Friday, June 21, 2013

RVGA ponders Dynamite Entertainment's "The Black Bat" and coins the "PulpX" phrase and hashtag.

     I just wanted to take a minute to discuss a comic book that I've become quite passionate about in the short amount of time it's been in publication. The comic book in question here is called The Black Bat and it's published by a company called Dynamite Entertainment. If you're not familiar with them I suggest you check out an earlier blog post of mine where I discussed Dynamite and their amazing line of comic books based on classic pulp heroes of the 30's and 40's in depth. It's an interesting read and a nice introduction to the modern pulp genre. A genre I am un-officially dubbing “PulpX”. If you follow either Dynamite Entertainment or myself on Twitter than you'll know that I coined that phrase recently and it was re-tweeted and adopted by Dynamite to describe their line of pulp hero books specifically, this being aside from their other styles of pulp they publish. This was a real highlight for me and I'm truly honored to be a part of it. But enough about PulpX for now as I want to spend some time discussing this amazing series at hand.
    The Black Bat is only on it's second issue as of this writing, but it's 2 published issues have lead me to absolutely fall in love with the character portrayed in this title as well as the surroundings and atmosphere this book gives off. It's writer, the very talented Brian Buccellato, has truly crafted a tale that is both refreshing and engaging with a main character so rife with life's hardships that it's a miracle he hasn't jumped off a bridge. Well, come to think about it he actually tried in issue #2, but that's besides the point. The point is that the hero of the story is at a severe disadvantage thanks to being blind and struggled to adapt to the society around him, but yet still finds a way to take out the criminals who litter his city. It's really neat. But what's even more neat is that he has solar-like vision that allows him to see in the dark, which is when most criminals tend to strike anyway so it works out in the end.
      On top of the amazing writing by Mr. Buccellato, the book features really nice interior art by an artist named Ronan Cliquet, who's work I actually didn't like a whole lot when he was penciling Green Hornet: Legacy for Dynamite prior to the “Legacy” branding. Ronan's style has been refined and he's pumping out some high quality artwork in The Black Bat, the dark settings and character visuals tend to work better for him more so than the colorful outfit of The Green Hornet and the daytime scenery in which he was working with before. All in all Cliquet's art is much improved and he gets a tip of the cap from me for his efforts in this comic, it's pretty crisp stuff and really worth checking out if you're into interior artwork like I am.
     The first issue was great. You get to see the city that the Black Bat protects from his POV while he takes on thugs and puts the word out that he's looking for a criminal known as The Brute, but while all this is going on you're taken back in time to see how he got his sonar vision as well as other personal traits that brought him to the current day. In the second issue we get even more current day story mixed with personal issues that took place previously that are masterfully woven together to make a thrilling and someone touching tale that brings you closer to the man behind the mask more so than the vigilante himself. Perfecto! This is storytelling stripped down to it's very core and layered with seasoning to bring forth a compelling tale of a classic hero who has been re-imagined in a new era.
     For those who don't know who The Black Bat is, well, there has actually been a couple pulp based characters known as The Black Bat. This particular incarnation came out right around the time that Batman did in the late 30's and both the publishers of the pulp novels and the creators of Batman spent some time bickering with each other until both characters changed up their look a bit, which in the end pleased all parties involved. To be honest though, the original Black Bat pre-dated Batman by several years and even though this incarnation is based on what I believe to be the 3rd version of the Black Bat I still think that he was created shortly before Bob Kane created the legendary “Dark Knight”. With that said, it does piss me off a little when I see some uneducated forum member online come into a thread pertaining to not only The Black Bat, but other pulp heroes too, and refer to them as rip-offs of current popular DC and Marvel characters. Some people just aren't hip to the fact that these pulp heroes predated them all. Damn shame, really. But for every fan who writes this series off as “Batman with guns” there is a fan who knows the true history of the character and realizes that this book stands on its own as being something quite special.
     I seriously can't comment enough about how much I love The Black Bat and I really hope that those who are reading this blog entry who enjoy comic books will give this one a shot. Trust me on this, it's damn good and you have a chance to hop on something fresh while it's still in it's infancy. It's one of those situations where you'll thank me later for suggesting it and I fully believe that based off of this one title you'll soon be investing in the rest of Dynamite's PulpX books. What do you have to lose? $4? You can dig that up out of your couch cushions and from underneath all the 2 month old pizza boxes you've got scattered throughout you're studio apartment, so go ahead.....purchase, read, and enjoy. Catch you on the flip side!

