5 Games I’d Like To See From Retro Studios (That Aren’t Metroid Or Donkey Kong)

•June 13, 2017 • Leave a Comment

It is that time of year again, when the faithful video game nerds of the world sit glued to their screens to get the latest news about what the next year in gaming will bring.  And while many are chomping at the bit for news about Microsoft’s Scorpio or…whatever Sony is doing…I will be tuning in to Nintendo’s coverage for their latest.  While I’m sure it will be a whole lotta Super Mario Odyssey, there has been a persistent rumor making the rounds lately concerning Retro Studios.

For the uninitiated, Retro Studios is a Texas-based video game company owned by Nintendo.  Their purpose was to create games aimed at an older and more American demographic.  This was at a time when Nintendo was losing market share to the Sony Playstation, which had games like Resident Evil and Final Fantasy VII that catered to an older audience who had “grown up” from Nintendo’s games.  Retro Studios set out with a small team that put together four or five game concepts, all of which were cancelled when Nintendo handed them the Metroid franchise.  The Metroid series, which focused heavily on exploration and non-linear gameplay, had not had an entry since the 1994 SNES masterpiece Super Metroid.  The series was not a particularly strong seller, and missed out on the N64 era completely, but it had been more popular in America than in Nintendo’s native Japan.  Retro took the game and decided to make it into a “first person adventure”, perhaps in no small part since shooters like Quake and the upcoming Halo were popular in America.  However, while those games focused on action, Retro’s Metroid would focus on the exploration aspects the series was known for, while still being presented in a first person view.  The final product was Metroid Prime, released for the Gamecube in 2002.  The game was a success, reviving the dormant series and producing two more direct sequels.

Unfortunately, the Metroid series has fallen on hard times as of late.  After the Prime trilogy, the Metroid license was handed off to other studios, producing the disappointing Metroid: Other M and the critically and commercially panned Federation Force.  Nintendo is not shy about mothballing stagnant series, and fans worried that Metroid would meet this fate.  However, reports came in that Retro Studios was working on something “big” for the Nintendo Switch.  The flames were fanned when sci-fi video game composer (and noted Metroid Prime fan) Alexander Brandon revealed that he had been to Retro Studios to work on something “exciting”.  Hopes are high that the Metroid Prime series will be returning to Retro, and we don’t have long to find out.

This got me thinking about other games that Retro could work on.  After Metroid Prime, the studio was handed the Donkey Kong Country series (another series that performed better in America than in Japan), and produced the excellent Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for Wii U.  It seems Retro has that “magic touch” when it comes to reviving once great series, and I have come up with 5 series that could stand a revival, or at least a second look (admittedly, most of these series were never really “great”, and only one of them has more than one entry anyway.)  I’ve chosen these series based on how they might appeal to an older and more American demographic, and have added some notes on how I think they could be re-tooled for a modern audience.  So, with that lengthy intro out of the way, let’s get to the list!

5. Urban Champion

The Original: A very early one-on-one fighting game, Urban Champion was released on the NES during its second year, and has been re-released for just about every system since the Wii (for some reason.)  The gameplay consists of two characters who trade punches, attempting to knock each other back and into a manhole on the edge of the screen.  Sometimes, a woman will appear in a window and drop a flower pot, which you will want to avoid.  Also, a police car will drive by every so often, causing both fighters to return to their starting positions, whistling while they wait for the police to leave, which will waste precious time.  This is one of those early, one-screen games which contains no true ending, just a play for the high score.  Both fighters have a quick punch and a slow punch that causes more damage.  Each punch can be thrown high or low, and can be blocked by pressing up or down on the controller.  The characters are slow and the fighting is rather clunky in execution.  About the only real thing the game has going for it is its personality.  The entire concept of knocking an opponent into a manhole is rather silly, and every fight ends with the victor flexing while showered with confetti.  The game may not be polished or deep, but at least it has fun with itself.

The Modern Proposal: A Not-As-Violent God of War

If I were to propose a new version of Urban Champion, the first thing I’d do would be to ditch the one-on-one aspect.  Between Smash Bros. and ARMS, Nintendo seems to have that square filled as of late.  Instead, I’d make the new game a beat em’ up in the vein of Final Fight or Double Dragon.  These types of games were really popular in American arcades in the early 90’s (anyone remember pumping quarters into the X-Men arcade game?  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?  Even the Simpsons got a game in this style!)  The weakness of this genre, however, is how repetitive it can be.  There are only so many ways to punch the same four or five enemies until you’ve done everything.  This caused the genre to go stagnant for a long time, until many new games, most notably God of War, introduced the concept of leveling up your character.  By earning points, your character could learn new moves which would help take out large groups of enemies or better fight more powerful ones.  This is the system I would use for the new Urban Champion.  I would have a few characters available to play as (about 4), and each would have a skill tree that they could update with points earned from defeating enemies.  Leveling up the skill tree would allow each fighter to extend combos or learn new moves, and since each character would learn different moves, this would encourage players to try them all to see what new moves they can learn.  While most games in this genre have tended toward the more violent end of the scale lately (see God of War, Bayonetta, and God Hand), I would keep the violence in Urban Champion a bit more family friendly.  About the only redeeming factor of the original game was its goofy sense of humor, and I think that should stay.  A punch combo could end with the player slam dunking an enemy into a garbage can, complete with pinball sound effects, for example.  With the Donkey Kong Country Returns series, Retro Studios showed that they can produce a game that stars cartoon apes and yet still exudes personality and doesn’t feel childish (if anyone wants to argue otherwise, go play the temple levels in those games first. Yikes!)  Also, 2-Player is a MUST.

