Sunday, April 29, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #17 Fantastic Four 2

This is the movie where the Silver Surfer comes to Earth for no reason, wastes all of our time, and then kills Galactus and leaves.  That's it.  I kid you not.  Look, you know by now I like to take the comic book source material and tell you where the movie went horribly wrong.  This won't take long.  The Silver Surfer CANNOT kill Galactus.  At least not out right.  The Surfer's power is literally a fraction of the World Eater's power cosmic.  It is that fact that creates the conflict of the Surfer's story.  He leads Galactus to Earth so the big guy can eat it, but then learns that Earth is full of people who are much like the home planet he left behind to save.  He must then enlist the help of the FF to save Earth and rebel against his master.

Does anything in this movie even remotely look like that?  No.  What we get is more of the same recycled crap from the first movie, even Doom comes back for absolutely NO reason, with some more interesting Special Effects.  Alba is still unbelievable as Sue, and she is a total bitch.  Reed is still a weak, mealy mouthed nerd who is marrying Sue because I think he is scared of her.  Ben is less pathetic this time around and Alicia is a welcome and likable female character in a movie with far too few.  Johnny, again, steals the show and creates the films only enjoyable moments.

The film is plagued by more forced family squabbles, but this time it is set against the tired device of having the four swap powers due to yet another freak accident, which only confuses an already overly complicated and needless plot.

The Special Effect, er Silver Surfer, looks really good and has the makings of being an interesting character, but he is given absolutely nothing to do, except show up, get captured and misunderstood and then released to go KILL GALACTUS, which he cannot do.  He is as cardboard as they come and it is too bad.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in this film is the lack of an actual villain.  Like I said before, Doom returns to menace everyone and do something, but what that might be is never clear.  Steal the surfer's power, steal Galactus's power, who can really tell.  His agenda is no more clear in this film than it was in the original.  Galactus is even less of a villain, and I get that he is cosmic-sized so he's hard to put into perspective, but he could at least be a credible threat.

I remember liking this movie a lot more when it came out, but I think, like the original, I was just excited to see the FF on the screen.  Johnny and Ben have some nice moments and overall, the story is somehow better than the original movie, but this is not a good movie.  It is far too confused and aimless and the performances are far too shallow to make this anything better than a moderately painless waste of a Saturday afternoon.  The movie is watchable, but only watchable.

 Aimee's Take:

This is more Fantastic Four in every sense. Sue is bitchy, Reed is boring, Johnny is perfect if overblown, and Thing is moody. They fight even more, you're left to wonder WHY Reed would ever marry someone who so clearly hates him. The Silver Surfer shows up and saves Sue for no reason. Doom appears for no reason. And then, the Silver Surfer kills Galactus. That's right. It's not unwatchable--I actually liked it in the theater, but unfortunately I was not able to locate whatever drugs I was smoking at that time for the repeat viewing. It is definitely better than FF and the rest of the schlock we've covered so far. But once again, it's entirely on the back of Johnny Storm played by Chris Evans. There's no way I could sit through another one of these things without stabbing Jessica Alba in the face with a pencil. I should point out that I actually love Ioan Gruffudd--although primarily for his work in the A&E Horatio Hornblower series that has nothing to do with trying to pair him up with a poorly-styled faux-blonde super bitch.

Honestly, there's not much to say. We're treading near interesting territory, because the next few movies actually have something incredibly likable if not loveable about it. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is neither bad nor good. It has likable moments but nothing to make the experience very worthwhile.

For this reason, I have elected to fill the rest of my "take" space with pictures of my dog. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

NES Golf Tour: NES Open

Nintendo's second foray into the world of video game golf is the bigger and badder NES Open.  Not only was this game a true successor to the original Golf, it also laid the foundation for the later, incredible Mario Golf 64.  NES Open might be the ultimate golf game for the NES.  It can be truly said that this game has pretty much everything you could ask or expect from a golf game on this system.  The graphics are crisp, the game play is smooth and smart, and the extra features are plentiful.

Course Design:  Great!  NES Open features three different courses: US, Japan, and UK.  Each course is smartly designed, although not terribly distinct or indicative of their geographical designations.  Hole designs vary from complex to straightforward, but every hole provides challenge.  There are a few "video game" style holes, but they are not the norm and are not entirely unwelcome, either.  Par 3's are plenty tricky and Par 5's provide opportunity for skilled players to make up a few strokes here and there.  All three courses are fun to play and are well designed.

Green Design:  Sometimes the greens in this game are so busy that it is difficult to plan a good putt.  This isn't always the case and in general the green design is pretty solid, but from time to time you will get a green that can't tell if it is coming or going and chances are it is doing both and several other things as well.  Greens do vary in size and shape, however, and while hold placement doesn't change much the designs alone will provide sufficient challenge.

Shot Set-Up Interface: Almost the most complete control you will have over your shot in a golf video game on the NES (only Atlus Golf Grand Slam offers more in depth control).  NES Open's shot set-up allows you set the direction of your shot, the speed of your swing, your club, the point of impact on the ball (to determine spin), and then the height of your shot.  During the swing you can also determine the fade or draw.  The shot set-up gives you almost complete control over the path of your ball.  Once off the tee you are given distance to pin measurements and lie conditions.  The only thing you are not given is distance in the field from your lie.  As with nearly every other game on the tour this means you will have to guess if you can clear that pot bunker or water hazard until you have taken several swings at it.  This limitation is quickly overcome after a few rounds and is made up for in part by the otherwise complete control you have over your shot.

Swing Interface:  The difficulty with the swing meter in NES Open is entirely a factor of the speed of your swing.  Set to SLOW, the swing meter is soft and smooth as butter.  Set to FAST and you are looking at a button masher.  While this will take some getting used to, it is also a really cool feature of the game and adds a level and depth of challenge that makes the game all the sweeter.  Accuracy and length will vary depending upon the speed and club selection, but accurate shots are not hard to come by once you get the hang of the meter.  There is even a super shot that gives you extra distance if you hit a FAST swing at max power and directly on the accuracy target.  But believe me when I speak from experience, saying that there will be a big adjustment to this swing meter if you are coming from another golf game, especially, say the turtle-slow meter on Bandai Golf Pebble Beach.  Hooking and slicing are pretty easy to accomplish, but they are absolutely wicked and require some measure of control to use effectively.

