Let's discuss Avengers: Infinity War -- a movie BOUND to make you feel so good!

February 29, 2012

This post brought to you by...

Mike Haggar, Mayor of Earth.  Check out these sweet lyrics I made:

Or, alternatively, go read these articles I wrote.  Look at how legitimate I am!

My (30-Second) Life as a Mentor

A while back, I met with an old friend of mine.  Being in college, we both had our obligations, and countless projects mucking up our schedules.  But somehow, we’d managed to hammer something out, and met one cool Friday afternoon.  We talked about a lot of things – our schedules, majors, teachers, our mutual disdain for Twilight

“I’m just gonna throw this out there,” I said with a laugh.  “Have you ever thought about taking up video games?”
"Also, try the dark arts!  They're oodles of fun!"

She giggled and raised her eyebrows.  “You know, I actually have played them a few times – I just wasn’t very good at them,” she answered.  “I played that game Halo, but I couldn’t aim at anything so I just spent like five minutes staring at the sky.”

I nodded in appreciation; her aiming was better than mine, at least. 

February 27, 2012

I made these.

Proof that I'm a freelance writer.  Go check it out.  Or maybe this one.  You might learn something.

Picture unrelated: the Power Rangers.  Because you know deep down, you still secretly love them.  (And we all know that Zack had some dope-ass moves.)

Four Dudes Go to Hell (5)

(Be sure to check out the other parts first.)

Hunt 5: End of Days

Wade was the first to give it a description.  “It looks like the kind of Christmas tree you’d see on an Iron Maiden album,” he said, pointing at it like a child pointing at a monkey smearing a banana across the wall.
Cockamamie as it may have sounded, Luke, RJ, and Dante couldn’t come up with any better way to explain it.  It did, indeed, look like a huge Christmas tree -- one made of metal, and split into four quadrants.  Not one of the four boys dared to touch its “leaves,” mostly because each flat sheet of steel ended in a serrated blade.  It lacked a star, but it compensated with a tip that could skewer a grizzly bear; it didn’t have ornaments, either, but the platinum skulls engraved on its blades served better than any lights or candy canes ever could.  Naturally it came without a wooden trunk, but had a wide red base to support it.  Very wide, in fact; it could have easily let an elevator slide up and down its tubing if need be.
RJ raised a hand.  “I’d like to make a motion,” he said tersely.  “I would very much like to get the hell out of here before we find out just what brought this thing into our town.”
Dante turned towards him.  “What happened to ‘for science’ and all that?”
“Does THAT look like it has anything to do with science?!” RJ squealed.  He pointed at one of the skulls -- and as if it decided to put on a show, its empty sockets started to glow, and its jaw opened wide.  And it laughed; they could hardly believe that it kept its jaw hinged, based on how much chortling it did.
The skull stopped laughing after a minute.  The boys stared at it for another two in complete silence.

Soulcalibur 5: Thus Spoke Cervantes

I've played my fair share of fighting games this console generation…which is to say, almost all of them.  I’m nothing special in terms of skill; at the very least, I’m not one of those “Flowchart Kens” you hear so much about.  Even so, going up against an enemy that can turn me into sauerkraut is pretty much an average Wednesday for me -- to the point where I don’t even flinch at the thought of hitting Continue against the average “SNK Boss.”  You know the type.  A ridiculous damage and defense boost.  Insane speed and virtual clairvoyance.  Often, a screen-filling super move.  Or just moves that make you want to slam your head against every wall in your house.

I’ve taken on and beaten plenty of ‘em.  King of Fighters XI’s Magaki?  Your fireballs won’t stop me forever.  Street Fighter 4’s Seth?  Eat a Flash Kick.  Tekken 5’s Jinpachi?  Miraculously, defeating him is as easy as using a jump kick over and over -- a universal move that the transformed Mishima can’t help but take every time he gets up from the last hit.

But then, something happened.  It was a fateful night in Soulcalibur 5 -- a story for the ages.  Now, if you’ll allow me to invoke the muses…

February 25, 2012

I would be remiss...

...if I didn't bring up Kristen Kreuk (aka Lana Lang) when talking about Smallville.


