Sunday, March 29, 2015

Culturally Irrelevant Episode 2 is LIVE!

You can listen to episode 2 of Culturally Irrelevant RIGHT NOW!
Check it out on Sound Cloud, iTunes, or directly on the irrelevant website right HERE!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 42

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...

Marky March Spectacular!

Today's review:

"This movie is actually very educational. I saw muscles I never knew existed!"

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie

History: James Rolfe started work on this as early as 2006. He grew up with the lifelong goal of making a feature film one day so he took the character that was blowing up at the time and put him into a feature length story. He wouldn't complete an early draft of the script until 2008, but the idea was living and brewing since then. After years of delays and script revisions he finally got the ball rolling in fall 2011.

At that time he went to the fans requesting donations via IndieGoGo with a set goal of $75,000, with any remaining needs coming from potential investors. The response was a smashing success. He wound up with a budget of $325,000, all from crowd funding, giving him full creative control in the process.
The project was well documented, with those behind the scenes videos released online by James himself during production, which started in spring 2012. While he did a lot of non-stop shooting for a few weeks in L.A. many remaining scenes and effects shots were filmed in his spare time while he still produced videos for his website. Because of the continued delays and his insistence of using practical effects he would simply say "It's done when it's done" or as the poster said "Coming this lifetime."
Once finished it premiered at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre on July 21, 2014 in Hollywood, nearly three years after his crowd funding success. This would follow with one night only screenings at select theatres across the country. It was released on video on demand on September 2, 2014 and blu-ray, packed with as many extras as possible, on December 14, 2014 through Amazon. A DVD version still in the works.

Personal History: I've been watching the AVGN videos for the last five to six years. Safe to say I really enjoy them and support James. When this movie started getting funded on IndieGoGo I donated a few bucks (but not enough to get mentioned in the credits per the donation prizes.) So I've been anticipating this movie for a good three years. I watched the update videos during development and editing. So while this is my first viewing, I went in knowing a lot about it ahead of time.

Version I Watched: My own personal copy on Blu-ray.

Review: It should go without saying this review will be biased. It's based on a web series I really like and it's obvious this was made for the fans. So I'm definitely (intentionally or not) overlooking a few things simply because I'm forgiving. With that said I'll still try to be as objective as possible.

Even if you don't watch game reviews on Youtube there's a chance you've heard of a few personalities on it. Most likely PewDiePie because he has over 33 MILLION subscribers. But a popular runner up is The Angry Video Game Nerd.
James Rolfe, the Angry Video Game Nerd himself, has been making game reviews with this character for roughly the last ten years. However he didn't intend to make them public at first. The first two episodes, made in 2004, were very basic and just a joke, making fun of people who make a huge deal out of old, bad video games, not intending to make a series out of it. These two shorts were a big hit among his friends and beyond, which inspired him to make more. To make a long story short he picked it up again in 2006 and has been making them ever since, with each "season" bigger and better than the last in ideas and production value.
He now has one of the biggest hits on Youtube, which helped him make the movie I'm talking about in this review.

Going from series to feature doesn't always work out. Usually it's a bad idea because the nature of the medium conveys a different tone, making it too different and not in the same vein as what made the series great in the first place. There are exceptions to this, like South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut. But here, for what it is and everything it's up against AVGN: The Movie is a fun experience that was well worth the wait.

James Rolfe is definitely a creative guy. Even though it may seen his videos are shallow on a surface level, swearing a lot at old video games, he knows what he's doing while thinking through his bits instead of making cheap jokes off the top of his head while doing a 'let's play' like other personalities. His whole persona is to make a satire out of overly critical gamers who react to old video games like they beat their mother within an inch of her life.
James has a much better sense of humor than other gamers, I feel, constant poop jokes aside. Let me say I hate the gamer sense of humor. Most of it seems to boiled down to references with a goofy tone but no real humorous structure to it. The 'lol random' mindset of joke telling. In other words gamer humor, generally speaking, may as well be written by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (look it up.)
Not James. He took what is one of the easiest and most popular stories from gaming history to make fun of and spins it on it's head while making a great commentary of modern gaming fans, especially in the Youtube community.

The movie is based around the rumor that Atari took all the unsold E.T. Atari 2600 cartridges (that supposedly kick started the the video game crash of 1983) and buried them in a landfill in the desert. The movie depicts The Nerd's life outside his Youtube videos. He works at a GameStop-esque store and is constantly being told by fans to review E.T., calling it, "The worst game ever made!"
The Nerd is so fed up with this and the rumors of the landfill that he decides to try and debunk the myth by going to the alleged sight of the landfill. While investigating the site he discovers the game has connections to Area 51 and a real alien crash landing. This was a route that seems obvious in retrospect, but has never been brought up before and is a very fresh take on one of the oldest stories in gaming history.
Then to add to the hilarity he is joined by two travel companions. Cooper, his right hand man, and Mandi, a new addition to the 'team' who is really an undercover video game executive who wants to make an intentionally bad sequel to E.T. and thinks The Nerd would be a great way to publicize it.

What a fantastic and unpredictable plot. I imagine if anyone else made it the story would be about some downtrodden gamer whose life was ruined by the game and travels back in time to stop Atari from making the game in the first place or whatever. Anything that clearly revolves around how 'bad' the game is and never really departing from that. Instead James makes you forget from time to time you're watching a movie about a video game. All because of his ambitious scope.
A scope really noticed once the plot gets rolling and the government start tracking him down. Seriously, there are car chases, gun fights with robots, an alien that crash landed in the 50's, and even a giant monster sequence that pays homage to Godzilla and the like. Most of the video game talk is right at the start and then it comes up infrequently. Then in the latter half when there's a Woodstock-esque crowd of game fans at the supposed cartridge burial site they're played like a bunch of obsessive idiots... and I loved it.
And what an achievement on such a small budget. Thanks to James' huge imagination and sense of humor he was able to make something that's big in scale and humor despite the restrictions he had to overcome. Yes a lot of it was intentionally B-movie so not having a huge budget to make it look pretty was a good thing. You can really tell James had a lot of experience putting together movies because what he does here on essentially no budget for this kind of movie is nothing short of incredible.

