Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Retro Video Game Addict covers: The Dynamite Entertainment Pulp Revolution.

Yeah, yeah. I know what you're thinking. “Why is there an article about comic books on a retro video game blog site?”. Well, to tell you the truth, I'm not exactly sure. I was just laying around doing nothing and I suddenly felt the need to sit down and type out my feelings on the pulp storytelling movement that is currently happening over at Dynamite Entertainment. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, relax, this won't hurt (I swear!) and you may find yourself kind of interested in what I have to say. But before I do I have to let you in on a little secret. You ready? Here it comes.....

     Superheroes no longer have to wear spandex.

     There, I said it! Dynamite Entertainment has enlisted quite the crew to bring us comic book readers some of the absolute best comics on store shelves right now and these characters are not spandex clad and do not leap tall buildings in a single bound. They're normal human beings just like you and me, but with a few dollars in the bank that allows them to do what they do. These characters were popular back in the 30's and 40's but have basically been absent from the public eye for several decades until a company known as Dynamite Entertainment picked them up and decided to publish comics based around these characters for both fans of the originals and a bold new modern audience. This was a risky task considering modern comic book fans are used to their heroes having superpowers and being either mutants or tricked out in some colorful superhero gear. Not these heroes! These guys are packing heat, wearing fine business suits, ankle long trench coats, and many of them protect their identities with cheap eye coverings and fedora's. Take that Spider-Man!
     This style of “pulp hero” is something that actually found popularity before the traditional superhero ever graced a comic book page. Comic books started finding their ways to newsstands sometime in the mid 1930's while pulp books have been printed since the very early 1900's, and the differences between a superhero and a “pulp hero” is that the pulp hero will shoot you clean between your eyes and leave for you for dead while the superhero will try to rehabilitate you. Pulp storytelling is a violent, take no prisoners, affair that has found it's way back into readers hands for what appears to be a long haul and something I've personally taken to over the past couple of years.
      Dynamite publishes a lot more pulp characters than the ones I'm going to discuss in this blog but I'm choosing to discuss the pulp heroes in the traditional sense. They publish comics based on John Carter, Zorro, Lone Ranger, Tarzan, and a few others, but this blog entry is geared more toward The Shadow, The Spider, Green Hornet, The Black Bat, Miss Fury, and others. For me (and many others) Dynamite hooked me on the pulp characters when they first started publishing The Green Hornet sometime in 2010. The Shadow in May of 2012 was another title that hooked me and then soon after that they began putting out comics based around The Spider and before you knew it more and more started trickling in. Luckily pretty much all of the books within this line have been extremely well written and feature art that fits the mood of the books. In other words, it's been a hell of a ride.
     I like the fact that these heroes are not scared to kill their enemies as opposed to the traditional superheroes you get from DC and Marvel, it gives the books a sense of unpredictability that you won't find elsewhere. These classic heroes swear, smoke, drink, engage in adult “situations”, and kill with the best of them. But all in the name of “justice”, of course. And why not? Sometimes to preserve the law you need to break the law and if killing a man who poisoned a city or who tossed an elderly woman off of a rooftop after wiping out a bank full of hostages is the only way to get the job done, than I say go for it. The only alternative is either rehabilitation the criminals by locking them away in Arkham, or delivering a super powered psychopath to the boys in blue. And I think we all know how that turns out, you see what I'm saying?
Now, I'd like to take a few moments to talk about a few of the specific titles within the pulp line Dynamite had going on. The firs title I would like to discuss with you would be their flagship book, The Shadow, which was launched by the legendary writer known the industry over as Garth Ennis. The opening arc was a mixed bag to many fans, it seemed like they either loved it or hated it (I enjoyed it quite a bit) but the sales remained strong and the story was quite compelling. The artist on the book illustrates The Shadow and his 1930's surroundings perfectly and the artist that took over the book on it's 12th issue gives the title a flair that is up there with some of the best pencilers in the comic book industry. It's just remarkable. The story is dark and violent and The Shadow pulls no punches as he fights criminals in New York and over seas, bringing justice in the only way he knows how: Through the barrels of his double pistols. Make no mistake here kids, this isn't you're friendly neighborhood Spider-Man or your classic red cape who is vowing to bring us “justice in the American way”, no, this head crackin' to the 10th degree and definitely not for anyone under the age of 14 or 15.
     The Spider is very similar. This book features a hero who is defending his city against crazed lunatics on a daily basis while trying to keep an eye on the woman he loves who just happens to be married to his closest friend, the police chief. Most of the book is written with The Spider trying to use the police to help him solve mysteries while trying to keep his identity safe while he desperately wants to win back his true love. It's remarkable how this book cliff hangs and pulls you in for the next issue, it's definitely underrated and deserves all the readers it can get. In fact, Dynamite almost pulled the plug on it as of it's 12th issue, but fan outcry on the Dynamite forums and on Twitter helped to #SaveTheSpider and the book is solicited to it's 15th issue as of this writing. The writing in this book is top notch and some of David Liss' finest work, the art was phenomenal as well with the original artist and even better with Ivan Rodriguez since he's taken over pencils as of a few months back. Stellar colors and inks set this book apart as a real looker too, everything is just solid all around.
     The Green Hornet is off to a masterful start as Mark Waid takes the character back to his original roots. Don't confuse this book with the existing Green Hornet title that was launched by Kevin Smith, though! That Green Hornet title has been rebranded as “Legacy” and follows the adventures of the original Hornet's son in the modern day while Waid's book follows the original Green Hornet in his native setting. Both book are great and should be given a chance but the newer of the two GH comics is the top dog in the eyes of Dynamite and their readers. Waid's art and Indro's pencils couple to make a kick in the ass that reviewers all over the world have said is the best rendition of The Green Hornet to date, which is a huge compliment seeing as how the character has been around since the late 30's or early
40's. And the book is just getting started too, lot's more is on it's way including a crossover title between The Green Hornet and The Shadow and more from the “Legacy” book. For me, this character has the making of becoming something truly special in the world of comics, especially with a top tier talent like Mark Waid at the helm and art that pop's out at you the way that it does. Phenomenal!
     I could go on and on about these pulp titles. MASKS, Miss Fury, The Black Bat (a personal favorite), and more.....but instead I'll just kick back and let you be the judge. That's right. I CHALLENGE you to give these books a shot whether it be through single issues, trade/GN's, or digitally through Comixology and tell me that these aren't some of the most enjoyable comics you've read in a while. Seriously, I think that as successful as they are they've yet to truly scratch the surface and I believe that this whole revolution will be something special that we'll remember for quite some time to come, especially by those who embraced the movement. So, with that said I want you to get down to you're local comic book store or grab you're closest iOS or Android device and snatch up some of these Dynamite Entertainment gems, I truly think you'll see what I'm talking about and stay on board for the long haul. If not than at least you can say you tried them, but yeah, prepare for a long and blissful stay upon the S.S #PulpComics. Cheers!

