Rocko’s Modern Life – Season One

rocko_season_oneThe late 80s and early 90s were such a fun time for cartoons. Television was rapidly expanding and there was huge demand for content for both children and adults. People who had grown up on Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry were also making the cartoons and wanted to do better than what had become the standard for television animation. Disney got the ball rolling by injecting more money into the animation and overall production for its shows. In the process, the company proved that it wasn’t as big a risk as some thought to go straight for a syndicated order of episodes because there was always room for more cartoons on television. Other artists also started getting opportunities to create better and more diverse cartoons. These were actually funny and largely felt like a response to the very dry and formulaic works put out by Hanna Barbera and Dic.

Nickelodeon was one of the first cable networks to really go after children. It was somewhat of a contrast to its sister channel, MTV, which was going for a teen and young adult audience with the obvious focus being music. MTV grew more experimental as the years went on though and it even started airing animation. Up until that point, Nickelodeon was largely a network consisting of low budget live-action programs like You Can’t Do That on Television as well as re-runs of old general audience programming (Dennis the Menace, Flipper, etc.) with classic sitcoms at night. The only cartoons really being shown were Looney Tunes and some children’s animation the network licensed such as The Little Koala and David the Gnome. Parent company Viacom was seeing the success the big networks were having with exclusive children’s content and also with the stuff being made for MTV and decided it was time for Nickelodeon to get into the cartoon business.

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Games Animation was created so that Nickelodeon could keep production of its Nicktoons in-house.

The Nicktoons were born of this creative desire. The network sought upstart creators and basically gave them free reign to create a show that Nickelodeon would air as part of a block on Sunday morning. Saturday morning was the domain of the broadcast networks, but Sunday was essentially ripe for the taking especially as fewer and fewer families were spending the morning at church. The block launched in August of 1991 with three brand new cartoons:  Doug, Rugrats, and The Ren and Stimpy Show. The construction of the block is interesting in that it began with a very grounded show about a middle-school aged kid in Doug, then went to a more imaginative show where babies go on adventures largely created in their own head, to the surreal and more classically constructed comedy show with Ren and Stimpy. The block was a huge success virtually guaranteeing future Nicktoons. It’s debatable which was more impactful, Rugrats or The Ren and Stimpy Show, but the latter definitely seemed to be the most influential on subsequent Nicktoons. Problems with that show also caused Nickelodeon to go ahead and found its own animation studio:  Games Animation.

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The main cast of the show (left to right): Rocko, Spunky, Heffer, Bev Bighead, Filburt, Ed Bighead.

The first show launched by Games Animation was the Joe Murray created Rocko’s Modern Life. Premiering in the late summer of 1993, Rocko’s Modern Life was the fourth Nicktoon and first cartoon to be added to the lineup since its premiere two years earlier. It was a pretty big deal to have a new Nicktoon, and it also completed the Sunday block making it an even two hours. Joe Murray had wanted to make an independent film called My Dog Zero and only when Nick passed on that did he turn to Rocko. Rocko was originally conceived as a comic, but Murray wasn’t able to find anyone willing to publish it when peddling it around in the late 80s. He pitched the concept to Nick when it passed on My Dog Zero expecting them to pass, but hoping they’d at least give him some money for a pilot that he could put towards his passion project, My Dog Zero. Nickelodeon ended up not only commissioning a pilot, but also a 13 season order. After largely animating the pilot himself (“Trash-O-Madness”), Murray found himself in the unfamiliar role of a TV creator and director with a staff of over 200 people split between the US and Asia.

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Plenty of classic animation gags are relied upon such as Rocko’s brain constantly jumping out of his head when he screams.

Rocko’s Modern Life would run for 4 seasons totaling 52 episodes (100 segments). During its run it helped further the careers of some pretty important people. It basically launched the career of voice actor Carlos Alazraqui (Rocko, Spunky) who went on to star in other Nicktoons as well as many Cartoon Network originals. Charlie Adler was already a name familiar to cartoon fans at the time, but his portrayal of the husband and wife duo Ed and Bev Bighead really showcased his talents as he often would record the duo’s interactions with each other in one take. It’s hard to imagine him being entrusted to perform the roles of Cow and Chicken for the show Cow and Chicken without the Bigheads. Tom Kenny was also cast as Heffer Wolfe and he is likely best known now as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants. And it isn’t just Kenny who went on to star there, the first director hired by Murray for the show was the late Stephen Hillenburg who went on to create the aforementioned SpongeBob SquarePants.

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Many episodes contain Rocko tackling a common task only with disastrous results.

The first season of Rocko’s Modern Life consists of 26 segments spread across 13 episodes. In this current climate of increased television time, I decided to take a trip down memory lane with Rocko and his buddies. A local retailer, Bull Moose, specializes in media such as music, games, and movies and I sometimes take a stroll through its retail location in nearby Salem, New Hampshire. It’s a great store that fills a niche that has been all but abandoned by most retailers. The current COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered all such spaces, but Bull Moose continues to operate as an online space. More importantly, the company continues to pay all of its employees which is an incredibly noble gesture and one that should be emulated by other companies. I wanted to show my appreciation for that by spending some money at the website, which is how I ended up with the complete Rocko’s Modern Life collection. In truth, this was a long time coming as I wanted to reconnect with the show. I see it sometimes on one of Nickelodeon’s channels, but the network seems to re-air a lot of the same episodes over and over. I also was originally holding off on buying this series as I hoped an uncensored version would arrive some day, but I have since given up on that.

Which is a good thing, because my re-watch of the first season could not have gone much better. Rocko’s Modern Life is a show about a wallaby named Rocko who has recently set out on his own in a 90s world. He’s an immigrant from Australia living in the US in the fictional town of O-Town, basically an every town USA concept. The show does not expressly state how long he’s been in the US, but long enough to have formed close bonds with friends Heffer and Filburt (Mr. Lawrence). Rocko lives alone in a small house with his happy, but dim-witted, dog Spunky. He works as a clerk at a comic book shop and he’s basically just struggling to get by. Many episodes focus on the mundane, like taking out the garbage or doing the laundry, but things go wrong with Rocko often remarking “[Blank] Day is a very dangerous day.” Episodes of the show are mostly stand-alone, but there is some semblance of continuity from one episode to another. We see Rocko get fired from one job and hired at a new one, characters reference past experiences, and eventually we’ll even see Filburt enter into a relationship with another character.

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Each episode is introduced with a hand-painted title card.

As a children’s show, Rocko’s Modern Life packs enough laughs to satisfy most kids, especially early 90s kids who had spent the past two years with Ren and Stimpy. It’s a disservice to call Rocko’s Modern Life a Ren and Stimpy clone, but both do love to indulge in gross humor. There’s lots of boogers, drool, farts, and vomit gags in this cartoon. Rocko and his friends are also prone to screaming with exaggerated results such as eyes popping out and brains bursting out of a skull. It’s a visual treat for those who enjoy physical comedy in their cartoons, especially cartoons that really take advantage of what the medium can do. It also allows the show to go to wild locations with Heffer spending an episode in “Heck” while Rocko gets to visit many different locations such as the beach, the movies, a plane, and so on. The show also possesses some surreal qualities such as the episode “Flu-In-U-Enza” where Rocko as a fever dream in which his vomit comes to life to coach him through his illness. Most of the world is also slanted with lines going to great lengths to not meet up. It’s a very stylized show, with good animation and colors.

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Bev Bighead is one of the break-out stars in Season One. Her attempts to seduce Rocko in “Leap Frogs” is a real highlight of the first season.

Where Rocko really separated itself from its peers though is in its depiction of everyday life. Rocko being short on money and newly set free from adolescence makes the show extremely relatable for anyone in a similar situation or who has gone through it. Stretching a paycheck, managing responsibilities, taking care of yourself – these are things many of us only really become attuned to when we’re out on our own. Most can probably recall a gag or two from this show that went over their head at the time, only to have it make sense later on. Some of the plots are also very adult in nature with perhaps the best example being “Leap Frogs” in which Bev Bighead feels unwanted by her husband. It’s almost like a Simpsons plot or maybe even a sitcom as Bev tries to then make herself attractive to Rocko in hopes of making her husband jealous. It’s a really fun and interesting episode that was eventually deemed too adult and was pulled from Nickelodeon’s regular rotation.

