Sunday, December 22, 2013

The excesses of Christianity and Duck Dynasty


For 2000 years Christianity has almost exclusively molded western culture and values. I don’t think any serious historian would deny that fact. John Locke, George Washington, Isaac Newton, Mozart, Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Copernicus, John Milton, Franklin D. Roosevelt… the list honestly goes on and on. The history of western civilization is basically a history of Christianity. At least it was until recently. With the rise of the utopian ideals of communism came the growth of populist, government led atheism. Clearly not all atheists are communists, however, Karl Marx’s belief that religion is the “opiate of the masses” underlies much of today’s radical liberalism. I think it’s not going overboard to say that Christianity has lost its societal pull.

But why did things turn out this way? Why did Stalin’s gulags occur in the first place? Why are millions of babies being aborted? Why did Cambodia’s fields turn blood red? Why have we forsaken God? It’s too easy to just blame the secularists. The truth is that we need only to look in the mirror for the source of these dry and brittle roots. Our arrogance has brought ruin. The Torquemadas and Phelps have delivered us to this precipice. It’s centuries of saying we believe in God, but really worshipping mammon. It’s the Crusades and hatred of Jews. You almost don’t need Satan when you have so many bad Christians.

So, am I surprised when Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty is being unjustly and unconstitutionally silenced for his personal beliefs? No, I’m not… because we have done the same thing. You used to have Jerry Falwell touring with Anita Bryant in the 70’s trying to “save our children” by banning gays from teaching. When you fight an eye for an eye, don’t expect that the other person won’t fight tooth for tooth. When the leftists came and suspended Phil, they did so with a vengeance. It didn’t matter that he didn’t use any slurs or hate speech. It didn’t matter that he was just quoting first Corinthians. It didn’t even matter that he said he wanted to “love on” any sinner, be they a homosexual or an adulterer. The atheists saw their chance to get back at Christians, and they did.

So, is my whole premise that we deserve our downfall? Well, not exactly. Just because we’ve made horrible blunders in the past, doesn’t mean we are doomed to determinism. The solution is, quite bluntly, in the Bible. As it says in Matthew 5:44, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I suppose God’s word should be enough to end on.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Final Fight on SNES

Final Fight

Well, they say the original is always the best, and in this case they’re right… for the arcade version. When Nintendo released their new 16 bit powerhouse in 1991, beat-em-up fans were stoked for Capcom’s conversion of the revolutionary Final Fight. And they got it. Well, sort of. SNES owners did get to beat up on the Mad Gear Gang, but something was missing… Not only did they take out Guy, the coolest character in the game, but they took out an entire level, the Industrial Area, and most egregious of all, no two player mode. Yeah, one of the greatest co-op games in history is just single player. Well damn.

I mean, yeah, Haggar and Cody are still in there (by the way, why is Haggar practically kissing the guy on the cover?) but it’s just not the same. Also, they took out gaming’s most famous transvestite, Poison… so if you’re into that, move along. Capcom’s blunder was a huge blow to the Super Nintendo’s image as well, since Sega kids got to gloat over the better Streets of Rage on their blue blur of a system.

Final Fight 2 

Alright, who fucked up at Capcom? I’m looking at you, Captain Commando! This game is genuinely awful. I’ve heard about this mistake of a cartridge for years, but always wrote off the criticism. Then I played it… Seriously, this game isn’t Superman 64 bad, but it’s just so… generic. Everything about it seems to make cookie cutters proud to cut cookies. Not only is poor Guy missing (yet somehow the plot involves saving his girlfriend) but Cody is M.I.A. as well.

The levels are a brown bore and I forgot this game even had music. The bosses all literally look and fight the same (big bad dude hops around), and I was lulled into such a stupor that I couldn’t motivate myself to finish the game… that’s right, a 30-45 minute beat-em-up couldn’t maintain my attention span. And another thing, why does the character with a sword not use his… uh, sword? Dumb. Well, at least I felt like I found Waldo when I spotted Chun-Li eating noodles in the first level.

Final Fight 3

Finally, a game to make Final Fight aficionados proud! First of all, that cover looks awesome. Guy and Haggar look mean and ready for either a suplex or a spin-kick. So yeah, Guy is finally back… although Cody is now taken out, but whatever, he was always the least liked anyway. This game is also an independent creation, made specifically for the Super Nintendo, and not terrible like FF2.

The first thing you’ll notice about FF3 is how, quite frankly, pretty it looks. The graphics have a slight watercolor-like aesthetic to them, and it just seems pleasing to the eye. The backgrounds are also more dynamic as well, with sunsets looming in the background, and parallax scrolling galore. Oh, and the music is kickass, with For Metro City being the star of the show.

The coolest thing about FF3, however, is the new super moves. Guy will pummel his fists into fireballs, while Haggar will do a backbreaker and then spin around like a tornado. Nice. All in all, FF3 redeemed the franchise on the SNES, and probably did something to keep Guy and Haggar in the public consciousness for games like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Street Fighter IV.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Nothing but Love


“A hole would be something. No, it was nothing.”
As my eyes witness the beauty of a grove of life,
With trees nestled together and the sun’s radiance raining down,
I pause.
And I wonder what I’m supposed to see.
Surely, the ruggedness of existence has its moments of unadulterated wonder,
And to some that is enough.
But when the sneaking shadow of the axe hangs over the heads of the hopeful,
What truth can really exist?
Can the mother of a dying child take solace in past life, in love now gone, gone forever?
What small, sad provincial governor could oversee such a state of affairs?
The horizon bleeds with suffering and the wasted water of billions of tears.
Every dream ends, and as for me, I have woken up at night in a cold sweat.
I see nothing.

As the moon’s frail beams of midnight despair creep across my bed,
I cry.
It’s another night with no one to put the warm hand of friendship upon my shoulder.
Ugly… stupid… worthless…
A demonic assault on the walls of my very mind.
I look around, but night’s paintbrush has obscured the room’s once familiar comforts.
If only there was an easy answer… A nonchalant miracle.
I don’t know why the hand of God hasn’t reached down with a heavenly dosage of manna.
Yet I do know that God sent his only Son to die on the cross because He so loved the world.
In this land of burning loneliness, One has given us refuge in the luminous love of his blood.   
I can just barely hear the laughter of children.
And so I can sleep.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Through computer glass


The dim blue hue of a computer screen,
Masks the oily blackness of the window it opens.
A man thrusting his hips into a woman’s most private place,
But without the tenderness of a lover.
They are merely two ghostly, hollowed out forms that dance in the twilight of a red-eyed camera.
What happened to the dreams of the little girl within?
At her soccer games or dance recitals, was this always to be the same godless outcome?
A deterministic nightmare from the mind of a depraved Calvinist bastard.
Can’t she be saved?
Not by me, for I am weak.
For the love of gold she did it, and for the love of lust I watch it.
This is business… and I am a customer.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ninja Turtles movie


As Ninja Turtle mania spread like wildfire throughout Middle America in the late 80’s, New Line Cinema had a simple but brilliant idea: Bring the turtles to life in a movie. As I was too young to see the film when it premiered in 1990 (I was only a year old), I had to settle with a VHS copy. Well, in the span of my childhood I put that tape through the grinder. While I’m aware that TMNT is a flawed movie, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a lot of fun.

