Author Archives: samhainsgrim

NECA 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Raphael

1200x-Raph9-It took awhile, but I finally have my hands on the second turtle from NECA’s 1/4 scale series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on the original film. Raphael was released back in February, but I left the preordering of this series to my wife who saw them as gifts for basically the coming year for me. My wife, bless her, is not someone who normally orders such things and she ordered from a site I had never heard of that ended up not getting Raph in when they were supposed to, so what was originally planned as a Valentine’s Day present turned into a June birthday gift. Fear not though, I have since clued her in to better vendors so my actual birthday present (Leonardo) should be arriving soon, as I know you are all waiting with bated breath for my reviews.

If you read my review for Donatello way back in January, then you should already be pretty familiar with Raph. Structurally, he’s essentially the same figure as Don as both make use of the same parts. This is both good and bad as it means the things that are great about Don are shared by Raph, and the not so great things are as well. That’s sort of the “curse” of being a TMNT collector as you basically buy the same figure four times, but it’s hard to argue against the practicality of the release.

 

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way before getting to the good. This is a big figure, being 1/4 scale, so he’s also pretty heavy. Being heavy means he needs tough joints or else his arms and legs would be too flimsy for posing. This also means some of the joints are really hard to work, and the cumbersome nature of a turtle shell doesn’t make things any easier. My Raph has a particularly troublesome left shoulder that’s hard to get the socket to work right so that he can lift his arm. There’s definitely some “breaking-in” required for these figures, but since they’ll end up running you over $100, there’s a reluctance to work the joints too hard out of fear of breaking them. While Raph possesses an abundance of articulation, it’s not the most functional articulation out there and the pictures you see in this post are essentially the only poses I was comfortable creating.

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Hey, brother!

These figures are also somewhat minimalist when it comes to included accessories. Raph, by virtue of having two weapons, actually has one more accessory than his brother Don. Don came with five extra hands, a canister of ooze, and a slice of pizza in addition to his bo staff. Raph comes with six extra hands and a slice of pizza to go with his twin sai. Strangely, one set of extra hands is identical to his stock hands so I guess you can break and/or lose a set before you’ll be missing anything. Raph has one unique hand gesture compared with Don, a finger-pointing left hand that can be used to hold his sai in a unique way or use as a gesture. He famously gestures to his holstered sai when confronting a pair of muggers in the film, though sadly his range of motion can’t quite recreate that one. This is consistent with Don who has a thumb’s up hand gesture that Raph does not. The slice of pizza included with Raph is the same as the one Don came with, right down to the placement of the black olives. Laying them side by side, it looks like we’ll need four additional pieces to make a complete pizza so I wonder if Mikey will come with some extra slices when he’s released this fall. The missing accessory here is obviously Raph’s trench coat, hat, and backpack he sports in the film when he heads out to a movie. I can understand why NECA didn’t include such as it would probably be a substantial cost addition, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it.

 

Raph primarily differentiates himself from Don with his head sculpt. One my favorite aspects of the original film is how the costume designers, the without peer Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, made sure each turtle looked unique. It was really the first time you could tell the turtles apart without their weapons or colored masks, even though they never remove their masks in the film. NECA did a great job with Don, and maybe a better job with Raph. His facial expression perfectly captures his beady eyes and that tough, but sympathetic, aspect of his character. A more serious expression works better for Raph than it did the more jokey Donatello, so it was probably easy for NECA to settle on a facial expression than it was Don. The “tails” on Raph’s mask are also of the same cloth-like material used for Don’s. The color matching between the tails and sculpted plastic of the mask is well done and it’s a nice, authentic, shade of red. The material adds a little personality to the ends of the mask that sculpted plastic can’t replicate. As I mentioned before, aside from the head sculpt the body is basically the same as Don’s. The freckles are different, and I don’t know if they’re just randomized for each turtle or if they match to the actual costumes in the film. Raph’s shell also sports significantly more ware and tear than Don’s, implying he’s probably been in more fights than his brother which certainly fits with his character. The musculature of his limbs is the same though, with an added vein here and there. His belt rides lower, as it did in the film, and the sai fit off to the side just fine, though I find angling them in the same manner as they are on the back of his box a little tricky. And that box, which resembles the original movie poster and VHS release of the film, is a nice way to display the figure for those who do not like to open their toys. I also love how the NECA logo on the rear of the box resembles the old f.h.e. logo of the home video release of the old cartoon.

 

NECA’s Raphael is every bit as good as Donatello which came first and which figure is better is probably determined by personal preference for the characters. Raphael was basically the star of the first film, and it’s great to see him brought to life like this. The 1/4 scale may not be for everyone (he stands over 16″ tall), but it’s hard to deny the level of detail the format allows. Licensing agreements with Nickelodeon and Playmates, who has held the main TMNT toy license since the cartoon was launched, prevent NECA from doing what they want with the license, but it’s clear the company has a love for the franchise. The price, which basically starts at $99.99 but is sometimes priced higher by other merchants, is also steep, but at least the release of each turtle has been spread out to help minimize the impact of such an expensive purchase. The figures are impractical, but if you loved the original film as much as I did, then you can probably talk yourself into collecting this line.


Right Place, Wrong Time – Games Worthy of a Remake

Kotaku has an article up this week about one of my favorite games:  Xenogears. In it, the journalist, Jason Schreir, was able to ask director Tetsuya Takahashi about that infamous second disc and why the game went to a narrator instead of letting the player experience the moments the narrator discussed. Fans have mostly assumed that they ran out of money, and that’s still mostly true. Naturally, Squaresoft being a big company could have easily injected more cash into the project, but they were holding the development team to a 2 year development cycle. When the team, and Takahashi attributes it to being a young team, couldn’t make the deadline they were either going to have to release the game in an abridged format, or do something drastic like cut content from the second disc, which is the way they went. Back in 1998, there was no releasing a bare-bones version of a game and adding to it down the road via downloadable content.