Despite that there are plenty of complaints.
For one I feel the movie is too long. I realize James had a big vision of what this story would be but at nearly two hours I felt it dragged on longer than it needed. Taking a scissors to it, cutting out some of the fluff would have greatly improved the overall flow. Especially late in the movie when I started to feel it was starting to overstay it's welcome and lose me with the comedy it's been doing over and over for three-quarters of the movie.
After all, taking something that is normally concise and swallowed in small doses has an almost inevitable effect of feeling dragged out when put into feature form. While I love Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theatres I felt it also had some dragging moments because it was based on an eleven minute TV show. And unless you're binging you don't see the otherwise short form humor for long time periods, which is where this movie suffered.
At it's core it is definitely a comedy. It does become action and sci-fi at many moments but overall it's a comedy. When the humor starts to dry out, especially because of the length, then you're in trouble. Not only that but James may have tried a little too hard with some jokes this time around. Like I already said there were plenty of parts that could have been cut because of length and because some bits just didn't work.
Maybe James was just a little too ambitious. Trying to cram all he can into it because this may very well have been his only chance to do it. Maybe it would have been a lot better if scaled back just a tad. Not a lot... just a tad.

I can forgive the low budget feel... I can forgive some of the corny acting... but the writing? A little harder to forgive at times.
I did like the bit when the Nerd and Mandi sound like they're having loud sex when in fact they're playing an intense game of track and field on the power pad. One of the better video game related jokes here for sure.

Despite all that I still consider this a very positive experience... but mostly if you're a fan of the Nerd already or if you're into corny B-ticket style movies seeing as it was intended to be made that way. In short this movie will mostly appeal to those into retro games or are fans of the Nerd already.
But I can not overstate how exciting it is that James actually got to do this. He's such a talented and creative guy. While not everything worked this was a very worthy effort that I felt a little weird criticizing because of everything that was against him along the way. It's a fantastic adventure overall with a lot of laughs, capped with a proper, short review of E.T. at the end of the movie. Something a lot of his fans have been waiting a long time for.
Also the fact that he got Howard Scott Warshaw, the actual developer of E.T., was exciting in and of itself.

I hope your next venture into feature filmmaking can be a bit more well put together in a tighter, more well rounded experience. Regardless, James, you've done well and I adore what you did. Thank you. My donation to this project was not wasted.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 41

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...

Marky March Spectacular!

Today's review:

"I don't care what other people say, I like this movie! And I've even read the book! The bunny version at least."

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

3D Mario - Then vs Now

Not too long ago I played through Super Mario 64 for the first time in a few years. Then last fall I picked up a Wii-U and it came with Super Mario 3D World. I've been wanting to do a retrospective on Mario 64 for a while but with the addition of 3D World I figured doing a back to back double feature would work even better! Here we go!

Part 1: Super Mario 64

History: Actual development took less than two years, but the idea was conceived over five years before release while Shigeru Miyamoto was working on the first Star Fox. This early conception originally intended it to be on the Super Nintendo and would have utilized the FX chip to create the 3D world. It was eventually moved to the Nintendo 64 and not entirely because of technical reasons. But because the 64 controller had more buttons and a joystick.
The developers put a special focus on character movement and camera work before designing the rest of the game. This core focus on one of the most important details is what made the game so successful. It introduced and/or perfected new and old 3D gaming ideas that would influence countless other games, making it a constant go to reference for great 3D world gaming.
The game was a huge success. It was released as a launch title exclusively for the Nintento 64 in June 1996 in Japan with a release in the US in September the same year, and Europe in March the following year. It was one of the best selling and best reviewed games for the console. It was also one of the highest rated games of that console generation and one of the top selling games of all time!
While the next game in the Mario 'main storyline' would be Super Mario Sunshine on Gamecube six years later there were plans for a more direct sequel to Mario 64. It was planned for the Nintendo 64DD add on. Little to no information is available but it was eventually cancelled due to the failure of the 64DD add on.

Personal History: I've put countless hours into the original Nintendo 64 version, playing it from start to finish more times than most other games I had as a kid. I eventually picked up the Wii Virtual Console version where I'm sure I'll play it over again and again and again like before.

Availability: Since Nintendo doesn't port terribly often the game stayed exclusive for years despite selling over eleven million copies worldwide. It would eventually be ported to the Wii's Virtual Console in 2006.
Before that the closest thing to a port was a remake for the Nintendo DS in 2004. While mostly an enhancement of the original game, it also featured new characters, multiplayer, and mini-games separate from the main game. It sold almost as many copies as the original game so that should be an easy alternative to pick up if you don't have an N64 or Wii/Wii-U.

Version I Played: For this review I played through the digital download release via Wii's Virtual Console.

Review: I went nuts when the Nintendo 64 came out. It is easily in my top three console launch memories to date, mostly because of the timing in my life. While I didn't get it right away because I wasn't even ten yet and had no money I gazed in from the sidelines. I remember the first game I played for the system was Wave Race 64 at the neighbors house. It didn't take long to play the classic I'm talking about here, and shortly thereafter getting the console and game itself. All despite the fact I'm a bigger Sega fan (already had a Saturn at the time) and despite the fact people told me the Playstation was a better investment because I could actually afford the games I didn't care. The N64 was on my mind and I wanted it more than anything else at the time. This game was one of those reasons.
Funny how things work out. After getting it I never built that big a collection, later selling it off in favor of other consoles. While I liked bits of the N64 here and there it was easily one of Nintendo's weakest consoles overall. It just so happened to have some of their best and most well put together games. Irony.