4. Mach Rider

The Original: Another early NES game, Mach Rider was an attempt to combine racing with shooting.  The titular Mach Rider would ride his Mach Cycle through apocalyptic wastelands in search of survivors of an alien war.  At least, we were told they were apocalyptic wastelands, the courses weren’t very detailed, this was early NES after all.  The Rider would be challenged by riders in other vehicles, which would have to be either shot with the Mach Cycles’ guns, or knocked into other hazards on the road.  The view was from behind the rider, and used the limited power of the system to simulate great speeds, faking the scaling effect that the SNES would be later be known for.  The game has a lot of ambition, but it was marred by poor controls and especially punishing difficulty.  A track editor was included, similar to the one included with Excitebike, but there was no way to save tracks.

The Modern Proposal: Combat Oriented F-Zero

Mach Rider and F-Zero are somewhat related in the Nintendo universe.  Both were created by the same team, and both feature extremely fast vehicles in a future setting.  F-Zero hasn’t had an entry since F-Zero: GP Legend on Gameboy Advance about a decade ago, and fans have been begging for another entry ever since.  However, Shin’en Media seems to have the futuristic racing angle taken care of with its Fast Racing series.  So, I propose a revival of Mach Rider in F-Zero’s stead.  The basic idea of the game is pretty solid, so I’d focus instead on tweaking the controls and just generally expanding the experience, along with implementing some ideas from the Story Mode of F-Zero GX.  I’d start by giving the game an actual story, since the original was just a never-ending set of levels.  You could pick a course, and race to the end while fighting off attackers in other vehicles.  You could upgrade your weapons, and earn different types of weapons and even vehicles for more options.  I would be sure to include some levels based on the “Death Race” mode from F-Zero X, where you race around a level fighting off a set number of attackers, as well as other scenarios similar Story Mode scenarios such as racing to save survivors from a bomb, or escape from an exploding tunnel, or any other speed-based scenario.  Basically, I’d give people the F-Zero game they’ve been asking for, but with a focus on action rather than racing.

3. Battle Clash

The Original: Many of you remember the NES Zapper, along with the legendary Duck Hunt.  Fewer of you will remember the SNES Super Scope, which was basically the Zapper, but a BAZOOKA.  If you were one of the lucky few to own this amazing device, you almost certainly had Battle Clash, which was about the only game worth owning for it.  Battle Clash took place in (yet another) post-apocalyptic future in which the leadership of nations is determined by one-on-one giant robot fights.  Your robot is unusual in that it has two pilots, the driver and the gunner.  You are the gunner, and it is your job to not only shoot the enemy robot, preferably in their weak spot, but also block their incoming shots.  Enemy robots can be damaged on any of their limbs, and damaged limbs can eventually be shot off (cathartic!)  The robots are well designed and the action is quick and challenging.  This game did well enough to warrant a sequel called Metal Combat: Falcon’s Revenge (the title had absolutely NOTHING to do with the popularity of Mortal Kombat at the time.)  As good as Battle Clash was, Metal Combat was an improvement on almost every level.  The graphics were better, the control was tighter, the enemy designs more interesting, and best of all, there were two playable machines, each with different shot attributes.  These two games, frankly, are worth it to track down an old Super Scope.

The Modern Proposal: Shooting Combat + Mech Combat

The split Joy-Con Controllers would be a perfect fit for a new Battle Clash.  I would have the gameplay split into two different sections.  The first portion of each battle would be similar to the original games, where the enemy mech zooms along the landscape, firing shots at your mech.  The left Joy-Con would control the movement of the mech, while the right Joy-Con would be turned over to use the sensor on the bottom to point at the screen ( like a Wii Remote), and the face buttons would fire.  However, after this portion of the battle ends, both mechs will meet in a location and battle it out in a more personal manner.  While the left Joy-Con would still control movement, the right could be used in a variety of ways depending on the weapons the player chooses to use.  You could continue to use shooting weapons and the controller would be held like before, or you could switch to a sword or other melee weapon and the right Joy-Con could be turned over and used to control it that way.  Or put all weapons away and use both Joy-Cons to duke it out, ARMS style!  If both mechs were in a city, you could pick up bits of the environment and use them to your advantage, such as throwing buildings or using shipping crates like knuckle dusters (like Pacific Rim.)  Retro could even take a page from Capcom’s Steel Battalion and include maintenance for the mechs, as well.  Say a limb gets damaged, the mech could put up a shield while the player must repair the damage before the shield breaks.  Add in a co-op mode, with one player controlling the mech and the other controlling the weapons, and a modern Battle Clash could become a noteworthy title.

2. Drill Dozer

The Original: Drill Dozer is a side scrolling platform game developed by Game Freak, the company best known for their work on Pokemon.  The protagonist, Jill, is thrust into the leadership of her father’s band of thieves after a rival group beats him up.  The rival group, the Skullkers, stole a red diamond that belonged to Jill’s deceased mother, and she sets out to get it back by using her father’s invention, the Drill Dozer, a mobile drilling mech.  The gameplay consists of using the drill to solve puzzles and defeat enemies.  The drill can be spun clockwise or counter-clockwise by using the shoulder buttons, and certain obstacles can only be passed by spinning the drill a certain way.  For example, there are red that are only passable by spinning the drill clockwise, and blue tunnels that are passed by spinning the drill counter-clockwise.  No points for guessing that you eventually run into tunnels with both red and blue portions, and you have to alternate spinning the drill in both directions.  The game comes up with several inventive applications for the drill, such as attaching a propeller and using it to fly, and using it to swim underwater.  The drill can also be upgraded, allowing you to return to previous stages to explore new areas.

