Batman Arcade Forever!

There’ve been a lot of bad Batman games over the years. Batmen Vengeance, Batman Begins, Batman & Robin – but there’s one Batman game that stands tall, and holds its mediocre reputation proudly. There’s a game that silently tugs at my feet in the middle of the night, willing me to just try one more stage. There’s a game that’s brutal in its arcade mechanics, yet addicted me all most to no end. There’s one game that doesn’t only throw in co-op just because the license practically says it should, it’s actually good.

That game is Batman Forever: The Arcade Game.

OK, OK. Let’s just backup here for a sec. I know Batman Forever (PS) is hardly going to win any awards for its repetitive side-scrolling fighter thrills, but if there’s one guilty pleasure I just can’t deny it’s this one.

Back in 1998 my brother and I didn’t have many PS1 games, so we aimed to get the most out of the few we had. As soon as we popped in the disc, we went straight for the two-player co-op option and began our mission to clean up the streets of Gotham. Jumping out of the dorsal fin-shaped Batmobile – or rather forcibly ejected against our will – we headed into the backalleys, a horde of goons immediately shuffling forward to greet us.

What really is the heart of this game is the aggressive/scavenger-like gameplay. What I mean by this is one minute you be surrounded by bad guys, you and your buddy will take them down and then you’ll be rushing to collect the energy power-ups they drop. The more energy you have the stronger your attacks and combos will be, the stronger your combos the more enemies you see blink into oblivion (and the more the screen will ritualistically flash – as if counter attacking an epileptic with strobe lighting). And with two-players it doubly addictive.

Many ‘game over’ screens and repetitive audio clips later and we eventually made it to the penultimate level, and of the most infuriating arcade bosses I’ve ever fought, the monarch bat. Explosive batarangs, grappling hooks, tasers – no matter what we tried we just couldn’t seem to beat this boss. Inevitably, our credits soon ran out and it was ‘game over’ yet again. Now normally at this point I would take out the disc and feel cheated for buying such a frustrating and repetitive game. Yet despite all of it numerous faults, dodgy collision detection, half-baked walking animations and bosses which required equally as much luck as skill, we continued to play it.

You see, after you’ve played Batman Forever for a long as we did back then you begin to see the puppet strings and clockwork that makes it tick. With the right combination of moves and equipment we soon found that you could have all sorts of fun inflicting pain on these CPU drones. It’s actually possible to pull off x99 combos or more by furiously repeating the same combo move while in power-up mode. Once we realised this we returned to the crimebusting scene, with a vengeance. Memorising most enemy encounters and with improved combo knowledge we fought our way all the way to the Riddler’s throne room. Success was finally within our grasp. Unfortunately, the monarch bat had cost us most of our saved credits so when one of us when down fighting Two-Face we defeat was only a health bar away.

We did manage it that time. And we still haven’t beaten it. But Batman Forever remains one of my all-time favourite two-player games, for its gameplay rewards button mashing mayhem.


A boat without an engine

Is it just me, or have half the game journalists in the business decided to quit their jobs at the big publications in favour of smaller, more self-controlled outfits?

Today I was surprised to hear the news that Edge-Online’s entire editorial team have packed their bags and left the building. Long-time online editor, Colin Campbell, broken the news on his brand new games blog, which he hopes will ‘be part of the [games industry] conversation’. Apparently, a publisher at Future UK wished to revert control of Edge-Online to the magazine’s UK offices. And it’s not just them either. N’Gai Croal, industry writer for Newsweek, and best known for his Level Up blog and appearances on GTTV’s Bonus Round, announced his departure from the profession of video game journalism (although, to pursue a career as a consultant).

Last year also saw the exodus of Dan Hsu, editor of Ziff Davies’ now retired print supplement on all things console gaming, EGM, and many other 1UP Network employees, including the Games for Windows magazine team. The launch of Giant Bomb also saw former GameSpot staff, Jeff Gerstmann, Brad Shoemaker, Ryan Davies and Vinny Caravella, struck out independently in direct competition against their former corporate media giant. There were also many other journalists, not as well known as some of these faces but just as good at what they do, who either left or moved to smaller publishers to work on new and original projects.

The strange thing is you have a dream that you might one day work at one of your dream companies, but unfortunately it seems that the reality of it is often vastly different. I think the question I have to ask myself now is: do I really want to be a new cog powering an old engine, of archaic editorial ideas and egocentric business decisions, or do I want to be part of a whole new engine?