Given the two options, Takahashi probably picked the lesser of two evils, but it doesn’t change the fact that he basically didn’t get to make the game he wanted to. For that reason, I’ve always felt that Xenogears is a game worthy of a remake. It likely never will be remade since Takahashi and Square-Enix are no longer affiliated so Square-Enix would have to do it without him. And I don’t know how much you pay attention to the current goings on at Square-Enix, but they’re pretty tied up with another big re-make in Final Fantasy VII with no end in sight on development there, so remaking a lesser title (in terms of sales potential) is out of the question. Nintendo, after doing remakes for its two N64 Zelda titles, just announced at E3 that a remake of Metroid II is coming this September to 3DS. Sony also announced a remake to Shadow of the Colossus for PS4. So yes, remakes are very much “a thing” and there are many games that are deserving of them. Since Xenogears is on record as being one of my favorite games of all time, I want to start there:

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Some improved visuals would be welcomed as well.

 

Xenogears

Orignal Release: Playstation 1998

As I said in the intro to this post, the second disc of Xenogears was essentially a half-measure. An excuse for a remake is right there – just “make” the second disc. In addition to that though, the game’s visuals have aged rather poorly, and the abundance of text begs for some voice overs. I enjoy the modern 2D sprite look embodied by DuckTales Remasterd or the recently announced Dragon Ball Fighter Z. Keeping the sprites would be fine by me. Refining the combat would be welcomed as well and making the “magic” attacks more integral would add some strategy to the non-mech combat. In addition to that, adding more complexity to the mech combat would also be fun as I always felt piloting those mechs should have felt like a blast. Instead, the combat is simplified to a degree with an added resource management tacked on in terms of fuel. Other obvious enhancements would be eliminating random battles and streamlining the interface, though the current one is actually fine. Xenogears is already a good game, so it doesn’t require a lot of refinement, it just needs to be officially “finished.”

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Just Yoshi, no babies. Thank you.

 

Yoshi’s Island

Original Release:  Super Nintendo 1995

There’s some unknown aspect to Super Mariod World 2:  Yoshi’s Island that prevents it from being re-released. Sure, it was ported to the Gamboy Advance but some effects were lost in translation, and yet that’s the version that has appeared on the Virtual Console. The original SNES version has never been made available again, and I have to believe it’s due to some technological limitation since it’s clearly not a licensing issue for Nintendo. Nonetheless, a re-release would be appreciated, but a remake would be better. Aesthetically, the game still looks nice because of its art direction. It’s not as syrupy as more recent Yoshi titles and balances the cute aspects of the franchise well against the typical Mario backdrop. So visually, a remake isn’t really needed, but anyone who has ever played the game would welcome a remake that does one thing differently from the original:  get rid of the crying baby! I’ve read some studies that say an infant’s cry is designed to unnerve its father and I totally buy that. When one of my kids cries it creates a certain anxiety that’s different from what I’m used to experiencing. Mario’s screams bother me in a similar way and I really can’t stand that game sometimes as a result. So Nintendo, how about a remake that just removed Mario? I don’t care if you even adjust the story to explain it, just get rid of him. For whatever reason, all of the Yoshi games that have followed this one have been significantly worse than the original, to the point where I honestly can’t recommend a single one, so a remake of the first one would be more than welcomed now.

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The original Seiken Densetsu has been remade more than once, but the much better sequel has not.

 

 Secret of Mana

Original Release:  Super Nintendo 1993

Like Yoshi’s Island, Secret of Mana is still quite playable in its current form. Also like Yoshi’s Island, the sequels to it that have made it west have not been nearly as good as the original, making a remake feel more desirable from that point alone. Mostly though, a remake for this title would be welcomed because, like Xenogears, it was kind of released in an incomplete state. Secret of Mana was being developed to take advantage of the Super Nintendo CD, when that deal fell through, Squaresoft had to scrap some content and change development so that it would play without the peripheral. As a result, there’s some buggy portions in the game and the audio is most likely not realized as it was intended. A remake, with a more modern combat approach, would probably be a lot of fun. Just don’t make it a Kingdom Hearts clone.

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One of the first SNES titles, ActRaiser tried to be many things and was good at them all, but great at none.

 

ActRaiser

Original Release:  Super Nintendo 1990

ActRaiser was an ambitious title. It attempted to combine the godlike properties of a Sim City styled game with an action-platformer that also had some RPG elements. Naturally, being really the first of its kind, it came up short in some respects though it was still a really cool game in its own right. The platform sections could stand to be refined with more combat maneuvers for our avatar, meanwhile, the god mode portions could really use an injection of excitement as they’re definitely a bit tedious as-is. The foundation is in place, but decades of new concepts and ideas being integrated could create an incredible gaming experience.

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We just weren’t ready for this in 1997.

 

Mega Man Legends

Original Release:  Playstation 1997

For some reason, I was really excited by the concept of Mega Man Legends, an action RPG starring everyone’s favorite 2D action star. The problem was, no one really knew how to make that game in 1997 and no one really would until 2001’s Devil May Cry, interestingly enough, also a game created by Capcom. Even so, DMC is not a great comparison since it’s more focused on melee combat while Mega Man is a shooter. The original Legends is a visually ugly game with poor controls. Capcom really struggled with 3D controls (see Resident Evil) on the Playstation and it took awhile for them to figure it out. More modern titles like Resident Evil 4 (which even that is over ten years old now) refined that over-the-shoulder camera which would work really well for a modern Mega Man Legends. There would still be a challenge to introducing Mega Man styled platforming, but that’s where the DMC experience would pay-off. In short, Capcom wanted to make this game in 1997, but it didn’t know how. In 2017, I think that’s changed and a truly great game in this franchise could finally be realized, and why not just start over rather than try to make Legends 3 (again)?

 

There are obviously plenty of other games that could stand to be remade, and most of them would come from the 16 bit to 64 bit era. I’ll stop here with this post, but feel free to share some of your own. Other games I considered were X-Men (the arcade game), Rocket Knight Adventures, Baldur’s Gate, Bushido Blade, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Final Fantasy VI.