The main problem that comic book aficionados had with the cartoon version of the Ninja Turtles was that it was too slapstick. They liked the humor, but felt that the violent edge of the original graphic novel was lost. Luckily for everyone, the TMNT film combines the best of both worlds. The turtles are still reciting their goofy jokes (“You gotta know what a crumpet is to understand cricket”), but they’re ready to kick ass and take names while they’re at it.  

So, the Ninja Turtles are still crime fighting heroes, and they still confront the evil Shredder. There’s Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello… as well as Splinter, their giant rat mentor. It’s a classic good versus evil yarn, and I really don’t see a problem recommending it to kids as young as six or seven. There’s a little cursing (I remember thinking it was the coolest thing when Raphael said “damn”) and some stylized violence, but you’re not going to get Game of Thrones type content here.

The fight scenes are pretty cool though, Raphael’s battle with the Foot soldiers on the roof of an apartment building deserving special mention. The soundtrack is also surprisingly good, with Turtle Power tapping into that cheesy 80’s hip hop, and Shredder’s Suite being a legitimately thrilling piece of music. A shout out must go to Jim Henson, as this was the last project he worked on before his death, and the actual turtle costumes look amazingly expressive and vibrant.

TMNT is made for children, so I feel that a lot of the bashing it receives is redundant. As the great film critic Roger Ebert once said, TMNT is, “probably the best possible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie.”

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bush and torture


In case anyone thinks I’ve somehow left my liberal roots altogether, let me assure you, I still lean left. I am a liberal in the truest sense of the word: I believe in liberty. I also believe in human dignity. In the past few years, Republicans seem to have forgotten that whatever scandals Obama is dealing with right now, be it Benghazi or the IRS, they are absolutely insignificant compared to the atrocities committed by George Bush. George Bush is the worst president in modern history, perhaps going back to James Buchanan. Put simply, if you think Obama should be impeached, then Bush should have been executed by firing squad… that’s just being consistent.

I’m not even going to talk about Bush lying us into the Iraq War under the pretense of weapons of mass destruction, (which he actually joked about once at a dinner by looking under a table and saying, “Nope, no weapons under there”) or his botched handling of Katrina (“You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie”), I’m just going to focus on how he turned America’s military and intelligence personnel into torturing thugs. As a follower of Jesus, I am also stunned at conservative Christians’ attempt at rehabilitating Bush’s legacy.

So, after 9/11, I actually thought Bush did a good job. I remember the scene where he was standing atop some rubble with the megaphone, saying, “We hear you” or something like that. I was actually impressed by him as a kid in middle school. However, it wasn’t long before I started hearing things about what we were doing as a country that made me a little confused. I heard about a place called Guantanamo Bay, and how “bad” people were being sent there. Well, they had to deserve going there, right?

In case you’ve been living in a bunker near the Earth's core for the last decade, Guantanamo Bay is a prison… where you’re sent without a trial. Did you catch that last bit? I hope so. We take it for granted now, but just think about that for a moment. Let it sink in. We’re assuming that someone is guilty. We don’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, we just guess. Does that terrify anyone else? That they’re statistically going after brown people doesn't reassure me.

So, we’re already off to a bad start. As if going there isn’t enough, the conditions once inside are even worse. According to the “torture memos” written by John Yoo and approved by Donald Rumsfeld, the “severe pain” prohibition of the U.N. Convention is only defined with "death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions" and that prolonged mental impairment is only associated with a duration of “months or years.” So, if you’re beaten and don’t die, you’re good to go according to the Bush administration.

Of what we know of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” a.k.a. torture (of which is little due to the CIA destroying multiple interrogation videotapes in 2005), we know that there was little off the table. Torture included simulated drowning, use of attack dogs, being kept in a freezing room, being forced to lie in “stress positions” for over 40 hours, the use of insects, waterboarding, and sleep deprivation for days. Sadly, these are only the most well-reported incidents. Go to Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and you’ll see a whole hell of a lot worse.

In 2004, it came to light that horrible atrocities were being inflicted upon Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib detention facility. I don’t even know where to start with this one… American soldiers raped, and sometimes outright killed, Iraqi inmates. There were even incidents of soldiers pouring phosphoric acid onto the prisoners, or jumping on an already broken leg with such force that it would never heal properly. Abu Ghraib is best remembered by the public as the photograph of a prisoner with a hood on his head, standing on a box, thinking that if he moved an inch he’d be electrocuted. This was a dark stain on America, one that was spilled by George Bush.

The bottom line is that I refuse to believe that Abu Ghraib didn’t operate on a higher authority. All evidence pertaining to it has probably already been destroyed, but I know that Bush and Rumsfeld were behind this. Even if they somehow weren’t, the fact is that Bush created the template and atmosphere for this to occur in the first place. If he hadn’t used torture at all, and taken the moral high ground, this never would have happened. If you take away even one person’s dignity, then you’ve sold the pass to go all the way. There’s no limit to human depravity.

Don’t just get the government to torture suspected terrorists for you; ask yourself, could you, personally, rip the fingernails off another human being? Could you make him think he’s drowning to death via waterboarding? If you can’t, then please, choose to protect life both publically and privately. Also, if you’re a follower of Jesus, as I try to be, ask yourself if God would approve of torture.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Nintendo halcyon days


I was never sure if I liked the smell of his house,
Mac and cheese, always mac and cheese.
As a den of memories, carefully tucked away in the corridors of my mind,
There could be worse smells associated with this Golden Age.

The blue carpet was a rough, matted mess,
Each prickling fiber creating new wrinkles of childhood delight.
Their fruit roll ups tasted the best,
As does anything that you take without asking.

My friend, my best friend, hated that I loved video games so much,
Yet for all his miniature brilliance,
There was an acceptance of me and my scrambled, electronic preoccupation.

When I think back to those days, dominated by my friend’s ridiculous bowl cut,
I think of myself blowing into the reaches of that magic box.
I think of the red, 8 bit curtain rising on a hulking tube television,
With a friend sitting by my side.

Abortion and Worldviews


“A rat has a heartbeat, too.” I used to say this, as a pro choice atheist, in response to the fact that a fetus has a heartbeat. How could I say such a thing? What was wrong with me? Well, I will argue that as an atheist, absolutely nothing was wrong with my line of thinking. In fact, it was only natural.

I’ve tried to stay away from the abortion issue, but for the first time today, I found out what, exactly, partial-birth abortion is. Now, all abortion is horrible, but this particular method, once legal in many states, is just beyond the pale of all evil. Partial-birth abortion is very true to its name. Once the pregnancy is too far along, like 25 or 26 weeks (which the baby is viable at that point), the doctor can no longer just use forceps for an abortion. They artificially force it to be born. Except the head, of course, because if the whole body was delivered, it would legally be a child. I honestly am struggling how to describe this… so I will let Brenda Pratt Shafer, a nurse who worked at an abortion clinic, describe the partial-birth abortion of a 26 1/2 week old baby with down syndrome.

