Friday, August 15, 2014

RETRO REVIEW SERIES: The Legend of Zelda for the NES!



     Alright boys and girls, it’s time for B-Sly The Gamer Guy to sit down and write a review of the king of the hill when it comes to adventure games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. That’s right everybody, this is my review of the iconic The Legend of Zelda! 
image     I think everyone would agree that The Legend of Zelda is one of the best (and most prolific) games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and one of the best video games ever created. It’s one of those timeless masterpieces that people still get the urge to play some 25 years later and it’s definitely a game that remained popular throughout the life of the NES. That is something that we hardly see happen anymore in this day and age and it’s something that I think adds a charm to retrogaming as a whole. See, many games come out for modern gaming consoles month in and month out and a solid chunk are lost to time and forgotten about less than 6 months later. This is because the modern gamer has become so fickle that they can’t figure out what it is they want to play and most titles are either rushed through or hardly played at all after purchase. It’s a vicious cycle, a new game comes out and then interest in whatever they were enjoying previously comes to an abrupt end and the game is cast aside and never touched again, if not traded away. Something I absolutely hate to see. These kinds of things didn’t happen much during the heyday of the NES and the popularity of the original Zelda lasted well into the early 90’s. That would be 4-6 years after the title hit stateside. That’s a remarkable feat, especially since Sega had two gaming machines on the market, Nintendo had it’s Gameboy, and NEC had their TG-16 console readily available. Zelda and the NES not only stayed relevant but they outsold their competition 3-1.
    What The Legend of Zelda did upon release was re-define a genre that heavily needed it, but the game didn’t have an easy time upon it’s release. You see, Nintendo of America almost never ported it over because they believed that it may have been too hard of a game for an American audience to handle. That’s right, The Legend of Zelda almost never came out in the United States! What Nintendo of America did was hold sessions with study groups and allowed players to spend time with the game, after the sessions were over the players were asked by the “suites” at Nintendo what they thought of it. The response was almost unanimous and it wasn’t what Nintendo of America wanted to hear. Most of the players who participated didn’t like The Legend of Zelda with multiple people claiming the game was “shit” and the legend has it that only a small handful actually thought it was enjoyable. Well, regardless of the study sessions the game eventually saw release and went on to become one of the NES’ top selling (and top rated) titles selling millions of copies and stealing the hearts of gaming fans all over the country.
image    The premise of the game was fairly simple: A hero dungeon-crawled his way through multiple labyrinths in hopes of finding pieces of a legendary triforce in order to save the kingdom of Hyrule. And the gameplay mimicked the story. Link, our timeless hero, scoured 9 different dungeons as he collected helpful items and pieces of the triforce before meeting an enemy named Ganon in a final epic encounter. The land of Hyrule was littered with surprises and easter eggs that left the gamer planting bombs to uncover hidden caves, lighting trees on fire to find hidden temples, and using the gadgets they’ve found along the way to find secret hearts. It kicked off what we know now to be the classic Zelda flavor. There was truly nothing like this game at the time of it’s popularity and the player was rewarded handsomely if they uncovered these special secrets, secrets which were literally all over the map from top to bottom. For the completion mongers out there it can be quite a daunting task trying to discover and uncover all of the secrets that Zelda has to offer, but it can be fun and I’ve spoken with many who have attained this feat.
    The game itself isn’t overly hard toward the beginning, especially at first with the first 3 or 4 dungeons being easily beatable if you’re a seasoned gamer. But once you hit the 5th or 6th dungeon and beyond the game gets increasingly difficult. You find yourself in situations where you may be inside of a room with statues shooting fire at you while you try to kill 6 or 7 enemies floating around at the speed of light. This and other crazy instances can set you into a state of insanity while trying to deal with the amount of stuff the game throws at you at one time. Also, if you haven’t played the game since you originally owned it as a kid, or if you’re tackling Zelda for the first time, you’ll notice that many tips the NPC’s give you are very cryptic and it’s almost impossible to navigate and find every dungeon without some kind of help from a guide. This is classic Nintendo though and something I’ve come to expect from many games in the NES library. It often makes me wonder how I figured all this stuff out when I was younger. Back then if you didn’t subscribe to the Nintendo Power magazine or have a slew of friends who were playing the same games as you than finding things was heavily trial and error based before the days of the internet. But these days picking up and playing classic NES games can infuriate you to the point of visiting local nursing homes and punt-kicking geriatric patients in the face due to their difficulty. But I guess it adds to the charm in a way.
    While I’ve played The Legend of Zelda here and there back in it’s heyday, I was more of a Zelda II: The Adventures of Link fan and owned that game instead of the original. I would rent Zelda from time to time and I always got to play it at friends houses and whatnot, but I wouldn’t fully own the game until 1995 when I bought it together with a refurbished NES from FUNCOLAND one fateful spring day. Sadly, I had sold all my Nintendo stuff to a flea market a couple of years before hand and was starting out from scratch again with the console and decided to get some games that I’ve either never owned or have never even played. I used Game Genie (yeah, yeah) and spent hours bombing my way through the game and eventually beat it, which gave me an inner feeling of joy and happiness that I couldn’t even begin to explain. I beat the game again the following year after a friend of mine and I created a mini “game room” out of my bedroom. We decided to play the game and take turns as we progressed and the both of us had a blast trading off the controller on certain dungeons until we met up with Ganon, in which I personally had the pleasure of taking him down. Fond memories, indeed. I beat the game for a third time again in 2005 and then recently began playing it again in the summer, and I can say that this game brings out nostalgic feelings as much as any game in my collection. No matter how many times I revisit The Legend of Zelda I always enjoy my time with it and am forever amazed (and grateful) at how fun it is to play.
image    Despite the game being a true to life gaming classic I do have a few gripes with it that I feel I must address. First off, the music. Yeah, I know, the games soundtrack is considered to be one of the best in video game history, and believe me it is, but sometimes the dungeon theme can get a bit repetitive and after an extended play the overworld theme can drone on a bit too. I love both themes quite a bit, so don’t get me wrong, but the overworld theme starts to wear on you when it restarts over and over after bouncing in and out of hidden caves and the such. But even with that said, I can’t deny that Zelda has some of the best and most recognizable music in video game history.
     My second complaint would be the sheer difficulty later on in the game. Whether it’s hidden rooms that can only be accessed by sheer luck or sections of a dungeons that have way too much going on at one time, this game is no joke as you progress and should be played cautiously. Even for the seasoned gamer. But the challenge can add to the fun, especially if you are the kind of gamer who loved to stare down danger and gets a thrill from conquering hard tasks. Though if you choose to dive in without the help of Game Genie than take this warning and know that it’s not going to be a walk in the park, but I would assume that most reading this know that by now anyhow. At the end of the day despite it’s difficulty it’s a blast and the fun you’ll have will outshine any hardship to experience. The Legend of Zelda as a game is an absolute joy to play thanks to it’s wonderful control, fun soundtrack, interesting enemies, familiar world, and intense hurdles. You’ll enjoy the buttery smooth controls as you navigate throughout Hyrule as well as the wide variety of enemies you’ll face in the dungeons, though this game does reuse bosses as standard enemies later on which can get a tad tiresome.
     I’m sure about 90% of those reading this blog have already played this game and if you’re a video game collector than you no doubt own it, but for those who have not had the chance to play this timeless classic I urge you do go give it a try. There is lot’s to be said about retro gaming and this game is one of the reasons the hobby is as big as it is, so what do you have to lose? You’ve got so many different options to play it too whether it be owning the original cart, playing it on the Wii/3DS e-shop, or by playing it on an emulator, so it isn’t like the game isn’t accessible or anything. But either which route you choose to recapture those fond memories you’ll no doubt leave the kingdom of Hyrule with a smile on your face. That I can guarantee. Happy gaming to all!
And now for the numbers system…..
Graphics/Visuals – 8.0
Sound/Music – 9.25
Control/Handling – 9.0
Fun/Enjoyment – 9.25
Overall - 9.25
© 2014 Bill Mulligan

