Author Archives: kicknz

I hope NPR does lose its federal funding by Kicknz

Before I get too far into this, I would like to point out that the only radio station I listen to with any regularity is my local public radio station, WUFT.  So, I’m not writing this article as someone that knows nothing of public radio.  Also, my problems with it are not political, as I am not some wild rightwinger.  No, here are my reasons.

I don’t know what public radio’s mission is and I’m not going to look it up.  What I will say is that, having listened to a great deal of it in the car with my dad as a kid, I got the impression that there was supposed to be some sort of commitment to the fine arts, or culturally relevant arts that might not be widely disseminated in a commercial capacity (largely, (Western) classical music and jazz).  Well, if that’s the case, then public radio in Florida has completely fallen off the boat, as my station no longer PLAYS ANY GODDAMN MUSIC.  Except for a few weekly specialty shows, classical and jazz music have been removed and we’ve been left with an all-talk format.

And what a bunch of piece of crap talk-based shows.  Granted, it’s not all bad, but a lot of it is.  Diane Rehm is awful – a terrible, underinformed interviewer that I imagine thinks of herself as a radio Larry King.  This American Life is grating.  Ira Glass should not be allowed anywhere near a microphone and the pettiness of the topics that his show covers is unforgivable, even if it is intentional.  Additionally, it should be called This New York Life, as an inordinate number of the lame stories originate there.

I’m forever annoyed by the sad and constant attempts to be politically correct, like correspondents going waaaayyyy out of their way to pronounce a name “correctly” within the context of some language, especially if it’s Spanish.  But in their ignorance or perhaps arrogance, they pronounce Portuguese names as if they were Spanish, even though the pronunciation rules are very different.  Also, can someone please explain to me why everyone that works for NPR news and “story” programs is either Jewish or Hispanic?  I’m sure that some will find that question to be racist but I’m simply asking a reasonable question based on the large number of members of those groups that work for Fresh Air and Morning Edition, etc.  Are they racially and ethnically profiling?  Are they using quotas?  Are they attempting to hire people that would not find a job in the private sector?  If you are offended by this line of questions, then you are being dishonest with yourself and non-pragmatic.

And, yes, NPR is definitely very left-leaning.  Inskeep and Gross give it away with their inflections in practically every statement.  If you listen to NPR and don’t hear this, then again, you are deluding yourself.

Now, as I said before, I listen to NPR.  It offers the least worst news on the radio that I’m aware of.  There are many good programs that avoid a lot of the biases, PC nonsense, and amateurishness.  My complaints stem from the fact that NPR receives federal assistance.  This is nonsense.  There is no reason the government should be paying for a radio network.

The fact is, if funding were pulled today, NPR (after a name change) would get along just fine as a commercial network.  According to Arbitron ratings, Morning Edition is the SECOND MOST LISTENED TO national radio show.  So, clearly something is being done right.  It just shouldn’t be done with taxpayer’s money.

Okay, Cruel World, the retro/throwback 2D games trend is officially old now

As an old person that played early side-scrolling classics like Pitfall and Jungle Hunt on his neighbors’ Atari VCS (aka 2600) consoles, I have an affinity for the genre and have played many of the recent remakes/updates/etc. Initially, I was excited by the trend but as I recently played through about half of Donkey Kong Country Returns, I realized I’m more or less over it.

My post is focused on recent releases that look to some old game(s) for all of their inspiration. I’m not including games like Sonic Colors or Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.  Althose these games are among the latest 2D entries in long-running series, they’re not “retro” in their focus and, really, 2D games in these series never went away.

Also, I will be focusing on games for DS, PSP, Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.  Now, let’s do this.

CATEGORY 1: GAMES THAT COULD HAVE COME OUT IN 1992

This category seems the most pointless of all.  These games are made to look, sound, and play like games originally released for NES, SNES, or Genesis hardware.