Putting Interface: Similar to the swing interface, speed will determine the success of your putt and most of the time, with good green placement, you'll be using the SLOW setting.  Due to the speed variance, few putting situations will require you to use the full meter, but you might find use for it putting off of the green.  You'll need to get a good handle on the putting as the breaks in this game are vicious.  The FAST putter can be your friend, but it is also a powerful weapon that when used improperly or without discipline, will add strokes to your score.

Auto-Caddy: Pretty decent, although the recommended club is often a club or two less than what you might need to combat conditions like lie and wind.  You can toggle this feature off in the OPTIONS menu.

Spin Control: Inconsistent.  Top spin will almost always give your ball extra distance, but the amount of distance you'll gain is not significant.  Backspin is terribly inconsistent.  The influence of the backspin is dependent upon the club you are using, but the actual effect is hit or miss.  Land a backspin shot in the rough or fairway and it will stick like a magnet, regardless of the club.  On the green, backspin will either put your ball into full reverse, stop your ball like it hit mud, or have no effect at all.  What determines this is difficult to tell, as I have had all three effects result from the use of a PW.  I don't think you should shun the spin control, but don't count on it either.

Wind Influence:  Anything over 5 MPH is going to be a bear, so plan accordingly.  Anything less and you can make a mild adjustment here and there and be fine.

Break Influence: Evil.  Not kidding.  You will not find a less forgiving break in a golf game for the NES.  Breaks may vary from minimal to "pick up your ball and throw it back into the rough," but no matter what kind of break you find, you will need to account for it during your putt. You can power through most breaks, especially close to the hole, but power isn't going to solve all of the woes the breaks in NES Open will create.

Chip-In Possible?  Yes. And for the skilled golfer it is a viable strategy.

Hole-in-One Possible?  Yes and I have one!  Tricky to do, as with all aces, but certainly out there to get.

Learning Curve: 3  Once you get the hang of the speed differences in your swing and the impact that has on the swing meter, the rest of this game is just golf.  You'll have to learn distances and how to overcome the vicious breaks on the greens, but again, most of that is overcome after a few rounds.  After that you are treated to an incredible golf experience.

Whistles and Bells:  Where do I start?  From cut-scenes at the hole and in the bunker to the ability to select the clubs in your golf bag to the save feature that tracks your progress and improves your skill rank. NES Open is a cornucopia of special features that elevate your game experience from great to amazing.  Regular stroke play gives you ample opportunity to practice and improve your game.  As your scores improve, and your skills improve, the game will keep track of your stats (under OPTIONS) and also improve your standing (Amateur, Semi-Pro, etc.).  Your standing comes into play when you enter Tournament Mode.  You can play either 18 or 36 hole tournaments and compete against (invisible) AI golfers.  You will play a regular round and AI golfer results will be simulated.  Depending on how low your score is, you will be ranked against the simulated results and be awarded prize money accordingly.  At the end of each tournament, Donkey Kong will deposit your prize money and keep tabs on how much you have earned.  There are extra opportunities to earn money during the tournament with the Longest Drive and Closest to the Pin competitions.
If that isn't enough, the game also records your best birdie, eagle, albatross, and ace shots so that you can replay them later and relive the glory.
NES Open provides the biggest and most complete golf experience on the NES and these whistles and bells make that experience all the more enjoyable!

Overall Score: 9  I don't give perfect scores very often and while NES Open doesn't earn a coveted 10, it is a close as we are going to get on this tour.  With only a few minor quibbles here and there, I don't think you can find a better, or more fun, golf game for the NES.

Tips from the Club Pro:
  • Swing speed is essential when setting up your shot.  Learn the strengths and weaknesses of each speed and use them to your advantage.  Fast shots are great on the tee and out of the trap or rough, but your accuracy will vary unless you are really good. Medium shots are good all purpose shots, good from the fairway or rough.  Slow shots are good for the short game or when you absolutely must navigate tricky hazards.
  • Pay attention to hazards and trees when judging shots.  These courses are designed for challenge.  If you wonder how far out that tree is from the tee, chances are good it is nearly the distance of your best possible drive. 
  • Clubs will not yield their full distance except under perfect conditions, so be ready to club up one or two, three or four in the rough.
  • Woods out of the rough are inconsistent, as in the real game.
  • Putting is perhaps the most difficult part of this game.  Overcoming vicious breaks and judging speed and distance will require lots of practice.  Don't expect many one-putts your first few rounds, but stick with it.
  • Not good at putting? Shore up that short game.  Long putts are never desirable.
  •  The wind WILL affect your short shots and chips.  Adjust accordingly and keep those shots LOW when possible.
I have no idea why Peach is so cracked out in this game.

Club Pro's Best Rounds:

US Course
4.11.12             74 +2
4.12.12             76 +4

Japan Course
4.9.12               71 -1
4.11.12             73 +1

UK Course
4.12.12             71 -1   Hole-in-One Hole #12
4.12.12             74 +2

Next on the tour, we'll join the Golden Bear as he take us on a tour of the greatest 18 holes of major championships golf (also the golf game with the longest name, ever.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #18: Blade Trinity

Blade Trinity feels like a spin-off movie with the Blade character appearing only as a cameo.  That is about how involved Blade and I are in this movie.  It is no surprise to read the trivia on this film and find out that Wesley Snipes was seriously pissed about the direction of this movie and his lack of involvement, frankly so am I.  As we will get into a little further up the list, Wesley Snipes is the most likeable thing in the Blade franchise, and he needs to be.  So when you make a Blade movie and you marginalize the best aspect of the series, you are setting yourself up for a problem.