When I seriously started thinking about becoming a game journalist I remember flicking through some of my magazines and imagining what it must be like to work on one of Future Publishing’s editorial teams for Official PlayStation 2 Magazine, Edge or GamesMaster – getting to jet all over the world for conferences, product reveals and playtests, writing lengthy and informative features, and, whenever you have a minute to spare, generally goofing around with your co-staff. A hardworking, collaborative and respectful environment.

It’s both alarming and humbling at the same time to see so many respected writers and journalists, the bread and butter for all of these publishers and media syndicates, jumping ship to escape maniacal captains and moneymen. It is pleasing to see that the proliferation of blogs has enabled many of these writers to retain some form of dialogue with their audiences. If I eventually claw my way into the doors of Future, some years from now, the state of the video games industry is sure to be vast different and as such so will the coverage. I hope I will be ready to adapt to such changes as today’s print-to-online writers are.


Ratchet & Clank hit back!

O’ My Lucky Stars! I’ve finally got my internet back, here in halls, and what’s this I hear? A new Ratchet & Clank adventure is on the way?

Well, hot damn. Sign me up quick and mail me to Bogon.

Going to have to do some reminiscing about when I first saw the GDC 2006 announcement trailer for Ratchet & Clank’s PS3 debut. In good time thought, for now check out the press release for the all-new Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time. Yeah!


Victoria Market

Several weeks ago I was wandering around Nottingham’s Victoria Centre (which I still have not fully explored) and I came across one of the strangest sights I’ve yet seen in the city – a marketplace inside the department store. Surreal. I’ve seen trampolines in department stores, Santa’s grottoes and water rides, but a full market? No more polished floors, neatly stacked shelves or gleaming white service desks, just messy bundles of stock, dented lino and florescent sales tags. Intrigued, I thought I’d bring my camera along the week later to take a few snaps of the place.

Of course, what you can’t see in the photos is all of the vendors behind me, giving me dirty looks, as if I was some kind of student-spy. Probably didn’t help that I didn’t actually buy anything. If I show my face again too soon I’ll probably get barred. Hee hee. Ah, it was worth it.


Spider-Man of the Far East

If you’ve seen any of the original Batman TV series you’ll know how incredibly eccentric and colourful TV was back in those days, especially for comic book translations. It was also very campy, which hasn’t garnered it the best reputation in the years since. Well, as my Dad use to watch the show whenever it was on, with my brother and me beside him, so I’ve practically been conditioned to enjoy the show. In fact, my parents even bought me a model of the original Batmobile from the TV show – to my great dismay it was stolen one day when I was in nursery; that still grates me to this day. Getting to the actually topic I wished to blog about with this post – I love re-watching old episodes of Batman. I didn’t think I’d see any TV series that could make laugh so much (while secretly feeling embarrassed inside).

But that was before madtyger told me about ‘Japanese Spider-Man’. No joke. It’s the real deal and it rocks harder than a junkie high on Coca-Cola! Spider nets, human-sized insectoids, the Spider Machine GP 7, acrobatics, martial arts, special effects and Giant robots. It’s gone where no single Spider-Man property has ever dared. Terrifically Japanese, and as you might expect, it’s bonkers. Watch it now!


Watchmen smile for the camera

OK, I’ve already mentioned that I was excited about this motion picture adaptation of a revered superhero graphic novel. I went to see the film tonight, so let’s just get straight into it. Damn. Watchmen is freaking graphic!!! I’ve seen some nasty films in my time, but never have I endured a comic book coming to life in such a mature fashion. People like to talk trash about GTA? Well, under no circumstances should anyone bring kids to see this movie, because if people believe “kids absorb everything they see” this is the kind of movie that could mess them up real bad.

I don’t wish to exaggerate too much. At the end of the day it is only another movie, and another filmmaker’s interpretation of a vision. I don’t mean anybody who doesn’t know how babies are made will go crazy the moment they finishing watching this. But I do enjoy films that connect with me on a character level and a personal level, and Watchmen succeed on both accounts. Tons of golden age Americana and 1940s nostalgia. Old friends taking on new struggles. *sigh* Awesome… like a jagged butter knife through an ice cube, tipped with a smiley comic edge.

So what was the film itself like? Having never read the graphic novel (by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbsons), seen the trailer only once and knowing absolutely ‘nought’ about the plot – the film was a real treat in that sense. (Warning: from this point on I’ll be dropping some immense spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet I suggest you skip the rest of this post) The plot started off in the style of all good detective stories, with the murder of a key figure – in this case, Edward Blake (The Comedian). With the signature smiley face filling the cinema screen the opening credits took us straight back to 1940s America to see the Minutemen in their heyday. Certainly one of things that stood out most in this film was its non-linear storytelling.

