Category Archives: Review

Castlevania – A Netflix Review

I don’t have much experience with Castlevania. I once watched about a third of a Let’s Play of Symphony of the Night, played Castlevania III for as long as it took the first floating Medusa head to appear and knock me into a river, and vaguely remember a game existing on the DS with a giant crab in it. I haven’t exactly been following along with the adventures of the Belmont factory pipeline, an endless supply of vaguely posh blokes with whips and impractical hair traipsing up a hill to spank a bat in a cape, but I get the gist. It’s vampires, right? Dracula? Blood and Holy Water? Stakes through the heart, lightly salted with a hint of garlic? Yeah it’s vampires.

dracula

My name is Vlad, and I am not a vampire.

Safe to say, then, that I have very little prior investment for this new Netflix series, and, given I first heard of it about two days after it came out, no real anticipation of anything either. Nevertheless, I was intrigued to find it sitting at a princely 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, with some critics calling it a new gold standard for videogame adaptations. There was even a giddy review from GamesRadar which claimed that ‘it has enhanced the Castlevania franchise in ways a video game could never do’. Aside from a fair amount of damning with faint praise going on, given that game adaptations are notoriously abysmal, and the GR quote being total sycophantic gibberish (pray tell what can an animated series do that a videogame can’t), this is some high praise indeed. So is it any good, or does it reek harder than the goatee of a thousand year old man who only drinks blood?

skulls on spikes

The answer may shock you, as with this fella, although in hindsight his surprise may have been the spike up his jacksie.

Castlevania is a four-episode adult animated series that re-tells the story of Castlevania III, with a bit of added backstory from Symphony of the Night and a bit more that’s totally made up. It follows the adventures of Trevor Belmont, exiled vampire hunter, as he bands together with a magician and a plot spoiler to try and stop Dracula’s hordes of monsters from slowly and inefficiently killing everyone on the planet. You might notice that it’s not a very complicated plot, which isn’t surprising since Castlevania III was an NES game that didn’t really have a plot anyway. They even removed the pirate in a belltower, which was probably a wise decision upon reflection.

This simple setup is a good starting point and lends itself to a more character focused affair, as Castlevania has always been one part swashbuckling adventuring to two parts ghastly horrors from alternate dimensions. The potential is there for boundless personal growth and discovery, since all the main characters are introduced with so much implied backstory that I’m surprised they can remember it all without a personal library.

Unfortunately, this never really happens, and ties into my biggest issue with the series – Castlevania is simply far, far too short. Four 25-minute episodes is no time at all to both introduce a world of this size and leave a satisfying self-contained story, or at least not the story that they attempted to tell. The phrase ‘leaves you wanting more’ has been thrown around, but for that to apply it really has to give us something in the first place.

belmont

Trevor’s been given a polar bear to wear, for example. He doesn’t seem pleased.

When I said that the series re-tells Castlevania III, what I probably should have said is that it aims to tell the first third of a story based on Castlevania III, with the other eight episodes coming out as a second season at some point. This essentially means that sod all happens in the four episodes we have; the first episode, while quite good, is nothing but backstory and setup, the second and third are mostly expositional filler with about 3 minutes of action thrown in to stave off narcolepsy, and only in the fourth episode do we get the heroes fighting anything supernatural. I’m fairly sure Trevor kills more priests than demons in this series.

Wait, he kills priests? Yes, for some reason Castlevania flips its own source material and makes the ruling religious folk absurdly, cartoonishly evil, being lead by a bishop that wouldn’t look out of place at the head of a Nazi experimentation facility. This is probably an attempt to add more human stakes to what is essentially a big stabby fight against some oversized rodents, or to make an edgy point of some kind (possibly that religion is bad, but that needed implying another billion times before I can be certain). It doesn’t really add anything to the core story, and given that there’s a TV Tropes page for this already maybe it’s not as novel as the writers seem to think it is.

notavillain

Notavillainnotavillainnotavillain…

Sadly, this isn’t the only problem with the script. For example, our hero is an arsehole.

Trevor Belmont is presumably intended to be a lovable rogue, an apathetic scoundrel armed with a sarcastic quip or weary sigh for every situation. Unfortunately, he quips sarcastically and sighs wearily in every situation, which becomes annoying rather than endearing. To compound matters, this deliberately posh-voiced British man randomly litters f-bombs throughout his conversations, and monologues about how much he hates things and just wants to be left alone. This only serves to make him dark and edgy at a level of nuance not seen outside of the more depressing corners of Tumblr. It jars with his visual design and constant attempts to help people, and combined with his lack of enthusiasm and the borderline comatose vocal performance from Richard Armitage, Trevor becomes actively unlikable. For crying out loud, Dracula is more developed and sympathetic, and he’s barely in the fucking thing.

Other plot wobbles include the ‘legend’ of a soldier resting under a town for centuries despite him only being there for a single calendar year, leading me to believe that these townsfolk run on advanced dog years or something. This plot point also has a twist that a deafblind newt would be able to see coming if they knew anything at all about either Castlevania III or Symphony of the Night, ruining any tension the series might have been building. Even me saying ‘blonde hair’ is probably a spoiler.

castle

I’m running out of relevant pictures, so here’s a Dark Souls level.

Similarly, there’s a fight towards the end where a magic user creates massive ice walls to ‘trap in’ the demons, which somehow works despite the demons having wings and the ice walls not having a roof. It also begs the question that if you can make 6ft thick walls of ice appear from the ground then why are these demons any trouble at all? Just drop a concrete block on them or something.

On top of this, there seems to be an awful lot of utterly pointless violence. When it happens it’s genuinely disturbing, such as one close-up of a child’s mangled corpse in the first episode that made me feel a bit ill, but this, along with the swearing, feels like an exercise in excess. It’s like they knew that they had an R rating from the get-go and pushed the envelope as hard as they could without it popping open and it’s entrails leaking out, but didn’t integrate it fully into what is a very generic adventure story. None of the gore is necessary; it’s pretty infrequent, is always insanely violent, and all happens either off-screen or to extras who’s entire screen presence is them being ripped to shreds. At one point there’s a market square with intestines as bunting and heads on spikes, which is just absurd. Did the demons kill some people, then instead of killing everyone else they made parade decorations out of the corpses? They must have been in a very jovial mood that evening, those horrifying fanged monsters of the night.

At this stage it’s probably a good time to re-iterate that Castlevania definitely isn’t terrible. In fact it could be amazing if given the right amount of love and care, as the characters all appear to have depth, the world is theoretically huge with a lot of scope for extended adventures and new characters, and the fight scenes are often directed extremely well despite how scarcely they appear. On top of this, some things look really, really cool.

fire face

See how cool this thing looks? Phwoar.

Unfortunately, the majority of things don’t look cool. In fact, some are flat out bad.

A bit of context; Castlevania is a product of two Western production studios (well, technically five, but two did the majority of the work), including the one behind Fairly Odd Parents and Adventure Time. These companies decided to go with a distinctively anime style for this series, presumably on a dare, as it’s a bit of a departure from the aforementioned kids cartoons. Unfortunately, this lack of expertise shows. It really shows.

The action scenes are decent, such as the final fight with its awesome looking whip stuff, and most other things look alright from a distance, but little details will frequently break everything and make the art look frankly amateurish. In the slower scenes some of the geometry can go beserk; in one conversation, I completely missed what they were talking about because I was distracted by the varying dimensions of the room they were in, and how people seemed to completely disappear from it depending on the shot. Sometimes it’s hard not to notice these things.