Monday, August 11, 2014

RETRO REVIEW SERIES: Astyanax for the NES!

 


 Ever hear of a fun little side scrolling arcade port for the Nintendo Entertainment System called Astyanax? Well, if you haven't before than shame on you, but now is your chance to grab an education. This little gem is one of those games that I knew existed back in the heyday of the NES but yet I never really had a chance to sit down and play it until about a year ago, but let me tell you this, I was really missing out on some fun side scrolling hack n' slash for all these years.
    Astyanax is very similar to games like Casltevania in that it's a side-scroller that focuses on killing enemies and making it to the end of the level while collecting power ups and other such things along the way. It features very nice graphics for the NES and I would say that graphically it's one of the nicer games to come out during the early 90's for the system, definitely better than many other games that were out at the time. It's fun too, if not a little frustrating at times thanks to obsticals that almost force you to take damage unless you pull off a fancy move or know the patterns of every enemy in the game. But this is heavily stereotypical of many Nintendo games of that era. But it doesn't hinder your experience with the game very much and difficulty can be a good thing if it's not in your face with unfair obstacles and insane enemies that force heavy damage upon you.

    The bosses in this game are kind of neat, they're not overly hard but some of them can take an absurd
amount of hits before you kill them. If you take the time to learn their patterns and use some strategy than they're not too difficult. The levels themselves aren't too long either and some feature mini-bosses that are fun and interesting. The real bitch is that you'll actually have to face them all a second time because before you make it to the final boss thank to a gauntlet where you have to challenge them all one after another. It's the most frustrating and difficult part of the game because there is little in the way of spell or health potions during this time, but they make sure to fill you up before you face the final 2 bosses of the game. Yeah, you read that correctly. There are actually 2 main bosses in the game that must be challenged one after another. I can see why this would happen because this is based off of the arcade game of the same name and games manufactured for the arcade are meant to drain you of your quarters and are usually insanely hard. So it's to be expected that the boss battles toward the end of the game are designed to bleed you dry with little to no help.