“Dr. Haskell brought the ultrasound in and hooked it up so that he could see the baby. On the ultrasound screen, I could see the heart beating. As Dr. Haskell watched the baby on the ultrasound screen, the baby's heartbeat was clearly visible on the ultrasound screen. Dr. Haskell went in with forceps and grabbed the baby's legs and pulled them down into the birth canal. Then he delivered the baby's body and the arms-- everything but the head. The doctor kept the baby's head just inside the uterus. The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping, and his feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors through the back of his head, and the baby's arms jerked out in a flinch, a startle reaction, like a baby does when he thinks that he might fall. The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening and sucked the baby's brains out. Now the baby was completely limp.”
     
Brenda’s account has been corroborated, and the clinic even admitted that she worked there as a nurse. I just don’t know how anyone can read that account, or look up a video of the procedure being done (which is easily found on Youtube), and not fight the urge to vomit. Thankfully, there is a ban on partial-birth abortion in America since 2003, but Planned Parenthood has been seeking to overturn it via the courts.

Which brings me to my next point… Do you want to know why Planned Parenthood is trying to reinstate children’s brains being sucked out by a tube? It sure as Hell doesn’t have to do with women’s health, I can tell you that. They’re doing this because they don’t believe in God. Put simply, if you don’t believe that God created humans in His image, and that we all have a soul, then of course you’re not going to care if fetuses are killed. After all, even a rat has a heartbeat, right?

This godless problem is rampant in liberal Hollywood circles (and I say that as someone whose blog is called liberalmuffin). One of the most high profile defenders of abortion is Peter Singer, an atheist professor who somehow has tenure at not just any university, but Princeton. He literally has argued not just for abortion, but for infanticide. He claims that since a newborn baby is incapable of rational thought, then it is not a person. His views are succinctly summed up in this one quote from him, “Membership of the species Homo sapiens is not enough to confer a right to life.”

I have a question for Peter Singer though: Where’s the cutoff? Why not euthanize a five year old with Down Syndrome? I mean, our culture already aborts them as babies. Maybe we should just jump ahead to the logical conclusion of all this and execute everyone who is “unfit.” Where have I heard that before? I’m sure a certain mustachioed man would like Peter Singer… and I ain’t talking about Mario.

Please, if you’re thinking about getting an abortion, know that there really are options. Your child deserves to be loved.     

Friday, September 27, 2013

The many faces of Dragon Ball Z

As an anecdotal segue, think of Star Wars for a moment. Can you think of a more influential and iconic movie series? I certainly can’t. Yet how many variants of the original trilogy did we get? Well, there are four of them if anyone’s counting. The theatrical, 1997, 2004, and 2011 versions. Lucas also refuses to release the theatrical cuts in remastered, high definition… so there is no ideal version of Star Wars for fans who grew up with the originals.

Incidentally, there are also four adaptations of Dragon Ball Z, and like Star Wars, there is no perfect version. The original rendition of DBZ is obviously the Japanese original. The Japanese voicework of the 291 episode series concluded in 1995, yet the fledgling American dub didn’t begin until 1996, with the very first season. So, there it was that DBZ began to fracture into many different faces.

4. Japanese original
Personally, I can’t stand watching DBZ in Japanese. It’s probably because I’ve been used to Goku speaking in English since I was seven. In any case, this was the original, and all 291 episodes are here, albeit in a lackluster mono sound format. Of course, many Otaku will probably have me burned at the stake for disliking the original, but it just seems that DBZ wasn’t meant to be shown this way. The music (barring the excellent Chala Head Chala opening) sounds like a soundtrack from a Godzilla movie. Lots of trumpets and cymbals; it sounds like a parody of music. Really, I hate it. The composer evidently did Kamen Rider, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it sounds like it came from a 1970’s nightmare. Also, I’m sorry, but Goku’s voice sounds like a little girl in this… and that’s not okay.

3. Ocean dub
Ah, the very first English DBZ dub. Ocean Group dubbed the first 53 episodes, before Funimation started doing the voiceover work in-house. While this is the version that got me hooked (How awesome is the Rock the Dragon intro?), it’s quite clear that television censorship took away a lot of the show’s original meaning. Ocean didn’t even allow characters to make mention of death in any way, instead making a vague reference to being “sent to the next dimension.” Also, in one scene, when Vegeta is about to transform into a great ape, he says that Goku’s father, Bardock, was “an average fighter, but a brilliant scientist.” Uh, what? If Ocean had watched the OVA, Bardock: The Father of Goku, they would know that Bardock was not only not a scientist at all, but he was actually incredibly powerful and cunning in combat. Still Ocean paved the way for Funimation’s dub, and I should make note that Vegeta’s actor in this version is chillingly amazing, “You won’t escape my wrath!”

2. Toonami Funimation dub

This is the adaptation I remember the most. With Bruce Faulconer’s electronic rock score making a crater-sized impression on my young mind. Seriously, the music in this is perfection. Every major character has their own theme, and I thought that heaven and earth coalesced together to form the scene of Goku turning into a Super Saiyan. That scene is made impeccably badass due to Faulconer’s sense of ambience. Seriously, look that scene up now… The censorship is also gone, with the high octane fisticuffs of DBZ coming through loud and clear. Tien’s arm is shown getting broken off, as well as Raditz getting a bloody hole blown through him, and Frieza getting chopped into tiny little bits and then blown up. There’s only one problem with this version… the filler. Oh, God, the filler. Out of the 291 episodes in DBZ, I’d say well over 50 of them are complete bullshit, waste of time, filler. You get to see such important scenes like Gohan befriending a robot, or Chi-Chi whining and complaining, or, my favorite, Bulma getting into an episode long misadventure with a giant crab. I love DBZ, and I think it’s one of the best good vs. evil stories ever told, but you really have to put your finger on the fast-forward button.

1. Funimation Kai dub
Here it is, the perfect version of Dragon Ball Z. In Kai, the filler has been taken out and the show brought to a very manageable 98 episodes. The dubbing is also more accurate to the manga, and the footage has been meticulously cleaned and remastered. There’s just one problem: The music sucks Sasquatch feet. Yes, my friends, Funimation stupidly decided to use Kikuchi's original Japanese scoring. Godzilla’s back in Tokyo, folks. Why, oh why couldn’t they just use Faulconer’s music? As if this wasn’t bad enough, the only thing that I liked about the Japanese soundtrack, Chala Head Chala, has been taken out and in its place is an unspeakably awful English cover of something called “Dragon Soul.” It sounds like a boy band in a Sonic Adventure game.

So, there we are… Dragon Ball Z suffers from the profound problem of me being unable to recommend a definitive version. It boils down to this: If you have a lot of time on your hands, and just absolutely cannot stand to hear cheesy music, then stick with Toonami’s Funimation dub. If, however, you don’t want to see 291 episodes worth of power-up sequences, and just want to get to the meat of the story, then watch Funimation’s Kai dub. Maybe one day, DBZ will be done right. One day… 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The magic of Ray Harryhausen

In an era where the only computers you had were glorified giant calculators, Ray Harryhausen was a special effects wizard of the highest order. He didn’t have cgi, so he used his hands instead. Back in those days, you could have the dinosaur, skeleton, or what-have-you actually on set with the actors. There’s something to be said about that kind of tactile input. You know, where the action in a scene isn’t just a video game created by some guy tapping away on a keyboard. Ray Harryhausen made things… and he made magic. To honor Ray’s recent passing, here are reviews of my three favorite films utilizing his signature “Dynamation.”