The Chronological Donald Volume 3

donaldv3-covIn 1949 a little short was released called “Donald’s Happy Birthday.” The short starred Donald Duck, naturally, and depicted his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Luey trying to find a birthday present for their beloved uncle. They settle on a box of cigars, but needing some cash to actually buy it, decide to do some yard work for their uncle. Donald is handed an invoice of $2.98, the cost of the cigars, and deeming it a fair price for all of the yard work they did he happily pays out. Unfortunately for the young ones, he also makes them deposit their earnings in their piggy back. The rest of the cartoon follows the nephews as they try to get their hands on the piggy bank, eventually outwitting their uncle and doing so, only to be caught with the cigars after the fact. Donald, thinking they purchased these for themselves, decides to teach them a lesson and makes the boys smoke the entire box of cigars only to discover a birthday card at the bottom of the box. Realizing his mistake, Donald is embarrassed and cartoonishly shrinks on screen to the size of a bug and slips out of the boys’ treehouse.

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Donald’s punishment of his nephews lands this cartoon in the dreaded “Vault.”

This cartoon depicts Donald Duck’s birthday as March 13th, most likely because someone found that to be a fittingly unlucky number for Donald’s birthday to fall on. In actuality, Disney recognizes Donald’s birthday as today, June 9th, and dates him back to 1934 when he debuted in the Silly Symphonies short “The Wise Little Hen.” This cartoon, and many others, can be found on the Walt Disney Treasures release The Chronological Donald Volume Three, and what better time than now to revisit this set and give you a rundown of its contents!

Now, I realize I’ve done an entry on Volume One of this series, but not Two, so I’m skipping to Volume Three on account of Donald’s birthday, but I do intend to (eventually) make an entry on all four volumes. In truth, Volume Three is probably the best of the four, though it’s really close between this one and Volume Two. Volume One is just a step behind, and Volume Four is light on classic content as it was essentially a leftovers release. More on those another time. Volume Three though is noteworthy because it contains a lot of Donald’s classic foils, and marks the debut of his decades long rivalry with Chip and Dale.

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Early appearances of Dale had him with a black nose like Chip, it would soon be changed to red to differentiate the two.

Chip and Dale (or more commonly expressed as Chip ‘n’ Dale) debuted in the Pluto short “Private Pluto.” In that, they were nameless and basically indistinguishable from each other, but they still did a bang-up job on old Pluto. Their official first appearance is in the Donald short contained on this set, simply titled “Chip an’ Dale.” In a setup that will be repeated numerous times, Donald chops down a tree that also happens to be the home for the little chipmunks. They follow him home to a rustic cabin where they proceed to make life difficult for the duck basically destroying his cabin in the process. For the most part, Donald’s encounters with Chip and Dale start off the same with him wronging them either inadvertently or intentionally, and then when presented with an opportunity to do right by them, he decides to mock them leading to a whole host of shenanigans that result in Chip and Dale getting the better of Donald. “Crazy Over Daisy” is unique though in that Chip and Dale essentially pick a fight with Donald by teasing him over his appearance as he heads off to woo Daisy. Even though the duo is in the wrong in this one, they still come out on top because they’re Chip and Dale. His battles with the duo are classic, and there isn’t a bad Donald Duck short that contains the two. Not all of his match-ups with Chip and Dale are captured on Volume Three as several carry over to Volume Four, but some of the best are, including a personal favorite of mine, “Toy Tinkers,” which I’ve written about before.

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Donald and Spike.

Donald has more foils than just the chipmunks though, and this set contains some other entertaining ones that have been lost to time. The animators knew him as Spike, but it seems he is more often referred to as Buzz Buss these days, but either way he’s a little bee character who runs into Donald more than once. Often he’s either guarding or collecting honey to store for himself or other bees and Donald decides he needs to get his hands on it. A version of the character debuts in “Window Cleaners” from volume one, but his established look is first debuted in “Inferior Decorator” from this set. In it, he mistakes Donald’s wallpaper and its floral pattern for actual flowers and can’t understand why he isn’t able to draw pollen from them. When Donald mocks him, he decides to get revenge. He’s also featured in “Honey Harvester,” “Slide, Donald, Slide” and “Bee at the Beach.” The latter of which is in the “Vault” section of this release, though I haven’t been able to figure out why.

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Donald’s forgotten adversary, Bootle Beetle.

An even lesser known adversary of Donald Duck also debuts in these shorts and that’s Bootle Beetle. To my knowledge, the character is never referenced any longer (I’ve at least seen Spike show up on The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse program). He resembles Jiminy Cricket, and like Spike, he usually clashes with Donald when Donald invades his habitat. He debuts in the short that bares his name and repeats in a few others. Interestingly, in the short “Sea Salts” he and Donald are shown as old folks reflecting on how they used to clash and ultimately became friends seeming to suggest this was to be a timeless rivalry. It wasn’t, though that’s not due to any fault with the shorts. Like the other characters, Bootle Beetle is a fun one to follow because of his diminutive size which allows the animators to have fun with the setting. The character also appeared in a non-Donald short called “Morris the Midget Moose” and in Disney comics as a friend of Bucky Bug’s.

Other characters are also featured such as Daisy and more from Donald’s nephews. There’s also a lion character that Donald has been known to tangle with from time to time. Other humorous sequences that didn’t need any additional star power include “The Trial of Donald Duck” where Donald gets stuck with a huge tab at a restaurant and is taken to court over it. Goofy appears in “Crazy With the Heat” in which the pair find themselves stranded in the desert. Goofy was fair game to include in Donald shorts, as was Pluto, but don’t expect to see Mickey. Probably the best short on the set is “Donald’s Dilemma” which features Daisy prominently as she recounts her own dilemma to a psychiatrist. In it, Donald is knocked on the head and loses his memory but gains the a singing voice reminiscent of Frank Sinatra and Daisy isn’t sure which Donald she likes more. And did I mention “Toy Tinkers” is on this set?!

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In “Donald’s Dilemma,” Daisy starts off liking the new Donald but he soon has no time for her when he comes a big star.