The Modern Proposal: …Pretty Much The Same Thing

Of all the games on this list, this is the one that Retro Studios would least likely be given, since Game Freak worked on the original.  There aren’t many things to do differently, either, since the original is something of a platforming masterpiece.  If Retro were to adapt it to be more attractive to western audiences, I would probably tweak the art style to be similar to Donkey Kong Country Returns, as opposed to the anime look of the original.  I might include a hub world, as opposed to linear levels, as well.  Since the group from the original are referred to as thieves, it might be an interesting angle to have them pilfer items from different locations, with several options available to the player on how to get them, but that might detract from using the drill in ways the original did.  Overall, I’d keep it mostly the same, with a special emphasis on the good level design that the original is known for.  Retro Studios has shown they have a handle on interesting level dynamics with the Donkey Kong series, so I say let them have a crack at Drill Dozer!

1. Code Name: STEAM

The Original: If you own a 3DS and don’t own this game, do yourself a favor.  Stop what you are doing, run to the nearest electronics store, and buy it!  Code Name: STEAM is the most recent game on this list, and unfortunately, didn’t receive much love when it was released.  The game is set in a fictional, steam-powered world circa 1870, and features a strike team made up of characters plucked from American history, folklore, and literature using steam-powered weapons to combat Lovecraftian aliens.  Also, the team is led by Abraham Lincoln (who faked his own death and is voiced by Wil Wheaton) who occasionally joins the fight inside of his giant, steam-powered mech called A.B.E.  Yes, this game features a giant, robot Abraham Lincoln.  In addition, the art style is made to look like a comic book, to the point that the game begins with an unseen person sitting down and opening up a Code Name: STEAM comic.  The gameplay is basically “real time Fire Emblem“, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the game was made by Intelligent Systems, who also created that particular series.  You create a team of four characters, then move to an over-the-shoulder view making your way across a level.  You can move a certain amount of spaces and use certain weapons based on how much steam power you have left.  The focus is on setting ambushes for your enemies as opposed to always meeting them head-on.  Due to this, plus the lack of option to see the entire map from an overhead prospective, can make levels drag on a bit longer than they should, but with some applied patience, this game is very rewarding and deserves to be in every 3DS owner’s library.  I mean, come on!  Giant, robot Abraham Lincoln!

The Modern Proposal: Third-Person Steampunk Overwatch + Proper Sequel Sister Game

The idea behind Code Name: STEAM was to present a Fire Emblem-style strategy game that would appeal to players that weren’t familiar with Fire Emblem.  This was the reason for the over-the-shoulder approach, to make it similar to third-person shooters.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a game that can be played like a third-person shooter, so it sort of falls into this nebulous area in between the two types of games.  So, I’d just make two different games.  Retro Studios would head up a new version of Code Name: STEAM that ditches the strategy mechanics altogether and goes for a straight-up action game.  In keeping with some of the theme of the original, I’d create a squad of three or four members, then switch between them while attacking enemies and advancing toward a goal.  Overwatch is the game I’d take inspiration from, and each character would fill a certain niche, like a tank or a healer.  Because of all this, there would be a heavy multiplayer focus with this game, and I would market it to the Splatoon crowd.  However, in keeping all the way up with the spirit of the original, I’d have Intelligent Systems create a second, sister game that would play more like the original, with a few tweaks to improve the speed of gameplay (most notably an overhead map.)  For the story, I would state that Lincoln survived the events of the original, and uses his believed-dead status to create a new, covert team that can accomplish things in secret now that the original team has achieved celebrity status.  The original team can operate in the open, hence the faster gameplay, while the new team must sneak around to stay hidden.  Also, I’d make Nikola Tesla the leader of the covert team and give them electric “Teslapunk” weapons to add some variety.  The two games would absolutely interact with each other in some way, allowing characters from each game to appear in the other.  In addition, I would have an actual comic made, perhaps written and/or drawn by Mike Mignola?  The game does look close to his art style.  Considering the poor sales of Code Name: STEAM, I seriously doubt Nintendo would have one large follow-up game, let alone two, but hey, this is my list and I’ll put any crazy thing on it that I want!

And there you have it!  I am looking forward to what Nintendo has in store for E3, especially in regards to Retro Studios.  Hope to see you all during the presentation!

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Nintendo Switch – Happy Days Are Here Again?

•February 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

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By now, everyone interested has seen the Nintendo Switch presentation, watched the videos, analyzed the games, and come to their own conclusions.

Here’s mine.

The short of it is – I haven’t been this interested in a video game system since the original Wii.  The Switch might appear gimmicky at a glance, but I believe there is potential for much more hiding within this system.

I can’t really hide the fact that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Nintendo loyalist, and I will most likely buy whatever they put out, as my Virtual Boy (lovingly nicknamed “The Eye-Stabbing Paperweight”) will attest.  With that being said, however, I wasn’t in a rush to buy the Wii U during the holiday season of 2012.  The games looked okay, but nothing I needed to have right away, and I didn’t end up getting one until next Christmas.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my Wii U.  I have spent many hours learning the ropes on Splatoon and even got my wife to play Pikmin 3 with me.  And I love that the game pad can be used as a second TV screen (so the kids can watch Netflix while the adults watch whatever we want!)  Unfortunately, the system didn’t exactly scream “BUY ME”.  The central gimmick wasn’t that impressive on the box, and only one Wii U pad could work with the system at one time while the other players had to use Wii remotes, making multiplayer something of an “Animal Farm” recreation (some controllers are more equal than others.)

The Switch literally has that solution built in to it.  This is a system that invites people to play it in a very insistent manner.  Since the system can be played in such a variety of positions, there are almost no excuses for not letting your friends play.  I already own a copy of Mario Kart 8, and I am strongly considering buying it again for the Switch if only so I can play it with friends using the tabletop setting.  That’s how interested I am in this system.