Rocko’s Modern Life is profoundly funny in its writing, acting, and direction, but it also has some value to impart on its audience beyond that. It’s never preachy, and it also never feels like an arbitrary quota for educational content was in play, but nevertheless some episodes are beneficial for its younger audience in ways beyond mere entertainment. “Who’s For Dinner?” deals with adoption and the emotions one goes through when they first discover they’re an adopted child. Rocko is also a role model character for just how loyal and unfailingly kind he can be. He is at times meek to a fault, but learns to stand up for himself when the world really tries to screw him over. He is patient towards buddy Heffer, who in turn is a harmful glutton mostly oblivious to how harmful his actions are for Rocko. He does have his own reckoning in “To Heck and Back,” though his behavior doesn’t really change much following the episode.

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Sadly, we’ve been deprived of Heffer’s romantic tryst with a milking machine. The full clip can be easily found on the Internet, but it would have been great to have the original toon restored.

As mention previously, there is some censorship when it comes to Rocko’s Modern Life. Often, the show got away with a lot and the episodes made it to air without controversy, only to be edited later. That’s true with the episode “The Good, The Bad, and The Wallaby” where a segment involving Heffer, a male, getting hooked up to a milking machine has been removed. My understanding is the segment wasn’t restored largely because it can’t be cheaply. When these shows were edited for air, no one had the foresight to think money could be made down the road so they just edited the masters and basically lost the footage forever. The episode was released on VHS unedited so they could have transferred it off of that if they were willing, but that didn’t happen. Future edits would be made to the show, such as rebranding the restaurant The Chokey Chicken as The Chewy Chicken, but Nickelodeon didn’t have anyone go back and remove the offending name from prior seasons.

The DVD release of Rocko’s Modern Life – Season One is bare bones. It was originally released by Shout! Factory on two discs with no bonus features. It’s also arranged in airdate order, which is not the preferred order to watch the episodes. The compilation release put out in 2018 containing the whole series is the same. It would have been fun to hear some commentary tracks by Joe Murray and some of the other creative people involved, but oh well. The episodes really stand on their own though, and Season One is the only season to feature the original theme song which I prefer to the one performed by the B-52’s in the subsequent seasons. Season One is also incredibly strong and it might be my favorite season of the show, but that remains to be seen as I work my way through the show. As a kid, The Ren and Stimpy Show was always my favorite of the Nicktoons, but as I get older I find Rocko’s Modern Life has taken over that throne. It’s funny, manic, and very 90s in its style and presentation, but also surprisingly relatable. I’ve had a hard time shutting it off and it’s been a real crowd pleaser in my home of four. Hopefully my enthusiasm continues and I come back and tell you how much I loved Season Two and beyond.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (1991)

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The “hired birthday party turtle” look was certainly a bold presentation decision.

Last week we took a look back at the 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. As a result, it only makes sense to this week look back at that game’s official sequel, Turtles in Time. Turtles in Time is almost fundamentally the same game. It’s a 4-player beat ’em up from Konami starring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Players take control of their preferred turtle and battle their way through stages populated by a seemingly endless supply of Foot Soldiers, only this time they’re trying to rescue the Statue of Liberty instead of April and Splinter (yeah, it’s a bit odd).

Being that Turtles in Time came out a couple years after the first arcade game it’s noticeably better looking. Konami didn’t just take the old assets and clean them up, but rather seemed to redesign the game from the ground up. The Turtles have new animations and even new moves, while the boss characters (aside from Shredder and Krang) are all new as well. It’s still a mostly left-to-right side-scroller though, and surprisingly Konami removed the multi-level features some stages in the previous game had and instead keep things on the same plane. There are two auto-scrolling levels to break things up and most of the settings are different as well. And that should be expected, since as the title implies this game features a time travel gimmick. It’s just a plot device as the players have no agency over the time travel, Shredder just pops in at the end of the third stage to say he’s banishing the player to a past time. You then battle through a prehistoric world, a pirate ship, an old west train stage, a futuristic street world (complete with hoverboards), and a moon base before returning to modern day New York. It’s a fun gimmick though as you get to fight Foot Soldiers in cowboy attire and some come riding in on dinosaurs. Pretty much the only aspect of this game that’s inferior to its predecessor is the lack of voice actors from the cartoon. Instead you get generic voices for the characters. The Turtles and Shredder are fine, but Krang sounds really stupid without the work of Pat Fraley.

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“Pizza power!”

The biggest change from the prior game is in how the Turtles control. They’re still limited to two action buttons:  jump and attack, but now possess advanced moves as well. Pressing the two simultaneously will unleash a special attack unique to each character. This move is usually one that increases the range of the attack as Leonardo will spin in place with his swords, Donatello will vault forward, and so on.  Holding down a direction will also cause the player character to run and from there the Turtle can either lower its shoulder for a ram attack or go into some handstands and even perform a sliding attack. It’s most often from these maneuvers that players can initiate an attack that sends the enemy flying at the screen. It’s mostly a neat gimmick, but it also functions a bit like a one-hit kill attack. The improved animations also not only make the game look better, but enable the Turtles to better fight off attacks from both the front and the rear as they no longer need to completely turn around in order to attack an enemy behind them and instead can deliver a little kick. Jump kicks are still effective and each Turtle can also perform a hovering jump attack in which they contort themselves into a funny looking cannonball like formation while “flapping” their weapons in an attacking motion.

For Turtles in Time, Konami returned the pizza power-up which simply restores health, but also introduced a new one. A red pizza box with a bomb on top of it is featured in a few levels and once collected causes the turtle to rapidly spin for a short duration. The character is free to move all around the screen and is invulnerable in this form. Players who replay the game over and over can learn where these are and when to grab them as often times the screen isn’t densely populated with enemies when you first see it. In one instance, a bunch of Foot Soldiers serve almost like a red herring and once dispatched the much stronger rock soldiers enter. Smart players know to save the pizza bomb for when they show up and not waste it on the fodder.

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The catalyst for this adventure.

The Turtles may possess more maneuvers to utilize when fending off enemies, but the enemies are also improved as well. There are various new Foot Soldiers that wield a variety of weapons like bombs, spiked discs, and giant axes among other things. The rock soldiers are quite durable and some come packing machine guns or grenade launchers.  Boss characters are also pretty stout and some are tough to stagger. You end up learning who you can just wail away at and who you need to back off from. It’s still a pretty tough game in an arcade setting, since it wants to eat quarters, but it feels a bit more fair than its predecessor. The final battle with Shredder is actually one of the easiest fights in the game as he can be staggered relatively easily. The cheapest one might be from the penultimate level which is manned by Krang. He pilots a spacecraft that has this bubble gun that fires from each side, only you can be in front of Krang away from those guns, but it will still connect. And like the first game, there’s also a double boss fight at the end of one stage, only this time it’s Tokka and Rahzar instead of Bebop and Rocksteady. They’re surprisingly manageable though as their main method of attack is a ramming attack in which they can inflict damage upon each other with if you get them lined up right.

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This is the only way you’ll get to battle a Foot Soldier riding a dinosaur.

An unexpected highlight of this game is its soundtrack. Instead of opening with the cartoon theme, the game begins with “Pizza Power” from the Coming Out of Their Shells tour, a mostly terrible stage show that did at least give us one catchy track. The rest of the soundtrack was composed by Mutsuhiko Izumi and it’s awesome. The various level themes from this game still pop into my head from time to time at random. The same boss theme is utilized for each boss encounter, but it’s excellent so you’re not likely to get sick of it. I guess no one should be surprised as Konami routinely releases games with strong soundtracks.

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Krang and his damn bubble gun are super annoying.

Like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Turtles in Time received a home port for the Super Nintendo. Since the final NES Turtles game was titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, the SNES version of Turtles in Time was titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV:  Turtles in Time. Unlike the previous arcade game, the SNES experience is arguably better than the arcade. The game looks almost the same with only a slight downgrade for some of the boss characters and some animations removed. A lot of the voice samples were removed as well, but they still kept most of the speech from the Turtles themselves. The only clear negative is that lack of 4-player options even with a SNES multi-tap. The special moves each Turtle possesses also costs some health to utilize, as they did in TMNT III, and the game is adjustable in how many lives the players begin with: 3, 5, or 7. Players can also earn more lives by accruing points as every 200 points earns a one-up. To make it even easier to accumulate points, the auto-scrolling levels were re-branded as Bonus Stages. You can still die in these, but enemies basically take one hit to kill so you can really rack up the points. The futuristic scrolling level, Neon Night Riders, was also altered to position the camera at the back of the Turtles to give it a different flavor (and show off those sweet Mode7 graphics) before returning to the side view for the boss fight.