Aimee will take up the dissection, perhaps evisceration, of Ryan Reynolds, but suffice to say that he is miserable and ruins the film pretty much single-handedly.   The rest of the performances of the "supporting" cast are equally forgettable and dismissed.  Jessica Biel is likeable enough, but not enough to carry the film or make a troubled plot and script enjoyable.

The other big problem is that after Blade II, the stakes were raised so high that finding a new vampiric menace for Blade to combat becomes next to impossible.  This latest threat is beyond comprehension and requires more suspension of disbelief than should really be expected of the audience.  Not to ruin it for you, but apparently Blade, armed with a vampire killing virus, must go after THE Dracula.  There are plot twists, but they are either too predictable or they fail to twist sufficiently to keep the film interesting.  The Nightstalkers sub-plot steals too much of the spotlight and as mentioned above, Blade is so marginalized that it is barely his story at all.  Never mind the miserable vampire serum plot or the complex vampire lineage that we are supposed to follow from Dracula down to the modern day vamps, this movie somehow tries to do so much and succeeds at doing so little.

It is no surprise that the Blade franchise dies with this film.  Snipes is enjoyable as always, but due to his lack of screen time is unable to salvage the last hurrah from this series.  As a matter of fact, both Snipes and Kristofferson are very likeable and have the chemistry that made the first two movies so much better than this one.  It is everything else that makes Blade Trinity #18 on this list.

Aimee's Take

My loving husband is, as usual, quite astute in summing up why a movie doesn't really work. I agree with him entirely. I'll even go so far as to say I liked Jessica Biel's role in this film, and I'll go so far as to say that Wesley Snipes is enjoyable, as always, in this film. All the problems Stan pointed out are too much, though. There just isn't enough Blade.

Now to eviscerate Ryan Reynolds. 

I've seen him around for years. He's got that look; could be wholesome like a boy next door, could be the boyfriend who is secretly controlling, or could just be a miserable smart-mouthed asshole. He could be all three. 

He's not particularly suited for "hero" roles, which is why it's bizarre to see him in so many. He's really best suited to be the jerk-off terrible boyfriend that the ingénue dumps at the last second for the friendly, cardboard "good guy". He does seem rather well-suited to be Deadpool, but I hate Deadpool almost as much as I hate Ryan Reynolds. There's no reason for either to exist, other than to make me sad.

Ryan Reynolds plays his role as "Hannibal" about as well as you'd expect. He has all the wit and timing of your drunk Uncle Larry at Thanksgiving, rolling right through obviously bad one-liners, one after another, never stopping for breath or laughter. It isn't necessary to pause for laughter, because nothing he ever says is funny.

That's pretty much how this character is played. He's the snarky, "witty" comic relief in a movie that really needs none. Given the general lack of Blade in this film, we wind up with the comic stylings of Ryan Reynolds pretty often, leaving me to wonder when the real relief will come. As in, when are they going to kill him? 

But they don't. They want to spin this shit off into a Ryan Reynold's vampire wise-cracking fest. Luckily for everyone, this movie looked bad and was bad, and there was no reason to ever put Ryan Reynolds in a movie again. At least, not into a movie anyone would voluntarily watch. And all was right with the world.

Plus this movie has this horrible bitch, who is actually Parker Posey, an actual actress who may not stink entirely, but who manages to be worse than Ryan Reynolds, AND in also in most of his scenes. The end. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

NES Golf Tour: Bandai Golf: Challenge Pebble Beach

NOTHING says late 80's golf like this label
World class golfers aren't the only ones to get their own video games; world class golf courses have that honor as well.  One of the strongest features of PC golfing was the recreation of most of the world's most famous golf courses.  From Augusta to Torrey Pines, chances are good if stuffy old white dudes had heard of it, you could find it in PC golf.  Few golf games for the NES however, were ambitious enough to attempt this same feat.  It may have been simpler to just create new golf courses for console gamers to play, or it may not have even been a strong consideration to include real world courses in video game golf at that level.  But the good people at Bandai took the chance and attempted to lovingly recreate one of the most beautiful and challenging golf courses in major championship golf: Pebble Beach (as it was circa 1988).

You don't have to know a 3 Iron from a loft wedge to recognize the splendor and majesty of the course at Pebble Beach. (take the full tour here and maybe I can get a kickback or a free round sometime...ha!)  Featuring an unmatched view of the Pacific Ocean and the lush vegetation of the Monterey Pennisula, Pebble Beach is the ideal setting for a great round of golf.  The course itself is diverse and provides ample challenges for golfers of any skill level.  If you ever have the chance I strongly encourage you to go.

But I am not here to write a travel blog about the wonders of Central California, I am here to talk about video game golf!  As I mentioned above, Bandai Golf: Challenge Pebble Beach is what I describe above reduced to 8 bits and crammed into a plastic cartridge, with all of that reduction implies. Look the limited palette of the NES is not going to capture the grandeur of the west coast. The flat green, orange, and blue are going to lack the nuance of the real thing, but if you are a graphics whore who is going to bitch about the visuals, then you might reconsider your choice of the NES.  No, what BGCPB does capture, and capture extremely well, is the experience of playing golf on this legendary course.

While some of the holes have changed over the past 25 years, if you do a side-by-side comparison with the virtual tour above you will see that the heart of the course is still there and some of the holes are pretty much the same today as they were in the NES era (the 18th hole is pretty much verbatim).  This may not seem like much, but if you are going to put the name of the course on your game, you had better be ready to deliver.
The Classic 18th Hole, as it is today and the NES version by comparison.  Not too shabby!

Course Design:  Excellent. It's freaking Pebble Beach.  As I have already said, this is a legendary course and the people at Bandai have done an exceptional job of recreating on the NES.  The holes are challenging, diverse, and smartly designed.  From long drives onto narrow fairways to tight par 3's surrounded by sand, this course has earned its credibility and the NES version upholds that credibility.

Green Design: Decent.  While the hole placement is constant, the greens are designed with challenge in mind.  Breaks vary and are realistic.  Honestly, the breaks in this game are some of the most realistic in both design and function of any gold game on the NES, but more on that later.  Greens conditions are as lovingly translated as the rest of the course.