I don't always like doing popular game and movie reviews because what else can be said that hasn't already been said? Especially in this case? Mario is one of the most recognized characters in pop culture, not just gaming. On top of that this is one of his most popular games. What's the point in telling you my opinion? Probably because it's just that... my opinion.
Chances are I liked or noticed things you didn't notice. Or you'll finally have someone to connect with on those quirky notes. Who knows? But one thing I do know is I'll be talking about it's age. The game is already legal, can buy cigarettes, and is close to being able to drink. A lot has happened in gaming the last twenty years so it's cool to look back on what we once considered, and I quote, "mind-blowing!"

I still like the way the game looks all these years later. It's a colored and varied world and easy to see the simplicity in it's design. Its perfect, actually. Since this was a re-birth of Mario bringing him to 3D it was nice to see the game go back to it's roots in a way. It feels like I'm playing the NES Super Mario Brothers but of the 3D era. Simple, straightforward, not trying to do anything too revolutionary yet setting a new standard. It's got charm in it's simplicity.
And this charm has not worn off. Seriously, how many games have you looked back on and thought, "wow... we thought that looked good once?" I'm sure quite a bit. Even looking at some games I loved and adored I've looked back on and felt they were cringeworthy. Mario 64 is not one of those. Visually I feel it has aged well for a 3D game. Even the mix of polygons and sprites is well done in a retrospective perspective. While not perfectly aged it has minimum cringe moments.

Blocky? Yes. But it still looks great!

While visuals tend to age poorly (again, not here) it is more likely for controls to age poorly. Thankfully this is another thing Mario 64 gets right and makes it timeless. This could be years of experience talking but even playing it recently, using a non-N64 controller, it flowed so well and had only a little age to the mechanics. Come to think of it there are only two things I felt aged poorly. The camera, using a very limited and very primitive jerky mechanic, and the joystick, that isn't a smooth 360 movement like modern games have now. Despite these issues the game still flows almost as smooth as silk. Even running around the castle hub is crazy good fun!

Now this is when I would talk about how fun and varied the levels are, which they are. But I'm more interested in talking about the castle.
This is one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite hub world in all of gaming. The previous and later Mario games are similar to Mario 3 or Super Mario World, using a map to select levels. Those aren't the same. In Mario 64 the hub world feels like a level in and of itself only without enemies. There's so much variety and areas to explore that have no real purpose other than running from level to level. While not as easy to keep track it provides a unique experience that really adds to the immersion. Even if you can't figure out a logical reason how and why Mario can jump through magic paintings to another land.
The hub castle is the icing on the cake that makes Mario 64 so delicious. When I was younger there were times where I would just run around having fun in this castle despite the large number of levels to play through.

As I stated before the levels are fun and varied. There's not much else to say about them other than that. However this is where one of my biggest criticisms come for the game.
In a franchise that has spent a lot of time being as linear as linear gets, it was nice to see more a 'mission based' style of gameplay, if you can call it that. Instead of running from one end of the map to another, every level offers you a different objective. Sometimes that objective is as simple as climbing to the top of a tower. While other times it requires you to find deep secrets so you can access previously hidden areas to find what you need. Very cool, makes you think, and I like it.

The big problem, though, is how vague some of the objectives can be. I would say many are pretty clear, and even if you don't get the title it's nothing a little bit of exploring won't figure out. The levels feel huge but are technically not that big so you can make it through the whole game without getting too confused. Still, it can be easy to find yourself stuck just trying to figure out where to go and what to do based on a cleverly titled clue at the start of the level.
In later Mario games like Sunshine and Galaxy they would have a similar approach, but in those they pan the camera to where you want to go or at least give a clue. This game doesn't do that. It just gives you the one clue and BOOM you're at the start of the level.
On the plus side all you need are a select number of stars to proceed. You don't actually have to beat EVERY level along the way.

My other problem with this is it can add a rough difficulty curve because of the 'choose your own path' formula of playing. Some levels are easy to finish in a minute or two, whereas others are insanely cryptic or fill you with controller breaking frustration. A much better challenge not seen in later Mario games, but definitely unbalanced in retrospect.
Ironically this is sandwiched in with the common trend of easy and disappointing boss battles in the Mario franchise. The only boss here, technically, is Bowser, with a few simple sub bosses along the way. It's the same method of kill as with most platformers. Hit them a few times and they're done, at least in the sub bosses. Admittedly the Bowser fights are more creative because you have to grab him by the tail and swing him into one of the bombs surrounding the arena you fight him in (all three times you fight him.)

Which brings me to the point that counteracts some of my comments. I understand this franchise always has been and always will be family friendly. Not "just for kids" but fun for everyone. I love and respect Nintendo for being strong in their stance on appealing to as many people as possible, which is why I was able to enjoy this game nearly twenty years ago in many of the same ways I enjoy it today.
The game has aged so well in so many ways. I still firmly believe it has plenty of flaws, especially in the occasional vagueness and difficulty curve because of the way it presents it's levels, but the easier portions are they're because it's appealing and approachable. It still retains a lot of that old school challenge in the level design as is and that you have to work to earn the power ups like the flying cap and invisibility cap.

I definitely believe that anyone interested in this franchise, young or old, could pick this game up today and get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Again, you don't have to get everything to beat the game so you can bypass a lot of the more annoying bits. But you'd still be missing out on some great stuff if you take the time to figure it out or look up a guide online.
In many ways this Mario game has been surpassed in some aspects but still stands above others in other ways. And I can't think of any better comparison than the most recent entry in the 3D Mario games. That being...