The set is not without bonus features, though since the shorts take up most of the space on the discs, they are a bit light. In addition to standard galleries you’re not likely to view more than once, there’s some featurettes on sculpting Donald in three dimensions and another on his many looks. Probably the best special feature is the easter eggs containing the opening sequence to The Mickey Mouse Club and the various different endings of Donald smashing the gong. And like the other sets, this one contains a Vault section that requires you to sit through a lecture from film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. The lectures get old, but at least these shorts are presented uncut. Most are only in the vaulted section for smoking and alcohol use so it’s nothing particularly salacious.

The Chronological Donald Duck Volume Three is a great set and basically includes the best of director Jack Hannah, who handled most of Donald’s films post World War II. Hannah’s films are a bit more gag-reliant and very similar to Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies shorts, but are no less fun. Directors Jack King and Jack Kinney are also featured. Since the Walt Disney Treasures line was produced in limited quantities, these sets are hard to get ahold of at a decent price in 2017. If you have to get only one, Volume Three might be your best bet, though I consistently see Volume Two priced lower on the after-market. Either one is a can’t lose purchase if you appreciate classic animation and Donald Duck. The shorts are all presented in their original aspect ratios with no cuts and look quite good for a DVD release. And unless Disney decides to do a Blu Ray for these, they probably won’t ever look better. Considering Disney seems to place a low value on its old shorts (they’re almost never shown on television and are readily available to watch on youtube) holding out for a better release, or even re-release, seems unlikely. And what better way to celebrate Donald’s birthday than by watching some of his classic works?

The Shorts:

  • 1947
    • Straight Shooters
    • Sleepy Time Donald
    • Donald’s Dilemma
    • Crazy With the Heat
    • Bootle Beetle
    • Wide Open Spaces
    • Chip An’ Dale
  • 1948
    • Drip Dippy Donald
    • Daddy Duck
    • Donald’s Dream Voice
    • The Trial of Donald Duck
    • Inferior Decorator
    • Soup’s On
  • 1949
    • Sea Salts
    • Winter Storage
    • Honey Harvester
    • All in a Nutshell
    • The Greener Yard
    • Slide, Donald, Slide
    • Toy Tinkers
  • 1950
    • Lion Around
    • Crazy Over Daisy
    • Trailer Horn
    • Hook, Lion and Sinker
    • Out on A Limb
  • From The Vault
    • Clown of the Jungle (Disc One 1947)
    • Three for Breakfast (Disc One 1948)
    • Tea for Two Hundred (Disc One 1948)
    • Donald’s Happy Birthday (Disc Two 1949)
    • Bee At The Beach (Disc Two 1950)

The Other Disney Afternoon Games

Capcom recently released a digital collection of NES games called The Disney Afternoon Collection. It’s available for Playstation 4, Steam, and Xbox One (though curiously not for a Nintendo console despite all of the games originating from one)and is a pretty solid collection of not quite classic games at a budget friendly price. And that last part can’t be understated since copies of DuckTales II sell for hundreds of dollars on the aftermarket thanks to low release totals. By most measures, the collection of games represent Capcom’s best licensed titles, but certainly not all of them. It also doesn’t capture every title released with the Disney Afternoon branding and this post is about the leftovers.

1Bonkers (Super Nintendo 1994)

 

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Expect some indirect cameos from famous Disney characters.

Bonkers was a short-lived series that ran from September 1993 to February 1994. In that window, the show managed to feature 65 episodes, the magic number for most Disney cartoons as that met syndication guidelines. Bonkers is reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as it pairs a cartoon bobcat with a human who both work for the Toon Police. They go around solving crimes in a toon world that’s basically inhabited by all of Disney’s classic characters, many of whom make cameos in the show. Disney even allowed Mickey to cameo breaking with tradition that basically kept Mickey shielded from the television properties.

 

In December of ’94 Bonkers came to the Super Nintendo. In a game developed by Capcom (who else?), Bonkers allowed the player to play as the titular character as he tried to recover some famous cartoon assets stolen from a museum. His partner, Lucky, is laid up in a hospital bed forcing Bonkers to go solo. The items he needs to recover, and the places he visits to find them, should feel familiar to Disney fans young and old as they include Mickey’s iconic sorcerer’s hat and Ariel’s voice.

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The Genesis Bonkers wasn’t developed by Capcom and took the gameplay in a very different direction.

The gameplay for Bonkers is very similar to a Konami contemporary, Buster Busts Loose, released in ’93 and based on the Tiny Toons character Buster Bunny. Both games are platformers with large sprites where a main feature of gameplay is a dash meter. Bonkers can dash as a means of attack and to navigate the levels. Special items will bestow upon him invincibility and unlimited dash for a brief period, which is also a feature of an earlier Capcom Mega Drive/Genesis title Quackshot starring Donald Duck. The dash is your bread and butter and what a player needs to master in order to make it through the game. In addition to that, Bonkers can take out most enemies Mario style with a jump attack and he also can toss bombs, though his supply is limited. The game contains just five levels, with the first three being selectable from the game’s hub menu and can be completed in any order. Bonkers never earns additional power-ups or special abilities beyond what he starts with, so there’s no preferred order to them.

 

Bonkers for the SNES is a solid title, though not really spectacular so it’s not surprising to see it’s not a fondly remembered one. The cartoon from which it came is also not one that possesses a huge following, though it was an interesting premise and is probably worthy of revisiting. Bonkers also received another video game, this one for the Genesis and developed by Sega. It’s kind of like a tower defense game in which Bonkers is primarily featured in the foreground defending a position by tossing items at enemies in the background. There are some platforming parts as well, but most probably agree that the SNES game is superior. There was also a Brazil-only Game Gear title called Bonkers: Wax Up! that I know very little about. Judging it based on some YouTube long plays, it doesn’t look like a title that needs to be sought out.