There have been some complaints about the anemic lineup at launch, but I seriously doubt I’ll be finished playing Breath of the Wild before the end of March.  I’m considering picking up 1-2-Switch as well.  It honestly seems less like a video game and more like a party game, but that’s just fine by me.  The first trailer made me think it would be a fun game to play with a group of people and I may just do that.  ARMS looks interesting, and launches before the end of April.  I’m hoping for a paradigm-breaking fighting game with depth and a good amount of content.  Early reviews indicate that this may be the case, with one review stating that ARMS does the same for fighting games that Splatoon did for competitive shooters (which as about as good an endorsement as I can think of).  My only concern is the amount of content, but I am sure that there are other fighters, upgrades, and game modes that will be revealed closer to the street date.  The Switch version of Mario Kart 8 also launches before the end of April, and I have already mentioned my interest in that game despite it being a glorified port.  Splatoon 2 is a no-brainer (with a test-fire coming shortly after the Switch launches!), and I am beyond thrilled to see a return to form with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a direct sequel to one of my favorite games of all time.  And I don’t think there is a gamer alive who isn’t interested in Super Mario Odyssey.  These games are somewhat spread out, but that just means I’ll have more time to enjoy them before the next big release.  And it appears there will be more third party support than before, so the space between big Nintendo releases will hopefully be filled by some AAA third party games (how about a Switch version of Overwatch?  Please?)

So that’s my assessment.  I am personally counting down the days until I can pick up my new system (pre-ordered the day after the announcement!)  Hope to see you all make the Switch on launch day!

Star Wars: Rebels – Spark of Rebellion Review

•October 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Image ign.com

Some time ago, I commented on the furor surrounding the acquisition of the Star Wars franchise by Disney, especially as it concerned the new TV show “Star Wars: Rebels”.  My stance was that the new show was being handled by many of the same people that worked on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and that things were in good hands.  The new show  premiered last Friday, October 3rd, with an hour-long episode titled “Spark of Rebellion”.  So, I’m sure you’re all dying to know what I thought, right?  Probably not, but I’ll tell you anyway.

For those not in the know, “Star Wars: Rebels” is set five years before the original “Star Wars” (or “Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope”, if you must.)  Most of the action takes place on the planet Lothal, which has been taken over by the Empire.  A group of rebels, led by a former Jedi named Kanan Jarrus, emerge on the planet and take a stand against their oppressors.  During a mission to steal some weapons, the rebels run into an orphan named Ezra Bridger who turns out to be strong with the Force.  Ezra joins the rebels to be trained by Kanan, while the commotion caused draws the attention of the Inquisitor, a Dark Force user hand-picked by Darth Vader to hunt down the remaining Jedi.

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The crew of the Ghost.
Image starwars.com

I am happy to report that most of the things people were worried about concerning this series simply didn’t happen.  There were concerns that Disney would “sanitize” the series in an attempt to make it kid-friendly, and the introduction of Ezra only seemed to add fuel to that particular fire.  While “Rebels” doesn’t head off to the darker portions of the universe that “The Clone Wars” did (in this episode, at least) there is plenty of action to be found.  Kanan gets into several firefights with Stormtroopers, the rebel Sabine uses explosives to blow up Imperial ships, and Imperial Agent Kallus knocks an incompetent soldier down a mineshaft.  While a far cry from Clone Wars’ suicide bombers, shell-shocked veterans, and turncoat generals, “Rebels” isn’t a Mickey Mouse cartoon.  At one point, the crew visits a shanty town outside the city (referred to as “Tarkintown”, after the infamous Grand Moff Tarkin).  While brief, this scene shows promise that “Rebels” will be able to explore the lives of some of the citizens being oppressed by the Empire, much like how “The Clone Wars” explored the horrors of war and its effects on the people it engulfed.

There is no denying that the newer art style looks more “Disneyish” than the previous series.  The colors are brighter, and the lines are softer than before.  And, as has been pointed out in many other outlets, Ezra looks a LOT like Aladdin with blue hair.  However, the newer art style doesn’t distract from the Star Wars “feel” of the episode.  The swashbuckling nature of the original trilogy is thankfully preserved in this episode.  There are several action pieces, with a chase through the streets of Lothal, an infiltration of an Imperial ship, an attack on a slave camp, and others.  If the rest of the show is as fun as the premier episode, we will be in for a great series.  And, as a side note, there is no basis for the fear that Ezra will be an annoying child character.  He was well acted and not obnoxious, and he is frankly MUCH less annoying than Ahsoka was at the beginning of “The Clone Wars” (remember “Artooey”? )  All of the characters have a chance to shine in this episode, and we really get a feel for their personalities by the end.  All of the voice actors do a great job with their roles, and I didn’t feel annoyed by any of them.  Even Sabine, the “sassy” Mandalorian who laces explosives with spray paint that I was sure I would hate, turned out to be much better executed than I thought she would.

I highly recommend “Star Wars: Rebels” based on the first episode.  For all those who are still stinging from Clone Wars’ cancellation, or those who are angry about Disney buying the franchise, I say give this series a shot.  It successfully captures the fun of the original trilogy, and gives me a new hope (see what I did there!) about the future of this franchise.

So, about the new Thor…

•September 19, 2014 • 1 Comment

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The new Thor.
Image marvel.com

As I’m sure everyone interested in comic books knows by now, Marvel Comics is about to launch a new Thor series in which Mjolnir, along with the powers of Thor, is now wielded by a woman.  The series will apparently revolve around the mystery of who this woman is, as well as chronicling the events that led the classic Thor to be deemed unworthy to wield the hammer.  There has been a lot of press coverage, with most outlets praising the change as a bold, feminist move.  I, however, do not agree with this statement, and I do not feel that this will ultimately be a beneficial change for the character.