...I think this clip should give you some ideas about how I feel.  I'll leave the interpretation up to you.

The Top 10 Something-est Moments in Smallville

You know, writing about The Walking Dead the other day got me thinking.  Not about zombies, because I’m starting to hate those; since its finale months ago, I haven’t given that much thought to Smallville.  Until now.  Just thinking about it reminds me of all the good times I had.  As I said before, the series had its problems, but I’d argue it had an overall net gain.  It certainly helped that it wasn’t another crime drama, reality TV show, or singing competition, but I digress.  The important thing is that we got to see Clark Kent’s journey from curiously attractive fledgling teen to freakin’ Superman.

But man…that was a long, strange journey.  A lot can happen in ten years, and rest assured they did.  Some of them, naturally, were awesome.  Others…others just left me -- a fan even in the darkest of times -- tilting my head as if I’d just watched a seal pop a wheelie on a motorcycle while eating some chicken pot pie.  Or the same way you are after reading that sentence.

The point is, I say it’s high time for Cross-Up’s first countdown.  These are The Top Ten Something-est Moments in Smallville.

February 23, 2012

The Walking Dead (What is Going on Here?)

I hope you’ll forgive my impertinence, but I probably don’t watch all the movies/TV shows that someone my age should.  That’s not to say I don’t watch TV, of course.  Far from it; I make a note to watch every new episode of Raising Hope and How I Met Your Mother I can, and I’m one of those crazy people who still thinks The Simpsons is funny.  I was also one of the freaks who saw Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in theaters…but to balance that out, I also saw Super 8, all the Marvel Comics movies last year (with Captain America being my favorite), and Toy Story 3.  I also saw The Thing (2011 version), but the less I say about that, the happier I’ll be.

More like This Thing Totally Blows, am I right?

Setting movies aside, I think the one thing keeping me from getting into a lot of programs is the same problem that a lot of people have: continuity.  Someone who’s been watching a series from its first episode is a lot different from someone who jumps into the fifth season because you see one of your Facebook friends commenting about it.  They have an understanding of the show’s nuances, a connection with the characters, and expectations that have both been fulfilled and will be fulfilled by the story proper, in line with the foreshadowing and the viewers’ own forecasts.  Anyone jumping into a series just points at the screen and says “Who’s that?” until they need a fistful of cough drops.

That’s pretty much where I am with The Walking Dead right now.  I’ve seen…oh, about three and one quarter of an episode as of this post.  When asked if I liked what I saw, I answered, “I think I’d get a little more enjoyment out of it if I knew who the characters were…but overall I wouldn’t mind seeing more of it.  It was good.”  It was more or less a placeholder answer until I could give the show a good analysis -- the problem being that I could never give said analysis.  I’d been locked out of the series merely by not being near a TV with a cable connection.  I could try and play catch-up by reading summaries and character descriptions (which I’ve started, by the by), and maybe peck away at episodes past online, but I’m willing to accept that the ship has sailed.

But even if I did watch every episode online, catch up on character and show summaries, take the comics into consideration, AND make sure I never missed a new episode, I can’t help but wonder: is The Walking Dead a ship that I even want to sail on?

February 22, 2012

I didn't make this, but I wish I did.

Trauma Team: Gonna Be Here

I’ve made a lot of mistakes when it comes to gaming.  I chose Final Fantasy XIII -- a game where you run down hallways and mash the A button to win battles -- over Resonance of Fate -- a game where you somersault through the air and hammer enemies with gunfire while dashing about.  I never got into PC gaming, and because of it my experience with Half-Life and Team Fortress is incomplete at best.  I willingly rented Superman 64.  But in the summer of 2010, hot off the heels of a brutal spring semester, I knew I had to make the right decision.  I had to make a stand.  So I pooled my money together and headed to GameStop with by brother.

I bought Trauma Team for the Wii.  And I haven’t regretted that decision one bit.