Mega Man 9 (2008, Inti Creates/Capcom: Wii, X360, PS3)

Capcom released SIX Mega Man games for the NES and FIVE for the Game Boy, all of which basically look the same (although the graphics did improve incrementally).  In perhaps the most cynical retro move Capcom decided, “Hey, let’s do it again,” even though Mega Man 7, Mega Man 8, and Mega Man & Bass had been released for later systems with improved graphics.  Mega Man 9 is a very solid game and probably more innovative than a couple of the original NES releases but in some ways it takes steps backwards, removing abilities like the slide.

My credentials: beat it.

Mega Man 10 (2010, Inti Creates/Capcom: Wii, X360, PS3)

In true Capcom fashion, they decided to do it all over AGAIN.

My credentials: in true me fashion, I downloaded and still haven’t played it.

Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth (2009, M2/Konami: Wii)

Supposedly, this is a remake of the 1989 Game Boy release, Castlevania: The Adventure.  However, I have played that game and there are very few similarities between them outside of “story”.  Anyway, this is a very serviceable release but seems especially pointless, since there were already many classic 16-bit releases in the series, including Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania Bloodlines, Castlevania (X68000), Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, and Castlevania: Dracula X.

My credentials: beat it.

Contra Rebirth (2009, M2/Konami: Wii)

Again, a serviceable release, but doesn’t really improve or expand on the classic Contra releases.  The only noticeable change for me is that the graphics are almost a bit more cartoony, which takes things ever so slightly closer to Metal Slug territory.

My credentials: beat it (the only Contra game I know of with unlimited continues).

Yoshi’s Island DS (2006, Artoon/Nintendo: DS)

Way back before I was jaded regarding the whole retro 2D trend, I was really excited for this release.  Overall, it’s easily the best game in this portion of the article but it is sickeningly loyal to the original Yoshi’s Island.  This is a problem, as its shortcomings become more apparent.  The added feature of various baby characters available to ride on Yoshi’s back feels like inconvenient fan service.  The original Yoshi’s Island sticks out in part due to its visual innovation, so it’s ironic and shameful that this game just aped its predecessor.

My credentials: beat it.

Contra 4 (2007, WayForward/Konami: DS)

Supposedly, WayForward were inspired by New Super Mario Bros. but they seem to have forgotten that that game actually had modern visual and introduced many new elements.  Contra 4 tries really hard to include every Contra convention introduced in Contra, Super Contra, and Contra III.  It doesn’t add much outside of the strictly vertical grappling hook.  It’s fun, it’s tight, but what’s old is old.

My credentials: completed only on easy setting.

PART 2: REMAKES and MIGHT-AS-WELL-BE-REMAKES

Bionic Commando (2008, Grin/Capcom: Xbox 360, PS3)

For the most part, this is pretty much a remake of the 1988 NES original.  However, the boss encounters are new, the visuals are great, there is a humorously dark attitude, and there are challenge rooms all over.  I think it’s definitely preferable to make a game like this that is basically a remake with some new elements rather than to make a “new” game that really has nothing new to offer.

My credentials: beat it.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (2010, Dimps/Sonic Team/SEGA: Wii, X360, PS3)

I was pretty disappointed with this one, not because I love the Genesis Sonic games (I don’t) but because I generally love the Dimps-developed Sonic games.  SEGA decided to make a game true to the spirit of the early 90s Sonic games but they went too far, and basically just remade Sonic and Sonic 2.  From what I’ve played of the game, Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles featured more innovation than Sonic 4.

My credentials: played about half, got bored.

Mega Man Powered Up (2006, Capcom: PSP)

A remake of the very original Mega Man, this release adds 2 brand new levels and, consequently, 2 brand new robot masters.  The updated visuals are cute but probably a bit too blocky.  The game allows you to play through the whole game as robot masters that you’ve defeated.  That may not seem all that great on the surface, but it allows you to use a specific robot master weapon as much as you want without worrying about it being depleted.  Capcom probably should have included the levels from multiple Mega Man games, which probably would have raised the quality through the roof.