Here are some examples.

1) Belmont’s face changes from the key frame on the left to the key frame on the right during a conversation scene. During this movement his eyes have gotten bigger and closer together, his nose is now longer and has changed direction completely, now pointing down instead of up, and his shitty hair strand has grown. I don’t even know what’s going on with his ear and sideburn, but they seem to have moved as well. This was the first obviously bad thing I noticed, since it was so weird looking in motion.

belmont faces

2) This old man regains his hairline after being stared at by an angry priest. I think his eyes have changed colour as well but I can’t be sure, and someone’s smashed his nose in with a frying pan.

oldman faces

3) The same old man, when sat down, appears to have a perfectly cylindrical body made entirely out of putty, because the artists drew themselves into a corner with this rounded cloak thing and had no idea how to draw the inside of it. Also, his nose is suddenly straight, his face only occupies the bottom half of his head, and his hairs changed yet again. He also seems to be naked.

necks not like this

4) This things neck is not supposed to be telescopic, and his wing folds into nothingness behind his right arm. Some of the muscle definition changes as well.

demon neck

These might seem like the most nitpicky nits I’ve ever picked, and while you’d be right, this sort of thing happens incredibly frequently. Maybe none of the artists got on and were assigned their key frames via broken tombola, or the lead artist died on the way back to his home planet, or they all swapped desks one crazy Friday. There’s really no excuse for it.

It doesn’t help when the motion itself is often choppy and stuttery, with surprisingly few inbetween frames for any large movements; for example, the man in the shot below is on screen for a total of three frames, which is barely enough to register his existence before he’s vanished back into the comforting embrace of the void.

3frame run

Gotta go fast.

This can leave some scenes feeling very static and awkward, or, in the worst examples, leave the viewer with no idea what’s happening because the animation is so jumpy and the art is so baffling. The first episode is largely alright for this, especially anything related to Dracula’s fantastic looking fire powers, but the others can be downright hard to watch at times. For a first stab at an anime style it’s not bad, but it’s also not good by any stretch of the imagination.

On a lighter note, the sound is generally decent, with a fitting orchestral score that swells and fades at the right times, and some pretty solid sound effects, if that’s what you’re into. The voice acting is largely good, although it can vary. As stated before Richard Armitage has apparently fallen asleep in his cereal, and the female speaker sounds like a girl from Leeds attempting an Italian accent. While it’s always nice to hear a variety of rural English accents (ignoring the fact it’s supposed to be set in Romania), some of the plebby farmers can be a bit indecipherable, even for someone who grew up in the north of England. Maybe that’s the point, who knows. Anyway, it’s a nice change of pace from the usual suspects, and I’m glad I didn’t have to listen to Johnny Yong Bosch shout-cry his way through all his scenes again.

magician

‘Ooh-a ‘eck-a, she’s-a all-a clarted up for-a goin’-a down-a t’ pub. Whippets, pasta etc’

Overall, the Netflix Castlevania isn’t particularly bad, but it’s not distinctly good either. It’s suffocatingly short and extremely forgettable, more of a pilot than a real series. What is there lacks polish, with a surprising number of plot holes for such a short series, and the art could do with another editorial meeting or twelve. There’s also not enough Dracula.

If the inevitable second series matches the highest points of the first episode then I’m all in, but as of right now go watch Hellsing Ultimate instead. Castlevania’s just not worth your time.

cloud

Sad cloud-man is sad at my mangled Yorkshire gibberish. It sort of made sense. Sort of.

Premature Movie Reviews (2017)

Since I so accurately gauged the quality of last year’s set of pop culture blancmange-athons in slightly cryptic and vague ways (I’m still not quite sure what “Will Smith’s rap career / 10” actually means), I thought I’d dust off the old crystal ball, pull the soothsayer out of the fridge, and give it another crack. Maybe this can become an actual thing with a schedule, although it’s basically the end of January by this point so maybe not.

Helpfully, it seems that Hollywood is dumping a million bajillion films on us this year, so to stem the tide a bit I’ve added some vague categories. Notice that not one of them is anything along the lines of ‘new interesting franchise with promise that could be a big deal for the company’, no, they’re all fucking sequels again. Onwards!

 

Superheroes!!

The big obvious thing to start with is your regular overpowered idiots in shiny spandex. They’re still extremely popular for reasons unbeknownst to modern science, so I should probably talk about them.

justice-league-movie-970x545

First of all, we get to see if DC can dig themselves out of their overly gritty hole with some hopeful course correction, aiming to move away from gleeful Batman murders to something a bit less grim. It doesn’t help, then, that Justice League looks like The Jetsons if it was set in the Holocaust, while Wonder Woman is The First Avenger in a different war and with less sensible clothing options. It’ll also have to do a hell of a lot to convince me that the pose-able mannequin in a tiara that we saw in Batman v Superman: The Broodenating can actually act. They might as well charge people to inhale a gravel driveway.

Rating – A donut filled with wallpaper paste and slugs / 10

 

hulk-thor-98

Meanwhile, Marvel continue to churn out the same film over and over again in the form of Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, two films that I can’t possibly be excited for when I know they only exist as setup, like a two-hour filler episode of a TV show that’s stalling for time. Thor might have something fun for Hulk to do rather than play emotional pattycake with a forced love interest, and Guardians will have some amazing, new, innovative soundtrack that James Gunn found down the back of his dad’s sofa one rainy Tuesday evening, but it’s impossible to be excited for Marvel films anymore. Hopefully the giant purple thumb in a chair will do something soon.

Rating – A Panini album of Fisher Price workbenches / 10

 

x-men-origins-wolverine

After last year’s incredibly boring X-Men: Apocalypse, Fox are clawing (heh) one last payday from Mr Huge Jackhammer with the dusty depressing Logan before he sods off to be far too handsome somewhere else. Quite what the fuck they’re doing with the plot is anyone’s guess, given they’ve re-tooled one of the most insanely violent and depressing (or ‘mature’ if you’re a pissant) comic book storylines into a knock-off of The Last of Us but with sand instead of zombies. They’ve also put the post-apocalypse a measly decade away, just so they can introduce a character that will be usable later in the franchise. Inevitably boring and pointless.

Rating – Three perfectly good clocks that have been dropped in a woodchipper and re-sold as a toaster / 10

 

emo-goth-peter-parker

While Fox are experts at being very boring, Sony appear to be the best in the world at ruining immensely popular things; they’ve had five cracks at Spiderman now, and have managed to get it right a stellar one-and-a-half times. Having somehow failed to understand the appeal of a talkative teenage wanker who jizzes from his wrists, Sony have had their toys ripped off them for Spiderman: Homecoming, with Marvel promptly throwing Robert Downey Jr and a couple of jokes in, as is the way. It’s not hard, Sony.

Rating – Reddit: The Movie / 10

 

Remakes/Reboots/Re-awakenings/Re-inspirationalisings!!

If Hollywood isn’t busy making superheroes for every age, ethnicity, gender, culture, species, blood type, fursona, and flu strain to relate to, they’re busy remaking an old thing we used to like in the hope we recognise it and throw money at them, like a dog distracted by some keys. It seems that executives are imaginatively bankrupt and can’t stomach the idea of having ideas. Presumably they explode when asked for ranch or barbeque.

spaceballs-alien

Instead of just watching the originals on Netflix we’re now gifted the pleasure of amazing ‘new’ (massive quotations) versions of things, such as Alien: Covenant, whose alternative title should probably be Prometheus -0.2: Maybe You’ll Like This One Instead. Some sort of weird prequel/sequel/reboot/parallel universe, it’s just the first Alien on repeat but filmed in spacey blue spook-o-vision and with your old pal Fassassin’s Creedbender in it again for no particular reason.

