My girlfriend's a big Glee fan. I watch it with her now and again -- it's a little poppy for my tastes, and has gotten too big too fast, but it's not bad; there's some good singin' and dancin' and I've loved me some Jane Lynch since Best in Show.
So last night I did what any self-respecting owner of a Denton High Class of 1963 jacket (if that's not an oxymoron) would do: I watched the Rocky Horror episode. And...I am deeply ambivalent about it.
The singing, dancing, choreography, and costumes were generally great...but to say there were compromises for network TV is an understatement. Yes, I understand that twelve-year-olds watch this show, but not to put too fine a point on it, they just did Rocky Horror with no cross-dressing. Seriously. That happened.
I mean, I'm all for letting a woman play Frank-N-Furter; I've seen some great female Franks in my time (and the best version of Dammit Janet I've ever seen was performed by a female Brad). But Rocky Horror without a single man in fishnets? Basically a contradiction in terms, and rather odd coming from a show that hasn't exactly shied away from drag before.
And then there are the bowdlerized lyrics. Some of them are incoherent -- what the fuck is "heavy sweating"? -- while others change some of the best-known lines in the show. "I'm a sweet transvestite from sensational Transylvania"? What, you can say "transvestite" but not "transexual"? Especially odd given that they used the derogatory version, "tranny", in an earlier scene. (Giving them the benefit of the doubt: as any Rocky cast member can tell you, "Tranny" is also short for "Transylvanian".)
On the other hand, the bowdlerizations made sense in the context of the show's plot, and were fairly clever from a metafictional standpoint. After all, the whole episode revolves around the simple fact that no public high school, anywhere, would ever actually put on Rocky Horror; the show being too kinky for public school works as a metaphor for it being too kinky for this timeslot, and also gives an in-plot explanation for why the lyrics are changed.
But...is it really too kinky for the timeslot? I've seen Rocky on broadcast TV, in prime time, nearly uncut. Hell, The Simpsons put Dr. Hibbert in Frank-N-Furter garb in 1995, and The Drew Carey Show did the same with Diedrich Bader two years later. Maybe Glee has a younger audience than those shows, but it doesn't seem like it's that much younger. And hell, didn't the slutty cheerleaders just make a reference to scissoring each other a couple of weeks ago?
And it's frankly a little mind-boggling that Rocky Horror would even be controversial after 35 years. Somewhere, I'm sure Richard O'Brien is counting his money and having a good chuckle at the fact that it still freaks out TV producers after all this time.
All in all...well, it was fun, the songs were nicely done, and if this introduces some 12-year-olds to Rocky for the first time, good on it. But on the other, the spirit of the work is clearly missing, and, most problematically, the core "It's okay to be different" message becomes "It's okay to be different (as long as you don't do anything more scandalous than walking around in boxers)." (Boxers. They didn't even put Brad in briefs, dammit.) Glee's been pretty gutsy in its positive portrayals of the LGB community up to this point, so it's just weird that it would suddenly get squeamish when the "T" rolled around.
If you'll forgive me an annoying, smug movie review-style closer: the message here seems to be "Don't be it, dream it."
Now, I love me some Grant Morrison. He wrote the quintessential Superman story, he made me revise my "I hate the fucking X-Men" policy, and just look at what he's done with Batman.
But in the mid-1990's, I was more of a Marvel guy, so I never read his run on JLA.
Now, I've been told for years that it's a classic run, and so I finally picked up the first trade the other day. And I have to say...what the fuck is this shit?
Yeah, it would be a lot easier to appreciate the spectacle of the seven greatest and most iconic DC superheroes if they didn't look like this:
Hell, let's take a look at that entire Popeye Flash panel; it's a great "goofy faces" picture in and of itself:
And of course the 1990's art aesthetic didn't just apply to the pencils -- let's see some Photoshop Blur!
WHUTT! indeed. And the Photoshop problems don't stop there. It's not really easy to tell onscreen, but I can assure you that on the printed page, there are badly-antialiased fonts and jaggy pixels on backgrounds.