250px-SNES_Goof_Troop_BoxGoof Troop (Super Nintendo 1993)

Following DuckTales, the flagship series for the Disney Afternoon seemed to shift to Goof Troop. Starring Goofy and his son Max, Goof Troop was a mostly wholesome program about adolescence and being a single parent. It’s really melancholy for a series starring Goofy and definitely added a new dimension to a mostly one-note character. For fans of the more action-oriented cartoons like Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop was a bit of a hard sell, but I recall watching it somewhat frequently and thinking it all right.

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A standard screen in Goof Troop with a standard set of obstacles for Goofy to navigate.

The game is definitely an odd duck amongst the other Disney Afternoon titles. Once again developed by Capcom, Goof Troop is an adventure game in which the player controls either Goofy or Max and simultaneous co-op is possible. I suppose it isn’t surprising that the game is unlike its sister titles since Goof Troop, being more of a sitcom than most cartoons, doesn’t have a natural ability to become a video game. In this one, Goofy and Max somehow end up ship-wrecked on an island and need to find a way off of it. It’s basically a survival game, and the player controls one of the two Goofs from a top-down perspective similar to The Legend of Zelda. Goofy and Max can hold a maximum of two items at a time, and the player has to constantly find and drop items in order to progress. The game is more puzzle-like than the others, and since Goofy and Max can’t directly damage the enemies they encounter you’re almost encouraged to avoid conflict.

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Co-op is the preferred way to tackle this one.

The game was developed by Shinji Mikami, who was basically the mind behind Resident Evil. Yes, Resident Evil owes something to Goof Troop and it’s rather remarkable to see how some of the survival elements from that series were first born in Goof Troop. Even right down to how awkward it is to control Goofy and Max and how frustrating it can be to avoid enemies. The game feels like it’s designed for two players as opposed to one as some rooms are really hard to clear without the aid of a second player. The other player can help act as a lure for enemies allowing player one to activate a switch, move a block, or trigger something else on the screen. In two player mode, Goofy and Max can only hold one item each, but it’s an easy trade-off to make in order to gain an ally. Playing solo, I had a hell of a time trying to clear one room where the enemies could kick blocks, blocks that I needed to kick into a certain spot to pass the room. The problem was getting to the enemies and taking them out before they could kick one into a spot where I couldn’t make any use of it, forcing me to leave the screen and re-enter, also re-spawning the enemies.

Goof Troop is an interesting game, and played through the lens of knowing it’s a pseudo Resident Evil predecessor certainly adds to it. As a change of pace from the other Capcom developed Disney Afternoon games, it’s acceptable, but I found it a bit too frustrating to really want to come back to it again and again. Given the license though, this is probably the best Capcom could have done short of just making a platformer that made little thematic sense.

250px-Gargoyles_game_coverGargoyles (Genesis 1995)

Lastly, we have Gargoyles, our only featured game to only be released on the Genesis without a SNES counterpart and (gasp!) to not be developed by Capcom. This one was done by Buena Vista Interactive, and if you know anything about Disney you know that’s likely the name for an internal studio. At some point, someone high up at the company must have got the bright idea that they could make more money if they developed their own games rather than licensing them out to Capcom. Big mistake, as doing so ultimately lead to a severe reduction in quality for Disney based video games and Gargoyles is no exception.

Gargoyles is a series I’ve covered pretty extensively here. It was basically The Disney Afternoon’s answer to WB’s Batman which aired during Fox’s afternoon block of programming. Batman was a hit, so naturally others copied it and Gargoyles was perhaps the most blatant. Don’t confuse that with criticism, as Gargoyles was a pretty entertaining show and was able to develop its own identity during its run. And unlike say Goof Troop, it pretty obviously lent itself well to video games being an action-oriented show starring some pretty bad ass characters.

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At least it looks pretty good.

The game stars Goliath and is essentially another platform-styled action game with some exploration elements. It’s sort of like DuckTales on steroids and with an overt gothic theme. The game starts off in the past with the fall of the castle and the gargoyles being turned to stone before taking the player to the present timeline. All of the main baddies from the show make an appearance, and Goliath handles like Goliath should possessing powerful strikes, a running attack, and the ability to climb walls and double-jump with his wings.

Visually, the game is probably the best out of any Disney Afternoon title and is one of the better looking Genesis titles around. The music even sounds great and you could almost trick someone into believing it came from a Super Nintendo. Sadly, that’s where the positives mostly dry-up. While the music is great, the sound effects are horrendous with awful enemy death screams that sound like they were recorded through a tin can. Goliath is a chore to control as negotiating tight spaces is problematic and his ability to cling to walls is automatic, resulting in numerous occasions where he’ll grab a wall when you don’t want him to. The opening level is particularly frustrating as it features lots of tiny spaces and towers to ascend. Enemies will routinely strike from offscreen and finding enough room to get a running start to smash through a wall can also be harder than it should be. Goliath should feel like a powerful beast, but he’s too easily felled by the humans who serve as foes. The rotten icing on the cake is spotty collision detection when attacking enemies, making their defeat feel wholly unsatisfying.

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There are plenty of familiar faces from the show.

Gargoyles is one of those games that I want to like, but it just makes it too hard to do so. It’s a great license that should have lead to a great, or at least passable, game and it looks awesome. Unfortunately, it just isn’t remotely fun and I’m sure lots of people were conned into buying, or renting, this one based on the track-record of Disney Afternoon titles and because the screenshots looked promising. The game ended up being released only in North America, and there was a Super Nintendo port planned but it was scrapped, either due to poor sales of the Genesis version or because the 16-bit era was essentially over. Stay away, stay far away.


Bucky O’Hare – The Arcade Game

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Bucky O’Hare (1992)

One of the underplayed downsides to the death of the arcade in America is the amount of arcade games that remained solely in the arcade realm. Arcade technology was always ahead of what was available in-home. Arcade cabinets were also often equipped with 4 or 6 player possibilities while virtually every home console in the 80s and 90s could only natively handle 2 players. Sometimes, companies would release two distinct games for the arcade and the home console. While gamers were enjoying co-op play with X-Men at the arcade the home console gamer was forced to experience Marvel’s most famous mutant team via a hideous top-down shooter/action game with horrendous technical issues. X-Men was a popular enough arcade game that it would eventually be released digitally about 20 years after it first hit arcades. It took awhile, but it made it. Other games were not so lucky, and one of them is Bucky O’Hare.

