Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King

It’s fascinating to play these games as an adult and also with the benefit of a rewind button. If I can take you back to the early 90s when these games were released, the way games had longevity was through difficult. When arcade games were difficult, it was a financial transaction. You pump in quarters to keep playing. But when home console games were difficult, it’s so that parents wouldn’t feel ripped off while game developers inflicted sadistic gameplay on kids. If you were a tenacious child, then coming home after school every day to see if you could get past the “Cave of Wonders” or “I Can’t Wait to Be King” was how games worked. You would get destroyed again and again with only a limited numbers of lives and continues and checkpoints. The underlying message for kids (if these games have a message): be perfect or die.

Playing them as an adult, it speaks volumes that even with a rewind button to speed things along, these games are still punishingly difficult. Some if it is because of poor design like weak object detection (like getting hit when you weren’t touched by an enemy) or platforming that doesn’t reach the gold standard set by the Mario games. But ultimately, with Aladdin and The Lion King, you have two pretty typical games of the era: they were tie-ins, they were brutally difficult, and, credit where it’s due, they’re beautifully animated for their era. Carrying that Disney license ensured that the games didn’t look bad even if their gameplay felt designed to upset and anger children.

That’s the weirdest thing about the way these games play. As an adult, I would never want my kid to play a game like this. It’s fine for me with the nostalgia and the rewind button and all that. But there’s really nothing rewarding happening here. Sure, the Mario games have their level of difficulty, but what’s always made the Mario games stand apart is that they feel, on some level, fair. Even as a kid, you know that if you missed the jump or got struck by an enemy, it was kind of on you. And especially once you reach Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, the games offer ways to be more forgiving without completely nerfing the experience.

Aladdin and especially The Lion King really hate the player. They almost feel like a cruel joke played on every child who loved the movies and then gets introduced to some of the most punishing levels the designers were able to concoct. And again, I get the business decision: Parents are the ones paying for these games and a game that can be beaten in a weekend makes for unhappy parents. But look at the puzzling element added to The Lion King and tell me that’s a game for a child. I’m a grown-ass man and I was repeatedly checking YouTube to figure out how to advance (I had less of a problem with that on Aladdin, although the boss fights still gave me trouble).

The Disney Classic Games collection is a funny little nostalgia box that really leans hard into “nostalgia” because any realistic recollection of these games has to acknowledge their unforgiving difficulty. With the rewind button frequently in use (although it can cause the game to glitch something awful by basically losing control of your character), the games are manageable, but they’d probably only be considered “fun” by masochists.

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 videogames No Comments

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Talk about starting the gaming year off with a disappointment. I got stuck on an early boss, switched over to Zelda, and then came back to this one and still got whomped. I read strategy guides and I read about difficulty, and this just the kind of game I don’t like playing. I was hoping for a return to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with some better graphics, but it oddly has less charm than the PlayStation classic and feels more cumbersome. It always feels like I’m playing off-brand SOTN even though it’s from the same creator.

I guess I could really grind it out on this boss battle and see if the game eases up, but how much time do I have to invest to beat this one guy? Also, it’s not like I’m getting any closer to beating him. He knocks me out pretty quickly, and part of the appeal of these Metroidvania games is that they unfold with exploration. I’ve now hit a wall and rather than dump more time trying to make the best of Bloodstained, I’m moving on to something else. Bummer.

Friday, January 10th, 2020 videogames No Comments

The Legend of Zelda

I did not have a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) growing up. The first console we ever got in my house was a Super Nintendo, which we loved very much (thanks, Mom!). But that didn’t stop me from playing NES games over at friends’ houses. However, one game I never really got to play was The Legend of Zelda, which makes sense. While the Super Mario Bros. games allow for multiple players or you can switch off lives and levels, Zelda is a big, expansive game of trial-and-error. It’s a game the begs you to get lost in it, to dig out some graph paper, and to record the location of every secret treasure. It’s a game that demands you get together with your friends who are also playing it and figure out the location of the secret rooms and how to get into various dungeons. Before social networking became a thing, the social element of Zelda was essential (it was either that or pick up a strategy guide).

