Category Archives: Video Games

WCW/nWo Revenge

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Released October 26, 1999

The late 90s was a great time to be a fan of pro wrestling and especially pro wrestling video games. World Championship Wrestling had been riding high with its New World Order stable, a collection of heels (bad guys) largely culled from the roster of competitor the World Wrestling Federation. It was a meta angle as it blurred the lines for fans between what was real and what was fake. When performers Scott Hall and Kevin Nash arrived for Monday Nitro it was unclear if they were still employed by the WWF. Of course they were not, but it was a surreal moment in wrestling history.

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If you saw this before your wrestling game you knew you were in for a good time.

1998 was the apex of the Monday Night Wars. WWF’s Raw is War had been on television for years before it was challenged by WCW’s Monday Nitro. Eager to be the king in the ratings war, WCW went all out to topple WWF by signing major stars away from the brand and occupying the same timeslot as Raw. Eventually, WCW added a third hour to its broadcast making it start a full hour before Raw. Fans would tune into Nitro at 8 EST, and if the product was good enough they might just hang around until 11 ignoring Raw all together. This was the era before DVR and on demand viewing so wrestling fans had to make a choice each week and stick with it, or tape one of the programs.

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The intro to this game is some bonkers stuff.

1997 was the nadir for WWF. The stars Vince McMahon was able to hang onto and invest in were failing him. Shawn Michaels had injuries and substance abuse problems which kept him off television for long stretches. He also didn’t get along with Vince’s chosen top guy, Brett Hart. So paranoid was McMahon that he would lose Hart to WCW like he had so many others that he signed him to a massive 20 year deal. Vince then had to back out of the deal, either because he couldn’t afford it or felt he had made a mistake, leading to the infamous Montreal Screwjob and another WCW defection.

Basically saving WWF was the unexpected rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Cast aside by WCW, Austin took his talents to Extreme Championship Wrestling where he did enough on the mic to get WWF’s attention. He initially was wasted on the roster as The Ringmaster, but when times got dark and things desperate, WWF basically turned to its talent and told them to “go to work.” Having creative freedom allowed performers to show off their real talents. Some got over, some did not, but certainly the biggest benefactor was Austin. Unfortunately, his ascension was put on pause when an accident at Summerslam 97 caused him to miss time with a serious neck injury. By early 1998 though, Austin was the new champ and WWF was back in the ratings lead.

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Late 90s wrestling was all about sex appeal, even in polygons.

WCW’s counter to the rise of Austin was another fresh face. Bill Goldberg somewhat looked the part of Stone Cold:  black trunks, black boots, goatee, though his character was quite different. Goldberg was a no nonsense battering ram who took down all challengers usually in less than 2 minutes. He basically had two moves, but they were two moves that looked pretty nice on TV. Crowds went nuts for him, and so desperate was WCW to maintain its hold on the ratings crown that it pit Goldberg vs Hollywood Hogan on cable television for the World Heavyweight Championship rather than using that match to sell a Pay-Per-View.

That was basically WCW’s last hurrah. After that it was mostly all downhill, but arriving at retail during Goldberg-mania was WCW/nWo Revenge. The sequel to WCW vs nWo – World Tour, Revenge was a much anticipated wrestling simulation for the Nintendo 64. The video game landscape had become just as competitive as the television one and WCW was the clear front-runner, until 1999, much like the shows. THQ was the license holder for WCW and while the games it produced for Sony’s PlayStation were pretty lackluster, the N64 games were much celebrated. By comparison, Acclaim had held the WWF license for the better part of a decade and was struggling to remain relevant. The games of the 16 bit era had been okay, but were extremely similar to each other and had grown quite stale. Acclaim would try to revamp its process with WWF Warzone, but most felt that WWF had the inferior game when compared with WCW.

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This was the video game debut for Goldberg, who has looked better.

THQ turned to the AKI Corporation and Asmik Ace Entertainment for development of its N64 WCW games. AKI would come up with a tremendously accessible system that it would use for its flagship Virtual Pro Wrestling series in Japan and adapt it for WCW games in the US. The approach to a match was fairly simple. Players controlled their chosen wrestler with the controller’s d-pad, as opposed to the analog stick, and had two primary modes of attack:  strikes and grapples. Both were context-sensitive in that pressing the strike button resulted in a quick strike, while holding it down resulted in a slower, but stronger, attack. With the grapple, wrestlers would enter the classic tie-up position. Whoever initiated the grapple would then select a move. Pressing either the grapple or strike button resulted in a move, as would pressing one in conjunction with a direction on the D-pad allowing for each wrestler to have a wealth of available maneuvers. Reversals were possible with the R button and a key to mastering the game’s CPU. The C-buttons were used for running, opponent selection, and entering/exiting the ring or ascending a turnbuckle. It was easy to learn and pick-up and proved quite addicting.

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AKI really injected some personality into the game giving wrestlers like Scott Hall their signature finishing maneuvers instead of something more generic.

World Tour, released in 1997, was a blast, but its clear shortcoming was the lack of bells and whistles. Revenge largely sought to rectify this with a refreshed roster and an injection of personality. The new arenas were modeled after the actual television arenas and looked pretty good, all things considered. AKI was also able to add-in all of the major championships including minor titles like the Cruiserweight belt and Television title. There was a lengthy intro added to the game, and the whole presentation just screamed WCW.

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The visuals get the job done in that you mostly know who is who just by looking at them, but they’ve certainly aged.

Visually, the game also looks better. Wrestlers are easy to distinguish from one another and if you were at all familiar with the television roster then you knew who each character was. Though it should be pointed out, this was never a great looking game even in 1998. It was functional, as the characters are quite blocky and the faces a bit weird. There was at least a difference in height between the really tall and the not quite as tall, though the cruiserweights in general look a bit too large compared with most. Technological limitations also prevented the game from including entrance music so everyone just enters to a generic theme. Entrances are also largely limited to the talent just doing their taunt on the way to the ring and upon entering. Some enter with a manager or valet, which is a nice a touch. There’s a stable system in place too so there’s nWo red and white as well as Raven’s Flock. Affiliated wrestlers will sometimes receive help from a comrade during a match too without the penalty of a disqualification.

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Allies will sometimes rush to the aid of a buddy, which can get a bit annoying when it happens every match in your opponent’s favor.

In the ring, everyone basically moves at the same speed and with the same weight. Super heavyweights can’t ascend a turnbuckle, but nothing will stop other wrestlers from suplexing them. The whole goal of a match is to ware your opponent down and get the crowd on your side. Once your spirit meter fills you’ll gain access to a Special status for a brief moment of time allowing you to unleash your wrestler’s signature move, or steal your opponent’s. Usually there’s enough time to hit your move twice, unless your wrestler has a long animation for it. Sometimes just hitting this special move is enough to score a pinfall, but most of the time just one won’t do unless your opponent is on the ground and twitching. Repeated blows to the head will also bust your opponent open, no weapons needed, which is a nice badge of honor. Taking the action outside the ring opens up the possibility to yank weapons out of the crowd. They’re not nearly as effective as they would be on TV, but it’s still fun to assault your opponent with a chair or baseball bat.

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Some guys even start matches with weapons. Lucky for them, there’s no DQ.

The in-ring action is all around solid, but does show its age. Collision detection was always a problem for this game. It’s not terrible, but there are moments where characters will partially pass through each other and you’ll have to time your attacks to avoid invulnerable animations your opponent may be in. There are no running grapples, and submission moves aren’t particularly effective making guys like Brett Hart and Chris Jericho a little less fun to use. And as simple and effective this gameplay is, it can be argued it’s not particularly realistic when compared with the televised product. How many matches consist of dozens of collar and elbow tie-ups leading to moves? None, really.

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Match types aren’t very robust and are limited to singles, tag team, battle royal, and handicap matches.

As far as game modes and match types go, Revenge definitely feels lacking and it always has. World Tour wasn’t robust either, and it’s a shame Revenge didn’t really do anything to rectify that. You basically have your choice of Championship and Exhibition modes. In Championship, you select the title you want to go after and then battle through 9 grapplers and become champion. It’s fine, but can get a little annoying as the CPU often gets outside assistance which lengthens the matches without making them really much harder. The order and grapplers faced are also a bit random as I encountered Sting in the US Title hunt when one would assume he’d be in the World Heavyweight Championship ranks. The opponents get harder as you go along, though what makes an opponent harder than the next is largely just how successful they are at reversing moves. This is something that always annoyed me with AKI games as it’s not something you have any control over, you just have to answer with reversals as well and hope to get lucky that your moves will stop being reversed.

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You can go after basically all of the major titles, but you have to win the minor belts first before the bigger ones open up.

In the exhibition mode, you have the option to compete in single and tag matches and there’s also an option for Special matches. These are just the battle royal and handicap matches. Battle royals are fine and most fun with four human players in a local setting. You can select as many as 40 entrants, but are limited to just 4 in the ring at once. Handicap is just two on one or three on one, if you like a challenge. When it comes to match types, it’s more about what’s missing. It’s kind of weird to have the ability to do a battle royal, but not a triple threat. Cage matches were also becoming a common match type in games so there being none in this game was a disappointment. And on TV, hardcore elements were all the rage so a lack of things like tables was always disappointing, though at this point in time ladder matches had yet to become a thing in games. This game also came before Create-A-Wrestler was a standard feature, but you can at least edit the attires of the existing guys.

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In terms of visuals, the arenas hold up better than expected.