Part 2: Super Mario 3D World

History: This direct sequel/companion piece to the 2011 Nintendo 3DS game Super Mario 3D Land was announced in January 2013 and was under development by the same team that did Super Mario Galaxy.
Much like New Super Mario Bros Wii and its sequel it features four different Mario characters and can be played from one to four players at once. However, unlike the New Bros games this one features Peach as a playable character instead of two different colored Toads like before. Peach was originally not intended to be a playable character but the developers thought it would add more variety and satisfy many fans. In a similar way Rosalina from the Super Mario Galaxy games is an unlockable character after you beat the game the first time through.
The game was released November 22, 2013 to very high praise. It received near perfect reviews across the board. It was also a financial success having sold over two million copies since release. A number I'm sure has increased quite a bit since it's included with the Wii-U console in some bundles.
While no direct sequel or similar game has been announced yet, a spin-off game was released. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is an expansion of a puzzle mini-game that appears a few times in 3D World.

Personal History: This review marks my first full playthrough. Before this all I played was the demo at a display at Target.

Availability: As a newer, exclusive title for the Wii-U the only way to play it is there. It is currently part of a bundle with the console, which is how I got it.

Version I Played: American release that came in a Wii-U bundle.

Review: When Mario 64 set a new standard almost twenty years ago it instantly sent developers on a road to replicate what it did so well, even Nintendo. People have mixed feelings of Sunshine, but I think everyone can agree Galaxy is an incredible experience and currently does the best job of replicating that success. Regardless of how good or bad Mario games have been it can't be denied that all the 3D Mario games have their roots with Mario 64. Don't fix what isn't broken I suppose.

Super Mario 3D World is part sequel, part companion piece to Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. While I've only played 3D Land a little bit (I don't have a 3DS) it definitely looks and feels similar to 3D World, with World feeling much bigger because of it being a console game.
And really the game is quite huge! Each level, while very linear, are all quite lengthy and provide replayability with multiple paths, some filled with secrets. Also, since you'll need a certain number of stars to progress it gives you even more reason to go back and explore these large levels, sometimes using different power ups to access certain areas.
Even some of the boss battles are huge. Easy like other Mario games? Yes, but much bigger and more creative than before. The unique design and fun that goes into some of those boss battles or the sections before the boss battles are great. Like running after Bowser while he's in a large vehicle, throwing balls of fire at you that you need to deflect back at him. Or battling through a moving train of enemies and obstacles before getting to one of the Koopa kids at the end.
On top of this each section has multiple bonus stages. Sometimes these are simply slots to get you bonus coins/lives, while other times they're mini challenges to get you up to ten more stars! But my favorite are the Toad treasure challenge stages that eventually spun off to become their own game in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

I've got to pick you up someday.

I have to admit I was a little disappointed at first when I saw there were only five worlds. After cranking through all five suddenly another world opened up. I played through that and another one opened! I played through that and ANOTHER one opened! Then I "beat" the game by going through that last world... then... you guessed it... yet another bonus world opened up as a post-game bonus. Essentially the game came close to doubling in size from what I initially thought it would be.

So this game has oodles and oodles of levels to play through that kept me busy for hours upon hours. And what makes this experience even better is the option to choose from four different characters, with a secret character unlocked after playing through a few of the bonus stages after you beat the game the first time around. It's a fun way to bring variety to the game when there's already a ton of variety we've come to know and expect from this franchise, despite the seemingly repetitive nature of it.

Which brings me to a mixed feeling I have on this game.
I never really know what to think when a new Mario game comes out since it's been almost the same plot and execution in story and aesthetic since the beginning of the franchise. Sure there's been big changes and experimentation in Mario Sunshine and Galaxy but that's only a couple entries in an otherwise huge lineup of games than span across three decades. Should I be upset because a lot of the games don't change or should I be happy because they don't fix what isn't broken?

Honestly I felt this game was a bit stagnant, at least in innovation and expansion of the franchise.
Is the world full of color and excitement? Yes. But it isn't anything that different than before. If anything it felt like a fully 3D version of Super Mario World, somewhat proving they're running out of ideas.
Does the choice of character add variety? Definitely! But since each character has a certain skill you're very likely to pick one and stick with them the entire time. For example, I started (naturally) as Mario but eventually settled on Peach. I then played as her through the rest of the game until I unlocked Rosalina. Now I can't decide if Rosalina is a worse character to play as than Peach because she actually is, or because I grew so used to Peach.
But the game still controls well, right? Oh, definitely. Like I mentioned earlier this still somewhat models itself after the Mario 64 approach in control and execution. What I didn't like were the tiny tweaks. I really liked the way Mario controlled in 64 because it felt a lot more solid, specifically starting and stopping while running. What I don't like here is it feels like Mario is running on the kitchen floor in his socks before he gets running. And honestly the first time I played this game at a demo kiosk at Target I didn't like it mainly because of this.

The last thing I wanted to complain about is my mixed feelings on the way it was put together as a whole.
Between the map hub world and the colorful 3D levels it's like Nintendo wanted to make a cross combination of Super Mario World and Super Mario 64. A good and a bad thing.
What I liked was it was easy to keep track of where you've been and where you're going. As much as I love the castle hub world of 64 it can be a pain running all over, whereas here it's more akin to a menu select with a little more freedom.
Also all the levels were easy to understand and provided a lot of secrets that, at times, were real challenges to get through. It's a good thing this game gives out lives like candy on Halloween because there were some levels that ate those lives up. Not to mention making it the traditional little Mario, big Mario, or special power Mario health 'bar' style was more appreciated a challenge like a classic game instead of the literal life bar of more recent 3D Mario games.
However the change from 'mission based' to a traditional 'run to the end of the level' approach hurt what this game could have been. There were a lot of areas I would have loved to explore more, but due to the forced forward nature of the level design I felt I missed out on a lot of cool things that would be too tedious to get back to.
Also, their new approach both does and doesn't make the game a lot easier. It does make it easier because of the bonus stages where you can get five to ten extra stars for doing simple (but sometimes challenging) tasks. Then in some stages it's a huge pain to find one, let alone all three stars each stage in order to progress. Making backtracking through old levels a tedious necessity, especially if they're only reachable by means of a special power up or hidden in an obscure area.