   To some people, all these insane boss battles may deter them from trying the game out but I really didn't think it was overly excessive and if you're playing the game with the help of Game Genie than you should be all set. It just becomes a matter of time before you make it on through. But for those who are not using Game Genie than I suggest you learn the patterns of the boss fights as good as you can and save up you're spells because you're going to need them. Also, time you're jumps and make sure no enemies are near the ledges that may pop up and kill you. These kinds of things are everywhere in this game and you know what that means. Yup, the classic Nintendo bounce back upon taking a hit which will cause you to lose a life from falling into a pit. Fuck.
 One big gripe with this game I do have is that the enemies are pretty repetitive while making your way through the levels. You'll run into skeletons constructed of every color in 
the rainbow, the same plant-like creatures that crowd the edges of pits that will cause you to fall down, and other similar bugs and things that fly around that you'll notice you've already faced in previous levels. I guess I'll just chalk it up to lazy production, but the experience of making your way through the game is enjoyable so it didn't hinder my view on Astyanax much at all. It would have been nice to have more exciting enemies to fight along the way. Other than the repetitive enemies I really enjoyed my time with this game, I'm a big fan of arcade ports as well as side-scrolling hack n' slash titles so Astyanax was right down my alley. 
It's just a shame that I missed out on it for all these years. I do remember in 1994 going into a Funcoland and seeing it on the price sheet and thinking it sounded interesting, but when I asked to see the cart the guy working behind the counter told me it wasn't that good of a game and that I'd be better of getting some other game for the Genesis that was similar but with better graphics. Goes to show you that you shouldn't always take the advice of the sales clerk because not only did I not get Astyanax on that day but I ended up going with his recommendation and the game he sold me was utter crap. Oh well, you live and you learn. From a production standpoint the graphics and the control in Astyanax are stellar with large and well detailed characters and amazing cut scenes for its time, as well as tight mechanics that make it a smooth experience to play. In my opinion this is a gem that everyone should have in their NES library because it's one that houses some very enjoyable elements, it's definitely on par and surpasses many side-scrolling action/adventure games that appeared on the NES at the time. The game, much like many NES titles, also has some awesome music that helps with the overall experience and make playing through the levels an absolute joy. There was just something about the NES and the music that many of its games that were able to produce that has become legendary in the eyes of many retro gamers, it's the stuff of gaming legend. 
In closing, I do highly recommend Astyanax to the classic gaming community and to fans of the original NES who still push the power button to this day. It's fun and will give you a fun arcade port experience that may or may not be enhanced by the use of the NES Advantage arcade stick. As of this writing the game can be found for as cheap as $3 or so from local video game stores and as cheap as $5 or so on eBay, so give it a whirl and see for yourself if you're up for the challenge. Astyanax is most certainly worth it. And now, the tale of the tape.....


Graphics/Visuals – 9.0
Sound/Music – 8.5
Control/Handling – 8.0
Fun/Enjoyment – 8.5


© 2014 Bill Mulligan

Monday, June 30, 2014

Looking back at "Hitman" by Garth Ennis & John McCrea


For hardcore comic book fans, once in a while a title comes along that maybe doesn’t find the mainstream success of a franchise like X-Men or Batman but yet it finds a home near the top of your personal reading list due to it’s fantastic writing or likable characters. Today I’m going to write about a series that has done just that for me (and many others), today I am going to write an article about a comic book called “Hitman” by the sick and twisted Garth Ennis, and a uniqe artist named John McCrea.
     “Hitman” told the story of a loaded gun for hire named Tommy Monaghan who had meta-human superpowers and lived in Gotham City alongside some of the best known heroes and worst feared villains in DC Comics history. It was in that very city people would go to Tommy and hire him to kill a wide array of individuals (both super powered and not) and if the price was right he would gladly oblige. Doing hits on people was his job but Tommy was most certainly not a one dimensional character who spent his entire 60 issue series knocking off scum to get rich, Monaghan was a true to life average guy who had a girlfriend, close friends, and people who cared deeply about him. Most of which all hung out in a downtown dive-bar called Noonan’s. Throughout the series Tommy found himself coming face to face with multiple iconic DC characters, some of the interactions between them was actually quite hilarious, other dealings were downright serious, but it was nice to see a character like Tommy's become accepted into the DC universe at a time when superheroes were the extreme focus of DC, not an average looking guy in a jacket holding a gun. Some of the funniest moments within this book were the ones that took place between the characters that hung around Noonan’s Bar, one scene that comes to mind had Kyle Raynor (Green Lantern) being told by an intoxicated local bar-fly that he wouldn’t amount to much as a superhero because the JLA only accepted original members, and don’t get me started on a wannabe hero that went by the name of “Dog Welder” who was absolutely knee slapping in his pathetic attempt at an outfit.
     Garth Ennis' hilarious shots at superheroes made for some fantastic comedy in Hitman and his treatment of the characters in this series as it pertains to their relationships with each other was handled perfectly. Especially early on in the story when we were treated to some of with most breathtaking scenes of friends departed I've ever had the pleasure of reading. One thing I do have to say is that some of the best characters in this series were without a doubt the supporting cast with my absolute favorite being a guy named Pat, a childhood friend of Tommy’s in which he had plans to move out of Gotham with once he had saved up enough cash. Pat was unfortunately tortured and left in a pool of his own blood in his own bathtub by one of Monaghan’s rivals and when Tommy discovered his best friend clinging on to dear life he found that he had no choice but to put Pat out of his misery by putting a bullet into his head himself. It was tragic and remains one of the most powerful scenes I’ve ever read in comic books to this day.

     It's been a long time but I remember the first time I purchased an issue of Hitman. It happened to be issue #3 and it was on the new arrivals shelf at my local comic shop, I can't explain why but something about it tickled my fancy and there was a light whisper in my ear that told me I should buy it. I just had the feeling as if I should really see what this title was all about so I picked it up and thumbed through it and thought it looked cool so I added it to my overgrowing stack of books. After the decision was made, I looked around for the first 2 issues of the series but couldn‘t find them anywhere so I focused on finding the rest of my weekly purchases and moved along. I don’t know why but for some reason this particular visit to the comic book shop sticks out alongside other important comic book visits I’ve made throughout my lifetime, I probably remember it so well because I didn’t think much was going to come out of Hitman but yet I gave it a shot and I also made a couple other important pick up’s that day as well, including a 6 card set of metallic Star Wars trading cards that came in a tin holder. Anyhow, when I got home to organize my new purchases I made sure to read Hitman in my first sitting and instantly I began to fall in love with Tommy, Natt, Pat, Tiegel, Noonan and the rest of the cast. Their characters were just written so well and I was instantly hooked thanks to the fun storytelling of Garth and the simple but fantastic art by John McCrea. As a whole, McCrea's art was nothing to write home about by any means, it was simple and didn't really offer much in the way of detail or flashy Image like quality of it's time but it fit the Hitman book perfectly and I couldn't imagine anyone else but him illustrating the series. I felt so strong about this back in the day that whenever a guest artist filled in for McCrea it threw everything about the book off and just didn't feel right, I still cringe at the thought.
     Ever since I picked up that 3rd issue I made sure to pick up Hitman each and every month afterwards for as long as I could, sadly though, I stopped buying the book somewhere in the 40's of it’s 60 issue run due to me losing interest in the story and other comics that were being published at the time were too much of a necessity to continue along with Hitman. Since those day's I’ve made sure to go back and hunt down every issue that DC ever published of this series to ensure that I had the complete story, it's something I've always wanted to do and it's something I’m sure glad that I did. Hitman was too important to me to just let fade away into a sea of comic book obscurity and for the rest of my collecting days Hitman will continue to have a spot in this fan's collection, if you read comics than I suggest you do yourself a favor and follow suit.