WCW/nWo Revenge is a superior game to its predecessor. It was also better than WWF Warzone even if that game had more match types. It also had a shorter shelf life though since it’s a game that really relies on the gameplay alone. And it’s a good thing that an individual match against the CPU or a friend is quite fun, but there does come a time when you decide you can only topple a champ so many times. Back in 98, it was fun to try and keep up with the TV product so when Kevin Nash beat Goldberg at Starrcade 98 you could go into the game and battle your way with Nash to the title. Of course, game development being what it is, there were plenty of missing wrestlers. In 98, the biggest omissions were Ric Flair and The Warrior. It’s still weird to have a WCW game without Flair, though from a 2020 perspective I can’t say I miss Warrior since his WCW run was terrible. It’s a harder play through now since it’s missing so much of what modern games have. There’s still a lot of nostalgic fun in coming back to this old, flawed, yet beloved gameplay system. And if your nostalgia for wrestling in 1998 is slanted towards WCW, then this is the game for you.

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Over 20 years later, this game is still the best celebration of WCW you’re going to find in video game form.

If your nostalgia is for WWF though, then you’re probably playing either WrestleMania 2000 or No Mercy. Not long after Revenge was released, THQ’s agreement with WCW came to an end and WWF pounced. It was a crazy time as Acclaim still had a game in development in WWF Attitude. That game would arrive on the PlayStation in July 1999 with the N64 version following in August. Just a few months later came the AKI developed WrestleMania 2000 giving Attitude an incredibly short run of just two months as the newest WWF sim on the N64. WWF basically cannibalized one game in favor of another, but that’s how popular these AKI games were. It’s something we’re not likely to ever see again. Hopefully AEW can land a killer licensing agreement with someone so we have more options for wrestling games. For now, we’ll always have 1998-2000.


Catching up with MVP Baseball 2005

MVP_Baseball_2005_CoverartWe’ve had a warm winter up here in New England. That’s been especially true of late as Spring has really been in the air, even though it’s technically still weeks away. Whenever the weather starts to warm and the air has that damp taste to it, I start to think of baseball. Open windows, lemonade, Wiffle Ball out in the yard, and Spring Training on TV. Or rather, that would be true if not for the fact that we’re all basically self-quarantining this year thanks to the COVID19 virus, but I digress. This time of year makes me especially nostalgic for my college years when I had time to consume baseball in ridiculous quantities. I’d watch Baseball Tonight on ESPN religiously and look forward to the annual publication of the Baseball Prospectus handbook. As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, it was an especially good time to be a baseball junkie as the team finally captured World Series glory during that period. I had grown up a fan of the team watching the likes of Roger Clemens, John Valentin, and Mo Vaughn, among others always wondering what it would be like to see the team actually win something, but never really expecting it to happen.

It was during this period that I also spent many, many, hours with baseball video games. I had played some games on the my Nintendo Entertainment System when I was a kid, but the first baseball video game I fell in love with was the inaugural World Series Baseball for the Sega Genesis. I actually took the time to play through an entire season in that game more than once. The menus and interface were rather clunky, but the game itself was a blast to play. Back then, it was still a novelty just to have the actual Major League Baseball Player’s Association license alongside the actual MLB license. Many games had one or the other so you either had real teams with no-name players or real players on generic teams. After the 16-bit era ended, I drifted away from sports gaming. Falling in love with fighters, RPGs, and the occasional platformer meant I just didn’t have time. Perhaps getting a bit burnt out on some of those games is what brought me back when the PlayStation 2 era took off.

I bounced around from franchise to franchise initially when it came time to find a baseball game to enjoy. The first I came to love was 3DO’s High Heat. The gameplay was simple, but really fun, and it was the first title where I encountered a Guess Pitch gimmick as well as what has come to be known as Zone Hitting. Guess Pitch allowed you to predict what pitch was coming, guessing right meant a boost to performance while guessing wrong meant a penalty should you swing. Zone Hitting was an alternative to the cursor approach of World Series Baseball. With a cursor, you moved a reticle around the strike zone to try and guess where the pitch would arrive. You could try to adjust on the fly as well, though on the Genesis the response time made that difficult. With analog controls, it was easier, but it was never a mechanic I liked. Zone Hitting simplifies the cursor mechanic by breaking the strike zone down into nine zones or areas:  upper left, upper middle, upper right, middle left, middle-middle, middle right, bottom left, bottom middle, and bottom right. With a right-handed batter at the plate, pushing up and to the left (10 o’clock or so) meant your batter would try to hit a pitch that was up and in. It was a similar philosophy to cursor hitting, but required less precision. It made it much easier to adjust on the fly to a pitch and felt like a more realistic approach to the game.

High Heat was a lot of fun, but it really lacked the bells and whistles of other games. I would move onto the newer iteration of World Series Baseball put out by Sega and 2k which had the ESPN license as well. The 2003 version was the first time I played a baseball game that let you pitch with a camera placed behind the pitcher, like a television broadcast. I sunk many, many, hours into that game even though I never felt like I truly loved it. I wanted something more, and EA had an answer.

EA had been the market leader in the 32 bit era with its Triple Play franchise. That one was allowed to grow stagnant though and was in need of a serious overhaul. The PS2 edition was not well received, causing EA to make the drastic decision to axe the franchise in favor of a new one:  MVP Baseball. MVP immediately caught my attention due to the inclusion of a pitch meter. Borrowing the popular mechanic often seen in golf sims, the pitch meter was a way to add more player involvement to baseball. Basically every baseball game up to that point left the precision of where a pitch ends up to the A.I. of the pitcher being used. The meter puts some of that back in the hands of the player as they push a face button on the controller corresponding with the pitch they want to start the meter and hold it down to increase velocity. As the meter fills it turns from blue to red. Letting go brings the meter swinging back the other direction where another timed press needs to be initiated to stop the meter in a green zone. Depending on the effectiveness of the pitcher, the effectiveness of the selected pitch type, amount of velocity, and the pitcher’s level of fatigue, determines how large this green area is. This helps to separate the good pitchers from the poor ones, but also means players who are really good at using the meter can get the most out of the back of their bullpen.

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The standard view of the game. EA was quite proud of the picture-in-picture base-running at the time.

The first version of MVP Baseball was a bit rough around the edges. I passed on it, but I did so with the intent of buying the next version assuming EA ironed out the kinks. And they did, for the most part, as MVP Baseball 2004 ended up being my chosen game that summer. It was great, and the only blemish was the dreaded lefty glitch. Left-handed hitters had their power squashed to the point where the only way to usually hit a home run was to hold up and in on the analog stick and sit dead red. Come the following year though, that glitch was rectified and it was no longer exceedingly difficult to launch bombs with a hitter like David Ortiz. In addition to that, the game also had a robust Owner Mode added to go along with the popular Dynasty Mode from the prior year. Single-A affiliates were added to both modes giving players access to a deep minor league system. Additional mini games sweetened the deal and many fans seemed to agree that MVP Baseball had become the premiere baseball video game of its time.

Unfortunately, that was the last iteration of MVP Baseball as a Major League franchise. A few months before release, EA shocked the sports gaming world by locking up the exclusive video game rights to the National Football League. This put an end to the 2k franchise NFL 2k and set off a mini arms race for league rights. 2k responded by locking up the exclusive third party rights to Major League Baseball. This meant the end for both of my preferred sports franchises, and I was devastated. A college edition of MVP followed, but it just wasn’t the same for me. The only silver lining is that 2k’s deal did not prevent first-party publishers from licensing MLB for their games opening the door for Sony San Diego’s MLB The Show which has become the new standard in baseball sims. 2k’s World Series Baseball deteriorated into mediocrity eventually leading to the cancellation of the franchise. As far as I know, nothing is preventing EA from getting back into the baseball business, but baseball games aren’t as hot as football so apparently nothing has convinced the publisher to do just that.

As I have with the last edition of NFL 2k, I’ve found myself compelled to revisit the greatness that is MVP Baseball 2005. I’ve never been as compelled to return to it as I was with the NFL product, but I think that has a lot to do with the quality of The Show. The Show was never shy about taking from MVP what worked making the early versions of it feel like a clone of sorts. It eventually found its own identity, and I’m quite confident in stating that modern versions of that franchise are superior to MVP Baseball 2005, something I also had to begrudgingly admit when it comes to modern Madden vs NFL 2k5. Still, that doesn’t mean MVP has been rendered irrelevant. There’s a reason a dedicated modding community has continued to exist for the PC version keeping the game as up to date as any other. Since I have a PS2 copy, I can’t take advantage of such things, but that’s fine by me as part of the joy of playing this is seeing the old rosters largely populated by players who have since retired.

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Most of the players look all right, some are certainly better than others. Most have this same “dead eye” look Manny has.

EA has always been great at adding a layer of polish to the presentation of its games and MVP carries on that tradition. A fun video intro gets the game rolling along with an introduction from a real life player, coach, or fans letting you know “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game,” a slogan heard many times back then. Boston’s Manny Ramirez was the cover athlete for this edition I guess owing to him being named World Series MVP the prior season. Since this is the game that comes fresh off that legendary title, it makes it quite easy for me to find affection for it, even if the 2005 Red Sox weren’t a particularly fun bunch.

I’m playing this game on a PlayStation 3 hooked up to a modern television. I feel this should be mentioned because out of all of the sports genres, baseball games have benefitted the most from high definition. It makes the batter/pitcher interface a lot easier to see for my aging eyes, so going to a more grainy presentation like this takes some adjustment. MVP added a new mechanic for the 2005 edition that color codes pitches as they’re being delivered. The best and most difficult pitchers hide the ball during their wind-up making it tough to see what’s coming until the ball has left their hand. No color means a fastball variant, while red indicates a breaking ball, green a change-up, and purple for sinking pitches. This makes up for the game’s resolution being too low to properly show rotation on the ball. And since pitchers change speeds often, it doesn’t make things that much easier. A pitcher that throws both a curveball and a slider, for instance, has an advantage over one that just has one breaking ball as there is still a reaction element at play as both are colored red. I find the older I get the worse I am at reacting to a good fastball, so in replaying this one I find I like to wait for a change-up and only sit on heat if it’s something I know I can handle.

