Sunday, March 30, 2008

Whoooooo!!!!!

Bravo, Ric Flair. In a "Win or Retire" Match at WrestleMania XXIV earlier this evening, the legendary grappler ended his career when he fell victim to some Sweet Chin Music from "The Heartbreak Kid," Shawn Michaels. After entertaining fans with his charismatic interview style and undying work ethic for over 35 years, the "Nature Boy" finally takes his leave of the squared circle once and for all.

However, if other professional wrestler retirements are any indication, he'll show up in a few months as WWE commissioner or a special referee before delivering those devastating knife edge chops once again in his comeback bout These guys never stay away from the business for too long. Just ask Mick Foley or Hulk Hogan.

What I’m Listening To: Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet

Sometimes, you need to thumb through your CD (or MP3) collection to find a specific album or a song that takes you back to a certain time and place in your life. I purchased Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet in the spring of 2002 just months prior to high school graduation, the precursor to that summer of invincibility before that fateful first trip to college. Andrew W.K. seemed at first to be a novelty act, and maybe he was. His first single “Party Hard” was a simple, bombastic yet infectious ode to partying that I couldn’t resist.

I would be lying if I said that this album was incredibly deep. Each of the album’s 12 songs is about little more than partying, getting the girl and never giving up. That’s pretty much it. However there’s a palpable energy behind each synthesized note and each grizzled vocal. Andrew W.K. is passionate about each of these songs, and damn it, you should be too.
I Get Wet is like the soundtrack for the best 1980’s movie that hasn’t been filmed yet. From the first guitar riffs of “It’s Time to Party” to the bizarre fight anthem “Ready to Die” to “I Love NYC” to the oddly uplifting “Got to Do It,” you’re taken on a musical journey. And I think that was the idea. It’s simple music that tells a simple story, and it’s obviously not for everyone. Andrew W.K. is sort of like Monty Python: Either you love him or you hate him. And, like Monty Python, if you do turn out hating Andrew W.K., I secretly judge you.

No Country for Old Men: What I Was Missing

It may be surprising, but I had gone without seeing the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men until yesterday afternoon, when I finally popped it in and hoped for the best. I wasn’t disappointed, and I immediately regretted waiting so darn long to experience this movie myself after hearing its praises since last fall.
When Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles across a drug deal gone wrong—complete with dead bodies and a deceased dog or two—he snags $2 million dollars for himself. Of course, sociopath Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) isn’t too happy about this and kills everyone in his path as he pursues Moss and the stolen money. Small town sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to make sense of it all as he leads an investigation into this seemingly endless series of killings to bring Chigurh to justice.
Anton Chigurh is one of the most terrifying monsters we’ve seen on-screen in some time. Speaking in low, gravelly tones and toting a cattle gun (horrible way to go, it seems), Chigurh—and Bardem through his phenomenal performance—bring this film a necessary level of menace that keeps the tension high throughout.
And let’s not forget Josh Brolin. Who would have thought that the older brother from The Goonies would be taking Hollywood by storm nearly 25 years later? From Planet Terror to In the Valley of Elah to American Gangster to No Country for Old Men, Brolin is on a serious roll. And I say good for him.
I may be late to the party, but I’m sure as hell glad I came. No Country for Old Men lives up to the hype, and is a worthy addition to any DVD collection. It's a buy.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The King of Kong: A Wort Report Short

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters may be the best documentary released last year that you didn’t see. While one man’s struggle to dethrone the world champion of Donkey Kong may seem trivial to most, the film treats its subject matter with such respect that even non-gamers will find something to enjoy about this joystick journey.

As the credits rolled, one thing about this film really stuck with me: Donkey Kong world record-holder Billy Mitchell comes off as a major league douchebag. Just read this quote:

“No matter what I say, it draws controversy. It’s sort of like the abortion issue.”-Billy Mitchell
Yep. He just compared a video game competition to abortion. Did you get douche chills?

From what I’ve read, director Seth Gordon had a definite bias, choosing a hero in the humble up-and-comer Steve Wiebe and a villain in Mitchell. Whether this rivalry was over-dramatized or not, it makes for compelling filmmaking.
If you’re checking out The King of Kong on DVD, be sure to watch the bonus features, which include extended interviews and more footage of Mr. Awesome, a.k.a. Roy Shildt, the Missile Command record holder. His level of insanity is bafflingly entertaining.
While The King of Kong might not be worthy of a purchase—particularly if you’re not into classic gaming—it’s a solid, solid rent.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Super Smash Bros. Brawl: A Wort Report Review

Ahh Super Smash Bros. Brawl. This crown jewel of Nintendo’s library is now in our sweaty grasps after months and months of delays and promises. The hip thing to do would be to bash this third installment in the series, claiming it doesn’t live up to the ridiculous amount of hype leading up to its March 9 release date. But I can’t. What I can do is follow up this delayed release with a delayed review. So here I am, nearly two weeks later. How do you like them apples, Nintendo?

In all seriousness—and one struggles with seriousness when writing about a game that pits a yellow electric rat against an anthropomorphic fox in a flight suit—this is an incredible game, and is easily the best Wii release thus far. If you haven’t bought a Wii yet…dude, what are you waiting for?

For the uninitiated and therefore more attractive and popular, Super Smash Bros. Brawl allows just about every Nintendo mascot to beat the polygons out of one another in a fight to the finish. Knock your opponent off the platform and you win. Wash, rinse, repeat and never sleep.

