vice like Grip on Entertainment Media

What started the year as yet another “Marvel” header for my Worst of 2017 list slowly grew and mutated into what is today, a catch all for comic books everything!

It should go without saying that I didn’t care for a single damn thing Marvel put out this year, from the litany of undercooked Netflix and network shows, to the ancillary, not wholly owned Marvel products like way up it’s own ass and shitty CGI-laden Legion, The Gifted and abysmal Inhumans…to the movies…one of which managed to crack the top ten of the 50 Best Superhero Movies of all time. That’s right…Thor: Ragnorok…barely two weeks old at the time…cracked the TOP 10 of a giant list of superhero movies. Give me a fucking break!

Which lead in the tail end of the year award season being pooh-poohed because it dared to not award Logan or Wonder Woman with any nominations? They are like totally worth being considered for maybe like even Oscars, that’s how compelling and great they are.

If…and this is a great if…either of those movies was worthy of a nod, I would transcend my blazing disinterest and apathy in superhero movies these days and agree that they should be recognized as something of note. Logan and Wonder Woman did nothing to deserve recognition.

Well, I would argue that Logan displayed massive balls in not only copying the plot and framing of the movie Shane, but then all meta “tongue-in-cheek” show a good chunk of said movie in the film…that’s some balls! Giving Wolverine movie cancer and a daughter redemption plot doesn’t equal award season gold!

Wonder Woman is the plot of Captain America: The First Avenger…but with a lady. Gal Gadot is hot, and looks great Wonder Woman-ing around…but she cannot act and the Wonder Woman movie does everything in its power to mitigate the actresses weaknesses by making every one else on Thermiscura speak with a shitty Gal Gadot accent. The villains are cartoonish…even for a superhero movie and the British as fuck bad guy awkwardly CGI melded with a stupid giant piece of armor climax fight was stupid as well. I guess you could reward Wonder Woman for not shitting the already reeking DCEU bed further and clearing the very low bar of female comic book hero movies?

Speaking of rip-off Spider-Man: Homecoming liberally heisted most it’s best plot elements from John Hughes movies, but when most of your fans aren’t remotely interested in any other movie outside the MCU I guess you can just do that and not get called out for it. Even if you pull a Logan and literally show the scene you’re ripping off in the movie.

Here’s to another great decade of superhero movies!


Nier: Automata

I’ve never wanted to like a game more than Nier: Automata. What appeared to be the digital peanut butter and chocolate I’ve longed for: coupling a Platinum Games’ combat system with a nonsensical anime ass JRPG plot about sexy robots kicking the shit out of unsexy robots and having an existential crises about it for dozens of hours.

I even knew what to expect going in. I knew that I would need to play the game a few times, deal with similar gameplay elements and the like…”beat” the game a few more times to truly get what narrative Nier: Automata was selling. Nevertheless, I couldn’t do it. I know it’s Japanese as fuck, but you can only bury your game so far down in redundant anime and repetitive gameplay bullshit before I’ll yield.

Perhaps the blame for this allergy to obtuse game design came from playing the ass end of Bravely Default’s “endgame” a few times and being rewarded with slight tweaks to the ending. Fuck that game and fuck Nier: Automata for hiding away its better elements in sub par, repetitive gameplay.


Baby Driver

Maybe you had to watch this movie in the theaters to truly get it. Like a Fast & Furious movie is a great little mindless watch, but it comes to life in the movie theater with the cars and explosions and the like rumbling your mind senseless.

To me there’s been a precipitous drop in quality with Edgar Wright’s work starting with Spaced. I think he’s a great collaborative director, but on his own, his films are always…twee. They are all sizzle and no steak…like pop music or whatever shiny disposable artifact that you would parallel his stuff with. Tastes great while you’re chewing it, but you can’t remember it when it’s gone.

After a great opening scene that would portend an instant classic…Baby Driver mashes the twee button and just doesn’t relent for the next unwieldy two-hours run time with a scene of the titular Baby bringing coffee to his heistmates. There’s lyrics superimposed on the background and other twee elements that instantly ejected me from the movie.

Baby Driver spends way too much of it’s time trying to be clever and making sure you the viewer know it. But what’s more galling is that after awhile you begin to realize you’ve seen elements of this film before. As if Edgar Wright just took his favorite elements of various films and just…”remixed” them. It’s a problem I’ve had with Mr. Robot as well, this copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy pop culture pastiche that has seemingly eroded any originality one could bring to the cinematic arts.

And while Baby Driver boasts a fantastic cast, they are all wasted with insipid dialogue, inconsistent characterizations and a refusal to follow any logic outside of “because plot”. Ansel Elgort and an atonal Lily James have no chemistry, and I half wonder if Anna Kendrick wasn’t supposed to be the “adorkable girlfriend”. The plot of the movie is very stupid, and not in that fun Fast & Furious way. Moreover, for some action/car/heist movie it is overly long and has one of the stupidest endings I have ever seen.

The only redeemable part of Baby Driver is the driving sequences, those were dope!


