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 Mao and 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.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

As a warning, this review contains spoilers. I usually don’t preface posts like that, but seeing how this is a new film, I’ll make an exception. So, Star Trek Into Darkness is basically a remake of Wrath of Khan… but I think we all saw this coming. It does seem that every time the Star Trek franchise wants a big hit, they turn to Khan. They did it in the Next Generation with Nemesis, with Data basically pulling a Spock and nobly sacrificing himself.

I’ve noticed a strange criticism of the movie made by trekkies: that since Into Darkness is primarily an action film, it is fundamentally not Star Trek. They say that the philosophical and exploration aspects of the series are hardly touched on. Well, they’re somewhat correct. If you’re talking about the tv show, then yeah, it doesn’t really adhere to that model. Yet, if you’re talking about the original film series, then you’re wrong. The most critically acclaimed and loved Star Trek movie was Wrath of Khan… which was predominantly an action movie compared to the previously released Motion Picture (that was almost universally hated).

With all that being said, this is the best Star Trek’s been in years. Khan’s in here (brilliantly and chillingly played by Benedict Cumberbatch), the Klingons make an appearance, and most importantly, Kirk and Spock are back. What’s not to like? The film is also intense as well, with dozens of thrilling sequences where the Enterprise looks like it’s going 20,000 leagues under the sea (actually that does happen once), and all hands are going to be lost. By the way, I love how they bring in Khan. The trailers made us certain that it couldn’t be him due to him wearing a Federation uniform; his introduction literally sent chills down my spine.

I guess what needs to talked about is the reversal of Kirk and Spock’s roles. It works wonderfully. Kirk sacrificing himself instead of Spock was such a twist, and I got a little misty eyed watching it. The scene also seems a little less hokey than in Wrath of Khan. When Kirk is kicking the generator back in place, you really feel the weight of his selfless decision. Spock’s reaction to his friend’s death also had me doing an “oh shit” face in the theater.

J.J. Abrams has done a fantastic job at bringing Star Trek to the masses while still maintaining the cast’s lovable personalities. Is there a lot of technobabble and pondering of the meaning of it all here? Not really, but at least Kirk isn’t asking God what he wants with a starship.   

Monday, June 10, 2013

Republicrats and Democans

Well, the name of this blog seems to have finally evaporated to the point of a misnomer. After much contemplation, I don’t think I can call myself a liberal anymore. I’m certainly not a conservative, but I am not a liberal either. I am so fed up with the childish games being played in Congress and the White House. It’s funny, as much as the Democrats and Republicans throw tantrums to display how “different” they are, they are a mirror image of each other.

I suppose the first time I noticed something was wrong was the build up to the Iraq War. While I was only in 8th grade at the time, I remember how eerily similar George Bush and Hilary Clinton’s messages were. In case the nation has a collective case of amnesia, let me reiterate: Both Hilary Clinton and George Bush were for the Iraq War, a monumental blunder that cost us over 4000 brave American soldiers. Yet somehow that doesn’t register with people. That somehow ol’ George orchestrated the entire war like some kind of mastermind. Well, he didn’t. He had the support of basically everyone whose name wasn’t Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul. Oh, congratulations to Obama for getting us out of Iraq… in December of 2011, real speedy job there.

The next event that disillusioned me was actually very recent, within the last six months in fact. It was after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Twenty innocent, precious children were shot and killed there. Many of them aging as young as six. It was a horrendous day, filled with evil that was downright satanic. Then, the politicians got involved, and proceeded to each become as much of a raging jackass as they could possibly be.

The Republican response was to insanely lobby for arming teachers. Yeah, because that’s what we need, having a Quick Draw McGraw inspired shootout in an elementary school. It’s also a good thing that there would never ever be an incident where a teacher dropped a gun, and a small child would pick it up. Idiots. Then you had the Democrats. Admittedly, the Democrat response wasn’t quite as cartoonishly stupid, but it was just as useless and still a huge slap in the face to the Sandy Hook parents.

They wanted to ban guns. This seems to be the automatic response to any crisis for Democrats. Just ban guns! C’mon, do it! Just forget about that Second Amendment stuff! That’s the thing, we as individuals in a constitutional society have the right to protect ourselves. If someone wants to go hunting with a rifle, that’s their right. If someone wants to defend their family with a handgun, that’s their right. Even if someone wants to collect automatic weapons, that’s their right too.

The problem is that when the political parties aren’t being exactly the same, then they’re a million miles apart. There’s never any middle ground. The case in point in the gun debate was the background checks. For example, Seung Hui Cho, the gunman in the Virginia Tech shooting, legally purchased his guns despite a laundry list of mental health history that indicated schizophrenia and as a previously classified examination said, “an imminent danger to himself or others.”

So, due to the nonsense played out in congress over their respective bullshit, nothing got passed. That’s right, nothing. It is still lawful for a crazy or severely depressed person to buy a firearm. Awesome. This is personal for me too, as when I attempted to commit suicide myself, I bought a gun the same day I went to the store despite a mental health history filled with red flags. Lives are at stake here.

John Adams had it right in 1789 when he prophetically stated, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.” That’s us. That’s now. We have a broken political system.

Quite honestly, I think it’s beyond repair at this point. That’s why I don’t care anymore, at least concerning politics. I think people have made the greatest difference not as fat cat bureaucrats, but as Christians actively engaged in their community. For instance, slavery ended because of local abolitionists, by the time Lincoln “freed the slaves” he was redundant and merely making a political point to the Confederacy. Look to the church, not the oval office for true leadership.