Still I grew used to the controls and the way the game presented it's goals and enjoyed it overall. I definitely like these 3D Mario games over the 2D 'New' series. The difference is staggering and I think Nintendo should focus on 3D because there one of the few companies doing 3D platformers well.
I haven't played New Mario Bros U but I did pay New Mario Bros Wii and I eventually grew bored of playing it, making the last few stages long and dull for the sake of completing it. Whereas 3D World and other 3D Mario games like Galaxy and (I'm sure if I played it) 3D Land are kicking big butt with few complaints. And really those complaints are just the game being the same over and over for the most part... but you can't blame them for that.

I'm glad I picked up the Wii U package I did because it got me this and Nintendo Land. Two games I've enjoyed a lot. If you have a Wii U I would recommend picking up 3D World because it is a blast despite the flaws. Still I can't imagine replaying it even a fraction of the amount of times I've replayed Mario 64... but that's more rose colored glasses than anything. I have heavy nostalgia for that but this new one is simply that... a newer game I'll finish and move onto the next title only to maybe go back and play it again later.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 40

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...

Marky March Spectacular!

Today's review:

"You know... not bad... surprisingly."

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Steam Machine

Like many kids growing up in a middle class home in the 90's my gaming options were somewhat limited. Once I got into games I didn't really adapt a dominant opinion toward one company or format or another... with maybe the exception of Sega. So not only was I interested in console gaming but PC gaming, too.
This is something that didn't develop much until much, much later in my life. The most I played on my family's home computer were either demos of modern games that barely ran or older games that only ran because they were older. And even then some of them didn't perform at peak performance because my parent's wouldn't shell out the mega tons of cash to get a gaming PC, rightfully so.

Then I went off to college where I used a Mac. You know where this is going.

While I never had the right hardware for PC gaming I was always interested because it was a territory I rarely experienced. So a couple years ago when I got my current laptop that could play PC games competently (many modern games had to have the settings lowered of course) I was naturally excited. My Steam library grew pretty quickly but it was my GOG library where I played the most. Those being the games I fawned over for years with most of the Steam games I came across also being available for console.
I did try to power through a few more modern games on this lesser machine to not much enjoyment. Two decades of using a controller exclusively has turned me off to using a keyboard and mouse. Sure I could use an XBox 360 controller but event then I still sometimes have to use the keyboard or go through a bunch of customization junk I don't want to deal with.

Then Valve's Steam Controller and Steam Box were announced.

PC gaming from my couch? I loved it! I was very excited at the idea of having a console like machine for my Steam library utilizing a controller modeled after something I was much more familiar with. Would it be 100% compatible? No, of course not. Some of the games I have are definitely made for keyboard and mouse but that's fine. Still I wanted to see what this new machine would bring.
Sadly little seemed to be said about it for a long time. It wasn't until recently that I found an article listing the different prices for the different machines that I finally got interested in talking about this again.

Safe to say the pricing was not surprising and I was left disappointed.

Before going any further you may as well take a look at the article I read. Right HERE.

I really should have seen this coming. It was definitely a "too good to be true" that there would be a PC-like console-esque system at an affordable price. The low end costing around $500 and the high end being $5000. Which of course begs the biggest question... which one should I get? Or more importantly... what's the point?

I cannot stress enough how much I love the idea of playing a lot of these PC games from the couch, what with being console in mind and never dove that much into PC. And I guess it was unrealistic for me to expect a console-like unit to sell for a similar price but do what a PC does as a gaming machine. PC is always better in basically every aspect technologically because of the nature of how it's put together. Yet when I look at that list of prices it makes me wonder why I should even bother.
I ask because... can't you just build a regular PC from the bottom up for those prices? Not to mention you can hook up your PC to your TV and use the upcoming Steam controller on your regular old computer? So what's the big deal with the Steam Machine? Convenience? Sure but these prices seem high for something that frankly feels illogical to buy when you can get something similar or better for the same price... depending on how much you want to spend.

I will give it the benefit of a doubt. Maybe there's something I don't know about this machine that would make it better than I think it will be. Not gonna lie, I'm currently more interested in this than I am a PS4 or XBox One. But that's mainly due to the sheer volume of games I already have, making it a sound investment. And I do like how it's going the 3DO route of "we have this core idea but all these companies can make their own machines and games that will play on it." It gives freedom to an otherwise closed off world.
Yet that makes me wonder what I'd be missing out on if I paid $500-$700 for a machine as opposed to a $2,000-$5,000 machine. And the line in the article that says "...the chances you'd need to upgrade anytime in the next 20 years are slim." I find that hard to believe especially on the less expensive end.
It only may ring somewhat true for someone like me because I don't pre-order or buy day one games on Steam all out of fear that they won't work on my machine. I've accumulated a lot of games from the early to mid 2000's period of gaming with a few really new and really old games in the mix. At some point I may get a game that won't work on my machine (if I were to get one) and I find it hard to believe I'd have to wait twenty years for that to happen.

I know jack shit about modern PC companies but I do know Alienware is known for making really good gaming PCs. Seeing them on the cheaper end gives me mixed feelings of comfort, confusion, and worry, though.