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The added battle with Shredder is a highlight of the SNES port.

In addition to the gameplay tweaks, the SNES version also adds new bosses and stages. A Technodrome level is added in-between the third and fourth stage which is a welcomed addition as it was pretty strange to go through the arcade version without a Technodrome level. It ends with the boss fight with Tokka and Rahzar, and they even have new attacks:  a freeze blast for Tokka and fire attack for Rahzar as well as a team-up maneuver. Following that, the players go into an elevator area that ends with a showdown against Shredder. The encounter is perhaps the most memorable in the entire game as Shredder is positioned in the foreground and to damage him you have to throw Foot Soldiers at him via the screen-toss maneuver. In addition to those boss fights, the end of the third stage had the pizza monsters (who are reduced to just regular enemies in the stage) replaced with the Rat King, Slash replaces the cement monster in “Prehistoric Turtlesaurus,” while Bebop and Rocksteady (in pirate attire) replace the original Tokka and Rahzar encounter. And lastly, the end fight with Shredder basically has Shredder re-skinned with a Super Shredder look. He still functions the same, though instead of generic energy wave attacks he can shoot a fire attack that covers the floor, an ice attack that he aims at an angle (basically a jump attack counter), and a mutagen blast that looks like a green hadoken fireball and temporarily turns the Turtles into ordinary turtles.

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Bebop and Rocksteady also get to join in on the fun on the SNES. You have to admire their commitment to the gimmick.

Because the SNES port is so good, Turtles in Time is a far easier game to return to than its predecessor in 2020. You could go out and find an old arcade cabinet, or buy the Arcade1Up one, but it’s a far better deal to just grab the SNES version. It doesn’t look quite as nice due to the removal of some animations, and since the game didn’t utilize the cartoon voice actors you won’t miss the speach it removed, but the added levels and boss encounters more than makes up for any missing animation. It’s also far more manageable as I think this is the first game I ever beat on Hard Mode. There’s even an option to change the skin of each character making the Turtles resemble the original Playmates action figures. There was a remake of this game released in 2008 titled Turtles in Time Re-Shelled for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It’s a remake of the arcade version and it was done on the cheap. It has 3D visuals, but they aren’t particularly impressive. About the only benefit the game featured was online play, but I don’t know if you can even take advantage of that anymore. There was also a port of the arcade version of this game stashed away on the 2005 PlayStation 2/Gamecube/Xbox title Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare. The game is based on the 2003 franchise and isn’t very good, but the arcade port contained as a bonus feature is playable. It’s a bit choppy looking and lacks the original soundtrack though. And since it’s an arcade port, it doesn’t have the added features of the SNES game. The player characters are also mapped to the controller ports, like an arcade game, so you would need the PS2 multi-tap if you had that version and wanted to play as Michelangelo or Raphael.

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If you want to experience this game in 2020 just get the SNES version so you can experience those sweet, sweet, Mode7 visuals.

If you grew up in the 80s and 90s on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles then Turtles in Time is still a good time in 2020. It’s much better than the other Konami brawlers and is better than most of the TMNT games that followed. No version for the Sega Genesis was made, but that console did receive The Hyperstone Heist, which re-used the assets from this game and is a comparable experience, though not quite as good. Because I find the SNES version superior to the arcade one, it’s really the only one I recommend today. If you happen to come across the arcade version though, you’ll probably still have a good time. As long as you don’t have to use actual quarters.


An Easter Viewing Guide

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Never forget the reason for the season.

If you are a regularly reader at The Nostalgia Spot, then you’re probably familiar with the holiday version that comes every December:  The Christmas Spot. Christmas is such a big deal in our society that there is an abundance of Christmas themed media, enough to sustain an annual blog for 25 consecutive days. And people like Christmas, despite how much grumbling surfaces every year about decorations appearing in stores in October or the music filling grocery store aisles for weeks on end. I know people like it, because in all likelihood The Christmas Spot has more regular readers than the rest of the stuff I do. My readership always spikes in December and I assume there are a handful of readers that bookmark the page only to come around for December.

When it comes to television, no holiday compares with Christmas and the only one that comes close is Halloween. When I was a kid though, the holiday tier list when like this:  Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Thanksgiving, any holiday that resulted in a day off from school, and then the rest. Christmas was number one because it was the big one:  the toy holiday. I loved toys as a kid, and I still do, so it was a clear number one. Halloween came at number two because it was a unique experience, and it came with lots and lots of candy. Easter was like the compromise holiday. I had Catholic parents, but the religious aspect of the holiday was never enforced in my house so it was just a day that Santa-Light, aka The Easter Bunny, entered my home at night and hid a basket of goodies somewhere for me to find in the morning. That basket contained assorted Easter candies, all of which were awesome:  Reese’s Eggs, pastel M&M’s, Peeps, Cadbury Eggs, and so on. Usually there was one central, big, piece of candy be it a chocolate bunny or one of those giant candy bars that went beyond a king size. In my house, the Easter Bunny also always brought a toy of some kind. Usually it was a modest thing. At most I seemed to get a couple of action figures or a small toy vehicle playset like a TMNT motorcycle thing or something. And that’s why Easter felt like a compromised merger of Christmas and Halloween in my house. There were toys, but way fewer than what Santa would bring, but also a good amount of candy, but not as much as I’d come away with on Halloween.

The combination of toys and candy, plus the fun of hunting for an Easter basket or Easter eggs, made Easter an important day in my house. And I carry forward that tradition now for my kids and I look forward to watching them experience the holiday each year. And in my house, holidays are marked by indulging in moves and television based around that holiday theme. For Easter, I’ve had to put in some work to find stuff. There’s an assortment of biblical videos and such that are just terrible. I mean, if you’re into that component of Easter and get enjoyment from them then more power to you, but they’re not for me. I look for the fun stuff that centers around rabbits and junk. Somewhat to my surprise, I’ve put together a solid collection of Easter specials for my kids and I to take in this year and I thought I’d share that with you all. It might seem a little late in the game with Easter so close, but we’re not talking a massive volume here. And most are suitable for all audiences, so that’s a plus, though I did include one that would probably best be reserved for adults only, or at least teens and adults. And I should stress, I’m not saying these are all necessarily good or essential, there’s definitely some crap here, but it’s crap that at least has nostalgic appeal. And when you’re talking one, annual, viewing there’s a considerable tolerance level in place. Let’s get this going and we’ll go in chronological order of release starting with…

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I can hear this image.

Easter Yeggs (1947)

The classic Easter themed Bugs Bunny short directed by Robert McKimson is probably best remembered for the annoying little kid that just says “I want an Easter egg!” over and over. He, like everyone else in the short, is voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc. In this cartoon, Bugs Bunny agrees to help out the Easter Bunny whom he stumbles upon early in the short who appears to be pretty stressed out over this whole Easter thing. Turns out he’s actually just lazy, but Bugs is game and finds out that being the Easter Bunny is no fun. He eventually encounters Elmer Fudd who has designs on consuming the Easter Bunny (what a killjoy) leading to a fairly traditional Bugs and Elmer cartoon. Which is just fine because Bugs Bunny cartoons are pretty wonderful and I need to write about them more. If you want to watch this one, it’s available as part of The Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3 and I can’t recommend the entire Golden Collection enough. It’s also available in HD on the Platinum Collection Volume 3. If you’re strapped for cash though, it can easily be found online for free.

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He’s just so cute!