February 21, 2012

Mass Effect: Playing the Right Way

It’s been a while since I’ve played the game, but I have fond memories of Mass Effect 2. Playing the demo for Mass Effect 3 helped me rembember how much fun I had turning invisible and sniping dudes, or watching Krogans fall over after pounding them with Cryo Ammo. No doubt the third installment will be amazing, and a worthy successor to the franchise’s high esteem. But afterward, I couldn’t help but think back to other experiences I had as CJ Shepard.

One night, I’d just finished adding the assassin Thane to my merry band of space adventurers (he looks a little bit like a frog, doesn’t he?). As we returned to the ship, my main man Jacob seemed more than a little untrustworthy of our new associate; I tried reassuring him with a bit of coaxing from my persuasive paragon Shepard.

“Do you always pick the top answer?” my brother asked.

I didn’t even hesitate. “Yes.” 

“Why? Don’t you think you’re taking the fun out of the game?” 

February 19, 2012

The Second Animorphs Essay! Burning Up!

Last time on Cross-Up…things were posted!  Bad jokes were made!  Art was made in Paint, and I’m actually surprised that it was better than just a stick figure!  Also, Animorphs was mentioned ad nauseum!  Will this blog continue to hold the decade-old series on a high pedestal?  Or will a nostalgia filter blind me as badly as the documented world’s oldest stripper?

Find out now, on Cross-Up! 

(insert guitar riffs here)

February 17, 2012

Four Dudes Go to Hell (4)

(Be sure to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 first.)

Hunt 4: Raw Deal

“I gotta hand it to Bigfoot,” Dante said with a laugh --
“It’s Sasquatch,” Luke corrected.
“I gotta hand it to Bigfoot -- he may not have much in the way of a fashion sense, riches, or taste in women, but damned if the guy doesn’t know a thing or two about interior decorating.”
“But this place looks like a dirt clod,” said Wade.
“Oh, right.  I forgot I had an idiot in the audience.”
Wade had a point; the crags’ interior could use a bit of sprucing up.  Nothing but brown, scaly walls no matter where he looked -- and below his feet, he felt not the comfy squish of a shag carpet, but a crunching mix of dirt and gravel.  To the Sasquatch’s credit, though, there was plenty of room for the four of them to move around in.  They’d made it through the front door into a spacious foyer, and following that they traveled down a gentle slope.  Several slopes, in fact.
It almost feels like we’re walking down flights of stairs, Luke thought.  He turned his gaze upward; sure enough, the front door had practically vanished thanks to the group travelling downward.  I know the Sasquatch is something special, but --
“Guys?” RJ called out, sweeping his flashlight about.  “The exit…where exactly did it go?”

Double the Pleasure

Street Fighter X Tekken will be out soon -- and with it, the chance to mix and match your favorite characters into a two-man team.  As the Hype Train prepares to bring the game to Consumer's Hands Station, Capcom is making sure people get more excitement than their bodies can handle.

A jump to the game's site reveals character bios and the names of official teams.  Wrestlers King and Marduk, for example, are "Shocking Friendship" while Lara Croft Julia Chang and blubbery bounty hunter Bob form the team "Cute and Chubby."  Calculated Bloodlust, Tactical Ninjutsu, Super Heavyweights, Cool Beauties...by team names alone, I'd wager there's something for everybody -- either a name that catches one's interest, or just incites a good laugh.

It's a shame that there's no opportunity for players themselves to make team names.  With (I believe) more than forty characters available, it'd be a lot of work to give every combination official names; still, with all the customization Capcom's been touting, it seems like a misstep to not allow player-input team names.  Oh well.  Even if they're not as in-your-face as you'd hope, a player can still pick their team and give them their own personal nicknames in their heads.

I, for one, have already made my choice.

Manliness is explosive.  The only force that can contain it is a coiffure that can withstand a mortar shell.

February 16, 2012

Let's Bounce

This beatdown was sparked by the letter H.

So Dead or Alive 5 is on the way -- and I, for one, am kind of excited about it.  Besides the fact that I’m better at 3D fighters than 2D (you’re looking at a Deity-ranked player of Tekken 5, people), it’s nice to see that franchise getting a new installment, especially after the snafu between Tecmo, Team Ninja, and series spearhead Tomonobu Itagaki a while back.