     On a side note: Since I hit Twitter this past week and coined the phrase “PulpX” it's really been taking off among the community of fans who read the Dynamite pulp heroes line of comics. But what does PulpX really mean? Well, to be honest, I don't really know. Whenever I read something that ends in an “X” like how kids/teens of the 90's were dubbed “Generation X”, or how they ad an X to the end of things to signify it being new or the next step in the evolution of a product it's always sort of resonated with me. So picture it like that. This new wave of pulp comics by Dynamite Entertainment is very much a new revolution for the genre, and with pulp now on the mind of comic book fans around the world I figured adding an X to the name would really give it a cool spark, and so far it has. So there you have it!

#PulpX lives on.

© 2013 Bill Mulligan

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Retro Video Game Addict reviews: The Legend of Zelda for the NES!

     Alright boys and girls, it's finally time for me to sit down and do a review of the king of the hill when it comes to adventure games on the NES. That's right, this is my official review of The Legend of Zelda!
     I think everyone agrees that The Legend of Zelda is one of the best games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and one of the best video games ever created. It's one of those timeless masterpieces that people still get the urge to play some 25 years later and it's definitely a game that remained popular throughout the life of the NES. See, many games come out for modern gaming consoles and are lost to time and forgotten about less than 6 months later because the modern gamer has become so fickle that they can't figure out what it is they want to play. A new game comes out and then interest in whatever they were enjoying previously comes to an abrupt end and the game is cast aside and never touched again, if not traded away (I hate that). These kinds of things didn't happen much during the NES day's and the popularity of the original Zelda lasted well into the early 90's, some 4-6 years after the title hit stateside. That's a remarkable feat, especially since Sega had two gaming machines on the market, Nintendo had it's Gameboy, and Turbo Grafix had their TG-16 console readily available.
     What The Legend of Zelda did upon release was refine a genre that heavily needed it. But the game didn't have an easy time upon it's release, oh no, Nintendo of America almost canned it because they believe that it may be too hard of a game for an American audience. That's right, The Legend of Zelda almost never came out in the United States! What Nintendo of America did was hold sessions with study groups and allowed players to spend time with the game, after the sessions were over the powers that be asked the members of the groups what they thought of the game. It was almost unanimous that the players didn't like The Legend of Zelda with multiple people claiming the game was “shit”. Well, regardless of the study sessions the game eventually saw release and went on to become one of the NES' top selling (and top rated) titles.
The premise of the game was fairly simple: A hero dungeon crawled his way through multiple labyrinths in
hopes of finding pieces of a legendary triforce in order to save the kingdom of Hyrule. And the gameplay mimicked the story. Link, our timeless hero, scoured 9 different dungeons as he collected helpful items and pieces of the triforce before meeting an enemy named Ganon in a final epic encounter. The land of Hyrule was littered with surprises and easter eggs that left the gamer planting bombs to uncover hidden caves, lighting trees on fire to find hidden temples, and using the gadgets they've found along the way to find secret hearts and other fun prizes. There was truly nothing like this game at the time and the player was rewarded handsomely if they uncovered these special secrets, which were literally all over the map. For the completion mongers out there it can be quite a daunting task trying to discover and uncover all of the secrets that Zelda has to offer, but it can be fun and I've spoken with many who have attained this feat.
