VIDEO GAMES: John Reviews “Castlevania: Harmony of Despair” by Konami for XBox Live Arcade

Ahh, Castlevania.  One of the only two areas of popular culture where it’s cool for a guy to wield a whip (the other, of course,  being Indiana Jones.) When I downloaded Castlevania: Harmony of Despair as part of Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade promotion, I was expecting a game experience something like the genre’s most popular entry, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.  While the graphics and core play controls are roughly the same as that 1997 classic, and Alucard is still one of the main characters, C:HD is an extremely different game from SotN. Gone is the story-driven, nonlinear, exploration-based single-player structure of the old days.  Instead, C:HD is an interesting mash-up of the last five big 2-D Castlevania games, and combines gameplay elements from all of them plus Gauntlet, Diablo, and (I shudder to even say its name) World of Warcraft. Do all of those elements work together? 18 hours of gameplay later, I can say that it’s certainly interesting enough to dig its hooks into me and keep me from playing several other of my recent downloads.  How do they do it? Read on! Continue reading


MOVIES: John Reviews “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World,” Directed by Edgar Wright

Fresh from the finale of his award-winning graphic novel series, Scott Pilgrim is taking the world by storm in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, directed by Shaun of the Dead and  Hot Fuzz‘s Edgar Wright.  But can Bryan Lee O’Malley’s vision of a world where romance and drama are inextricably linked to video games and over-the-top action work on the silver screen as well as it does in the pages of a comic?

The short answer is: Yes!

The long answer is: Yes, but it’s a fairly different experience (as almost any adaptation is.) Continue reading

COMICS: John Reviews “Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour” by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Time to switch things up!  Since this is the final installment of the excellent six-part slice-of-life-romantic-comedy/over-the-top-video-game-action (holy-crap-that’s-a-lot-of-hyphens) graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim, much of the usual introductory fare is unnecessary.  Instead of structuring my reviews as I normally do, I will invert the pyramid and start with my final summary:

  • For those who have been reading and enjoying the Scott Pilgrim series up to this point, rest assured: Volume 6 brings the story to an action-packed, emotionally satisfying conclusion.
  • For those who have been reading the Scott Pilgrim series and aren’t sure they like where the later volumes were heading, there’s a very good chance that Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour has brought back everything you loved about the early volumes and will make you a fan again.
  • For those who haven’t been reading the Scott Pilgrim series at all, it should be rather obvious that the last volume is hardly the place to start.  Go out and pick up Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, resting comfortably in the knowledge that the whole story is a well-crafted arc and the big ending doesn’t fall flat.

And now, the specifics! Continue reading

A Serious Diskinect

Microsoft Kinect: Wave of the future, or anti-Controller propaganda? I didn’t even know there was an anti-controller movement until now!  It seems like the “convenience” of motion controls is limited solely to not having to interact with a physical device.  The actual actions themselves require far more work than they would on a traditional remote or controller, and for those of us who don’t want our media platforms to be a cleverly disguised instrument of mandatory exercise, the whole thing is entirely unwelcome.
This will be the first console generation where entire GENRES of games are rendered incompatible with current technology.  While I’d love to see a resurgence of the point-and-click adventure, nobody is going to want to play a brawler or platformer (or God of War-style adventure that combines the two) when they have to perform EVERY ACTION using gesture controls.  (Oh no! What will this do to my favorite beleaguered mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog?!  NOBODY will have enough energy to play as Sonic for any substantial length of time!)  And how will 2-D games play?  Will we see any of the insultingly counter-intuitive hardware virtualization so prevalent on the iPod/Phone/Pad, where controller buttons are mapped permanently onto portions of an already small touchscreen?  People knock the Wii (and simultaneously credit it as the salvation of our obese children) but it understood something that Microsoft doesnt: Having a couple of buttons saves a game from being downright EXASPERATING to play.  Example: Gamers groaned at the fact that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess required players to waggle the wiimote fiercely for every sword slash, and that was only ONE function mapped to gestures.  Games like Metroid Prime 3 would be unplayable without the Nunchuck’s analog stick controlling movement while the wiimote controlled the camera.  Microsoft, however, seems to be loudly proclaiming that “gamers are lazy.  Let’s FORCE them to choose between lazy and being gamers!  Then we can turn all the not-lazy people INTO gamers, and flip every convention of the culture on its head and make BILLIONS!”  In the process, they will destroy several different categories of games, and they will tear down all of the elgant usability and Human/Computer Interaction work that went into controller technology.  Games like Guilty Gear, Ikaruga, Mega Man (or I Wanna Be The Guy) or Ninja Gaiden are just too nuanced and precise for flail controls (Flail.  It’s the new waggle!)  and the range of activities you’ll want your avatar to engage in will shrink to what you feel like aping in the real world.
Another factor that limits Kinect’s potential is its vast space requirements. Anyone who has a small room (and a relatively small TV) is SOL when it comes to Kinect, since the camera needs to be able to detect you standing up and flailing and jumping.  Plus, you can’t make any unrelated gestures while playing, which would have been easy in the days when you could pause the controller.  Notice how awkward the demonstrator looked at E3 when his hands were constantly at his sides, waiting for a chance to move and engage the controller.  And presumably you can’t ever say the word “Xbox” near the device, for fear that you’ll activate some voice-sensitive command.  You’ll have to spell out X-B-O-X as though you were trying not to wind up an excitable dog (though I hear that some dogs have learned how to spell 😛 ).