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Okay…I’m being hyperbolic here…Breath of the Wild wasn’t the worst by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a great game, and I put dozens and dozens of hours in to it earlier this year. I could be more specific if Nintendo had some sort of counter to tell me, but I’m merely guessing. I beat it. I do know that.

Breath of the Wild’s problem is that while it’s great open world game, it forgot to still be a Zelda game.

Clearly the inspiration for the game was the original NES Zelda, where you could go anywhere your heart desired, to parts that would kick your heart in the dick and send you to the GAME OVER screen, to try again from the start screen. And Breath of the Wild has that feeling in spades, I was constantly getting my shit pushed in by lowly enemies and frantically cycling through stick weapons as I would break dozens trying to kill two bad guys!

The weapon degradation system was bullshit, easily. Even the mighty Master Sword was not immune from its bullshit, as it would “break” and need to recharge. It would stay whole during boss battles and Hyrule Castle, but it wasn’t the most powerful weapon to use. Goddamn if I didn’t primarily use it though! I’ll take a few more whacks at an enemy if it means I don’t have to pause the game and shuffle through a dozen hoarded weapons every five minutes!

Shrines are a great idea, but they aren’t dungeons. I get their necessity in the game world and the give/take design they foster between grip meter and heart containers. However, I would’ve enjoyed if some of those shrines were cobbled together to make a few dungeons. Did we really need 156 of the damned things?

The other problem with the shrines occurs if you have been playing games for more than a decade. Between Half-Life, Portal and any other of the myriad of physics based puzzle games, I’m somewhat good on that mechanic. Breath of the Wild offers a few wrinkles to that tried and tested formula, but sometimes I would’ve enjoyed fighting a Wingnut or Stafflos in a locked room for a dungeon key or macguffin. Instead, I had to stasis a block, then whack it a bunch so it could clear a gap, and press a button to open a gate. Fun…but only the first three dozen times.

Even the dungeon adjacent divine beasts were lacking! Great puzzle boxes to figure out, but mostly devoid of enemies or anything fun to do once you got up in them.

And the Zelda series has a pretty great bench of baddies, so why I was only fighting a fistful of the same guys repeatedly? The only difference coming as you got further in to the game and they changed color signifying a “level up”, making them more of a hassle, and things I just avoided in the back end of the game.

While Breath of the Wild wasn’t literally the worst, it was still very disappointing to play a Zelda game that had so little of what made the previous games in the series so great. I don’t mind the taking liberties with formula, and I loved all the small details Nintendo crammed in to the game, but they stripped out too much of the Zelda DNA. I was also super bummed that after keeping Ganon at bay for nearly 100 years Zelda wasn’t an old crone. It would’ve totally fit the dark and dire tone of the narrative if you rolled up on her after a century and her power was waning because she was old and dying, but nah we get young perky Zelda with that thick ass!


American Gods (TV Series)

American Gods is a book that I really enjoyed, and had no problems with anyone trying to adapt it, be it for the big or small screen. Adaptations of Neil Gaiman’s work have been spotty at best, but there is no shortage of people trying to adapt anything of his. There’s a quality to his work that really shouldn’t be so hard to translate in to something just as magical as his written words.

With an amazing cast, and Bryan Fuller at the helm, you’d think this would be a slam-dunk…but I’m here to say….Nah, it didn’t do it for me.

I can’t quite pinpoint my problem with it. Maybe the expansion of certain plot elements that seemed to just be a fierce padding to the main plot goings on. Mainly the “B” plot of Laura Moon and Mad Sweeney, which dovetails with the “A” plot of Shadow and Wednesday in the finale…but…Meh?

If you look up “all sizzle and no steak”, I’m fairly certain you’ll see a picture of Bryan Fuller, a lot of his shows have that Tim Burton-lite esthetic that’s hard to ignore and all of his shows have great premises. It’s just that the execution winds up being so lacking, which makes watching American Gods so frustrating.

I’m fine expanding the roster of “Gods” to include more females, but when they’re done so abysmally, why even bother in the first place? Do we need a constant looming big bad to have a thread that runs throughout the season? For that matter, why expand Laura Moon if you’re not going to give her much to work with outside of her already two-dimensional book characterization? Did she need a tired road trip plot that really did nothing but pad the length of each episode and extend the plot out so that they could claw more than one season out of the books plot? It seems like a shitty parallel copy of the “A” plot road trip from the book, wherein the places Shadow wound up told much of the story. Be it with Shadow himself or the various old nigh on forgotten gods and their tragic backstories.

American Gods looks great, don’t get me wrong. It’s beautifully shot and looks expensive, but it doesn’t really do much story wise, and doubly so if you’ve read the book and were looking forward to a somewhat faithful adaptation. Oh well, there’s plenty of other Gaiman properties to cherish in the meantime.



Worst of 2017

The Best of 2017

2017 was a stellar year for entertainment of all kinds! So much so that narrowing down a list to just a scant few seemed impossible, but here it is.


