On the Table
Bullfrogs really reminds me of the kinds of games that were in the Kosmos “Games for Two” line that used to be popular. I totally could see it fitting in with that gang, but it actually supports solo and three/four player counts. Overall, it’s a decent small-box title that maybe doesn’t make enough of an impression. I do wish that the “battlefrogs” concept was developed a little further, but that would really kind of be out of scope. Here’s the review.
I finally got Assault on Doomrock in, direct from Poland. Initial reaction- WTF. Like Shadows of Malice, you’ve never really played a game quite like this. It’s REALLY interesting. I solo’d a few turns last night and really had no idea what was going on. You travel between these map cards and pay resources to visit locations on them or explore the area to find treasures and to do things like level up. As you do these things as a group, time makers are removed from a Setting card that has an all-over game effect. When the time markers are out, you have a battle…which is resolved in this completely separate tactical that totally abstracts the concept of miniatures games- you are either standing next to something or you are distant, you are either in a group or not.
It’s really quite complicated with lots of different skills and abilities, tons of tokens, an iffy rulebook, a probably-too-long playtime. More on this one later, but it looks pretty good.
More Luchador…it is really fun. That little wrestling ring makes all the difference in the world. What kind of dunderhead WOULDN’T use it? There is more to the game than usual for this kind of fare, and I like how it does well in describing a blow-by-blow wrestling match. But oh man, you have got to play it with an invested group. My regular gang isn’t really into wrestling or that whole milieu, bit I played it with another group of friends more in tune with it and things like those belts made a HUGE difference in selling the concept.
In other news, my son has learned to talk trash. We were playing Micro Monsters last night and he said “I’m sorry daddy, you just aren’t going to win any games tonight.”
On the Consoles
Bloodborne, etc. So far this is the only game that has really justified owning a PS4 other than Diablo III: Ultimate Evil. Almost definitely it will go down as one of the top games for this forlorn generation, and so far it is the only game on the next-gen consoles that has made me look away from Nintendo for any period of time.
But looking back at Nintendo, I’m totally wrapped up in Mario Tennis for the Game Boy Color. What a great sports game. It’s done by Camelot, who did Golden Sun, Shining Force and some other good work…it’s got light RPG elements and a really solid tennis game with plenty of depth and challenge. So far, Mario is nowhere to be seen, nor any Mushroom Kingdom characters. So I’m not sure why it’s Mario Tennis, but there you go.
Also picked up Bionic Commando, the old Game Boy version since Nintendo has stated that the original Capcom game will never be on VC. Which sucks, because that is one of the best NES games. This version is more or less the same game with some cosmetic changes, so that was a nice surprise. I also got the Game Boy Kid Icarus title, which…kind of doesn’t make sense to me for some reason.
Murasame’s Mysterious Castle is an old, obscure 1986 Famicom Disk System title on VC…it looked unusual, so I took a look at it. It is basically the Zelda engine (did they even call it that back then?), but it’s basically a fast-paced ninja action game. Lots of power-ups and items, ninja stars all over the place, ninjas jumping out of trees or the water at you…it’s a fun one. And weird- the bosses are these aliens that have taken over these Samurai castles. Takamaru, the main character, has turned up in a lot of other Nintendo games and was even planned to be in Smash, but he remains terribly obscure.
There is a new Star Wars Rebels game out that you would be well within reason to dismiss as some kind of freemium base builder/card battler/endless runner/”social” RPG. But guess what, it is actually a very solid, very well done run-and-gunner with great controls and lots of fun SW material. The monetization is actually respectful- the free version is basically a demo and then you can buy a $5 unlock to get everything other than a currency doubler. There are some neat mechanics, you collect “hope” and then spend it to make people happy, and then they give you upgrades. Levels are right-sized for the format and there’s plenty of great action. Lots to collect, and you also get to build out the Rebel base with buildings. Best IOS game I’ve played in a while, and one of the better platformers I’ve seen there.