Rating – Laminating a VHS tape / 10

 

harrison-ford-depressed

Other pointless franchise rumblings come from Kong: Skull Island, a film which will almost certainly have some people looking for a giant monkey for half the film then running away from it for the other half, and Blade Runner 2049, a film which should never exist. It’d be like making A Clockwork Lemon where Alex is suddenly un-brainwashed and sat at home watching TV.

There’s also Baywatch and Jumanji, films linked by their starring roles being taken by a man known more by his genetic link to boulders than his real name; The Mummy, which won’t be nearly as entertaining as it’s botched trailer was; and for some reason XXX: The Return of Vin Diesel and a Motorbike or Something, featuring gnarly bike jumps and off-key edgy one-liners that just sort of make you a bit confused more than anything.

All of these movies would be pretty highly anticipated if it was 2004. Shame it isn’t, then.

Rating – Laminating a VHS tape that everyone wishes you’d thrown out several decades ago / 10

 

power-rangers-pig

We also have Ghost in the Shell, which promises to be a series of anime set pieces re-shot in live action, strung together by half a plot that’s notionally about AI and technology and whatever but mostly just makes vague coo-ing promises of nearly nude robo-Johansson. This, depressingly, will be enough for some.

Finally, there’s the baffling Power Rangers film, which has taken such an amazing tonal shift from the original franchise that I’m amazed it hasn’t broken in half from the torque. Imagine Fant4stic, but made of Skittles.

Rating – Laminating a VHS tape that nobody remembers you ever having, and now the laminator’s broken so you’ve just shat plastic all over your film, you idiot / 10

 

Standard Sequel Land!!

Yes, pretty much everything in this list is a sequel. However, while the others at least had some flavour, things like Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Dead Franchises Make No Money appear to be happening for presumably some reason, but nothing to do with what any member of the public could possibly want. You can lump Transformers 5: The Last Straw in with this as well, as it’s guaranteed to make infuriating amounts of money despite basically being one of those sleazy American second-hand dealership adverts with the boobs and the cars and the racism, but stretched to 600 minutes with a load of random CGI metal flailing everywhere as a distraction. Despicable Me 3: Yellow Bastards Forever will shove more fucking minions down your throat until you choke to death on the tiny bean-shaped cunts (I’m not a fan), while Cars 3 seems to be attempting to do gritty realism in an animated franchise that has a redneck tow truck screaming and yodelling every five minutes. Fifty Shades Darker is porn for people who don’t understand the internet (or porn), Saw 8 is torture porn for people who don’t understand the internet (or basic common decency), and World War Z 2 is a film with an abomination of a title that’ll have even less to do with the book than the first one. It’ll probably be just as underwhelming to boot, if it even comes out.

Rating – Landfill / 10

 

starwars

In terms of actually slightly interesting sequels, Lego Batman is another shameless cash in but one that stands at least a slight chance of being alright, given the previous shameless cash in was surprisingly decent. War of the People who are Fighting for the Planet that the Apes live on Angrily is probably here more for contractual reasons than anything else, but again the previous ones were good so maybe the film with a monkey on a horse with a machine gun won’t be totally stupid.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle will have as much cocky British charm as the first but will just end up retreading all the same steps as the previous one, so much so that the Wiki for this unreleased film seems to give away an unsurprising plot spoiler (click here if you want to read it, you daring scoundrel). Meanwhile, I have no idea what John Wick 2 is going to be doing in order to top the brilliant original, which covered almost every action set piece and plot point it could without derailing into insane gibberish. Probably some Face-Off level jiggery-pokery involving doves and exploding windmills or something.

Oh there’s also a Star Wars film or something. It’ll be fine.

Rating – Having to attend your distant cousin’s wedding despite only talking to her once at a drunken New Year’s Eve party when you fell in a pond and your pants fell off so now it’s a bit awkward and you’d really rather not be here at all but it is a nice wedding and there’s cake and bonbons but your Aunt Marge has had too much wine again and this analogy’s getting away from me somewhat / 10

 

Shite!!

The Emoji Movie can fuck off forever.

Rating – Fuck off forever / 10

poop-emoji

 

Join me next year for when I bitch about how movies are all the same and Hollywood should stop making sequels for absolutely everything. It’ll be great.

I’m sensing a pattern here.

DmC: Devil May Cry – A Videogame Review

Okay, hands up who still cares about DmC? It was first released over three years ago, which was in itself about three years after its initial announcement, and feels like it’s been around forever. It’s certainly been on my hard drive forever; it was free on Games for Gold a while back and has since been hanging out in my pins with Dishonored and Hitman and the like. This week, however, I finally got round to playing it, and having not read any of the wanky think pieces about it because I honestly couldn’t have cared less I’m now going to write my own wanky think piece. Such is life. Prepare for some inevitable wank about the other two at some point, since they seem like they’ll be very wank-heavy, but now I’m rambling. Where was I? Oh yeah, an irrelevant video game.

underwater

Upside-down Rapture is not a sensible place for firearms, young man, now put it away.

First, a bit on the actual ‘game’. Gameplay wise it’s not as deep as previous entries but the combat is still pretty fantastic, which is always a good start. There are enough weapons to have variety without too many to bog you down, it’s not infeasible to use every weapon in the game in the same air combo, and the enemy variety means you have to switch up your tactics fairly often to tackle different situations. Grappling around is fun, the camera doesn’t seem actively worse than any other game in this genre, and the general visual style of the game is amazing. It often resembles a high contrast Escher painting, with buildings twisted and contorted around, and the series of levels that are set upside down are particularly great.

It does sort of run out of ideas towards the end of the game, unfortunately. There’s a level which boils the in-betweeny platforming bits down to literally a straight line, and the last few missions take place in a massive office building, which is visually boring and padded to all baloney. The semi-final boss is a complete rehash of a previous one but with a worse framerate and a character design made up of Play-Doh and Stickle Bricks, and none of the other bosses are all that fun to fight either. There’s nothing to rival fighting a God in space with a fire dragon, that’s for sure.

Basically, while there are issues, it looks lovely and plays extremely well. So now that I’ve qualified it as A Good Game, let’s talk about fanboys.

devil trigger

Note: dumbing down of gameplay is not automatically a bad thing. If your game is impossible to play, maybe it’s not as good as you think it is.

Fanboyism is one of the dumber things to happen in the last twenty years or so, as the internet’s anonymity and ease of use makes it super easy to cultishly defend or attack anything and everything. You see it with Star Wars, you see it with My Little Pony (bizarrely), you see it with fucking real life actual politics for fucks sake as a racist cinnamon bun slow dances his way into the Oval Office, and you saw it with DmC. New Dante was unveiled as a gaunt, deathly pale, black haired Hot Topic frequenter, and fanboys lost their shit.

However, while certain screaming morons got worked up over his fucking hair colour, the issue among most sane people was that Dante seemed like every background extra from Twilight rolled into one. This was a dumb decision, not because it was radically different from the original Dante, but because the change was stupid; Original Dante had evolved into a wisecracking joke character, which was a perfect fit for an insane action game about demons and air combos. You don’t put Hamlet in a John Woo film, and so after some sensible changes the original Starving Mournful Emo flavour was gone for a more suitable Handsome Punk Rock Douchebag one. If anyone is still complaining about his appearance they can be officially ignored, because it now looks fine. Good, even.

dante comparison

Still a twat, but a better kind of twat.

