Monday, June 30, 2014

TGLVG: Battletoads/Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team

In the past few months, I've been working on building my collection of classic games from the NES/SNES/Genesis era, both that I had as a kid, or that I always wanted to try. In the beginning of my quest, it seemed only right that I pick up a copy of one of my all-time favorite games, Battletoads/Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team. The game actually released Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Game Boy, but the version I grew up with was on Sega Genesis. I will concede, however, that the SNES is the most graphically superior. Either way, they all play the same.

Super Nintendo
Sega Genesis

A brief history:
Battletoads is a side-scrolling beat-em-up that originated on the Nintendo in 1991. It was developed by Rare, who also went on to create such massive hits as the Donkey Kong Country series, Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark, Goldeneye 007, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini....they basically ruled your childhood if you owned a Nintendo 64 or SNES. The original Battletoads game is notorious for being one of the hardest games on the NES, which let's be honest, had a lot of them.

Double Dragon followed a similar formula to that of Battletoads, and followed Billy and Jimmy Lee, brothers who fought to rescue their kidnapped girlfriend. (Yeah, they shared her. Super weird, right?) The series started in 1987 and was created by Taito, the company behind Space Invaders, Bubble Bobble, Takeshi's Challenge, and Operation Wolf. Basically think of any game that is damn near impossible to beat from the 80's/90's, chances are Taito made it.

The Story:
I use the word "story" very loosely. For reasons unexplained by the game, the Battletoads require the help of the Lee brothers in order to defeat the evil Dark Queen, and the five of them head out to outer space to stop her. What commences is one of the most enjoyable two player experiences on any of the systems that this game came out on back in 1993. 

This generation of consoles was no stranger to the two player side-scrolling beat-em-up. Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Captain America & The Avengers, Power Rangers: The Movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the list goes on and on, and they were rarely anything other than spectacular.

This game is absolutely brutal in later levels, but in the most fun way possible. I'd very much suggest playing with a friend though, as single player can tend to be on the more frustrating side. What I've learned as an adult playing the games I played as a kid is that when playing with a partner, you tend to take the game as a whole a lot less seriously, making it just as fun if you die as it is when you do well.

The gameplay is simple, a linear side-scrolling beat-em-up similar to the famous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. Some levels do vary slightly, such as limiting your movement to strictly left-right, removing the up-down portion, or some that vary greatly, such as putting you in a space ship in an Asteroids-style level. There are also two modes of two-player, one of which allows you to beat up your co-op partner if you so choose. For the life of me I can't see why they'd include that, seeing as it has absolutely nothing in common with the entire rest of the game, but hey, to each his own...

All characters play the same, basically you choose if you want a green or brown frog, or if you want a blonde dork with a pompadour in red or blue tights. 

From the depths of space to the scummy alleyways of earth, your adventure takes you through locations and boss fights including  bosses from both Double Dragon, and Battletoads. I have to admit I always loved wailing on popular Double Dragon villain Abobo as a giant talking toad. There is a lot of variety in the game as a whole, and for a game that doesn't allow you to save your progress, it can be completed in a pretty satisfying time, usually around an hour. This is great for single sit-down plays with friends.

There is a bit of a downside in multiplayer. Unlike many other beat-em-ups of this era, if one of the two players loses all of their lives, BOTH players are taken to a "Continue?" screen, and whether or not the dying player continues, both must restart at the beginning of the current level. This can become very frustrating in cases where the levels get exceedingly long. There were many times where P2 would get a Game Over, and when we continued again from the beginning, P1 would would be so close to one as well that it didn't pay to try to finish the level until we killed off P1 as well in order to get more lives. This wouldn't be horrible, except that there is a limited number of continues.

The game feels like so many of the quarter-munching arcade machines I loved so much as a kid (like The Simpsons arcade game) where the idea was to keep making the player die in order to spend more money. The fault here is that you can't keep popping quarters into your Sega/Nintendo. When you are dead, its back to level 1 (That is unless you try the cheat code listed below!).

You've assaulted Abobo, beaten Blag, rocked Roper, ripped apart Robo Manus, smashed Shadow Boss, and destroyed the Dark Queen. But depending on how you did it, you actually get one of two endings. I'm going to be honest, this game kicked my pants good. So there were a level or two that I had to skip using the Level Select cheat code. As such, my ending consisted of the final boss calling me a cheater, and returning to the title screen.

But if you're stoic enough to carry on through thick and thin, you're rewarded with a brief scene of Dark Queen promising revenge, then taking off in her tiny getaway ship.

Sadly her vengeful spirit is never fulfilled, as another Battletoads game has never been made since... 

Cheat Codes:
Sure, give me crap if you must, but there is no way in hell you can beat this game with the paltry three lives they start you out with. Even then, some of the levels are incredibly long and brutal, so if you need to resort to skipping a level, or just need a few extra lives, try this out:

10 Lives + Level Select:
At the Character Select screen, press Down, Up, Up, Down, C, A, B. A tone will indicate the code is entered correctly. NOTE: If you beat the game with this cheat in, you will not get the "good" ending.

If I haven't convinced you yet, who can say no to this fantastic mid-90s style ad?

Monday, June 23, 2014

TGLM: How To Train Your Dragon 2

How To Train Your Dragon 2
(2014) PG

Jay Baruchel, Djimon Hounsou, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Junah Hill

Five years after the events of HTTYD, Hiccup and friends are living happily, as their homeland, Berk, has embraced dragons into their daily life, both for riding and for companionship. Hiccup continues to explore the world with Toothless, and during his journey, discovers that they aren't the only ones who are harnessing the might of dragons. They discover that Drago, a ruthless viking from far away, has been capturing dragons to create an army. Confident that he can change Drago's outlook on dragons, Hiccup sets off to find him, and on the way runs into something and someone that he never expected...