That said, there was a bit of news that piqued my interest recently.  Supposedly, the game aims to have more “realistic” women in its proceedings; what that pertains to has yet to be fully seen and appreciated, but early screenshots and statements give us clues.  In regards to the latter, there seems to be a push to make the female characters more well-defined, more human, more emotional -- I interpret it as a push to make them more well-rounded characters, writing-wise.  In regards to the former, the ladies in the latest images seem to be…ahem…carrying less of a burden.  And they’re fully clothed; though the two characters in question tended to be fully-dressed in their default outfits, it’s still nice to see they haven’t backpedaled...yet. 

Nevertheless, my response to Team Ninja’s claim was as follows:

February 13, 2012

Scumbag Lake (Preview)

 “Give me the long version this time.”
Ein stretched across the back seat, his eyes peering out the car’s window and toward the overcast sky.  “You sure?”
Claude took one hand off the wheel to push up his glasses -- his usual signal of “you’re pissing me off.”  For a minute, he didn’t answer; he had a feeling he wouldn’t like where the story went.  “What choice do I have?”
“You could just, I dunno, not ask.”
“But how will I ever get to sleep if I don’t have another one of your tales of idiocy to soothe me?”
Ein sat up and stared blankly at the back of Claude’s seat.  “You still need a bedtime story to get to sleep?  Weak.”
“I should have left you on the street to die, you simpleton!”

Decisive Proof...

...that my dog is some sort of demon hound.  Just look at that sweater!  No normal dog would willingly wear that!  Surely it must be one of the pups of Beelzebub!

Also, those eyes of his are kind of creepy.

DP Into Ultra (Part 2)

The answer to all of life’s problems rest within Street Fighter.  I still stand by that vaguely ridiculous claim, but with a slight adjustment: all fighting games have the answer to life’s problems. 

Street Fighter II, when it was released, created a revolution in the gaming world…heck, in the world in general.  It was a devourer of quarters and a bringer of new challengers to cabinets everywhere, from the dedicated arcades of old to diversions inside the occasional Long John Silver’s.  One on one combat had never been so well-defined in the history of games (and it tended to prove a safer alternative to backyard wrestling); you select your alter ego and fight with all your skill and wit to claim glory.  Granted there was a bit of violence outside the game; according to my brother Rich, doing nothing but throwing your opponent would give a kid enough of a reason to start wailing on his opponent in real life.  Whatever the case, Street Fighter II opened the floodgates on the competitive spirit, as well as the potential fighting games had to bring it out in kids who would sooner beat Gunstar Heroes than become a black belt.  Basically, children and nerds (yo) could become ultimate warriors.

Flash forward to 2012.  The fighting game renaissance has shown no signs of slowing down.  This year alone will see the release of Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Skullgirls, BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend, Soulcalibur 5, Dead or Alive 5, maybe Virtua Fighter 5 Showdown, the PlayStation Vita version of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and of course Street Fighter X Tekken.  It’s a staggering amount of fighters to be released, on top of the fighters that are already out there; I’d wager that come June or July, there’ll be announcements of new fighting games in the works (a new Darkstalkers, most likely, although I’d love to see a new Rival Schools).  In a world where Japanese games are either on the wane or automatically shunned by entitled American audiences raised on Call of Duty and conditioned to hate anything even remotely anime-esque, the fighter endures as a means to express skill and creativity -- both by its developers, and in its players. 

History’s repeated itself -- but hopefully, we won’t have a repeat of last time.  See, Street Fighter II was a big money-maker for Capcom, so naturally they had to go and ruin a good thing.  They released updated versions on a regular basis, introducing new characters and tweaked game mechanics -- and making the simple name all the more complicated.  What was originally Street Fighter II eventually became Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition.  Pro tip: if you have a game with The Anniversary Edition in its title, then you’ve released too many damn versions of the same game.  Since this was before games could be patched online or DLC could be added, this of course meant kids (i.e. parents) shuffling back and forth between Toys R Us to pick up the latest version for home consoles.  And while that was happening, competitors tried to release their own fighting games to jump on the bandwagon.  Some endured (King of Fighters); others…didn’t.  Oversaturation of the market, working in tandem with a franchise that was like a snake shedding its skin every other day -- factors like these probably led to the fighting game genre going on hiatus in the late nineties/early 2000s.