This change didn’t happen cleanly, however, and there are obvious remnants of his old woe-is-me mopey nu-metal persona littered throughout the game. Most of this is in the concept art, as is to be expected, although the flashbacks can get a bit grim; there’s one where he’s in a public bathroom clawing his own chest out while screaming, with ‘anarchy makes sense’ and ‘WAR’ graffiti reflected in the mirror. There’s also hints of a drinking problem, schizophrenia, and a trailer-trash mentality within the opening montage, along with jarring mentions of sexual deviancy that seem to come out of nowhere. This tortured soul shtick doesn’t mesh with the newly confident and brash Dante, and the whole game suffers from a similarly bipolar tone. Even the name didn’t make it out alive.

Let’s start at the beginning – the main bad guy (a dude in a suit in a giant tower) blackmails the President with something irrelevant and smells (?) Dante from across the city. This sets out the stall immediately for buckets of stodgy, lazy writing that thinks it’s way smarter than it actually is. Blackmailing a President is Captain Planet levels of hokey villainy, and he randomly senses Dante for seemingly no reason other than there’s now a digital camera in the vicinity that he can spew exposition into.

Anyway, Dante is out partying, and he’s troubled by visions of Demons in everyday life, leading normal humans to think he’s a bit deranged. He goes back to his trailer with some strippers and shags them because he’s a rebellious delinquent, dammit. A random girl conveniently appears to tell him a Hunter wants to kill him just as the Hunter shows up and attempts to kill him by dragging him into an alternate reality that for some reason also wants to kill him. We learn he is not deranged at all, removing any subtlety from that idea completely. His trailer is also alone and on the end of a pier, because why not.

fairground pier1

A terrifying neon-nightmare LSD demon pier, but a pier nonetheless.

Lack of subtlety is a recurring theme in this game, it seems. There’s an alarmingly derivative They Live scenario going on where some humans are secretly demons and if you can see in Demon Vision or whatever it is, billboards and posters change to show their real subliminal meaning. Shame, then, that They Live wasn’t very smart about it to begin with, and ripping it off wholeheartedly just makes it even less interesting. Adverts for an energy drink with a buff man change to show a fat slob with OBESITY and STUPIDITY plastered everywhere, and the drink itself is actually demon’s piss (or vomit, but it barely matters). The news channel is a secret prison for traitors with OBEY YOUR MASTERS showing on every TV screen. The workers in the financial building are “barely human anymore”, having been “corrupted beyond recognition”. It’s all so obvious and blunt.

The problem is the uber serious tone, which makes the surface-level satire seem like it was written by the Goth Kids from South Park. If it was a bit more devil-may-care (heh) about everything, some of the They Live shit wouldn’t be as cringingly lame as it is. Dante does have some shit puns, true, but they’re delivered with venom instead of the silly camp that they should be. Remember that bit in DMC4 where Dante puts on an incredibly sexual flamenco routine to celebrate shooting a floating dog head? The equivalent of that in this game would be when Dante trades “fuck you”s with a screeching larvae who then vomits all over the stage. It’s just not as fun.

stupid satire

Awesome level, stupid satire.

It’s also strangely muddled, with a hundred potentially interesting elements that all get wasted by minimal attention. One of the most obvious examples is the presence of Demon CCTV cameras that are supposed to be watching and tracking Dante through the city. Unfortunately, there are several major issues with this concept – firstly, the Big Bad wants to kill Dante and has sent out Hunters in order to find him. Mate, you have cameras. You don’t need to ‘find’ him when you have him on a video feed that he doesn’t know about. Secondly, they only appear in one level and you remove three in the entire game. Thirdly, Dante is running away from things for the duration of about one level, and is actively seeking out and goading the Demons in the other nineteen. These three things combined make the camera idea pointless in concept, execution, and tone. Why is it in the game.

Another abandoned idea is the city that wants to kill him, but only ever does so in linear ‘run through this set piece’ sections while the walls sort of cave in but not really (this also follows the confused camera logic of ‘find Dante’ while he’s in a city that knows where he is). There’s a whole underground rebellion thing which I’m fairly sure is just made up of three people, including Dante, that gets taken down halfway through the plot. The Raptor News network, so called because Fox is an animal and that’s about it, only exists for about three missions and an intro cinematic. The inevitable final boss happens simply because it has to and is tacked onto the end of an otherwise finished plot. Dante’s hair slowly turns white for absolutely no reason other than because it was white in the other games, which begs the question why it was ever black in the first place. An old wizard appears midway through a level, fixes some platforms with his magic green eye, and blurts out some critical exposition before buggering off into a portal. The female companion has psychic powers because she has to for the plot. Every boss fight is crap.

pandering2

How to exploit fanboys? Annoy them then pander with DLC. Quids in.

It very much feels like what it was – a project that was one thing to begin with (a normal Devil May Cry), then something vastly different (a modern, technology based, dark-and-edgy masterpiece of social commentary), then it kept juddering back and forth between the two until sort of settling vaguely in the bland middle ground. It’s still got all the gothic statues and weaponry and mannequin-like enemies of the old games, but there’s also a level where you fight a giant Bill O’Reilly head made of pixels. It’s got Vergil in a trenchcoat and katana, but now he’s also a hacker and wears a fedora.

If they’d gone all in on either style it would have felt a lot cleaner and more focussed. Instead, the plot is confused, messy, and underdeveloped, while the dialogue is either bland, characterless exposition or unfunny crude humour, and often slaloms violently between the two, leaving the tone as confused as a Jewish pig. The whole thing feels like something your edgy thirteen year old cousin would write while listening to early My Chemical Romance albums. The presence of Combichrist, a band so edgy your ears might start self-harming, doesn’t help.

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Please don’t self-harm with a seven foot scythe. Do it with crayons.

It all reeks of edge lord ego with any semblance of self-awareness drained away, which makes a whole lot of sense when you realise it was the first game written and directed solely by Mr Tameem Antoniades, a man who once said “if I do my job properly, [it will] break the myth that all videogame stories are trite and will never stand up to the best that theatre and film have to offer”. Cheers Tameem. You didn’t. It doesn’t. It’s shit.

The enduring image for me in DmC is when, during the groan-inducing masturbatory studio tour in the credits, one of the devs slowly rides off on a skateboard while flipping the bird at the camera. The creators thought they were doing something so smart and cool, so progressive and punk rock, so deep and clever. All they did, though, was make an action game.

Better luck next time.

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Maybe take out the finger-handgun-penis routine as well, that won’t have helped.

The Seven Deadly Sins – An Anime Review

First of all, I feel I should point out that I’m a bit of a dick. I can be nit-picky, I can be sweary, or I can just start ragging on something for no apparent reason. I say this because I feel that the first season of The Seven Deadly Sins is something that probably doesn’t deserve an absolute hammering but is most likely going to get one anyway. I still can’t get over the fact that there’s a pig that is also a hill.

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Pictured: a pig that is also a hill. With a pub on it.

So what is The Seven Deadly Sins? Well, going in I assumed it would be a charming, swashbuckling remix of things like Dragon Quest, Zelda, and One Piece; a bit of adventuring here, a bit of wholesome pirating there, all silly fun with no major repercussions. This impression was only strengthened by a main character that looks identical to every non-tunic’d Link you will ever see, and the squawky, bouncy, malleable, nails-on-a-chalkboard-annoying bloody pig bloody sidekick that looks like those ones at the start of Wind Waker you can chuck around at the kids with the massive bogeys (you know the ones). Turns out this isn’t the case, and instead it’s Bleach in the Middle Ages as told by Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.