#PulpComics #SaveTheSpider

© 2013 Bill Mulligan

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Retro Video Game Addict reviews: Hydlide for the NES!

 You know what's bad? Hydlide for the Nintendo Entertainment System is pretty bad. Yeah, it's an action/adventure/RPG that is a lot like The Legend of Zelda except that The Legend of Zelda is a far superior game, but to Hydlide's defense the game was create about 3 years prior to Zelda. That, of course, was back before they had the technology to polish a game and make it engrossing like they did with the original Zelda. It was actually originally a PC game that had been released in 1984 that was eventually ported over to the NES sometime in 1988, the problem is that in the 4 years between it's original release and it's life on the NES they didn't appear to do anything to make the game any better. Since I've never played the PC version of the game in it's entirety I have to assume that it's an exact port and that the Nintendo version is the same as it's PC counterpart from start to finish. Which is mind blowing to me in many ways because the NES was capable of producing a much better game than this. Especially since it had games out at the time that trump Hydlide in almost every category you could rank them at.
     This game really doesn't have much going for it, either. The graphics are extremely poor, the control is kinda slow and chunky, and it's one of those games where you cant really tell if you're hitting the enemies or not. In combat when you attack nothing really happens except for a small health bar that appears at the top of the screen and depletes when an enemy is dying. This makes things really difficult when fighting monsters because you have no sense of spacing, you end up taking a lot of damage thanks to your sword not moving outward to hit your opponent. Also, if your enemy hits you first you have to back up before attacking again otherwise you'll continue to lose heath, which is extremely annoying and makes you want to punt an elderly woman in her jaw. Or better yet, it's so annoying it makes you want to unleash a poisonous snake into an
infant ward at a hospital.
     Another thing I kind of dislike about the game is that there is a lack of dungeons, or at least a lack of cool dungeons I should say. For an action/adventure/RPG game such as this I look forward to dungeon crawling and fighting awesome bosses, but sadly Hydlide doesn't offer a whole lot of cool dungeons or fun bosses with most of them being annoyingly fast skeletons or some kind of variation of other monsters already in the game. Most of Hydlide's dungeons are more like navigating houses from a top down view. Instead of going into a dungeon and adventuring to the final boss like in Zelda or a game like Dragon Warrior, the dungeons are not presented on their own screens, they share the outside view along with the grass and trees. The only time a dungeon becomes it's own screen is if there is a downstairs or an upstairs, which happens from time to time but isn't really fun or engaging and ends up being more of a death maze more than anything.