And then you look to the present and you see the same thing going on.  There’s a crapton of fighters available for sale right now, with more on the way.  The advent of patches available through your console of choice and downloadable content means that sometimes you don’t even have to leave the house to put money into a company’s pockets.  Capcom’s up to its old tricks, of course; what was originally Street Fighter 4 eventually became -- deep breath -- Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition ver. 2012.  (To say nothing of the fact that Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix has been available for download for a few years now.)  Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is now Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, a galling move considering that an announcement of the update came about FIVE MONTHS after the original was released, and the update itself came four months later.  I can’t even imagine how many more pennies Capcom got out of gamers by offering costumes and characters (some of which were on the disk to begin with).  It’s almost hilarious what had happened; Capcom originally said that, while they’d offer customization options, you’d never see poster boy Ryu in a funny hat.  Nowadays, you can not only see Ryu in a goofy bandanna, but his best bud Ken in a cowboy hat, Cammy dressed like Catwoman, and T. Hawk in a costume Rich asserts is incredibly racist.

What does this mean?  Are we going to see an end to fighters, and resurgence ten years from now?  Well, if fighters go down, then I can think of a few other genres COUGHshootersCOUGHCOUGH that would go down too.  Fighters do more than just evoke nostalgia or give losers a chance to become winners.

I’ve learned that for myself. 

February 10, 2012

Count How Many Times…

After playing through and witnessing hundreds of matches in the iterations of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 over the past year, I’ve come to a decision.  Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a game about shenanigans.

You pick characters who’ll give you access to shenanigans, and use their abilities to create shenanigans in a match so you can win.  But in order to win, you have to defend against your opponents’ shenanigans -- and at the same time, you have to pass up their shenanigans to get them to fall for your shenanigans by creating a thin layer of mini-shenanigans.  Some shenanigans are low-risk, low reward.  Some are high-risk, high reward.  And then there are some shenanigans that are high-risk, low reward; the reverse is true for plenty of other shenanigans.  Whatever the case, if you’re smart you’ve already prepared your own special shenanigans -- an ace in the hole in case all your other shenanigans fail.  Your ace shenanigans combine with the in-game shenanigans to create SUPER SHENANIGANS, and all it takes is one quick, Hail Mary application of your shenanigans to overwhelm your opponent’s shenanigans.  And then you win!  Or…maybe you end up losing at the last second because the clock runs out.  In which case you stop calling them shenanigans and use a more suitable synonym, one commonly used as an exclamation of anger.  I just can’t think of the word right now…

So you stew for a while, hating the fact that you lost (or hating the fact that you won even more).  Sometimes you wonder why you play this game.  Other times you wonder why nothing ever goes your way.  And there are times when you think “What have I become?” or “Man, when did fighting games turn into this?” 

But that’s all right.  Because in spite of all that, you’ll keep coming back.  You’ll win by any means necessary, or lose with a smile knowing that you made it onto the stage with your favorite character putting on a show.  Complain and whine and cry all you want, but you know it’s a part of you now.

So eat shenanigans and die.  Or…live.  Yeah, living sounds better, do that.

February 9, 2012

Four Dudes Go to Hell (3)