So do I think this would be a good investment? Not particularly. I am still curious. Curious to see what they offer, how they perform between models, and so forth. At the very least I am very interested in the controller. I can tell you one thing for sure, there are things I'd rather be spending that kind of money on despite my initial interest in this concept.
Just feels like a lot of money for something that could be done just as well, or better, doing it the old fashioned way.

...also most of the PC games I'm interested right now come from GOG so it's not like I could play them on this machine anyway.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Review: What We Do in the Shadows

Version I Watched: Theatrical release.

History: This mockumentary from New Zealand was based on a 2006 short film of the same name. It was eventually made into a feature by Taika Cohen and Jemaine Clement who are most well known for creating Flight of the Conchords, but also made the original short this was based on.
Pulled together from nearly one hundred and twenty hours of mostly improvised footage the film was premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It would eventually see a limited release which is going on right now (March 2015.) With a budget of only a little over $1 million the film has easily earned back what was put into it.
The film has been getting mostly positive reviews. It even holds a surprising 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, a source known for being pretty harsh in their reviews. To put that in perspective, What We Do in the Shadows holds a higher ranking on their site than most of the best picture nominees (Boyhood and Selma have it beat, Whiplash is equal) at this year's academy awards, jumping just 2% past Birdman, the best picture winner.

Personal History: I didn't even hear about this until I saw a trailer when I went to see The Imitation Game a couple weeks ago. My wife and I were laughing our heads off at the trailer alone, turned to each other when it was done and said "we have to see this."

Review: Vampires have really lost their edge in the last decade or so. And no I'm not talking about the Twilight series. It seems like whenever vampires show up in modern movies they're a lackluster bunch of style over substance. Sure the Blade movies were pretty cool but they were also terribly shallow. Not to mention the shit-tastic Underworld franchise. I have been clamoring for more interesting vampires to come along but my hopes have been low because the results have been mostly terrible...
...with the exception of Let the Right One In and Thirst that is...
...and I clamor because vampires are really cool and interesting characters that are way more interesting than the overly-stylized action movie vampires that are presented in most modern movies. That's a deeper discussion for another day, and while What We Do in the Shadows isn't that super serious character analysis of a vampire it sure as hell is one of the best satires on the vampire character that I've EVER seen!

What We Do in the Shadows takes a slightly overdone concept but does it well in a way we haven't seen for years. They are followed around by a documentary crew (making this a mockumentary) and are recorded as they go about their daily life, all leading up to the annual Unholy Masquerade. Similar to This Is Spinal Tap or a Christopher Guest movie. And really this has to be one of the best examples of that kind of comedy since Christopher Guest's peak.

The hilarity ensues immediately with the brilliant characters that live together in this large house in New Zealand. They all are very different in execution and style, all owning their character, living it beautifully. Their performances reference popular and iconic versions of old vampires. Including but not limited to a traditional Lugosi, Nosferatu, and even Gary Oldman's take from the 1992 Dracula film.
A lot of the comedy comes from them being goofy idiots who are out of touch with modern times and how they conflict with each other in their living situation. Still in this goofiness they perform it all straight. At no point did I feel like they were playing to the audience with a wink as if to say "Hey! Hey! Did you catch that joke?" like so many other satires have done in recent years.
And that's where I really give credit to What We Do in the Shadows. They take their years of comedy knowledge and skill and make something that'd definitely goofy... but is also earnest. You feel a sense of depth and connection with these characters that have a limited screen time because the movie isn't even ninety minutes. Even their non-vampire friend Stu using simplicity as he spends most of the movie sitting in the background with a blank stare on his face.

All done utilizing a bundle of mostly improvised footage.

Which brings me to my thoughts on that method in general. While I was watching and laughing like crazy I couldn't help but admire the level of quality in the comedy despite it being improvised. It made me wonder about a lot of other comedies that are heavily improvised and the best examples I could think of were, again, This Is Spinal Tap and Christopher Guest movies.
I also thought about movies like Anchorman and whatever Judd Apatow is putting together. While I've enjoyed some of those movies quite well they have many fatal flaws, many of which this movie did not have. I always get annoyed with how long some of those comedies get while incorporating too much serious material, which works for some but is a buzz kill for others. Then they'll seem to not know how to cut jokes as to include as many as possible despite relevance to the story or the tone of the scene.
Not that long ago I watched Anchorman 2. I did find it funny but I found it very unsatisfactory as a movie. It had zero structure and a lot of references or jokes for the sake of being jokes. It made a lot of little sense in the long run and instead felt like an extra long, live action episode of Family Guy. Not saying it was bad, just not as pleasing as it could have been.
What We Do in the Shadows accomplishes so much for such a goofy comedy. A lot of the things I mentioned that these other comedies fail to do, whether they're trying to or not, are in fact accomplished here. I cannot stress enough how satisfying this movie was not just as a comedy, but as a story and as a movie.

So much fun with so much character and such great jokes make this one something to remember. Yeah it's silly and doesn't take itself seriously but at least it doesn't bring attention to it like other comedies. So many other comedies seem to feel a lack of confidence so they try to bring awareness to their intentions as much as possible in as simple a way as possible. Not here. Not a chance.
It's only hitting select screens in it's theatrical run so it may be tough to get to. When you get the chance see this movie because it is absolutely hilarious in all the best ways possible. Without a doubt the ultimate vampire comedy. Sure as hell a lot better than Dracula: Dead and Loving It... but it's not much of a competition against that.

Clover Reviews Volume 1 -> Episode 39

Welcome back my friends to another episode of...

Marky March Spectacular!

Today's review:

"It looked like it was going to be a stupid copycat of Lethal Weapon. Instead it was one of the funniest movies of that year! What a nice surprise!"

That's all for today. Join us every Saturday for more movie recommendations from our fuzzy friend.
Don't forget that Clover gladly takes requests. Her aim is to please you, the reader.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Episode 1 is LIVE!