My credentials: beat it.

Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X (2006, Capcom: PSP)

An updated remake of the original Mega Man X.

My credentials: I have not played it!

PART 3: NEW BUT NOT REALLY

New Super Mario Bros. (2006, Nintendo: DS)

As a true homer, I really, really looked forward to this game.  A new side-scrolling Mario game!  The first since Super Mario Land 2!  I’m very conflicted on this release and it’s probably impossible for me to be objective but I can see for a certainty that it was way too easy.  It took me a scant 4 hours to beat the game the first time and I never, ever saw a “Game Over” screen as the game is painfully generous with power-ups and one-ups in some strange effort to make Mario’s quest as easy as can be.  I needed just 4 more hours to find all the big coins and secret paths and all that and then I was done.  And PS – I’m not even that great of a gamer.

Beyond that, New Super Mario Bros. is well-constructed but pretty uninspired.  There are new power-ups and other gimmicks but everything is so backward-focused.  There is no real innovation.  The structure feels like the developers looked at SMB3 and SMWorld and decided to ape them but with a few twists.  That isn’t much of a stretch considering the game was created by the same team that developed the Super Mario Advance re-release series on Game Boy Advance.  The old Super Mario Bros. games were largely special because of their crazy, surprising innovations.  They looked in front, not behind!

My credentials: beat it.


New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009, Nintendo: Wii)

Well, it’s a lot longer than its predecessor.  Four players can play simultaneously, which is fun.  Too bad 2 of the players have to play as generic Toad characters.  Nintendo claimed they couldn’t use Peach because it would look strange when someone held her above their head with her dress on.  Ugh.  She regularly wears more practical clothing in the sports games, why not here?  Or why not use Wario and Waluigi?  Or, Jesus forbid, a new character.  Some of the power-ups are cool but the focus on the past continues with the reintroduction of the Koopalings.

My credentials: beat it.

Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins (2006, Capcom: PSP)

Not much more forward-thinking than the New SMB games but it can be forgiven to some extent, as this game treats you like a man, not a kindergartener.  Additionally, some fundamental changes have been made, like a killed character continuing from the spot from which they perished, a warping system, an inventory (!), and non-linear gameplay.  A very worthy, well-thought-out update.

My credentials: got to the final boss door, didn’t have enough rings/keys/whatever to get in, quit, have fantasized for four years about coming back to it.

Donkey Kong Country Returns (2010, Retro Studios/Nintendo: Wii)

Retro previously developed the great Metroid Prime trilogy so I expected a lot.  And boy! I was disappointed!  This is probably not a bad game but I did not have fun playing it.  It misses the point more so than the New SMB games, as it fails to capture what really stood out about the original DKC games.  You might ask why I hold the game to the old standards; it’s because the game seems to be committed to them.  For one thing, at least in the first half of the game, I did not encounter any water levels.  I only came across Rambi once.  Also, the graphics, while of a very high quality, are not groundbreaking.  The original trilogy was known for its groundbreaking visuals and audio.  Before even considering a new DKC game, the developers should have thought of a way to make the game really stand out.

Additionally, the villains are totally lame and forgettable.  Strange, I used to think the same about the Kremlings but now I see their relative worth.  I just don’t get it.  I would have thought that Retro Studios would want to do something more original, ambitious, and rewarding after the Metroid games.  Guess not!

My credentials: played through 4 worlds.

PART 4: CONCLUSION

Yes, I have played a lot of these games and I enjoyed or at least pretended to enjoy them as I did so.  But now I am older, wiser, and skeptical-er.  Almost all of the games in this article have been topped by recent 2D releases that were inspired by the classics but have decided to move into the future.  These games include LostWinds, Shadow Complex, and Braid.