Happy Go Ducky (1958)

I completely forgot about this cartoon until this year when I just happened to stumble upon it. This is a Tom and Jerry short from the tandem of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who are better known for producing some of the worst cartoons you’ve ever seen. Back in the 40s and 50s though, they were the Tom and Jerry guys churning out award-winning cartoons to rival what Warner and Disney were doing. This little short features an appearance by Quackers, a seldom-used duckling character voiced by Red Coffee doing his best “duck” voice a-la Donald Duck. Quackers is just adorable, as he’s left as a gift for Tom and Jerry by the Easter Bunny, but proceeds to drive them nuts as he floods the home in search of an adequate swimming pool to meet his needs. The sweet thing is that he eventually overwhelms and wins over the duo with his cuteness. Watch this one with young kids and you’ll be hearing them imitate Quackers, as best they can, and his frequent line, “Happy Easter!” This short is available as part of the Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection Volume 3 which is still easy to find and cheap to acquire (especially if you opt for a used copy). It can also be found online, but many places feature a cropped version that probably aired on television years ago as this cartoon was originally done in Cinemascope. Interestingly, there’s an edited version on YouTube just titled “Happy Easter” that isn’t cropped, but is missing several scenes as nearly 2 minutes were shaved off of the running time. This might be my favorite of this list.

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Snoopy helping Linus avoid more embarrassment. He’s a good boy.

It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (1974)

You can always count on The Peanuts gang for a holiday special. These kids even have an Arbor Day special, for crying out loud. Charlie Brown and his friends seem to have a problem with everything, including Easter. For Peppermint Patty, it’s teaching her friend Marcy how to color eggs. For Sally, it’s finding the right pair of shoes for the holiday. And for Linus, it’s people mocking him for his belief in an Easter Beagle. As was the case with Halloween, Linus appears to have picked the wrong holiday mascot to back. What’s rewarding is the other kids remind him of his Halloween foolishness, but he’s somewhat vindicated in this one. And then there’s Lucy, getting victimized by Snoopy once again. Despite the title, Charlie Brown plays a very small role in this one though he still gets reminded that he is indeed Charlie Brown come Easter. This cartoon gets bonus points for making a good Christmas joke when the kids go to the mall and find it already decorated for that holiday. See people, it’s not a new thing to complain about Christmas arriving early in stores as this thing was made in 1974. Strangely, it doesn’t look any network is airing this special this week (I may have missed an earlier airing this month), but it is available to stream on Amazon. Or you could be like me and just buy a DVD to watch at your leisure each season. Charlie Brown holiday DVDs and Blu Rays are often really easy to find at a cheap price during the offseason. And as a bonus, you’ll get that Arbor Day special!

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This one just might cause you to miss the old shorts.

Daffy Duck’s Easter Egg-citement! (1980)

After the era of the cartoon short ended, but before the explosion of cable providing for a landing spot for old cartoons, Warner Bros. put their now meager staff to work making television specials starring the Looney Tunes characters. Many of them featured Bugs Bunny and some included old shorts with some new wrap-around animation connecting them, but many also featured all new toons. The catch for these though was that the quality was abysmal. If you thought the Warner shorts of the 50s looked poor then you better make sure you sit down before watching anything made in the 70s or 80s. Daffy Duck’s Easter Egg-citment is no except as it looks downright terrible in some places. There’s a shot of Daffy and Sylvester both digging for food out of the trash that is so garish and bright it makes me feel ill. This TV special contains three new shorts:  The Yolks on You, The Chocolate Chase, and Daffy Flies North. In between the shorts, Daffy is present to argue with the animator as he did in the classic short Duck Amuck only it’s far less amusing this time around. None of these shorts are particularly good and all recycle old gags and concepts from past toons. Some even recycle assets from other cartoons. Of the three, I suppose Daffy Flies North is my favorite, but it’s also the least festive. Mel Blanc is at least on hand to do the voices, though he’s obviously a little old at this point. It was also an odd choice to pair Daffy with Sylvester in The Yolks on You since both characters sound so similar. This TV special isn’t a very good Looney Tunes production, but a not very good Looney Tunes production is still better than a lot of other stuff. Plus it’s a lot shorter than The Ten Commandments! If you want to watch this, it’s included on The Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 6 as well as The Essential Daffy Duck. It’s also received a stand-alone release. Warner isn’t particularly protective of it, so you can also find it online without too much issue.

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This really happened.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – “The Turtles and the Hare” (1991)

The Fred Wolf produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon that dominated the late 80s and early 90s did not feature a Christmas episode, but it did find time for an Easter one. In it, the Turtles are preparing for Easter when they have a chance encounter with Hokum Hare who actually isn’t the Easter Bunny, but is actually the hare from the fable The Tortoise and the Hare, hence the episode’s title. He sure looks the part through as he’s a big, white, bunny in purple overalls. He’s also pretty annoying. The Turtles end up in his world, Fableland, in pursuit of some crystal and the story turns into mostly nonsense as many episodes of this show do. It all ends with Hokum serving as the Easter Bunny for some Channel 6 Easter Egg Hunt. Most of the episodes of this show are terrible and this really isn’t an exception. It’s amusing for how absurd a concept it is to basically have the Turtles meet a pseudo Easter Bunny, and as terrible as the show is it usually never fails to produce a smile or two from me just because I once loved it so. For nostalgia lovers only. You can find this episode as part of Season 4 of the old cartoon which is available on DVD. If you’re feeling really retro it received a stand-alone VHS release back in the day too. It’s also not particularly hard to find online as well.

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Cartman is relegated to one scene in this episode, but it just might be my favorite one.

South Park – “Fantastic Easter Special” (2007)

South Park has had a pretty nice run of holiday specials, and it saved one of its best shots for Easter. A parody of The Da Vinci Code takes on the form of an Easter special in which Stan questions all of the bizarre traditions surrounding Easter and tries to square them up with the whole Jesus thing. They don’t make sense, and he soon uncovers an underground Easter Bunny cult of sorts that his father belongs to which seeks to protect the true meaning of Easter, as well as the true pope of the Catholic faith. It’s bonkers, and it never lets up as it finds a way to just keep escalating the crazy as the episode continues ultimately building to a pretty satisfying conclusion. This one being South Park, it’s not for the kids nor is it for those who take the holiday seriously. It’s pretty hilarious though, and it came around when the show really hit its peak. If you want to indulge in this one, you’ll be able to see it for certain on Comedy Central (as well as the other, lesser, Easter special) tonight at 5 EST and it’s available in various formats as part of Season 11 of the show.

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Horrifying.

Teen Titans Go! – “Easter Creeps” (2017)

The Teen Titans Go! series has become a reliable source of holiday entertainment. Often times, they find a way to work Santa into the mix too as they did in the first Easter special and in the “Halloween vs Christmas” episode. “Easter Creeps” is amusing to me because the show envisions the Easter Bunny as a humanoid rabbit. He basically looks like The Noid only he’s pink and wears a vest. He lays eggs, which grosses every one out, and he’s overall just kind of creepy as the episode title implies. And because of that, he’s declared the worst thing about this otherwise wonderful holiday. This episode is a bit like the “Halloween vs Christmas” one as it’s going to pit the Easter Bunny vs the Tooth Fairy. It’s a silly experience that’s funny enough without overstaying its welcome. Cartoon Network airs this show all the time and tonight is no exception. A block of Easter programming is premiering at 7 EST tonight that will feature a new Easter special from the show. I can only assume this episode will be featured as well since it’s a full hour of programming.

That’s my list for 2020. If you think I missed any worthwhile Easter entertainment feel free to let me know. I’m always on the look-out for more holiday specials. Happy Easter!

 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989 Arcade)

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Faithful to the cartoon in every way except the cabinet art. It has since become charming on its own.

What began as a joke between aspiring comic book creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, eventually morphed into a multi-media juggernaut bestowing wealth and status upon the two. Along the way though, few predicted such big things out of a property titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The books sold well, but they were independently produced and in small numbers limiting how much money could be earned. Plus they were pretty violent and would never be considered suitable for a general audience. Eastman and Laird believed in it though, they just needed to convince those with the means to catapult their franchise to believe in it. Toy companies passed though, but eventually doll maker Playmates, needing to add a “boy’s toy” to its portfolio decided to take a chance. In order to help market the toys though, they needed something more suitable than the black and white, ultra-violent, comics that existed and a cartoon was born.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was conceived basically as a means of promotion. A direct-to-syndication order was out of the question, and even a full season was apparently deemed too extravagant. Instead, a five episode mini-series was produced for air in 1987. The confidence in the property was still too low to even warrant a more traditional half-season order of 13 episodes. Five episodes was all it took though, and kids were hooked pretty quickly causing them to flock to stores and leave bare the TMNT section of the action figures aisle. A second season would be ordered, and apparently confidence was still a bit tepid as that was only 13 episodes. It wasn’t until the third season, which premiered in 1989, that the property received a direct-to-syndication massive order of episodes.