Shot Set-Up Interface:  Interesting.  You get two views, but one is a cross-section and the other is a top down.  You will do most of your shot set-up from the overhead, but the cross-section will give you an idea of elevation, a rare feature in NES golf games.  While the elevation doesn't play a huge factor, it is an interesting feature and adds an extra layer of depth.  Setting up your shot is pretty simple.  Regular shots have the same limitation on direction as in Golf.  You are restricted to fixed range of direction and must use hooks and slices to adjust your direction. For some reason this limitation is less annoying here, but it still requires some skill to set up a shot that needs to reach a specific target.  The overhead view provides a clear look at the course.   Furthermore, when you approach the green, you'll get a zoomed in look at the green area to help making chipping a little easier.  All in all, setting up a good shot in this game is pretty simple and aided by the interface.
The most important thing to learn about the shot set-up interface is that you will be given the distance to the hole from your current position at the end of the previous stroke.  Pay attention to this as it will be the only time this information is given.  If you get button happy, you will miss your distance to pin and have to guess at it.  I cannot fault the game here, since it gives you the info; if you aren't paying attention then the gaff is on you.

Miss your shot?  No problem!
Swing Interface: Easy.  The choice to overlap the swing meter with the overhead view of the course is an interesting one, but once you get used to it, it isn't quite as distracting as it initially appears.  Getting over the initial confusion is aided by the gentleness of the swing meter.  The backswing speed is very slow, allowing the power to be set easily.  The downswing is faster, but not so much that it makes an accurate shot difficult.  The best feature of the swing interface, however, is also one of the most unique features of the game: swing forgiveness.   If you do not set the power or miss the end of the meter, the swing will cancel out and you can try again with NO PENALTY.  That's right, this way if there is something off about your shot, you can cancel out just by not setting the power during the backswing.  I know.  One of the advantages of this feature is that you can reset your shot until you get the maximum power.  It's kind of a cheat, but it's there in the game.  The swing meter also allows you to set your hook or slice before you take the shot by moving the accuracy arrow either to the left or the right.  This will determine the amount of draw or fade when you hit the arrow on your downswing.  This also works on the putt.
Moving the arrow can adjust the influence of your shot
Chipping is trickier as it is tough to judge power on your approach.  As a general rule, the purple area represents the distance you need to reach the pin, but this can vary and you will need to adjust your power accordingly.

Putting Interface: Speaking of which, the putting interface is exactly like the swing interface, but the power works more like chipping.  Generally, the edge of the purple zone is the power needed to reach the hole unless you are a great distance off, then you will need to adjust your power accordingly.  This will take some getting used to, but otherwise the putting is pretty simple.  And yes, you can putt off the green, just be aware, the break will influence the direction of the putt even if you cannot see it on the chip view detail.

Auto-Caddy: None.  And furthermore, do not always trust the target crosshairs, they will not always point toward the pin.

Spin Control: None.

Wind Influence: Brutal, particularly when it is in your face.  You will always want to check the wind conditions before teeing off.

Break Influence: Important.  As mentioned above the break in this game is tough, but fair, and pretty realistic.  Pay attention to the density and direction of the break as you set up your putt or you will easily see it go awry.

Chip-In Possible?:  Absolutely and almost to the point of being too easy.  Sometimes it feels like there is a gravity well in the hole when you are chipping in.  This makes for some spectacular shots and a lot of fun, but it can seem a little trite.

Hole-in-One Possible?: While I have not yet managed one, I have to believe that it is possible. This game plays pretty fast and loose and with chip-ins so manageable, I have to imagine that an ace is out there to be had.

Learning Curve: 2BGCPB earns this rating because of the amount of forgiveness built in.  I am referring to the swing meter, of course, but also some of the leniency with penalties like bunkers and rough (balls may look clear in the rough, but be counted as fairway as long as there is an edge nearby), plus the almost complete lack of OB.  It takes a round or two to fully grasp the controls, but after that your challenge will be the course, not learning to control your swing.  This would be an excellent game for someone learning the ins and outs of the sport or learning to play video game golf.  The few idiosyncrasies the game has are pretty quickly overcome.

Whistles and Bells:  NOT the music.  The title screen has a jaunty tune that makes you think that this game will feature some nice background music to play by.  Nope.  As soon as you leave this screen you will be inundated by the most repetitive jingle since the music for Skateboardin'.  And it plays non-stop until you sink the putt.  That is your only break from the monotony.  I highly recommend putting on your favorite record and playing along to it instead.  You will not miss the scant few sound affects for hitting the ball and landing in the bunker.
Apart from the horrid music, the game doesn't feature too much in the way of special features.  The graphics are nice and are kind of a blend of extremely well detailed textured displays and that kind of early NES crudely rendered images.  Where the game is detailed it looks amazing, the green breaks and woods for example, but everywhere else it is flat color on color.  The color palette is also a bit limited, but the blue of the water hazards help provide some contrast.

Overall Score: 8.  I really enjoy playing this game.  I realize it is limited to one course, but man, what a course!  The loving translation makes this a real joy for a golf fan.  The learning curve is minimal and the fast and loose action makes for a quick, fun round of golf.  The amount of forgiveness and leniency do make it a bit easy, but as you will see from my scores, getting under par is no guarantee!  I play Bandai Golf: Challenge Pebble Beach a lot.  There are a few minor quibbles that keep it from being perfect, but it is one of my favorite NES golf games.