Bucky O’Hare has been a topic more than once here as I take a small sense of pride in being one of the small areas of the internet where Bucky can still exist. Bucky originated in the comics, and when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles exploded he was one of the main beneficiaries. Suddenly, toy companies and television studios were scooping up licenses for any kind of anthropomorphic action series that could be tossed in front of children to make piles of money. These properties were often fast-tracked to the consumer as everyone assumed the TMNT were just some fad that would die a quick death. This meant television shows, toys, and even games were all put into development at around the same time and Bucky O’Hare got the full treatment. So even though the cartoon series would only last 13 episodes and see a quiet cancellation, the aspects of the license that took the longest to develop would still see release after the fall of the show.

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Good luck finding one of these.

Most people into retro-gaming or who had a Nintendo Entertainment System back in the day are familiar with Konami’s Bucky O’Hare for the NES; the Mega Man clone of surprising depth and skill. It’s become a bit of a cult hit these days and copies of the NES cart fetch a pretty decent price on the after-market. Lesser known, is Konami’s Bucky O’Hare game for the arcade, also simply titled Bucky O’Hare.

Like most of Konami’s  arcade games for licensed properties, Bucky O’Hare is a 4-player beat-em-up where the player takes on wave after wave of enemies before reaching the game’s conclusion. And like most games of this style, it sometimes feels like it was designed first and foremost to eat quarters and force gamers to spend a decent chunk of change in order to see the game to its conclusion. Where Bucky O’Hare differentiates itself from Konami’s other brawlers is in that the primary attack for each character is a projectile. All four characters; Bucky, Jenny, Deadeye, and Blinky – all possess a handgun to shoot at the bad guys with. This naturally allows the player to maintain some distance between them and the enemy which actually seems to result in fewer deaths when compared with X-Men or Turtles in Time. Each character also possesses a special attack, referred to as a gimmick weapon, that can be activated at any time and surprisingly doesn’t cost any health to activate. There’s also bomb attacks available and they’re pretty abundant and clear the screen of enemies or deal a significant chunk of damage to a boss, which feels really generous for a game of this genre.

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The game is enjoyable with one of two players, but these ones are always best with four.

The game also further distinguishes itself in style. The previously mentioned gimmick weapons though are sadly the only thing that really differentiates the characters. Of the four, I found Deadeye to be the most useful (though you would think a four-armed duck would possess more than one pistol) as his weapon is basically a temporary shield that orbits around him until it hits something. Jenny’s is a homing attack that’s also useful, though her attack animation is a liability. Bucky just tosses a bomb forward, and Blinky has a flame-thrower. Most of the levels move from left to right, but there’s variety from stage to stage. Some levels have the characters moving at an angle towards the screen (think the second stage from the first TMNT arcade game) and there’s a stage where you’re falling and another where the characters are all riding Toad Croakers that can even stomp on the enemies. Brawlers can get quite stale by design, and Bucky O’Hare does as good a job as any in keeping things as fresh as possible for the game’s duration (of roughly 45 minutes).

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Minimally animated, but fully voiced, cut scenes help to move the story along.

Perhaps surprisingly, the production values on Bucky O’Hare are quite high. It’s very bright and visually appealing with all of the characters looking like the source material. Bucky is the only one that looks a bit off to me, and Blinky is definitely too tall, but for the most part the characters and animations look great. The enemies are especially striking, though the variety is not great as you’ll mostly spend the game fighting Toad Storm Troopers and these little robots. The boss characters look awesome though and they’re mostly taken straight from the cartoon series. Toadborg is appropriately menacing looking and the final battle is against a Komplex-to-Go contraption that even looks like it’s suffered some damage since its encounter against Bucky in episode 13 of the series.

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You’ll be killing lots of Toad Storm Troopers in this one.

Which brings me to the aspect some Bucky fans seem to appreciate most is that this game seems to take place after the cartoon ended and serves as a nice book-end to the series. You take the fight straight to the Toad homeworld and vanquish Komplex seemingly forever. Konami made liberal use of the voice talent from the show and only a couple of voices are off (Blinky most notably being voiced by Scott McNeil). Even characters who aren’t playable still make voiced appearances like Willy and Bruiser. And if you’re into the comic, the omniscient mouse race that never made it into the series shows up in this game and it really feels like someone at Konami really cared about the representing the license as best as possible. It’s pretty cool considering they must have known already that this was to be the last major release for the license and that no season two was coming for the animated series.

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Willy and Bruiser even get to cameo in some cut scenes.

Bucky O’Hare for the arcade is a satisfying experience, especially so for fans of the license. It possesses some of the short-comings inherent with the genre, and I do wish a character like Bruiser or Dogstar was playable as neither was in the NES game, but this is a fun title worth tracking down. Of course, being that it’s been over 25 years since the game’s release, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find a cabinet in the wild and it’s even rare to see them come up for sale on eBay. There are other means available to you, if you want to seek them out, and I’ll let you research that on your own should you wish to play it. Sadly, licensed games like these rarely receive a digital release in this day and age, but maybe this very mild Bucky comeback in 2017 could lead to a digital release of this game and the NES game, though I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath for either.


Danzig – Black Laden Crown

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Danzig – Black Laden Crown (2017)

Anytime something new related to Danzig arrives at my doorstep I wonder if this it’s the last. Glenn Danzig, the venerable punk-metal icon, is in his sixties. He’s released around two-dozen records at this point and has already reached the point in his career where he forgoes touring in favor of festivals and gigs located close to his SoCal home. The gap in years has only widened between album releases, and he’s taken time to do more passion projects like a covers record and compilations. Danzig’s last studio album, Deth Red Sabaoth, came out in 2010. Before that was 2004’s Circle of Snakes. Now in 2017, we have the latest from metal’s favorite crooner:  Black Laden Crown.