In this alternative 1985, the world is on the brink of nuclear war and our five protagonists – Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Dr Manhattan and Ozymandias – are only truly revealed through individual character flashbacks that tie-in nicely with the main plot. I have to say that I was anxious to see what the character of Rorschach was going to be like. To my delight both actor, Jackie Earle Haley, and crew have brought this troubled maverick crime fighter to life in an astonishing way. A personal journal, a grappling hook, an inconspicuous dress sense, throws unforgiving punches and he’s full of retribution. Absolute badass.

Every scene that this character was in I lapped up. The movie certainly didn’t disappointment me on the comic book vibe or its comi… wait better rephrase that… ‘humorous’ edge. Seeing The Comedian get all Rambo-style on a group of unarmed anti-Watchmen protestors was hilarious. Of course, that’s when they slap you in the face, as all good black comedies do. Juxtaposing this image with a scene where Edward Blake harshly assaults Sally Jupiter (the original Silk Spectre) and attempts to rape her, you soon realise that there are no heroes in this movie, only people who try to solve the world’s problems because they can’t solve their own.

From there I’m afraid things don’t any brighter – atomised Vietcong soldiers, arms getting sawn off, jaws breaking on pristine granite worktops. And that’s just the violence. Some way raunchy sex scenes between Silk Spectre and Nite Owl net this cookie an ‘18’ faster than the notorious GTA: San Andres ‘Hot Coffee’ mod ever could. Moreover, Dr Manhattan’s endless refusal to cover up his awkwardly noticeable blue you-know-what only served to distract from the serious moments of drama in the film, for which there were many.

I think the one that honestly made me bite my lip the most, had to be Rorschach’s flashback to one of his most early cases. Basically, he tracked a missing girl to a grimy shack somewhere in the city. He finds her remains, shredded clothes and bones, in a coal heater. Outside the killer’s dogs are fighting over what is left of the girl’s ankle. (Yeah, I was pretty squeamish by this point too, so if you’re still reading make sure you put some happy music on after this.) When the murderer returned Rorschach was waiting for him. There is no way I can convey all of the imagery in that scene but I’ll try. The atmosphere intensified as the dead bodies of the murderer’s dogs were hurled through the window. The fear in his eyes, in his voice, it filled the room. Then out of the shadows, the masked avenger stepped forward. Roughly he chained the girl’s killer down, ignoring his pleas for mercy. Rorschach told him he knew what he’d done and he must pay. Almost as if one had flipped a coin the killer’s attitude changed. Cut to a shot looking up at the killer, his rack of sadistic looking knifes just out of focus. He confessed that it was him, boasted even, claimed he needed help; wanted Rorschach to take him in. Oh no, not Rorschach. Needless to say he killed the murderer in a most brutal fashion. I’ll say no more, but the twitching, tearful, vengeful justice of the scene was almost unforgettable. Still, I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing everything I can to avoid violence for the next month, because I am grossed out!

I had wished to say a little more on the plot by this point as well as talking about some of the other scenes, but I’m running into dangerous post length here so I’ll start wrapping up now. If you’re not sick to the stomach right now or longing for me to end this gargantuan post-mortem I salute you.

Since it was seeing Rorschach in one of the promotional posters for the movie that got me interested in it in the first place I’ll stick with his storyline and close this thing out. Ever since the beginning of the film the plot had been building towards a seemingly inevitable conclusion: nuclear annihilation. The doomsday clock was creeping ever closer to midnight and our misfit heroes were so caught up in solving The Comedian’s murder and connecting presents events to the past, that following two hours of blood, bones and blue bits it didn’t look as though they were going to save the day. Well you know what? They didn’t. Yep, and again I haven’t read the novel but I bet this controversial ending must have been part of it. Yet there is actually some salvation as the world isn’t totally destroyed, actually, it is in fact saved! Accept it’s saved through the bad guy’s underhanded, betraying, cruel-to-be-kind scheme.