When the announcement came that a woman would be taking over the role of Thor, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, with the crux of the anger focusing on the gender specifically.  There were statements made about how this was somehow an insult to the heritage of the character and how a woman couldn’t (or shouldn’t) have Thor’s powers.  These statements seem to ignore the fact that Thor’s hammer was once used by a crocodile-like alien (try as you might, you’ll never find any tome of Norse mythology that mentions the god “Beta Ray Bill”), and was in fact held by women at various times (Wonder Woman held the hammer briefly in a company crossover, and Rogue wound up with Thor’s powers in a “What If” story).  Anyone who is worthy can hold the hammer, so there is no in-universe reason why a different character, man or woman, couldn’t become Thor.

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Not a Norse god (but don’t tell him that!)
Image comicvine.com

By making the new Thor a woman, Marvel is hoping to appeal to the growing (or ever-present, as it were) population of female comic book readers.  Many other female Marvel characters have gained prominence lately.  Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of Black Widow has led to a resurgence of popularity for the character, while the title of the classic character “Captain Marvel” was recently taken over by Carol Danvers, the super heroine formerly known as “Ms. Marvel”.   The new “Thor” comic will be the 8th monthly Marvel title with a female lead, a list which includes an all-female X-Men team.  Marvel editor Wil Moss made the statement, “…this new Thor isn’t a temporary female substitute-she’s now the one and only Thor, and she is worthy!”  A statement like that would seem to indicate that the female Thor is the new status quo in the Marvel universe.

This is where my problem with the concept lies.

Let’s look at a few other “permanent” status quo changes in recent memory:

-Steve Rogers is killed and his former sidekick Bucky Barnes becomes Captain America (Rogers was alive again in two years, and became Captain America again in another two.)

-Peter Parker dies and Otto Octavius becomes the new Spider-Man (Parker lived on as a memory and became Spider-Man again in two years time, just in time for the new movie, even!)

-Magneto kills Jean Grey and is in turn killed by Wolverine (the dead Magneto was revealed to be an imposter a few months later.  Jean stayed dead for a long time, but recently her time displaced younger self came to the present, although she didn’t completely replace the old Jean.  Partial credit for this one.)

-The Human Torch dies (didn’t even last a year.)

-Batman is shunted into an alternate period in time and is believed dead by his friends, leading to a race to take over his title (again, a little more than a year.)

The problem I have with a female Thor is that, due to the desire of comic books to remain somewhat static, I know this isn’t a permanent change no matter how many assurances we get from the Marvel heads.  The status quo of a comic book character is defined by whatever the public at large is most familiar with.  Some time ago, DC tried to change Superman’s costume from the familiar red and blue into a blue energy…thing.  This lasted for a little while, but eventually DC changed the costume back.  In the end, when people think of Superman, they think red and blue with a cape, and no amount of electric jazz is going to change that. The basis for the red and blue costume is too deeply embedded in the public consciousness for the general public to accept anything vastly different.  This is why Aquaman no longer has a harpoon hand and Wolverine got his adamantium bones back after Magneto ripped them out.

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No.
Image themisterrec.blogspot.com

This doesn’t mean that change is impossible, it just means that the larger audience has to accept the change for it to stick.  Most moviegoers probably aren’t aware that the recent “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie features a team that is not only NOT the original comic book team, but is a fairly recent creation.  The original Guardians have been around since the late 1960’s, but they never had a major movie made about them, so Star Lord, Rocket, and the gang have made that title theirs to the point that the upcoming comic featuring the original lineup isn’t even called “Guardians of the Galaxy” anymore.  People are more familiar with the movie lineup.  (As an aside, I believe that Carol Danvers becoming Captain Marvel WILL stick, because most people are unfamiliar with the original Captain and won’t have a problem accepting Carol in that role because of it.)

Maybe you’ve noticed, but Marvel has a few successful movies under their belt.  Due to his exposure from the successful movies, Thor is a big property for Marvel and as such is going to be even more resistant to change than before.  Why would Marvel want to introduce new fans to the movie Thor but have a vastly different one in other major forms of media?  Since the movies are so influential due to their popularity, Marvel probably isn’t going to market a (male) Thor movie only to offer (female) Thor everywhere else.  When the general public thinks of Thor, they think of Chris Hemsworth, and Marvel is ultimately going to cater to that.

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You’re welcome.
Image totalfilm.com

I predict that the (male) Thor will return in about two years time, just in time for the new movie to come out.  At that point, the female Thor will receive some other magic doodad and will also get a new name.  Alternately, (male) Thor will return with some other magical powering device and be separate from the female Thor, but after some time he will get Mjolnir back and become Thor again.  Despite Marvel’s assurances, you will not pick up a Thor comic in ten years time and have the lead be a female.   As opposed to a stand for feminism, this change reeks of publicity stunt.  Instead of giving the title to a strong, capable woman, the end result is that Thor will let her babysit his hammer for about two or three years so he can “find himself”.

And I don’t think that’s very feminist at all.

Godzilla (2014)

•May 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Image hdwallpapers.in

“The arrogance of man is thinking that nature is in their control, and not the other way around.”

In 2014, Godzilla returns to American theaters with another take on the legendary monster.  The license has passed to Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers, and Gareth Edwards, best known for his film “Monsters”, is the director, and it stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olson, Ken Watanabe, and “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston.  This movie sticks closer to Godzilla’s origins than the previous American Godzilla did; Gareth Edwards specifically cited the 1954 “Godzilla” and the movie “Jaws” as inspirations.

