Monthly Archives: April 2010

A literary recommendation: Promethea


published by America’s Best Comics/Wildstorm Comics 1999-2005
story and script by Alan Moore
pencil art by J.H. Williams III
ink art by Mick Gray
color art by various
calligraphy by Todd Klein

Like H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine and Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, most of Alan Moore’s great works have been serialized.  Promethea was originally released in 32 pamphlets.  It was not presented as a limited series but it’s beginning, middle and end were clearly determined before the first issue was released.  The series has been collected into five books but there are no self-contained story arcs.  In other words, Promethea is a comprehensive work and should be read as such.

I’m not going to talk a whole lot about the premise.  Go to Wikipedia for that.  I would prefer to talk about what I think makes Promethea so great.  First, I’ve never seen a comic that is so successfully experimental.  Moore and Williams constantly seem to search for new ways to present their story.  The layouts are excellent, clearly the best I’ve ever seen.  That’s a tough concession for me to make as a Ninja Turtles comics fan, as I always felt the classic Mirage comics had the most creative layouts I’ve seen.  However, Promethea‘s pages are gorgeous and often contain elaborate border designs.

The story usually moves forward well, although there are sequences that maybe could have moved along a bit more briskly.  Moore peppers the narrative with famous magicians and cultists from real life, including Aleister Crowley.  Also present are elements of practically every major religion and famous cult.  Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, and especially Kabbala Jews are welcome.  Moore clearly loves the supernatural.

There are many light but sensitively-portrayed sexual themes and the various incarnations of Promethea are statuesque and gorgeous. Promethea is never presented in a salacious manner and, while attractive, she seems almost motherly and untouchable. There is also some violence in the story but none of it feels as immediate or gritty as the bone-crunching action in Watchmen or V for Vendetta. Most of the real adult material comes in the form of conversations, sometimes deep with many layers and sometimes drowning in silly occultism.

There is a maturity and depth to the entire story that fans of Moore are likely familiar with. On the other hand, there is complete mayhem and nonsense, like the entire character of the Painted Clown. In most Moore stories that I’ve read, everything makes sense in the end but there are several characters and situations in Promethea that are resolved in ridiculous but enjoyable manners.

But in the end the real star of the whole thing is the art, the layouts, and the presentation, which I’m sure Moore and Williams planned together. So do yourself a flavor and chuck it out.

Marvel vs Capcom 3 & Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 announced

So Capcom had their “Captivate” (ugh) event recently.  A semi-recent trend is for publishers to hold their own little showcase events, I guess so they don’t get lost in the shuffle of new game announcements at E3, Game Developers’ Conference, Tokyo Game Show, or that one in Germany (whatever it’s called).  Here’s what I care about from Captivate 2010.

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2
This is a sequel to the PS3/X360/PC download game from a couple of years ago.  The original was really good and all the critics liked it.  However, the original’s developer, GRIN (which also developed the crappy 3D Bionic Commando game) has since died.  This one’s being developed by Fatshark, whoever that is (maybe former GRIN employees?). 

Marvel vs. Capcom 3
This is exactly what you think it is.  It’s not coming out for about a year so not a lot to get too excited about right away.  There are a couple of details that jumped out at me, though.
1) The game is being built brand new from the ground up: Wow, remember the old days when Capcom kind of re-used game engines and sprites over and over again in their fighting games?  It seems there’s been a change of philosophy, as Street Fighter IV, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, and now Marvel vs. Capcom have all used totally distinct game engines and looks.
2) The character designs are being handled by Capcom’s artists: But we’ve seen that.  It’s been done.  Back in the late 90s it was really cool to see Capcom’s take on the Marvel characters because the manga look hadn’t been done to death on Western characters and because, frankly, Marvel was going through a really dry spell art-wise.  In 2010, this is hardly an issue, and even a parttime Marvel/DC hater like myself has to admit that Marvel has a wealth of awesome artists at the moment.  I’m much more interested in seeing Alex Maleev or John Romita Jr. drawing Chun Li and Viewtiful Joe than I am seeing Akiman or his pals draw Wolverine.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT RE: THE FUTURE OF BEATI PAOLI

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but things have been pretty quiet on the Beati Paoli front lately. The main reason? Beati Paoli is no more. Last fall, our guitar player Cecil decided the time was right for him to begin working toward his dream of becoming a doctor. While we were sad to see him go, we were happy for him and understood the difficult choice he had to make between music and medicine. But Cecil’s departure left a huge hole to fill. For awhile myself, Scott and Ryan bandied about the idea of recruiting a new guitarist, swapping instruments between the remaining members and other options that we ultimately rejected.