3. First Men in the Moon (1964)

Honestly, the first half hour of the First Men in the Moon is very slow-going… in fact, you might say glacially so. It’s just a crazy scientist and his assistant bumbling around in the laboratory for a prolonged period of time. Yet once they finally go to the moon, that’s where the fun begins. You’ll see giant space slugs and intelligent, insectoid aliens, all rendered with the loving care of stop-motion. I like how the aliens walk; they remind me of the skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts… only cooler. The film is pretty lighthearted, and the ending has a comical twist.

2. One Million Years B.C. (1966)

One Million Years B.C. is on here instead of the Valley of Gwangi for one very important and beautiful reason: Raquel Welch. The Amazonian darling of the 60’s; people had the movie poster just because she was on it. Raquel Welch in a fur bikini aside, did I mention that fur bikini? Um, like I was saying, the other main attractions here are the wonderful dinosaurs. I’ve always felt that dinosaurs above all else deserve to be stop-motion. Maybe that’s because I saw too many animatronic triceratops as a kid. Anyway, the scene that stands out most to me would have to be the allosaurus attack on the blonde-haired tribe. Here, you get to see a pretty awesome fight scene, as cave-men spear the dinosaur (yeah, it’s not a science documentary). My only complaint with the movie is that I wish somebody would say something and not just grunt.

1. Clash of the Titans (1981)

“Release the Kraken!” Ah, Clash of the Titans. Ray Harryhausen’s masterwork. This film is a swan song to the great monster films started all the way back to King Kong. By the 80’s though, people were getting tired of the traditional effects that Ray used. Star Wars was in, creature features were out. Yet after one watches Clash of the Titans, it’s hard to have any real criticism of it. There are giant scorpions, a two-headed dog, a winged Pegasus, Medusa, and, of course, the Kraken. All of them are gloriously hand crafted in loving frame by frame camerawork. The Medusa fight in particular is astonishing. You really feel that the monster is real, right on stage. How she slithers on the ground, her snakes writhing, as she arches her bow at the hero. Oh, and there’s a mechanical owl named Bubo… he’s pretty annoying though. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Star Wars games: A sampler

Star Wars video games have been produced going as far back as 1983, with Star Wars Arcade being first in line. There are many, many Star Wars games. So many that I’m not even going to try to give a comprehensive overview… I’m just going to share a few that I’ve enjoyed. 

3. Super Star Wars (SNES)

Super Star Wars was the first Star Wars game to make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. While that may not be literally true, it was the first game based on Star Wars to really capture the excitement of the original trilogy. In Super Star Wars you fight a sarlacc pit monster, cause a brawl in Mos Eisley’s Cantina Bar, slice through stormtroopers with your lightsaber, and blow up the Imperial Death Star with your X-Wing. Super Star Wars also lets you beat up on Jawas which is cathartic… I never did trust those little guys.

2. Star Wars: Jedi Knight (Computer)

While I’ve never played the first in this series, Dark Forces, I’m aware that it’s more or less a Doom clone and not really a Star Wars game per se. Jedi Knight, on the other hand, offered a true adventure. You not only got a lightsaber finally, but you were able to use the force. The plot would even allow you to branch off and be on the light side or the dark side. The thing I remember most about Jedi Knight is the fantastic level design. My favorite level was the one where the spaceship is falling into a canyon, and the whole craft is slowly turning upside down. It really played with gravity and my perception of spatial awareness in a fun, mind-bending manner. Also, the live action cutscenes in the game are hilariously bad… in a good way. 

1. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64)

When I was seven years old on Christmas of 96, my brother and I got an N64 and two games: Mario 64 and Shadows of the Empire. Honestly, Mario received most of my attention… that being said, Shadows occupied a good chunk of my elementary school life as well. There may have been more recognizable Star Wars games later on in the N64’s lifecycle such as Rogue Squadron and Episode 1 Racer, but for my money, Shadows trumps all of them. For the first time on a console, you were fighting the Empire in glorious 3d. Gone were the days of pixels, replaced with textured polygons. It was an exciting time to be a Nintendo fan, and from the very first level, you knew the game was going to rock.

It opens with the battle of Hoth, with you piloting a snowspeeder. You feel like you’re in direct control of the Empire Strikes Back movie, as you get to take down an AT-AT by wrapping your tow cable around it (and maybe saying “one more pass” to yourself to make it even more epic). From there, the game transitions to a 3rd person shooter. Admittedly, the camera for this game is awful, it’s like you’re trying to reel in a ten foot marlin raging on steroids, crystal meth, and a gallon of Red Bull. Still, I give the game credit for being bold enough to be fully 3d in the first place.

Regardless of the camera issues, Shadows adeptly immerses you into the shoes of Dash Rendar, the playable smuggler. Through his eyes, you’ll even engage in firefights with the famed bounty hunters IG-88 and Boba Fett. I also really like how the game constantly changes pace; you’ll go from shooting tie fighters in an asteroid field in one level, to going swoop racing in another. Shadows may not do everything perfectly, but it’s one heck of a ride.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Obscure anime reviews

5. Hellsing (original series)

While the Hellsing franchise has gotten significantly more mainstream since Hellsing Ultimate (an ova reboot), the original anime is still pretty unknown to most people. The plot of the show is dramatically different from the manga at around episode eight. This isn’t because the writers were lazy, it’s merely due to the fact that the manga wasn’t finished (and wouldn’t be until 2009). Still, Hellsing is hella fun, with most scenes centering around monsters killing monsters. The main protagonist (note I didn’t say hero), Alucard, is the most powerful vampire in existence, and his bloodletting of the various undead is directly proportional to how entertaining the show is.

4. Blue Gender

Blue Gender is basically The Walking Dead: The Anime Version. The story focuses on a young man named Yuji Kaido, who suffers from a rare and puzzling illness. He is an enigma to the medical community in his own time; therefore Yuji undergoes cryogenic hibernation in hopes of a brighter future. When he awakes decades later, the proverbial gates to Hell appear cast wide open. Giant, mutated bugs called “The Blue” have swarmed over the Earth and have ravaged mankind. Some humans have escaped to the stars, where they live on orbital space stations and plan how to regain their place in the world. The show features characters living on the brink of extinction, with every episode a question of survival. Put simply, if you like a character, he’s probably going to die.

3. Monster

Monster might be the most realistic anime I’ve ever seen. Honestly, I sometimes forget that it’s animated. Personally, I like anime with a little levity and some colorful imagination. Still, Monster is a hair-raising thriller from the get-go. The anime opens up with a young boy in critical condition. Dr. Tenma, a good-natured doctor, decides to save the life of the child instead of operating on a wealthier adult patient. That decision costs him his career. Yet the higher-ups of the hospital are suddenly murdered, and in their absence Tenma soon moves up the hospital’s ladder to become director. Is the boy that Tenma saved truly as innocent as he appears? Is something sinister afoot? Watch to find out!       