The set-up is that a group of Holy Knights called The Seven Deadly Sins are rumoured to have killed their leader in an attempted coup before disappearing into hiding. Ten years later, a random girl with preposterously massive breasts falls over in a tavern and sets in motion a chain of events that sees the Sins re-unite and attempt to clear their name, all whilst uncovering the standard sinister plot within the upper hierarchy that aims to do something that isn’t really ever clear at any point in all honesty.

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Before we start, I should stress that there are a lot of cool looking things in this show. A child impaling a backup dancer is one of them, apparently.

Unfortunately, there are many things that are wrong with The Seven Deadly Sins. It has tonal issues, pacing issues, plotting issues, dialogue issues, visual design issues… it’s one of those irritating Code Geass situations where a fairly insignificant part of pretty much everything is consistently and repeatedly a bit off, meaning nothing ever quite feels ‘right’ despite it seeming really pretty good on the surface. It’s a shame, because once the immersion is broken, every single problem stands out like a house fire.

Firstly, and most obviously, there seems to be no cohesive vision for the character designs: Blondie looks like a homeless Hobbit  version of Edward Elric; Crying Girl is dressed as a sexy fondant cupcake with a stocking missing; Giant Pigtail Lady comes in a bright orange mech pilot bodysuit with the legs cut off to show her arse a bit more round the edges; Abs Man is Grimmjow moonlighting as a Michael Jackson striptease artist; Whiny Floating Child is South Park by way of Naruto; Tumblr Bait Skinny Boy is just Uryu Ishida with pink hair, even going so far as to copy his personality and special weapon of an energy bow that shoots light; and all the knights are from your generic swords and sorcery armoured goon show, but with more boob windows, abs, and thigh gaps. By the time the Boar Sin of Gluttony arrives as a Victoria’s Secret model in a G-string and a dinner jacket they’ve just completely given up. If it wasn’t for the thigh high boots she would pretty much just be wearing censor bars.

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Alright, so we’ve got a female Templar with a bent sword and too much thigh, a bored Robin Hood, a tweenage Samurai, mecha-Baloo with a giant pizza cutter, and heavy metal Casey Jones with a red satin thong stretched over his shoulder, enormous pink washing-up gloves, and a… weapon, of some sort. Consistency?

It’s a very vibrant and colourful show, which combined with the ‘distinctive’ character designs means everything looks strangely fake and plastic. It’s all a bit too well produced, a bit too polished. Whenever I see any of these people interacting all I can see are vinyl collectable figurines bumping into each other on a shiny tablecloth. Call me cynical (please), but I can only assume that the original character designs were all done independently at different times for marketing purposes, before being quickly squeezed into a plot to form this semi-competent flip-flop of comedy and drama that I like to describe delicately, and with class, as blithering nonsense.

This brings me to the writing. It’s lazy. As lazy as a very lazy simile, which is very lazy indeed, let me tell you. The only excuse I can think of is that it’s probably stuffing too much manga into not enough show until the pacing snaps and it all goes a bit wacky at the angles. An actual plot only drunkenly lumbers into view in about episode sixteen of twenty four, with a helpful bit of exposition that turns one of the various Slightly Evil Dudes into the Main Evil Dude, finally giving us an actual villain with an actual plan. It all feels like a first draft by someone who was making it up as they went along, perhaps translated from a different dialect on a different planet through a sophisticated combination of hand signals and panicked shouts.

The major plot beats just sort of happen out of nowhere with very little foreshadowing, such as the time fucking King Arthur of Camelot appears without any of the constituent parts of that title being said at any point prior to his introduction. It would be like if Bleach brought out Nikola Tesla in the middle of an episode to talk about how he created a laser space shuttle that can turn the moon upside down. He’d also be crying, because that happens a lot as well.

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Like, a lot.  A really, very, very big lot.

More wonky storytelling occurs when, towards the end of the season, several incredibly major action sequences are hijacked by the fifteen minute exposition fairies who throw flashbacks at you until you care slightly more about why the fight’s supposed to be happening. This is obviously much, much improved over the tried and true method of, say, sprinkling small bits of exposition throughout the series to keep intrigue high and boredom low, instead of fucking off to a beer and fighting festival for like six episodes where you just spend time slamming your cocks around to see who can make the biggest crater in that cliff over there.

Even the dialogue doesn’t escape unharmed; it’s a constant deluge of slightly bizarre sentences that doesn’t really mesh or develop character as such, rather just shout what’s happening at a breakneck pace in order to keep everyone roughly abreast of the plot that nobody actually knows. Any world building or backstory is lumped in with the throwaway intro narration that’s really hard to follow since it keeps jumping around in time like Doc Brown on a particularly rough weekend.

The practical outcome of all of this is that I have no idea what’s going on, who’s involved at what level of government, what the governing system actually is, what the time scale is, why some Holy Knights are evil for no apparent reason, or where the hell the Fairies and Giants come into it (fun fact, there is exactly one Giant in the entire series, making me question if it wasn’t just a weird perspective trick the whole time). Compare this to something like Fullmetal Alchemist, where I know exactly how the country works and so can follow the schemes of the villains in their plans to royally fuck it all up. Here, all I know is that sometimes people are evil and sometimes people are dressed as bugs.

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Clockwise from top left: King Boo bolted to a Texas Longhorn; Ariados; a boss character from Bayonetta; and a bad day with a ball of yarn.

OK, so maybe the structure isn’t very well thought out, but the action itself is good, right? Well… shit, not really.

I’ll give some examples.

There’s a sequence where the main character traps a villain, who’s secret power is turning invisible, in a basement to make the latter stop pursuing the heroic female companion. This is so they can have a nice dust up without our hero having to look over his shoulder for her the entire time, since she’s such a strong character who definitely isn’t a pathetic useless crying bleating wailing waif the whole time. Literally four seconds after this they bust out the side of the building into the street in broad daylight and this big dumb idiot with her stonking honkers comes running out with squawky pork in tow to have a conversation. This pig sidekick has done nothing but squeal and make atrociously ham-fisted (smirk) pork puns because pigs are har har funny bacon. Neither combatant is restrained or cornered, so the villain could just pick her up and leg it, but instead he turns invisible and gets on a horse, which isn’t invisible, and runs away on that, riding off into the distance and consequently straight out of the plot.

There’s also that time our heroes have to fight their way through a bunch of eminently beatable cannon fodder, but instead of smacking them around they pull an ex-machina out of their collective arse and go into sneaky stealth mode around some chest high walls to avoid them all. Something in the near distance explodes, throwing rubble a few hundred feet up into the air directly in their line of sight. Someone asks “what was that”, and receives the ever helpful answer of “it was over there”. They all decide to get angry again and charge at the source of the explosion with the amazing idea that “the fastest way [to win] is to wipe them all out”.

Quick question – why did you start sneaking around people if you were just going to beat them all up anyway as part of the plan? Never mind the actual plot, even moment to moment interactions are impossible to keep up with.

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Side note, I fucking hate this pig.