Because of the wavering, Turtle-mania basically had to wait until 1989 to really flourish. That’s when all of the merchandise started to arrive now that it was a proven hit. The first movie would arrive the following year, with the second close behind in 1991. 1989 was also the first year when video games started to arrive, and the no doubt biggest video game release of the year for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the arcade game of the same name.

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The Turtles made their arcade debut in 1989.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game gave fans a chance to basically play through an episode of the show. It was as true to the cartoon as any game would get and even featured voice talent from the show. The very first stage has Splinter sending the Turtles into a burning building to rescue April O’Neil and culminates in a showdown with Rocksteady and ends with Shredder making an appearance. The game throws a seemingly endless supply of Foot Soldiers at the Turtles and brings in more characters from the show such as Baxter Stockman (in human form), Bebop, Krang, among others and ends with a showdown against Shredder himself.

The game was created by Konami, who was awarded the license for all of the video games for this era. At this stage, Double Dragon had taken arcades by storm ushering in the era of the Beat-Em-Up genre of games. This genre, in which one or more players controlled a character who fended off wave after wave of enemies, became the preferred dumping ground for licensed software. Konami was arguably the leader in this development as it looked to the genre to support not just the Turtles, but also The Simpsons and X-Men. Konami’s take on the genre was far simpler when compared with rival Capcom or Sega. Rather than introduce complicated maneuvers to the action, Konami focused mostly on performance and presentation making sure their game resembled the source material while remaining accessible.

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Battling Bebop and Rocksteady with all four Turtles at the same time was something few thought was possible at the time.

Even by Konami standards, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fairly simple gameplay experience. Players control one of the four Turtles with each one being mapped to a specific joystick on the four-player version of the arcade cabinet (the less popular two-player edition allowed players to select a character). Michelangelo was oddly assigned the color yellow instead of orange, a mistake Konami would double-down on with the sequel, Turtles in Time. Each Turtle could perform just two actions:  jump and attack. Players could combine them for a jump attack, but special super moves were years away. Players simply walked right for the most part and took down whatever came their way. A skateboarding level was tossed in to mix things up, though that just made the level auto-scroll instead of the usual deliberate pace. Still, little tricks like that work wonders on kids and most cited the skateboarding level as the highlight of the gameplay experience. Stages also introduced multi-level layouts and there were some interactive elements in the stages too. The only power-up was a pizza to restore health, a logical decision.

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The skateboarding level was just as mindless as the others, if not more so, but damn was it cool!

The music and visuals were where Konami really distinguished itself. The gameplay may be shallow, but there was enough glitz to sort of hide that. The Turtles looked and moved great and the boss characters were often bigger and a touch more elaborate. It felt like a real technological marvel to battle Rocksteady at the end of stage 1 followed by Bebop in the next stage, only to later take on both of them at the same time! The game was also murder on quarters as it was primarily designed to extract as much money as possible out of kids (or more appropriately, parents) and the game was pretty long to boot. Enemies are not staggered easily, or at all, forcing the players to either be deliberate or just charge in. The game is noticeably easier with 4 players, especially for the final boss who splits into three enemies. My most vivid memory of the game is playing it at a cousin’s birthday party at a roller-skating rink (yeah, dated). We made it to the Technodrome and were in the midst of battling Krang, the penultimate confrontation before Shredder arrives, when a kid who had been hanging around watching the whole time accidentally stepped on the power chord ending the game. My cousin, the birthday boy, was apoplectic while my aunt was probably relieved that she no longer had to feed us quarters. I was disappointed as I think it was the first time I even saw that much of the game, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for the kid who accidentally stepped on the thing.

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The NES port was woefully inferior, but it gave us Tora!

As was the case with any popular arcade game, Konami moved to release the title to home consoles. Since it arrived after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES), it had to be re-titled as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:  The Arcade Game. It was a severe downgrade as the sprites all had to be redone with less detail and fewer colors. The Turtles were just green and whatever color their mask was, while the boss characters often were limited to two or three colors as well. Konami tried to make up for this by adding additional stages, but you can’t put lipstick on a pig. It was also a lot easier so the game was actually beatable without a ton of quarters, but it was an immensely inferior experience.

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The Arcade1Up release bundles the game with its sequel, but it’ll cost ya. Plus the smaller scale makes playing as Leo and Raph more than a little awkward.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a huge thrill for arcade-goers and fans of the cartoon in 1989. It had the look, the sounds, and the swagger to get attention and mostly satisfy. In 2020, the nostalgia does make up for the diminished returns, but only so much. This is a simple and depth-free gameplay experience so it’s really only worth playing for the experience of seeing everything, before it runs out of steam. It makes it hard to recommend as an arcade cabinet for one’s home, whether you’re talking about buying an old cabinet or investing in Arcade1Up’s emulation machine as you’re not only devoting a considerable sum of money towards such a thing, but also the space it will occupy in your home or place of business. The NES port holds up even worse, and while I considered it a passable experience as a kid, I think I’d rather play any of the other TMNT NES games over it. The time to get one has mostly passed on it as in the late 90s one could have acquired a cabinet in decent shape for a reasonable sum as the nostalgia wasn’t quite there yet to drive up the price. Still, there are other ways to experience it and those might be worth a look for individuals wanting to take a stroll down memory lane or introduce a kid to the game. If you’re in the right headspace, you can have a bit of fun with this one, just don’t expect the fun to last very long.


Onward (2020)

onward_tease2020 is probably going to be remembered for a lot of things, as most years are, but it’s hard to imagine it being more remembered for anything other than Covid-19, aka coronavirus. The global pandemic has shuttered businesses, cost people their jobs (and lives), while turning us all into hermits. Social distancing is a phrase we’ve all learned and are unlikely to forget. And as we move beyond this era which will hopefully end in a return to normalcy, there will be things forever associated with this period in time and one of those items forever linked to Covid-19 is the Pixar animated feature Onward.

Onward was wide-released on March 6, 2020. Roughly two weeks later, the film industry came to a screeching halt. Even when the film opened, some were already staying away from crowded places before many states in the US started forcing closures of non-essential businesses. As a result, Onward became Pixar’s lowest grossing movie through no fault of its own. As of this writing, it’s estimated to have earned a little over 100 million dollars. With no end in sight to the current climate, Disney saw no reason to keep it in theaters. Disney decided to make the best of the current situation and quickly pivoted Onward to digital using it as a lure to get more subscribers to its relatively new streaming service Disney+. Patrons could pay to rent the film digitally on March 20, or wait for it to arrive on Disney+ on April 4, less than a month after its theatrical release. Because it’s so new and people are forced to stay at home, it’s possible more eyeballs will be trained on this film than some other recent Pixar fare because it’s quite a novelty to have a brand new Pixar feature so readily available.

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Brothers and Ian and Barely are going on a quest to resurrect their father and maybe learn a thing or two about each other.

Onward is a buddy comedy starring two brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), who embark on a “quest” to restore their late father to life for one day. The hook of the feature is that it’s set in a modern-day fantasy world. The premise is essentially what would a classic fantasy world have evolved into once things like electricity were discovered? The answer seems to be that magic was largely abandoned in favor of modern technology which advanced largely in step with our world. The main difference is that elves and orcs live side-by-side and some never found better housing than hollowed out giant mushrooms. The film was conceived by director Dan Scanlon who shares a similar backstory to the central characters here in that he and his brother lost their dad at a young age. Jason Headley and Keith Bunin were brought on to refine the screenplay and the story centers on the brother protagonists and explores their relationship with each other.

Ian is the more central figure of the story. He’s about to turn 16 and is a shy individual with few friends. Barley, his older brother, is more boisterous and in-love with the world’s fantastical history. He’s also a bit of an activist, as he sometimes clashes with their mother’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) police officer boyfriend (a centaur voiced by Mel Rodriguez) when he stands in the way of demolition crews looking to tare down old world relics. When their mother was pregnant with Ian, and Barely was quite young, their father passed away after suffering an illness. With Ian coming to age though, their mother presents them with a gift their father left for them and it turns out to be a magic staff with instructions how to bring their father back for one day. Ian sees this as a way to finally meet the man he only knows through pictures and an audio recording. When the spell goes wrong though, the boys are forced to seek out a new source of magic which takes them on a road trip. Barley, being a history buff, is excited to embark on what he considers a quest while Ian just wants to get it done and over with as quickly as possible so they have the maximum amount of time available to them to spend with their dad.