Hunt 3: True Lies

The four friends walked down Vance Street in silence, with only the sounds of footsteps echoing between them; if they listened closely enough, they could hear the rumble of a train dozens of miles away.  But more immediately, they heard the hum of street lamps and the fluttering of moth wings (which made RJ reel a little bit).  They passed all the familiar shops -- the post office in the plaza next to the grocery store, the Taco House with still-new paint on its walls, and the bank building that hadn’t had seen a deposit since 1999.  To the northeast sat a gas station, with the rates plastered on its towering sign uncomfortably high.  To the northwest, the BBQ Shack; Wade sniffed the air a few times, hoping to catch a whiff of some semi-fresh ribs.  Between the two buildings sat a gigantic mass of crags, jutting up from the street like a volcano.
How long had it been there?  A month?  Two months, maybe?  Well, however much time had passed, the townsfolk had grown used to it; true, that little intersection was useless now, but there wasn’t anything dangerous or even spectacular about it.  Not now, anyway.  When it had first emerged, people thought that it kind of looked like a rocky flower, or even a blooming onion -- thin crags sprouted up, but more outward at the base, shifting around the asphalt soil.  From the base, more and more stalagmites emerged, angling upward with each new layer.  It almost looked like a king’s crown; it even had a jewel -- or at least, a car gored by a stalagmite -- affixed to its highest spire.   
“There it is,” RJ moaned, with sweat droplets gathering on his brow.  “If anyone still feels like turning back, I don’t have any objections.”
But Luke quickly shook his head.  “I’d rather do this tonight, while the coast is clear.”  He pointed ahead; outside of police tape and road cones, nobody stood guard before the crag tower.  “No sense in putting it off.  We might never get a chance like this again.”
“Like I said, I wouldn’t have any objections to never getting a second chance.”

February 7, 2012

DP Into Ultra (Part 1)

The answers to all of life’s problems are contained within Street Fighter.  Just thought I’d throw that out there.
What once started as a mere (and mediocre) arcade game in the late eighties has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon, and a standard in the gaming universe -- a role model to follow, and the solid foundation upon which an entire genre is built.  Basically, if you rolled all of the major deities of every religion into one, you’d get the holy equivalent of what Street Fighter does for the gaming world.
The premise is simple enough: fighters from all over the world gather for a huge tournament, in which battles can take place anywhere -- ironically, little of the fighting is done in the streets.  Apparently, there’s some sort of overarching storyline to the series, but it’s pretty much a moot point; all ANYONE needs to know is that people are getting together to beat each other up.
And who are these people?  A pair of martial artists trained in a toned-down version of an art of assassination who shoot fireballs from their hands and spin around like helicopters; a huge Russian wrestler who, once he gets his hands on you, sends you spiraling into the air before dropping you on your head; a Chinese Interpol agent with thighs as thick as tree trunks, whose kicks move at roughly the speed of sound; an American colonel with a flat-top hairdo, twin U.S.A. flags tattooed on his shoulders, and throws red, white, and blue boomerangs of energized wind.  So basically, it’s what would happen if the world’s countries were turned into real people, and subsequently given drugs.  Lots and lots of drugs.
But damn it if that isn’t the most successful formula in gaming history.  Street Fighter 1, released in 1987, wasn’t very good at all (nearly impossible to control, and even harder to beat), but it was a start; Street Fighter II, on the other hand, changed everything.  Two players fighting competitively in the arcades, with combos, vivid and unique characters, and fast-paced yet strategic action…many a pair of pants were soiled at the sheer amount of excitement the game had to offer.  To this day, Street Fighter has an absurdly huge following; tournaments have been held for years, with thousands of dollars up for grabs; names have been made by the dexterity of one’s fingers -- Daigo Umehara, otherwise known as “The Beast”, is both a veteran and a veritable demon at the game; countless fans have been made, and remade.  And Capcom, the company responsible for starting the craze, has raked in profits as well as catered to the fans: it released roughly a DOZEN different upgraded versions of SFII, and released a few new branches to the universe: the Alpha series, a much-adored prequel, and the EX series, an early (and largely unsuccessful) foray into the 3D world.
Then came SFIII.  Not one, not two, but three different versions were released, with the third being, arguably, one of the most adored fighting games in history.  Faster, with 2D effects that are unrivaled even today, fine-tuned and aggressive game play…it’s the game of choice for high-level and tournament players, and undoubtedly will go down in history as one of the series’ highest points.
And then came 2009 with Street Fighter IV in our hands.
And so it began again.

February 6, 2012

My First Animorphs Essay? Let’s Party!

It’s no secret that I friggin’ love Animorphs.  Besides mentioning it on this blog once or twice, I’ve gone on record in real life saying that it’s better than hot dogs (and I am a man who enjoys his occasional hot dog).  Well, that and the whole “the series is the reason I want to be a writer” and “it’s such an inspiring series” and “Cinnamon buns, oh yeah!” thing.

