Tag Archives: microsoft

FGC #569 Battletoads (2020)

There’s a moment about 75% of the way through Battletoads (2020) that… well, let’s let the GIF do the talkin’ here…

RAGE

That is Pimple, and, spoilers, he is freaking the heck out. He has been generally chill and mellow throughout this Battletoads adventure, but has now been pushed too far, and the following level is going to be Pimple rampaging like a toad built only for battle. Pimple, the reliable rock of the Battletoad trio, is well and truly done, and he is not going to take this lying down.

And this moment brilliantly features exactly how the creators of Battletoads (2020) fundamentally understand the Battletoads of 1991.

Let's motorOur favorite toads had an ultimately brief period of fame (or… close enough to fame) for approximately three years. We saw an NES game, a Gameboy game, a Super Nintendo game, an arcade game, and one vaguely memorable crossover. There was also a rigorous comic book promotion in there, and an animated series that arguably never saw the light of day (does direct to VHS pilot even count as real?). And was there any sort of unifying Battletoads mythos in all of this? Nope! The Battletoads were “real” people that were digitized into a virtual world, or they were “real” toad people from space, or they had that whole “Thing Ring do your thing” dealy going on with magical morphing. And there was some confusion within the original games if this was happening over and over again (apparently the Dark Queen really likes kidnapping), or if this was all some manner of Legend of Zelda “the same tale retold” situation, and Battlemaniacs was basically the “grown-up” telling of OG Battletoads. And the arcade version was clearly a version of Battletoads where we finally had the technology to let a toad fight a snake! Was that supposed to happen back in the NES days? Who knows!

So, if someone were asked to distill some consistency from three years’ worth of Battletoads mythos, would it be possible? The only thing that was constant across those games was that everyone in this universe had a general 90’s irreverent attitude, and, when the ‘toads punched stuff, sometimes their limbs changed. Across multiple games, mediums, and graphical capabilities, that was all we really had as concentrated Battletoads. They have attitude, and they morph their limbs.

And it is kind of amazing that that is exactly what is displayed in that above Pimple GIF. That is what is on display in the entirety of Battletoads 2020. Everyone in this universe has an irreverent attitude, and it is animated with a rubbery, lively style that is appropriate to heroes that have always been able to stretch and contort into whatever is going to be most visually interesting/proper for the moment. In the same way that Rash can transform into a battering ram on command (forward, forward+B), he can also morph into an office drone or spaceship pilot. The Battletoads are, fundamentally, just as adaptable as the Looney Tunes of yore, and they absolutely should exist in a game/universe wherein they are just as malleable.

My baby!In a world wherein the curators of Battletoads absolutely could have based an entire game on the “meme” of Battletoads, the idea that they are all “Turbo Tunnels and NES hard”, Battletoads 2020 wound up being true to a Battletoads franchise that is more than just its internet reputation. This is a triumph beyond measure, and my hats off to the writers, directors, and producers of Battletoads.

Also, while the designers of Battletoads are listening, I have one other thing to say about the 2020 game: it sucks. It sucks so bad.

The original, first level of the initial Battletoads game, Battletoads, is a beat ‘em up. Likely thanks to first impressions, many people (including myself) collectively refer to Battletoads as a beat ‘em up style game. Unfortunately, if you play past the first level (big “if”, because this is Battletoads, and you would be forgiven for losing to Giant Walker), you’ll find the second stage is practically a different game, complete with different rules. Similarly, the third stage, the infamous Turbo Tunnel, starts with a sprinkling of combat, and is then an entirely pacifist-friendly “battle” with stationary walls (you just happen to be going really, really fast). The next levels are (in order) a 2-D platforming/snowball fight, 3-D beat ‘em/surfing safari, and 2-D platforming (on snakes). In fact, once you clear Level 7 (of 12), you never see a 3-D beat ‘em up section again, and all combat is on a 2-D plane. In short (as I have documented in detail before) Battletoads is a beat ‘em up about as much as Mario Odyssey is with its occasional forays into t-rex-based carnage. We had one arcade game that seemed capable of staying on target, but every other Battletoads game cannot stick to a genre longer than the span of a level. When you’ve got Jimmy and Billy Lee piloting spaceships, you know something has gone terribly wrong…