Transformers: The Last Knight

I don’t know if this movie broke my mind, or some earlier film did so, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fifth Transformers movie way more than any human possibly could have. Typically, when I participate in the summer blockbuster season, I take my brain out and just enjoy the flashing lights and loud sounds. No movie before has been that and so much more! This is also coupled with my new “coping mechanism” for dealing with movies these days: “Fuck you, that’s why!” This answer covers any question that your pitiful human brains desire for filmic competency and linear structure may come up with. This mechanism is applicable to all movies as well as one with such greatness as Transformers: The Last Knight.

Why is there a protracted King Arthur scene, nay other film narrative all up in the beginning of this movie? Fuck you, that’s why! and they introduce a dope ass dragon Transformer! Because…fuck you, that’s why! Why is Bumblebee fighting Nazi’s in a heretofore unexplained historical tinged flashback that would possibly retcon the entire “canon” of the films? Fuck you, that’s why!

Transformers: The Last Knight is Michael Bay at his finest, or at his worst, you can never really tell from one frame of this movie to the next. All the elements of a Bay film are here: hot girls, sweet looking cars, loud noises, flashing lights, dumb plot that loosely  threads the disparate tax write-off location based elements together. That the movie then tries to place the entire Transformers films in to some sort of cinematic universe is itself as brazen and dumb as to actually be genius!


The Young Pope

There wasn’t a single television show this year that captured my entire being so much as The Young Pope. A ten-hour long foreign film that explores faith, humanity, tradition and mythology. Like most religions, it can be impenetrable to those who try to take on its singular elements without wholly giving over to its charms. Moreover, like most things that have to be taken on faith, The Young Pope cruelly refuses to answer the questions it poses or fails to even bother help you comprehend the larger picture its painting. Few shows demand patience and reward it like this show does, and that’s what makes it so great.

And to say nothing of just how beautifully shot the entire series is. The Young Pope is a visual powerhouse that delivers on how awe-inspiring Rome can be and why it is the seat of the Catholic Church. Jude Law is commanding in his role as the titular character and is supported by a great cast of known and unknown actors, with no real weak links to be found.


Super Mario Odyssey

In a surprising toss up between this and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey came out on top.

It was a revelation to me seeing as I’m not the biggest 3D Mario fan. I don’t actively hate  them, but have always found that I enjoyed Mario more in his 2D outings and less so when I was trying to jump on a goomba….a goomba of all things…and would misjudge by just a hair and get hit by it. On the other hand, this same misjudging would lead to a fall off a platform, and other frustrations that always kept me on the outside looking in on 3D Mario games.

And look, Super Mario Odyssey still had those frustrating elements that kept me from truly enjoying past 3D Marios, and I had a goodly amount of bullshit “not-my-fault” deaths, but I think the capturing element is what truly made me enjoy the game so much. It broke up the monotony of “Woo-hoo!”-ing, hopping and bopping my way as Mario, misjudged and mistimed leaps and all. The captured creatures and enemies broke up the gameplay in such a way that I was still Mario 80% of the time, but I didn’t get frustrated banging my head against a particularly trying element as I could usually capture a nearby enemy and find something else to do for a moment.

The game is expertly paced as well, with the lesser kingdoms not demanding much of your time, and none of them really commanding much in the way of collecting to move on from it to perhaps a better kingdom more worthy of exploring. I was pleasantly surprised time and time again by what Super Mario Odyssey had on offer and that there was plenty of platforming to be found, though I do wish the 2D platform sections were more plentiful and challenging instead of the delightful aperitif it more often turned out to be.


Final Fantasy Tactics

For years…nay decades I’ve always been one of those guys that would roll their eyes every single time a strategy-RPG would come out and those certain denizens of The Internets would cry that it wasn’t Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT)…and nothing ever would be…ever!

I’ve never been much of a Strategy-RPG man, but as I’ve gotten older, and presumably, more patient in my gaming tastes…not to mention how haphazard Japanese RPG’s can be these days, I decided to give FFT a turn.

Lucky for FFT that I have a hard rule for playing JRPG’s: play at least ten hours. That’s about the length of a typical JRPG “tutorial” and when the game finally trusts you to play it. FFT was no different, and in fact, at around the ten-hour mark it busts out one of the hardest skirmishes at Dorter Slums. I found it so hard I had to restart the entire game, play those early hours again, and was finally able to best it….barely.

After that point the game rarely stat checks you or offers much of a challenge, the only real difficulty coming from poor ally/enemy placement and wonky AI. By the time I finished the game I had a pain train team that was nigh unstoppable and dealt awesome damage so the end game and beyond offered nothing of note challenge wise. I can’t tell you if I actually got better at the game and its bullshit or the game stopped trying, but I never ran in to anything nearly as frustrating as the beginning dozen or so hours.

FFT boasts such a great, compelling story and gameplay that I’m surprised SquareEnix hasn’t remade it several thousand times. And woe be to you who wish to find something similar to play after you finish FFT as literally nothing compares…I have become one of those fans now!


Big Boi: Boomiverse

Here is I was lamenting the sad state of hip-hop when Big Boi heard my cries for a fresh modern romp through the dirty south and released Boomiverse this past summer.

In a time when rap is apparently just mumbling over a beat during the third verse of a female pop singers umpteenth diss song, or just making noises, Boomiverse is a throwback to a time where rappers spit about real shit that mattered: big booty‘s, money and sex!