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Meet Bizarro Kevin Millar.

The graphics in 2005 when the game launched were pretty good, but obviously are a bit lacking today. For the most part, the superstars look the way they should. I think the game does better with the players who have extensive facial hair as it allows them to cover-up a jawline. On the Sox, Jason Varitek and David Wells look particularly good, while Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke hardly resemble their real-life self at all. This was also an era where there were still scab players in the Majors from the 94 strike season who were never allowed entry into the MLBPA as a result. That means a guy like Kevin Millar is replaced by a fake player who does not resemble the real world version in the slightest. Barry Bonds also famously opted out of the licensing agreement apparently thinking he could land his own game or something (he never did) so he’s also been replaced by a fake guy. Some animations are also better than others. Certain swings look great and others do not. Surprisingly, Manny Ramirez’s swing is a bit iffy even though he was the cover athlete. I think that’s partly the result of too much scrutiny being put on him because he’s the cover athlete to make his swing unique and “special” when it really didn’t need much.

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The mini games were a lot of fun in 2005 and they still are today.

I found the mini games were a good place to start in coming back to this title. The pitching mini game is pretty addicting as it turns pitching into a block puzzle game. You have a time limit and need to accrue a certain amount of points to move onto the next round. To do so, you toss pitches at the strike zone which has been filled with colored bricks which correspond to a given pitch in the pitcher’s arsenal. Simply breaking a brick with a pitch will net you some points, but to really drive up the score you have to stack like-colored bricks to create a large swath of that color and then bust them all up with a single pitch. The hitting mini game has you select a hitter and a pitcher (just for their delivery animation, their arsenal of pitches isn’t affected as all will be able to throw everything) to swing at ten pitches. Before each pitch is thrown, the game tells you what it wants you to do with the pitch and gives a general idea of where the pitch will be. Usually, it will want you to either hit a fly ball or grounder, and it will want it to one of the three fields:  left, center, right. Hit both goals and you get a bunch of points plus a point for each foot the ball travels, hit just one and you get a smaller goal or if you miss the goal all together you can still salvage some points via the foot bonus. Miss and go the complete opposite way and you’ll incur a penalty. A foul ball always results in a score of zero. In the field are also obstacles and opportunities for more points. Hit a tractor cutting the grass for an extra 1,000 points, while strike one of the discarded automobiles beyond the outfield fence will also net a small bonus. There’s a vortex that will spit the ball back at home plate as well as ramps which will either reward or penalize the hitter by either speeding up the ball or deadening it. Both games are quite fun, but I found the hitting one to be especially addicting. It’s great to play with a slugger, but I think my favorite hitter to use may be Ichiro since his bat control is amazing.

The other modes, and the ones I used to spend most of my time, are Dynasty and Owner Mode. Dynasty is your typical season or franchise mode. You select a team and basically take over the duties of a general manager. You build the team using the funds dictated by the owner and oversee development of the minor leagues as well. You’re free to play the games, sim them, or manage them. Manager Mode is pretty entertaining and allows you to make a managerial decision for each plate appearance in a game. It’s a quick way to resolve a game while also giving you some involvement. The Show has implemented such, but takes it too far by actually putting you in the game for every pitch which just makes it drag and defeats the purpose.

Owner Mode was new for the 2005 game and it’s basically a more robust version of Dynasty, but with a few added quirks. For starters, you begin the mode by building a new stadium. It’s kind of neat, but really limited. It also feels a bit sacrilegious to select the Chicago Cubs only to not play in Wrigley. This is mostly done though to force you to start from scratch as the way to make money in this mode is by selling tickets and other items related to the ballpark. You need to amass a lot of money to add more seats and concessions if you want to afford the best players. This actually makes selecting a big money power house like Boston or New York really challenging as you’ll struggle to make payments early on. You may even need to jettison some of those expensive veterans just to scrape by.

Owner Mode is pretty neat for what it is, but it’s almost too involved for my taste. I much prefer to be a virtual GM and leave the mundane stuff like ball park maintenance to someone else so Dynasty Mode is where I’m at. And Dynasty Mode is quite good at what it wants to do, but it does come up short compared with modern titles. For one, the interface was never great. Some of the menus are clunky and I miss the feedback of The Show’s trading screen which let you know if a proposed trade was likely to be accepted or not. It feels like a guessing game and since you don’t even know what an A.I. controlled team is after you have little to go on. The same is true for negotiating contracts with players. On my virtual Red Sox team, Bronson Arroyo was unhappy because he was only making 300k. He wanted 2 years at 3M, but I countered with 3 years and that apparently pissed him off. I then upped my offer to 3.5M per year, and he just got angrier. You would think a guy would love a 1,000% pay increase and job security, but I guess not?

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It is quite a trip to look at these old rosters populated almost exclusively by players who are now retired.

The Player Morale feature is perhaps the most annoying. Players are basically controlled by how often they play relative to the role dictated by their contract, how well they’re playing, and by how much money they’re making. What’s really annoying is that the default roles are way off. Every starting pitcher on the Red Sox, for example, is classified as an MLB Ace. This means they expect to be in the #1 starter position on the depth chart, but obviously there can be only one. Curt Schilling is rightly classified as an ace as that was his status at the time, but even Tim Wakefield has that distinction as does Wade Miley who in the real world had signed a small deal with Boston because he was coming off a major injury. Similarly, guys in the lineup who were added to be platoon players (i.e. they only start when the pitching matchup favors them due to the handedness of the pitcher) like Jay Payton are rated as “MLB Every Day” so they expect to start every day. When players are not deployed in their specified role, you can try and sign them to a new deal to better reflect it, but good luck there. The only other options are to either trade them, release them, or demote them. Somewhat thankfully, the game does not have a realistic system for sending players to the minors so anyone can be sent down. In the real world, a veteran can’t be demoted without consent forcing you to release them.

Another unrealistic aspect in the game concerns minor league players. Twenty years ago, the MLB PA was really hesitant to allow actual money in its games and accurate contracts. They felt it did them no favors to have fans be able to easily see how much money they were making. That was loosening by the time MVP 05 came out, but perhaps it’s why the contract system isn’t perfect. In the real world, a player needs to accrue six seasons worth of service time to qualify for free agency which makes it very easy to hang onto up and coming players. In MVP, they just have a contract that must be dealt with like any other so you could actually lose that star shortstop on your Triple A team before he even sets foot in the Majors. It’s annoying, but it was the standard then. One thing the game does do well though is give you opportunities to improve these prospects via the mini games. During Spring Training, you can put your best prospects through those games which earns them a permanent boost to their underlying stats. My biggest complaint with The Show is that prospect development sucks with most just staying the same. In this game, your can’t miss prospect will likely blossom into a true star if you keep at it. The other unrealistic aspect of Dynasty Mode lies in the offseason. That’s when the draft takes place, even though that actually happens during the season in the real world. It’s not a big deal, but worth pointing out. The offseason is also condensed into 6 weeks for free agency in which you make an offer, sim to next week, and go from there. You’ll be able to track the best offer made to each player and adjust accordingly, or they’ll sign. This is where the player role actually adds to the experience as you may not want to pay someone to be your ace pitcher, for instance, but perhaps you can offer more money. Every player has a desired contract length, amount, and role so it allows for some variety in the negotiations.

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A fairly robust Minor League system makes player development a lot fun, but also introduces more cumbersome rosters to manage.

Dynasty Mode is fine for what it is, but none of it really matters if the actual game doesn’t hold up. I’m happy to say that while it certainly has aged, the game is still fun to play. First of all, it moves much faster than modern games which is very much appreciated. I’m used to a game taking over an hour, but I find most of these ones take about 35-40 minutes. The pitch meter takes getting used to, but it’s still a strong mechanic. Hitting is a little less enjoyable. MVP uses zone hitting, referred to as the Pure Swing System, though with the added quirk that pushing up on the stick is done to hit a fly ball while down is meant to influence a grounder. It’s an odd mechanic, but the game largely seems to work best with the old “see the ball, hit the ball” belief and just put the stick where the ball is. If the pitcher throws a down and in fastball, just put the stick down and in. You may still elevate the ball. That’s something that seems more true of the 05 game than the 04 one, but I don’t know if anything was actually changed.

The shortcomings of the game itself are largely technological, but the clunky menus do still present a minor obstacle. Outside of games, managing your various rosters is a chore. They’re slow and not well organized and I wish players had numerical ratings instead of these meters for comparison. In game they’re only marginally better. If you try to access every thing via the Pause menu, you’ll find them slow and lacking in options. For example, you can’t access your bullpen while your team is hitting, so if you forgot to get someone warming before the previous half inning ended then you’re stuck with your current pitcher. That is, unless you realize you can access your bullpen from the Quick Menu achieved by holding down R2 at anytime. The Quick Menu is convenient, but it’s silly that certain functions are only accessible via it. Like many sports games, you’ll also encounter a glitch here and there. I’ve recently run into two such glitches. On one, the A.I. controlled outfielder threw wild into the infield following a flyball out. The ball sailed past the catcher and then just sat on the grass. No one would go get it. Thankfully, I had a runner on second so I had him run around the bases and score which moved things along. It was disappointing though as I was in a one-run game at the time and that was a cheap way to double my lead. Another glitch occurred when my third basemen caught a little pop-up. I don’t know why, but it was scored a hit even though the ump said “Out.” I even checked the replay to make sure it wasn’t a high chopper or something or to see if my player dropped the ball, but no such thing occurred. Thankfully, I got the next batter to hit into a double play.