Get those lumberjacks!And Battletoads 2020 initially seems to lean on the beat ‘em up trappings of its forebears. As one might expect for the update of a nearly 30 year old franchise, Battletoads 2020 is a might more complicated than its ancestor. This is no longer a simple case of “punch/jump/dash”, there are now options for strong and quick attacks, charge attacks, and a few possibilities for using your toady tongue as a grappling hook. And you’ve got grappling options! Would you like to collect flies, swing your toad from the foreground to the background, or, ya know, grapple (ala Mike Haggar). It is obvious that, in the same way a lot of thought went into an animation style that seemed appropriate for Battletoads, a lot of consideration was given to creating a beat ‘em up system that not only was fun to play, but was also appropriate to our heroes. The presence of a blocking monster means you’ll be using the stylish charge moves that were previously reserved for “smash” combo finishers. The mobile “shooting” creatures will encourage jumping for a dodge, and then a new jumping attack. And tongue moves! We are featuring toads, people, let’s act like it and highlight the one thing toads are known for (aside from hopping and kissing princesses). That slurping sound should have been for more than health refills for Battletoads from the beginning!

Except… it all kind of… doesn’t feel right? Or work right? There is a lot in the beat ‘em up sections of Battletoads that feels almost wholly broken. For instance, health drains stupidly quickly, so a single punch from an opponent can drain a third of your HP. In a way, this makes sense, as a single player game allows the usage of all three of the Battletoads, so you effectively have triple the health you see on any one life bar, and a fallen Battletoad revives if you wait a whole 20 seconds. You are practically invincible! But it still feels bad to whiff a dodge and be mercilessly punished. And, speaking of which, you will be punished, because managing the Battletoads’ battlin’ is a lesson in humility. It is very difficult to find the exact timing on when any of your protagonists can exactly cancel a combo to perform a dodge, so practically any string of punches is a risk. And that is not a good look for a beat ‘em up, as it means a conservative player is likely to zoom around the screen, eternally dodging, and only throw a single punch for fear of starting an inescapable combo chain. And that works, but it also works to make each individual fight move at a Battlesnail’s pace. And if you feel like being more loose with your health, good luck refilling on available flies, as those previously mentioned tongue moves are mapped to surprisingly confusing controls, and you are a lot more likely to accidentally drag a dangerous enemy into your proximity than down a life powerup.

And if you are getting the impression that I did not enjoy the beat ‘em up portions of Battletoads, congratulations, you have reading comprehension. The beat ‘em up portions of Battletoads 2020 are the worst parts of Battletoads 2020.

So it works out that Battletoads has the same inability to focus on any one genre as its ancestors.

Here is a vague spoiler warning for those of you that want to experience the manic intensity of Battletoads in its natural, astonishing way. Stop reading if you want to experience this all on your own dime…

The Joi of Tech

Warning: Today’s article contains spoilers for Blade Runner 2049. If you would like to go into that movie completely clean, please stop reading now. If not, welcome to my nightmare.

I’m a technology nerd. Strike that, I’m a technology professional, and I know damn well that so goes tech, so goes my life. This was never “the plan”, but, somehow, my life and income are now inextricably tied to the whims of one particular industry. If I refuse to learn “the latest thing”, I’m going to be out on the street. Should an errant electromagnetic pulse wipe out all local machinery, I’m either going to have to move, or start scrubbing toilets for a living. And I hope that toilet scrubbing wage can support my reckless addiction to videogames! These “ironically purchased” Bubsy games ain’t gonna buy themselves!

So, naturally, I can now only view the world through the eyes of my profession. Are more people using ipads now? What’s with people still subscribing to AOL? Dude, how many times has Steve’s email been hacked? He’s sending me emails from Bulgaria again, and it’s getting really annoying. I could make it better! Just say something, Steve! And speaking of nightmarish hellscapes of the modern era, inevitably, when I see a movie, I overanalyze every bit of tech involved. Would those terminals in Avengers really be able to run Space Invaders? Is that spaceship GUI in Thor: Ragnorak at all practical for average superhero use? Do I watch any movies that aren’t based in the Marvel Universe? Of course I do, because I recently saw Blade Runner 2049. Obviously, that was going to grab my attention, the entire premise of the movie is predicated on decades of potential technological advancement, and the effect that would have on humans and generally human shaped beings. That’s so far up my alley, it’s weeping over Martha and her lost pearls.