Some other dumb things: there’s a ten year gap built into the plot but everyone still looks between the ages of four and fifteen at all times; of the Seven Deadly Sins we never actually meet the seventh, and one or two are so pointless it might as well just be four; the opening credits manage to spoil a boat load of characters that aren’t introduced for ages, ruining any impact their debuts might have had; there’s a giant conch shell that lives in a basement and can grant wishes that is mentioned twice and shown once; some people have moral difficulties with killing the same guy for what is ostensibly the third time; a character appears and is then immediately killed off for a dramatic impact that falls completely flat for obvious reasons; and one character offhandedly whistles a dog into existence from another dimension that can teleport whatever he eats to wherever you want to go. This was a vehicle to get an arse shot of a woman in a leotard. I was… struggling at this point.

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Can we just go back to these cool looking things from the intro please? Hm, what’s that? They never appear in the actual show? Oh…

In summary, The Seven Deadly Sins is alright. It was incredibly, nigglingly, frustratingly annoying at times, but the actual direction, production, animation, and music are all really good. The fight scenes in particular would be fantastic fist-pumping moments if there was any character to back it up, but that’s been lost in a sea of tits and primary colours. If you don’t care about or notice plot holes, the loud game of exposition hot potato doesn’t get your goat, and you’re not put off by the scattergun character design then you’ll probably quite enjoy it, but for me it just became infuriating. There’s a pig that is also a hill, for crying out loud.

In a scene near the end, a character gets up after having a massive hole blasted in their chest and punches a giant soldier head over heels in one blow. The line that accompanies this? “I recommend not over-thinking things”. Touché.

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There’s also this weird curio in one of the opening titles where someone in the editing department doesn’t know how to zoom layers properly. Look at these slidey arseholes slip-slidin’ around. It’s like they’re on a bar of soap.

Hotline Miami – A Videogame Review

Warning: this review contains spoilers for Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. Proceed at your own risk.

Also not recommended for people easily offended by blood, gore, swearing, or mentions of butts.

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“Man this is great, I really hope it doesn’t disappear up its own butthole”, I said out loud about halfway through Hotline Miami, the pulsating techno music pounding in my ears as I rhythmically mutilated my way through hordes of faceless mobsters, often getting mutilated right back. The exciting moral greyness of the premise with its endless possibilities, the high as a kite 80s neon kitsch, the gameplay hitting all the same buttons as Super Meat Boy did all those years ago. The combination was almost perfect, if veering a smidgen too close to butthole territory. All was going well.

Suddenly the music stops. You’ve beaten your foes. There is nobody left. All around you are corpses, rarely in one piece. The high fades as you begin to come down, both figuratively and literally. You descend the stairs back to the entrance way, stepping over your dirty, messy past. The distance to the butthole lessens.

A loud noise escapes your mouth and you manage to somehow physically injure yourself while playing a videogame, you daft twat, as a giant black van smashes through the silence and straight into your characters face. Gizzards splatter across the tiles like badly made spaghetti.  You start again. You get hit by the jump scare truck again. You start again. You get set on fire. The butthole looks at you menacingly. You start again.

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This game is VIOLENT. I really can’t stress that enough.

Hotline Miami is, at its core, very very good. Broken, dreamlike, 80s neon aesthetics are right up my alley, so to speak, despite me having never existed anywhere near close to the time period they’re supposed to ape. The gameplay is frantic and bloody, never giving you a moments peace in the best possible way. It has some of the most brutal and disturbing violence ever depicted in a game despite only being top down pixel art, but uses it in such a fashion that it never turned me off from the game. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m such a sucker for dark, twisted mystery plots, especially ones with cryptic murder messages left on your answering machine. It should be exactly my cup of tea. Unfortunately, there is a butthole looming. Hotline Miami has plans for the butthole. This game has its fat, and when Hotline Miami starts indulging its chubby side it manages to charge straight up its rear at a pace most rocket engineers would call quite alarming.

It first began to smell suspiciously of anus when Richard the chicken man (heh, Richard is Dick and chicken is cock and penis is funny) asked me a simple question; “do you like hurting people?”, he quizzed, with a look of fiery disapproval that only an expertly crafted rubber chicken mask can convey. “Well”, I thought, “given that this main character I’ve been playing has been specifically written so as to have literally no character other than a yellowish Varsity jacket, and that what I’m playing right now might be a dream but it also might not be, and that every other part of this game might also be a dream but also might not be, I don’t think I’m able to answer that question”. I paused. “Oh wait, you’re talking to me, the player, aren’t you. Aha, very clever. Yes, I see now why you wanted to venture up your own butthole, it’s because it’s a lot easier to gloat from inside your own rectum”.

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These guys, clearly not learning their lesson from the man who’s taking a kip on the floor without a head, are about to get a very rude awakening.

It stayed roughly on the level for a while after that, nose barely touching the sphincter, until I suddenly discovered that the entire game up to this point had been a warped reliving of events from the mind of a man deep inside a coma, Life on Mars style. Huh.

“Alright”, I thought, “bit of a tonal shift, but this is excellent. It was hinted at that this was a dream the whole time and I’m perfectly fine with it. It also explains why there was random VHS static every so often, and why that one bearded hipster bloke had four different but strangely identical jobs and then got killed in four different but strangely identical ways by that same angry bald guy. Good. I’m on board. Let’s be having you, rest of the game.” I press on.

So I escape the coma ward, somehow, discover it was the Russian mob all along, kill the Don’s purple attack panthers and sexy blonde one eyed ninja pirate woman by throwing a bunch of trophies at them in scenes strangely reminiscent of Kill Bill 2: The KillBillening, and beat the game. I am satisfied. The story came to a sensible and non-butthole-related resolution. I even recommended it to some friends, so impressed was I.

Then the epilogue started. I was surprised. The butthole was now held firmly, precariously open. It’s ready for entry, captain.

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“Please don’t put pizza up my butthole, George”

The first thing you see in the epilogue is the word ANSWERS in massive capital letters. You’ve got a hand up your butt. You start the epilogue as a boss character you killed halfway through the game. Elbow deep. The epilogue continues and it’s made clear that this guy is not going insane, or in a coma dream, or taking several hundred buckets of legal highs. This character is trying to find out ‘the truth’ behind the phone calls, implying that the mafia wasn’t the real source. Up to the shoulder blade, you’re getting dangerously close now. A chapter involves you going to the same room as the earlier boss fight and killing the original main character with such force that his head violently explodes across the floor, then leaving the building. There we go, boom, zip, blown straight up there, you’ve disappeared into your large intestine never to be seen again. It was fun having you, Hotline Miami. Hope the weather’s nice in there.

When you’ve already got your main character outed as an unreliable narrator in your main plot and when he’s most definitely not killed in this confrontation in the real canonical events, and then you go and add your second character, the one supposedly to ‘get some answers’, and you make him an unreliable narrator as well? It’s shooting yourself in the foot then sucking on your toes until all your blood is in your digestive system. The level of arse dwelling is maddening, to the point where you’ve been there long enough to have started selling real estate in your gastric pits.

I kept playing anyway, to see where this dickwittery was going. After a while, I found myself stood in an empty basement talking to two ratty looking janitors, where it turned out it was them all along. They told me it was for laughs. I then left. Credits. Fuck off Hotline Miami.

I went to the Wiki for answers.

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These screenshots all tend to look the same after a while but MAYBE THAT’S THE THEME ooooOOOOooo spooky noises etc.

It turns out that the actual plot is locked behind secret collectible things I had literally no idea were even there other than a cryptic message on an owl mask. This is on top of it being hidden in the epilogue after the credits had already rolled while you’re playing a completely different character, one who interacted with the main fella a total of one time and maybe one of them may have killed the other but maybe it was the other way round and really who’s to say at this point. On top of this, the two actual villains are plebby nobodies operating under the guise of a cult that’s never mentioned and who are modelled after the two creators of the game, in a decision I imagine came about after a particularly smug mutual masturbation session.