By far though, the biggest weakness I found with MVP 05 was the artificial intelligence of opposing managers. Even though each game in Dynasty Mode has an impact rating, opposing managers treat every game the same. If you’re in an elimination game and get out to an early lead against the starter, don’t expect him to be pulled. And if he is, you can bet the mop-up man is coming in and he’s going to pitch multiple innings no matter what. He might even do that multiple days in row! You can’t see how much stamina the opposing pitcher has unless you’re in manage mode, but the A.I. managers have no qualms about throwing a guy who is spent. It makes the Playoffs feel less special than they should. I also find the difficulty hard to manage. Simply put, playing on “Pro” or medium difficulty results in a game that’s way too easy. I routinely win games 8-1 or 5-0 on that setting. Bump it up to hard and the inverse becomes the norm. I also found it really hard to strike guys out. Back in the day, I was good enough at the game to hold my own on the hardest setting, so maybe just playing a hundred hours would solve this problem, but I no longer have that kind of free time to devote to a sports game.

The other presentation aspects of the game are less important to me, but worth mentioning. Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow provide the commentary and at the time it was considered really good, but now sounds really limited. Sometimes they give away plays right off the bat which is annoying like when you’re trying to run down a lazy fly and Kuiper calls it a hit while still in the air. The licensed music is basically a mixed bag, you might like it, you probably won’t. It gets repetitive, though I was surprised at how nostalgic it made me feel. Granted, those feelings didn’t last all that long.

I’ve said a lot of words about MVP Baseball 2005 and I could keep going. There’s a lot to dissect with sports titles like this because there are so many nuances to the gameplay, too many to cover them all. Some of those nuances matter more to certain players, but ultimately I think the gameplay here is still fun and a good representative of what the actual game of baseball was like in 2005. I wish the A.I. was better and the contact system more realistic, but if I want that I have modern titles to look to. The real question is will someone who never played this game who has heard how great it was for 15 years be impressed if they pick it up today? It depends on their perspective. If they weren’t playing games 15 years ago, then they probably won’t, but if they’re at least modestly familiar with baseball games of yesterday then they just might be blown away. Anyone who spends enough time with it will probably find something to like, even if it’s just the mini games or the oddly addicting Manager Mode. In short, the game holds up as one of the best baseball titles ever made.


NECA TMNT Loot Crate Wild Speculation Post!

mirage_shredder_crateIt was announced earlier this week that a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles branded Loot Crate was incoming later this year. NECA, or NECA’s parent company to be more exact, rescued Loot Crate from bankruptcy last year and has been aiming to revamp the subscription service by incorporating NECA product into the boxes. If you’re not familiar with the scheme (some would argue scam), Loot Crate is basically a blind box service. Each box usually retails for about $50 and the only thing the buyer knows is what the general theme of the box will be. They’re almost always advertised as being a greater value than what they’re charging, which is a ludicrous statement, and instead they’re full of junk that would be a hard sell on its own. That’s likely why the service went bankrupt, but NECA appears at least committed to making this thing worthwhile.

There was a series of essentially trial Loot Crates with the NECA branding. One such crate was the Spirit of Splinter set. It came with a variant of the Splinter action figure from NECA’s TMNT movie line that was colored blue to resemble the character from the scene in the woods where he appeared as a ghost, or spirit, to encourage his adoptive children. The crate was $50, so if you’re in it for the figure it’s not the greatest value since NECA figures retail for around half that amount. It also had a shirt, patch, pin, and a Foot bandana based on the same from the film. It’s not an awful set, but I wasn’t really into the figure so I passed. Since the property is hot though, the resale value appears relatively high on eBay so anyone who did purchase it could probably turn it into a small profit, if they so desired.

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If you wanted a blue Splinter you missed your opportunity.

That Splinter set apparently was successful enough to warrant a new round of crates. Announced Wednesday, a trio of TMNT crates are set to arrive this year with the first one arriving sometime in June. The featured action figure for that set is a first appearance Mirage Shredder. This is only the second time this figure is being released as the first time was as part of a four-pack with some Foot Soldiers for San Diego Comic Con. That Shredder was also colored based on the color version of the debut issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This version is basically all blue and black and looks pretty neat. He’ll have some accessories as well and the crate will come with additional items that likely tie into the original comic line in some way.

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I can’t believe how much I want this.

What we don’t know, at this time, is what the featured figures will be in the next two crates. For those, NECA has provided only the theme and a few hints. Crate #2 is an arcade themed crate and the placeholder image is the Turtles battling the Foot in the first stage of the original arcade game with April in the background. NECA confirmed via its Twitter account that the figure will NOT be an arcade deco April, and since the Turtles have been released already, it won’t be them. The third crate is based on the 1987 cartoon and the placeholder image is Rocksteady. The only other info we have is that it will not be a variant of Casey Jones (some had guessed at a version of Casey in a suit). Patrons who are all-in on this trio of crates and pay for all three upfront receive a bonus figure of Bebop in a bunny suit from the cartoon. No images have been shown yet so we don’t know how much re-tooling is needed for the existing Bebop figure to conform to this. He could just have new hands and a cloth suit.

That silly Bebop was actually the thing that pulled me in. I love goofy variants, and while I’m less enthusiastic about the First Appearance Shredder I decided to take the plunge with the safety net being if I don’t really want one of the other figures, I can probably at least sell them for cost online. Even though the Bunny Bebop is the figure I covet most, it hasn’t stopped me from speculating on what the other two figures will be. The guessing game is so fun for me that I decided to put my thoughts down here, so let’s see if I can get these thoughts organized.

For the arcade wave, NECA has released or shown the following for retail:

  • All four Turtles
  • Multi-colored Foot Soldiers
  • Shredder (Turtles in Time Arcade)
  • Shredder (Arcade)
  • Slash (Turtles in Time SNES)
  • Leatherhead (Turtles in Time)
  • Granitor (Arcade)
  • Traag (Arcade)
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The lone hint provided by NECA for crate #2.

And as mentioned, we can rule out April. The image NECA provided as a clue is the Arcade version of the first game. It’s also the first level which featured a boss fight against Rocksteady. Also of note, NECA showed off Granitor and Traag a long time ago and has never come back and confirmed them for release. The current figures at retail are based on Turtles in Time, and Krang’s loyal rock soldiers did not feature in that game. In other words, I think they’re in play. Cartoon versions are on the way as part of wave 4 too, so we’re just talking a simple repaint here. With all that said, let’s speculate! I’m ranking based on the likelihood of who gets released:

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NECA showed off this trio almost three years ago and we just now received Slash. Granitor and Traag have mostly been ignored since save for the cartoon reveal.

  1. Granitor/Traag – This seems like a good spot for one of these two guys. There’s nothing separating the two, hence why I rank them together. It’s also a smart marketing idea as one could be included this round, and the other figure could follow in the next wave. Anyone who has Traag will want Granitor and vice versa.
  2. tmnt_arcade_level1

    Rocksteady is the boss for the pictured level, though if he’s the subject of crate #3 it seems less likely he’d be featured in crate #2 as well.

    Rocksteady – we kind of half to assume he’s high on the list because the image provided features the rhino as the boss character. And Rocksteady would just be a simple repaint of the current figure, perhaps with the added benefit of including his helmet. And like the scenario I outlined with Granitor and Traag, it opens up the possibility of featuring Bebop further down the road. And both characters were unique to the first Arcade game as far as their attire is concerned. For the SNES version of Turtles in Time, the two appeared in pirate attire which would necessitate all new sculpts. I think it’s safe to say, whatever is included in these Loot Crates will be repaints of existing figures with only minor re-tooling. I’d actually list Rocksteady as the most likely figure if he wasn’t the placeholder image for crate #3.

  3.  NES Rocksteady – Not to be confused with the figure above. The image provided is clearly from the arcade version of the game, so I think it’s more likely the figure comes from there than from the NES, but the NES version of the game does present some additional opportunities. Considering NECA already did Slash who was unique to the home console version of Turtles in Time, it suggests the NES version of the arcade game isn’t off-limits. When that game was ported, some concessions had to be made as the NES was not capable of outputting the same amount of colors as the arcade game. And for that version, Rocksteady appeared in basically a black, white, and gray attire. It actually makes him look a little more like the Playmates figure than the cartoon, and it’s not an ugly look for the character. It’s also an easy thing to accomplish as NECA could just re-color the existing figure. Though again, he’d need a helmet.
  4. tora

    a Tora figure would be pretty damn fun.

    Tora – If that name isn’t familiar then that’s okay, as we’re not talking about a very popular character. Tora is the white dog/wolf boss from the snowy level of the NES game. He’s never appeared anywhere else, as far as I know, nor was he ever done as an action figure. Because of his obscurity, it makes sense for him to be featured in a subscription service like Loot Crate. He could probably utilize some of the parts made for Bebop and/or Rocksteady with the only challenge being he’d require a unique headsculpt and he had a leather jacket. If given the choice, I think I’d most like to see this happen as it feels fun, though all signs point to the figure being from the arcade version of the game and not the home console port.

  5.  Roadkill Rodney (s) – We know Roadkill Rodney is on the way as part of the cartoon line, so a pixel deco version would also make sense at some point. The character appears in both arcade games, so it’s possible it could show up in the Turtles in Time retail wave. This would probably be the cheapest option as the figures aren’t particularly large, though if they feature rubber tires or something then I could be mistaken. This strikes me as the least exciting option though and I don’t know that it would be met with much enthusiasm.