Tracks like “Chocolate”, “Freakonomics” and “Kill Jill” were truly great and I even found “Mic Jack” to be awesome even though Adam Levine shows up to try and ruin it.

I hardly ever find an album worth of extolling come years end but Big Boi’s third solo outing was too excellent not to say something about it.



The Best of 2017

Culture Review: Justice League

That I didn’t even know that Justice League was set to release upon the masses until about two weeks out should inform you to my “Hot Take™”. Look, I’m a nerdy white guy in my mid-30’s, of course I am compelled to unfurl my Hot Take™! I did not do my due diligence in reading reviews or giving a shit as to when the movie was coming out. I honestly thought it was going to be like next March or something! After Suicide Squad, I swore to the Batman on high that I would only watch movies with him in them. Which meant I still had to see Suicide Squad, which was a very big harbinger of things to come in the…DCEU?

I skipped Wonder Woman earlier this year because I don’t care about Wonder Woman, and was done doing my capitalist duty of “voting with my dollar”. It looked dumb, derivative and devoid of anything that would compel me to see it…and I was right. A recent viewing led to more head scratching as I saw nothing in the film that was being heralded as this giant turn around for the DCEU. Instead, it was just the plot of Captain America: The First Avenger, but with Wonder Woman in it.

This is also compounded by the notion that the DCEU is apparently the whipping boy for critics and their collective derision of superhero movies and Zack Snyder in particular. The same derision is extended to the likes of Michael Bay. It’s not without merit, but I’ve hardly found myself siding with critics any reviewers of any kind recently.


Far from reviewing a piece of media…criticism these days is just an essay on the personal relationship a critic has with said media. I don’t get a nuance take on the film or why it’s found wanting or worthy of the one-and-a-HALF start review with text that doesn’t really back it up. I read a chunk of text, seen through the prism of whatever bugaboo the writer has and nothing more.

Of course, a feminist social justice flavored critic isn’t going to like the way that Gal Gadot is objectified in the film. Not even bothering to give examples, it’s just in there you guys…believe it! So much so that I humored the reviewer and looked for these nebulous male gaze fountain shots in the film. I guess that scene where Wonder Woman’s ass is framed in the foreground as she waits for Bruce Wayne from above her to deplane is one of the many culprits? I was even on the look out for the obvious camera pan from her ankles all the way up her leg to her ass then her boobs and then her face shotnothing. I mean, I am a man after all so my objectivity glasses aren’t up to par…but that I wasted any of my time trying to suss out said scenes shows just how inept our current critical class is.

Then you have the movie nerds, who with microscopic film vision, can somehow tell which scenes in the film have the weird Superman upper lip nonsense going on. In addition, they can tell with maximum assuredness which scenes were Zack Snyder flavored and which ones where Joss Whedon. No lies! It’s like they’re an insider or something…and were there or something…instead of…reality in which they weren’t and that aside from that pic Superman’s face that has been made a meme couldn’t tell you which Superman lip was CGI-ed or not!


Moreover, what of the box office floppingness of the whole damn thing! The fact that the movie would need to clear three quarter of a billion dollars to break even is just plain silly. That it only made $90 million in its first weekend…DOOM! Well…DARKSEID!!!!
That speaks more to the absurd stakes of modern movie making…where an average superhero movie clearing the production budget of literally every other non-superhero movie in the calendar year is seen as a flop.

What’s more demoralizing is that Justice League was trying so hard to sprinkle some Marvel magic onto itself and play with the big kids, when what it was doing was just fine.

Yeah, maybe it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but there are more people like me out there that appreciated the darker tone that Zack Snyder was infusing in to the DCEU. Was it an odd fit for Superman…kind of…but what can you do in the 21st century to add wrinkle to a character like that? Really? Even the notion of saving Lois Lane all the time is absurdly dated…but that’s about all she’s good for…as the movies have borne out. Why not give him a little edge?

Most of us knew that Man of Steel was the aperitif of what Snyder really wanted to get up to….The Batman. And what titillated a nerd like me was that he was seemingly fan of the Frank Miller old ass bemuscled refrigerator box with a bat cowl Batman, who gave zero shits and beat the shit out of everyone. What’s not to love?



Nevertheless, all the doom and gloom of the Snyder DCEU wasn’t palatable…to some? I don’t know why Justice League is such a retread of the Marvel magic I guess we all love apparently? It’s a bummer! While not as cloying or uninteresting as the two Avengers movies…Justice League has a little too much Whedon twee bullshit in it. Everyone has a quip, there’s humanizing “comedy” scenes that are most definitely the accursed reshoots mumbled about on The Internets just sort of jammed in here and there. There’s about as much time with the heroes out of costume as in…and for some reason…a Zack Snyder film is constrained to an under two-hour run time. Yet, it works.

The movie also clearly needed more time in the oven. The CGI, while not as aggressively horrible as it is in most Marvel movies, isn’t up to par. In particular, a scene where Cyborg turns to his right to shout some lines looked super bad. Here’s hoping that patch that up before a home release.