©2014 Bill Mulligan

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Project Black Sky: "X" - The first 10 issues....



Ever since I started reading the Project Black Sky books from Dark Horse Comics I’ve been treated to some of the best comics I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and certainly the best comics I’ve read since the fall of Crossgen Comics and the original Ultimate Marvel line of books. To say that Dark Horse’s Project Black Sky titles are some of the finest on the racks today may possibly be an understatement. Today I figured I would sit down and write a blog entry specifically on one of the books from the line, but I was struggling as to which one I wanted to write about so I sat down to re-read a few recent issues and decided that “X” was going to be the title I spotlight in today’s post.
    For those who don’t know anything about this character I’ll give you a short history lesson. “X” was originally published by Dark Horse back in the early 90’s as a part of their “Comics Greatest World” line of books, but it didn’t last long due to the cluttered state of the industry at the time and soon Dark Horse moved away from this book, and superheroes as a whole. Last year the publisher decided that they were going to take another stab at publishing superheroes and this was one of the first books to see release under their new Project Black Sky line. I remember seeing covers for “X” in Wizard Magazine back in the mid 90’s and thinking he was a pretty cool character and even considered checking out his comic, but the news that it was ending in 1995 (I think) caused me to rethink doing so. When I heard Dark Horse was launching this character in a new series a year or so back I decided I was going to latch on and see what it was all about, and boy o’ boy am I glad I did.
    What I wanted to do with this entry is chronicle the first 10 issues of “X” so that potential readers would have something to go on aside from snobby comic book review websites that don’t favor anything other than Marvel or DC. A ground zero, if you will, where a potential new reader who was curious could come and get an outsiders opinion of the book. So here it goes……
    “X” is a comic that really doesn’t fall under the traditional superhero banner, though it is consider a superhero title. There is a lot of extreme violence as well as a pulp/noir feel to the book that would put in in the realm of a character like The Shadow or The Spider rather than a traditional superhero like Superman or Captain America. The hero is more of a dark vigilante who isn’t afraid to kill to get the job done. Picture Batman but without the double life-style of the main character Bruce Wayne, it’s almost as if this guy is Batman 24/7. There is no “man by day, hero by night” theme going on in this book and while he’s similar to Batman in the fact that he’s got some detective skills and he seems to attack at night, that’s pretty much where it comes to an end. Unlike Batman, “X” will kill those in which he hunts to ensure that their evil ways are put to an end and he seems to enjoy it to a point. He doesn’t go home to a nice house or an apartment, he seems to live in a torn up shack somewhere or underground, it’s hard to tell because it’s small and always dark when the character is portrayed in his home.
    The story in this book is very interesting as it seems that “X” is doing the vigilante thing for no apparent reason, though it’s been peppered in here and there that he does have an agenda and I’m sure once the series rolls along a little more that we will find out exactly what it is. Due to the graphic violence and nature of the story the book has a nice flow of constant action which helps to keep the plot flowing, it’s all calculated though and everything seems to happen for a reason. I was a huge fan of the opening arc of the book which centered around “X” hunting down and killing a trio of gangsters known as the “Three Pigs”, but then the book kind of went into an issue by issue story for a few months. Not that the story was bad but comics always seem to take a small hit in “flow” when they open up with an arc and then float into a few single story issues, but luckily the story was good and it didn’t hurt the but much at all. Then we jumped back into an arc and got to enjoy a fun little story about a good cop trying to make it within a corrupt police force. This story was great because it gave us a look into the Arcadia police department and how bad things really were, but luckily “X” was able to help this rookie cop out to change things for the better giving us a new supporting character and a large canvas to build stories around in the future.
    Now that we are talking about supporting characters, we really should be talking about Leigh. Leigh is a blogger who has followed the downfall of Arcadia and the activities of “X” and has dug deep into the story enough to have come into contact with “X” and even befriend him. She becomes a huge part of the story and a lot of the early issues are actually told through her and her blog entries, it was a really interesting way to tell the story and Mr. Duane Swierczynski really has crafted this tale from the ground up to really take on form and mean something. Something a lot of writers currently putting out books fail at doing. Along with his artist, Eric Nguyen, Duane has really put this book on the map with it's high quality story and slick artwork that showcases what a creative staff currently not working for the "big two" can bring to the table and both fans and critics have been singing it's praises since the opening arc. I can't recommend "X" enough, I've been pushing it on comic buddies I know as well as to anyone who's willing to listen to the ramblings of a comic book dork who want's to see this book in as many hands as possible. It's truly a wonderful story with some incredible characters that will put a smile on the face of anyone brave or bold enough to give this book a fair try. But be warned, this book is certainly aimed at the 18+ market and has enough blood and violence to keep an unsuspecting 8 year old awake for a week straight, to be careful who you recommend it to, yourself. Enjoy!