Tips from the Club Pro:

  • Club distances in this game are a little different than standard.  Expect to get -10 to -20 yards less than you might normally expect from your clubs. The instruction manual gives you the distances for each club. I overclub by at least 1.
  • You will get a good initial bounce on the fairway and green, but after that bounce, the grass will grab the ball and hold on tight.
  • Chipping will take more practice than most other aspects of the game.  For some reason the swing meter acts a little differently.  I use the edge of the purple area as my "max power to reach hole" indicator and then adjust from there.  It is very easy to over or under hit.
  • Playing out of the sand is much like in real life: unpredictable.  I rarely use less than half power to get clear.
  • Watch your accuracy off the tee.  Try to hook or slice too much, or miss the arrow by too much and the results will be disastrous.
  • Club selection is limited by situation.  You will not have your 1W except on the tee and no Woods in the rough.  While this does limit you a bit, it also keeps you from making very bad decisions.  Likewise, you can use a 7I out of the trap fairly reliably.
Can you ignore the Penis Bunker long enough to reach the green?

Club Pro's Top Rounds:
4.16.10             72 EVEN
4.11.10             73 +1
4.13.10             74 +2
4.13.12             75 +3
4.14.10             76 +4

Sadly, we must leave the majesty of the Monterey Pennisula for our next stop returns us to the first party fun of Nintendo golf as we participate in the NES OPEN!  Good times!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

NES Golf Tour: Golf

Golf.  There is it. One simple four letter word.  No fancy sponsorships or name branding, no self-aggrandizing superlatives, no magnanimous claims, just the one-word name of the sport: Golf.  Back in 1985 Nintendo realized that simpler was better.  They also realized they were launching a new video game system into the crash era of video games and even then they understood the importance and relevance of video game golf to the point that they included it in their first wave of games for their soon to be legendary system.  Golf, Football, Baseball, and Tennis are the four sports to earn a place in Nintendo's "Sports Series."  The next golf game for the NES would not appear for three more years.  So from 1985 until 1988, Golf was King of the Links.
Not YOU guys!  You won't show up until 1987 and 1988 respectively!
Simpler may have been better for 1985, but how does the original golf game for the NES stack up compared to the powerhouses that would come later?  Not to badly, honestly.  Let's take a look:

Course Design:  Great.  For a game as early as this one to feature a better course design than either of the previous two games we have looked at, especially Greg Norman's Golf Power which came out in the 90's, is a testimony to Golf right out of the gate.  The holes vary nicely, providing plenty of challenge.  Some holes seem impossible and others seem impossibly easy until you play them a few times.  While no single hole on the course is a game breaker, there are more than a couple that can wreck your score.  Hazards are evenly distributed and are used in sensible ways.  The only real weakness in the course design is that there is only one course and therefore you are prone to learning its ins and outs after a handful of rounds and the challenge can diminish quickly once you get good.
Is it just me, or does this hole look like a turtle's head?

Green Design:  Again, solid.  Greens vary in size and shape.  While none of the layouts get too elaborate or tricky, putting is never a sure thing.  Break distribution varies from hole to hole.  Break design is simple, the entire green breaks in one direction, with the strength of the break varying from light break to "take your ball back to the fairway."  Hole placement varies, but remains relatively close to the center of the green.  Overall, the green design is very standard and you'll occasionally encounter a set-up that has you two or three-putting your way to the cup.

How far is it to that next island?
Shot Set-Up Interface: Good, not great, but good.  You have two windows, third person and overhead, and they match up pretty well with the overhead being the more reliable and what the game appears to pay attention to.  You are give the distance to the hole from the tee, but no other distances for the rest of the hole.  This is one of the game's biggest shortcomings.  Distances are not terribly difficult to judge once you familiarize yourself with the course and the clubs, but getting started this contributes heavily to the learning curve.  Apart from that, the displays available give you an honest look at your shot and help you prepare for your swing.  The game's other big shortcoming lies in the direction arrow helps you direct your shot.  The arrow is rigid and only allows you to point your shot in general directions.  There is no finesse in choosing the direction of your shot.  This means that hook and slice are going to be more important to your game than they would be otherwise.  This can make some shots, particularly where water and OB come into play, very tricky to line up.  This can be overcome with experienced game play, but again it makes for an unnecessary challenge.

Swing Interface: Standard with a bit of leniency.  The swing interface follows the standard formula with a few features that make it a bit simpler than some golf games.  Your swing speed is moderate at best and slow compared to other games on this tour.  The target for an accurate shot is tiny, but the margin of error is wide and your shot will not hook or slice wildly if you are not dead on.  Likewise, the hook and slice area target area is pretty much as wide as the swing meter, within reason.  The farther you stop the meter on either side of the accuracy target will determine the amount of hook or slice.  As long as you are relatively near the accuracy target you will not flub the shot.  There is a limit, but it is generous.  Just don't abuse this privilege as the hooks and slices in this game can get nasty.

It's ok, just give it a whack!
Putting Interface: Again, standard.  Putting is pretty intuitive in this game and you'll want to learn your way around the putting meter to get a good sense of the power you possess, but after a few putts you'll almost do it by instinct.  Putting off the green is allowed and encouraged as it is often better than trying to chip from short distances.  Your power is equal to a iron, but your ball does not leave the ground.

Auto-Caddy:  None.  The game tells you the strength of the club.  It is up to you to determine the distance and choose the best stick for the job.

Spin Control: None.  Maybe because it is such an early game, but you get no spin control here.  Would have been nice.

Wind Influence:  Moderate.  Pay attention to the wind information as it can wreck an otherwise perfect shot.  Because of the troubles with the Set-Up Interface, you may need to add a hook or slice to account for the wind.

Break Influence:  Important.  If you fail to account for the break, particularly when it is strong (tight grass arrows) then you will be adding a few strokes to your score.  The break is fair, but can be vicious.  You may need to double or triple your power when putting uphill against a strong break.

Chip-In Possible?  Yes, and with the right skill and strategy you can do it somewhat often.

Hole in One Possible?  YES!  And I have done it!  See below!

Learning Curve: 2.  Everything about this game is pretty standard and the controls are generous.  Once you learn the gauge distances and hook and slice, you are pretty much set.

Whistles and Bells: Almost none.  Unless you count playing with what I assume is Mario, then there isn't too much extra in this game.  I hate using its age as a defense, but I'm not sure what more to expect from a game as early as this one.  The graphics,  however, are really nice and colorful.  You can do without the game's only sound effect, "beep-beep-beep," so just put on some music you like and provide your own whistles and bells.