That’s my top 5 most likely for the arcade crate. I kept my guesses to just the original arcade game and the NES release, but if it also could include Turtles in Time figures then that expands things considerably. That game features Tokka, Rahzar, and Super Shredder which are all getting released as part of the movie line. Would NECA do a pixel deco on any of them and release them? I think so, but I also think they would rather release them as single-packs to retail and not in a Loot Crate. Baxter the Fly also features in the home NES arcade port and both versions of Turtles in Time. He has a figure on the way in the cartoon line, though he’s considerably larger in the games and I’m not sure if that figure is really appropriate for a game version. Maybe NECA isn’t too concerned though. Metalhead is also in that game, so he would be possible. Krang is featured in both, but I ruled him out as his android body is probably too big for this kind of release, but I’d love to be wrong!

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The lone hint for crate #3. Seems like Rocksteady is a given, no?

Let’s turn our attention now to crate #3. We have even less to go off of here as the image is just Rocksteady and it’s the same licensing artwork featured in NECA’s action figure release, so we don’t even have an episode or season to go off of. It wouldn’t exactly be much of a hint if the figure wasn’t Rocksteady, but for completion’s sake, here’s what NECA has done or is prepping for release at Target:

  • All four Turtles
  • Shredder
  • Krang (Bubble Walker and Android Body)
  • Foot Soldiers (regular and damaged)
  • Bebop
  • Rocksteady
  • Casey Jones
  • April O’Neil
  • Baxter the Fly
  • Splinter
  • Granitor
  • Traag
  • Leatherhead
  • Metalhead
  • Foot Alpha
  • Triceratons (Various colors)
  • Bunny Bebop
  • Roadkill Rodney
  • Slash
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Could figure #3 simply be a Bunny Rocksteady to complete the pair for those who are all-in? Maybe, though it seems like NECA would reserve him for a future release.

That’s a lot of figures, and I may even be forgetting some. NECA has also strongly hinted that Ace Duck and Mukman and Joe Eyeball are forthcoming, and the assumption is that neither would be featured here. Again, we’re mostly assuming this figure will be a variant of an already released or soon-to-be released character. And since this crate may be arriving in the fall, virtually all figures to be released are in play. Though since the image is Rocksteady, I have to go with him first:

human_rocksteady

Might a human version of Rocksteady be on the way?

  1. First-Appearance Rocksteady – Rocksteady didn’t show up as an existing mutant, he had to first be some regular dude who wasn’t very nice. He basically featured the same outfit as his rhino form, only with a vest and no helmet. NECA could simply retool the existing figure and give him a new head to accomplish the job. It would then setup for a future crate figure of human Bebop.
  2.  Bunny Rocksteady – if the bonus fourth figure is Bebop in a bunny costume, then fans are going to wonder when they can complete the pair. As a result, a Bunny Rocksteady makes sense as once again it’s an existing figure with a few new additions. And as a bonus, since the two-pack continues to be hard to find at retail, it gives collectors another opportunity to get these figures. Especially if the bunny outfit is just a cloth addition leaving the regular figure underneath largely intact. The only reason why I think it won’t be a rabbit version of Rocksteady is that it probably makes more sense for that to be the featured bonus figure of another round of Loot Crates. Such a maneuver is borderline mean, but that’s capitalism for ya!
  3.  Ultimate Rocksteady – Basically, just the regular figure with more accessories including a helmet, something fans have been requesting ever since the original two-pack was released last November. It wouldn’t be very sexy, but considering how hard those figures have been to find it might give NECA some reason to assume fans would still be onboard with such a move. It’s not what I would want, but I also wouldn’t hate it.
  4. mightyhognrhinomanRhino-Man – I talked about wanting this figure in my list of most wanted NECA figures, so naturally I’d put him here. This was Rocksteady in a super hero costume. He could easily be repainted to accomplish the look well enough, and once again it would setup for a future release of Bebop in his super hero attire. Since fans would expect such a move, that version of Bebop could once again occupy the bonus figure slot or something.
  5. Mighty Rocksteady – I’m sticking with the Rocksteady theme! It just seems to me that if NECA wanted to give fans a hint (and they confirmed that was the goal), then making the figure something other than Rocksteady seems pointless. It would just mean the hint was actually no hint at all and reinforce that we shouldn’t trust these going forward, which wouldn’t be much fun. Mighty Rocksteady is the robot replacement from the episode “Super Bebop and Mighty Rocksteady.” He still looks like Rocksteady, but he’s metallic. Potentially, any figure would be a mash-up of parts made for Rocksteady and Metalhead. Though admittedly, to really get this figure right and do him justice it would be preferable to create an all new mold which is why I think he’s the least likely version of Rocksteady to be featured in this crate.
mighty_rockteady

A Mighty Rocksteady would be considerably harder to pull off, but that Bunny Bebop looks like it might feature a lot of new sculpting so who knows?

That’s it, my picks for most likely figures. I hope this doesn’t come off like an advertisement for NECA and Loot Crate, but it felt like a fun exercise to undertake. I’d prefer to not have to deal with the Loot Crate nonsense to get these exciting figures, but given how hard they’ve been to find at retail it’s not the worst thing to actually know I’m guaranteed to get four new figures this year. Expect a review for each one when it arrives and I’ll definitely refer back to this post to grade how well I did.


NECA Turtles in Time Slash (TMNT)

img_1071Ever since NECA forced the hand of Nickelodeon to grant them an expanded license for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the toy company has been killing it with its releases. We don’t know if Nickelodeon found a loophole to exploit with the master license that has been held by Playmates since the mid 80s or if the company had to sign off on it. Either way, I like to think this is all a result of NECA just making a product that could not be ignored. And if everyone is making money, then everyone is probably happy.

With the expansion of the license it meant NECA could move from small batch, convention exclusives and market its product direct to consumers via more conventional means. NECA quickly secured distribution arrangements with Target and GameStop. Target would sell two-packs of figures based on the classic 87 cartoon while GameStop was handed single-packed figures based on the 1990 movie (a deal that is expiring soon and shifting to Wal-Mart). NECA would be the first to admit though that it wasn’t places like GameStop and Target that supported and grew the business when it got started. No, it was smaller, collector-oriented shops and online vendors that first carried NECA product and helped the company become what it is today. As a way of saying “Thanks,” to those businesses, NECA wanted to include them on this newfound TMNT craze and devoted a new line of product just for them:  the Turtles in Time line.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the TMNT could be found in arcades and home consoles about as often as they were on broadcast television or movie theaters. Anyone who had a love for the Turtles and a game console probably had at least one video game based on the property. While they were of varying quality and some were more popular than others, it’s hard to argue that the one that has endured over the years as a particular favorite has been Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  Turtles in Time (alternatively known on the Super Nintendo as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV:  Turtles in Time).

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Check out that classic, old school, logo!

Turtles in Time was essentially the true sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:  The Arcade Game on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Both games were fairly straight-forward beat-em-ups by Konami, a company known for creating such titles for the arcade. Players could play as one of the four turtles and bash their way through many a Foot Soldier in a quest to stop Shredder and save April. The games were simple and fun and also a great way to gobble quarters and turn a profit for anyone who plugged one into their establishment. Turtles in Time was the better of the two largely by way of arriving later. It looked better, featured more boss characters, and even gave the Turtles some additional moves to make use of. Surprisingly, it was made even better when it came to Super Nintendo as it looked largely the same while adding new levels and new bosses.

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Slash in the comics vs Slash in the cartoon. One is definitely cooler than the other, though fret not fans of the dim cartoon Slash, he’ll be in stores soon.

One of those new bosses was Slash. Added to the end of the fifth level, Prehistoric Turtlesaurus, Slash attacked the Turtles with his twisted sword while rolling in a ball back and forth. He was depicted in his Mighty Mutanimals attire which is what the Playmates action figure was based on as well as opposed to the cartoon which had its own unique look. Slash was a favorite boss of mine when playing two-player mode (the only way to play the game, really) as two well-positioned players could just bash Slash back and forth between the two of them in a comical scene. Failure to do so actually left players with a formidable foe. I’d even go as far as to say Slash is the most difficult solo boss aside from Super Shredder due to his propensity to block most attacks.

NECA likely saw this version of Slash as a good opportunity to create a figure based on his comic look which could explain why Slash is part of the first wave of Turtles in Time figures which just hit shelves. Slash and all of the other figures in this inaugural wave (Leonardo, Donatello, and a purple Foot Soldier) comes in a box designed to mimic the original arcade cabinet, which is slightly amusing for Slash since he did not appear in the actual arcade game. These figures are largely just updated versions of the arcade figures NECA released as convention exclusives a few years ago. Slash is the only all new of the bunch, though even he is fairly familiar as he uses the same body as the other turtles. The main difference being he has spikes added to his shell and obviously has a new headsculpt. His belt is unique as well, as are the blades on his hands. He comes with his crooked sword as well, his weapon of choice in the game. And for added mayhem, he also has a grenade.

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Our source material.

Like the other figures in this line, Slash has a pixel-like deco applied to his body. This is designed to mimic the video game appearance of the character right down to the resolution. When placed on a shelf, the effect mostly works. It’s not very extreme with Slash which is partly due to his darker skin tone when compared with the Turtles. For those two, I think the effect works a bit better though it actually works really well with the Foot Soldier, based on what I have seen anyways. I chose to only get Slash as I’m rapidly running out of room for all of my TMNT figures and the upcoming figures in the cartoon and film lines are going to do a number on my wallet as is. With Slash being unique to this line, I wanted to grab him. I loved my old Playmates version and I do confess this is what I think of when I hear the name Slash, as opposed to what the cartoon did with the character.