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An early, quiet, moment where Ian listens to a recording of his dad he’s probably played a thousand times.

The film is largely a comedy with some fantastic set pieces and visual moments. The humor is derived from both physical comedy and conventional gags. The film mostly puts the visual gags of introducing fantasy creatures into suburbia upfront freeing it to be more creative as the film rolls along. It’s genuinely funny, though like the best Pixar features it relies more on heart and characters. Barley, being the excitable one, is often impulsive which clashes with Ian’s cautious approach. Barley would rather follow his gut while Ian wants to stick to a map the two find early on. The two need each other though, for it turns out Ian has an aptitude for magic and is able to make use of their father’s staff and the spells in Barley’s possession normally relegated to a Dungeons & Dragons type of game. And Ian needs Barley’s help because he can do practical things like drive. There are natural moments of conflict that can arise from this situation, and it’s easy to see these moments coming as Ian largely keeps quiet and defers to Barley, but you know he’s simmering on the inside at times. The film is a bit of a disguised film about what it means to be brothers. It seems to want viewers to think of it as a father-son pic at the onset, before pivoting to this brotherhood theme.

As someone who grew up reading lots of fantasy books, I welcome this setting and premise of Onward. Ian’s magical staff starts off rather neat, but it does threaten to become a crutch in order to advance the plot. The boys often run into an obstacle with the answer to such being a new spell for Ian to try out that Barley suggests. The film does at least utilize this arrangement to force the characters to learn how to work together. Initially, Barely’s suggestions on spells will be met with doubt from Ian with the miscasts even affecting Barley in a negative fashion. Ian will have to learn to trust his brother’s knowledge of the arcane, as well as his own abilities, in order to actually wield it effectively. It still ends up functioning as a deus ex machina, for the most part, but at least there’s the added goal of bringing the two characters closer.

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Barley’s enthusiasm for history, which for this world is basically Dungeons & Dragons, is a source of embarrassment for brother Ian.

Because the film does deal with death in some way, it naturally lends itself to comparisons to Coco (and I suspect the upcoming film Soul will as well). It’s a bit unfortunate as Coco is quite possibly the best film Pixar has ever produced, it’s certainly my favorite. And it’s a wonderful film that Onward really can’t match. The plot beats here are pretty easy to see coming and it’s basically accepted at the outset that this is a film that will try to make you cry come the end. It’s at least more sincere and focused than a similar Pixar flick The Good Dinosaur. Where that film felt manipulative at times, this one does a better job of being sincere and earning its watery moments. Some viewers might feel conflicted about the ending, but it’s at least the one moment where the film does wander off the formula a touch. It’s accepted that things won’t go perfectly for Ian and Barley in their quest to be reunited with their father, but that also won’t stop viewers from yearning for that outcome.

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Corey and Laurel could have been an interesting pair for the film’s B-plot, but it doesn’t really find anything unique for them to do.

Ian and Barley’s adventure is the main focus of the film, and it’s smart to do so. There are some solid side characters, but they have a hard time taking our focus away from Ian and Barley. The main side plot involves their mother , Laurel, who pairs up with a manticore named Corey (Octavia Spencer), who happens to know where the brothers are heading and, more importantly, knows they’re about to unleash a curse upon the world. The two are in a race to stop them, but we mostly know how that will play out based on similar stories. The brothers also have a couple of brushes with the law, but that’s mostly resolved fairly quickly before the film can get all Smokey and the Bandit on us. Mostly when the film was away from the brothers I just wanted to get back to them. I understand it needs to show us what’s happening elsewhere so the eventual meet-up between all of the characters is earned, but it wasn’t as fun as it could have been. Which is a shame, because the characters of Laurel and Corey have chemistry together and I think there was room for them in the film, but they just weren’t able to find it.

Mychael and Jeff Danna handled the film’s score and it’s not afraid to lean into that fantasy setting vibe. There’s also an original song over the ending credits performed by Brandi Carlile. The score is mostly fine, though I was disappointed with it in some areas. It doesn’t take many chances to meld the fantasy with modern sounds. When it goes for a gag in which Barley selects some questing music it also falls flat. Maybe they originally intended to license something, but instead it’s just bland synth-rock when I was looking for something bombastic akin to Rhapsody of Fire.

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There’s magic to be found in this world, but the film doesn’t rely on it for visual spectacles too much.

Onward is a film rescued by its heart. It has a solid premise for a story and finds a way to arrive at a clever conclusion, even if the plot beats to get there feel very familiar. I think it could have done more with its setting. The idea is there, and some of the gags are well-played, but the whole thing feels surprisingly underplayed both visually and in the score. The actual technical abilities of the film also are not wow-inducing. Pixar is somewhat harmed by its own legacy in that respect since we’re so used to the studio raising the bar, but instead Onward is just comfortably fine. It does save its best piece of technical art for the end, which is a logical move, but it’s also not the type of visual you’ll walk away from saying “You have got to see this!” The relationship of brothers Ian and Barely though is what makes the film, and it’s not afraid to lean on the two. Pratt and Holland are both charismatic and believable in their roles and the characters are handled with grace. It’s hard for the audience to side with one over the other. They’re both right in some places, and weak in others. It’s easy to relate to both and thus hard to even pick a favorite.

It should also go without saying that the focus of the film on loss is easy to relate to. We either are that someone or know someone who has lost their father. Many can even relate to Ian as someone who never knew a parent due to tragedy. It’s a very compelling plot device to ask an audience what they would do in order to have one more day with someone they love. As a result, it’s almost impossible to separate this film from real world examples. If the film dwelled on that too much it would have felt manipulative, but instead it presents the premise and then lets it mostly simmer on the back burner. Because that sense of loss is such a personal thing, I suspect this movie will appeal more to people willing to allow themselves to “go there” and be vulnerable for 100 minutes or so. I would say Onward will be among the most polarizing for Pixar, but I think that’s too strong a word. There will be some who cite this as their new favorite from the studio, but few will number it among the worst. I think the divide will largely fall on the line of those who consider it great, and those who found it entertaining.

I lean more towards the latter, as I think the film offers a totally worthwhile and enjoyable experience, but it won’t be threatening to dethrone the likes of Coco and Finding Nemo for me. And in many ways I don’t think my opinion matters. Onward feels like a movie made by Dan Scanlon (and other talented people) for Dan Scanlon to process and deal with the tragedy in his past. He wasn’t able to wield a magical staff, but hopefully he and his brother were able to arrive at a similar place to Ian and Barley. And ultimately, I hope Onward ended up being the movie he wanted to make.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze

turtlesIICowabunga dudes, it’s the 30th anniversary of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie! On March 30, 1990, New Line Cinema together with Golden Harvest released a film to theaters that seemingly no one wanted to make. This isn’t that surprising considering when Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird first started soliciting offers for a toy-line based on their comic book property there were also few takers. Still, considering how successful the cartoon and toys had become, one would think studios would have learned a lesson from the likes of Mattel and Hasbro in not passing on the property, but the Turtles concept was so uniquely weird that many just weren’t able to accept it as a bonafide franchise.

The Turtles originated in the pages of Mirage comics, but it was the cartoon that really catapulted the franchise to the heights it eventually reached. Despite that, the original film was a nice olive branch to those who first fell in love with the property as a comic. That first film took very little from the cartoon, basically just the colored masks, April’s profession, and an affinity for pizza, and took far more from the comic. The basic plot was lifted almost directly from that source material with just a few changes. The end result was a tonally dark film as the Turtles dwelled in the murky sewers of New York City and did most of their fighting at night. It was also probably a practical choice to obscure the costumes and puppets (in the case of Splinter) a bit to maintain realism. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop was brought in to create those wonderful suits and the film holds up pretty well for what it is even today.

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Grab your pizza and pork rinds and celebrate – the first TMNT movie is turning 30!