That all being said, if you’re just going to copy The Avenger template you can’t help but not do better the third time round, right? The main villain is vaguely less forgettable than any other Marvel bad guy. The villainous ubiquitous minions of the film can absorb host bodies and double their numbers…or seemingly, there are plenty with which to give our heroes something to do. Hell, there’s an even a small family in the middle of the “showdown area” that you can…root for?…and ultimately saved by the heroes. Mercifully, there aren’t many scenes of the Justice League posed butt-to-butt quipping about some plan of action or other vague bullshit “Hey, let’s wait for Superman to get here and sort this out” scene.


That’s the true letdown of Justice League: it transcends in to the same vanilla ass cookie cutter nonsense as the Marvel superhero movies. Well, now they at least have discovered neon what with Guardians of the Galaxy allowing them to go a little weird because it focus tested “Okay” with dumdums. At least with Zack Snyder the DCEU had an aesthetic and voice. The films in it were of the same ilk as the ones that came before it: they were films with superheroes in them, not superhero movies. The reason that the Tim Burton and Chris Nolan Batman movies stand the test of time is that they are films primarily. The Marvel movies are going to be the ubiquitous 90’s action movies that become cable filler. You don’t need to have watched any of them to understand them…they make loud noises and flash bright colors at you and end. That’s why you can’t name more than two Marvel movie directors…because they don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. There’s no vision and the only cohesion is the tone and color palette from movie to movie. Socket in superhero, socket in villain, socket in watered down narrative from comic books, socket in vague connective tissue to extended universe. Press print button.

My Hot Take™ is the DCEU’s only problem is executive malfeasance from Warner Bros. It’s what jammed up Suicide Squad last year, kicked in Wonder Woman a little earlier this year and did a bang up of job neutering Justice League. For good…or for ill WB should stand by its creators and let them hash it out. Why try to copy Marvel? They took the time to establish this juggernaut extended universe and they flushed a goodly amount of turds along the way. Making Justice League look and feel like any other Marvel movie isn’t a corrective it’s injurious.


Culture Review: Justice League

Video Game Review: Prey (2017)

That Prey is such a throwback to the cerebral first-person shooters of the late 90’s is refreshing and so infuriating in a modern context. Problems that plagued the genre in those early days that were fixed or made moot by modernization come flowing back in this loving mash up of games like Half Life, System Shock 2 and a little Deus Ex.

Prey makes no bones about its influences, which at first is refreshing, as Arkane Studios seems to be the only game developer interested in making first-person shooter flavored action role-playing games these days. But the game takes a sharp left turn when it comes to the analogies to modern takes of the genre seen in BioShock and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, in that it’s less about action or thinking your way out of scenarios and more about resource management.


Which makes Prey’s “Play Your Way” exaltation’s at the beginning of the game aggravating when you realize that it’s a sign posted in a large fenced in area that is “How The Game Expects You To Play It”. You want to run-and-gun your way through levels, like a BioShock, you can sure play that way…for a few minutes, until the bullet sponge enemies soak up all your ammo and you’re left bludgeoning them with a far less powerful wrench or dying…a lot more than you’d like to.

Knowing this to be the case before I even stated the game, I set the difficulty to “Easy”. I was going in more to enjoy the story and not have to worry about resources that much. The throwback nature of the game is such that there is no such thing as an “Easy” mode playthrough. I took the “Play Your Own Way” moniker at face value and attempted to play it like a shooter…then the reality of the way the designers actually wanted me to play Prey set in quickly. I was constantly scrambling for ammo and playing my own way through whatever I had on hand in the vain attempts of getting away from Typhon enemies that were chewing right through any protection and precious health I had held on to.

This was present up to the end of the game wherein I was significantly “leveled up” and had my shotgun fully upgraded and still the Typhon would giggle and shout “That tickles!” as I peppered it with round after round from my gun.


The juxtaposition is even odder considering that the game states that you can “Play Your Way” but then warns that it’s often better to avoid conflict and conserve resources for bigger, badder enemies. This would also explain the odd marketing surrounding the release of Prey where it was more action focused than the actual game on offer. It’s as if the game desires to be played slow and methodically, like a horror game, to be soaked in and not a run-and-gun Doom clone.

All of this is compounded by the notion of genre comparison to similar games like a BioShock or Deus Ex as it’s not inherently like those games yet it looks, feels and plays very much like them to its core. The game lacks the memorable characters of the former and the gameplay depth of the latter.

The one thing to note as a comparison to those in its genre brethren is the slavish devotion to the look and feel of the level design of Talos I, where the vast bulk of the game takes place. A good chunk also plays out in the outer space portions of the game, but they are mercifully short and there is little of note out there worth exploring, much to my chagrin.


Every level of Talos I is completely unlike the other, and yet it feels like a giant space skyscraper that was built on top of an old ass 60’s era space station. Its interconnected nature is something to behold and you spend a fair amount of time in each level doing odd missions, reading emails and listening to audio logs. This is where Prey shines brightest.