Episode 1 of Culturally Irrelevant is now LIVE! You can stream or download it HERE!
Head on over and check it out. Sit back, relax with a glass of Scotch or something else classy, and listen to our ramblings about Birdman.
Then be sure to check out our Facebook page HERE... then check out my Tumblr page HERE for fun supplemental material that reflects what I talk about and my general interests expressed here in my blog and on the podcast.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Culturally Irrelevant

Culturally Irrelevant is not some obscure movie I'll be reviewing. Nor is it one of those wacky Japanese games I love so much. No, Culturally Irrelevant is a podcast I host with three college friends where each episode we talk about the obscure and overlooked movies, games, comics, etc, that didn't get enough attention. Some episodes will have something not that obscure, maybe something you've heard of but haven't experienced. Other times there will be things you would have NEVER heard of but we feel you should know about.
The best part is None of us will tell what we bring ahead of time as a means to create a richer discussion and even an element of surprise and genuine interest.

Our website is We're also on Facebook at with a Youtube page on the way. Lastly we are @cirrelevantpod on Twitter.
That's the podcast as a whole. For myself I started a supplemental Tumblr that will serve as an "extra" or "bonus features" to what I talk about here and in my portion of the podcast. My Tumblr page is
As of right now I don't plan on utilizing a personal Twitter. If you're on Twitter and you want to get a hold of me... use another source like Facebook. But if Twitter is your source then go through the podcast Twitter handle and you can reach me that way. I just can't guarantee how quickly I'll get back to you.

So check out the podcast! Tell your family, tell your friends, help spread the word of the Culturally Irrelevant. The first episode should be up by today or tomorrow. We're working on gettng into iTunes, but for now you can listen on our website. I will post links to each new episode here as well as on my Tumblr. Should have no trouble finding them when they come out.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Going Back to the Beginning: The Tomb Raider Reboot

History: Work began on this reboot right after the 2008 release of Tomb Raider: Underground. At this time Crystal Dynamics had split into two teams, both of which would work on their own respective Tomb Raider games. The team that did not make the game in question started the spin off Lara Croft series, starting with Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, a download only game released in 2010, with a sequel eventually released late 2014.

The game was officially announced in 2010 with the statement it had been in development for a couple of years. This game would reboot the franchise, taking it in a whole new direction, advising fans to forget everything they know about Tomb Raider. When it was eventually released in 2013 (after a delay, intending to be released in 2012) it really was like nothing before in the franchise. It had many first, including multi-player and the first to get the M rating.
This game experienced a little controversial before release, but mostly due to misunderstanding, or so it seems. Some gameplay footage of Laura being captured by scavengers in the game had a vibe like they were going to rape her. This was mislabeled as the creators never intended to approach that subject in the game, where all they were doing was showing her as a cornered animal in a dire situation she needs to survive. It was an intense and extreme way of showing evolution of character, but was never meant to be an attempted rape scene.
It was released to high praise and big sales, selling over a million copies within two days of release. A sequel was announced in late 2014, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and it will be exclusive to XBox consoles.

Personal History: I dabbled in the older Tomb Raider games back in the late 90's but never got into them. Come to think of it... I don't think I ever completed one from start to finish until this one. The last one I played was one on the Dreamcast. I never played the PS2 sequels or the remake of the original, and of course never played the PS3 game that came before this one. I did have an interest in this new perspective not because I'm a long time fan, but because it looked like it was something different in a franchise that's long since gone stale.

Availability: Released on Playstation 3, XBox 360, and PC initially on disc and digital download. After the game's success it was updated and re-released on Playstation 4 and XBox One as a 'Definitive Edition' which contained all the main features and DLC.

Version I Played: Playstation 3 version with none of the DLC.

Review: I'm not really sure what my real perspective of Tomb Raider is. I've never been a big fan of it per se. As I mentioned in the 'personal history' the newest Tomb Raider game I played before this was back in the late 90's on the Dreamcast (or early 2000's.) And I think the reason is because the franchise never held much interest for me outside of, sadly, the obvious. There was a breif period during the height of Tomb Raider's popularity when Lara Croft became more of a pop culture icon than a video game character and many young boys (including myself, being a young boy at the time) wanted to recognize that if you know what I mean.

Good Lord, how was this ever found attractive?

Outside of that I never got into the game itself. I had a couple for the PC but never got far and I think a big part of that was how the game played. I'm tempted to go back and give it the old college try. Only problem is I think it would be more challenging now since that franchise and it's controls have aged about as well as most games from the 90's.
Then I started to notice the bad reviews coming in for later games and how nothing had really changed. So why bother playing? A shame because looking back the game had more potential but was weighed down by terrible controls and childishly forced sex appeal. Sex appeal that, ironically, was started because the programmers accidentally programmed Lara to become a watermelon smuggler and it stuck. I'm serious, it was by accident.

With a lack of investment in the franchise it may seem surprising I even stuck through the reboot. Well the reason I tried is because the franchise actually went in a different and interesting direction.

Everything was changed for this reboot. EVERYTHING! Pretty much all that stayed was there's a character named Lara Croft who wears a blue tanktop and explores secrets of the world. This includes storytelling changes (especially in tone), changes in controls, mechanics, and best of all changes to Lara herself.
I say changing Lara is the best change because she was the biggest change that needed to happen in this franchise. Now that three Uncharted games have been released, which is basically a modern male version of Tomb Raider, they had to take a different approach. Lara can't be the same girl she used to be and I commend them for that. We actually get someone with the potential to be interesting. And while she changed slightly between the first game and the most recent one before this it wasn't a lot.

Here's a quick, unfair comparison.