© B-Sly The Gamer Guy

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

MMA Spotlight: UFC 172 - Jones -vs- Teixeira


    Here we go, fight fans! This Saturday night is UFC 172 featuring a huge main event of Jon “Bones Jones and Glover Teixeira for the Light Heavyweight World Championship! Since this event is so big and packed full of big fights I figured it would be fun to do up a quick blog entry where I discuss the event and do some predictions as to who I think will win.
    First off, let me reflect upon the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship and what it means to the sport of MMA. To me (and to many others), the Light Heavyweight division is the division that brought me into the sport. Sure, I’ve seen some random old school UFC events that went down in the 90’s, but the sport had not evolved into a practical and viable athletic event and was chock full of a variety of competitors that ranged from skilled to bar room brawlers. These days MMA employs athletes in prime condition who rank among the best stand up and ground fighters in the world eliminating the need for beer bellies who like to “throw dukes”. What brought this sport into the limelight were amazing bouts contested by the likes of Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Vitor Belfort, among others, all of which competed for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. For what seemed like years fans were salavating over that specific division and it certainly grew to include some of the best fighters to ever enter the octagon with guys like Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin, Jon Jones, Phil Davis, Dan Henderson, Mauricio Rua, Rashad Evans, Anthony Johnson, Alexander Gustafsson, Stephan Bonner, and Rampage Jackson competing within it’s ranks. And this Saturday night we will see it’s most dominant champion ever, Jon Jones, defend the title against a very dangerous Glover Teixeira. The UFC Light Heavyweight Championship has been held and defended by a who’s who of Mixed Martial Arts and has helped the UFC to become the massive company that it is today and continues to be what many consider the most important title you can hold in any weight class. Even more so than the World’s Heavyweight Championship, which is a title currently held by Cain Velasquez.
   With that said, it’s time to discuss the huge title match between Jon “Bones” Jones and Glover Teixeira which
is set to go down on the 26th of April.  I expect the main event of this Saturday’s PPV to either go the distance or to end via submission regardless of who wins. I think Glover has the KO powers to end it but I believe that Jones will defend nicely and keep his challenger at a distance which will give him the opportunity to break him down slowly but surely. Both men have some fantastic ground skills and if Jones can weaken Teixeira’s legs a bit and score a takedown I believe he could finish him on the ground by the 3rd or 4th round. If this doesn’t happen then I think Jones has this won via decision. The only way I see Glover winning this title fight is if he somehow lands a huge counter punch that stuns Jones and lands him on the mat where the challenger can employ his ground game and possibly get the champ to tap. Personally, I just don’t see that happening and as good as a fighter as Glover is I think Jones has faced better competition during his historic tenure as champion and I fully believe that Jon will walk out of UFC 172 as the Light Heavyweight Champion of the world. Some may disagree but Jones is the absolute favorite in this contest and the vegas odds are actually correct as it pertains to this fight. That is not a mark against Teixeira, who is a very good fighter, more so than it is a compliment to Jones who is a more “complete” fighter and a superior athlete. Speed and precision will win this one and my official prediction (and my hope) is that Jon “Bones” Jones is going to successfully defend his title.
   The second big fight on the card is going to be the returning Anthony Johnson vs Phil Davis, which I think could steal the show and win fight of the night honors from the Dana White himself. Anthony Johnson has been away from UFC for a couple of years now and has gone on a successful run in the World Series of Fighting where he has scored a win over former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski and another notable fighter in Mike Kyle. Johnson has great KO power and could certainly land a crushing blow that could lay Davis out in a heartbeat, but I truly believe that the speed of Davis and the overall skill-set he possesses will place him in the winners column this Saturday. Phil Davis has wins over some VERY impressive fighters and I’m actually surprised that he was not next in line for a shot at Jones’ Light Heavyweight title and Glover was. I fully expect Phil to float around the octagon and tag Johnson over and over again with some punches and kicks before he takes Anthony down to the mat to showcase some intense ground game. Davis can do it all inside of the ring and I think that skill will outshine power in this contest, similar to how I believe the main event will go down. And if Davis wins I believe he should be next in line for Jones and NOT Gustaffson, though the Swede has been already named the #1 contender to the winner of the Jon/Glover bout. My prediction and hope is that Phil Davis walks out of the octagon as the victor this Saturday.
    Luke Rockhold vs Tim Boetsch is something of a wildcard for me. I’ve seen Rockhold fight a number of times and the same goes for Boetsch, but yet I can’t pinpoint anything really special either have done inside of the octagon. I guess Luke versus Tim will be a fight I will watch closely as I don’t really have any kind of favoritism toward either fighter and I don’t particular care for either fighter, so this fight will be a good showcase for either one to impress me and get me to “believe” in them and back them as a fan. Based upon what I’ve seen I’d place Luke Rockhold as the probably winner because his strikes are pretty good and he’s coming off a nice KO of Costas Phillippou from a couple of months back. As for who I want to win, we’ll just chalk this one up to a close draw.
    The rest of the fights on the card don’t really excite me as I’m not a big fan of the flyweight division and the two women battling aren’t really in any kind of title contention to face Ronda Rousey for her crown. I guess it will be nice to see Jim Miller in competition as well as Joe Ellenberger, and I know quite a few people like Joseph Benavidez, but all in all I’m mainly in this for the main event title bout and the Davis/Johnson fight. Whenever a premiere title like the Light Heavyweight Championship is on the line the UFC knows they can put lesser names on the card and the event will still sell considerably as long as the co-main event is somewhat interesting. So consider me excited for this Saturday’s PPV and to see the pound for pound best fighter (and athlete) in the world defend his title and continue his historic run as champion. Well, that’s it for this entry, I hope the fight fans enjoy the show this weekend and continue to support the UFC and MMA in general. Because whether you want to recognize it or not it’s the worlds greatest sport featuring the worlds greatest athletes.