On the Screen
Noah. Holy crap, that film was GREAT. I absolutely loved it- what a bold, artful way to tell that story. I really liked how it was very liberal (and literal) to the point of fantasy, I really like how it showed Noah’s faith slipping into fanaticism. I also liked how it really was an environmental story…and that it was somehow both post-apocalyptic and pre-apocalyptic. The psychedelic/surreal imagery was great, the concepts were well-executed, and I appreciated how really rather uncompromising the whole thing was. Definitely a more sophisticated, intelligent film than I expected, even though it is Aronofsky.
I watched the HBO Scientology documentary, two hours later I came out of it compelled but not really educated- it didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know other than personal anecdotes. The one element I was completely fascinated by was how in the 1940s Hubbard fell in with Jack Parsons, who was more or less the American answer to Aleister Crowley- and also a major figure in rocket science. He was apparently involved in Ordo Templi Orientis rituals when he lived at Parsons’ mansion. I never knew about all of that. Scientology beliefs, hoo boy. Talk about cray-cray. But really not any more cray-cray than other religious stories- like Noah. But can you imagine being Travolta or Cruise, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to do these audits, and THEN you’re told about Lord Zenu or whatever and the genocide-by –volcano, alien ghosts thing? At that point, I guess you just kind of have to believe it. Especially after you’ve confessed all kinds of crazy shit in their “auditing”.
On the anime front, Cowboy Bebop. It is really good, and I can definitely see why it was something of a phenomenon. For one thing, it is far more western than anime usually is. Sure, there’s still some classic Japanese weirdness, but culturally it’s more resonant to a western audience. The music, for example- jazz instead of goof-ass J-pop with lyrics apparently written by a 13 year old. The art style is appealing, and coming in at the late 1990s, it definitely feels on point with other mainstream films and television at that time. So it actually does feel a touch dated, but I’m still digging it. What surprised me the most about it, other than that it is clearly an inspiration for Firefly, is that it is more or less Lupin III in space. I’ve only watched six episodes, but I’ll likely go the distance with it.
Watched some more Full Metal Alchemist, I put it on when I’m playing Mario Tennis. It’s gotten more interesting, but still too childish for my taste. But then there’s crap like when the girl sees the boyfriend brought back to life by the alchemist and his soul is in some kind of fucked up duck or whatever saying her name. That was nuts. That scene happened right about the time I was ready to ditch the show, and now I’m three episodes past that.
Also watched Arcadia of My Youth, which is an all-time classic. But man, is that a downbeat movie. It’s sad, slow-moving and grim. But it’s also great, and the Matsumoto stuff is amazing as always. It is still the definitive Captain Harlock work. Long ago I actually had an English-dubbed copy called Vengeance of the Space Pirate on the “Just for Kids!” label with like 40 minutes cut out of it (so all the WWII Luftwaffe stuff was right out). I always thought it was hilarious because the cover is a crude rendition of Zoll shooting Harlock in the face- under that “Just for Kids!” logo. They also did a version of Macross, I think, called “Clash of the Bionoids”. Yep. Those were the good old days of anime, when the people who brought it to the US treated it like trash…but we liked it anyway!
I’ve got the tape adapted rigged up so it is working. So this past week I rolled out the Fad Gadget discography, all four records and some miscellaneous post- Gadget Frank Tovey work. What an oddball that guy was. Harder-edged electro-pop, more industrial and more funky than usual at the time…but then there’s a song like “Fireside Favorites” that has what must be an analog synth masquerading as a banjo. Quirky wordplay abounds, performing on stage while tarred and feathered, collaborating with Einsturzende Neubauten and Boyd Rice… And then he turns around and does a whole album of early 20th century American folk songs and labor ballads.
But gosh, I remember back when I got into Fad Gadget in the early 1990s and it was all out of print. So it was trawling through used record/CD bins at record shows, going to record shops, looking at sale lists on newsgroups…just to try to find a copy of “Under the Flag” for $50. Now, here it is on my phone at my beck and call. Times ain’t what they used to be, no sir.