Taking a page out of a game like Deus Ex and BioShock, Talos I feels lived in and real. Everyone you come across has a name, and more often than not, a little back-story you can uncover via the emails or audio logs you come across in the surrounding areas. Some Typhon even have the names of the people that they corrupted with their alien powers, which leans in to that horror game direction that is mostly the bread-and-butter of what Prey has to offer.

What is most disappointing about Prey is that the story is ultimately boilerplate and really doesn’t do the genre its aping justice. Maybe that was the point? Instead of giving that gut punch twist towards the back end of the game, the games narrative just plays out as you single-mindedly set about the task of getting off Talos I…all of three or four different ways, sadly.

The “twist” of an ending is such that you’re essentially judged for the few major actions you took during the game. Whom did you spare, did you take on any Typhon powers, and how you handled certain scenarios are played out and put under a microscope. I personally enjoy this type of trope, it was also done masterfully in the first season of Telltale’s Walking Dead where a character litigates the big decisions you make throughout the game. It’s nice to see what the designers thought of the way you played through their game, limited as it may seem.


The disjointed nature of the narrative is mostly based on your characters experimentation with alien technology laden amnesia, but it also attempts to hide the more lacking elements of the story and how it leaves a lot of dangling threads that never completely resolve. I can’t tell if it was just a lack of development time or toying with the players anticipation of the “big twist”, but it is a problem that plagued Arkane Studios other recent release Dishonored 2.

Prey is very much the definition of a game that isn’t for everyone. I can’t imagine many modern gamers going in to it expecting a shooter to be satisfied by what is on offer. The combat is purposefully anemic and frustrating, there are no “bosses” per se and the narrative alone isn’t enough to provide proper motivation to finish it to see whatever ending is on hand.

Instead, Prey is a throwback to the olden PC games of yore, warts and all. The ludicrous load times (on consoles), the stiff difficulty, the obtuse design elements and the focus being more on environment and tone rather than story will turn a lot of gamers away. Nevertheless, if you’re patient (or a glutton for punishment) and play the game the way the developers intended, Prey is a very enjoyable game.


Video Game Review: Prey (2017)

George Will Versus the Modern Conservative Frankenstein’s Monster

George Will, who never met a toupee he didn’t like, is one of a few old white men that I would really enjoy not having to listen to or read. Why can’t he be like his compatriot Thomas Sowell, and just go away already? I mean, I wouldn’t mind him showing up, in his ridiculous toupee and pomposity, in a Ken Burns documentary, hashing out warmed-over historical facts or baseball nonsense.

As a pundit George Will hasn’t been relevant in decades, yet for some reason, since he’s been a beltway insider for those same decades, he’s foisted up on some “republican intellectual” pedestal along with resident ghoul Charles Krauthammer and evangelical clown Cal Thomas.


All of these beltway intellectuals weren’t the biggest Trump supporters, and don’t look to change their minds any time soon. But there is a reason for this disconnect, and not only because they’re out of touch with society at large. George Will surmises this reason is because “real” conservatism was “[…]soiled by scowling primitives whose irritable gestures lack mental ingredients.” He also calls them “vulgarians”, my stars!

Curiously, he then adds that conservatism was “susceptible” to hijacking. Which is odd considering the previous sentence in which conservatism was “soiled” by said primitive vulgarians? This may just be a semantic quibble on my part, but it’s worth noting, nonetheless.

Though it is worth noting that he didn’t imply that Republicanism was soiled or hijacked, merely conservatism.

It is after the opening condemnation of modern conservatism that Mr. Will dusts of the corpse of William F. Buckley for a history lesson on the founding of “modern” conservatism.
But what’s odd in this retelling is that you soon realize how little conservatism and the Republican political beast have changed in the near seven decades since Buckley’s grand gift of conservatism.

To say that modern conservatism has been “soiled” by primitives and vulgarians is absurd. They are merely the latest, most recent chaff that was scooped up to keep the Republican Party relevant in the modern era. Last time it was TEA Party-er’s, Evangelicals, Religious Right, White People…wait this list is redundant. This has been the same lot of wedge issue voters that has been tapped, and yet now it is seen as unpleasant?

George Will need not look very far within his own sphere to see that the vast majority of the conservative pundits were more concerned with “winning” no matter the cost than actually believing the ideology taking hold and sprouting grand political fortunes. I’ve yet to read that Trump shook the United States to its core with the core principles of conservatism and that is what led him to victory. No, it was the tired whore of populism that won him the day. The ennui laden pendulum of the electorate wearily mumbling “Well, we gave a Democrat a turn at the wheel, why not the Republican”. How many election campaigns have been run on the notion of changing how things are run in Washington D.C. or making America great again? This is not a new concept by far.

To Will, Buckley infused “[…] conservatism with brio, bringing elegance to its advocacy and altering the nation’s trajectory while having a grand time.” Which is where conservatism has largely stayed in the past seventy years? Fox News is essentially just that quote writ large.
Along with that brio came the eventually dimming of the bulb as “Buckley’s conservatism” tried to impart the greatness of the robber baron ideology to the unwashed, under-educated masses. How can George Will then be surprised that in the constant grasp of populism and shoveling of a smaller and smaller pile of political chaff wouldn’t lead to the rise of Trump and the primitive vulgarians?