© B-Sly The Gamer Guy

Thursday, April 17, 2014

RETRO REVIEW SERIES: Contra for the NES!


  Hello there! Welcome to another installment of B-Sly The Gamer Guy’s retro review series, which is of course a series of articles that both celebrates and obliterates everything good and bad about retro/classic video games.
     The game that is going to steal some spotlight today is a game that is very well known to fans of classic gaming thanks to it’s extreme popularity and the fact that this game helped to popularize a code that many video game fans still know by heart to this day. The code in question is known as the “Konami Code”, though many refer to it as the “Contra Code” since Contra is the game that made the configuration famous. That’s right boys and girls, today B-Sly The Gamer Guy is going to review Contra for the Nintendo Entertainment System!
    Ah yes, many of you may remember countless late nights on the couch or early mornings in your bedrooms navigating the fierce jungles within Contra, and I know that all of you surely remember just how fucking hard this game actually was. This game wasn’t just hard, it was a god damn ball buster, but it was also fun as hell once you’ve entered in the “Konami Code” and settled down with a second player to proceed into what sometimes felt like a long, slow, ass raping. It’s difficulty aside, I would say that this game was truly one of the most prolific 2-player games on the NES and certainly one of the most popular. The only game I can remember that featured two player action that was more popular was possibly TMNT II: The Arcade game (a personal favorite). Seriously, I didn’t know anyone who didn’t own this game back in the heyday of the NES, or at least I didn’t know anyone who hadn’t played it. Contra was seemingly everywhere and the game was so popular it spawned some sequels on the NES and eventually quite a few other platforms like the Gameboy, Super Nintendo, Genesis, and even the PlayStation, but none of them quite captured the awe-inspiring greatness of the original classic.
     The story of the game as well as the gameplay itself was a pretty basic fare. It revolved around two armed soldiers, Lance and Billy, as they scoured an unnamed South American island aiming to destroy a terrorist organization that was trying to take over the Earth. The run & gun style gameplay has become well known as a trait of Contra and many felt that the series was the perfect war simulation, that is until Medal of Honor and Call of Duty popularized war games on the Xbox and PS2 in the early to mid 2000’s. But there was something quite magical and special about Contra in it’s day. There was no 6 hour story line here, no online multiplayer, and certainly no dramatic cut scenes that look like they were ripped out of a horrible blockbuster movie. Nope, just about 1 ½ hours worth of intense side-scrolling action and a couple of sore thumbs. This is exactly the kind of game that both kids and adults were addicted to some 20-25 years ago and if you were playing alongside another player than the experience was enhanced and the game was all the more better.    
    See, if Contra came out today you’d have a 7 or 8 hour video game with extremely well done cut scenes that would take up about ¾ of the actual content leaving you with about 2 hours worth of solid gameplay. The developers would do their best to discreetly hide this with a multiplayer option that would be cluttered full of 12 year old boys calling everyone “noobs” as they blast their way to a high score. Yeah, that sounds like it would be well worth my $60! Bleh. Some games were truly meant to be what they were and Contra is certainly one of them, there is absolutely no need to release this franchise on current generation hardware since the developers would most likely just ruin it with pile after pile of modern bullshit. No thanks, kiddies.   
     Some of my personal memories with this game include a buddy of mine, Kenny M, coming over some mornings and playing this game with me before we had to go to school. I’ve also played this game quite extensively with my friends Chris B and Kenny K, it seemed like I’ve put hours of time into the game in the single player mode but the 2-player option is what has made me fall in love with Contra. I remember sitting on my bed with my friend Chris one Sunday afternoon and we slammed this game into my NES and didn’t stop playing until we hit the end. It was a grueling test of skill and effort but we made it and I’ll always remember that victory as long as I live. Contra is one of those games that you just remember putting quite a bit of time into though you’ve probably not met many people who have actually completed the game without using the code or an accessory like the Game Genie. It’s just so damn difficult, but many NES games were like that. But I guess that was somewhat the norm back in the ol’ NES days, the library of games that were just too insanely difficult is too long to list but yet it didn’t stop people from trying.
     I think if this was the case with today’s games people would pack it up and run away quicker than a Jewish man depositing his check in the bank. Seriously, today’s “gamer” has grown too fickle and they don’t seem to want to put too much time or effort into their games anymore. But not us children from the 80’s, oh no, we would keep pounding away until we broke some ground and got the job done. That’s what a gamer does.
     Well, now it’s time to discuss the actual game and where it’s strengths and weaknesses are found. First of all, we’ve got to talk about the sound effects and music within Contra and how they strike a sense of nostalgia with those who grew up playing the game. Everything from the theme that plays while the start screen comes up after pressing the power button to the sounds of the guns going off is quite frankly the stuff of legend among gamers. The 8-bit music you hear while running through each level has become “humming” tunes for many of us and I would say that Contra had some pretty fun and addicting tunes throughout the game. Honestly though I’ve got to say that it’s been several years since I’ve made it past the first few levels so I don’t remember all of the music, but I do remember a good portion of it which speaks volumes since I haven’t heard much of it in close to 20 years since I’ve finished the game.
    The game controls just fine on the classic NES controller though I have heard that many prefer the NES Advantage joystick while playing, and I’ve also heard that the dogbone controller works well too. Everything is responsive and I wouldn’t say it struggles with sluggish performance or anything, it can just be very annoying when bullets are flying everywhere and it becomes insanely hard to dodge them while you’re making your way through certain levels. But that speaks more to the difficulty of Contra than the controls of the game.
     The graphical performance of the game are fairly pretty and represented the NES quite well back in it’s heyday. Though the visuals are nothing too outstanding mind you, they were on par with other games of it’s time and you can see everything that is going on within the screen and can clearly see where you need to jump and things such as that. There is no major weakness in the graphical category that I can think of and everything appears to look fine. It’s funny how developers were able to get so much more out of the NES toward the end of it’s life-cycle though, with games that have visuals that eventually would put Contra to shame, but I guess that could be said for any video game console as developers learn to develop for it. At the end of the day and the most important stat to worry about is that the game is fun.
     And if I’m not mistaken that would be why we play games in the first place, correct? For the fun? Yeah, that’s exactly why people played video games back in the day but I’m not entirely sure that’s why people are playing video games today for whatever reason, but that’s another blog for another time. And now we’ll take a look at the totals……
Graphics/Visuals - 7.5
Sound/Music - 8.0
Controls/Handling - 8.5
Fun/Enjoyment - 8.25
Overall - 8.0
© B-Sly The Gamer Guy