Since Slash has the same body as the other turtle characters, he has the same range of motion as well. None of the additions made to the sculpt impact that at all allowing for Slash to be a pretty expressive character. He has a nice weight to him, though his shell adds additional bulk making him a bit heavy in the rear. He can stand well enough, but it isn’t a bad idea to add an optional stand to the display for more dynamic posing and peace of mind. About the only thing he can’t do is mimic his pose from the game in which he’s doubled-over in pain. My figure was mostly free and easy out of the package, though his right elbow and knee required a bit of hot water to loosen. Even after that, the knee still doesn’t want to bend much so I backed off, not wanting to damage my new toy. He does seem a bit light on the accessory front, considering the other figures all come with giant surfboards, but really what else could he have? An alternate head depicting his pained expression would have been neat, I suppose. More realistically, additional bandana tails might have been fun like NECA does with the movie figures. Slash’s bandana just sticks straight out, but one that jutted out to the side would have been pretty cool. Again though, it’s hardly essential and realistically I would have just picked one and then forgot about the other.

The sculpt for Slash looks quite nice. Since he uses the same body as the Turtles he’s the same height. He appears a little more squat in the game, but that’s nit-picking. His shell looks great and reminds me a lot of the old Playmates toy, but with more extreme spikes. And unlike that old toy, his belt is glued on so you need not worry about it falling off. Slash has a maniacal grin on his face that suits the character. There’s a bit of glue or something stuck above the right cheek on mine, but it’s not very noticeable. Aside from that, the paint application is quite clean, save for the insides of his hands. His claws and toenails also aren’t painted, but that’s also accurate to the game. The blades on his hands are nice and long and look rather wicked. In comparing him closer with the game it’s hard to find fault.

Slash is a great addition to a fun line of TMNT product. I quite like this series and even though I’m mostly sitting it out, don’t confuse that with me disliking any of the figures here. It’s just an issue of resources as I’m really tempted to go all-in and create a separate video game display to go along with my movie and cartoon ones. Maybe an eventual sale will entice me, but if I’m being honest, these TMNT NECA figures are selling far too well to count on a future sale. If you like what you see and have the means, I say go for it. I see a lot of concern from collectors online about mixing video game figures in with their cartoon series, but to that I say “Who cares?” Slash looks great and fits in anywhere. The video game pixel deco is not particularly extreme and I have no qualms about placing him among the other villains from the cartoon.

As for the future of the line, we know wave 2 will comprise of Raph, Mikey, Leatherhead, and Shredder. They’re all basically repaints of existing figures (though in the case of Leatherhead, a soon to be released figure) from the cartoon line. Shredder appears to have some new tooling to give his spikes some added menace and he comes with new effects pieces. He’s in his normal form from the arcade game, but since NECA showed off a Super Shredder for its movie line recently at Toy Fair, don’t be surprised if a video game version follows. Additionally, NECA unveiled multi-colored Foot Soldiers as well which was a given. Other characters that cross-over with the other lines include Tokka, Rahzar, Metalhead, Krang, and Baxter. In the case of Baxter, his cartoon figure wouldn’t be in-scale with his much larger video game depiction so it’s unknown if NECA would do a different sculpt, or if they’d just use a larger mold based on the same figure. Bebop and Rocksteady also appeared in the home version of the game, but in pirate attire that basically would necessitate all new figures from what was already released. Either way, there’s room to grow and other games as well to pick from should they cross-over with the cartoon line so expect at least a few more waves. There’s also a TMNT branded Loot Crate coming this summer with an arcade theme so expect a figure in there as well. These figures can be found at specialty shops, and online at popular toy retail sites, and best of all, you can preorder them without too much hassle!


Final Fantasy VII Remake – Demo Impressions

Final-Fantasy-7-Remake-DemoIt’s been a long time since I discussed the possibility of a Final Fantasy VII remake. After mentioning it here and there in other posts, I made a dedicated post on the subject six years ago. And six years ago isn’t even the start of all of this hype, so it’s safe to say this game has been a long time coming. And it’s almost here. In order to drum up excitement (and maybe quell some negative press at release), Square-Enix released a free demo for the remake on the PlayStation Network this week. To access it you simply need a PlayStation 4 and a network connection. You do not need to be a subscriber to Sony’s paid online service. The demo should take about 10 minutes to download and install and contains roughly an hour’s worth of content, so if you’re curious about the game and have yet to check out the demo you might as well go rectify that right now.

The demo contains what I assume will be the start to the main game. If you played the original Final Fantasy VII then it will be quite familiar. You take on the role of Cloud, a mercenary in the employ of Barret Wallace and his organization, Avalanche, which is in the process of storming a mako reactor in the city of Midgar owned and operated by a company named Shinra. As Cloud (who is given that name outright, so no more choosing your own name), you’re expected to take orders, do the job, and collect a paycheck at the end. The goal of the mission is to take down and destroy this reactor, which Barret explains rather passionately is destroying the planet. Basically, if you’re familiar with the original game this is all routine, but if you’re a newcomer you may have some questions, but those will have to wait for retail.

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Cloud is back, and he’s still going with that hairstyle.

It has been an exceptionally long road getting to this point. Final Fantasy VII was released to huge publicity way back in 1997 and is a very popular and beloved title. For many, it was probably their introduction to the franchise as it was only the fourth entry in the series released outside of Japan. And by far, it was the most publicized, though the US version of Final Fantasy VI was no slouch in terms of marketing. It’s hard to say when the thirst for a remake arrived, but it was definitely here after Square unveiled a PlayStation 3 tech demo that contained images of Final Fantasy VII with a new engine. At the time, Square intended this to be just a demo of what a Final Fantasy title could look like on the new hardware, but naturally many fans just wanted to see these resources used to create a new version of a game they loved.

A remake of Final Fantasy VII never arrived during the PlayStation 3’s lifespan, and it was rarely even hinted at. The company line soon came to be “We hear you,” and fans were expected to just keep voicing their desires for a remake in hopes it would one day happen. Well, that day has just about come and it’s going to be met with some degree of dissatisfaction, but overall I think this title will do well for Square-Enix.

support_characters_demo

And all of your friends are back too, like Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie!

First of all, fans have known what to expect leading up to this point. Gone is the old mechanics of the Active Time Battle System and in its place is a more action-oriented gameplay system. Anyone who has played Final Fantasy XV or even Kingdom Hearts III should feel relatively comfortable with this new system, but anyone going straight from Final Fantasy VII to this will likely be left with their head spinning. At the start of the demo, the player just controls Cloud who battles solo. As enemies come into view, Cloud goes from a passive state to a combat position seamlessly. Mashing the square button is really all that needs to happen in order to win the day against these early foes, but there’s a bit more going on under the hood.

As Cloud attacks, his ATB meter fills. Yes, a relic of the past still exists in some form this time out. When that meter fills, Cloud can use Abilities, Spells, and Items at his whim. Pressing the X button brings up a menu which greatly slows down the action onscreen allowing the player to cycle through the options at his or her leisure. In the demo, Cloud has some abilities that should sound familiar, like Braver. These moves do extra damage and consume ATB. For spells, Cloud has access to Fire which isn’t of much use in the demo, save for when Cloud has to fight flying enemies he can’t quite reach with his sword. Under items are a bunch of familiar options like potions and ethers.

cloud_barrett_demo

Oh, and lets not forget the big guy. Barret is the only other playable character in the demo.

Adding a little extra layer of complexity is the fact that Cloud has two methods of attacks. Think of this as a relic from the Squaresoft classic Bushido Blade as Cloud basically has two stances. He begins in Operator mode which is his default approach. With a tap of the triangle button he can move into Punisher mode. In this state, his sword flurries are more elaborate and deal considerably more damage. He also moves much slower making it harder to evade enemy attacks. Blocking or taking damage will knock Cloud out of this mode, so it’s something that is to be deployed in moderation. At work, is a system of staggering in which repeated blows on an enemy fill a bar below their health. When that fills they become staggered and momentarily incapacitated. You won’t get to play with this too much in the demo as the fodder will like fall first, but it would seem the standard play is to attack an enemy until staggered, then bust out Punisher mode to deal additional damage while they can’t move.

About midway through the demo, Barret will enter the fray. When a second member joins the party in battle, switching between the two is as simple as pressing a button. Barret works in the same manner as Cloud, except he’s a ranged fighter and not nearly as fast or nimble. He can more easily hit flying enemies and instead of a Punisher mode he has a charged attack that gradually fills. He also has access to the spells Thunder and Cure, though you should have plenty of potions to render the latter useless for the demo. You can give the A.I. controlled party member commands during battle, though for the demo I found it mostly unnecessary. When controlling Cloud, Barret did a good job of attacking enemies Cloud could not, but I suspect in larger frays with three characters in the main game it may become more necessary to micro-manage the combatants.

aerith_demo

The demo will give you a look at the mysterious flower girl, but don’t expect it to settle the Aerith/Aeris debate.

Combat in the Final Fantasy VII remake has the potential to add layers of complexity. And in some ways it already feels that way, though much of the confrontations in this demo can be resolved by simply mashing the attack button. It remains to be seen if that’s just simply a matter of this being a demo, or if that will be the general flow of combat for lesser enemies (the equivalent of the original’s random encounters) or if the game will demand more from these enemies as it moves along. Near the end of the demo is a boss encounter in which you will have to do more and pay attention to Cloud’s suggestions. He’ll yell out to Barret how to deal with the enemy, and as the player, you’re expected to do the same. These range from what magic to utilize and where to strike. It’s during this battle that you’ll likely encounter Limit Breaks for the first time. They seem to work as they did in the original, though with Braver being a standard move, Cloud’s first Limit Break is now Cross-Slash. I did not see Barrett’s in my play-through.

When not in battle, the game is pretty much just a nicer version of the original. The camera is always behind Cloud, but can be manually controlled via the right analog stick. The visuals are on par with the best titles Square-Enix has produced so you’re not likely to find many complaints there. Cloud more or less resembles his Advent Children self, but he has been noticeably reworked some and I think he looks a little better now. He’s still a touch goofy looking since he’s an anime design made real, but it’s fine. The voice acting is good as well and since these characters have all spoken before since the original game’s release it’s not as surprising as it might have been fifteen years ago. In short, if this game is a failure the production values will have little to do with that.

sweeper

The sweeper is one of the few enemies in the demo that will let you try out more of your arsenal.