As a kid, I can imagine that playing The Legend of Zelda was a blast, but I am now an adult. The game is part of the NES Classics lineup on Nintendo Switch, so I decided to finally play through it. However, since my free time is more finite and all my friends aren’t playing a game from 1986, I decided to take a couple shortcuts. First up, I happily used an online strategy guide to help direct me in making my way around Hyrule. Second, and what I’m sure others will declare as blasphemous, I made use of the rewind feature when enemies started raining a beatdown on me. I regret nothing. I wanted to play the game, but I also realized that there was no way in 2019 for me to play it as originally intended unless I forsook other responsibilities like “spending time with my wife” and “my job.”

And having beaten the game (or at least the first quest; I don’t really see the point of completing the second quest), it’s no surprise why the game is a classic. I actually felt a little sad that I didn’t get to play this game when it came out because I can easily see getting lost in making maps and talking about how to beat dungeons with friends. That’s the communal aspect of video games that’s kind of lost right now and has kind of wandered over to “solving” TV shows like Lost and Westworld. Now the community of video games is who can you beat and how badly you can beat them rather than a small group of young friends coming together to get to the end of a quest. As an adult, I’m no longer the target audience for a 34-year-old video game, if that game has any large audience at all. But I’m grateful for the experience of having played it, shortcuts and all.

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 videogames No Comments

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice

Anime was a mistake. So was playing this game until the end.

It’s really my fault, though. I’m not the same person as I was when I started playing these games over a decade ago, and the writing just isn’t as strong. Capcom has tried to add in new gameplay wrinkles while keeping the same charm, but the series has become overloaded on characters and relied too heavily on Apollo Justice, who doesn’t seem to have much of a personality, or at least not a personality that makes him significantly different from Phoenix Wright. Plus the series has never really figured out how to iron out the kinks in its logic leaps, so what you’ve got is kind of an overwrought visual novel that has failed to evolve as a game.

Of course, my silly need to finish games I’ve started reared its ugly head and instead of just quitting, I felt the need to complete the story. Thankfully, I was able to get it in under the wire for 2019, but now I can say I’m done with the Phoenix Wright games. They were fun while they lasted, but this series is out of juice, so unless Capcom does some sort of major revamp where they start telling better stories while bringing the gameplay out of 2005, I think this is the last one I’m gonna play. On to better games in 2020!

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019 videogames No Comments

Favorite Articles of 2019

2019 is almost in the books, so here’s a collection of my favorite articles I worked on this past year:













Tuesday, December 31st, 2019 movies, personal, television No Comments

The Dan Quinn Show Goes On

Today, the Falcons announced that despite a 1-7 start and bungling the cap space on an offensive line that didn’t work, the Falcons will be keeping coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimtrioff on board. While you can point to the 5-2 record after the bye or the decisive wins over the Saints and the 49ers, the truth of the matter is that Dan Quinn is the best bad option the Falcons have at this point.

As my brother pointed out, you can’t get rid of Dimitroff because a new GM would want a new head coach. As Dave Choate at The Falcoholic points out, you can’t get a new head coach who’s any good because the cap hit created by Dimitroff prevents the flexibility to build a new team. Getting rid of Dan Quinn would likely just get you a Mike McCarthy or some other retread rather than a rising star like Lincoln Riley who could remake the team. Quinn and Dimitroff are chained to each other, which means the Falcons organization is chained to them.

To be fair to Dan Quinn, he’s not all downside. The players love him and will fight like hell for him. He had the humility to recognize he couldn’t continue on in the defensive coordinator position and handed it off to people who have done a much better job. Give me the choice between Dan Quinn and Mike McCarthy, and I’ll happily take Dan Quinn, but the bummer of it all is that I wish we didn’t have to make that choice.

My biggest problem with Dan Quinn is that we’ve been with him for five years now, and what you see is what you get. Barring some magnificent drafting a la Sean Payton or Jason Garrett, I don’t see how the Falcons can dig themselves out of their hole in 2020. Maybe they’ll go 9-7 or something, but I don’t see how they compete with the Saints. Sean Payton may be a deeply odious human being, but he’s a hell of a coach and we saw this season that even without Drew Brees, the Saints will be just fine.

This means that for the Falcons to even have a prayer, everything rests on an offensive coordinator who can not only get the most of these players, but get them on board with their scheme in a single season. It’s easy to remember the 2016 season where Mike Shanahan’s offense was putting up over 40 points per game and Matt Ryan was the MVP. But go back to 2015 and Shanahan looked like a terrible hire and Ryan appeared to be washed up. There’s no room now for an 8-8 get-right season, and Quinn has missed with his last two OC hires.