Monday, March 31, 2014

Upcoming goodies and Free Comic Book Day fun with Project Black Sky!


   

     So comic book fans, what does Dark Horse have planned for Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) and Project Black Sky? As of right now only the publisher and the creators know, but I can tell you this ladies and gentlemen: It's going to be huge. Almost every creator within the Project Black Sky world has promised that we will find out more about the storyline that they've been weaving into their books over the past several months, something that is exciting it's readers as the news trickles out, but what could it be? Not only do we want to know what it will be but we want to know how it will be presented. Personally, I'm thinking we may get some kind of one-shot where we finally get to see what's going on behind the scenes of Project Black Sky from a non-hero perspective and how it's all going to tie into the rest of the line. Or maybe they'll toss us a one-shot where we are given some kind of hints pertaining to this summers big crossover event that has been teased in interviews posted at Comic Book Resources, which I think is less likely but not outside the realm of possibility. One thing we know is that it's going to feature Captain Midnight and Brain Boy. I think the fact that Midnight and Brain Boy are the two the story will focus on is very interesting because they're the two books that connect the most to the Project Black Sky plot. What's even more interesting is that it appears, judging by the cover of the FCBD issue, that Captain Midnight is about to throw down with Ape-X, a character that hasn't seen print in almost 20 years. Holy smokes! All I know is that big things are coming for this fun and entertaining line of books being published by Dark Horse and I think something big is looming and when it hits it's going to kick us right in the ass. As long as no steel toe boots are used than I'm pretty sure I can take the shot (silly humor, sorry).
    Personally, while I'm excited for the big FCBD news I think I'm more excited about the upcoming event that will bring these heroes together this summer as well as the upcoming Captain Midnight story, "A Better Tomorrow". As a fan, I guess I'm just excited for whatever Dark Horse chooses to give us as it pertains to these books, this has been the best launch of comic characters since good ol' Crossgen Comics back in 2000 and the publisher seems extremely dedicated to make sure that these books are worked on by top tier talent. Which, in my opinion, is the best possible thing you can do when getting a new line of comics off the ground. With solid writing and exceptional art I don't see how this summer could be anything short of amazing with Dark Horse at the helm and I'm excited to finally see how everything goes down after months and months of teasers.
  In any event, this wasn't meant to be a long and involving post or anything, I mainly just wanted to post a heads up to those following the Dark Horse Project Black Sky line of comics about everything going on. Until next time guys, keep watching the skies!

© B-Sly The Gamer Guy


Monday, March 24, 2014

Watching the skies with heroes from Dark Horse Comics!

 