And, spoilers, I liked Blade Runner 2049…

FGC #157 Kinect Star Wars

Bum Bum BuuuuuuumThere’s enough negativity on the internet, and I always try to be positive in my little corner of cyberspace.

I try.

I really do.

Full disclosure: I was biased against the Kinect from its first moment. It looked like yet another attempt by Microsoft to bite on the success of another device and steal some of the Wii’s voluminous thunder. Don’t get me wrong, despite being in a field that calls for me to curse M$ every ten seconds, I actually generally like Microsoft. I can’t get mad at those guys, because I’ve seen what other tech companies do when they have control, and Gates’ Fabulous Machine has at least steered in a direction that allows for things like writing your own programs without the express written permission of the Jobs estate. But ‘Soft has a tendency toward wholesale theft of whatever is working in the industry, and then attempting to replicate its success without really understanding what made the original so great in the first place. Kinect looked like another Zune from day one, and, when I finally picked one up over a Black Friday sale, I saw nothing to divorce me of this notion.

The Kinect always, always had issues. It was, I suppose, ideal for bars or frogurt factories, but in the average living room, playing a game that was meant for you, Kinect owner, had a tendency to go south real fast. Kinect has been calibrated for Goggle Bob. Welcome, Goggle Bob. Goggle Bob, it appears you have moved six inches to the left, I will now identify your t-shirt as a second player, and you as a guest. That couch behind you is an arm, right? Wow, that arm doesn’t move very much, you have failed. If this problem persists, please rearrange all the furniture in your home. Now shout your commands at me. I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that, but if you’d like to exit the game you’re currently playing, we can recalibrate the microphone again in an environment that doesn’t have background music. Have you considered playing all of your videogames on mute? Pew PewYou might enjoy it. Why are you turning me off in the system settings?

So, yes, not a Kinect fan.

And, as I’ve covered before, I’m not really a Star Wars fan either. I mean, I like Star Wars, I like lasers and laser swords and lasering planets, but it’s never been a must-buy situation. Kinect Mega Man? I’m buying that on day one. But Kinect Star Wars has no great hold over me. So why buy the game at all? Simple: Lucasarts has been working on ways to make “real life lightsaber battles” a reality for ages, and I figured here would be the culmination of that pan-galactic pursuit.

It makes sense, right? Lightsabers are, like Kingdom Hearts, light. There’s not much weight to a sword made of light, and there’s even less to a sword made of nothing. While the common complaint regarding The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword involved pointing out that shaking a wiimote around was nothing like holding an actual, weighty (Master) sword, there’d be no such issue in the Star Wars universe. I’ve seen Jedi twirl those things around like batons, so it’s perfectly canon that wielding a lightsaber would be pretty damn similar to the Kinect’s usual wave your hands around like a dork.

So, great news, thanks to Kinect Star Wars, I’m now completely over this whole “want to use a light saber” thing.

Okay, that isn’t completely true. I still want the ability to easily dice off limbs and cut through walls, but the actual dueling in Kinect Star Wars is about as fun as bathing a wookie. This actually makes me think of Skyward Sword again, because this is yet another game that reduces the act of dueling to Punch-Out-esque “tells” and motions. But please don’t think that because I evoked the good name of Punch-Out that I think this is any good: everything about this dueling system is pretty much the exact opposite of how anyone thinks of superpowered, exciting swordfights. People are fond of comparing Punch-Out to rhythm games, which is wholly justified, but Kinect Star Wars’ duels are practically (super slow) Dance Dance Revolution. VeeeewDown, up, left, attack, down, attack, push… Christ, I just realized this is more Hologram Time Traveler than anything. That’s not good!