It’s incredibly frustrating for fans like myself because we can see that the talent is there. A team with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Austin Hooper, Calvin Ridley, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and so on does not have a personnel problem. These guys know how to play and they can play well, but this season you can see how they’ve been failed by scheme. It was defenders out of positions in the first half of the season and an offensive line letting Matt Ryan get killed all season.

There are also problems that I don’t think Quinn will fix about himself. The Falcons struggle like crazy in the third quarter and have to make it up in the fourth. The killer instinct that was present in 2016 was only present in 2016. Quinn’s clock and timeout management is a mess. And the one that gets me is how undisciplined the team can be when it comes to penalties. Can a single OC hire fix all of these issues?

Probably not, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons go 7-9 again in 2020 with a high side of 9-7. I’d love to be wrong and for them to play like they did in 2016 (they got back to the playoffs again in 2017, but that season was brutal to watch with the Falcons constantly scraping by on luck). I wouldn’t say keeping Quinn and Dimitroff is a good decision, but it’s the best one Arthur Blank had.

Update: The Falcons are brining back Koetter so 7-9 season it is!

Friday, December 27th, 2019 sports No Comments

The Wrong Lessons

Elizabeth Warren’s numbers have fallen off a cliff. After being the frontrunner in mid-September, voters have cooled on her considerably in early states where she needed to make a splash. The punditocracy will be quick to note that Warren shouldn’t have become so embroiled in the details of Medicare for All. This article from Ezra Klein is a typical example of chin-stroking bullshit from a guy who by his own admission fell for Paul Ryan’s con game. The article basically boils down to Democrats shouldn’t have talked about the most appealing part of their platform because now it’s being framed negatively (who could have foreseen powerful interests like the insurance lobby and big pharma manufacturing consent?).

The takeaway from Warren’s loss will be that Democrats shouldn’t get too in the weeds on any one thing. It’s the kind of message the helps breed the consulting class that has always left Democrats stranded in the wilderness as they chase polling data while studiously avoiding any messaging whatsoever that may not agree with Beltway wisdom. So in the case of Medicare for All, the polling says that people like their private insurance. Keep in mind that when the ACA was in the works, that also had backlash because people are scared of things that are unfamiliar even if it offers them something better. It’s the job of skilled leaders to lead and change public opinions.

What’s frustrating in the case of Warren is that she was trying to do just that. She staked out strong positions and then re-calibrated when necessary while not abandoning the core of her beliefs (compared to Pete Buttigieg who couldn’t run away from M4A fast enough when he saw there was an opening to steal moderate voters away from Joe Biden). But a Biden or a Buttigeig win in Iowa and/or New Hampshire reinforces the notion that the Democratic Party doesn’t want to move “too far to the left,” (please note that never in the punditocracy can a candidate move “too far too the right”). And look, the primary system is garbage and it’s deeply fucked up that two very white states have such a large say in setting the tone when black voters are the most important part of the Democratic base. So the message that gets carried is to say nothing of substance to a bunch of white people who won’t really even feel the ramifications of their actions unless they actually need healthcare (oddly, people stop loving their private insurance when they lose their jobs; weird how that works out).

Maybe I’m just being prematurely bitter and Warren can rebound, but the Iowa caucus is about six weeks away and she’s painfully behind. Right now it’s shaping up to be Biden or Buttigieg. And as I’ve said before, I’ll support whoever gets the Democratic nomination and I expect a lot of left-wing folks are about to be exposed as privileged dilettantes who will refuse to vote “on principal” while the world burns.

Obviously, the anxiety comes from the fact that there’s no perfect candidate to run. Clinton should have beaten Trump, she lost because the Electoral College is bad and outdated, and it’s possible that no candidate can beat him because he has the right demographics in the right states even though he’ll never win the popular vote. And then the country will spiral further into rage and depression because of a fluke of demography, geography, and the EC.

When I look at all this, I oddly take comfort in the fact that it’s been worse than this before and we somehow came out the other side. I think the problem is the amount of uncertainty when you have a madman in charge of the country and a death cult behind him. That makes for frightening times. But we should not be so arrogant to think that we’re the first to experience such times, and that these times are worse than all others that have come before. Furthermore, we should not view ourselves as powerless. For me, what weighs on me more than anything is just how draining the last three years have been, and yet me and the left-wing people I follow on Twitter have it easy. We’re not migrants at the border who get separated from our families and thrown into cages. We’re not refugees denied sanctuary. We’re not Yeminis being bombed. That’s not to make light of that suffering or to say we shouldn’t show compassion. That suffering is necessary to retain empathy and our humanity.