Eventually we came to the realization that so much of what made Beati Paoli great were the contributions that Cecil and guitarist Uciel before him brought to the group, and that without them it really wouldn’t be the same dynamic and, thus, the same band. So Scott, Ryan and myself decided to end Beati Paoli and move forward as a new unit, with a new approach to performing, releasing and recording music. The name of this project is…

GOLDEN VEINS

Golden Veins’ first show will be Saturday, May 1st at the Vaudeville Mews in Des Moines supporting Canby for their CD release show. The following evening, May 2nd, GV will play their second show opening for the venerable Poison Control Center at their CD release show at The Mill in Iowa City. We have been hard at work the past six months recording music, practicing with our live set-up and deciding how we want to release the music made as Golden Veins. We aren’t quite ready to unveil all these details just yet, but more news will be forthcoming very soon. These shows will give you a good idea of what to expect from us from now on. We’d love to see you there…please come out and let us know what you think.

– Greg

P.S. Visit http://www.goldenveins.com for more information.

Zelda clones addendum

Here are a couple more games for the list. The first one I just foolishly forgot about. The 2nd one I was unaware of at the time of writing.

Marvelous: Mouhitotsu no Takarajima (translates to something like Marvelous: Another Treasure Island, Super NES, Nintendo, 1996

This is an interesting one and I’ve wanted to play it for some time. I’m not sure why it was never released in the West but it’s release late in the Super NES lifespan may have been a factor. Basically, this is a Zelda wannabe with a Treasure Island theme, starring a few boys instead of just a single Link lookalike. This game was not developed by Shigeru Miyamoto’s Nintendo EAD team but by a different division within Nintendo. However, Miyamoto was impressed by the effort and many of the key contributors, notably Eiji Aonuma, are now head honchos on the Zelda development team. Unfortunately, there still isn’t a fan translation of this game so it looks like it’ll be awhile before I get to play it.

3D Dot Game Heroes PlayStation 3, Silicon/From Software, 2009

This downloadable game would go in the out-and-out clones section. Unlike the other games with that distinction, 3D Dot is well aware of what it is and couldn’t be happier. The game uses modern capabilities to pull off a look that is strongly suggestive of the 1980s without actually looking like some NES cast-off. This game just came out in the West but the early reviews are positive.

A software recommendation: Half-Life 2


developed and published by Valve
originally released for PC; later ported to Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Macintosh

I’m still relatively inexperienced in the world of first-person shooters, or even first-person perspective games, period.  In fact, prior to Half-Life 2, I had beaten a total of seven: GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, Metroid Prime, Metroid Prime 2, Metroid Prime 3, King Kong, and BioShock.  The first five games in that list were all published/distributed by Nintendo and are not really considered representative of the conventions of the genre.  So if I say something silly about FPS games, cut me a little slack.

In Half-Life 2, the player takes control of some nerd named Gordon Freeman that seems to be really, really good with guns.  The story is set in a post-societal collapse type world that has been ruined by something or other, I guess explained in the previous game.  To be honest, it doesn’t matter.  While the story that is present is well done, this isn’t some dialogue-heavy RPG.  Unlike most of the other FPS’s I have played, there is very little exploration, backtracking, or item acquisition in this outing.

Freeman is always moving forward, usually by foot but sometimes by air boat or dune buggy.  However, there is a great deal of puzzle-type gameplay, presented more naturally than in any other game I’ve played.  Most of the games I’ve beaten were developed in Japan, and I’m used to the Zelda, Metroid, and – much worse – Resident Evil types of puzzles.  These puzzles always seem to have been set up by some unseen individual with the intent to challenge the hero.  In Half-Life 2, most of the puzzling circumstances involve blockages in Freeman’s path.  The solutions are usually reasonable and sensible.  For example, if you can’t reach a high point, you might need to use a fulcrum and pile a bunch of weight on one end to allow you to climb up.  There is usually only one path forward, which is a bit unrealistic, but these paths are always more natural than those found in games like the recent Prince of Persia releases.