     The game as a whole wasn't really popular either. I personally knew one person who had it back in the “NES Age” and he didn't really play it much, in fact almost every review I've read basically ranks this game among the worst in the NES library. But was it really all that bad? I mean, yeah, it's bad.....but it isn't the worst game in the extensive annals of the NES, that will forever be reserved by Impossible Mission II. Impossible Mission II was a game so bad it was unlicensed by Nintendo and I happened to buy it for $7 during the NES' prime. In a time when Nintendo games were $49.95 brand new you knew you were getting a real classic when you found one for under $10 still in it's factory seal. Could you sense the sarcasm? I've also played a few other games that suffered from worse game play mechanics, worse music, worse control, and other factors that would lead me to play this game before I even looked at them. So I guess all in all Hydlide is just bad and not completely terrible like some would lead you to believe.
     And with that said, Hydlide does have some charming aspects to it that actually make it quite fun at times. First of all, the music is pretty catchy. Sure, it's a simple looping theme that sounds a bit like the Indiana Jones theme and doesn't have a whole lot behind it, but it does kind of makes you hum along to the soundtrack while your playing. And second, the main character moves at a speed that makes it kind of easy to escape a potentially bad and/or hazardous situations. I actually like that in my video games. I know that isn't a glaring example as to why someone should purchase and play Hydlide, but at least it's something to separate this title from the sea of bullshit that is floating around out there. But that's about where the good graces of this game come to an end. I think one of the must frustrating aspects of this game is that it takes place within a small window on the screen thanks to an overlay that takes up a great deal of space. Was this really necessary? You're health, magic, and XP bar are located on the side of the screen on what looks to be a brick wall that also shows a small picture of your character alongside another bar that for some reason shows you if you're defending or attacking. To make matters even worse the brick wall that takes up almost half your screen manages to display the Hydlide logo at the top while showing the name of the game along the bottom. That's some serious bullshit because the player obviously knows what game they're playing and there was no need to spam the title on the screen twice. Well, instead of going off more about how disappointed I was with Hydlide I think I'll just wrap this puppy up and hit you with the final numbers......

Graphics/Visuals - 4.0
Sound/Music - 7.5
Controls/Handling - 7.0
Fun/Enjoyment - 4.0

© 2013 Bill Mulligan

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Retro Video Game Addict reviews: Contra for the NES!