By pretty much everyone’s standards, Danzig the band has long since past its peak. Some feel the band peaked with 1992’s How the Gods Kill, others (myself included) would consider 1994’s Danzig: 4P as the real high point. Following that album was when the original lineup was disbanded, Danzig left the Def American label, and the direction of the band was forever changed. That was really the end for the band as a popular one, with nostalgia really only bringing the band back into the spotlight (a trend many bands of the 80s and 90s have benefitted from). Creatively though, Danzig has still made worthwhile music, even if it wasn’t always on par with the early days. Deth Red Sabaoth was probably the band’s best effort since 1994 with the only black marks on it being the subpar production (a frequent bane of recent Danzig releases) and the lack of a truly standout track. It would have been a fine album to go out on, but thankfully Danzig decided there was at least one more record left to make.

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Back for the first time since 2002’s Danzig 7 is drummer Joey Castillo (center).

In many ways, Black Laden Crown is similar to Deth Red Sabaoth. The personel involved is largely the same, only this time with more drummers. Tommy Victor is back on guitar, and Glenn Danzig naturally is providing all of the vocals and doing all of the song writing, while also contributing on guitar, bass, piano and drums himself. Johnny Kelly returns to drum on two tracks, while former Danzig drummer Joey Castillo (Danzig 5, 6, and 7) also returned for a guest-spot on a couple of tracks. Karl Rokfist and Dick Verbeuren also contribute drums on a track each. Why so many drummers? Because the album has been in production off and on for years and Danzig would just grab whoever was available when in the studio. This means longtime collaborator Steve Zing is still basically just the live bass player as he is once again denied an album credit.

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Two things Glenn Danzig loves being photographed with:  porn stars and goat heads.

I’m going to detour away from the music for a minute and take a look at another aspect of Danzig albums that is also past its prime:  the album art. For whatever reason, the album artwork has been on a decline as well since the Def American days, though not always as drastic. I was mostly fine with the artwork for Danzig 5 and 6, the alternative cover for 5 is actually pretty awesome, but Black Laden Crown features some really cheesy artwork (done by the usually excellent Simon Bisley). The reverse cover image of a flaming Danzig head is even worse. There’s a t-shirt bundle being sold on the Nuclear Blast website and the shirt has a different version of the cover artwork (which is also featured on the interior slip-case for the CD) that is light-years better than the actual album cover. It’s sort of similar to the last album where the European version of the single featured superior artwork than the album. It’s not a big deal and it obviously doesn’t have any impact on the actual quality of the music, but as someone who still buys LPs it’s always a drag when the jacket has crappy artwork on it.

Black Laden Crown is best described as an album of mid-tempo, Sabbath influenced, metal. The opening track is a red herring of sorts, featuring a clean-tuned guitar and an uptempo second half, but it also embodies some of the flaws the rest of the album is going to face. And it should be discussed early in this review because there is no getting around it:  the production sucks. Perhaps sucks is too strong a word, but if you were disappointed with the production on Deth Red Sabaoth or the more recent covers record Skeletons, then you’ll be disappointed with Black Laden Crown. What is really unfortunate is that most of the poor production rests on the vocals. As the vocalist for the band, it’s surprising that producer Glenn Danzig doesn’t devote more resources to how his actual voice sounds. Time has obviously altered Danzig’s voice as it would anybody, but some of the songs sound like he just did a one take tracking spot, and decided to use that for the final mix. The lead single, “Devil on Hwy 9,” is especially bad with the vocals sounding dry and wooden. The production on the guitar and drums at least seems noticeably better than what was present on Deth Red Sabaoth. I haven’t seen Danzig discuss how this record was recorded, but the previous one was done with analog. Given that this one was done across so many different recording sessions, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out if it was done digitally since that method is more prevalent and easier.

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If you like buying your albums multiple times, Danzig’s got you covered with all of the editions of this one.

The other main issue I take with the performance of the record is with Danzig’s vocals. The production may not be doing him any favors, but several songs just lack emotion out of the singer. “Eyes Ripping Fire” should be a track that rips, but Danzig sounds like he’s just going through the motions. I’m not sure what he was going for with his performance at times, but he just sounds bored in places. Maybe he thinks his voice isn’t suited for certain styles any longer, though I think it has more to do with a mood he was trying to convey. He may have been looking for a controlled, assertive style to his vocals, but it just comes across as uninspired.

Those are the negative take-aways I have with Black Laden Crown, but in spite of those I actually think the whole of the album is actually pretty good. The vocal production is consistently subpar, but not as varied as the past albums where some songs sounded okay and others like rubbish. I really dig the Tony Iommi-like guitar tones on this record and its a sound I’ve always found more suitable for Danzig than the drop-C tuning featured on some records. There are still some chugging low riffs to be found, but they’re not as prevalent and the album has a more crisp sound. Tommy Victor is perhaps at his best with this record, at least as well as he’s been on a Danzig release. He’s given room to work with the leads, and even gets a few chances to drop a solo. The pinch harmonics that some fans found distasteful on the last album have been scaled back tremendously here.

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I wish they had used the artwork present on this t-shirt as the main cover artwork on the actual LP.

Black Laden Crown is at its best when the band is moving at a methodical pace and letting Glenn Danzig’s presence shine. It’s perhaps no better illustrated than with the album’s second single (and first to receive a video) “Last Ride.” The song evokes a drifter, or maybe even an old cowboy, something very Eastwood-like, with its story and the mood is very Danzig. It’s perhaps comparable to the song “Black Hell” from The Hangover II soundtrack, but more refined and focused. The album’s closer, “Pull the Sun,” is another good track and is probably the high point for Danzig’s vocals on this release. It’s not one of the closing numbers where Danzig goes off with a series of wails, but it’s got a nice vocal melody. The lyrics though make me think of Mr. Burns blotting out the sun on The Simpsons, which gives me a little laugh.

