Monthly Archives: September 2020

Checking In

It’s kinda odd to think that we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic. I’ve been called back into work a couple times a week, and there’s a bit more life out there (I’m no longer getting Death Stranding vibes when I go outside),  and it sometimes looks like things are going back to normal. But the death toll in the US is still rising, and I haven’t left my apartment without a mask since April. Still a pandemic, especially here in the States.

And I’m still staying sane, somehow. Keeping myself busy, be it on a variety of different projects or video games (Borderlands 3 is a delight). But, all the same; it’s been six months since I’ve seen a lot of my friends in meatspace or gotten drinks in a bar.

Been a long time since I’ve seen a movie in the cinema. I was actually planning on going to see Onward the day before I started quarantine, but opted not to a couple hours before since, with Covid on the uptick, going to a theater in midtown Manhattan hardly seemed like the best idea. I did watch it later, as a download at home, but that makes it the first Pixar film I haven’t seen in theaters since 2002’s Monsters Inc. (that’s right, I saw everything from Finding Nemo up through Toy Story 4 in theaters, a feat I’m quite proud of). Breaking that streak’s a bummer, and I do hope Onward gets a rerelease in theaters when it’s, y’know, actually safe to go see it.

That said, I have seen a couple new movies at home, as they’ve come out. Palm Springs is a terrific riff on the time-loop narrative of Groundhog Day or Source Code that feels oddly prescient in a time when everything seems to be on a very weird loop. Bill & Ted Face The Music is a worthy successor to the prior films and amidst its very silly sense of humor has an incredibly warm undercurrent that made the original two so fun. It’s refreshing to watch a movie that’s just so darned nice. Of course, the movie’s also about music and doing a cool concert which, at present, seems almost as fantastical as the time-traveling phone booth. But hey, maybe one day.

As we close in on day 200 of quarantine — and it’s still a quarantine, even if places are reopening, we’re still in a pandemic — it’s odd how used to it all I’ve gotten. Board games can be played online, D&D is played online, parties aren’t a thing. I dunno, it’s all been A Thing that I’ve gotta quite tired of, due in no small part to the fact that This Thing could have been avoided (or at least abated) done properly, but instead, The Thing has been effectively allowed to do its thing and been compounded with a Variety of Other Things which has made it all Very Tiring. I think that’s why I have such an affinity for movies like Bill & Ted and Pacific Rim right now, the optimism and joy is a much-needed tonic to the everything else.

If this feels like a post about nothing, arguably it’s because it is. Maybe one day blog posts like these will be seen as a journal of an apocalypse, kinda like those audio diaries in Bioshock. Or maybe it’s just the rambling of someone who’s not much else to write about.

Or maybe I just oughta watch Scott Pilgrim this week.

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Playing Pretend

Like many people my age, I grew up playing video games. Many of those games have gone on to be considered classics, like Crash Bandicoot or Pokémon. There’s a lot of their DNA in modern games, like how Dark Souls’ cycle of learning how to counter enemy’s moves by repeatedly dying is very reminiscent of Mega Man’s game loop that has you effectively memorize stages and boss patterns (nearly twenty years since I first played it, I can still get through much of Mega Man X5 on muscle memory).

Then some games were much more of a flash in the pan than others. I remember a motocross game being fun enough (some googling tells me it’s Jeremy McGrath Supercross 2000), but it’s hardly remembered these days, nor one you’d cite as being particularly influential. Bomberman Party Edition is a ridiculous amount of fun, but sadly, it’s not one that’s particularly easy to get a hold of these days.

One particular genre I enjoyed was the multiplayer arcade beat-em-up. They were the sort of games you played on the couch with your little brother and fought bad guys. I fondly recall sinking hours into games like Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue and Star Wars Episode I: Jedi Power Battles. I don’t really remember how good the games were, and I recall Jedi Power Battles being unreasonably hard, but the best part about them was getting to be a Power Ranger or a Jedi and fighting bad guys. 

Theming was everything for these games, and, if memory serves, they did a good job of letting two brothers pretend to be Power Rangers and Jedi. There’s that part of video games that’s all about playing pretend, an experience heightened when it taps into the consciousness of pop-culture. I’m not sure either Lightspeed Rescue or Jedi Power Battles would have grabbed my imagination nearly so much were it not for their licenses. Really, all those games had to do was capitalize on that.

Over time, couch multiplayer became less common, as too did the beat-em-up in favor of shooters and the like. There were exceptions, like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Spider-Man, but in many ways, these exceptions proved the rule: These games were quite out of vogue.

Along comes Marvel’s Avengers and the game’s a delight. It’s not as polished as Spider-Man nor, is its combat system as deep and complex as Arkham Asylum. But it doesn’t really have to be. Taking a cue from Traveler’s Tales’ LEGO games, the characters operate within archetypes (Thor and Iron Man fly similarly; Black Widow and Ms. Marvel can both swing from ledges, Widow with a grapple, Ms. Marvel with her stretchy arms) that are then individualized through their own attacks and abilities. It’s not overly complicated and, honestly, could be described as being quite shallow.

But boy is it fun. Some of the moves are ripped from the movies and comics and are instantly recognizable. Beating up bad guys as Black Widow feels like you’re actually Black Widow, which in turn feels different from when you’re playing as Hulk, who’s different from Thor. There’s just enough tuning that each character feels unique, and then you get to run around fighting bad guys as them.

I like games. But it’s not often I’m openly grinning like an idiot while playing them. Avengers feels otherwise. It doesn’t seem to be drawing on the ‘modern’ action-beat-em-up like Arkham and Spider-Man so much as going back to those games from ’99 and ’00 and infusing them with more modern sensibilities. The games is rough and a little buggy in places, but the focus is so much more on the fun of it than anything else. Punches feel right, and beating up AIM robots as Iron Man scratches a particular childhood itch I didn’t know was there. Complex systems and polished graphics be damned, the game’s fun, and really, isn’t that what’s really important?

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