Now, I'm picking on the art a lot here, because it is a constant barrage of pure eye-searing awfulness, but what about the story? Can a brilliantly-written Grant Morrison story redeem truly reprehensible art?
Well, as we all know from New X-Men, the answer is "sometimes". Unfortunately, that doesn't happen here. In fact, I'm not entirely convinced this story was written by Morrison, or even a human being; it reads like it was written by the Justice League Cliché-o-Matic 5000.
New superhero team shows up and promises to save the world?
Check. They're actually bad guys?
Check. They lose because they underestimate Batman?
Check. Martian Manhunter is set up as a traitor because he's an alien who doesn't fit in...
...but it turns out he was a double-agent the whole time and he's still on the JLA's side?
Check and check. (An aside: that's the one artistic touch I really like in the book, is the Martians' shape-shifting depicted as clay crumbling off and reshaping. So kudos for that.)
Overcompensating for the fact that everyone makes fun of Aquaman by constantly showing that no really guys, Aquaman is a total badass!?
Ha, good one, Grant. Almost had me there. But I'm still pretty sure I had a Bingo two clichés ago. ...okay, one more.
Facile explanation for why the JLA doesn't just fix the world like the bad guys said they should?
Check. Also, what the hell are they all looking at?
Soooo yeah, a JLA story that would have sent me to the hospital if I'd made it into a drinking game, complete with Liefeld-lite 1990's art atrocities.
My question is, does it get better after that, or has everybody been having fun at my expense and this "classic" run is actually that terrible all the way through? Should I bother picking up any of the rest of it, or just skip to Earth 2? Please advise, Internet.
So, Metroid: Other M has ginned up a fair bit of discussion and controversy. On the whole I liked it -- I probably wouldn't put it in my top five Metroid games (and how weird does that sound, "my top five Metroid games"?), but it was perfectly solid.
That said, there is plenty to gripe about -- and I'm going to throw my hat in, starting with the stuff that didn't work and how it can be fixed, and then moving along into the stuff I did like so we can end on a nice happy upbeat note.
Oh, and major spoilers follow. So, you know, stop here if you don't want to read them.
This particular aspect of the game has probably attracted more criticism than any other, and for good reason. We've gone from an essentially mute protagonist to one who constantly narrates -- badly.
How to fix: 90% of the problems with the cutscenes could be improved by cutting out the narration. Ever hear the expression "Show, don't tell"? If someone has to explain what's going on in a visual medium, you're doing it wrong. And we don't need Samus doing these "dear diary" things where she tells us what's going on inside her head -- as the Robot Devil sagely told us, "You can't have your characters just announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!"
There is one glaring exception: the one time the game doesn't overexplain the plot is the part that most needs it, the identity of the Deleter. Who the hell is he? The game doesn't tell us. Is Samus supposed to have figured it out? If so, why didn't she ever mention it in her incessant damn narration? The closest we ever get is her finding James's body last. Are we then to assume it was him? Or is it deliberately unresolved, perhaps to be revealed in a sequel? And if that's the case, why the hell isn't that set up somewhere? It's this major plot thread that just...gets dropped.
(And if it was anyone but Adam or Anthony, what's the point? Does it really matter which random Redshirt is the traitor?)
Oh, and also, guys...it's the twenty-first damn century. There is no excuse for unskippable cutscenes.
Bad for the story. First of all, Samus being told not to use any of her equipment, and just deactivating all of it, has pissed a good many fans off, and rightfully so (see "Samus is a pussy", below). But even ignoring that, the execution is utterly nonsensical -- Adam allows his men to use Ice Beams from the get-go, but won't let Samus use hers until she's spent 10 minutes in a volcano? And speaking of the volcano, she's not allowed to use the friggin' Varia Suit at first? I mean, okay, you can come up with a plot explanation for being careful with missiles and bombs (though this would, you know, require some sort of damn payoff later in the story to actually work), but what the hell possible story justification can there be for not allowing someone to use heat shielding in a fucking volcano?