Exploring the environment of this demo is not exactly exciting, but it’s also a tutorial disguised as a mission. I don’t want to make assumptions about the rest of the game based on this section. There are some chests scattered about, but they’re all in plain sight. There are boxes Cloud can smash with his sword to uncover items and even some simple obstacles that need to be cleared. Cloud can basically just run, run faster, and swing his sword. When he needs to jump he’ll do it automatically. It appears the old equipment and materia systems will work largely the same, though the game doesn’t give you an introduction to that aspect in the demo. Oddly, I found you have to use the real-time item list (accessed via the X button whether in or outside of battle) to heal via potions and can’t do it from the pause menu. It would be nice to see an auto-heal feature in the main game.

Ultimately, what is going to make or break this game is the combat system and how that aligns with expectations. There are certainly plenty of fans of the more recently released Final Fantasy XV that will likely welcome a more modern, action-oriented, battle system. There are also those who will yearn for the days of old and the turn-based system. There was a rumor making the rounds over the summer that the game could be made into a turn-based one, but that is not the case. You have options to greatly slow it down, but it will never be truly turn-based. It’s more you can make it similar to a Bioware RPG in which you could basically pause the action, issue commands, then resume. I am not surprised that Square went modern with its combat system, though I have reservations about it. The generic encounters are rather mind-numbing. Again, you could say the same of the original, but relentlessly mashing buttons somehow feels more tedious than the old system. As such, I kind of wish it went even more action and added multiple attack buttons, combos, and a more robust parry system. The thought being if you want this to be an action game, just make it an action game. The boss fight does show how the system can be expanded, but the battle was long and when it was over I don’t know that I felt accomplished. I was kind of just glad to be done with it.

scorpion_demo

The climax of the demo is a battle with the Scorpion Sentinel, also a boss from the original. He’s much harder this time around, but still quite manageable.

The other elephant in the room is also just what can fans expect of this initial installment of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Square-Enix has almost gone silent on the subject since it was announced, but this game is not the entire Final Fantasy VII experience. The assumption, which has mostly been confirmed, is that this game only covers the Midgar portion of the original. It basically ends with the rescue of Red XIII, who is reportedly not even playable in the full version. We do not know how many games this remake will span. We know it’s more than one, and that is all. My guess is that it will be three games, just because publishers seem to like trilogies, but how it ties in with the sequels remains unknown. Fans will want their characters to carry-over, but if this stretches beyond two games it seems unlikely the third would be a PlayStation 4 game. There’s no timetable for the release, and considering how long it took to get this out, I have my reservations about diving into an incomplete experience.

This demo largely accomplishes what it needs to. Fans get a taste for how this very intriguing game will work and play. That’s all a demo really needs to do. It can’t answer whether or not the final release will be worth it, but it provides some indication of what to expect. I do think that game, which I presume is around a 15 hour experience, will be largely good. The questions though about when the next installment will arrive gives me some trepidation, enough so that I will not be a day one buyer. I don’t feel like I need to get to this right away considering the full story won’t be available for years. It makes it easy to back-burner as I still have other titles to finish. I think there will be plenty of fans of the old game to make this a commercial success, so I don’t think there is presently any danger of Square abandoning the project. And from a value standpoint, it can be all but assumed that eventually, when all is said and one, there will be a Kingdom Hearts styled package release of all of the titles at a friendlier price.

Final-Fantasy-7-Remake-Opening-Movie-Trailer

The “full” game arrives April 10 on PlayStation 4.

Those are all things to consider. If you don’t care about the release schedule then by all means play the demo, decide if it’s something you want more of, and go ahead and buy it. I expect there will be critical voices out there on Twitter and such, and they will be loud, but not very impactful in terms of sales. This game will do well because there is so much anticipation for it. And because of that anticipation, Square-Enix was right to take its time and basically build this from the ground up, even if I would have personally been really tickled by a “downgrade” in the form of a sprite-based remake. I expect modern gamers to respond well to the new combat mechanics, though I do wonder if people experiencing this for the first time will be left underwhelmed. They may not understand what made the original so big and exciting to begin with. For them, we’ll only be able to offer up a “I guess you had to be there,” explanation and leave it at that.


Dragon Quest: Your Story

dq your storyIn the 1980s, game designer Yuji Horii set out to create a role-playing experience similar to a pen and paper RPG for a video game console. The goal was to blend elements of those experiences with statistical and complex Western PC games like Wizardry and Ultima as the back bone. In order to make it appeal to a Japanese audience, he wanted to infuse it with what he had learned working with manga and add character and story to the equation. The end result of that was Dragon Quest, known for a time as Dragon Warrior in the West. In creating Dragon Quest, Horii gave birth to the genre we know and love as the Japanese Role-Playing Game, or JRPG for short.

Dragon Quest was a cultural phenomenon in Japan when it arrived for the Famicom game system in 1986. Three sequels would follow and all would be brought to the Nintendo Entertainment System in the West. The series never caught on outside of Japan, and the series skipped the Super Nintendo all-together and didn’t return to a global release until Dragon Quest VII on the PlayStation. The series was the flagship title for game developer Enix, who would eventually be acquired by Squaresoft who had found great success with its Dragon Quest clone:  Final Fantasy. Those two franchises have come to define the JRPG genre and are still to this day looked to as being the trend-setter for the genre, which has admittedly sailed past its hey-day.

No matter, for Dragon Quest still has a dedicated and loyal following. And while the somewhat recently released Dragon Quest XI has taken it in a more modern direction, it still seems that the favorite game of the series amongst the fanbase is Dragon Quest V, also known as Dragon Quest V:  Hand of the Heavenly Bride.

dqv

Dragon Quest: Your Story is based on Dragon Quest V which is easily the most beloved entry in the long-running series.

Dragon Quest V, released in 1992 and eventually in North America in 2009, was the first game in the series released on the Super Famicom and also the first to skip North America initially. Like basically every game in the series, the player controls a silent protagonist that they’re allowed to bestow a name upon. They journey with that player on a lengthy quest partaking in turn-based battles that result from random encounters on both a world map or a dungeon sequence. Where Dragon Quest V seems to really distinguish itself though is in the scope of the journey and subversion of expectations. During the course of the game, the player will be faced with a choice of whom to take as a bride and that marriage will result in the birth of twins who eventually join your party as playable characters. There’s also a monster collecting element at play that undoubtedly influenced the Pokémon series in which after defeating a monster some will randomly request to join your party becoming playable as well. The game ends up following the hero from child to adult and players seemed to really enjoy that aspect of the experience as it breads attachment. It’s actually surprising more games haven’t attempted the same.

To celebrate the franchise, Dragon Quest:  Your Story was conceived and released in Japan in 2019. It has just now become available on Netflix outside of Japan. The film adapts Dragon Quest V for the big screen with a CG adventure that takes the viewer through the events of the game basically from start to finish. The film is written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki with additional directing credits going to Ryuichi Yagi and Makoto Hanafusa. Shirogumi Inc was chosen to handle the animation with additional effects done by Robot Communications.

luca sabrecat

The film opted to go with CG in place of two-dimensional, hand-drawn, animation.

Fans of Dragon Quest V seemed elated at the thought of the game becoming a feature-length film. Animation is definitely the way to go, though I wonder if many were disappointed to find out it would be a CG animated feature and not a more traditional two-dimensional anime. By including the tagline “Your Story,” it seems the film is also aiming to replicate the RPG experience each player goes through, even if it means this time around the hero needs a name.

Like the video game it is based on, Dragon Quest:  Your Story tells the tale of a hero named Luca (Yuri Lowenthal) who at a young age loses his mother to monsters. Together with his father Pankraz (Parker Simmons), Luca embarks on a mission to retrieve the fabled Zenithian Blade in the hopes that it will help them free their beloved. The blade can only be wielded by the Heavenly Hero, whom Pankraz believes to be his son. Along the way, Pankraz will meet his end forcing Luca to go it alone. Only, he’s not alone and will soon be joined by a sabre cat cub and a curious slime. He has allies in the young prince Harry (Zeno Robinson), scrappy Bianca (Stephanie Sheh) and magical Nera (Xanthe Huynh).

dq slime

Yes, we have a slime in this one.

Adapting a roughly 25 hour game to a 103 minute film is certainly a daunting task. Much of those hours in the game are spent grinding away through dungeons and such, but even stripping those away still leaves a lot of ground to cover. As a result, the film can’t really attempt at introducing everything the game throws at the player and basically boils it all down to a few key bullet points. There’s also a liberal dose of montage at work making this film really only accessible for those who played the game. To those who did not it will feel more like an animated summary with no room to breath or to form actual attachments to the characters presented here. This format might actually make it more accessible for younger kids with short attention spans, but older viewers with no familiarity with the brand will probably tune out.

The visuals for the film hold up quite well throughout. Series artist Akira Toriyama was not on-hand for the development of this film, but it’s clear his original art was referenced for the film’s visuals. The sabre cat in particular has a very Toriyama-like appearance as do others. Where the visuals suffer is in the dubbing. Either a direct translation was insisted upon for the English dub or there just wasn’t much attention paid to it because the mouth flaps of the characters rarely sync up naturally. It’s distracting, but this is a film that isn’t exactly dialogue heavy so it’s not as killer as it could have been. There are subtitled options available, and if you’re not averse to reading them it might be the better way to go. Much of the film’s music and sounds were lifted directly from the game, but updated with an actual orchestra where appropriate. It makes the film feel incredibly authentic in its presentation.