The weapons are fairly diverse but the arsenal isn’t huge.  The most interesting item is the gravity gun, an experimental weapon that can lift and fling some pretty heavy objects.  This weapon becomes totally crucial as the game progresses.  One complaint I have is that I had no idea that I could use the laser on the missile launcher to guide the missiles.  I read somewhere online that this is a standard weapon in FPS’s but, yep, I haven’t played many.  So that was a drawback that hampered me until I looked up an FAQ in desperation.

Most of the game takes place amid rubble or in unwelcoming landscapes.  Toward the end, the artists really got to take over and create an otherworldly, visually arresting environment, creating a finale area that is imposing and awesome.  There are some conversations and some voice acting but never any crappy FMV cut scenes.  All of the conversations are natural and the voice acting is always at least a B, sometimes in the A range.

It took me about 15 hours to complete Half-Life 2, but I could see more experienced and clever players only needing 13, even on a first playthrough.  Some of that time was spent being exasperated by my missiles but much of it was spent trying to figure out puzzles.  I would certainly recommend Half-Life 2, especially if you like horror and post-apocalyptic themes in your games.  Actually, I’m glad all games are not as dark as this one is, or video games would be an overwhelmingly depressing affair.  The version I played was included in the Orange Box compilation, which also contains two expansions (mini-sequels) to this game that I will play in the near future.

The End.

70 Aspects Of Batman: 20

YOSHITAKA AMANO

Taken from Wikipedia:

Yoshitaka Amano (天野 喜孝 (formerly 天野 嘉孝), Amano Yoshitaka?) (born July 28, 1952) is a Japanese artist known for his illustrations for Vampire Hunter D and for his character designs, image illustrations and title logo designs for the Final Fantasy series.[1] In early 2010, he established Studio Deva Loka, a film production company.

Amano’s great…I’m lucky enough to have a signed print of his artwork from the Sandman:Dream Hunters book (though it’s signed by Neil Gaiman, not him). Unfortunately, I think this is his only Batman work, done as a poster for DC. It’s too bad, because an illustrated novel featuring his Batman would be amazing. He also did a Superman piece, but I’m saving that for the 80 Aspects of Superman series I’m starting in 2018.

G.

Zelda clones and offspring

As you may have noticed from a previous post, I recently finished The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which means I have beaten 10 Zelda games and have 3 to go (not counting the Four Swords spin-off games or the awful licensed games for CD-i).  Now, finishing 3 Zelda games is no small task and it’ll probably be awhile before I’ve actually done so, but I can’t help looking to the future.  When I’ve beaten all the Zeldas, what will I do when I want a Zelda fix but don’t want to replay a previously finished game?  Well, fortunately, there are many Zelda clones out there.  I’ve assembled this list for myself as much as anything but I’ll share it here for those other forlorn gamers that have rescued Hyrule as many times as possible. Note: I am ONLY including the games that by reputation are considered worthwhile. I’m not including any that are generally considered crap because I don’t want to play them!

Note 1: Before we start, bear in mind that I have not played most of these games. So, if I categorize a game incorrectly, just let me know!

Note 2: With each game I will list 2 ratings. The first rating, from GameFAQs, represents scores from amateur reviewers. The second rating, from GameRankings, represents scores from “professional” reviewers. Okay, let’s go!

Part 1: A rose by any other name . . .

Unapolagetic, Unabashed CLONES! These are the games that make little to no effort to hide their Zelda-ish-ness.

Golden Axe Warrior (Master System, SEGA, 1991)
what a terrible cover illustration
I have to start with this game because, OH, GOD, just look at the screenshots!

Yep, this is a major rip-off but fans seem to like it for what it is. Interestingly, this game came out in 1991, five years after the original Zelda was released in Japan. What made SEGA think that, after all that time, they needed their own Zelda clone? And for the Master System, no less, when the SNES/Genesis war was well underway? And how did the Golden Axe property get mixed up in the whole thing? Another interesting note – SEGA never bothered to release the game in Japan.
GameFAQs: 8.3 (3 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

Neutopia (TurboGrafx-16, Hudson, 1990)

I mainly started with Golden Axe warrior because it was so blatantly derivative. However, Hudson beat SEGA to the punch by one year with a slightly less derivative offering, story and all. See fo’ yo’ self.