There is a neat "Screw (Attack) this" moment later on where Samus loses contact with Adam (for, it is later revealed, a profoundly stupid reason), and reenables a couple of moves on her own...but there's still no damn explanation for why she doesn't just unlock her entire arsenal at that point. For God's sake, she doesn't even enable the Gravity Suit until after she's slogged through the high-gravity area.
Oh, and incidentally, guys, it's been mentioned before, but giving a cute explanation for why Samus has to give up all her equipment at the beginning of the game only works if you explain what happened to all her missiles and energy tanks. Which brings us to:
Bad for gameplay. Unlocking Samus's powers at set intervals reduces the variety of items for you to find down to three: missiles, energy tanks, and powerups that reduce your charge time.
Now, reducing charge time is neat, and I was always happy to find one of those. And energy tanks are an essential part of a Metroid game too -- I just wish Nintendo hadn't decided to crib one of the more annoying collect-y bits from the Zelda series and started splitting them up into quarters. Does anybody like hunting for Pieces of Heart? Anybody?
Of course, the vast majority of the stuff you find in walls is going to be missiles. Trouble is, missile upgrades are damn near useless this time around, as you can fully recharge your missile supply in a couple seconds at any time (except, arbitrarily, in the last fight!). I mean, yeah, it's obviously better to have 50 missiles than 10, but the missile count just isn't as significant this time around. Especially when you're incrementing it by one at a time.
How to fix: Easiest thing to do would be just to go back to resetting Samus's powerset at the beginning of the game without explanation and having her get upgrades from Chozo statues. Sure, it requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief, but you know what requires a hell of a lot more suspension of disbelief? Being forced to turn off heat shielding in a volcano. And, you know, all that other shit I just got through complaining about.
If you're really concerned about having an in-plot explanation for Samus losing her powers, set the next game after Fusion and throw together some explanation about how the Fusion Suit can't retain its upgrades over time. Easy.
And it doesn't have to be the same arsenal in every game, guys! Let's see some new equipment!
Samus is a pussy.
We've already covered Samus's subservience to Adam, but the scene that rightfully cheesed a bunch of people off is the one where she's literally transformed into a crying child when Ridley confronts her.
Guys, I see what you're going for here -- the game plays with the image of a child's cry from beginning to end. And you're trying to show Samus gets scared sometimes -- Alien, after all, never had a problem showing Ripley scared shitless.
Difference is, Ripley still got shit done. She never needed a man to swoop in and snap her out of her little-girl crying.
And of course there's the fact that Samus has killed Ridley, what, four times by this point? That doesn't necessarily mean she can't still be afraid of him -- after all, it's not going to make the giant monster who killed your parents less scary if he keeps coming back from the dead -- but she never froze up on the previous four occasions, so it seems silly for her to do so now.
How to fix: I've already covered the "don't make Samus switch her equipment off and on at some dude's whim" point. As for the Ridley scene, it's okay to show her scared, but not to have her fall to pieces and just stand there. You really want to play the "crying child" thing, okay, make it a flashback, but this whole scene, Anthony's non-sacrifice and all, would still have worked without making Samus totally helpless.
This game has the worst abuse of invisible barriers I've seen since the Nintendo 64 era. It's embarrassing. If something looks like empty space, I should be able to walk through it. If there's an object with a flat top that's lower than the maximum height of my jump, I should be able to stand on it.
How to fix: If you don't want me to be able to walk through something, put a wall there. If you don't want me to be able to stand on top of something, make it taller, or have it end in a point. It's not rocket science, guys; this is embarrassing.
I am not a guy who usually looks at walkthroughs, but several times throughout this game I had to punch one up after spending ten minutes trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be looking at out of all the tiny objects off in the distance that are almost the same color as the background. It's utter nonsense -- that boss isn't going to attack me until I see the larva? MB's just going to stand at that window and watch me look around for five minutes and only run away once I've actually looked directly at her? -- and it completely kills the momentum of the game.
