Neko Ramen Vol. 1 (Manga, Kenji Sonishi)
Neko Ramen is about a ramen shop run by a cat. That should be a goldmine for hilarity, but the joke of most of the early strips is "Taisho is a bad cook" and some that could have been funny, like Tanaka's mishap with the bathroom, are ruined by an unnecessary exclamation from Tanaka explaining the joke. Sometimes the whole fourth panel is unnecessary. The book does start to pick up with that extended story about the sick mother cat, and actually the extended stories tend to be funnier than the strips, but Tanaka needs to learn to shut his trap.
Barefoot Gen Vol. 1 (Manga, Keiji Nakazawa)
Another required reading for my manga class. I'd never heard of it before the class, but every textbook I've gotten for the class makes reference to it so it must considered a classic, and I respect Nazakawa's illustration of the effects of bombing of Hiroshima after seeing it first hand, but I really found this an annoying read. The schizophrenic relationship among the family got really hoaky after a while, and I spent every page he was on wanting drop kick Gen's younger brother. I also found the art style incongrous; it's supposed to be about the horrors of war, but when every other characters looks like a clown or Bluto, it starts to become a little hard to take seriously. It would have also been nice if Nakazawa had done his homework on the American side; after initial test, the scientists were not "delighted that their weapon was even more powerful than they imagined" and nobody said "Yeah, this'll end the war! Let go drop a couple of these on Japan!" They were horrified by their creation, and one infamously told Oppenheimer "Now we are all sons of bitches."
Terranigma (SNES via Flash Cart)
Going in I had it on good authority that this game was nowhere near as great as it was often touted to be, but I wasn't expecting it to be *this* bad. Now, the graphics are pretty good, and so's the music. Terranigma might even have the strongest soundtrack among itself, Soul Blazer, and Illusion of Gaia. Now that I know what's actually going on, Last Dream almost makes me cry whenever I hear it.
But the gameplay? Combat is mostly ramboing enemies and using healing items, but the beginning of the game actually shows promise. The game peaks early on, when you escort a lion cub around a canyon, and talking to plants and animals gave me pleasant memories of Soul Blazer.
Then humans are revived.
The next chunk of game isn't bad, it's just not as strong or memorable as the beginning, although running back and forth between Sweden and central Europe did get old fast. But after you restore the princess' memories, the game starts pulling shit like...
... a bit in a dungeon where you're circled by four dolls and have to sit through a torturously long schoolyard rhyme to find out which one to strike... about five times. Then having to play a game of Simon Says where you get kicked back to the beginning of the room whenever you screw up. Then fighting a boss that only takes about 10 points of damage from physical attacks with a certain weapon, and is virtually impossible to hit without getting hit by the jewels circling her. Magic might have helped during this fight, but I never figured out how to use it and didn't even have any rings with me.
... having you collect nine logs from a forest where only two spawn at a time so you have to enter and exit the forest five times, then give them to the guy who wants them for a bridge one at a time.
... taking you to an underwater tower to rid the sea of monsters by - no joke - running down two or three flights of stairs and stabbing a palette swap of the area's normal enemies a couple of times.
... look back to the screenshot up above. Doesn't that look like an impressive boss fight? Well, guess what, your fight isn't with the dragon, it's with those starfish.
... a forced stealth section through a castle where you get thrown out of the whole damn stage every time you get caught, and the guards have no fixed patterns that I could tell. Admittedly this is the nadir of the game, so if you can get through this, you should be able to finish it off.
... towards the end, pulling this mad scientist who had never been mentioned before out of its ass because it finally realized there was no antagonist or point to what you were doing, then unceremoniously killing him off without a fight shortly after to make way for the final boss.
... sending you on a fetch quest for five Macguffins without telling you where any of them are, and one is in this random, unmarked patch of desert in the freaking Sahara.
The final boss' second form is mostly spent standing around, dodging or absorbing his shots, waiting for the bastard to decide to come low enough for you to hit him. At level 30 you're only doing 3-5 damage per strike, and you just can't win. At level 35, I took out the his first form in a single dash attack, and was doing 100 damage per strike to the second form. I guess it's not as weird about levels as Ys, but that's still terrible planning and I still spent ten minutes dodging fireballs and holding a button to block his unavoidable-fill-the-screen-halve-your-HP-with-each-hit attack.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (DS, T)
After fumbling a bit with Miles Edgeworth last year, Shu Takumi decided to kick off a new franchise with a new set of tricks. The jist of Ghost Trick is you play as a dead guy name Sissel who can rewind time and manipulate objects to prevent a person's death (although it's almost comical how many times you have to revive Lynne throughout the game). None of the puzzles are especially difficult and you tend to get a few too many hints from the dialogue and there is a forced stealth bit which I only solved on accident and was especially unhappy about fresh out of Terranigma, but it's still enough to get the thinking parts running and as with Phoenix Wright you'll probably find yourself caring more about the story than the puzzles.