But I will also say that while Trump and his cronies are a mental and emotional drain on the body politic, we are not powerless. I understand that voters in Iowa and NH are looking for “the person that can beat Trump” and while I think that’s misguided, I get that we’re looking for an end to this nightmare. But we have to prepare ourselves that the nightmare may not end in 2020. Hell, it may not end in 2024 (if Trump chooses not to leave, what’s going to stop him? Norms? How have those fared?)

But past generations had to live through world war and pandemic. We have a shit-for-brains Fox News grandpa who can’t stop tweeting. We can handle this.

Thursday, December 12th, 2019 politics No Comments

‘Robin Hood’ Review: A Fascinating Misfire That’s Still a Lot of Fun

So I’m posting this on my personal blog because there’s no outlet right now that’s saying, “Please, tell us about 2018’s Robin Hood.” Even in 2018, no one was like “Please tell us about 2018’s Robin Hood,” which is probably why the movie made less than $100 million worldwide even though it cost $100 million to make (to the director’s credit, the film does look expensive with its big practical sets). Even Summit, the studio behind the film, didn’t seem to care that much as they didn’t bother to screen it for critics, which is why I’m just seeing the movie now.

And it’s kind of…good? It reminds me of another much-maligned public domain action movie, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Both were intended to be the start of cinematic universes until that idea fizzled and they just became very stylish retellings that attempt to make the medieval setting seem cool. For King Arthur, it dives into the fantasy weirdness, but Robin Hood is a different animal.

The concept behind Robin Hood seems to be “make it modern but also make it medieval.” And director Otto Bathurst took that mandate literally. The mashup doesn’t really work because the medieval stuff hangs like an albatross around the picture that seems like it would be more comfortable in the present day. So instead of making Robin Hood a rich kid who goes to the Iraq War, witnesses injustices, and becomes like a hacker or something to steal from the rich, he’s still an archer and he has to contend with enemies who have bazookas but the bazookas are filled with arrows. He has to take out a machine gunner but instead of firing bullets, it fires arrows. It’s so weird.

And yet I’d rather see a movie that takes big, weird swings than something rote and predictable (thankfully, we have 2010’s Robin Hood as a basis for comparison). But every creative choice in Robin Hood strains against something conventional. The film wants to get into interesting issues of wealth and war, but also Robin of Loxley has to do a Bruce Wayne/Batman thing. The film wants to talk about wealth distribution, but there needs to be a heist element. And it’s not like Robin Hood is opposed to these choices, but they feel conventional in a film that through its attitude and visuals looks like it wants to be different.

Despite this ambivalence, the movie still manages to be a lot of fun. No one seems like they’re phoning it in, which I’m sure may have been tempting at the prospect of a blockbuster Robin Hood movie that wants to play like Batman. Taron Egerton is particularly game (he’s a very charming actor) and Ben Mendelsohn treats the villainy with the same glee and devotion as he did in Rogue One. There are also some scenes that are genuinely great like when the Sheriff of Nottingham psychologically torments John during an interrogation.

I also like that the script is unafraid to make changes to the myth (another similarity to King Arthur). They drop characters who aren’t necessary (like King John) and make big changes to others like having Marian and Little John be activists. And Bathurst is bold enough to channel the imagery of war and rebellion to his purposes without it feeling cynical or exploitative.

If you passed on Robin Hood because you thought it looked dumb, I strongly encourage you to give it a shot. It’s far from a perfect movie, but it’s consistently interesting, entertaining, and a different take on well-worn material.

Rating: B

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 criticism, movies No Comments

The Problem with Pete

There are a lot of attacks coming in on Pete Buttigieg on Left Twitter lately, and it makes sense. He’s polling very well in the (very white) states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Pete started out the race running more as a progressive, but over the course of the primary season, it’s become clear that he can’t compete with Warren or Bernie in that lane, and it’s also become clear that Biden is not an unstoppable force as a moderate. So Pete changed his approach and is now trying to appeal to moderate Democrats. We can argue all day about why the moderate Democrat approach is nonsensical and we need progressive solutions, but that’s not this article. You can point out that Pete seems phony or that his arguments are in bad faith (like saying we can’t support free college because then rich kids might want free college, which A) the Ivy League ain’t free and that’s where they’re going; and B) we support all kinds of public works that the wealthy can use and no one complains), but again, that’s not this article. Pete is trying to win votes in a primary election and is strategizing to get them.