While it's an origin story it feels more like growth than anything else. It feels like the character has grown because we see her in a far less Playboy Bunny-esque manner.
While not a completely unsexualized version of Lara I do find this version of her far more attractive. For one she has full pants and that makes her more appealing alone. But also she has this Katiness Everdine feel to her. She's brave, has beauty, but shows her emotions far more realistically than any previous Lara would.
She's also put in a situation that's against her control. To condense it as much as possible, Lara and her expedition crew become trapped and fighting for their lives on a remote island against a bunch of bad dudes. Lara spends most of her time simply trying to survive rather than exploring and kicking ass. Again, a nice change of pace. Makes her feel less like a rich super hero of the tombs and more like a real person.

Story and character aside (for now) I was very happy to see how well the game mechanics were put together... for the most part. Most of the third person action games I've played in recent memory have been multiple Assassin's Creed games so I had to get that out of my mind and get used to Lara's matter of walking, talking, and shooting. Once I got used to it I found the mechanics to be very friendly and smooth. Running from one end of the map to another, climb a wall, shoot a rope arrow to the side of a cliff, slide my way down, jump off the rope and pull out a gun to shoot a bad guy. It all works very well and I'm happy to see this.
This a much needed change to the very, VERY outdated controls that the older games held onto for far too long. While I'm not entirely against tank or tank-like controls, they only work for certain types of games. But the old controls for Tomb Raider were like tank controls but from a specific perspective that didn't even work too well back then, making it super slow. So among any other update and change to this franchise, I like this change the most.

With that excellent control they also give a consistently exciting world to run around in. One thing this world had going for it was there was always something going on. Outside of me doing some tedious side quests to get more material for stronger weapons I always felt a sense of excitement in what's happening and what's happening next.
And I have to say it wasn't the easiest task getting from beginning to end. Many times I found myself very challenged by what's going on, some of which was cheap, but I digress. It was still a very fun experience that forced me to pay attention instead of mindlessly shooting from bad guy to bad guy. Hell, it even incorporated a very basic element of stealth, wherein you can sneak up on a bad guy and choke him.

While a lot of my praises may seem vague and general... that's because there's a lot of good but it's not a terribly unique good. Before I get to the bad stuff would I say the game is worth a play? Hell yes! It's a very fun experience but I wouldn't necessarily say it stands out among the other good and exciting action adventure games outside of the fact the star has something the others don't.
You fill in the blank.

Really I'd say this game has plenty of problems, many of which aren't that terrible, but keep it from being something much better. A shame since a lot of these were simply and/or stylistic mistakes.

The easiest way to describe it is the game is just trying a bit too hard.
The first is the aesthetic. It's dark and gritty which I'm fine with. If anything I like it when a story can be uncut with it's vision. If it gets excessive is a different story, which I don't feel Tomb Raider does too much. But there are some deaths that are a bit more vicious than they needed to be.
Still the dark and gritty reboot is something of a joke these days. Seems like it's happening all over the place with many IP's and not just in the gaming world. So making Tomb Raider dark and violent feels uncreative, like it's jumping on a bandwagon.
Speaking of jumping on the bandwagon it also jumps on the thin morality take that happens in many modern violent games. While I love the idea of morality systems this is a fine example of the story saying "killing is harsh and you only do it when you're forced to," going so far as to have Lara shaking up to the point of her first kill. Then you literally shoot down hundreds of bad guys with multiple weapons with the greatest of ease as if you were trained to do this sort of thing.
Doing it in game is fun, mechanically. But in terms of story and tone it just doesn't feel right and killed some of the immersion for me. Making this a "headphones" game for me. Where I listen to podcasts and other stuff while playing the game because I mostly find it appealing at a more basic level.

I also don't like how it's trying to copycat both the cinematic approach of modern games while also trying to be something open world like Assassin's Creed.
It's an odd mix because you have these set QTE's where you're sliding down a raging river avoiding obstacles or anything else over the top exciting. While cool and tense I don't like this trend. It's incorporating elements of a set piece shooter where so much is happening with little to none of your involvement or interaction. Making it a prettier version of a laserdisc game like Dragon's Lair.
This does not mix well with the supposed open world approach it has because everything is very divided, only easily accessible by doing a quick travel via the bonfires across the map. This, mixed with no contextual reason to collect items or do certain objectives makes it hard to justify doing side quests outside of getting the trophy/achievement for your efforts if that's your sort of thing.
They're a pain to navigate through and give you little incentive to do them.

What I did like that is in a similar realm to these are the actual raids of tombs.
Throughout most of the maps on the island there's a hidden entrance to a tomb wherein you have to solve some sort of puzzle or find the right path to get a treasure. These are short but many are challenging, some involving quick acting. And this was the only section where I felt the award justified the work. You get much bigger prizes going into these side missions than any of the other side missions.

Sadly that's the only side mission that's good and worthwhile. Going in the tradition of the game trying too hard it tries to give you everything you want but in the easiest way possible. Resulting in a big game full of a lot of options but with no real purpose to do them.
Yes you can upgrade weapons but I saw little change. Outside of necessary upgrades like the ability to shoot ropes with your bow and arrow there was little reason to upgrade as far as I could tell. I likely could have beat the game with minimal upgrades outside of what I got from natural progression instead of going around salvaging anything and everything I could, which I did.

Again, does this mean it's worth playing? Does this mean it's bad? No, not a chance. I said it before I'll say it again... this is definitely a fun experience and worth your time. I assure you you'll enjoy it as it is and you may even like elements of it more than I did. I just felt it tried too many things at once instead of focusing on other/better things that could have improved it and not made it inconsistent and unfinished. Otherwise, definitely a blast I enjoyed for what it was. They must have done something right to get me to go through all I did.

I did not play any of the DLC. The main game did not entice me to try.