An accident at the Janjira Nuclear Plant near Tokyo leads to the destruction of the plant and the death of several workers, including Sandra Brody, wife of plant operator Joe Brody.  Fifteen years later Joe’s son, Ford, is called to Japan to retrieve his father, who has become obsessed with the idea that the accident at the plant wasn’t caused by an earthquake as the official report claimed, but something else.  These events lead to the discovery of a reawakened ancient creature dubbed a MUTO-Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.  Eventually, another MUTO is discovered, and the two creatures begin to converge on San Francisco, where Ford’s wife, Elle, and son, Sam, are waiting for him to return.  Nothing the military tries can stop the MUTOs, but Dr. Serizawa, the head of a secret organization called “Monarch” feels that nature has a way of restoring balance, and that balance may come in the form of a lifeform first seen in 1954 called Godzilla…

Want to know what happens?  See the movie!

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I admit, I went into this movie expecting it to be mostly wall-to-wall monster action.  The fact that the last movie I saw was “Godzilla: Final Wars”, which moved around more than a 5-year old after a few bags of Fun Dip, didn’t help.  I expected lots of explosions and lots of monster fighting action.  And while there are explosions and monster fighting to be found, they aren’t the crux of the movie.  I knew going in that there would be a focus on human drama in the face of a giant monster attack, but after so many monster movies focusing on the actual monsters themselves, I expected the human drama to drop off quickly to let the monsters have center stage.  Instead, the human drama IS the film.  Godzilla isn’t the hero of this movie; he’s the backdrop.  The humans, specifically the Brody family, are the heroes.  It is through the trials and tribulations of this family that we see the MUTO’s rampage and Godzilla’s appearance.  Because of this, we wind up with a much more personal film than we might of had the movie focused on the destruction of a city.

Not that there isn’t destruction.  The male MUTO makes a particularly impressive entrance as it destroys an airport by causing a chain reaction of exploding airplanes.  The female MUTO also causes a fair amount of destruction in Las Vegas, and Godzilla’s appearance in San Francisco doesn’t bode well for the famous bridge.  And, of course, the final battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs is quite spectacular.  But where the movie truly succeeds is in the aftermath of the monster attacks.  The ruins of Honolulu call back to the ruined scenes of Tokyo in the original “Godzilla”, and the mob of people looking for lost loved ones recall the scenes of the dead and dying in the hospitals in the original movie.  After so many years of smashed buildings and wrecked city streets, this movie takes a minute to actually survey the damage and remind us that, at some point, somebody is going to have to rebuild all this and move on.  There are actual consequences to giant monsters fighting in a human-populated city.

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Image godzilla-movies.com

The monsters themselves are fascinating creations.  The MUTOs are new creations and are not based on any past Toho monsters, though some similarities can be drawn.  While they cause much destruction in their wake, they are truly only animals being driven by instinct, and some have labelled them almost “tragic” because of this.  There is a scene when the two monsters find each other in which the male MUTO presents the female with a stolen nuclear bomb (they eat radiation) as sort of a mating initiation.  They then nuzzle their noses while making clicking noises, then head off to build their nest.  This scene actually generates sympathy for them, as it reminds us that their only interest is in finding each other to lay eggs.  However, because of what they are, we are not able to coexist with them and we must fight them for survival.  Godzilla is stated to be a member, possibly the last, of an ancient species that existed millions of years ago when the Earth was covered in radiation.  The MUTOs are the natural prey of Godzilla’s species, and so he must hunt them, which brings up several questions about Godzilla’s character.  Is he hunting the MUTOs out of instinct?  Or does he hold some interest in protecting humanity?  Godzilla doesn’t cause as much direct destruction in this movie as he normally does.  In fact, there are times that he seems to actively avoid causing harm, such as times when he swims underneath a group of destroyers and a time when he avoids a large group of people.  He also makes eye contact with Ford Brody at one point and almost seems to empathize with him, indicating an intelligence beyond mere instinct.  As a savior who still causes destruction in his wake, he seems to have a lot in common with Gamera from 1999’s “Revenge of Iris”, or as a more benevolent version of the idol from the “Daimajin” trilogy.  I was also surprised that it took so long for Godzilla to show up, but I went back and found that this isn’t too dissimilar to the original “Godzilla”.  His presence is often felt rather than directly seen, much as it was in the original movie.

I enjoyed “Godzilla”, though I’d like to see it again to properly absorb parts of it.  At first I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t a straight monster-action fest, but after some thought, I realize that THAT movie has already been made.  It was called “Pacific Rim”, and it was perfect for doing what it set out to do.  But while “Pacific Rim” celebrated the fighting and action part of the giant monster genre, “Godzilla” celebrates the more introspective side.  Where “Pacific Rim” sets out to “fight the hurricane”, “Godzilla” tells us that “the arrogance of man is thinking that nature is in their control, and not the other way around.”  “Pacific Rim” showed us the unconquerable power of the human spirit, “Godzilla” showed us that there are forces we can never conquer and must simply survive.  They are two sides of the same coin, presenting the genre from two different vantage points.  Once I realized this, I came to appreciate Gareth Edward’s vision for Godzilla, and considering the box-office returns, it looks like I will be able to see more of it.

Trivia

At one point, the Brody household has a clear insect cage with the word “Mothra” on the side.  The early part of the movie also contains lots of “moth” imagery, such as a classroom of students looking at a moth diagram.  Could Mothra appear in a sequel?

When Godzilla fires his nuclear breath, his spines light up in sequence, starting from the tip of his tail to his head, instead of all lighting up at once.  This is very similar to how he fired it on “Godzilla: The Series”, the cartoon that followed the 1998 movie.

Andy Serkis, famous for portraying Gollum in “Lord of the Rings”, advised Edwards on how to capture the movement of Godzilla.  Serkis also portrayed Kong in Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” in 2005, meaning that he has technically worked with both famous monsters.

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Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

•May 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Image freewebs.com

“Listen kid.  There are two things you don’t know about the Earth.  One is me.  The other is Godzilla!”