I’m glad to read that I’m not the only one with this opinion on the second motion control revolution (outside of fan boards, of course, but there are haters of every concept known to man on those).  So don’t just take my word for it, take a look at what Warren Spector (designer of many award-winning games) and Tim Buckley (creator of webcomic Ctrl-Alt-Del) have to say!  [Cue Reading Rainbow music.]

From Joystiq’s interview with Warren Spector:  “There are a lot of people looking at gestural control as the future of games, and I think what we need to do is say, is gestural control appropriate for this game or not. If you’re playing tennis, good lord, if you don’t use it, if you don’t do this, you’re crazy. But there are plenty of other games where it’s just better to [press buttons]. And we have to be brave as developers and publishers and retailers to just accept that some games are just going to be better like this. We’ve got twenty years of experience doing this, and gamers have twenty years of mastering it. Most kids today have thumbs that are more dexterous than — than me, that’s for sure. So why should we throw that away?”

From Ctr-Alt-Del’s Tim Buckley: The real kick in the balls came when further footage of the Star Wars Kinect game suggests that it is an on-rails Jedi slasher game. Yes. Because when I think of being a Jedi, I think of standing in one place, flailing my lightsaber hoping that I either reflect blaster bolts or some dumb shit walks into my melee range, and then dashing a few feet forward and doing the same thing. Maybe it’ll be a blast, I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s not what gamers were hoping for. Beyond just hoping for a really cool sword/lightsaber fighting game (because deep down we all want to be Jedi) I think we’re also looking for confirmation that motion controls can provide more, daresay, “hardcore” gamers with a legitimate experience. That it’s not going to all be Kinectimals.

Why I Quit Facebook

Because YOU demanded it! All the hackle-raising reasons why I decided that I had had enough of Facebook and committed social network suicide on May 31st.  While my statement may not have made waves, it was an important moment for me.  Here’s the breakdown:


My Email to Buzz Out Loud

I’m a big fan of the good folks at C|Net’s “Podcast of Indeterminate Length” known as Buzz Out Loud, and since I actually had something relevant to their show to add for once (in other news, I permanently deleted my Facebook account,) I figured I’d write in.  In case they don’t read my email on the show, here’s what I said:

Hey MoRaJas,

I was sad to hear the story you featured in ep. 1239 regarding Quit Facebook Day’s big fizzle.  I had been a Facebook user since it was (my college), and after years of watching everything I valued about the site erode like so much Jersey coastline (and fill up with garbage like it, too) I decided to vote with my demographics and quit for good.  But apparently Leo LaPorte and I were the only ones brave enough to go through with it!  Now that QFBD over, my question is: Do I go crawling back to the one that did me wrong, or stick with it for the sake of principles and the right to complain?

Love the show/show the love,


Incidentally, if you’re a Buzz Out Loud fan and you miss the wry-yet-wholesome wit of Tom Merritt (I’m looking at you, PetPluto,) be sure to check out his new show Tech News Today on the TWiT Network.

My Soul Is on the Ground (a look at socially responsible footwear)

This might surprise you, but I’m not the most fashion-forward person out there.  In fact, I’m pretty fashion-backward.  I pay little-to-no attention to color matching, and in the winter I literally get dressed in the dark.  Only the “business casual” dress code of most of my places of employment has forced me to learn the basics of garment-related aesthetics.  Why am I telling you all of this? Because I recently had an interesting and philosophically engaging experience when embarking on my quadrennial quest for a new pair of shoes.

Yup, you read that right.  Quadrennial.  As in once every election/olympic cycle.  Ah, the joys of being a heteronormative guy.

Continue reading