The only problem I have with that first film is that I already reviewed it on this blog years ago. With no new media based on the film to talk about here, I’m forced to get a bit creative with my celebration of that film and instead turn to the 1991 sequel. Incredibly, New Line was able to fast track a sequel and have it land in theaters on March 22, 1991 –  just days before the first film turned 1! It’s basically another instance of the powers that be having misgivings about the franchise. Everyone assumed the property was a fad and would die out quickly. And while Turtle-mania did probably peak in 1990, it certainly wasn’t dead come 91 and the original cartoon series wouldn’t air its season finale until 1996. Part of the reason the sequel was fast-tracked is because of how few believed in the first film. Even Playmates, holder of the master toy license and party responsible for the creation of the cartoon, passed on creating toys for that film assuming it would bomb. There wasn’t a ton of marketing tie-ins for that film, and even TMNT branded Pork Rinds (as seen in the film) arrived well after the film premiered.

A sequel was basically a way to course-correct for those poor decisions leading up to that first film. The quick turn-around though meant some actors weren’t available for the sequel, and some didn’t return for other reasons. The Casey Jones character was not brought back, though he did return in the sequel to this one. Judith Hoag was also recast as April O’Neil with Paige Turco. It is alleged that Hoag had made a fuss on set of the first film in defense of the stunt actors and that was partly to blame. Since this film has a different director, it could just be he wanted to cast an actress that more resembled the character in the cartoon (something that will impact other areas of the film). Robbie Rist and Brian Tochi return as the voices of Michelangelo and Leonardo, respectively, while Raphael (Laurie Faso) and Donatello (Adam Carl) were recast. Ernie Reyes Jr, a stunt double for Donatello on the first film, impressed the producers enough to get a role in the sequel as a proper actor playing the pizza deliveryman Keno, who understandably crosses paths with the Turtles. Shredder was also recast, now played by Francois Chao and voiced by David McCharen. Kevin Clash is also back as the voice and puppeteer on Splinter.

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Paige Turco hopefully got a nice pay day for this thing.

Director Michael Pressman sought, either on his own or at the urging of other parties, to make this film resemble the cartoon more than the first film had. As a result, co-creators Eastman and Laird had little input on the film. They wanted to continue the story began in Mirage Comics and bring in the scientist Baxter Stockman and have the secret of the ooze match-up with the comic in being alien in origin. Pressman and others apparently disagreed and pretty much the only thing it appears Eastman and Laird got away with was keeping specific elements of the cartoon, such as Bebop and Rocksteady, out. The film downplayed the dark and grime and removed almost all of the violence in favor of slapstick. The Turtles basically never utilize their weapons outside of the opening fight scene, and even there they barely use them. Michelangelo would rather pop bad guys with a yo-yo and sausage links, swung around like nunchaku, and just generally act goofy. Most of the scenes are also brightly lit, and while there’s some conflict between brothers Leo and Raph, it’s hastily done and the stakes feel smaller as Raph no longer comes across as a troubled soul.

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Shredder is back and he’s got mutants of his own this time.

For the plot of the film, Pressman and writer Todd Langden take the picture to a pretty logical place. After being dispatched at the end of the first film, Shredder returns rising from a landfill where he was apparently dumped (the NYPD and Sanitation Commission apparently unknowingly dumped a body left in a garbage truck) and has setup shop in a junkyard. His motivation is now simply revenge, but he needs help. For that, he turns to TGRI, the company responsible for creating the ooze that turned four baby turtles and their caretaker rat into the beings we know and love today. He kidnaps TGRI scientist Professor Jordan Perry (David Warner) to enlist him in creating super mutants of his known, settling on a wolf and a snapping turtle he’ll name Rahzar and Tokka (both voiced by Frank Welker), respectively.

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Donnie had some reconstructive beak surgery between films.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be forced to deal with Shredder and his new minions, as well as the remnants of the Foot Clan. Adding to the drama is their search for a new home, having been cooped up in April’s swanky new apartment since the events of the first film. It’s a straight-forward plot that does fine with its modest 88 minute running time. Fans likely expected Shredder to return, as he always does in the cartoon, and while they probably wanted to see Bebop and Rocksteady it wasn’t a surprise to see surrogates in their place. Tokka and Rahzar are surprisingly even dumber than the warthog and rhino as they’re barely intelligible, but balance that out with impressive strength. I know some fans to this day are disappointed the proper duo wasn’t realized here, it’s hard to argue with the end result though as Jim Henson’s Creature Shop did an amazing job with both characters.

Henson’s Creature Shop is actually the film’s greatest strength. The Turtles were all re-tooled between films and remain plenty convincing. Michelangelo is basically the only one of the four that looks almost identical to the costume in the first film, as he had expressive eyes in that film while the other three seemed to have their eyes obscured by their masks. Now all four have a more approachable appearance and there’s definitely less grit here. Donatello is the one that looks the most different as his head-shape is completely different. I don’t know why this is the case, but he also feels like the character changed the most in general from film-to-film, possibly to de-emphasize the performance of Corey Feldman or maybe just to nerd him up to bring him more in-line with the cartoon. Shredder’s costume also looks great, and the big surprise at the end (yeah, you probably know what that surprise is, but I’ll still retain some mystery for a 29 year-old film review) also looks pretty great.

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The Turtles would rather fight with toys than weapons this time around. In the film’s defense though, I thought Mikey’s yo-yo routine was hilarious when I was 8.

Sadly, other than the costumes there isn’t much to like about this film. The script has been punched-up to be far more jokey and all-together less serious. Unfortunately, the script seems to think little of its audience and the jokes barely please 8-year-olds. The only true laugh in this film is one line by Mikey in the junkyard when they first spot the individual they’re looking for. Again, I’m not spoiling anything here. Otherwise, everything else is stupid and predictable. The fight choreography, apparently partly owing to the fact that the new masks had even worse visibility than the originals, is abysmal. The bad guys just stand around to get punched or kicked or hit with some jokey object and the Turtles basically never get hurt. Some complained the first film was too violent, but at least it showed the consequences of that violence. This film does not.

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David Warner is one of the newcomers for the sequel.

This is also the type of film one watches and just feels bad for the actors involved. David Warner does his best with what he’s given, and he’s actually game for some of the corniness of the script. Turco unfortunately has less to work with while the April character is firmly placed in the backseat for this one. The Keno character feels like an audience surrogate. He’s a teen, but possesses enough child-like enthusiasm to potentially allow kids to relate to him. He’s given some of the worst lines in the film, but again, I can’t really fault the performance of Reyes Jr. for my dislike of Keno. To perhaps no surprise, Keno has never resurfaced in any other media based on this franchise.

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Yes, this really happened in 1991.

I liked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II as a kid, and that’s the only audience the movie cared about. I liked seeing my favorite heroes back in a live-action setting, and seeing the new mutants was a trip. I even liked the “Ninja Rap” and I actually have some affection for that even to this day as it’s the moment the movie just says “Screw it, this is what this film is about,” as it embraces it’s corn-ball nature. And the costumes are great, but just about everything else is dumb. All of the things I liked and still enjoy in the original film aren’t here, aside from the costumes. None of the questions that film left open at its conclusion are even addressed here. We don’t know what happened between April and Casey, and we never really get a rematch between Turtles and Shredder. It’s a shame, as the costumed actors (Michelin Sisti, Mark Caso, Kenn Scott, Leif Tilden as the four turtles) are still asked to do some pretty impressive stuff considering all of the gear they’re wearing, but not in a visually interesting manner. As a result, I cannot recommend this movie unless you’ve watched the first film so many times that you’re just desperate to watch something different. Though I hope you will have sense enough to stop here and not go onto the third film.

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“You mean, you don’t like us anymore, dude?”

If you want to watch this film or its much better predecessor (and you should watch that if you’re reading this on the date of publication) you can find all of the original films on Netflix. They’re also available on DVD and Blu Ray and should be quite affordable.


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.


Verotika (2019)

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Verotika (2019)

Say what you will about the various art Glenn Danzig has released to the public, but the man should be admired for doing what he wants with said art. At a young age, Danzig decided he wanted to be a musician and for over 40 years he’s been committed to that industry. Along the way he’s taken risks, both creatively and commercially, and some have worked out well financially and some have not. Always though, he’s stayed true to his own vision and rarely does it feel like he’s ever compromised that vision.