Comics: IDW is a “Diamond Premier” publisher now

Actually, this news is several months old but I only became aware of it recently. If you don’t care about comics, stop reading immediately. Continuing: at this point, practically every comic that is purchased through a comic shop in the USA and Canada and also much of the British Isles is distributed by Diamond Comics. Diamond organizes their catalogue in a manner that each of the “Premier” publishers gets its own section and then everyone else is basically lumped into an “Everyone Else” section. Until recently, there were four Premier publishers (not counting Wizard, which just publishes a magazine about comics), those being Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image. There’s some criteria for being a premier publisher that I don’t remember exactly but it’s along the lines of a company maintaining something like 3-5% of the direct market (aka comic shops, as opposed to newsstands) over a certain amount of time.

In the last year, publisher IDW managed to break into this Premier group. I’m glad to see the Premier status extend to any new publisher as it reflects some semblance of diversity in the market. One problem facing American comics is that there are nerds that would rather buy the worst Marvel or DC book over the best Dark Horse book. When a company gets that Premier status, their profile becomes greater in the Diamond catalogue and the nerds might actually become more aware of what’s going on. However, I’m concerned that as more companies become Premier, it will be that much harder for each subsequent company to carve out that 3-5% of the market to become the next Premier. There are currently two companies that I think have the potential to move up into that realm: Dynamite and Boom! Studios. Good luck!

Side note: Archie Comics is one of the heaviest hitters in American comics but most of their sales happen on newsstands rather than in comics shops.

-kicknz

If you spell magic as “magick” or fairy as “faerie”, I hate you

-Kicknz

If I were in charge of college sportz in America . . .

College sports have become totally retardedzzz. Here are some changes I would make . . .

NO scholarships. We pay tuition for these assholes? That’s just nuts. Look, dude; if you want to play some sports at your damn school, then do it, but don’t expect what amounts to FINANCIAL COMPENSATION. It makes no sense that these guys can keep their “amateur” status when they receive thousands of dollars a year in education.

NO recruiting or visitations. If an athlete wants to go to some school, then they should go, but not strictly because they have been recruited by some super-rich head coach. The athletes representing a school should come naturally from that student body and not comprise a bunch of mercenariez.

SALARY CAPS for coaches. $4 million for a football coach!? Has the world gone mad?!?!?

-kicknz

Why do we hate illustrations in novels? Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t!

In ye olden times, many works of fiction for adults were illustrated. Obviously, this is not the case today, outside of the children’s books. Things change over time, I’m fine with that, but it annoys me that we push today’s literary values on yesterday’s works! If you go into your local bookstore today to buy some bangin’ classic literature from the 19th Century, there’s about a zero percent chance that the current edition will include illustrations, even if the original version did. Rageous! Should we not at least preserve literary works in their original states?!


the original A Christmas Carol, with illustrations!


an illustration from the original A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court


from one of the original Sherlock Holmes shorts


from the original War of the Worlds

On a related note, another thing that bothers me is when a classic children’s book is rereleased with new illustrations. If the new illustrator has an awesome style and does something totally different from the original illustrator, I’m not that bothered. Unfortunately, what usually happens is the new illustrator is just lame and their selection is just inexplicable. I’m not gonna include any examples, though, el oh el.

-kicknz

What happened to the independent comics icons?

Remember all those awesome, creator-owned, independent, iconic, American/Canadian comic series of the 1980s and 1990s? You had Cerebus, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, American Flagg, Concrete, The Crow, Flaming Carrot, Madman, Hellboy, Sin City, Bone, and more. (I’m certainly not counting the Image founders’ series because those were as corporate and mainstream as anything released by Marvel or DC.)

So, what happened? I don’t really see anything like this today. Sure, there are a lot of creator-owned things published by indie press after 1999 but a lot of it is by mainstream guys moonlighting in the slums or just trying to get hired by Marvel. Walking Dead is certainly iconic at this point but it doesn’t seem as unique or graduated from the mainstream as the series listed above (or at least, as different as they seemed to be when they debuted).

Am I wrong? Am I just missing this stuff? Has the landscape just changed so that my outlook is outdated? Help me.