Where the film has garnered controversy though lies in its aim. Much of the film up until the climactic battle with the monstrous Bishop Ladja feels like a love letter to Dragon Quest V, but that’s ultimately not the film’s intention. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is aiming a bit higher. It wants to be a celebration of Dragon Quest itself and not just a particular game. Dragon Quest V is merely the chosen vehicle for that delivery. The end contains a twist that is rather high concept. I don’t wish to spoil it, but even if the idea sounded great on paper the execution is a bit awkward. It definitely torpedoes the excitement of the climax adding a layer of complexity onto a story that, up until that point, was anything but.

bianca

Bianca was probably my favorite aspect of the film, though given the rapid-pace of the film she ends up not being featured all that much.

As someone who does not have any particular attachment to Dragon Quest or Dragon Quest V, I can say that the ending did not anger me, though I certainly wasn’t satisfied either. I have played Dragon Quest V, so I was familiar with the story going into this and could follow the film. The ending to the game is possibly the least interesting aspect of it, so changing things up doesn’t bother me on the surface. The execution here is just clumsy, and some of the elements of the ending might have served the film better had they been introduced from the start. This isn’t the type of story that needs or wants a big twist. It doesn’t have enough depth to pull the viewer in and then reap the reward of dumping them on their head. For those unfamiliar with the game, it just feels like a noisy, dumb, fantasy picture that commands little attention. For those who love the source material, they just want to see it to its conclusion likely enjoying the ride well enough while knowing it’s incomplete and only scratches the surface. The film basically spends 90 minutes making fans of the game happy, then the last ten angry.

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Dragon Quest fan groups reacting to the ending.

As a result, Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a film that doesn’t really please anybody. Newcomers will likely find it dry, while longtime fans will be angry with the ending. I suppose Dragon Quest fans that aren’t that enamored with Dragon Quest V might be able to better appreciate what the film was striving for, but I have yet to meet a fan that fits that definition. For me, a casual player of Dragon Quest, I got very little out of this one. The visuals and music are mostly nice, even if I would have preferred a more traditional anime look. The action pieces are dull and the pace of the film is far too quick for any of the emotional beats to land with much impact. I found Luca charming and Bianca especially was charismatic, though she is in maybe 10 minutes of the film as a functioning character, when all is said and done. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a flawed and ultimately disposable piece of entertainment. It’s ending will give fans something to talk about, which unfortunately is likely to become the film’s legacy rather than as a celebration of a beloved franchise.


Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

sonic 2020It was an interesting journey for the world’s most famous hedgehog to go from the small screen to the big screen, but the journey was finally completed Valentine’s Day 2020. Originally set to debut last Thanksgiving, Sonic the Hedgehog famously was delayed when fans reacted unfavorably to the title character’s design. Like Detective Pikachu before it, Sonic the Hedgehog was attempting to bring a CG version of the titular character into a real world setting. Fans were justified in their reaction to the debut of the character as he was only vaguely a representation of a character that’s been around for 30 years. The extra time, money, and effort to redesign Sonic has apparently paid off as the film raced out to an impressive debut weekend topping the weekend box office.

From the start, Sonic was always engineered to be pleasing to the eye. He was famously designed as a mash-up of two iconic characters:  Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat. The fact that someone tied to this film decided to deviate from such a simple and effective premise feels like an ego-driven maneuver, but it’s likely it was just a result of over-thinking. Sonic the character doesn’t fit into the “real world.” He basically has one giant eye with two pupils in it, he’s a  blue hedgehog, but he doesn’t really have visible fur. And his head is bigger than his body in his classic iteration, though he’s since been elongated and given a more sleek figure over the years. The original stab at the character included fur (or quills), which was to be expected. What was odd was the attempt at shaping the face to something more rodent-like, I suppose. The end result was more of a combination of late 90s Michael Jackson and the transformed monkey kid from the original Jumanji. He had an oddly pointed nose and more natural shaped eyes to go along with a toothy smile that seemed to make viewers quite uncomfortable. His body was lean and slightly muscular – a runner’s body. Instead of white gloves he had white fur and was just all-together unpleasant to look at. The redesign basically took things back to the character’s roots. Physically, he’s more Sonic Adventure than Sonic from the Genesis. He still has textured fur as director Jeff Fowler felt that was important for a mostly live-action film, and he has two distinct eyes. He got to put his gloves back on though and his overall facial design is much more true to what fans expected. All in all, he looks nice.

bad sonic

This is not the Sonic fans wanted…

Which is certainly a start. An unappealing lead is hardly a death-knell for a movie, but it doesn’t help when the character is supposed to be visually appealing. It’s not something that can rescue a bad movie though, and I would guess most assumed Sonic the Hedgehog would be a bad movie. It’s not like video game to film adaptations have a good track record. I liked Mortal Kombat as a kid, but I’d hesitate to call it a good film. I did take the family to Detective Pikachu last year and felt it was fine for what it was. I know there are some fans out there that enjoy some of the Resident Evil and Tomb Raider films, but I do not number myself among them. Expectations for a video game movie are low, and will remain low until a Marvel-like run of success so expecting anything out of Sonic felt foolish.

good sonic

Much better!

And perhaps it’s that mindset that contributed the most to my enjoyment of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s certainly easier to be pleasantly surprised by a film when expectations are low, but Sonic the Hedgehog managed to mostly achieve the same level of success as Detective Pikachu. And a lot of that can be attributed to the success of the main character. Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz who has quickly established himself as the best Sonic, sorry Jaleel) is charismatic. He has a manic personality as a result of living life faster than anyone while possessing a sense of honor and responsibility which are traits that lend well to heroism. He’s playful, chatty, inquisitive, and also a touch sympathetic. He’s essentially an orphan who was targeted by some bad dudes (who bare a strong resemblance to another Sonic frenemy) for his speediness and forced to flee his home world with the help of his magic rings. The rings in the film are magical devices capable of opening up portals to other worlds, which is how Sonic arrives on Earth as a kid and is forced to live in hiding. He badly just wants to make friends, and he’s taken a liking to a local cop he refers to as Donut Lord (James Marsden) mainly via peeping on his daily life. One night, in a fit of sadness, Sonic goes a bit too fast and produces something akin to an EMP pulse that knocks out power in the community which gets the attention of the US Government.

jim carrey robotnik

Carrey gets to bring his own personality to Robotnik, but he’s also kept in check and turns in a very fun performance.

The film wisely doesn’t focus much on the government stuff and instead uses a very loose scene to have those in charge select one Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate the cause of the phenomena. Carrey’s Robotnik bares little resemblance to the video game character (more commonly referred to as Eggman these days), but he possesses a quirky personality. Unlike a lot of iterations of Robotnik, he’s also a capable bad guy at times undone by his hubris. Carrey injects some of his usual comedic antics into the role, but nothing that becomes too over-the-top. He’s entertaining, and the only character other than Sonic capable of stealing a scene.

Robotnik quickly ends up on Sonic’s trail and from there the film turns into a road trip buddy comedy with Sonic forced to come out of hiding and seek the help of Donut Lord, aka Tom. The film does a good enough job of balancing the comedy with action. Tom and Sonic mostly get along from the start so it doesn’t play up tension too much between the leads. Not all of the comedy lands as this is a PG film primarily looking to entertain children. There’s a confrontation at a bar that’s a bit groan-inducing, as well as some jokes that amount to product placement, but the film doesn’t linger on anything long enough for it to grow boring or stale. The main plot beats are simple and easy enough to follow even for younger viewers making this one more about the ride than the final destination.

sonic ring

Sonic’s rings play an integral role in the film acting as portals between worlds for Sonic to escape into.

Visually, the film’s special effects hold up just fine. No, I don’t suppose I ever really bought into the concept of Sonic actually existing in this world like I may have at times with Pikachu, but I didn’t feel that harmed my enjoyment of the movie. The film makes liberal use of the slow-motion sequences popularized by the X-Men franchise when illustrating just how fast Sonic can move. Like Quicksilver, Sonic will appear to move at normal speed while the world around him is nearly frozen in time allowing him to correct a situation or just make mischief. It’s not exactly original, but it’s also not something that needed improving on. The film’s score and sound effects also make use of sounds fans of the game have grown up with. Honestly, the film could have used more of the original music as what is adapted for this film is basically the only music that stands out.

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Sonic’s human allies, played by James Marsden and Tika Sumpter, don’t offer much, but they also don’t need to.

Beyond those sounds, there’s actually not a ton of fan-service in this one. There are some easter eggs, mainly the attackers early in the film, but the film mostly keeps everything in check. What’s here is enjoyable and most of it is easy to spot. Perhaps even too easy as I was hoping to come home and find out I missed a bunch of stuff that I could look for on another viewing, but I basically caught it all. I was a little disappointed that the film wasn’t able to make use of past voice actors, most notably Jaleel White, but maybe the studio tried and it just didn’t happen. The same can be said of past songs like the theme for the Saturday morning cartoon or the Sega CD “Sonic Boom” track. There is a post credits cameo that’s worth waiting for that all but guarantees a sequel as well, so if you like this then I guess that’s good news.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a competent take on the character that successfully adapts him for the big screen. It’s not a great film, but it is a short one coming it around 99 minutes and that’s all the time it needed. It’s a film worth seeing if you’re a big fan of the character, or if you’re like me and you’re just looking for a movie to take the kids to that won’t bore or annoy you. If you liked Detective Pikachu then I think that’s a pretty good comparison and a solid indicator on if you’ll like this one. Sonic moves at a faster pace and has fewer lulls, but it also doesn’t have as much heart. Its human characters are bland and uninteresting, but they thankfully are not tasked with carrying many scenes by themselves. This is a film that knows what its audience wants, and that’s Sonic. He’s front and center and quite enjoyable to spend time with. If you ever wanted to see a Sonic movie, it’s hard to imagine one turning out better than this.


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