2. Ronin Warriors

Ah, Ronin Warriors, the forgotten action anime. If you get a kick out of Dragon Ball Z and Yu Yu Hakusho like I do, then you’ll find yourself at home here. Ronin Warriors was actually one of the first anime shows aired in America on Toonami, dubbed by Ocean Group (the studio that originally did the voicework for DBZ). Yet after a brief run of popularity, it quickly faded into the vaults of Cartoon Network, never to be seen again on either tv or dvd. Ronin Warriors features sweet samurai combat, coupled with eye-tickling power-up sequences. It also has one of the coolest “shout-out” attacks, with Anubis’ “Quake with fear!” line stealing the show.

1. Mushishi

Mushishi was destined to become obscure as soon as it was produced. Mushishi features no crazy action or evil bad guy with his shadow looming over a city; it’s just an anime about nature. The main character, Ginko, is a travelling “Mushi Master”, which consists of him encountering various ghost-like entities and their interactions with the natural order. It’s never too intense, and the lush green hues of the show make me calm. There is an argument to be made that the series is spiritual as well, as it recognizes the sacredness of the cosmos. Basically, if you think all anime is like Pokemon, then try Mushishi… it’s pretty chill.

  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Games that pushed the limit

With today’s powerful gaming machines that have gigabytes of memory, it’s not really impressive to make a game look shiny. Back in the day though, you had to work with sometimes only a few kilobytes of ram to make a game look like something special. This is a tribute to games spread across various platforms that pushed their hardware to the limit.

5. Solaris (2600)

Solaris is the largest Atari 2600 cartridge, with a then impressive 14 kilobytes of data. Like I said, it was impressive back then (that could barely fill one word document now). Solaris is massive, with multiple areas to explore via your star map.  When you run across an enemy Zylon ship (no relation to Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons) you’ll engage in exciting, flicker-free dogfights. Solaris may not look like much today, but give it a chance.

4. Battletoads (NES)

Parallax scrolling galore! Games like this make me wonder why most games on the TurboGrafx 16 couldn’t scroll backgrounds… I mean, Battletoads on the NES did it. Battletoads also has detailed character sprites that do various animations in different contexts. The most inspiring graphical feat has to be the tower in level 12. There, you’ll see the pseudo-3d effect of rotation. It’s a shame that you probably won’t get that far though, as the game is notoriously difficult starting on level 3. Still, Battletoads gives you a glimpse into Rareware’s early talent.  

3. Contra: Hard Corps (Genesis)

Contra: Hard Corps is amazing not for any trick in particular, but just for how much crap is thrown on screen at once. Seriously, they call it Hard Corps for a reason: It’s hard. There are legions of bad guys waiting to waste your continues, and it’s your job to stay alive. No matter how hectic things get, however, there is never any slowdown… even with a second player joining in on the fun. By the time you’re riding on a missile in the sky trying to stop a giant alien brain, you’ll start believing that maybe Sega was right with all that Blast Processing business.

2. Doom (SNES)

Yeah, this version of Doom looks like someone smeared petroleum jelly on your television screen. Still, remember that this game is running on a Super Nintendo, a 2d machine. The fact that you can move around 360 degrees in a three dimensional environment is just stunning. The game is pretty playable, but due to its blurriness you really have to wait until you see the white of a demon’s eyes before you start shooting. You really are better off playing almost any other version of Doom though. Even the Sega 32X has a decent version (although the music sounds like an orchestra of armpit farts).

1. Perfect Dark (N64)

Is there anything Rare can’t do? This bad boy looks as impressive as some triple A computer games of its day. With reflective surfaces and dynamic lighting that can be altered by shooting out bulbs, Perfect Dark made good use of the N64’s expansion pack. There was even an option for an “hd” widescreen mode in an era where tube televisions were king. Heck, it even had Dolby Surround Sound. All this came at a cost, however, as the game’s framerate moved like the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack. Still, few noticed such limitations when you could rescue the president from alien terrorists on board Air Force One.   

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Oldboy


I’ve been meaning to see Oldboy for the last six years or so. I first saw a copy of the dvd at Blockbuster probably back in 2006 or 2007. At the time, I think I had other movies that I wanted to rent first, so I postponed Oldboy for a later trip. The next time, the copy was out of stock. So was the week after that. Apparently, there was only one copy of it at the store, and it was a popular cult classic. It didn’t help that my depression hit around this time, and that I lost interest in most movies. So, I didn’t see Oldboy and I kind of just forgot about it.

Then I recently stopped off at Moviestop (a used dvd and bluray store) and lo and behold, there was Oldboy… and it was on sale! Well, I figured that the time was right, and I bought it. And now I’ve seen it.

So, did it live up to the long wait? I should mention first that when I wanted to watch it back in high school, I didn’t really know anything about it (other than the fact that it was a South Korean film).  Let me say that Oldboy is one of a small handful of films that made me feel quite disturbed after viewing them, with The Road, Seven, and A Clockwork Orange at the top of the list (the only film I’d recommend out of those three would be The Road). There are scenes of tongues getting chopped off, teeth being pulled, and squid being eaten alive. It’s not exactly A Wonderful Life.

So, what’s good about Oldboy? Well, the storytelling and pacing are top-notch. The plot is basically that an ordinary Korean man has been imprisoned for 15 years for what appears to be literally no reason. After his eventual release, the only thing on his mind is vengeance. The movie reminds me a bit of Memento, with mysteries lurking in every shadow of the film. Oldboy also hides a cruelly ingenious twist at the end, which blew my mind.

The main problem I have with Oldboy is that is seems to be part of a larger affliction of Hollywood and current moviemaking in general. I call it The Dark Knight Syndrome. Where everything is just dark, brooding, and leaves you feeling like crap (of course, I actually love The Dark Knight). Still, Oldboy’s grip will command your attention until the very last frame.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I'm still a Christian


I’m a Christian. I also suffer from severe, debilitating depression. I decided to become a Christian because I thought that Jesus loves me. I still think that.

To better understand me, I need to explain my story. While I grew up with some learning problems like ADD and had certain idiosyncrasies like Aspergers, I would say I had a happy childhood. I enjoyed reading, playing video games, watching my favorite shows, and exploring outside. I was a normal kid, more or less. Sometime around my senior year, however, I began to notice a change. I didn’t enjoy anything anymore. The things I loved became lifeless and empty.

Once the structure of high school ended, it got worse. Much worse. I hopped around from one entry level job to the next, with no prospects in sight. I failed out of college. I gained over a hundred pounds. My social circle deteriorated. I felt alone.

I decided that I had enough with life. I saved up my money and went to Greentop Sporting Goods. There, I purchased a Beretta 9mm with hollow point rounds. I kept the gun under my bed for days. Then, on September 13, 2010, I went up to Belle Isle to commit suicide.

I was about to do it when my best friend, Ross, called me. He pleaded with me not to do it, and told me that he loved me. I listened and put the gun down.

Two years later, my depression was still there. It’s important to mention that at this time I was a staunch atheist. I not only believed God didn’t exist, I believed Christians were homophobic, women-hating, scientifically illiterate, Jerry Falwell worshipping idiots. My life may have been terrible, I thought, but at least I wasn’t a Christian.

Yet as someone who had heard a bit about Jesus, I knew that there was something different about Him. When I thought if someone loved me or not, Jesus kept popping in my head. Not the Dalai Lama, not Muhammad, but Jesus. When I lay awake one night contemplating suicide again, I knew I had to act.