In the mid-90s, Danzig decided he had other pursuits he wanted to undertake. He launched his own comic book publishing company and named it Verotik. Verotik specialized in horror and hyper sexualized stories that the main publishers in the world of comics would never touch. Around the same time, he also started poking around the world of Hollywood eventually taking a small role in the film The Prophecy II in which he was almost comically dispatched of in a few seconds of screen time. It was also around this time he was boasting about being sought for the role of Wolverine in a future X-Men film, though how serious such overtures were at the time are unknown.

For who knows how long, Danzig has wanted to climb into the director’s chair and oversee the creation of his own film. In 2019, that dream came true. And true to Danzig’s musical legacy, his film is undoubtedly uncompromised and the film Glenn Danzig wanted to make. Verotika is a horror anthology film based on properties launched by Danzig’s comic line. Some of the stories are more or less taken right from the page and adapted for the big screen. In creating the film, Danzig formed a partnership with Cleopatra Entertainment in what looks to be a multi-film deal. The movie was released in June of 2019 in very limited amounts, basically just special screenings attended by Danzig himself in high profile markets like LA and New York.

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Glenn Danzig steps off the stage and into the director’s chair and appears to be pretty happy with the end result.

Verotika was never screened in a city near me so I never had to make the perhaps difficult decision of whether or not to attend. The film has been nearly universally panned by critics with the often repeated comparison being that this is The Room of horror films. That doesn’t mean all of the reviews have been necessarily negative. Some expressed that film is not good, but it’s charmingly bad in ways that some of the most awesomely bad movies are. The film is low budget and full of the sex and violence that appeals to Danzig. The cast is populated by trained actors and actresses as well as veterans of the adult film industry, so I think anyone familiar with Danzig’s work likely has a good idea of what kind of experience they’re in for.

As a longtime fan of Glenn Danzig’s music, I felt like I basically owed it to myself to watch this film. I love the music of Danzig, but my fandom has largely ended there. What little of Verotik I thumbed through rarely appealed to me. Danzig’s directorial efforts with his music videos are mostly bad, and I basically assumed that I am going to dislike this film. Maybe I’ll be able to laugh at it, but I don’t know. I’m not the type of person that enjoys watching bad movies typically. At least with Verotika I’m signing up for an anthology that totals just 90 minutes, so it’s not a huge investment of time and there is a built in mechanism to reset my attention span. And even though I have in some ways dreaded viewing this film, I know my curiosity is too much to ignore so when the film went up for pre-order on Amazon I placed my order and waited.

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Fans of the Verotik comics will likely get a thrill out of seeing these characters come to life on the big screen. Here we have Morella played by Kayden Kross.

Verotika arrived and alongside it came an unexpected surprise. The physical release for the film is the standard Blu Ray and DVD combo, but it also includes a CD soundtrack as well which is pretty cool. It’s not a particularly great soundtrack, and the only Danzig track is the previously released “Eyes Ripping Fire,” but it’s still a nice gesture. The soundtrack is also available separately on vinyl, for interested parties. I settled into watch this one, and since it is an anthology film, it presents nice opportunities for breaks during the feature. There are three segments and they are:  The Albino Spider of Dajette, Change of Face, and Drukija:  Contessa of Blood. There’s a framing device in-between them all hosted by Morella (Kayden Kross) in a Vampira-like role as she introduces the macabre to come while some hapless girl (Noelle Ann Mabry, with possibly the best performance of the entire film) is tortured.

Women being victimized by other women seems to be the name of the game in this film. All three stories feature that in some capacity, though in the first segment the woman, Dajette (Ashley Wisdom), is inadvertently harming women. I was prepared for a lot of things when I sat down to watch this. I knew there would be gore, I expected plenty of nude women, and I also anticipated some unintentional comedy on account of the fact that this is a relatively low budget film. What I did not anticipate was boredom. Yes, Verotika is a bad movie, but as far as awesomely bad is concerned I’m not sure I’d classify this as such. There’s a lot of bad acting, and what’s not helping the actors out is the need to utilize accents in two of the three segments. The script is poor and at times laughable, but not gratuitously so. It’s a just a lot of wooden scenes surrounded by poor lighting, hollow audio, and irrational editing. There’s even a shot where a corpse blinks and it’s confusing how something like that makes it into the final cut of any film.

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Dajette and the spider that haunts her.

The three stories ask very little of the audience. Only the first felt the least bit ambitious as it concerns a woman, who when sleeps unleashes some sort of spider-demon on the populace. The spider wants to mate and kill in that order, and our protagonist needs to come up with a way to stop it. The segment relies way too much on actress Ashley Wisdom who is not up to task. The spider (Scotch Hopkins) does better, but the script gives him little to work with. He’s also burdened by some ambitious prosthetics that really aren’t all that bad, but could have been helped out with better lighting choices.

That segment might actually be the most narratively sound as the other two leave a lot to be desired. “Change of Face” follows the not very mysterious Mystery Girl (Rachel Alig) as she goes around cutting the faces off of young women and then masquerading as a stripper during the night. A detective pursues her, but is laughably played by Sean Kanan and hard to take serious. This segment features the most padding as on three occasions it resorts to extended segments of strippers performing their routine in a rather mundane fashion. Verotika would actually disappoint in the titillation department if stumbled upon at two AM on Cinemax.

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Verotika is not particularly gory, but it does bring the blood by the tub-full.

The third segment is even more droll as it casts Alice Tate (who performs quite well under the circumstances) as Drukija, an Elizabeth Bathory type who poaches young girls from a village to bathe in their blood. She one-ups the countess by also feasting on the heart of a young girl. The story has no pay-off and is more of a fetish as we watch Drukija murder several young women. It takes place in a medieval setting so the costumes are a bit interesting and her ceremonial bathing apparatus is certainly a sight to see, but it offers little else.

Verotika is neither sexy, nor particularly gory. There is a lot of blood in some scenes, but the most gratuitous probably occurs during the film’s opening minutes. The film is not thought-provoking and it isn’t interested in exploring much of anything. And at 90 minutes it overstays its welcome by a lot. It’s hard to even pick which segment is the superior one. The concept of the spider is the most complex, while the “Change of Face” segment is the most procedurally ambitious as it attempts to present a murder-mystery thriller, but it really just exposes the weakness of the talent on hand. I guess the third is the best by default since it’s at least visually interesting and presents a decent premise. It just doesn’t move beyond its premise and could easily have been half as long. Or better yet, it could have just been a music video.

Glenn Danzig not only wrote and directed this picture, but he also provided the score. If you’re familiar with his Black Aria albums then it should sound mostly familiar. There are a few moments where I liked what I was hearing, but for the most part it’s forgettable. The licensed tracks are largely reserved for the stripper scenes, and in that respect they work fine. They’re not particularly sexy, but it’s not like Danzig was going to pay Rick Rubin to utilize “She Rides.”

Obviously I did not enjoy my time with Verotika. That doesn’t change what I started off with though. This is a film made by Glenn Danzig for Glenn Danzig. He’s gone around the country and personally shown this film to audiences and he appears to be quite proud of it. I can only assume that this is the film he wanted to make. And that is great. I wish I could put myself in position to pursue my own art in such a fashion, so even though I didn’t enjoy it I still applaud the man for the film he created. There’s just no way I’m going to seek out his next film.


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.

manny05

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.

kevinmillar

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.

hittingminigame

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?

05redsox

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.

mvpminors

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.

spirit_splinter

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.

bunny_bebop_tease

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)
arcade_crate

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:

neca_dimensionx_trio

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!

UPDATE May 5, 2020 – Well, the identity of the figure has been revealed and I can say that I was way off. NECA promised some oddball releases for Loot Crate, and the Arcade themed crate certainly fits that bill. The website was just updated with a picture of what appears to be a ninja turtle getting electrocuted. It either has a light built into it or it’s merely glow in the dark and the character appears to be in mid scream. It’s not super exciting, but I suppose it will pair well with the eventual Roadkill Rodney release.

cartoon_crate

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
bunny_minions

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.

UPDATE May 5, 2020 – NECA’s Randy Falk confirmed in an interview with Pixel Dan that crate #3 will indeed be Rocksteady in an Easter Bunny costume. I put the update here so that hopefully you still got to enjoy my wild speculation before having it spoiled for you!


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