A great Shinto priest once looked at the moon over Mount Fuji and said “Barnestorming #10”.
On the Table
This week at Cracked LCD, I’ve reviewed AEG’s rather good War of Honor. It’s sort of a “super starter” repackaging of Legend of the Five Rings with some minor rules changes, different victory conditions, and an abstract geographical element- all to make for a better multiplayer game. Don’t go into it thinking it’s an L5R board game, because it definitely isn’t. It’s a full-bore CCG. Which is not a bad thing, because L5R is a really good one.
I had never played it before War of Honor even though it’s been around for 16 whopping years. I like it a lot, but I think the War of Honor package and maybe a couple of extra starter decks will give me all I want out of it. If you’ve ever been curious about it or if you’re a lapsed player, I think this $50 set is a great way to check it out or get back into it.
Last night it was just Frank and I at Swamp Castle so we did a couple of Godzilla Kaiju World Wars scenarios. I’ll not spoil next week’s review here, but I will say that dice were thrown and the game was swept. And that Gigan died ten minutes into one scenario, apparently tripping over some rubble before he quietly expired on top of a Charleston, SC fish restaurant.
Much, much better was this tiny, obscure game Frank produced as a palate-cleanser called Massive versus Masses. It’s a way, way better kaiju game on every level. One player is the massive (in this case Gamorzilla, represented by a pewter Gamera figure) and the other is the masses. I.E., armies and fleeing people. The boards are these crazy ultra-glossy laser-cut masonite planks and most of the components are just above homemade quality. The cards are illustrated with this slightly creepy crayon art that looks sort of like something that might come out of a Jehovah’s Witness Sunday school program.
But the game is awesome. It’s actually extremely well designed and the card-driven play creates a fun, easy narrative full of surprises and laughs. There are some really neat concepts. The masses have a scientist piece that has to be on the board in order to use weak point cards. They can also wheel out a death ray or a giant robot, which the massive player can cause to malfunction and wreak havoc. Playing Gamorzilla really captures the feel of rampaging and wreaking havoc on tiny little humans as they flee.
Frank also showed me the Pirates of the Caribbean: Master of the Seas game that’s selling at Toys R Us right now. He opened up and I said “we’ve got to play this.” It looks awesome with huge 2D ships, a big vacuform Port Royal that serves as a bin for all the parts, a plastic navigator’s compass to plot movement and fun standup buildings on each of the islands. Totally a toy. It also kind of requires a floor or a giant table to play- the rules recommend spacing the islands out at least 18”. We had about half that.
Each captain has to find three treasure items- all give special abilities. So you try to get treasure maps, go to islands, and get your loot. There’s a simple ship-to-ship combat mechanic, you can hire on crew, and there’s some nasty event cards. It’s really simple, great for kids, and it feels like a licensed game where someone involved in its production actually gave a damn about the subject matter. Unlike the Godzilla game. I think it’s only like $25, and at that price you can’t go wrong. Surprisingly, it’s a Jakks Pacific product.
I’ll write up Kaiju World Wars next week and I am also taking preorders on my review copy. $40 shipped and I’ll also throw in the Godzilla Stomp card game.
On the Consoles
My Shadows of the Damned review went up at Gameshark. I gave it a C, but I wish that I had gone lower. It’s a terrible game with a handful of redeeming qualities, none of which are cock jokes or shitty, cut-rate third person shooter mechanics.
I’m working on Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D right now…it’s fun but at $40, it’s hard to recommend since it feels like a $10 download title. The whole thing about only having one save is not a big deal. Any blogger that’s claiming you can only play the game one time is a liar. You can buy a used copy and play the entire game as many times as you want. You just can’t reset scores or re-lock unlockable things. I don’t consider unlocking stuff to be all that much fun, so I could care less. I’d just as soon be able to play as Jack Krauser from the get-go.
I’ve also been playing Sly Cooper. Man, those games are really freaking good. Super-refined 3D platforming, Very underrated. I picked up the PS3 Sly Collection for under $10 on a Target clearance endcap. Great bargain.
I just downloaded Half Minute Hero on XBLA. I’ve only done five quests, but it’s freaking brilliant. It also totally deflates the whole JPRG thing by literally cutting everything that would occur in a 60 hour long Squeenix-fest into…30 seconds. Probably one of the best games I’ve played this year so far.
I just got the assignments for the Catherine and El Shaddai reviews…god help me.
On the phone
Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer is out. If you liked the game at all, don’t miss this. It’s five dollars, but it’s extremely well done and it’ll probably blow Battle of Gundabad off your iDevice. I’ve played a couple of hands and the easy AI is, of course, way too easy but this is just what you want out of a mobile version of a tabletop game- and it’s also one of those where I think the IOS version is better than playing it F2F.