I went to the library and started reading the Gospel of Matthew. It didn’t take long. As soon as I got to the Sermon on the Mount, I knew there was something real there. The concept of a God who actually died for me, not because He wanted me to measure up to society’s standards, but because He loved me unconditionally, finally hit me. I got up, went to my car, and prayed a heartfelt prayer. I was now a Christian.

While it may have made for a better tale if I stopped here, that’s not the end of the story. Just two weeks ago, I attempted suicide again. I went to Greentop and tried to buy another handgun. Thankfully, I was denied. Still, I can’t lie; I was very close to death once more.

So, how do I end this on a positive note? Well, all I can do is tell you that if I didn’t have Ross Lawrence or Robby Christmas in my life, I already would have been dead. I believe that a simple act of kindness is the face of God, and that He works though ordinary people to show His love. I can end this message by telling you that above all, Jesus helps me. When I think I’m worthless, He says I have worth. When I think I’m hopeless, He says I have hope. Finally, when I think I’m unlovable, He says He loves me. God loves you, too.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mother Earth

She’s a deep blue orb of life in the black gulf of dirt
Her motherly hands tend to her children
Her earth stained clothes welcome the deadness of the soil
From nothing but love arises her colorful, budding offspring
They peek from the ground, delighted
She pours delicious milk into their waiting mouths
They drink
Their green roots extend upwards for an embrace
She reaches down
Her children rejoice silently

Monday, September 2, 2013

Devilman: A Theodicy


If you think comic books or cartoons are just for children, then please, for God’s sake, don’t let your kid ever watch or read Devilman. Devilman is a work strictly for adults, and for thinking adults. If you are narrow minded, you’re probably going to walk away thinking it’s satanic or some nonsense. So, what exactly is Devilman? Devilman is a manga (basically a Japanese comic book) written by Go Nagai all the way back in 1972. There are also two movies that were produced in the 80’s that animate chunks of the original manga.

Devilman centers on the young Akira Fudo, who becomes aware of the existence of demons. Due to his pure heart, he not only survives a possession, but takes control of the most powerful demon in existence, Amon, and thus becomes Devilman. Devilman fights to protect mankind and the girl he loves, Miki. Sadly, after waging war on the demonic hordes, Miki is actually murdered by fearful humans in retaliation for her relationship with Akira. Seeing his beloved’s head on a pike, Devilman becomes enraged and kills the mob. With no one left to protect, he begins his final battle with Satan, who while dormant, was his childhood friend, Ryo.

After the Earth is destroyed in their battle, Satan stands victorious over a dying Akira. He tells Akira that he loves him. He details the origins of demons, explaining that God created them, but hated what he had made. Satan, then an angel, believed this to be unjust of God and sided with the demons. However, Satan realizes that he was just as wrong as God for trying to destroy humans.

Of course, I just outlined the whole plot, but it serves my next point. There are very few Japanese works that rival Devilman’s drama. Devilman is about the tragedy of life. Not only is this great storytelling, but it’s very interesting from a theodicy point of view. Of course, Christians believe God to be good, and that Satan is evil, but why do we believe that? Have we forgotten Epicurus’ problem of evil, "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" Basically, is God a villain or a fool?

Devilman answers in the former, that God is evil. What is forgotten, I think, is that there is another option. That God loves us, and in His love, He has given us free will. Free will is the ability to choose good or evil. Or rather, to obey God or not to obey Him. You see, God knows our tears, but He isn’t deaf to our pleas. If everything was perfect, and we never had a choice, yes there would be no physical pain, but there wouldn’t be any true love in the universe. You have to have choice to have love; it can’t be forced. So, when humanity chose to defy God in Genesis, God made a choice, too (If God doesn’t have free will as well then He’s just a force of nature, not a personal being). God chose to love us, and love us unconditionally. He could and should have left us to wallow in our own filth and misery, but for no other reason than He loves us, He decided to offer redemption through His son, Jesus.

The cross is the perfect answer to the problem of evil. It’s poetry in motion. It’s divine love. So, while I really like Devilman as art, I do believe the philosophical content it brings up is flawed. Still, it’s one hell of a story.  


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Syria


Well, I’ve tried to avoid talking about politics for a while now… but since the powder keg of the Middle East is about to be ignited by a certain buffoonish president, I thought I should put my thoughts down before it all blows up. I’m honestly surprised at Obama. I really am. I mean, Obama has been a fairly mediocre president, but he’s never screwed up this badly before. I’m going to sum this Syrian mess up in a single sentence: You can’t be against the Iraq War and be for involvement in the Syrian Civil War. That’s the crux of it.

Seriously folks, are we forgetting about the Iraq War? Are we lemmings gleefully running over a cliff? The Iraq War cost over a trillion dollars, 4,459 American soldiers, and at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians. War is not a video game, people. The similarities between Iraq in 2003 and Syria now are astonishing. Both involve dictators, both involve the alleged use of chemical weapons by said dictator, both have had responses portrayed by America as operations that would free an oppressed people, and both have literally no U.N. support on the American side of things. Sound familiar yet?

Listen, of course Assad is an evil piece of death worshipping garbage. You won’t hear an argument from me. That being said, do we really know what we’re getting involved with here? There are dozens of tin-pot dictators in the world, why are we focusing on Assad? Why not liberate North Korea or Zimbabwe? Since Iran is an ally to Assad, do we know how they’ll react when we bomb Syria back to the stone age? Will Israel get pulled in? Will the initial U.S. strikes morph into a prolonged invasion and occupation? Finally, even if the rebels overthrow Assad, will they be any better than he was (since much of the insurgency consists of Al-Qaeda)? One more thing: Can Obama answer any of those questions honestly?
      
I mean for God’s sake, man, there’s a video of a rebel eating a Syrian soldier’s heart; these guys aren’t exactly George Washington. I’m not even convinced that the rebels didn’t use the gas themselves just to draw us onto their side. I know Obama is trying to do good, but I think he needs to listen to ol’ Buffalo Springfield, “It’s time we stop, hey what’s that sound, everybody look what’s goin down.”

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Three beliefs that are killing the church


3. The Earth is 6000 years old

The riotously funny (and sadly mostly forgotten) Bill Hicks illustrated the insanity of creationism by an imaginary conversation, “Okay, dinosaur fossils, how does that fit into your scheme of life? Let me sit down and strap in. He says, ‘dinosaur fossils? God put those here to test our faith.’ Thank God I’m strapped in right now here man.” If you want to be taken seriously by smart people, you have to not be stupid. Saying that The Flintstones was basically a documentary is a sure-fire way to get judiciously laughed at for being batshit crazy.

Listen, I don’t pretend to know all the particulars of the origins of everything. I’m not that smart. But don’t tell me that dinosaur fossils were put here to either test our faith, or that somehow Noah’s Flood managed to neatly arrange all the different strata layers with no rabbit fossil ever touching a Precambrian trilobite fossil. I actually heard some popular creationist say that there was an “ice shield” hovering above the earth before Noah, and once people starting sinning too much, God turned the ice into rain. Wonderful. Too bad that’s not science. It’s also really stupid, because light couldn’t penetrate that much water, but let’s just forget about that.