If there’s one last piece of criticism I could lay at the feet of this record it’s that it is perhaps one track short. At nine tracks and just over 45 minutes in length, it could have really used one more track to round things out. And if that track had been something more up-tempo that would have helped to break up some very similar sounding songs on the album’s back-end. The most up-tempo track is also the album’s worst, “Devil on Hwy 9,” so another really would have helped out. Even still, I’m digging this album. Perhaps part of that is due to my low expectations going in. An album that has been in the works as long as this one has usually doesn’t come out too well in the end, but I think the album took so long to record not because Danzig was tinkering with the material, he just literally only recorded a song or two here and there until he eventually had enough material for an LP. It’s very comparable to Deth Red Sabaoth in terms of quality, and if it’s the last album for Danzig it’s not a bad way to wrap things up. I’m not sure if it’s better than that record though. At first listen I thought it might be, but then I remember the variety of Deth Red with tracks like “Hammer of the Gods,” “Deth Red Moon,” and even “Black Candy” and I start to think this one may end up ranking behind that release. Which isn’t bad, as I dubbed Deth Red Sabaoth Danzig’s best since splitting with Rick Rubin, so if Black Laden Crown is comparable to that record, then that’s pretty good company to keep.

 

Top Tracks

  • Black Laden Crown
  • Last Ride
  • Pull the Sun

DuckTales: Remastered

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DuckTales: Remastered (2013)

If you read yesterday’s post about DuckTales for the NES, you may have thought, “Wow, I’m surprised he didn’t mention anything about the re-make that came out in 2013.” Well, that’s because I was saving it for its own post! DuckTales: Remastered is a complete remake of the original NES game for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii U. Initially a digital only release, DuckTales: Remastered would receive a tangible release as well, and for a game the started as a budget-friendly digital title, I can think of few others that received as much attention and fanfare as DuckTales: Remastered.

Capcom debuted the game at E3 with a memorable video hyping it up before indulging the audience in a sing-along of the memorable theme song from the show. The release of the game coincided with the 25th anniversary of the NES original, and it was a worthy title to revisit based on the fact that the original is still a ton of fun to play. Naturally, remaking a game many consider to be a classic is a tall task, but with such simple play mechanics, how could Capcom go wrong?

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Transylvania got a lot scarier over the last 25 years.

DuckTales the game is largely unchanged at its core. The player still controls Scrooge who jumps and pogos his way through various levels (now six) in an effort to accumulate more wealth for himself and eventually to recover his lucky dime. What is changed are the production values. Modern game consoles can obviously handle quite a bit more, and this being tied to a Disney property, means a remake needs to meet the expectations and standards of The Walt Disney Company.

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A comparison of the sprites from the NES original and the Remastered version.

For the first time ever, a Disney Afternoon property can now basically look just like it does in game form as it did on television. The game is still a 2D side-scroller, but now the sprites for the characters are lovingly hand-drawn in great detail in bright, expressive colors. Scrooge will mostly sport a happy expression, but when he encounters the Beagle Boys or Magicka DeSpell he’ll scrunch his face up into a frown. The enemies too feature changing facial expressions, and not just the boss characters, but even lowly spiders and the like. The levels really come to life as the difference in climate is really accentuated by the enhanced presentation. All in all, DuckTales: Remastered is a beautiful game to behold and one of my very favorites from a visual point of view.

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Another comparison shot to the original.

The enhanced fidelity of the game’s graphics are not the only aspect of the presentation to be enhanced with better technology. The audio is also greatly expanded upon featuring full-voiced characters with actors from the show as well as remastered music. Alan Young, in what is basically his swan-song as Scrooge, does a great job of voicing the greedy old duck and shows that time hasn’t taken much away from his vocal chords. Russi Taylor is on-hand to reprise her role as the nephews, Huey, Duey, and Louie, while  Terry McGovern returns as Launchpad. The wonderful June Foray was even brought back to voice Magicka DeSpell, making this a reunion of sorts for the cast. This seems all the more special since the new version of the cartoon set to launch this summer will feature an all new cast for these characters.

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I love how cold this cavern looks.

The downside to all of these resources is the need to make liberal use of them. DuckTales for the NES was a quick and fun to play title that would have worked even without the DuckTales license. For Remastered, a lot of cut scenes and cinematics were tacked onto the experience, not just in between levels, but even during them. They can be skipped, but even so they really break up the experience of playing the game and not in a welcomed way. Worse, I feel kind of guilty skipping over any line from Young and the other cast-mates, but it can get old hearing the same lines over and over if you’re forced to retry a stage. The game has also been lengthened quite a bit, not just with these scenes, but with a new level and longer boss encounters. Some of the boss fights are fine in their new form, while others do drag. I particularly hated the very final encounter with Magicka and Glomgold. What was a pretty simple race to the top of a rope in the first game, is now a death-defying escape from an active volcano with questionable hit detection. I had to replay the final, added level (which aside from the ending was quite good) repeatedly because I kept dying on this final part. Once I finally beat it I was too aggravated to enjoy it.

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And you thought only Zelda came in gold carts.

The game also adds additional collectibles that can be unlocked as you play, giving you something to do with all of the money Scrooge accumulates throughout the game. It’s mostly limited to concept art and background stills from the game but it’s still fun to look at, though not really enticing enough to encourage repeated play-throughs. I wish Capcom had gone the extra mile and included an unlockable version of the original game or its much rarer sequel. There was a press kit sent out to select individuals that included an actual copy of the original NES game, painted gold, and with the Remastered artwork on the cart. Acquiring one of those on the after-market will set you back a few grand, though it is a pretty neat collectible (and one that probably really irritated those select few that had a complete library of NES games in 2013).

Ultimately, DuckTales: Remastered is a fine enough love letter to the original game. It looks and sounds great, though it’s not quite as much fun to play as the original (though Scrooge’s pogo is still just as satisfying as it was back then) due to the pacing issues. It’s an odd duck (pun intended) in that regard, as most objective onlookers would take one look at both and immediately decide they’d rather play the remake. If you enjoyed the original, Remastered is still worth your time as it’s pretty cheap to acquire and includes enough fan-service to make you smile. And at the end of the day, it’s still DuckTales and still inherently fun, even if it could have been more.