Overall Score: 7.  Seem high?  Honestly, my only real knocks against this game are also what I consider to be its greatest strengths: simplicity.  There is only one course and once you learn it the challenge is lessened, there are quibbles with the set-up interface, and there aren't many extra features, but all of these can be overcome relatively easily and do not take away from the fact that Golf presents the game of golf in a straightforward and pure manner.  There is plenty of fun to be had here for both new golfers and people like me who are about to join the Seniors Tour.

Tips from the Club Pro:

  •  If the ball lands on a tree graphic it is OB.  Always shoot clear of the trees.  You can shoot over, but do not land near as you run the risk of OB.
  • Always use half your power or more getting out of the sand.  Less and you will almost always flub.  And yes, oddly, you can use a Wood in the bunker.  Results vary.
  • Hole 6, use a 3W to reach the island safely off the tee.
  • Hole 8, use a 3W to reach the clearing in the trees.
  • Hole 11, use a 1Iron to get on safely.
  • Hole 13, use a 3W or 1 Iron to reach the island safely depending on the wind, hook or slice accordingly.
  • Hole 15, use a 4 or 5 Iron to reach the small island.  You can reach the big island above it with a 1W, but you may want some wind help for assurance.
  • Be careful using the PW to chip, it has more power than you think it does.
These are four of the hardest holes to judge the distance on.  My advice on these holes is tried and true.

Club Pro's Best Rounds:

3.29.12         -3
3.29.12         EVEN
3.28.12         +1
6.30.03         +2
3.29.12         +4
6.28.03         Hole-in-One on Hole #3

Join us next time as we make for one of the most beautiful golf course in the United States in Bandai Golf Challenge: Pebble Beach.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Marvel Movie Project #19: Daredevil

By the time the Daredevil movie hit the big screen we were far enough past the awe of having major motion pictures with super-heroes that there was no excuse for this film to be this shoddy.  Poor cinematography, abysmal storytelling, and a complete misunderstanding of the character plague what could have been an excellent character study.

The film starts off on the wrong foot and goes downhill from there.  Daredevil is a lot like Batman.  Both have their family killed by crime and then swear to do what the law cannot.  Neither have super powers, DD's radar sense is more of an extra sense than a power, but both take action where the police cannot to bring scofflaws to justice.  Yet neither of them take their specific brand of justice too the ultimate conclusion.  Neither hero kills.  They both bring the criminal to the proper authorities so that justice can be served.  Unless, of course, you watch this movie, in which, during the first scene with Daredevil, he pushes a criminal in front of a subway train and watches as the train runs him over.  That's right, according to the makers of this film, Daredevil is a cold-blooded murderer.  As you can see, right from the beginning, it is obvious that the filmmakers have no idea who Daredevil is.  If this is how we start, what chance do we have for the duration?

Not much.  From there, the story is all over the place just like the characterization.  In the span of 90 minutes we are introduced to Daredevil, Foggy Nelson, Elektra, the Kingpin of Crime, and Bullseye and we are expected to know and care about the fates of all of them.  It's just not possible.  The film only lasts 103 minutes, but the producers try to cram about 30 years worth of storytelling into that time and it just isn't possible.  All of the characters are flat, with the exception of Matt Murdock who has more character than he needs (see the apropos of nothing sensory deprivation tank) and Foggy Nelson who is excellently portrayed by John Favreau, who also kills it as Happy Hogan in the Iron Man movies.  The rest of the characters are just cardboard cut outs.  Michael Clarke Duncan would make an excellent Kingpin, but he is given nothing to do with it.  Same for Colin Farrel whose Bullseye is almost likeable for an assassin. If you've read our Elektra review then you know how I feel about Garner's portrayal of that character which is a shame because there is real potential for fireworks between Elektra and Daredevil in this movie.  Don't get me wrong, the director tries really, really hard to force a romance down our throat, but much like in those reprehensible "Star Wars" prequels, it feels forced and doesn't work.

Which can also be said for much of the storytelling.  At the crux of the film there is a big showdown in the street between Daredevil, Elektra and Bullseye.  During this fight Bullseye kills Elektra's father in cold blood in the middle of the street.  Elektra is present when this happens, she is pretty much next to father.  She sees everything that happens and yet for some reason she blames her father's death on DD instead of Bullseye.  The only thing I can figure is that she was also witness to the earlier scene where DD killed that thug in the subway.  Anyway, the rest of the film plays out based on this blatantly wrong assumption as Elektra tries to kill Daredevil, Daredevil tries to hunt down Bullseye and ends up confronting the Kingpin in a big showdown that is unspectacular because there is no real established reason why Daredevil would go up against the Kingpin anyway--apart from Fisk being the head of organized crime in the city.  The plot is cracker thin and loosely held together by convenient associations.

Finally, the cinematography in this film is distracting at best and confusing at worst.  Symptomatic of this problem is the bar fight scene where Daredevil roughs up a pool hall full of criminals for no apparent reason (I think he is looking for someone or something, probably to kill them).  The entire scene is pieced together with choppy action sequences shot in dim lighting (even for a bar scene the place is dark).  It is nearly impossible to tell what is happening or follow any of the action. I get the feeling the director was trying to convey the sense of disorientation that Daredevil experiences in a battle such as this, even with his radar sense.  The repeated use of the ceiling fan blades as contrast over emphasizes this fact, but does not make the stylistic choice any more effective.  This is also apparent in the use of (very convenient) rain in the rooftop scenes with Elektra.  The director tries so hard to make a style piece, but undermines it at every turn with cheap devices and poor choices.  The scene between Elektra and Matt Murdock in the park means to be fun and lighthearted, but comes across as a goofy, unrealistic action scene that is nearly a parody.