Just because evolution happened doesn’t mean that there isn’t a God. You can’t take a literal approach to Genesis (which is pretty hard, because what is six days to God anyway) and ignore creation itself. The famous Christian scientist Francis Collins (who was the head of the Human Genome Project) wisely said that God really gave us two books: The book of the Bible and the book of creation. You can’t ignore one just because you don’t like what it’s saying. Also, if you don’t believe in evolution, look up the transitional fossil Tiktaalik.

2. Gays are pedophiles

I’m going to keep this one short. We shouldn’t even have to talk about something so ridiculous. Just because gays like the same gender, does not mean that they like children of the same gender. How fundamentalists can’t seem to remember this boggles my mind. I honestly don’t know where I stand on gay marriage, but I know that God loves gays unconditionally, and we have to treat them with human dignity. The bottom line is you are not being loving, and not being a good Christian, when you hate someone. If you slander gays as being the worst thing in the universe, child abusers, then you’re a hateful jackass.

1. The world is going to end tomorrow

Listen. Christians have been saying we’re in the end of days since the first century…. and they’re always wrong. The Bible itself says in Matthew 24:36, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” It’s right there, in black and white. The idea that God only meant the day and hour, but really didn’t mean the year, is just stupid. Do they really think God is that misleading? Was He being sarcastic in that verse? I’m pretty sure anyone who honestly extrapolates that verse is going to come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t try to “ballpark” the apocalypse.

The pragmatic reason why we shouldn’t try to construct a doomsday calendar is simple: It makes us look like a fear-mongering religion that’s more concerned with escaping to Heaven than helping people on Earth in the here and now. As it says in John 3:16, God loves the world. Therefore, we need to help people in the confines of our broken world and not just throw a Hal Lindsey pamphlet at them.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Reza Aslan and the deadness of Islam


Well, it seems that in the last week Islam has been getting sort of a public relations boost through Fox News’ interview with Reza Aslan. Admittedly, the interview was handled very poorly, but the fundamental point that the Fox News host made is legitimate: does Azlan have any biases writing about Jesus since he’s a Muslim? It shouldn’t have been the crux of the entire conversation, but it was worth bringing up. Everyone is biased of course, Christians included. The problem is Christian historians and philosophers like N.T. Wright, Gary Habermas, and William Lane Craig don’t get interviewed on liberal news shows, because their belief that Jesus is the son of God doesn’t make big headlines. In other words, it’s not cool.

Besides that though, the main point I want to make is that Islam is not compatible with western values and democracy. It hasn’t worked yet, and it never will. Let’s start with some uncomfortable facts, shall we? Only one religion blows themselves up to kill innocents. Only one religion throws acid in the faces of little girls for trying to learn how to read. Only one religion forces women to cover themselves head to toe in medieval rags. Every country that has a Muslim majority enforces sharia law. Just the country of Spain translates more books in a single year than the entire Arab world in the past thousand years. Finally, only one religion is responsible for Al-Qaeda.

Quite the list of inconvenient truths, eh? You won’t see any of those facts on the Daily Show or on Rachel Maddow. Why not? It’s because there is an attempt by Hollywood elites to make it seem that Muslims are victimized by mean, bigoted Christians. You know, all those examples of nuns and missionaries blowing themselves up as they feed the poor. Wait… that doesn’t happen at all, does it? Nope.

Reza Aslan is part of a (very small) new wave of Muslims that are attempting to make Islam look cool. Through the media, they are somewhat succeeding. The problem is that the Bible tells us we will see them by their fruits, and we have. Islam is the most backwards religion on the planet. As a sidenote, Aslan’s premise of his book, Zealot, is ridiculous. He says Jesus was just a political revolutionary. According to him, the Gospels aren’t eyewitness accounts, therefore they’re unreliable. That’s nice and all, but if you aren’t using the New Testament as sources, then what on God’s green Earth are you using? Your own imagination?

I know it’s unpopular to be a Christian, but I have long since discarded being politically correct. I don’t care if I’m not as cool as George Clooney or Brad Pitt. The bottom line is that we need Jesus, not Muhammad.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Faith Itself


Allow me to preface my article with this: I am among the least qualified to talk about belief. That being said, I, along with everyone else, must take a stand on one position. We are all shown evidence, much of it conflicting, and we are forced to make a choice about reality. This is entirely personal, and I will even argue subjective at its very definition.

We all have to fight with time. The sand in the hour glass is fleeting, and death’s icy grip is ever tightening. How then, shall we live? Even more importantly than that, what should we believe (as our beliefs directly influence our actions)? The problem, we soon realize as a child whose boundless optimism fades into bitterness, is that the world is a very strange place… and it is cruel. The years burn, as the Smashing Pumpkins aptly said.

In this Hell, we must choose our beliefs. Yet there's nothing that can be completely proven. Believing in the external world itself is an act of faith. We are relying on our senses, which are limited and weak from an evolutionary standpoint. Biologically, we’re built solely for survival, equipped with “selfish genes.” The very existence of the universe is something that should be impossible. After all, as Shakespeare once wrote in King Lear, “nothing will come of nothing.” Atheism and Theism are both equally nonsensical when it comes to answering our origins. Either nothing sparked something, or God, which came from nothing, sparked something. Life is inherently absurd.

The only thing that can be somewhat proven is that the self exists, “I think therefore I am.” Yet even this, however, can be dismissed with the simple “brain in a vat” thought experiment. So we are left with nothing, which is fitting. Every belief in your mind is a leap of faith. If you believe that the universe has just always existed, that’s faith. If you believe that God has always existed, that’s faith.

I believe in God because I know that in atheism, the universe will burn out. It will take billions of years, but the stars will die, and to the dark we will return. Therefore, there can be no true value in secular humanism, as there is no legacy. On the other hand, I see that belief in God, and Christianity in particular, is a rebellion against the absurd. Love is a rebellion against the death and sadness of our natural state, and no one demonstrated that love more clearly than Jesus.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Obscure game reviews

10. Little Samson (NES)

On a console crawling with cutesy platformers, Little Samson is... another cutesy platformer. But so what? It’s unique in that it’s done almost as well as a first party Nintendo game. You don’t just control one character, or two or three, you control a whopping four characters. From a tree climbing human boy, to a fire breathing dragon, to a stone golem, to finally a small but plucky mouse, Little Samson is packed with variety. Since it was released in the twilight years of the NES’ lifespan, the graphics are also top rate for an 8 bit game. It’s also quite the sight to see a mouse take on a giant green Cyclops in a boss fight.

9. Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath (Xbox)

Oddworld has always been… well, odd. The previous three games in the series had been platformers, while Stranger’s Wrath decided to dip its toes in the waters of shooters. While it’s accurate to say that Stranger’s is indeed an fps, it’s decidedly not a mindless Call of Duty carnival sideshow where you just whack the baddies. Stranger’s Wrath is very artistic in its mayhem, where the settings are as alien as a town filled with talking chickens and your ammo is literally live animals. Stranger’s Wrath also features a pretty cool main character (The Stranger), whose past is shrouded in mystery.    

8. Sonic CD (Sega CD)

The defining game on the criminally underrated Sega CD. Sonic CD is quite unlike its Genesis counterparts. In addition to a funky CD soundtrack and some cool “Mode 7” style 3d graphics, Sonic CD features levels that actually encourage you to explore. While you still play as Sonic, and still run as fast as you can to the goalpost, the game no longer tries to force you along. There are three time zones that will have you going to the past, present, and future. In each of these time zones, the levels are different, and you’ll want to explore each era to see how the levels change. Sonic CD does lose a few points for introducing Sonic’s annoying love interest, Amy, to the series.