If you’re the type of Smash Bros. fanatic that I am, you may have waited outside your local GameStop the night of March 8 to be among the first to crack the game’s case and start brawling when the game went on sale at midnight. For myself and my good friend and fellow brawler Andrew Metzger, actually purchasing the game turned out to be more of a hassle than the game’s Subspace Emissary adventure mode (I’ll get to that later). Braving intense cold and fanboys in disturbing homemade costumes, we finally walked away with our copies nearly two hours later. No one slept until well after dawn. Yep. Smash ‘Til Dawn. Nothing better on a Saturday night than a good ol’ S.T.D. Ah. Now I see the problem with that acronym.

I suspect many gamers fueled by sugary energy drinks spent quite a few bleary-eyed hours brawling that night, both in-person and online thanks to the newly implemented Nintendo Wi-Fi multiplayer. That is, if they can get it to work. Yes, those hoping for an online experience that in any way duplicates the simplified matchmaking of Xbox Live will be sorely disappointed. It seems that Nintendo just didn’t anticipate the tremendous amount of online traffic that this game is currently generating. With Mario Kart coming out in mere weeks, I hope they get it together soon.

While online play can be spotty—particularly when playing with total strangers—the in-person multiplayer value in Brawl is phenomenal. There are plenty of options that you can play around with, in addition to multiple game types, usable items, stages and control types. You can play with the standalone Wii Remote, Wii Remote with nunchuk attachment, the Classic Controller or even your old Gamecube Controllers will do just fine. The standalone remote configuration is a little weak due to the lack of a separate jump button, but all of them seem to work pretty well. Try each one at least once to see which is the best for you.

Speaking of choice, let’s talk characters. All of your favorites return—including Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Pikachu, Samus, Captain Falcon, Fox McCloud and many others—and fans will also be pleased to learn that there are several new combatants to master, including Meta Knight, King Dedede (both from the Kirby series), a Pokémon trainer (from Pokémon), Wario (from the Wario Ware games), Olimar (from the Pikmin series) and Pit (from Kid Icarus). Two of the most surprising additions are Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake (from Metal Gear Solid), both from non-Nintendo franchises. You’ll have to work to get them though, which may mean mixing it up a tad in Subspace Emissary.

And that brings me to my one and only legitimate gripe about this game. I understand that when creating a benchmark game such as this, most developers feel obligated to include a single-player story mode, tying everything together. Subspace Emissary attempts to do just that, although the entire thing just feels so unnecessary. Sure, it’s fun to see Pikachu and Samus Aran interact, but playing a cumbersome, lengthy side-scrolling beat-em-up just feels so hollow. It can be rewarding at times, but the same can be said of vacuuming. And both activities are major chores. You’ll play through this mode to earn trophies and additional characters, but you’ll never touch it again once you finish it.

Despite this singular gripe—which is pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of things—any self-respecting gamer will be playing this game for years to come. It’s fun, it’s easy to pick up, and it continues a ten-year legacy of gaming goodness. Solid gameplay, loveable characters and simple-yet-satisfying controls make Super Smash Bros. Brawl the game to beat this spring.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Get Doc Brown on the Phone!

I think an archived New York Times piece may be proof that I am fully capable of time travel. Take a look at this July 22, 1858 police blotter:

POLICE.-CHRISTOPER MEYER was fined $10, yesterday, for having. on Monday, stolen a child's hat out of the sitting room at the Jersey City Ferry. In default of payment, he was sent to jail for ten days. ACCIDENT.-JAMES WORTMAN, while passing up Montgomery-street, on Tuesday evening, in a state of intoxication, ran against a lamp-post with such force as to fracture his collar bone. He was taken to his boarding house in South Third-street.

Who doesn't want to party with 1850's James Wortman?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Cake is a Lie

I know I’m saying nothing that hasn’t already been said by countless others, but I really must congratulate the team at Valve for their fine, fine work on Portal, one of the most satisfying games I’ve ever had the privilege to experience.

Bundled as part of The Orange Box—which also includes the phenomenal Half-Life 2, both of its current expansion packs and the multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2Portal redefines what it means to be a shooter. In it, you play as the silent protagonist Chell as you make your way through a series of puzzles in the Aperture Science Enrichment Center armed only with a “portal gun.” This gun allows you to create doorways for yourself to pass through and solve each of the game’s 19 chambers. But are things really as they seem? And what’s the deal with GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System), the artificial intelligence with the eerily soothing voice that provides the only exposition you’re going to find in this stripped-down game? Why am I so attached to my Weighted Companion Cube? And what’s the deal with the promise of cake at the test’s conclusion?
This is exactly the kind of title that the gaming community needs to herald as an artistic approach to interactive entertainment. Like BioShock and Mass Effect before it, Portal is a masterpiece. Fortunately The Orange Box is multiplatform, so just about anyone can jump in. And out. And in again. If you’d played the game, that last statement would be hilarious, or at least mildly amusing for its allusion to portal technology. As is, it just seems kind of creepy.
Speaking of creepy, this game has one of the oddest end-credit songs you’re likely to hear anytime soon. It's awesome, but I have no idea why. I also kind of want it on my iPod.

The Orange Box is a must-buy for this title alone. All of the other gaming goodness packed into this $60 bundle doesn’t hurt either.