This is more amusing when you realize that Will played a part in the hastening of this rise with his support for Ronald Reagan, who approaches sainthood status amongst conservatives on a near constant basis. Who better represents the conservative populism more than the Reagan administration?

To say nothing of the tenants of “Buckley’s conservatism” that has remained unchanged since their inception. Will wants to act as though the ideology has moved on from some of the more…problematic…elements, but that would be false. Modern conservatism is still just a racist, nationalistic, sectarian and puritanical as it was when it was infused with Buckley’s hot tightrope walk between elitism and populism. Which is where I supposed George Will thinks himself to be as well? To cool to be called a racist? He’s pondering on the greater thoughts of the day?

Are these faux conservatives that have soiled and hijacked conservatism any less because they tore of the mask of populism and elitism and just let the core tenants hang out in the open? Why mask your hatred with stuffy words and philosophizing on the current state of things? How many ways can you say that “the other” is taking and taking from them and then be upset when they connect the dots then do something about it come election time. For good or ill, it doesn’t matter to the vast Republican Party, they just want to win, and ideology be damned.


Funnily, Will has plenty of blame to throw around, even going so far as to credit a Buckley autobiographer Whittaker Chambers, for using the book to infuse conservatism “[…]with a sour, whiney, complaining, crybaby populism. It is the screechy and dominant tone of the loutish faux conservatism.

Doesn’t George Will’s entire column read like that though? Pissing and moaning like a giant baby about Buckley’s conservatism’s loss of innocence to a puerile orange political monster that he helped create? That if only modern conservatives were high-minded we wouldn’t be in this situation.

This article reads more like a conclusion came to in search of reasons as to the “Why?” when it is so readily apparent how modern conservatism go to this point. At the very least it is an example of the failure of the ideology’s supposed intellectuals, like George Will, to disseminate the virtues of Buckley conservatism. But instead, the ideology is lost to the notion of winning at all costs, so don’t expect a return to that “infectious cheerfulness and unapologetic embrace of high culture” that Will kept alluding to.

George Will Versus the Modern Conservative Frankenstein’s Monster

Get Your “Politics” Out of My Games

On a recent Sunday evening, I’m reading my latest edition of Game Informer, in my glorious porcelain library, and I come across the “opinion” section of the magazine. What’s great about this section is the apparent “hot take” on display that’s been sitting on the snail mail timetable windowsill that is a physical magazine these days.

What’s more, these “opinions” are largely from the same Jim Sterling-esque grab bag of topics that have rolled around in the video games culture since…probably the early 90’s? And oddly enough, there’s still this refrain that “video games (and gamers) need to “grow up?” Why? We still haven’t settled the dispute if girls can actually be gamers?!

Elise Favis, as punishment for being recently hired I guess, pens the June issues “opinion” article “Get Your Politics Into My Games”. Oddly, the title of the article was changed to “Video Games Should Embrace Politics” when it was published online, the authoritarian title does the following text no favors.

If you’ve been a gamer for any length of time, you know what this article is about without even reading it. You know that there’s at least one BioShock reference, and a heavy leaning on social justices favorite game of 2016: Mafia III, as some sort of “politics” being in games, and how that’s good. Really really good!

It’s why I’ve been backing away from the “games are art” nonsense over the last few years. I don’t even believe in the notion that “Art is politics” as quoted by Firewatch writer Sean Vanaman.

To be fair, according to the definition of art, anything that is expressed IS, in fact, art. Which is why it’s being bludgeoned to death by social justice ideological blowhards in video games culture? It goes hand-in-hand with this continuing notion that “gamers must grow up”, but why?

Far be it for me to actually research this, but has any other medium had to deal with a small clique of assholes constantly demanding that it do something akin to growth or…else? Were there people in the early 20th century demanding these talkies “grow up” and start having something to say? Alternatively, some powdered wig sect of French assholes telling composers to put more politics in to their music so that it could maintain some form legitimacy as an art form?

Why do video games seem to be so besieged by such ridiculousness?

It may be more telling that the “gamers need to grow up” fascination is coming from older “gamers” who may be feeling the sting of being in to a hobby largely aimed at and sold to children.

This idea came to me in the wake of Ian Bogost’s think piece about games not needing stories and the cries and fierce faintings from vapors that besieged the self-proclaimed video games press “intelligentsia”…like our good friends over at Waypoint.

You’d think a topic like “storytelling in games” would be right up the alley of the “intellectual” and “cerebral” denizens of a site like Waypoint. This is, after all, supposed to be their sole function in a crowded field of similarly minded shaved apes that react to flashing colors and loud noises known as the modern games press. These apes can wear clothes and bi-focals, they’ve read books recently.

Maybe because he’s writing a young-adult novel, Austin Walker took maximum umbrage with notion that the best storytelling video games have on offer is nigh YA at best. Even going so far as to call Mr. Bogost a “gadfly” for his click bait article trying to pass as philosophically tinged think piece on the strengths and weaknesses inherent to video games as a storytelling medium. What’s next, breaking out the powdered gloves and slapping each other about the face with them hurling insults at one another till one cries?