While scanning worked okay in Metroid Prime, this is fundamentally different. Prime clearly marked everything that was scannable, and let you move around while you were looking for things.
How to fix: It can't be fixed. Fucking get rid of it. The moment you think it would be a good idea to include another pixel hunt, bash your hand with a hammer. Keep doing this until you no longer think it sounds like a good idea.
Unclear objectives and inconsistent rules.
Following off the above section: I had to look up a walkthrough three times in the endgame. First, to find out what I was supposed to be looking for in Room MW. Second, to figure out how to beat the Metroid Queen -- yes, I'd figured Power Bombs, but holding down the button didn't work, you had to go into the menu and activate them. Which would be fine if that had been how it worked for every single other power, but all the rest activated automatically. You can't go changing the way powers are activated at the very end of the game.
And after that, there was one final pixel hunt. In the middle of a fight. Where you can't dodge or recharge your missiles and indeed there's not actually any indication that your goal is to look at the middle of the room instead of the guys shooting you in the face.
How to fix: You don't need to hold my hand and spell everything out for me, but make points of interest visible (at least if they're places I have to go and not, say, missile upgrades), and don't change the rules of the game at the very end.
Anyhow, enough with the complaints and on with the good stuff:
It almost feels like the cutscenes were created in order, because -- with the exception of the horrendous Ridley sequence late in the game -- they get progressively better. Adam's death is a real high point, and while Madeline spends a bit too much time on exposition, there's a real sense of tragedy and pathos to the ending. There's potential here; it gives me hope they'll get it right from the beginning in the sequel.
And you know, I didn't really think the voice acting was that bad -- I didn't think it was fantastic, but it was competent, especially given the material.
I could count all the Metroids in this game on my hands. They only show up at the end of the game, and they are bitch-ass hard to kill.
This is exactly how it should be. Keep the Metroids scarce, make them scary and make them a legitimate challenge.
The high-gravity sequence.
Yeah, it was a pain in the ass to play, and Samus's refusal to activate the Gravity Suit is utterly nonsensical, but it was probably the most legitimately creative point in the game.
The escape sequence.
It's hard to take a formula and make it surprising. Super Metroid put its twist on the escape sequence by making the room tilt; Zero Mission added the Zero Suit stealth sequence, and this one puts the whole thing after the end credits. Great twist; too bad it won't be a surprise next time (and too bad a guy with a loud mouth spoiled it on my messageboard).
The return of the Zero Suit doesn't make a lick of plot sense (and neither does Adam leaving his helmet behind in the first place), but it's fun -- chalk another one up in the "I'm willing to suspend disbelief if you give me something worthwhile in exchange" column.
Speaking of which,
Three Stages of Ridley.
It's completely ridiculous, but I love it.
It was a little odd at first, getting used to the lack of energy/missile drops, but it really fits the mechanics of this game well. Running out of missiles is a minor inconvenience, but recharging health requires a real risk -- and pays off often enough that it's not frustrating, while getting you killed often enough that the game's still a challenge.
Well-placed save points and forgiving deaths.
In general, I tend to wish the Japanese would figure out that we're not saving to batteries anymore and realize save points are anachronisms and just let me save wherever I want -- but this is the next best thing. You rarely, if ever, go 20 minutes without hitting a save point and, better still, always respawn close to where you die (eg at the beginning of a boss fight). It allows the game to be challenging without being too punishing -- especially given the aforementioned unskippable cutscenes.
Saving the most obvious for last -- for all its flaws, this is a pretty fun game to play. It's nailed the atmosphere and mechanics of the series. Sure, combat's a bit more complicated, but it seldom hurts the momentum of the game. Make no mistake: this game plays like a Metroid. It's got its blemishes, but I enjoyed it, and I played it through to the end -- and, perhaps most notably, it made me want to go back and replay its spiritual predecessor (and chronological successor), Metroid Fusion.
All in all, a pretty good game. With some spit and polish, a sequel could be better yet.