Like most of these movies at the bottom of the list, the character and subject matter are capable of being conveyed in a powerful and meaningful way, but the choices made by the filmmakers take that potential and grind it into the dirt.  Daredevil is saved almost entirely on the back of some sound performances by Michael Clarke Duncan, John Favreau, and Colin Farrell despite the fact that they are given little to work with in this film.  Sadly, the main character is pretty unlikable and uncharacteristic of the comic book hero he is meant to depict.  The movie comes across like a made-for-TV special, not a major motion picture.

Aimee's Take:

We're moving up the list now and things are getting tricky. Unlike the last few tankers, these movies are starting to have things about them that are actually pretty good. But, exactly like the last few tankers, they also have things that make me want mind bleach, so that I can deny I've ever seen them. 

Daredevil is just such a film. It gets most everything terribly wrong. I think making Daredevil into a cold-blooded murderer was a bold choice. Doesn't anyone wonder why every time Matt Murdoch loses a case, the defendant turns up on the third rail or splattered on the sidewalk? Look, Daredevil was introduced to me first through reading Spider-Man back issues (reprints of course) and he was more like the wise guardian, compelling Spider-Man into ethical behavior. Not trying to kill people. That's how I met the Punisher. Is this the Punisher movie we always wanted? There's not much to cling to here; choppy, migraine-inducing editing, painfully bad characterization of pretty much every character, a muddled plot--I thank Jesus every day that this movie is only an hour and a half long.

"Don't talk to me, Mom! I'm a murderer!"
 But, and, believe me, it pains me to say it, there are things about this movie that are enjoyable.
  • Bullseye, my least favorite "super villain" of all time, is actually pretty enjoyable in this movie. I'm not going to assassinate the character here, because he's one of the only things that is remotely interesting about the entire movie.
  • Foggy Nelson is perfect. Don't change a damn thing--unless it's to pluck him right out of this film and into a better Daredevil movie.
  • I think I may have laughed at a joke or something in this film. Not sure. It was probably a Foggy scene.
But then, there's a lot of stuff that's just painful. They work in an absurd amount of comic book references--references to writers, artists, etc. That's really awesome. I like that. But stop overdoing it, please? Specifically, stop saying "Quesada" over and over and over. It's probably innocuous to people who don't know who that is, but references should be subtle. Otherwise, it feels... dirty.

If you read my Elektra take, you already know how I feel about ol' Man-Hands. But she's not the worst offender here, it's the plot. It's really just the plot. Ok, and the script. And the cast--most of it. But that's where the problems stop. Unless you count the cinematography, of course... but who does?

The only reason Daredevil isn't on the bottom of the list is that, believe us, there are worse movies out there. But so many could make a compelling run for last. So many.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

NES Golf Tour: Greg Norman's Golf Power

Another game bearing the name of a golfing great.  For anyone not familiar, Greg Norman was the guy in the 80's that had the incredible drive.  Everyone wanted to swing the woods like Norman.  Known as "the Shark," Norman was famous for taking risky shots and his golf career lived and died by that reputation.  He missed the Green Jacket in 1986 and 1987 on the back of two bad breaks.  However, his aggressive style won him a couple of Open Championships and a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.  It apparently also landed him a video game for the NES.

Much like his playing style, his game, Greg Norman's Golf Power, asks you to drive the ball outrageous distances, take extremely gutsy shots, and be just a bit luckier than your average golfer.  Aptly named, this game is all about long drives, long second shots and many, many risk/reward holes.  Greg Norman's Golf Power indeed.  Here is the breakdown:

Course Design:  Terrible and Unrealistic.  Seriously.  I have never ever heard of a golf course designed by adults that ever features 16 par 5's and two par 4's.  It does not exist.  It does not happen.  The standard golf course is 18 holes generally resulting in a par score of 72.  The average course in GNGP comes in with a par score of 85.  85!!  It's madness.  Where is the balance?  Where is the breather par 3 hole that gives you a chance to relax from the constant one wood off the tee?  I get it, the game is Golf POWER and Norman was know for his long drives, but this is also meant to be a golf simulation game, not just a driving range.  The end result is a very LONG game play experience and very frustrating scores.  The Australia course does feature one par 3 hole, it is 331 yards long! Furthermore, the variety in the hole design is stagnant.  There seem to be two kinds of holes. First, there is the long drive to a narrow fairway, usually with a hazard, often a tree, near the landing zone.  Second is the drive short of the water with a high iron or the risk it all with the one Wood and try to clear the water hazard.  The hole of the second variety is plentiful and annoying.  Since there are no par 3's and very few par 4's you are pretty much always going to be swinging your one wood off the tee and in the fairway with your second shot.  Boring.  You are also going to be spending a lot of time taking drops or penalty strokes from the bountiful water hazards.  There just isn't much variety in the hole designs and the overabundance of par 5's severely limits the game's options for creative course design.  Snore.
Get used to seeing this

Green Design:  If you think the course design is boring, wait until you make it to the green.  With about 6 distinct and set break patterns and every green being a large square, it is clearly evident that the putting game was an afterthought in GNGP.  The hole is always dead center of the green and the size is always the same.  If you can make it to the green, you are pretty much assured a one-putt to the hole.  As with the lack of variety in hole creation, there is a major deficit in creativity on the greens.
Can you create a topographical map of this green?

Shot Set-Up Interface:  Pretty standard stuff here.  You get a top-down look and a third person look.  Both are fairly accurate and are consistent with each other.  The top down is your best bet for planning your shot, but as the tree height can vary, you'll also want to check the third person to make sure as your shot may be clear.  You can trust your shot is being set up safely.  While there are no distance indicators in the field, this game is all about the long game so there is little need for judging distances.  Just swing for the fences and hope for the best.  After a few miscues, you'll learn how to judge the shorter shots.  The one major drawback in the set-up interface is that you are not allowed to turn your third person view beyond the existing window.  This greatly limits your choice of where to hit as the third person view always points toward the green and your shot doesn't always want to go that way.  This mandates some hooks and slices depending on where you want to land the ball.