And it gets worse! Viewed from a distance, this game is just a series of minigames. I’ve been focusing on lightsaber duels because they broke my heart, but there’s also pod racing, dancing, and Incredible Hulk Rancor-ing. And that’s all well and good, but some nitwits decided to solder a plot on to these events, and… ugh. Like, okay, remember Star Wars Episode 1? Of course you do. Remember the pod racing scene? Well, you’ve got two options there: you either enjoyed that entire protracted sequence, or you found it boring as hell, and spent all your time fantasizing about when that dreamy Darth Maul was going to show up. No matter your choice, now imagine doing that while standing up. It’s cool that Lucasarts decided to produce a Star Wars “cinematic experience” for this otherwise lightweight game, but every minute spent watching a prologue crawl of text or listening to Yoda jibber jabber about light and dark is also a moment you’re expected to be standing and at the ready, and it gets exhausting. Sure, you can sit back down, but then get ready for your Kinect to get confused and mistake the cat for your left foot, again.

At a certain point this game crosses the threshold between “bad videogame” and “psychological torture”. How long have you been standing there in your living room? To access the next level, begin repeating back to your Kinect how many Microsoft and Star Wars products you would like to purchase…

Think about itOh, and the whole thing is “hosted” by C-3PO and R2-D2. If you ever wondered when their crazy antics would get old, well, here you are.

Kinect Star Wars is terrible. It somehow manages to cram absolutely everything bad about the Kinect into one licensed game. There’s potential here! There could, one day, be a good lightsaber game. I think we already had a pretty alright pod racing game. And who doesn’t like to wreck stuff? But what’s here is a game that practically revels in tormenting the player, and brutalizes mind and body in the pursuit of a more “immersive” experience.

I don’t want to be a jedi. After Kinect Star Wars, I don’t even want to stand up.

FGC #157 Kinect Star Wars

  • System: Xbox 360 with Kinect. I don’t normally note required peripherals, but it seemed necessary here.
  • Number of players: I don’t know… two? There’s no way I’m admitting to another real life person that I own this dreck.
  • Kinect Komplaints: I think the number one problem with this peripheral is that, after decades of buttons that work just fine, Microsoft forsook all of that for bizarre hand gestures and commands that are about as precise as Mr. Magoo threading a needle with his kneecaps. Like, if you’re playing Mortal Kombat, you hit the start button, and nothing happens, then, okay, you know this game doesn’t have a pause feature. Attempt to shout the “pause” command during a Kinect game, and nothing happens, you don’t know if there isn’t a pause function, or maybe you said the wrong thing, or maybe it didn’t hear you, Owieor maybe you have to hold your hands in the shape of a giant P, or… what do you want me to do, you blasted machine?
  • Are you sure you’re not just lazy? Look, the physical dangers of standing up over long periods have been chronicled in medical journals that I’m sure I read at a doctor’s office sometime around sixth grade. More recently, though, I’ve read up on cult indoctrination, and guess what’s a great way to wear down a person’s stamina? Kinect is trying to make you do something.
  • If you can’t say anything nice: Alright, I do appreciate that choosing your dominant hand is seamless, and that you’re not forced into being a righty, like a certain right-washed Nintendo elf.
  • Did you know? Thanks to Disney purchasing Star Wars, this was the last Star Wars game designed by Lucasarts. So whenever someone tells you that it’s Disney responsible for over-merchandising Star Wars…
    At least he's alive
  • Would I play again: This is one of the rare games that I couldn’t even wait for an auto-save. I hit the half hour mark, and just declared myself done, and popped out the disc almost immediately. That’s it. No going back.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Family Dog for the SNES. Bark along with our nation’s thirtieth most popular animated dog from the 90’s! Please look forward to it!

The Joy of Tck

Note about this article: I traditionally despise “rants” that are simply essays that complain about everything, but offer no solutions. Such works strike me as… unsavory. That said, every once in a while you need to vent… so here’s me venting.

As some of you may have guessed from reading this site, I am a professional computer geek. And, as someone in the computer sciences field, I feel I have to say this for everyone.

Technology Professionals are dicks.