Something special is brewing over at Dark Horse Comics as of late and it’s something that they have been working on for quite a while now. A year or so ago Dark Horse announced that they would be unleashing superheroes upon the world and that they were serious about building this business for themselves, and so far they’ve done a superb job, but what Dark Horse is doing is truly building a brand that could drive their business for years to come. It was slow at the start but the publisher has reached deep into not only their archives, but also into the archives of classic pulp heroes and forgotten properties to create a world that outshines everything else on the comic rack today. It was a rough launch at first, and even a bit confusing, but now the smoke has cleared Dark Horse has something special on their hands and it’s starting to turn a lot of heads their way despite a VERY crowded comic book market. And yes, it’s truly crowded. Superheroes are booming again in a very similar fashion to the early 90’s when we not only had Marvel and DC, but we also had Image, Dark Horse, Malibu, Topps, Valiant, and other publishers fighting over space on the comic book racks. Fast forward through a crash n’ burn era and here we are again with Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, Valiant, Dynamite, BOOM, and others slugging it out over who’s got the best of the best and it feels like a nostalgic blast of fresh air. But it’s Dark Horse who’s grabbing my attention.
    Now, when I said that things were a bit confusing at launch, I mean it. Dark Horse began publishing superhero comics at rapid fire and readers didn’t quite know which books connected and which books didn’t, This had fans scratching their heads and wondering if these books were going to be worth it or not. So, in an effort to simplify things the publisher created a distinct logo and gave the connected book an imprint title called “Project Black Sky” to signify which titles connected and which ones did not. See, Dark Horse publishes other comics in the superhero genre that do not connect to the core line due to much of the other books being creator owned properties. But this entry is focusing on the connected stuff, not the creator owned titles. So, interestingly enough not only is Project Black Sky the line of the connected books, but it’s also a storyline running throughout those specific comics and thus far it’s been an absolute joy to read. So much so that I figured I’d write up a blog entry where I discuss these books and do my part to put the word out to comic book fans around the world that Dark Horse has started something amazing here and it’s only a matter of time until this grows even bigger and begins to gain some mass appeal.
    The first book I’d like to discuss is one of the core three titles on the Project Black Sky line. It’s a comic that was one of the first to bear the Black Sky logo and it stars a character that was heavily featured in radio serials back in the 30’s and 40’s as well as TV shows and comic strips. The name of the book and character is Captain Midnight and it features an amazing “man out of time” story that rivals that of Captain America. Heck, Captain
Midnight pre-dated Captain America by almost 6 years, so I don’t want to hear any bullshit about him being some cheap knockoff. The gist of Captain Midnight is that the plot follows the hero as he finds himself trapped in the current day while struggling to piece together what has happened since he’s been gone. He notices that technology he’s constructed back in the 40’s is being used by both heroes and criminals and he embarks on a mission to shut down an enemy who’s family has been hard at work within the world of crime since his heyday of being one of the most honored superheroes in the world.
    The book is fun to read and would appeal to anyone into classic characters or pulp heroes, as well as anyone who enjoys a solid story. It’s very well written and illustrated nicely, but most of all it is a huge piece that ties in largely to the Project Black Sky puzzle. The series writer, Joshua Williamson, is tremendous and is doing a fine job bringing this classic character into the modern day.
    The second book we will be taking a look at would be my personal favorite and it’s called simply, “X”. X is another of the ongoing monthly comics published within the Project Black Sky imprint and it follows a masked vigilante who loves to kill those who bring crime to his city of Arcadia. It’s violent, bloody, intense, and downright crazy compared to other “vigilante” comics out there and I would compare it to Batman if the Dark Knight was willing to murder and maim his adversaries. The book is dark. Very dark. X reads a lot like a mix of superhero, pulp, noir, police drama, and horror, but with a tinge of predatory instinct. It’s phenomenal and there is truly nothing else like it on comic shelves today, hence why it’s not only my favorite comic book in the Project Black Sky line but quite possibly my favorite comic book period. The opening arc for instance has X sending pictures to his prey with a red “X” painted on their faces which is a sign that he’s coming for them. The prey, who happens to be a group of gangsters, end up in a bloody and horrendous showdown with the vigilante which ends in a shocking (and disgusting) mess.
   
  Duane Swierczynski is doing an amazing job writing this book and really puts you on the edge of your seat leaving you screaming in agony for the next issue to arrive. Kudo’s Duane, you’re work is simply amazing. If the name of the character sounds familiar it should, X was published in the early 90’s for a brief time by Dark Horse during the huge superhero boom that saw everyone and their mother promoting heroes. But this version of the character is different and far superior to his early 90’s counterpart.
    Okay, I can see I’m rambling here but I’m just so excited to be a part of this world of character by being able read them every month. The last time I had so much fun reading comics was probably back when Marvel’s Ultimate line was still in it’s infancy and Crossgen Comics burst onto the scene with an amazing cast of characters that made old Earth 2 and the 616 looks like mere childsplay. But I’d love to chime in on a few other books in the line, one of which being the upcoming Blackout. Blackout is positioned to be a miniseries but appears to be one of the most engaging titles of the line judging by the previews I’ve read. It’s slated to come out in the spring and finish it’s run by mid-summer, but if orders are strong it could potentially come back as an ongoing title and that would be a huge success story for Project Black Sky. We’ve also got Ghost, which is the 3rd ongoing title being published within this line of books, though it hasn’t seemed to grab me as much as the others I’m hopeful that it will pick up pace and connect to the other titles nicely. Ghost seems to have a strong fan following and the character is another that was published by Dark Horse back in the early 90’s alongside X.

    There are a couple of mini’s that have been a part of Project Black Sky too, mainly Brain Boy and The Occultist. Brain Boy is another classic hero who’s been brought back into the modern day after not being published for decades. The book fits in nicely to the line and has a second miniseries coming out around the summertime that will continue to shine light upon not only his storyline, but the Project Black Sky plot as a whole.The Occultist is kind of what would happen if you combined Peter Parker and Dr. Strange into one character and unleashed him on the world. It’s a witty and enjoyable tale that is on it’s second miniseries with (hopefully) more to come down the line, though I do have a hard time seeing how he truly connects to the rest of the Project Black Sky titles. Maybe that’s a question that will be answered shortly? A great place to start would be the news that Dark Horse has been teasing that lots of big things are supposed to happen during an event that’s supposed to bring everyone together and cause some commotion late in the summer. A crossover on an epic scale where the heroes of Project Black Sky bond together to take on a common threat is what I’m guessing, but it will be interesting to see how the amazing creative staff behind these books handles such an event. Consider me excited!
All in all I think what Dark Horse is hoping with these characters is that Hollywood comes calling with options to turn these properties into movies. Which is, of course, something that had helped Marvel and DC stay relevant throughout the years. For instance, Marvel was in piss-poor shape circa 1996 after some bad internal decisions and all the precious cash they made off of the X-Men and Spider-Man in the early 90's was all but flushed right down the toilet, but they were right back in the drivers seat come the year 2000 after X-Men found success in the box office. Dark Horse isn't in any financial peril whatsoever and if they strike it rich with some big budget flicks (Hellboy and Sin City not withstanding) than they'd possibly have a slight hope to be in position to remove Image from the top 3 in the comics world. But as it stands right now that's a bit of a far cry from reality and I'd be happy if they just continued to publish these comics.

Enjoy!

© B-Sly The Gamer Guy