I could gush all day and night about the things that make it great.  Cool, deep characters with differing opinions and clashing ideals.  A blend of action, comedy, and drama that’s tastier than any strawberry shake.  Enemies and odds that pose a serious threat; on that note, the David story arc is probably one of the series’ high points, keeping in mind that this is a series that consistently strokes the stratosphere.  I suppose that, once again, I have to give credit to K.A. Applegate.  Even though the series is ostensibly for children, it’s still a satisfying read for young adults/man-children.  Conversely, it’s shocking to see all the complexities that she presented to children…even if they didn’t catch all the subtleties back when they were nine.

An emblem of capitalist greed.

But as I go through my collection, reading and salivating and remembering a time when I used to get issues of Nintendo Power every month, I started to realize something.  Obviously, there are a lot of complex themes at play -- war and its effects, idealism versus cynicism, etc. -- but one thing in particular started to appear more blatantly than anything else.  (Blatantly, in the sense that it might be the main idea behind the series; not so much as OH HEY GUYS LOOK AT THIS COMPLEXITY IS I A GOOD WRITER YET DERP DE DOO.)   It’s all about “roles vs. reality.”

Let’s be real: when we have characters in a story -- which is kind of often, as you’ve noticed -- we anticipate them to fulfill certain expectations and traits.  We expect the brave knight to slash some dragons and save the princess.  We expect the nerdy loser to beat the bullies in the end (and maybe save the universe).  Or maybe the weary soldier will do his final duty and bow out.  Whatever the case, every character has a role to play.  Animorphs is no exception, and probably not the first or last to play with its roles.   Regardless, it not only plays with readers’ expectations, but with the characters’ as well -- namely, in how well (or poorly) they manage to live up to their roles.

If you’re not familiar with the story -- for shame -- or just need a refresher course, here’s the gist of it.  Five normal junior-high schoolers on their way back from the mall have a run-in with an alien who gives them the power to morph into any animal they touch.  Why?  To go head-to-head against the Yeerks, body-snatching slugs that are using the kids’ town as a platform for their invasion.  It’s up to them to hold off their assault until reinforcements can arrive.  And thus, the battle for earth begins.  Also throw in androids, a race of millimeter-sized aliens, an indirect clash between two cosmic beings, and a dimension of absolute nothingness for good measure.

At any rate, we have our six heroes.  Jake (the best one of the six, IMO) is the leader.  His cousin Rachel is the pretty one, but also the gung-ho fighter.  Marco’s the sarcastic joker.  Cassie’s the nice one and the animal lover.  Tobias is…well, I’ll get back to him eventually.  And once he joins the group, the alien Ax is the loyalist.  They all have a job to do in the context of slowing down the Yeerk invasion.  They all contribute their parts when it’s time for action.  And every last one of them -- heck, even some of the side characters -- ends up taking issue with their roles at one point or another.

But enough of this preamble.  Let’s get right to it, yeah?  Hit the jump for more.

February 2, 2012

Four Dudes Go to Hell (2)

(Check out the first part here)