It’s a funny thing, because I love technology… and I just realized how easily I can say that as opposed to admitting I love a family member or friend. Obvious emotional issues aside, I’m posting this a scant few days after the release of the Raspberry Pi Mk. 3, a device that, let’s not mince words here, I find sexy as hell. For the unfamiliar, it’s a fully functioning computer with a gig of RAM that fits in the palm of your hand and costs less than a pair of Jacksons. I want to… do things to it. Lewd things. Things that may or may not involve Ninja Turtles. I am anxiously awaiting my new Pi, because it can do things I can do with any other computer, but, oh man, it could fit in my mouth! Pi is delicious!

And, yes, as you’ve guessed, the bulk of this site is only possible thanks to an amazing number of daisy chained HDMI and AV cables that would make your average gamer’s head spin. No, I don’t care too much about resolution or pixel scaling, but I am confident that I can play and record three decades worth of consoles and their games with a few button presses. If I want to play and record some Xenosaga, I barely have to get off the couch. I’m basically living a dream that I first envisioned years ago when I got my dad to crawl behind the entertainment center and juggle wires until I could record Mario Paint to VHS. The Future is a wonderful place.

But all is not well in the 21st Century, and the chief source of this chagrin is what I privately refer to as the Apple Mentality.

Now, I want to be clear before we go any further: I’m not an Apple “hater”. Full disclosure, I have used Microsoft Operating Systems most of my life, and this post is being written in good ol’ Microsoft Word. I’ve also owned Apple computers, initially because I bought into the “the only computer for video/image editing” mentality of the late 20th Century, and then later because, as a tech geek, I wanted to see how the other half “works”. I was neither impressed nor annoyed by the world of Mac. I continue to use Windows primarily not because I prefer it, but because I grow more familiar with its various bugs and glitches every day, and it’s literally my job to know what to do when, say, a user profile service fails to load.

But the smart devices are about where things became… strained.

The iPhone is an amazing device, and it would be no exaggeration to claim that it changed the whole of how the world works within the last decade. Remember when you emailed someone, and you thought it could take 24 hours to reach the recipient? What’s considered the appropriate turnaround time on an email now? Ten minutes? Twenty? If you haven’t heard back from someone within a half hour, do you assume they’re dead? Ignoring you? And, geez, maybe my friends are just klutzes, but how many times have you seen your least popular buddy advertising on Facebook that they damaged their phone, so please contact me at any of these seventeen other services? Remember house phone lines? And horse drawn carriages? I’m still disappointed modern cars don’t poop all over the road.

Though the iPhone is a revolutionary piece of kit, it also has the issue of being locked down like crazy. This is, of course, by design. From a business standpoint, Apple wants to have a platform where only Apple can deliver new content, so new vendors or “app designers” must seek approval from Apple (which, incidentally gets cash from the app vending, and the designer signing up to be a developer in the first place). I don’t fault Apple for this process, because, frankly, it’s a genius way to make money off of practically every step in the process of something being sold on one of their devices. So, thanks to the popularity of the iPhone, the App Store itself likely prints more cash than the Mint.

But there’s another reason the App Store, and the iPhone, are built like that. A more protected environment, like one where apps must be approved by Apple, is a safer environment for users. There are not “iPhone viruses” like you encounter on Windows PCs, mostly because that kind of proliferation on the iPhone is practically impossible. This is good! This is a good thing, no question, and makes your ol’ granny surfing the net on her iPad a much less scary proposition than it could be.

But it’s also a giant problem.

Somewhere in there (and maybe this was always the case, but it seems to have gotten more pronounced in recent years) the technology industry got very… paternalistic. No, you can’t do that with your iPhone, it would be dangerous. No, you can’t use your iPad for that, it could hurt somebody. Yes, you want this U2 album, now enjoy it, and eat your potatoes, they’re good for you. It was always under the guise of “we know what’s best”, which, fair enough, you guys are making the technology, but, gawrsh, you don’t think a multi-billion dollar company could ever have an ulterior motive for doing business a certain way, do you? Apple cares about you and your family/data, and isn’t just making decisions so it can finally have enough money to buy its own island and hunt people for sport.