GameFAQs: 8.0 (6 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

Neutopia II (TurboGrafx-16, Hudson, 1991)

Hudson didn’t waste any time releasing a follow-up. Both games are supposed to be pretty good in spite of their shamelessness.

GameFAQs: 7.0 (1 review) GameRankings: N/A

Crusader of Centy (Genesis, NexTech/SEGA, 1994)

Unlike the previously-mentioned games, this one supposedly has some original and unique aspects in story and concept, like some sort of animal training and monster philosophy. However, just LOOK at those screenshots.

GameFAQs: 7.6 (7 reviews) GameRankings: 8.0 (1 review)

Part 2: I’m Breathless: Music From and Inspired by the Film Dick Tracy

This section contains games that take the Zelda formula and wrap it up in new clothes. These games have enough of their own feel that they have established their own fan bases, unlike the games in Part 1, whose only legacy is “play this if you want more action in the style of the first Zelda game.” However, all of the games in this section are usually described as, “it’s like Zelda but . . .”

The Battle of Olympus (NES, Infinity/Imagineer, 1988)

“It’s like Zelda but in ancient, mythology-inspired Greece.” More specifically, it’s like the Zelda black sheep, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Reputedly, it’s a bit more action-oriented and less RPG-oriented than its inspiration. This game has some pretty rabid supporters, too.

GameFAQs: 8.3 (12 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

Willow (NES, Capcom, 1989)

Oh, look! One of the few games on this list that I’ve actually completed! A year after the film of the same name was released, Capcom managed to finish off this beauty. “It’s like Zelda but in the world of Willow,” which isn’t exactly all that different from the world of Zelda. However, this game is far from derivative and very much has its own identity. There is a lot of item acquisition and there are dungeons, but there’s less of an overworld/dungeon/overworld/dungeon process. The setup is a bit more RPG-ish than most Zelda games. I thoroughly enjoyed the music and revisited certain areas just to hear it.

GameFAQs: 8.5 (11 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

Crystalis (NES, SNK, 1989)

“It’s like Zelda but more RPG-ish and with a storyline.” This game does look like Zelda on the surface but its fans, and there are many, claim that it is superior to the original in every way. Maybe so!

GameFAQs: 9.3 (29 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

StarTropics (NES, Nintendo, 1990)

“It’s like Zelda but in a modern setting and with a yo-yo instead of a sword.” This game was developed by Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! team and wasn’t released in good ol’ Japan.

GameFAQs: 8.6 (30 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics II (NES, Nintendo, 1994)

This little-known sequel was released four years later and only in the USA. Poor guy.

GameFAQs: 8.8 (16 reviews) GameRankings: N/A

Final Fantasy Adventure (Game Boy, SquareSoft, 1991)

Oh! Another game I’ve actually beaten! “It’s like Zelda but in a Final Fantasy world.” This is actually the first game in the Mana (or Seiken Densetsu) series and bore the title, Final Fantasy Gaiden: Seiken Densetsu, in Japan. At first glance it looks a lot like Zelda but the overall feel is pretty different, with that darker Final Fantasy tone. There are many RPG trappings like leveling up and magic points and the items/weapons acquired throughout the game are more destructive than what you’d normally find in Zelda games (like blades and clubs on chains). I understand the SNES Mana games are less Zelda-ish but this one certainly belongs in Part 2 of this article and I would definitely recommend it.

GameFAQs: 8.8 (26 reviews) GameRankings: 8.2 (6 reviews)

LandStalker (Genesis, Climax/SEGA, 1992)

“It’s like Zelda but with an anti-hero, platforming, and an isometric viewpoint.” This one also has pretty rabid supporters.

GameFAQs: 8.7 (15 reviews) GameRankings: 8.7 (2 reviews)

Beyond Oasis (Genesis, Ancient/SEGA, 1994)

“It’s like Zelda but in a middle-Eastern setting and with brawling.” One reviewer described the game as a mash-up of Zelda and the Streets of Rage series. Sounds like a nice change of pace!

GameFAQs: 8.1 (13 reviews) GameRankings: 8.4 (3 reviews)

Legend of Oasis (Saturn, Ancient/SEGA, 1996)

The sequel to Beyond Oasis, but now with “Legend of” in the title to make the Zelda connection clearer. Thank you for that!
Now that's a big kick!
GameFAQs: 7.7 (3 reviews) 7.8 (3 reviews)

Alundra (PlayStation, Matrix/Sony, 1997)

“It’s like Zelda but in 32 bits and with some jumping.” The main character is even elfin in appearance.