Hotline Miami ends up being another graduate from the University of Self Satisfaction, with other notable alumni consisting of Spec Ops: The Line, a game that attempts to tell you fourteen different variations of the same story at the same time and the most rational one ends up being that the grumpy sandy man in Dubai is literally walking into literal hell for realsies, and Bioshock Infinite, which I’m surprised didn’t go cross eyed and implode from a combination of misplaced moral pride and casual dismemberment.

All of these games end up trying to tell you off for playing them, a move that I’ve come to particularly hate since if you do that you’re now looking down on me for buying your bloody game. Alright, I won’t next time. Mission accomplished?

Every line of dialogue can be seen to be directed at the player, which means the plot ends up being completely pointless and only serves to make the developers look like absolute thundering cockholes who make out with their own bathroom mirrors in the morning because it’s got a picture of their face on it.

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Our cock-headed hero has managed to block one of his exit doors with a parade of idiotic mobsters. Brilliant.

Amazingly, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is apparently even more up its own arse than Hotline Miami 1: Turns Out It Was The Right Number All Along. Now I haven’t played the sequel, but given that the original was crawling up there so hard it was basically vomiting its own eyebrows out by the end I could scarcely believe this news, unless little brother wanted to strain just that little bit harder and pretzel itself around for round two. To find out how correct an assessment this was, I went back on the Wiki and scrolled down through the main characters page to find a random line from near the end of the second game.

This sentence is incredible. It’s pretty much the pinnacle of digestive spelunking, and I can’t believe it actually exists. Knowing this series it could just all be a fever dream and not matter at all, but with that rationale out of the way I shall provide to you the very first thing I read about Hotline Miami 2 in full. Ahem.

‘As Miami is nuked, the final shot of the game is Jacket in his sparse jail cell, playing with his ball as he’s obliterated.’

This event apparently takes place three years before the events of the original game. Yes, this is the main character of said original game. No, I don’t understand.

The Wiki then goes on to fellate this nonsense with praise for how thematic it is, how it parallels the movie Drive (which is also a bunch of violence trying to be smart but not actually doing anything with it and ending up as a very pretty pile of pretentious piffle), and that it’s somehow meta, where because he was trying to entertain himself that’s like the player playing the game or something. This Wiki was written by twats.

It doesn’t matter if that scene’s just a bunch of typos accidentally strung together to mean something it shouldn’t, if it’s another weird coma dream, or it’s actually what actually happens. I have no interest. It sounds like a bunch of complete cocking bollocks from a set of writers drunk on the success of their original vaguey waguey spooky mystery VHS synthwave drug ‘n’ violence game that was super awesome because nobody could understand it, and not for the actual reason which was because it played like a buttered blowjob. No, it was because of the story. Great.

A-pretzlin’ we go, lads.

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“No mate, I’m up my own butt. Call an ambulance”

A Review Of… Ninja Baseball Bat Man

(Originally published in Issue #2 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in November 2014. Read that version here, on pages 40-41.)

No, I’m serious. There is a game that exists with that combination of words in that order. Just let that sink in for a while. This really is the kind of reboot Batman needs, but unfortunately this is just ninjas and baseball, which is clearly an inferior product to a latex personification of capitalism.

Ninja Baseball Bat Man (or Baseball Hand-to-Hand Fighting League Man if you’re Japanese and love ridiculous rambling titles) is an arcade side scrolling beat-em-up released in the 90s, similar to classics like Final Fight and Streets of Rage. If you’ve ever played a game like this before you’ll be right at home, punching endless amounts of dudes in endless amounts of alleys, except here you punch with a bat and the dudes are all anthropomorphic baseball paraphernalia. There are still alleys though, so at least something remains.

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Above: anthropomorphic baseball paraphernalia. And some planes.

Honestly, the game begins and ends with the title. It sounds like they went through some deep scientific study to find the single coolest sounding title possible and reverse engineered a game out of it; the whole thing is essentially ninjas with baseball uniforms wielding bats and fighting the contents of the New York Yankees merchandise booth. I say essentially as despite being conceived in America the game was made in Japan, and so has been filtered through all the craziest parts of Japanese culture with elemental super moves, giant planes with eyes and flying stadiums all showing up at various points. This is like if the creator of Samurai Pizza Cats started flicking through American TV channels with his head lodged in a mountain of cocaine and looked up for long enough to catch a glimpse of the World Series out of the corner of one blood stained eye, before slumping back into his powder and shouting the design document to a group of confused interns who’d never heard of sport. If baseball was more like this I would probably watch it.

There are four main characters to whack people with, each a different colour and silhouette to make them stand out from the psychedelic orgy on screen; a tiny fast hitter, a long reaching poker, a big fat bloke with a baseball jammed halfway down his bat and a boring all rounder who looks like the red Power Ranger and plays like a digestive biscuit. They’re different enough to want to actually use all of them, especially since the core gameplay can get quite repetitive. There’s only two buttons, one to jump and one to hit, so naturally the movelist is a bit limited despite some supers looking powerful enough to shake the Earth from orbit.

While the act of hitting stuff can get old, the stuff you hit is so packed with character the game never gets actively boring. Mischievous looking baseball bats carrying other smaller baseball bats, spider droids conceived from an affair between a baseball and a Droideka, squids in scuba gear that hit you with squeaky hammers and what appears to be the Beagle Mafia are all enemies here,  and special mention must go to the boss battles. I won’t ruin the surprise too much, but when one of them gets made into a sad looking handbag at the end of the fight you want to keep playing just to see what they can come up with next. Pity that most of them are cheaper than your mum on a Friday night, randomly taking half your health whenever they feel like it as if you’ve forgotten to pay your taxes this month.

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Here we see Roger the baseball man fighting Mechanical Alligator with his friends, COME ON, COME ON and COME ON.

This brings me to the main sticking point with the game; there are more spikes in its difficulty than on the bottom of its shoes, and really isn’t very long to boot, clocking in at just over an hour. This was almost certainly due to it being an arcade only game, designed to steal quarters from kids who want to know what being on drugs feels like. The only way to play the game nowadays is on an emulator, and since you can put infinite coins into an emulator without costing yourself anything, the artificial difficulty is gone and you can just run headlong into things over and over again, like a man trying to break down a wall with the bridge of his nose.

Happily, however, this makes the game much less frustrating than it would otherwise be. I can’t imagine how much money you’d need to spend to see the spectacularly anticlimactic ending, but the constant threat of random death would take its toll after a while. So instead of potential brain haemorrhaging you get to just enjoy the wackiness, which due to the length doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.

So overall, it’s an enjoyable if short experience that’s much less annoying than it would’ve otherwise been, even if the emulation can get spotty and potentially cause an epileptic fit or two. It’s also called Ninja Baseball Bat Man. I can’t stress that enough.

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I’m not even sure where to begin with this, but for some reason my eye is drawn to the Allen key that the green baseball thing in winklepickers is holding.

Now for something completely different; while researching this article  I noticed there was a Kickstarter campaign for some kind of Ninja Baseball Bat Man comic. Having checked it out, it looks pretty damn suspect.  A total of 24 backers pledged $1278 over its 45 day period, despite meeting its goal of $1000 within 4 of those days. The spread of pledges is bizarre with everyone contributing $40 or below apart from two people who gave $300 each.