For Godzilla’s 50th anniversary, Toho decided that it was finally time to retire the beast.  Despite the success of “GMK” and “Godzilla X Mechagodzilla”, the Millennium series had not performed as well as they had hoped, and to avoid further diminishing returns, it was decided that Godzilla would take a rest for at least ten years.  However, it was also decided that if Godzilla was going to go, he’d go out with a bang!  Toho recruited director Ryuhei Kitamura, best known for action movies, to direct.  In addition, several monsters that hadn’t been seen since the Showa series made their return, and even the American Godzilla (now called “Zilla”) put in an appearance.  Add in an alien plot and an action-driven soundtrack composed in part by Keith Emmerson of “Emmerson, Lake, and Palmer”, and the result is a chaotic, adrenaline-fueled, love-it-or-hate-it monster movie.

After many years of fighting, Godzilla is finally buried in a glacier at the South Pole by the crew of the flying battleship “Gotengo”.  Following the incident, the “M Organization” is created to respond to the growing monster threat.  Superhuman mutants are found among the population and are recruited into the organization.  40 years after Godzilla is buried, the upgraded “Gotengo”, piloted by Captain Gordan, battles and narrowly defeats the monster Manda with a freeze ray.  Gordon if recalled and put in the brig for his repeated clashes with his commanders.  The mutant trooper Ozaki and scientist Dr. Otonashi head off to an archeological dig where a mummified monster is dug up.  It is noted that the monster has the same protein in its blood that the mutants have.  At that point, the Mothra fairies appear to the protagonists and reveal the monster is called Gigan, and it fought Mothra several thousand years ago.  They also warn the evil in Gigan is present in teh mutants, but they must make their own choices.  After the fairies disappear, cities all over the Earth are attacked by monsters simultaneously.  Rodan attacks New York.  Anguirus appears in Shanghai.  Sydney is attacked by Zilla.  Okinawa by King Caesar.  Paris by Kamacuras.  Arizona by Kumonga.  Ebirah attacks a power plant near Tokyo.  And Minilla, the Son of Godzilla, appears at Mt. Fuji to a hunter and his grandson, who take the creature with them.  All seems lost, but alien spaceships suddenly appear and remove the monsters.  The aliens reveal themselves as the Xilians, and they have come to save Earth from the monsters and from a rogue planet called Gorath that will collide with Earth in 36 hours.  Humanity welcomes the Xilians with open arms, especially the charismatic second-in-command who calls himself “X”.  Dr. Otonashi and Ozaki are suspicious of the aliens, and along with Otonashi’s reporter sister, they discover that the Xilians have replaced several high ranking members of M Organization with clones and that Gorath is a hologram.  They form a small group of people they can trust, which includes the freed Captain Gordon, and begin a revolt against the Xilians.  The aliens are exposed, and just as the Xilian leader is about to explain himself, X assassinates him and reveals the Xilians intend to use humans as food.  X takes control of most of the mutants and turns them against the heroes.  Captain Gordon, Ozaki, Otonashi, and a few others escape to regroup.  Meanwhile, X unleashes the monsters to attack humanity.

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Image sancho-asia.com

The crew discovers that the extra mutant protein was created by the Xilians, which is why they can control the mutants and the monsters.  However, they can’t control Ozaki for some reason.  The crew commandeer the Gotengo and Captain Gordon devises a plan to release Godzilla to defeat the monsters while they take on the Xilians.  The crew head to Area “G” at the South Pole with Gigan in hot pursuit.  They successfully release Godzilla, who effortlessly defeats Gigan.  The crew of the Gotengo lead Godzilla on to various spots around the world, as he easily defeats Zilla, Kumonga, and Kamacuras.  Rodan, Anguirus, and King Caesar team up against Godzilla near Mt. Fuji, but Godzilla beats them unconscious after a short battle.  Minilla watches the fight, and grows larger afterward.  The Gotengo stages its attack against the Xilian mothership.  They get inside but are ambushed by X.  The Mothra twins summon Mothra to aid Godzilla, just as he finishes off Hedorah and Ebirah.  Suddenly, the Gorath appears, not a hologram as previously thought, and is blasted by Godzilla.  The meteor breaks open to reveal a new creature, Monster X.  Godzilla and Monster X battle as Mothra arrives.  The Xililans release an upgraded Gigan to battle Mothra.  As the monsters battle, X reveals that Ozaki is a Kaiser; a special mutant that has the potential to become an immensely powerful being.  X is also a Kaiser, and demonstrates by firing a beam from his hand at Ozaki.  Mothra and Gigan mutually destroy each other, while Ozaki’s Kaiser powers manifest themselves and he and X fight.  The various characters join in different fights at different levels of the mothership while Godzilla battles Monster X.  The two titans trade beam blasts as the mothership explodes and the heroes escape.  Monster X survives the blast and begins to transform into a new, but slightly familiar creature; Kaiser Ghidorah.  Kaiser Ghidorah tramples Godzilla easily and begins draining his power.  Ozaki straps himself into Gotengo’s cockpit and channels his Kaiser energy at Godzilla, giving the monster a much-needed boost.  Godzilla overpowers Ghidorah, blasting off two of its heads in the process, throws the beast into orbit as he finishes it off with his red spiral beam.  Godzilla then turns his attention to the Gotengo and blasts the ship with his nuclear ray.  He is about to finish the crew off, when Minilla appears and implores him not to.  The hunter and his grandson also appear, and the grandson implores the humans to stop fighting Godzilla.  Everyone drops their weapons, and Godzilla heads off into the sunset, letting out one last roar.