7. Star Trek 25th Anniversary (Computer)

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary is a trekkie’s dream come true. You’ll find yourself shooting photon torpedoes at Klingons in hair-raising space dogfights, to going on away missions to solve various mysteries. The game is broken up into seven different “episodes” and is actually described as a lost season of the tv show. The cherry on top of the sundae is that the entire original cast does extensive voiceover work. 25th Anniversary was created to honor Gene Roddenberry who had passed just a year before the game was made, and it’s a fitting tribute. The adventuring spirit of Star Trek is captured here, and at the end of the game, William Shatner gives a short but heartfelt speech honoring his friend.

6. Snow Bros. (NES)

Here’s a forgotten gem. Imagine Bubble Bobble but only better… and with snow. Well, that’s Snow Bros. in a nutshell. Your goal is to roll up monsters in big snowballs, then launch them away so they crash. It’s simply superior to Bubble Bobble because of the combo system. You see, you can time your snowballs so that they hit multiple enemies; this makes the game more interesting. Snow Bros. is also a blast with two players. I remember playing this game in elementary school with my best friend and how we could never get past the twin eagle boss. 

5. Sengoku 3 (Neo Geo)

SNK sure knew how to make arcade hits. Sadly, the Sengoku series never hit the mainstream like Samurai Shodown, Metal Slug, and other Neo Geo favorites. Honestly though, until this third installment, Sengoku was merely average. With the third iteration, however, it became something special. Unlike many beat-em-ups where you just mindlessly punch, kick, and repeat, Sengoku 3 allows you to combo your moves. It’s not Marvel vs. Capcom or anything, but it’s a nice touch and makes you feel like one badass ninja. The spritework of the game deserves praise as well. It’s like they took Garou: Mark of the Wolves, and just made the screen explode with action. It should also be noted that one of the main characters looks like Strider Hiryu, which is awesome.

4. MUSHA (Genesis)

I don’t much like spaceship shooters, but MUSHA is an exception. Considering this game was released in 1990, a full year before the Super Nintendo, I’d say it’s quite an accomplishment. The graphics are gorgeous for their time, and there’s some great use of parallax scrolling and illusory depth. I also love the game’s futuristic take on feudalistic Japanese architecture. While many shooters share a similar concept with MUSHA, it’s the smooth as butter controls that make it stand out. You can dodge enemy fire with the agility of a tiger… with lasers. There’s also a lot of customization for a game like this. You can choose one of three energy weapons to power up, as well as collect “P-chips” to surround your ship with helper robots. MUSHA also has some rockin music that goes above and beyond traditional Genesis fart sounds.

3. Body Harvest (N64)

Yes, the graphics in this game look like mud. Yet Body Harvest is one of the most ambitious games ever produced, and it paved the way for the Grand Theft Auto series. In Body Harvest your goal is to time travel to different places on Earth, and stop an alien invasion from ever taking place. So, you just kill aliens, right? Yes and no. You do, but you traverse the landscape anyway you want in order to do it. Not many N64 games have you blowing up stuff in a tank, to then hopping out and exploring the wreckage on foot. Body Harvest also has some light adventure aspects, as it allows you to enter buildings and talk to folks.

2. Ristar (Genesis)

It’s hard to believe that a game made by Sega in their heyday is not more well-known. Unlike most Sega games, Ristar doesn’t have a lot of attitude. In fact, he’s more like Mario than Sonic. The game consists of the titular Ristar using his stretchy arms to explore new areas and grabbing bad guys to give em a quick headbutt. Ristar really is a delightful game. You’ll explore new planets, each one completely different. These consist of a world covered in ice (if you stay still, Ristar will make a snowman), to one built entirely around musical instruments. As a quick mention to the graphics, Sega did the impossible: Ristar seemingly breaks the console’s 64 color limit. Now where's Ristar 2?

1. Shin Megami Tensei II (SNES)

Now we’re really getting obscure. Only released in Japan, but now available through English rom translations, Shin Megami Tensei II is the most controversial game I’ve ever played. The majority of the gameplay is similar to the old Wizardry DOS games in that it features a first person perspective in dungeons. Suffice to say, there’s not much to see in this mode, and it’s definitely not why I like this game. It’s the story. The plot of the game basically depicts you, Aleph, trying to kill God. Picking a fight with God might sound like a bad idea, but in this game, he’s evil as hell. I love the game for having the courage to show that not all interpretations of God are equal. Some are disgusting. SMT 2 could be shown as a critique of fundamentalism and hard-line Calvinism in particular. Good thing I believe in a loving God. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Does God poison everything?


What’s moral? That’s a question that philosophers have pondered over for centuries, going back to the days of Plato. Good thing we don’t need philosophers anymore, according to Stephen Hawking (I guess he’s smart enough to solve every ethical dilemma by scribbling out a formula). Joking aside, morality is a question of what constitutes good and evil, the basis of society. Historically, for western civilization at least, our morality has been Christian. No one seriously disputes that, and even atheist philosophers like Nietzsche admit this only to say how rotten it is to be so, and how a Ubermensch “master morality” is to be preferred over a Christian “slave morality.”

Yet, the “new atheists” seem to naively believe that people just “know” what the right thing is, and that thousands of years on the quest for God have been a waste of time. The problem, of course, is that even “common sense” moral issues like feeding and clothing the poor is not an inherently good act. In fact, Ayn Rand, the devoutly atheistic apostle of Objectivism, coined the term “the virtue of selfishness.” Why help others? Why not just help yourself? God’s dead, right?

The late Christopher Hitchens subtitled his New York Times bestseller, God Is Not Great, with the words “how religion poisons everything.” I know it might sound corny, but I really do believe that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion. That being said, I’ll accept the label of religion for the sake of argument. Still, with a book so bold, you’d expect that atheism has a great track record with morality. Too bad that isn’t the case.

Maybe you could’ve been like H.G. Wells at the turn of the 20th century and hoped for a utopia based on secular ideals. After two world wars and a holocaust, however, I don’t think anyone can take this seriously. Especially when nations like the old Soviet Union actually attempted a godless utopia and failed miserably. Communism, as formulated by Karl Marx, is a wonderful idea in theory. It’s just completely ignorant of human nature. Every murdering communist despot, from Stalin to Pol Pot, has been an atheist. That’s a fact. It’s ironic that the proudly identified “militant atheists” of today once shared their name with the state backed League of Militant Atheists of the Soviet Union.

Then you have statistics. Ah yes, numbers never lie. According to Harvard University, which is hardly a bastion of Christian thinking, “forty percent of worship attending Americans volunteer regularly to help the poor and elderly, compared with 15% of Americans who never attend services.” Then you have the non-partisan organization, Statistics Canada, release data showing that “the average annual donation from a churchgoer is $1,038. For the rest of the population, $295.” Doesn’t look too good for the atheist utopia, huh?

So maybe religion isn’t so bad. Maybe the crusade against people of faith is misplaced. Maybe God doesn’t poison everything.