And then there’s the art. It’s godawful. I mean just look at it. It looks like one of those early internet flash games where nobody had any talent, or something from a particularly crap preteen deviantART profile where they only have access to their own eyes once every fortnight to work out what shapes and colours are supposed to be. This has even worse proportions than some of Rob Liefeld’s atrocious contributions, although at least there aren’t a zillion pouches cutting off the blood supply to every part of the body.

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Everything is wrong. Everything. Why is he driving with a melting dinner plate. Why is the car as big as a house. Why does he look like a Mr Potato Head knock-off that’s been run over. I just… the mind boggles.

Confused and aghast, I looked further into the history of NBBM. Apparently it was originally the vision of one American bloke called Drew Maniscalco and designed to be a competitor to Super Mario Bros. of all things, but was given to the Japanese arm of the company who actually knew what they were doing and promptly redesigned basically everything. It seems that this guy always wanted a shitty Batman knockoff where everything is baseball themed, and genuinely thinks it’s the best thing ever (seriously, a veteran baseball player living a dual life as a baseball related superhero is something DC would’ve laughed at back when they were doing fucking Kite Man storylines). If this is seriously what he always wanted then I’m glad the Japanese took it off him. I don’t want Dragon Ball Z redone by someone who’s only artistic tools are crepe paper and a photocopier.

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I still can’t get over how terrible this is. Sorry Monique.

Read more of Cobalt magazine here, and check out their blog here.

A Review Of… Scud: The Disposable Assassin

(Originally published in Issue #1 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in May 2014. Read that version here, on pages 76-77.)

One day I found Homestar Runner. It was some point in 2008 when the ridiculously named Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People rolled up on the WiiWare store, featuring people with no arms but twice as much leg to compensate, a depressed rhino with a droopy condom for a face and a Mexican wrestler with boxing gloves for hands. Given how completely dumb and stupid it was I totally loved it, and then proceeded to find the website and watch every single episode in the space of about a month. However it was during one of the Halloween episodes, in which characters dress up as pop culture references as they tend to do in cartoon web series, that I discovered today’s topic, allowing this ridiculous chain of mildly irrelevant filler to end.

scud-homestarrunner

Look at this gibberish. It has nothing to do with this review.

Pom-Pom, a sort of giant spherical pimp that speaks like a drowning bubble bath, was dressed in more yellow than usual with a splintery heart logo and a bad case of heterochromia. For some reason I liked the marginally changed colour scheme enough to try and find where it came from. Lo and behold, I discovered Scud: The Disposable Assassin, a tongue in cheek 90s comic book written and illustrated by Rob Schrab that’s even more completely fucking nuts than Homestar Runner, only with blood and sex and swearing and all that other stuff that 13 year olds think is the best thing ever.

This is where I should probably try and sum up the plot, and also the point where you’ll either love Scud instantly or completely hate it. You might be one of those irritating people who don’t form opinions until they’ve fully experienced the thing in question, in which case stop reading this, go away and do more popular things like partying or dogging.

Have they gone? Good. Now then.

The general plot is that of a vending machine robot assassin who realises that he’ll self-destruct upon killing his target, so instead of killing the mouse trap handed, plug headed monstrosity with an octopus strapped to its stomach that only talks in film quotes from mouths on its knees (I warned you) he amputates the thing four times and goes off on merry adventures with a sack of zips with infinite storage space, a sexy lady with a robot fetish and an undead Satanist Ben Franklin. Oh yeah, and the monster is female and called Jeff, because there wasn’t enough bat-shit in the room already.

scud-jeffmoose

I could try and explain what’s going on here, but even I’m not sure why Jeff’s holding a moose head.

Of course that description barely does the actual events any justice, as the freelance assassin setup allows for completely non-sequitur plotlines that attempt to remain as sane as Hyacinth Bucket visiting Bransholme council estate. One sees them visit a beach undergoing a live recreation of an 80s slasher film, while during another they travel to a planet of deaf people that only communicate via lip reading, leaving the mouthless Scud at a mild disadvantage.

Anything that was put into Scud was put in simply because it would be cool to see. Would it be cool to see a high security prison assassination gone wrong? Yes, put it in. Would it be cool to see a Shakespearean werewolf in space? Of course, in it goes. Would it be cool to somehow weasel heaven and hell in to a story about sentient robots, Voodoo and dinosaurs? By God definitely. None of it has to make sense, this particular universe doesn’t give three gerbils bollocks about making sense, as long as it’s entertaining and even more crackers than Wallace and Gromit’s cupboard it’ll be in there somewhere.

As a whole it’s much more of a series than a serial, and the completely unhinged nature of it makes each story wildly unpredictable. Maybe unpredictable in a nonsensical, left field way, written by a man who apparently had one too many Jelly Babies while watching endless reruns of Gundam Wing, but he still manages to fit all of this insanity into a story that works and feels cohesive. The tone is somewhere between John Woo, Deadpool and Noel Fielding, and so an almighty knowing wink is aimed at the reader every time anything happens at all, not least of all in the action sequences.

scud_jesus.jpg

There’s also that time Scud thinks he’s Jesus so he just shoots people with a laser rifle. Look I didn’t write it, OK.

This brings me neatly to the art. Scud was printed entirely in black and white, which might seem like a negative but gives it a very distinct flavour. It’s obvious that the artist was not trained by a massive studio or took a lengthy art course; the whole comic was initially an attempt to win over a potential girlfriend, and his ability to simply draw cool things happening shows through. The quality of each page gradually increases as the series goes on, even sometimes over the course of a single issue, and the actual design of the main character alters dramatically further down the line. Smooth clinical shapes are replaced by fluid lines, giving the thing an incredible sense of pace and motion.

Of course, not being an experienced professional in the field has its drawbacks, and there are occasionally whole pages that don’t look quite right, as if each third of the page was drawn when under the influence of a different illegal drug with a bored monkey telling him the panel layout in semaphore, but it still has a charm of its own. The plot has such a devil-may-care attitude that the occasionally wonky drawing just seems to fit, just like the shite grammatical ability in this review.

Given the complete chaos that seems to happen on each page it’s remarkable that most of the characters don’t get lost in the background, which is mainly down to the visual designs. As mentioned earlier, the main threat Jeff is a fever dream of a creation, a being that makes less than zero sense and could be played for laughs, but is instead genuinely terrifying. Whole sections are dedicated to her monster movie rampages, playing out like she’s Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers and not something stitched together by the bastard child of Drs Frankenstein and Seuss.

Scud himself is a very simple character, essentially a thin yellow mannequin with a cylinder for a head, which makes him both memorable and visually flexible given his tendency to slip into Matrix gunfights and Stallone one-liners. Even minor supporting characters are visually recognisable, like the giraffe with a Roomba for a head, or a huge muscled freak with smiley faces for nipples and an industrial crusher where his mouth should be. Now that I think about it, a lot of the characters are just things with other unrelated things replacing part of their head, like what Wayne Rooney did with his hair.

Aside from that the whole story isn’t particularly long; only 24 issues with the last 4 being rather short semi-issues, completed over a decade after the previous 20. That’s a lot of crazy to pack in to such a short time frame, and Schrab somehow goes overboard on the number of bizarre characters, elaborate plots and entertaining backgrounds, which is impressive given he was the only person working on it. The short, sharp burst of mental is refreshing to read, and is one of my favourite ever comic books. It helped shape how I draw, how I write and how I speak, and that’s definitely not because I am easily influenced by things resembling a Tarantino drug trip. Highly recommended.

scud-sign

A very successful airport hitch-hiking sign this one.

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