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Image godzilla.wikia.com

“Godzilla: Final Wars” is an exercise in excess.  There is always some bit of action on screen at any given point.  The movie is so cramped with monsters, aliens, and kung-fu that it at times causes some sensory overload.  The script is all over the place and the humans come off as one-dimensional, but it could be argued that spectacle is this movie’s purpose and in that sense, it succeeds admirably.  The return of so many Showa monsters, some which hadn’t been seen in 30 years, is more than welcome, though it is a shame that no Heisei-exclusive monsters made an appearance.  The fights are much more animated than before, with monsters leaping around and in-close battles being much faster.  If the Showa series had monster fights that felt like wrestling, this movie feels like MMA.  Captain Gordon has become a fan-favorite character due to his crazy awesomeness, and several Godzilla actors put in an appearance, including Akira Takarada, who played Ogata in the original “Godzilla”.  “Godzilla: Final Wars” is by no means the best Godzilla movie, or even the best in the Millennium series, but is best viewed with several slices of pizza, a handful of rowdy friends, and most higher brain functions shut off.  This movie marked the last Godzilla movie of them all.  Until May 16, 2014, that is…

Trivia

The ending credits feature several scenes that did not appear in the movie, such as what appears to be an extended fight scene featuring Hedorah.  There is also a scene of Mothra returning to Infant Island, suggesting she may have survived her fight with Gigan.

While he killed them in the original script, Godzilla does not finish off Rodan, Anguirus, and King Caesar in the final movie.  This is a bit poetic, as Godzilla spares the monsters that were his sidekicks in the Showa series.

This movie premiered the same day Godzilla got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

This movie also featured the final use of the “Big Pool”, a large water tank used for water-based action scenes since 1960.

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Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003)

•May 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Image kaijucast.com

Since “Godzilla X Mechagodzilla” was as successful as it was, Toho decided to break the trend they had started with the Millennium series and ordered a direct sequel.  Mothra was added to the mix with the popular Kiryu, and the movie contains several references to the original “Mothra”, serving as sort of a sequel to that movie.  This movie features the return of actor Hiroshi Koizumi reprising the role of Professor Chujo from “Mothra”.

Kiryu is returned to its hangar after the final battle in “Godzilla X Mechagodzilla” severely damaged.  The Absolute Zero Cannon is ruined beyond repair, and the public begins to worry that there will be nothing to save them should Godzilla reappear.  As repairs begin, the twin fairies appear to warm humanity that the original Godzilla’s bones must be returned to the sea.  Mothra is angry because the dead have been disrespected, and may not defend humanity in the future if her wish is not complied with.  Repairs continue on Kiryu anyway, and the metal titan is outfitted with a Hyper Maser Cannon to replace the Absolute Zero Cannon.  Kiryu’s pilot Azusa is reassigned, and she meets Kiryu’s new engineer, Yoshido Chujo, in the hangar.  She tells Yoshido that she feels Kiryu doesn’t want to fight anymore, and should be laid to rest.  The carcass of a giant turtle, Kameobas, washes up on shore with claw marks on its neck, signalling that Godzilla is nearby.  Soon enough, the monster appears but the government is hesitant to launch Kiryu due to Mothra’s warning.  Yoshido’s nephew, Shun, along with Shun’s grandfather, Dr. Shinichi Chujo, arrange desks to form Mothra’s symbol, which will summon the giant moth.  Mothra appears and begins battling Godzilla.

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Image godzilla-rus.narod.ru

 

Mothra holds her own until she begins slowing down from old age.  As Godzilla gains the upper hand, Kiryu is launched to aid Mothra.  As Godzilla and Kiryu battle, a giant egg hatches on Mothra’s island, revealing two larvae who make their way toward Japan.  After a fierce battle, Kiryu is knocked offline and Godzilla turns his attention to Mothra.  The larvae arrive and attempt to fight Godzilla, but Mothra shields her offspring from one of Godzilla’s nuclear blasts and dies in the process.  Yoshido drops from a plane to get Kiryu back online, and is trapped inside the cyborg as it reactivates and battles Godzilla some more.  The Mothra larvae wrap Godzilla in a cocoon and render him helpless.  Godzilla roars, which causes Kiryu to lose control again.  However, the spirit of the original Godzilla really does want to be put to rest as it gathers up Godzilla and heads out for sea.  Yoshido is ready to die with Kiryu, but his colleagues manage to blast open a door on Kiryu, then the cyborg itself dumps Yoshido onto a rescue craft, sending him a farewell message on a computer screen.  Yoshido is saved and Godzilla and Kiryu sink to the bottom of the ocean.  In a post credits scene, it is revealed that the Japanese military has several vials of monster DNA, and have the ability to create an army of monsters.

“Tokyo SOS” suffers from many of the same problems that “Godzilla vs. Mothra” suffered from.  This movie feels like a remake of “Mothra vs. Godzilla” with Mechagodzilla stuck in for good measure.  It spends a lot of time referencing what came before, and doesn’t tread much new ground.  Sadly, there are many interesting plot threads that are not really followed up on.  Mothra turning against humanity is brought up, but nothing every really happens in that regard.  There would have been several opportunities to expand on the “Life vs. Death” debate from the previous movie, but these roads are never taken and the character Azusa is reduced to a cameo in favor of another female lead that isn’t quite as interesting.  The post credit sequence was a great set-up, but again, nothing came of it.  Despite this, the fight scenes are well done, and Mothra looks about as good as she ever has.  “Tokyo SOS” had potential, but ultimately just proves to be an average sequel.

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Trivia

The dead monster on the beach was supposed to be Anguirus, but that monster proved popular so the relatively unknown Kameobas, from “Space Amoeba” was used instead.

The Mothra larvae’s eyes turn red after their mother dies.  This sort of parallels how Kiryu’s eyes turn red when it is berserk.

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