Fans of Phoenix Wright will be quick to recognize Takumi's signature off-beat cast, humorous dialogue, and heart-breaker followed by pick-me-up ending (except you'd think Yomiel would have wound up in a wheelchair after getting a giant statue dropped on his legs), but I have to agree with a friend about a ball that got dropped. There's this woman who can sense your presence and sounds like she'll pose a real hurdle to your quest to figure out who you are, but after this threat she completely vanishes from the game until the ending credits. But you know what? This game has what is quite possibly the greatest big reveal of a character's true identity in a video game, ever, so I'll forgive that. Ghost Trick also has a really cool art style, although it did kind of bug me the way the paint stains on Jowd's coat flipped when he turned around.
RiffTrax: Best of Shorts Volume 1 and Shorts A-Poppin' (DVD)
So here's my first taste of the successor to Mystery Science Theater 3000. Best Of was a good start to the series, although I spent most of the drug video wanting to punch out the kids, and the ninth video was totally a failed attempt at recreating the MST3K theater scene. The models were just ugly, and whenever a character talks they use the same, inorganic hand and head gestures. It was so bad I couldn't even stand to watch the video.
Shorts A-Poppin' I didn't enjoy quite as much. Moose Baby was pretty funny, and "you jackass!" in the Timmy Tucker short had me laughing uncontrollably for way longer than it probably should have, but some of the others were lacking. Also, the audio in some of the films was badly mixed, with the commentary and film at the same level so I couldn't understand either. I also could have sworn the teenage delinquency short was already done on MST3K. I know I saw it somewhere before.
Freakazoid! Season 2 (DVD)
It's such a shame Freakazoid was cancelled after this season, because after the really hit-and-miss first season the Freakazoid crew got their act together and figured out what they were doing, and put out a very solid second season. There's more an emphasis on putting together a coherent story with jokes instead of the random insanity that was every other Season 1 episode, and the deadpan way Cosgrove says the most ridiculous things is always good for a laugh. The highest of the high points include:
- The Lobe's musical number in Dexter's Date.
- Joe's story before Virtual Freak.
- Vorn the Unspeakable.
- The shock that somebody at Warner Bros. actually got Ed Asner to say "doody-water".
A couple of slip-ups; the episode with Cosgrove dating the monster chick is really dumb. And Normadeus, the freaking series finale, is really forgettable. When I first watched this DVD a couple years back, it was the only episode on the volume I didn't remember seeing, and when I watched this set again the only thing I remembered about the episode was all the Freakazoid villains teaming up to... do... something. And while I'd forgotten how some episodes like "The Freakazoid" ended, seeing them again made me think "Oh yeah!" I might as well have been watching this episode for the first time. But at least Season 2 doesn't have anything as painful as Handman.
Hino Horror #6: Black Cat (Manga, Hino)
If you're wondering why I'm reading so much cat manga, it's because of presentation for my manga class. This one isn't really *about* a cat, persay. It's three short horror stories told through the eyes of a wandering black cat. Well, to call these "horror" stories is a little generous. The first story is more screwed up than scary and as dark as the second is it is a bit hard to swallow (weren't the parents of the boys that dog was murdering wondering where their kids were?), but I bust out laughing at the third. It's hard enough to take seriously when the story involved two bickering old people talking to a cat about farting in each others' halves of the houses and shoving chopsticks up each others' asses (seriously), but the finish really took the retardation cake.
Meta Fight EX (GBC)
The Japanese version of Blaster Master: Enemy Below, and whereas Meta Fight had that bizarre leap of faith at the end of Area 4, EX's level design and core structure is completely identical to its American counterpart. But Meta Fight EX is actually easier than Enemy Below. I don't know if all the enemies had less health, but I did notice those bastard ground turrets in the final dungeon only took one grenade to kill while they take two in Enemy Below. But the biggest difference in difficulty is that the final stretch is MUCH easier because if you die against the final boss and Continue, instead of getting tossed all the way back to the beginning of the Area like in Enemy Below, you respawn right outside the boss' room. With full health. While this may be an option for people who just can't beat Enemy Below, because of the lack of risk I found myself neither engaged with the final boss (and frankly I rambo'd the second phase) nor did I feel I had accomplished anything when I beat it. Meta Fight EX also loses some points with me because while Enemy Below's intro and ending are hilariously insane, EX's are just insipid. Like, while Enemy Below had Jason tossing the final boss into a bonfire after cutting it down to size, here you see smoke coming out of a building in some city. It's hard to argue whether Meta Fight or Blaster Master had the better story, but Blaster Master's was far and away more memorable.
I also want to mention I actually played the cartridge of this, since the Game Boy Color isn't region encoded. Also, while Enemy Below worked on any Game Boy, Meta Fight EX only works on the GBC.
Chi's Sweet Home Vols. 2-4 (Manga, Konami Kanata)
More sickening sweetness with the cutest kitten to come out of Japan (Kittens in Bowls was a group of kittens). This set introduces Blackie or "the bear cat", who's introduced as a bit of a bully but ends up becoming Chi's best cat friend. Between volumes 3 and 4 the Yamadas move to an apartment that allows pets, which gives Chi a chance to have adventures with more animals. I also must commend Kanata's portrayl of Yohei. He's quite smart when it comes to covering for Chi around the superintendent, yet he's still a realistic preschooler.