Mr. Bogost was on to something, another branch of this “gamers must grow up” tree, if it were. Video games are wholly known for their interactive nature, why then are they chasing Hollywood in terms of production? Why is there this graphical arms race for games that look so good, when repeatedly what really sells is gameplay?

He even mocks the notion that every time a “great story” and “video game” share a sentence it’s with the same tired fistful of examples. Chief among them is always BioShock, which wouldn’t you know Elise Favis namedrops in her “opinion” piece.

Look, BioShock is a great game…because of its gameplay…the story…it’s okay. What makes BioShock great is everything BUT its story. Which is somewhat how it should be when it comes to games? You want a great story, there are near endless ways of getting it elsewhere without the need to learn how to grapple with the various mechanics of a video game. What BioShock did so awesomely was weave a core mechanic of the game, completing mission objectives, into its plot of mindlessly doing as told without ever questioning as to the “Why?” The Ayn Rand bullshit…it’s in there, but as a tent pole for world building, atmosphere and slightly jabbing at her notions, but gameplay is what’s the order of the day.

Ms. Favis goes on to trot out last years Mafia III and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided as games that tried to put politics in to their games. For some reason Mankind Divided is given the cudgel for not trying hard enough with it’s politics, when it could easily be argued that Mafia III does the same thing.

I’ll never understand the social justice obsession with Mafia III and its “politically charged” narrative from last year. You can see how much impact it actually had when you peruse the end of year lists from various games press outlets. Very few, if any, felt compelled to hold Mafia III high in the air as some sort of game changing piece of art. Sure, the story was mildly political, but that is largely dropped about a fourth of the way into the game as it becomes yet another also ran Grand Theft Auto clone.

Nevertheless, don’t let that stop assholes like Ms. Favis from painting some grand picture of what playing Mafia III is like, “As you roam though the world of Mafia III, you are constantly aware of the color of Lincoln Clay’s skin.” Well, yeah…he’s black. “Walking down the street, people stare at him warily,” Perhaps this is anecdotal, but I didn’t really get much of that in my play through of the game. I don’t have a giant television, so maybe some of that nuance was lost on me. “Upon entering segregated stores, shop owners order him to leave.” This too happened maybe once in my playthough, but for me it wasn’t a store, but a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. There’s really no need to go in to any stores, gameplay wise…aside from robbing it for tiny amounts of money, and even then the shop owner runs off, wasn’t present or in one case pulled a shotgun on me. Foolish! I shot him immediately…and the cops never showed up.

There are mechanics in Mafia III that lend to this idea of what it’s apparently like to be a black man in the late 1960’s south. When the cops get near you see a blue reticule pop up. They’re totally watching you. In the uppity white people part of town, there’s more dialogue about Lincoln being a black…but that’s it, and if you’ve played ANY open world game, the background vocals kind of blend in to ALL the noise, so you don’t really make out anything being said. You have to try really hard to find the stuff that Ms. Favis is getting on about. Because, again, it doesn’t really matter. It’s background elements, nothing more, nothing less.

None of this really matters because Ms. Favis has a tired thesis to propel. “The industry is quickly maturing along with the medium, and it’s time we did too.” To which I do the tired The Internets thing of saying “citation needed”!

If politics has taught us anything over the last few months…or ever, is that it’s a horrible signifier of what maturation is. If anything, it’s more a parallel to what people like Ms. Favis think gaming and gamers are, what with a Republican debate last year couching various people’s dick sizes. These were supposedly adult men, and yet even they were found to be base enough to vaguely note that they indeed had a larger dick than the other guy on the debate stage.

It’s frustrating that on top of this need for video games to “grow up” there are never any solutions, just vague examples and the constant propulsion of the desperate need to do so. For the sake of what exactly? That video games can be viewed as a legitimate art form?

If that’s the case, then I return to my constant refrain that the games press does not possess the capability of being critics of the medium. They lack the intelligence and nuance to be critical about an artistic expression, regardless of their protestations otherwise.

Ms. Favis argues that the idea of video games remaining superficial and shying away from political themes is ludicrous is itself ludicrous. She argues it’s because the two are always interconnected. Which beggars the question of just how far back she’s talking, because video games and politics have not always been interconnected? At least, how she’s phrasing it.

I don’t wholly disagree with what Ms. Favis is trying to get at; I’ve never been one to argue that discussing social issues is forbidden in any realm. However, it has to be done intelligently, and that has yet to occur in video games culture. Too often, you have social justice ideologues desperately trying to root out messages in video games with which to yank at and scream about from the highest of soapboxes. As if some profound element of a video games story will legitimize what they do for a living, or make it seem to the outside world they do something other than just play video games all day.

Sadly, there’s still a stigma to being a gamer, and trotting one of the few topics in the grab bag of tired topics to push against for the nth time isn’t expediting anything. Video games will mature in its own time, or maybe it won’t. Hell, it’s been around for many decades doing its video game thing, and nothing but the cold hard smell of money has driven it any real direction. Admonishing gamers to do something beyond their control isn’t going to lead to a maturation of the culture.

Get Your “Politics” Out of My Games