The problem with Pete is that he’s a poor candidate for a general election. Pete is the guy if you think that all it takes to win the general election is a few hundred thousand white voters who have soured on Trump but would switch back to a Democrat as long as they don’t do anything radical like suggesting the USA should join the rest of the developed world and give its citizens healthcare. However, there are two massive issues here.

The first is that Pete polls terribly with black voters. He’s struggling with the black electorate, and that electorate is essential. Pundits worship at the altar of the white working class male, and I’m not saying those votes are unimportant, but those are the reach votes. The votes you have to get first are black people. They are the Democratic base and they will win you an election (just ask Doug Jones). We can talk all day about suburban women and college-educated whites and so forth, but if you don’t get black people to turn out for you, you’re toast, and Pete is doing horribly with black people.

The second issue is experience. Even if Pete can somehow get to the White House, he has no experience with the federal government. It will either be a crash course on the job or the donor class will just tell him which levers to pull. Is a donor-controlled Pete better than Trump? Sure. An overflowing toilet is better than Trump. But Pete doesn’t appear to have enough experience or an agenda. The reason there’s backlash against him right now is that he seems an empty vessel for the donor class who would still very much like their tax breaks and little regulation, but would prefer it if the President wasn’t a loudmouthed idiot.

But again, I don’t think Pete will even make it that far even if he can pull out a win in the primary. I think Pete supporters seem him as another Obama–an inspiring outsider who connects with middle-America–but he’s not that guy and even if he was, it’s not 2008 anymore. Our country is facing serious crises and needs big solutions. There’s a part of the country that doesn’t see those issues because it doesn’t really affect them all too much, so incremental change is fine. But that kind of approach is inspiring to no one, and the black community already appears wise to Pete’s act. Pete may think that if he can run the table in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, let Biden take South Carolina, and then beat him in a longer primary. It’s a strategy. But it’s a strategy that won’t beat Trump and if Buttigieg or Biden win the primary, I expect our national nightmare will continue for another four years.

Saturday, November 30th, 2019 Uncategorized No Comments

The Upside of Fixed Opinion

As we head towards the first Democratic primaries in the midst of an impeachment inquiry, I think Democrats should note that they have a tactical advantage: the polling on Trump doesn’t move. He remains around 40%. It may go up to 43% or it may sink as slow at 37%, but despite all the scandals he’s created in the first three years of his presidency, opinion is fixed.

For some, this may seem infuriating and like nothing matters. I would counter that Trump is and always has been a polarizing figure. Clinton miscalculated in 2016 by thinking that Trump’s clear unfitness for the Presidency would sway voters, but she was wrong. She was wrong by a narrow margin in the wrong states, but she was wrong. People in Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania knew who Trump was; they just didn’t think it was that bad. They wanted to shake up the establishment and Clinton didn’t provide the change they wanted. Trump was a wild card, but one that white people were willing to play because being white means you’ve got a security blanket to protect you from the societal consequences of your actions.

But the immovability of Trump’s numbers is a boon to the Democratic candidate because they don’t have to try and say why Trump is bad. At this point, you either know it or you don’t, and again, the polling bears this out. And Trump knows it too because the only way he can win isn’t by improving his favorability, but by dragging down his opponent so that the average voter thinks “They’re all crooks, I’ll just stay home.” This makes a course of action dead simple for the Democratic nominee: just run a positive campaign saying what you’ll do for voters. Play up affordable health care. Play up affordable college. Play up rooting out corruption in the system.

The mistake would be to repeat Clinton’s error and make it all about Trump, because when he’s the center of attention, he just counterpunches and makes things uglier. The best thing you can do is ignore him, and I know that’s difficult (I admit to calling him a “whiny bitch” on Twitter earlier today). But fighting Trump directly to highlight why he’s bad won’t work. At best, you have to treat him like a normal candidate, which again seems counter-intuitive, but it’s bad ground for him to stand on because when cast as a normal politician, he’s helpless. He has no command of the issues and can’t fight back because he doesn’t understand anything. So if you’re talking about Trump’s policies, talk about how his trade war harms farmers. Talk about how his tax cuts only benefit the rich. Talk about policy, not the person, because opinion on the person is fixed. It’s not moving, and I hope that the overpaid democratic consultants are smart enough to see why that gives them the advantage.

Friday, November 15th, 2019 politics No Comments