     The game itself isn't overly hard at first with the first 2 or 3 dungeons being easily beatable if you're a seasoned gamer, but once you hit the 4th dungeon and beyond the game gets difficult. You find yourself inside of rooms with statues shooting fire at you while you try to kill 6 or 7 enemies floating around the room, it can get pretty infuriating trying to deal with the amount of stuff the game throws at you at one time. Also, if you haven't played the game since you originally owned it or if you're tackling Zelda for the first time, you'll notice that many tips they give you are very cryptic and it's almost impossible to navigate and find every dungeon without some kind of help from a guide. This is classic Nintendo and something I've come to expect from many games in the NES library and it often makes me wonder how I figured all this stuff out when I was younger. Back then if you didn't subscribe to the Nintendo Power magazine or have a slew of friends who were playing the same games as you than finding things was heavily trial and error based before the days of the internet.
     While I've played The Legend of Zelda back in it's heyday, I was more of a Zelda II: The Adventures of Link fan and owned that game instead of the original. I would rent Zelda from time to time and I always got to play it at friends houses and whatnot, but I wouldn't go on to fully own the game until 1995 when I bought
it along with a refurbished NES from FUNCOLAND one day in what I believe was March. Sadly, I had sold all my NES stuff to a flea market a couple of years before hand and was starting out from scratch again with the NES and decided to get some games that I've either never owned or have never even played. I used Game Genie and spent hours bombing my way through the game and eventually beat it, which gave me an inner feeling of joy and happiness that I couldn't even begin to explain. I beat the game again the following year after a friend of mine and I created a mini “game room” out of my bedroom, We decided to play the game and take turns as we progressed. We had a blast trading off the controller on certain dungeons until we met up with Ganon, in which I personally had the pleasure of taking him down. Fond memories, indeed. I beat the game for a third time again in 2005 and then again just recently, which the most recent time being probably the most difficult since I didn't use Game Genie right away and waited until late in the game to do so. But no matter how many times I revisit The Legend of Zelda I always enjoy my time with it and am forever amazed at how fun it is to play.
     Despite the game being a classic I do have a few gripes with it. First off, the music. Yeah, I know, the games soundtrack is considered to be one of the best in video game history, and believe me it is, but sometimes the dungeon theme can get a bit repetitive and after an extended play the overworld theme can drone on a bit too. I love both themes quite a bit, so don't get me wrong, but the overworld theme starts to wear on you when it restarts over and over after bouncing in and out of hidden caves and the such. But even with that said, I can't deny that Zelda has some of the best and most recognizable music in video game history.
     My second complaint would be the sheer difficulty later on in the game. Whether it's hidden rooms that an only be accessed by sheer luck or sections of a dungeons that have way too much going on at one time, this game is no joke as you progress and should be played cautiously. But challenge can be fun and if you choose to go in without the help of Game Genie than be warned that it's not going to be a cake walk, but most reading this know that by now anyhow. But despite it's difficulty it's a blast to play and the fun outshines the
hardship and the game is an absolute joy to play thanks to it's wonderful control, fun soundtrack, interesting enemies, familiar world, and intense hurdles.
     I'm sure about 90% of those reading this blog have already played this game and if you're a game collector than you no doubt own it, but for those who have not had the chance to play this timeless classic I urge you do go give it a try. There is lot's to be said about retro gaming and this game is one of the reasons the hobby is as big as it is, so what do you have to lose? You've got so many different options to play it too whether it be owning the original cart, playing it on the Nintendo Virtual Console, or by playing it on an emulator, but either which rout you choose you'll no doubt leave the kingdom of Hyrule with a smile on your face. That I can guarantee.

Graphics/Visuals – 8.0
Sound/Music – 9.25
Control/Handling – 9.0
Fun/Enjoyment – 9.25

© 2013 Bill Mulligan

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Retro Video Game Addict checks out the Retro Entertainment System!