GameFAQs: 7.9 (32 reviews) GameRankings: 8.5 (11 reviews)

StarFox Adventures (GameCube, Rare/Nintendo, 2002)
Dinosaur Planet
If you hadn’t already guessed, this game is “like Zelda but with the StarFox cast and conventions.” Here’s how it came about. In the N64 days, Rare had made something of a habit of making high-quality “clones” of Japanese Nintendo games. Super Mario 64 begat Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 and Mario Kart 64 begat Diddy Kong Racing. Eventually, Rare decided to make a Zelda game for the N64, entitled Dinosaur Planet. Shigeru Miyamoto got a look at it, noticed the protagonist was furry, and commanded Rare to convert the game into a StarFox installment for the GameCube. Anyway, the gameplay is Zelda 64 to the core, with the L-button aiming, button mapping and auto-jump. After this release, Rare and Nintendo divorced.

GameFAQs: 7.7 (66 reviews) GameRankings: 8.0 (80 reviews)

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (PlayStation 2/Xbox/GameCube, Eurocom/THQ, 2003)

The general consensus is that this game is like Zelda but in ancient, mythology-inspired Egypt. The main innovation is the addition of a jump button.

PlayStation 2 version – 8.6 (8 reviews) 7.9 (33 reviews)
Xbox version – 8.0 (2 reviews) 8.1 (21 reviews)
GameCube version – GameFAQs: 8.0 (9 reviews) 7.9 (25 reviews)

Beyond Good & Evil (PlayStation 2/Xbox/GameCube/PC, Ubisoft Montpelier/Ubisoft, 2003)

The protagonist is a photographer of some sort and the setting is kinda sci-fi. I don’t know much else but it’s always described as a Zelda clone. It has developed a really fervent cult following and was respected by the critics. Supposedly, a sequel is on the way.

PlayStation 2 version – GameFAQs: 8.1 (34 reviews) GameRankings: 8.7 (57 reviews)
Xbox version – GameFAQs: 9.1 (27 reviews) GameRankings: 8.8 (52 reviews)
GameCube version – GameFAQs: 8.9 (33 reviews) GameRankings: 8.8 (43 reviews)
PC version – GameFAQs: 8.9 (9 reviews) GameRankings: 8.3 (23 reviews)

Okami (PlayStation 2/Wii, Clover Studio/Capcom, 2006/2007)
doggy
Unlike most of the games on this list, Okami enjoyed a pretty healthy marketing and hype push. Interestingly, it came out in the same year as a high profile Zelda release, Twilight Princess, and the reviews often described it as a “Zelda-killer” or as having “out-Zelda’d Zelda.” Pretty big talk! So, yeah, it’s like Zelda but in an ancient, mythology-inspired Japan, and the protagonist is a divine dog. The game was especially praised for its beautiful, painting-like visuals. This was the last game Clover Studio developed before Capcom dissolved them and the principal members left to form Platinum Games. There’s a sequel on the way for DS.

PlayStation 2 version – GameFAQs: 9.5 (52 reviews) GameRankings: 9.2 (75 reviews)
Wii version – GameFAQs: 8.9 (27 reviews) GameRankings: 9.0 (47 reviews)

Part 3: All in the Family

This section is a quick overview of games that bear superficial similarities to Zelda and are probably influenced by Zelda but are not by any means clones and that break out of the mold in several meaningful ways. Perhaps I will write more about these games at a later date but for now I’m including the following in this category.

Mana series, including Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3, Sword of Mana, and the bastard stepchild, Secret of Evermore.

SoulBlazer series, including SoulBlazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma.

Shining series, including I’m not even sure which games el oh el.

Zenonia series, the series that’s dominating on iPhone of late.

END

I’m glad that all these clones exist because there are too many elements that the Zelda games hold onto with unnecessary stubbornness.  Why is the setting always medievel-Europe-looking’?  Why is the star always a little, elfin, blond boy?  Anyway, you have your orders. As for me, I still have to beat three more Zelda games before I can seven dig into the list. If you disagree with my categorization, let me know. If you love one of the above-mentioned games and think I should play it first, let me know. Goodbye.