Between 1-Bit Ninja and Mos Speedrun, I’m about ready to break my phone in half. These games are freaking hard. They’re both great platformers that encourage a couple of different kinds of play in each run (explore, speed, score, completion) but man, they’re really tough. 1-Bit Ninja is especially difficult because you can only run forward. A lot of folks have complained about it and want a backwards button, but I think it’s a neat design choice. It creates HUGE pressure to not miss anything. It also increases the frequency of ragequitting.
There’s a sort of Dungeon Raid clone out called Dungeon Saga. It’s, um, better than Dungeon Raid. More match 3-meets-RPG stuff, but it’s got more depth than Raid.
On the Screen
The Big Sleep. Man, what a great film. Philip Marlowe has to be Bogart’s best role. The chemistry between him and Bacall is often celebrated, but it is positively scorching. There’s also a great scene with Marlowe and this foxy book store clerk that’s ridiculously suggestive and full of cracking dialogue- written partially by William Faulkner. Labyrinthine, weird, and oddly obtuse for a classic Hollywood film.
So yeah, I’m still watching old crime and noir pictures…but what I really want to tell you about is les Demoniaques, a film you can watch on Netflix streaming right now. It’s a Jean Rollin film from 1973. He did a lot of really, really strange and often borderline pornographic films in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Heavily influenced by French comic books, Hammer horror, surrealism and, well, porn. Sometimes his films have some really amazing stuff in them, like a vampire that sleeps in a grandfather clock or the amazing beginning of Fascination, where stuffy upper crust types enjoy bloody cocktails in an abbatoir. Other times, they’re like les Demoniaque- crude, weird, almost unwatchable...but oddly interesting, the guy is definitely an obscure auteur.
The Netflix stream doesn’t have subtitles, but don’t worry. Make up your own dialogue.
There’s these pirates. You know they’re pirates because they wear striped shirts and hang out near a wrecked ship or in a bar with spooky skeletons and stuff on the walls. They also have a whore-ish lady pirate with them. We meet them all in these vignetted portraits that give their backstory. Again, just make it up for yourself.
They rape and murder these two girls- common Rollin stuff, two wayward girls at the beach in chiffon robes. But they’re haunted by their ghosts so they drink a lot and the lady pirate takes her top off a few times. The ghosts of the girls go to this graveyard where they meet a clown. Yes, a clown. The clown is sort of Satan’s valet. So the clown introduces them to Satan (a guy in heavy eyeliner) and they get their revenge.
This is the kind of movie that you either had to go to a seedy 42nd street REAL grindhouse cinema to see or get on a way overpriced 45th generation videocassette from Video Search of Miami. And now you can watch it for free on Netflix. And you should, because it’s really crappy but fiendishly weird movies like this that are what grindhouse and eurotrash cinema was all about- not this made-up Robert Rodriguez shit.
There's a myth that "grindhouse" movies were these no-holds-barred, crazy movies filled with shotgun-wielding biker chicks blowing away zombies while mustachioed bad asses kick ass to cool music. That's all a lie. Usually grindhouse movies are more like this. They were usually poorly made, trashy exploitation movies that were more boring than titillating and too cheap to really be "cool". But it's the weirdness of them and the occasional flashes of accidental brillance that make them worth seeing. With Rollin, the guy obviously wanted to make artsy, serious films but he just couldn't give up the tits and lady vampires. Or French pirates and clowns.
On the Turntable
After tearing through the Sodom, Destruction, and Kreator catalogs last week, I almost unbelieveably listened to a new album by a new artist. It’s “Go Tell Fire to the Mountain” by Manchester’s Wu Lyf. Apparently they’re one of those NME “Greatest Bands of All Time (for the next three months)” and they’ve cultivated sort of this anarchic, mysterious persona about them. They’re very young. I think the oldest member is like 22. It’s a stupid band name, but then you find out it stands for World Untied Lucifer Youth Foundation. I can get behind that.
I didn’t like it at first, but I did that whole “maybe I should listen to it one more time with headphones” thing and it clicked. They call their own bespoke genre “heavy pop”, which I don’t quite get, but it sounds either like what Arcade Fire might sound like influenced more by Tom Waits than Bruce Springsteen crossed with you might call the Unhappy Mondays split with Spiritualized stripped of all their drugs while listening to a Liars. record. And on top of all of that, there’s afro-pop guitar but with less money and more teeth than Vampire Weekend. Vocals are unintelligible, marble-mouthed, and yelpy- it’s the sound of youth, yelling at something just to be yelling something.
It’s massive-sounding with gargantuan, slurry anti-rock anthems spiked with a sort of bustling post-Stone Roses bass (but this guy is no Mani), church organs, and cryptic references and song titles. You get a sense that these guys have that same kind of swing-for-the-fences chutzpah that drives Arcade Fire’s song writing. But this is a Manchester band, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sound like it. If Tony Wilson were still in business, these guys would be on Factory with a Peter Saville record cover.
That's it. Stay tuned next week for the game that killed Gigan in ten minutes.