It was a surprise to say the least. Although others have done this already I’m sure, this must have been very original at the time. However, even if this next scene was in the graphic novel I absolutely refute the decision. Throughout the movie you were witness to Dr Manhattan’s growing disconnection with human beings. Rorschach, much to my approval couldn’t stand that world peace was achieved through human sacrifice, through a lie. The filmmakers had all ready show that they were willing to do most anything in this hyper-real alternative 1985. So, when Dr Manhattan confronted Rorschach, urging him to not to tell the public the truth, I already knew the outcome would be shamefully bloody. In his final moments Rorschach removed his mask, a brief choke of tears, his resolve never wavering. And then he was gone. Atomised by Dr Manhattan like so many spores in the wind. The howl that Nite Owl let out epitomised him as a best friend who just didn’t know how to show how much he cared. On a personal level this really hit home. Following this there isn’t really much to tell. Seeing my enigmatic antihero bite the molecular-bullet left a bitter taste in my mouth. The remaining characters, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, had their storylines wrapped up and everything was rosy. But there was one more little hint to give the film its grinning punch line. Rorschach’s journal, the document he had recorded practically all of the film’s events in, including the identity of the real evildoer and the cause of all the cataclysmic destruction, had been posted to a newspaper before his unfortunate demise. The film ended with a taco-eating editor picking up the journal just before the music kicked in and the credits began. Yes, the truth survives in words!

Wow wee, this is way more than I intend to write. Overall, I did enjoy Watchmen as a mature film with some terrific characters and back-stories. It was certain a heck of a lot more graphic and violent then I originally bargained for, but I am glad for the experience. Besides the superpowers, the real world is a heck of a lot worse to be honest. It definitely isn’t something I would let my six year-old cousins watch and I don’t think it’ll ever give me as much pleasure as my other comic book favourites, but it is an enjoyable addition to the genre. Maybe at a stretch I’d call it a cross between hard-edged comic book capers, Pulp Fiction and Se7en, accept some people are actually left smiling at the end of it. Well thankfully Rorschach was totally cool, so if I do pick its DVD release it will still be primarily for that character. And with that I believe I’ve said everything I wish to. I have seen the face of these Watchmen, will you?


PC Gaming Itch

During my brief pauses (*wink, wink*) in between gathering my thoughts for this first essay, my mind has begun to drift back to my PC gaming days of old. Not counting the Sega Mega Drive (which was at my cousins), the PC was the first gaming machine I had access to, and it was in my own home! I can’t even count how many hours I must have spent playing Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3D, Star Wars: Episode I Racer, Heroes of Might & Magic and many more.

And speaking of Star Wars, LucasArts had a lot of great PC games back in the 90s. Grim Fandango and Sam & Max are two such titles that have been lying dominant in the dusty extremities of my mind. What’s more I don’t actually remember too much of these titles’ storylines. Grim Fandango, I use to watch a friend of mine play, and Sam & Max I remember from the TV series.

I’d like nothing more than to pick both of these games up for a few quid and indulging in a bit of old school point-and-click detective work. Unfortunately with these titles being made so long ago the volatile OS that is Windows Vista may have other ideas. With the recession in full swing I don’t think now is anytime to be spending money on luxuries that may or may not work. Oh well. I’ll just peek out suspiciously from the Venetian blinds in my room, hoping that big case will come along – heaven knows it’d be better than doing this essay. Blimey!


Kingdom of Doom

This week I’ve had a particularly tough time here in Notts. Far less sleep than recommended (even for a student), had a broken toilet earlier in the week, got two pressing university deadlines and a string of unforeseen issues that cropped up one after another to frustrate me yet further. This unhealthy drone of nocturnal energy has only served to make me miss two lectures, a hugely important subject event and the superhero night at my Students Union. Living in a ‘Kingdom of Doom’ has never felt so true.

Most of this was surely down to me judging multiple tasks (not to mention some requests from other people). I’m fighting to try and get back a healthy work/life balance, but every time a new opportunity presents itself I try to accomplish that in addition to all my existing responsibilities. I really could do with a couple hours of Burnout Revenge to help my mind detoxify about now.

Doom and gloom aside though, this week hasn’t been entirely bad. I throw up a little interview with Capcom, letting us know why Street Fighter IV is “the best game on the planet”. Their PR manager was very enthusiast and had such a passionate love for the series that even I couldn’t help but pine for some 1980s arcade magic. A pleasure to interview. The impending close of one of Nottingham’s long-running record stores lead me to take a visit there before the windows are boarded up. A super-cheap bargain on The Go! Team’s debut album, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, now has me bobbing along to their energetic electro beats. What a lifesaver. I also picked up a few more PS2 games in my hunt for classics, retros and rarities.

Apart from those highlights I really haven’t had much of a good week. Oh well, guess my self-styled Notorious DK costume will have to remain its box. Here’s hoping next week is better.