Why hello there! Welcome to the first installment of The Retro Video Game Addict's reviews and insight blog, a place that both celebrates the great retro games of good and humiliates the crappy retro games of bad.
     The first game I am going to review for the new blog is a game that is very well known to fans of classic video games thanks to it's extreme popularity and the fact that this game helped to popularize a code that many video game fans still know to this day. The code is known as the “Konami Code” but many refer to it as the “Contra Code” since Contra is the game that made the configuration famous. That's right boys and girls, today The Retro Video Game Addict is going to review Contra for the Nintendo Entertainment System!
     Ah yes, many of you may remember countless late nights on the couch or early mornings in your bedrooms navigating the fierce jungles or other intense locations within Contra, but I know that all of you surely remember just how fucking hard this game actually was. This game wasn't just hard, it was a god damn ball buster, but it was also fun as hell once you've entered in the “Konami Code” and settled down with a second player to proceed into what sometimes felt like a long, slow, ass raping. It's difficulty aside, I would say that this game was truly one of the most prolific 2-player games on the NES and certainly one of the most popular. I didn't know anyone who didn't own this game back in the heyday of the Nintendo Entertainment System, or at least I didn't know anyone who hadn't at least played it. Contra was seemingly everywhere and the game was so popular it spawned some sequels on the NES and eventually quite a few other platforms like the Gameboy, Super Nintendo, Genesis, and even the Playstation, but none of them quite captured the awe-inspiring greatness of the original classic. 
      The story of the game as well as the gameplay itself was pretty basic. It revolved around two armed soldiers, Lance and Billy, as they scour an unnamed South American island aiming to destroy a terrorist organization that was trying to take over the Earth in a “run n' gun” gameplay simulation . Bam! No 6 hour story here. No dramatic cut scenes that look like they were ripped out of a horrible blockbuster movie. Nope, just about 2 ½ hours worth of intense side-scrolling action and a couple of bloody thumbs. This is exactly the kind of game that both kids and adults were addicted to some 20-25 years ago and if you were playing alongside another player than it didn't get much better than this. You got to love it!
     See, if this game came out today you'd have a 7 or 8 hour video game with extremely well done cut scenes that would take up about ¾ of the actual content leaving you with about 2 hours worth of solid gameplay. The developers would do their best to discreetly hide this with a multiplayer option that would be cluttered full of 12 year old boys calling everyone “noobs” as they blast their way to a high score. Yeah, that sounds like it would be well worth my $60! Please. Some games were truly meant to be what they were and Contra is certainly one of them, there is absolutely no need to release this franchise on current generation hardware since the developers would most likely just ruin it with pile after pile of modern bullshit. No thanks, kiddies.  
     Some of my personal memories with this game include a buddy of mine, Kenny M, coming over some mornings and playing this game with me before we had to go to school. I've also played this game quite extensively with my friends Chris B and Kenny K, it seemed like I've put hours of time into the game in the single player mode but the 2-player option is what has made me fall in love with Contra. I remember sitting on my bed with my friend Chris one Sunday afternoon and we slammed this game into my NES and we didn't stop until we hit the end, it was a grueling test of skill and effort but we made it and I'll always remember that day as long as I live. Contra is one of those games that you just remember putting quite a bit of time into though you've probably not many people who have actually completed the game without using the code or an apparatus like a Game Genie, it's just too damn difficult. But I guess that was somewhat the norm back in the ol' NES days, the library of games that were just too insanely difficult is too long to list but yet it didn't stop people from trying. I think if this was the case with today's games people would pack it up and run quicker than a Jewish man depositing his check in the bank. Seriously, today's "gamer" has grown too fickle and they don't seem to want to put too much time or effort into their games anymore. But not us children from the 80's, oh no, we would keep pounding away until we broke some ground and got the job done. 
 And now we will discuss the actual game and where it's strengths and weaknesses are found. First of all, we've got to talk about the sound effect and music within Contra and how they strike a sense of nostalgia with those who grew up playing the game. Everything from the theme that plays while the start screen comes up after pressing the power button to the sounds of the guns going off is quite frankly the stuff of legend among gamers. The 8-bit music that can be heard while running through each level has become "humming" tunes for many of us and I would say that Contra had some pretty fun tunes throughout the game. Honestly though I've got to say that it's been a while since I've made it past the first few levels so I don't remember all of the music, but I do remember a good portion of it which speaks volumes since I haven't heard much of it in close to 20 years.
     The game controls just fine, everything is responsive and I wouldn't say it struggles with sluggish performance or anything, it can just be very annoying when bullets are flying everywhere and it becomes insanely hard to dodge them while you're making your way through the level. The graphics are pretty nice and represented the NES quite well back in the day. The visuals are nothing too outstanding mind you, but you can clearly see where you need to jump and there is no major weakness in this category as everything looks fine. It's funny how developers were able to get so much more out of the NES toward the end of it's life-cycle with games that have visuals that put Contra to shame, but I guess that could be said for any video game console. But most importantly the game is fun, and that's why we play games....correct? For the fun? Yeah, that's exactly why people played video games back in the day but I'm not entirely sure that's why people are playing video games today for whatever reason, but that's another blog for another time. And now onto the totals......

Graphics/Visuals - 7.5
Sound/Music - 8.0
Controls/Handling - 8.5
Fun/Enjoyment - 8.0

     Well, I hope you enjoyed the first entry into The Retro Video Game Addict! Thanks for reading and I hope to see you come back for more as I keep adding new reviews and insight on retro video gaming, take care!

© 2013 Bill Mulligan