Swing Interface: Again, pretty standard with a single, interesting difference.   Instead of hitting A to start the swing and then A again to determine the power, in GNGP you hold the A button to start the swing and release it to set the power, then press A again to determine the accuracy.  This takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it is actually much easier than the standard interface we all know and love.  The downswing speed increases as you approach the accuracy target, but hitting an accurate shot is not terribly difficult. Likewise, negotiating a hook or slice is pretty simple as well.  Hooks and slices are fairly mild and manageable.

Putting Interface:  Also standard, to the point of being too easy.  With the uninspired green design, it is no surprise that the putting interface is simplistic to the point of being automatic.  Since the greens are all square and relatively small, you will never need more than half of the putting meter's power to reach the hole.  Don't worry about distances, just trust your instincts and putt.  You are not allowed the option of using the putter unless you are on the green, so no putting from the fairway.
If you can make it to the green, the rest is cake.  Nice pants, dude.

Auto-Caddy: Unreliable.  I'm not really sure why you need an auto-caddy in this game anyway as 75% of your shots will be taken with the one Wood, but when a shot does call for a different club, the caddy will usually give you a club that about two clubs stronger than the one you need.  Unless, you land in the rough.  No matter where you are on the course, or what your good golf instincts tell you, the game all but forces you to use an eight Iron.  Oh sure, you can try to use a higher club, but you stand a good chance of shanking or flubbing your shot, which will lead to a fit of rage.  I promise.  Just take the damn short shot with the 8 Iron and get back into the fairway so you can use your woods again.  Apart from that, use your best instincts and remember that at max power you are going to get +20 on each club's maximum distance.  Ignore the caddy and you'll be fine.
If a real caddy told you this, you would beat him, if for no other reason than the atrocious grammar.

Spin Control:  During your shot set-up the game allows you to add forward and backward spin to the ball.  The actual influence of this is minimal and the backspin will only slow your ball a little on the green.  It will stop it dead anywhere else.  You do not get a lot of run from the forward spin.

Wind Influence:  None.  At least none on the Sunny weather setting.  When you change the weather to inclement conditions you will see some influence, but the overall effect is minimal.

Break Influence:  Again, minimal.  This is a game about power, not finesse.  Unless your ball touches a break arrow during its path to the cup you might not see any break influence at all.  That said, always hedge your putts against the break in the event that it plays a factor.  Important note:  when putting from the green edge, there seems to be an invisible barrier that will repel your ball back toward the fairway unless you add extra power.  Not sure if this is truly a "break," but it sucks so watch out.

Chip-In Possible?  Not that I have ever seen.  I have hit the ball perfectly from the fairway, watched it hit the graphic representing the hole and then roll right on by.  I am going to say that chip-ins are not available in this game.

Hole-In-One Possible?  When would you get the chance?  With every hole a par 5, if you can score an ace, you call me.
Which hole did you ace?  Was it the 580yd par 5 or maybe the 550yd par 5, wait which 550yd par 5?

Learning Curve: 4. I wanted to say it was much higher, but when you get right down to it, the interfaces are simple and straightforward, the putting is easy and once you realize that almost every hole follows the formula, "hit as far as you can twice, find green and putt," there really isn't that much to learn about playing this game.  The biggest part of the learning curve is just reconciling that you are not playing real golf.

Whistles and Bells:  Now we get to where the game shines.  This game is all whistles and bells and very little else.  I'm not necessarily talking about the 10 different (although not so different) courses the game offers, or the ability to set weather conditions, save your round, or even the four player game play.  The most significant feature this game has to offer is also the one that makes the game playable and enjoyable: the course designer.  That's right, it is almost as if the people at Virgin Games knew that their base game was weak, so they decided to pack in a pretty sweet little game editor as an apology.
The course designer feature is your chance to right the wrongs of GNGP and create a real golf course to play.  The designer will take a bit of time to get used to, particularly when trying to figure out how to create holes of different lengths, but pay attention to the instruction manual and soon you'll be designing courses with the best of them.  I used the designer to create a standard par 72 course that was a lot of fun to play and had far more variety than anything the game presented me with.  I also had a lot of fun creating the course.  This feature almost saves the game.  If the rest of the game play mechanics had been more than just standard this would have been the coolest "create your own golf game" game out there.  As it stands, the designer just barely saves this game from being the absolute pits.

Overall Score: 3  And it gets that score on the back of the designer alone.  You really can build your own golf game and have a great time doing it.  If you pick up Greg Norman's Golf Power and play the base game, you are going to be pretty dissatisfied.  I will plug this game in from time to time and create a new course and play it for a while against the computer golfers, but after a few rounds, Greg Norman's Golf Power goes back on the shelf.
You said it, game.

Tips from the Club Pro:
  • Trees are set up in even rows.  Thus you can hit a lot of shots between the trees and the collision detection is very generous so you can risk it when it looks clear.
  • If you are new to the game and want a fair chance to get acquainted play the French course a few times.  It has the most reasonable hole layouts and the water hazards are minimal comparatively.
  • There is no major penalty for hitting out of the rough, but as mentioned above, the game will restrict you to an eight iron, so if you need a long shot, take a whack.  I have had mixed results with trying other clubs.  Irons seem the most effective, particularly those around the 8 Iron.
  • Remember, at maximum power your club will get +20 yards over their stated distance.
  •  Unless you are putting from the green edge, you will never need to use more than half the power on the putting gauge.
Club Pro's Best Rounds:
Course: Spain
Date:  3.25.12          Score: Even

Course: Germany
Date: 3.25.12           Score: +6

Course: France
Date: 3.25.12          Score:  -3

Course: Japan
Date: 3.24.12           Score: +14

Course: Australia
Date: 3.23.12          Score: +10

Course: Hawaii
Date: 3.22.12          Score: +6

I have listed my best scores above, I have done dismally on the others.  On my personal course, I shot a +4.
His game may not be a winner, but when you show up to the course in THIS vehicle, you are automatically, the coolest golfer in the clubhouse!

Come back next time when we'll take a look at Nintendo's first golf offering, the aptly named Golf.