The Good:
I'm loving animated movies more and more lately. Now that we're past the dawn of 3D technology, and the beginnings of computer animation, it seems like companies are more so working on how to push these existing technologies to their absolute limits. HTTYD 2 is an absolute delight to the eyes, and to me, a very close second to Frozen in terms of visuals. If you've seen any of the trailers, chances are you have caught a glimpse of the massive Viking army, or the behemoth dragons (referred to in the movie as "alphas"). The sight of both of these in the movie itself were spectacular, and it was a joy to see that they weren't half-assed in any way.

What I loved just as much as the visuals was the story itself. I'm sure most of you are familiar with the first big twist of the movie (involving the woman in all of the trailers), but that, to me, was nothing compared to later plot twists. This movie is not afraid to take risks in its story, which I was overjoyed to see. It will definitely interest an older audience just as much, if not more than the younger crowd.

The score, produced by John Powell, wows just as strongly as the first movie. A solid mix of adventurous score, and modern music blend perfectly and match each scene of the movie very well.

This movie did something that I don't think I've seen another animated sequel do yet: It aged the protagonists. When the first poster came out late 2013, it showed a much more adult-looking Hiccup, with more defined features, varied hair, etc. I love this and I hope that more studios take this into account in the future. Since the movie takes place five years after the first, every character had aged, and it showed not only in their appearance, but their actions and dialogue, leading to a far more engrossing plot.

The Bad:
I'm really having a hard time thinking of anything at all that I disliked about this movie. If I had to pick something, I feel like a few members of the voice cast didn't perform up to snuff with the others. America Ferrera (Astrid) gave a fairly passable performance as Hiccup's love interest. At times it seemed like she was trying a bit too hard, but this is definitely a nit pick of an otherwise perfect movie.

This movie is a must-see for fans of the original, and if you haven't seen the first, rent it, then go see this one!
How To Train Your Dragon 2 gets an easy 5 out of 5.

Monday, June 9, 2014

TGLM: "Pain & Gain"

Pain & Gain
Rated R (2013)

Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris

Check it out if you liked:
Bad Boys, Ocean's Eleven, The Other Guys

Loosely based on a true story, the movie focuses on three body builders in the year 1995, and their quest to reach their own interpretations of the American dream. The three bumbling crooks, two of them ex-convicts, hatch a plan to capture a wealthy, smutty business tycoon, and get him to sign over all of his money, so they can live the rest of their lives in peace and wealth.

But in the vein of so many "criminal caper" movies, the three bumble their way into situations that they're not prepared for, and have to cope with the consequences. This movie is both hilarious, and very very dark.

Oh look you explosion in a Michael Bay movie...
The Good:
There is actually a lot of good in this movie, but what stood out to me the strongest was the acting. There really isn't a single weak link among the lead characters. Tony Shalhoub (of the TV show Monk) plays the closest thing to an antagonist that the movie has, but as it goes on, you almost start to sympathize with him. Everyone in the movie is, at some point, both the victim and the villain, and they all pull off their roles very well.

But between all of the characters, I think I was the most surprised at how great Dwayne Johnson (former professional wrestler The Rock) was. I've always felt that, since wrestling is all scripted, wrestlers would make the best actors. Well, that's not always the truth, but Dwayne Johnson has really come into his own as an actor. He's not just a bulging mass of muscles, he's proven that he can play the ass kicker, or the teddy bear. I have to say he was the shining star in the cast, in my opinion.

The plot was also a lot of fun. Now I did mention above that it is loosely based on a true story, and after reading more about what actually happened, it is a very loose interpretation, which I'll get to later. But for what happens in the movie, it is engaging from start to finish, and has plenty of unexpected twists along the way.

The Bad:
I really only had one thing that I really disliked about this movie, but it wasn't until after I saw the entire movie and started researching the real account of what happened. My problem is that director Michael Bay is a dirty liar.

Let me explain with a **SPOILER MOMENT** in the movie, so some of you may want to read this AFTER you watch it. Anyway, you've been warned.

At one point in the movie, Dwayne Johnson's character comes up with the solution to throw the hands of their murdered victims onto a grill, in order to remove their finger prints. The scene then freezes in place, and the words "This is still a true story" appear on screen. This is a blatant lie. The fact is that this scene, along with several others, were "creative additions" by Michael Bay, in order to spice up the story. So on that note, can we expect the first shot of Leonardo in the new Ninja Turtles movie to have the same caveat appear?

Now don't get me wrong, I understand that in ANY "true story" movie, creative license is taken. But when they blatantly remind you that it is based on a true story at one of the most blatantly UNTRUE moments, that really ruins things for me.


My only other problem with the movie is that it tends to change its tone a lot. The fact is that the movie is a dark comedy, so I do expect this to be the case, but you know how if you're eating something salty like beef jerky, and you take a bite of something sweet like ice cream, and then go back to the beef jerky, its just not as good since the tastes keep switching? Its kind of like that. You'll be laughing, then out of nowhere, you're slammed with a really dark and heavy scene.

Overall, the movie is pretty much what I expected from it. It's a Michael Bay movie, so expect a few explosions, and pretty similar humor to Bad Boys, one of his most "recent" non-Transformer related movies.

6.5 out of 10

I really hate saying this, because I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but the fact that Michael Bay so openly deceives the audience by constantly reminding the viewer that it is not "based on true events" but "IS a true story" really left a bad taste in my mouth. If you don't care though, and just want a fun story with some grit, check it out.