 The original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was a wonderful machine. It was the video game console that popularized video games and made gaming cool, even more so than the Atari 2600 which brought the medium into the limelight but then flipped the switch off in the early 80's after they over saturated the market and released a slew of what consumers felt were bad games. When video games crashed in 1983/1984 it was Nintendo who picked up the pieces and ushered in millions of new players with their incredible system that featured some of the most recognized and well known games in the history of the business. But here we are about 28 years later and you can still buy an NES through major web sites or from small video game stores throughout the world, but the problem is that they may not work correctly anymore. Some people have even gone ahead and changed out the 72-pin connector inside of the console, but there have been so many complaints about the new connectors not holding up and ruining games that many have given up on finding an NES that works properly. That's where clone system (or “Fami-Clones”) come into the picture. These clone systems started seeing the light of day sometime in 2005 after the patent on the NES ran out and 2 small companies went to work on creating their own Nintendo Entertainment System consoles, those companies were Yobo and Play Messiah. I have Messiah's “Generation NEX” system and it's a wonderful NES clone that looks like an NES would look if it were manufactured in 2005. It was small, sleek, and sexy, it supported original Nintendo carts as well as Famicom games, and it offered support for wireless controllers. What a machine! But today we're not going to be talking about the Generation NEX, instead we're going to be talking about a machine by a company called Retro-Bit who in 2011 created the Retro Entertainment System (RES).
     The Retro Entertainment System itself is an extremely small unit that is no bigger than an actual NES cartridge except that it's much thicker, it also comes with two controllers that most who have used the system either love or hate. Personally, I don't think they're too bad at all and the buttons have a nice clicky feeling to
them that compliment the Genesis style D-Pad nicely. All in all this is a very capable controller, it even has an indentation on the back which helps to give it a better grip. For those who don't wish to use the controllers that are bundled with the system than that's fine, the connector ports allow you to use official Nintendo controllers as well as every Nintendo based accessory such as the NES Advantage or NES Max.
The console is made of a cheaper plastic and is very light, but it's not cheap enough to break after a small fall or anything, I just wouldn't be too rough with it if you plan on having it last a very long time. This isn't first party Nintendo quality here, but it's not a weakling either. Just be gentle with it, especially when removing NES cartridges from the unit itself, it grips the games pretty good and may require you to brace down the system when taking the games out. This is common with almost every clone system on the market, though. The quality of the controller is about the same. While it's a responsive controller when playing games and the buttons give you a good click, it's fairly hollow inside and the cord is really think and feels like it could separate if given enough force. So the mantra here is to be gentle with the Retro Entertainment System, especially if you want it to last a good while.
     Like with most of the clone consoles on the market the RES does not have 100% compatibility. It does not play games like Castlevania 3 and there is a small list of other titles that are incompatible on the unit, luckily some of them I don't own and for the ones I do I can play them in my original NES so this isn't a problem for me. Luckily it does handle the Game Genie nicely, which is a huge plus for me since I do enjoy using the cheat codes while playing certain games, especially those that are such ball busters that I can't get out of the first level. Yeah, you games know which ones you are you bastards.

     There seems to be a lot of debate over whether or not someone should invest in an NES clone. To me there was no debate, mainly because I love to collect hardware and I am in the boat that believes that eventually the original first party hardware is just going to fail and that the 72-pin connector swap is mainly a band-aid fix that has been met with so-so results. So why take the risk? Sure, every good collector has an original NES system in their collection, some may even have a top loader, but there is absolutely nothing wrong in investing into a clone system that will handle the job while the classic consoles rest nicely in retirement. Think about it this way: Let's say that you were a business owner and old Henry was 80 years old and couldn't handle the job very well anymore but yet he's a good friend and a loyal employee. Wouldn't you want to try to find a way to keep him around while you hire someone extra to pick up the slack in the downtime? Sure you would! Think of a clone system as doing just that and it will quickly become not such a bad idea. The Retro Entertainment System, the Generation NEX, the Yobo, the FC Twin, the RetroN 3 (and soon to be 5), and the Retro-Duo do just that and they do it well. Besides, some of these clone systems you can get for next to nothing on eBay and/or Amazon, so in essence you don't have a lot to risk in picking one up. I suggest you do it and if you do, please feel free to let me know how it all turned out, I'm not hard to find.

UPDATED on 10/6/13: Well, the thing didn't make it past September and is no longer working. Too bad too, it was a fun little unit but I guess the Generation NEX or the upcoming Retron 5 would be better substitutes for the real thing if you're looking to put less wear and tear on your original hardware.


© 2013 Bill Mulligan