And I feel like two things happening right now are a direct result of this of this technological mollycoddling. First is the item that basically inspired this article, the fact that Apple said, “nah” to the FBI and then made an impassioned plea to its customers about how this was the only right thing to do. Seriously, I don’t say this very often, because I feel like, when writing and rewriting an article for this site, there’s always a better, more intellectual way to phrase this, but, to really sum up my feelings on this one…

Fuck you, Apple.

Apple, you can do whatever you want with your business, and it’s perfectly within your rights to dispute a court order. That kind of thing happens all the time, and it’s practically inevitable with government branches and agencies continually making grabs for more and more power. And, as the case currently stands, I agree with Apple, not because of their reasoning, but because of additional data that seems to paint this particular evidence’s necessity as extremely extraneous. But Apple went the extra mile and appealed to its millions of customers about the big bad government and they’re trying to take away our freedoms and oh man won’t someone please think of the children?! Which, I’m sorry, even typing that sentence makes me mad. It’s disingenuous, because, come on, Apple, you’re a freaking business. I’m not going to accuse Apple of anything, but if it thought that degrading its own encryption could make a buck, it would do it, and we already know the reverse is true: Blackberry let its backend get out in the wild, and the ever popular Chinese Hacker Community transformed Blackberry from an industry leader into smooshed jam. Apple knows damn well that its App Store Money Train would be derailed by this backdoor getting out in the world, and, after the security compromise compromised too many people, guess what would happen? No, it would not “undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect,” it would mean that an Apple alternative would smell blood in the water, and within a year or two, everyone would be towing around jPhones (or probably G-Phones), and the iPhone would be hanging out with the cassette tapes, Commodore 64, and Atari Lynx.

But, no, Apple goes out of its way to make a case to the public that they’re doing this for everyone’s best interest. Eat your vegetables, this is what’s best for you.

Which is pretty much why I think Donald Trump has gained so much traction.

I’m not going to say Donald Trump is a raving lunatic, because that man knows himself some libel laws, but I am going to say that, almost from the get-go, people have said that anyone that supports Trump is completely insane. If you agree with Trump, a certain segment of the population will instantly label you a racist, misogynist, and possible oompaloompaphiliac. And I’m not saying there aren’t Trump supporters that fit that criteria, but automatically labeling someone as a dangerous (we disparage racism [and other isms] because of the damage it can do to society and people, ie dangerous) “other” doesn’t help anyone any more than building an impassable wall would help immigration. You have to take a step back and say “What this man is saying is racist, misogynistic, and overtly disturbing. Why is it so effective?” And, to be clear, I don’t mean in the “why do good things happen to orange people?” rhetorical query, I mean, straight up, can we look at what’s being said here and find the why of it? We should discover what is really appealing to the masses, and not just write the whole thing off as, “Boy, there sure are a whole lot of racist people, right,” post yet another meme or video of an “epic takedown”, and call it a job well done.

And, when I think about it, I come back to my technology-focused brethren.

Even if the public doesn’t have a distinct, real way to vocalize this feeling, I believe that people, on an intrinsic level, understand that we are only being more and more babied in our society. According to our most popular entertainment (and their message boards), we want to be Walter White. We want to be Deadpool (we want to have cancer?). We want to be Rick Grimes, boldly tromping around the wastelands, and making life or death decisions about the fate of humanity. But we don’t get to make life or death decisions. We don’t even get to decide on custom icons. Technology is moving faster than ever in human history, and the average man is being treated like a Neanderthal with a chainsaw. Yes, something new and wonderful may be accomplished here, but it’s a lot more likely someone is going to lose an arm. But we’re not Neanderthals! We’re big boys, with millennia of experience of adapting to new things and deciding what’s right for our society. We’ve read the manual, we’re aiming it away from face, we can handle that chainsaw, we can handle having a choice, there’s no need for some faceless corporation to tell us what’s best. We can decide!

But it ain’t gonna happen.

So the next time your phone updates and drops every feature you’ve ever used, or you score a new computer and the Start Menu is only accessible after a trip to Best Buy, remember that a person made that decision for you, and you’re stuck with it. They know what’s best for you, without ever knowing you, and they will continue to make your decisions for you.

And, when you think about it, it’s kind of a dick move.