Hunt 2: The Rundown

He rounded a corner and headed east, gazing absentmindedly at a few rustling trees flanking him.  Kind of silly for him to think this whole thing was because of him; he’d laid down the basic idea, and the end goal, but he never would have guessed it would come to this…
“Luke!  You’re here -- oh man, so we’re really going through with it?”
Luke cut his daydreaming short and looked ahead.  He had to force himself not to laugh; a hunchbacked dwarf started walking towards him, fidgeting and looking like the weight of his gear would snap his back in two.  And for some reason, he wore a gas mask.  And a long, hooded jacket.  And sandals with socks.
“I was hoping that you, of all people, would have the sense to call off this…this…operation,” said the dwarf, moving closer to Luke.  To his credit, he wasn’t that short -- just a few inches shorter than Luke.  But stooped as he was, he could have passed for a middle school kid.
Luke laughed, and patted his hooded pal on the shoulder.  Funny, how it felt so good to laugh with so much risk involved with their -- what did he call it?  An operation.  “Don’t worry, RJ.  As long as we stick together, we’ll be all right.”    He nudged his buddy in the shoulder, and for a moment he could feel him trembling under his jacket.  “Hey, didn’t I tell you to travel light?  You’re not gonna be much use if you’ve got all that gear dragging you down.”
RJ shook his head rapidly -- so fast that when he finished, he had to readjust his mask.  “Preparedness is the key to survival, Luke!  And I’ve taken all the precautions needed; if you and the others are going to force me into a situation like this, I have no choice but to --”
Luke looked toward a chimney in the distance and stroked his cheek.  “If we have to run, you’re not gonna be able to keep up.”
“R-r-run?”  RJ made a motion to bite his thumb, but of course the gas mask got in his way.  “Damn.  The one precaution I didn’t take into ample consideration…if it comes down to it, then I…”  He held up a finger.  “Excuse me for a moment.”
RJ didn’t bother waiting for a response; he flung himself into some bushes, and started unlatching belts and unzipping packs.  “Don’t need that…don’t need that…oooh, but I can’t leave that behind, I’ll be sure to die!  And I’ll take -- ow, ow, ow!  This bush has thorns in it!”
This could be a problem, Luke thought.

Four Dudes Go To Hell (1)

Hunt 1: Commando

Luke didn’t feel like going back to sleep.  He just stared at his clock, lying on one side while keeping his eyes locked on the big green numbers.  3:59 A.M., it read.  If it could talk, it would probably demand that he shut his eyes and get in a few more winks.  Or maybe it would have reminded him that he’d forgotten to turn off the alarm for school, and he’d better flip the switch if he wanted to snooze his Saturday away.

But of course, he had plans.  He wouldn’t snore through his weekend anytime soon.  In fact, if he wanted to make good on his friends’ arrangements, he didn’t have much of a choice. 

The clock ticked to 4 A.M.  And with it came a sudden blast of radio static -- the in-between tuning between stations that Luke had yet to fix.  He slapped a hand against the top of the clock and slid his thumb around, hoping to find the power switch.  No luck.  With a groan, he hammered a palm against the clock’s face; the edge of his finger managed to push the power button in.

Funny that he’d be so uncoordinated after getting…well, now that he thought about it, he hadn’t gotten any sleep last night.  Maybe a few long blinks, but he couldn’t remember blacking out.  Well, that didn’t matter; he could sleep another time.  Right now, he had something to take care of.

Luke nodded to himself.  Time to head out.  He felt tough thinking it, but that feeling didn’t last as he rolled out of bed and fell face-first onto the floor. 

A Retroactive Defense

A couple of days ago, I finally knew what it felt like to be a troll.

I didn’t do any actual trolling, mind you.  But I could feel my face morphing into that big-grinned JPEG as I perused the forums, watching as gamers tried in vain to sort out the plot of the recently-released Final Fantasy XIII-2 (the sequel to a game which I loathe as much as other people loathe Twilight).  I saw some mention of gods trying to kill themselves and alternate timelines and paradoxes involving multiple versions of characters…it amused me, seeing people say “screw it” and “I give up” after failing to make sense of it.  Now, to be fair, these were people who were speaking via spoiler tags and only had information from Japanese streams to go by.  But with consistent reports of XIII-2 having a particularly weak story, seeing intelligent posters throw up their hands does not bode well.

A Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Soul

Meh.  Needs more swords.

Sometimes my brother makes bad decisions when it comes to buying games.  Very bad decisions -- like buying every new installment/spinoff of the Dynasty Warriors series in spite of the soft-ban I’ve placed.  Or maybe he’ll go out of his way to buy a fighting game -- one that he’s already traded in -- with the intent of having it replace his addiction hobby of Street Fighter 4 and Marvel vs. Capcom 3…only to play it about three times and let it decay within a CD case.

But there are times when he does well.  And buying Soulcalibur 5 is one of those times.

February 1, 2012

Awesome in the Court

When I got my hands on Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, I -- through some beginner’s luck -- pulled off a few wins with Phoenix Wright.  Since then, I haven’t duplicated the same success (though I’ve made a turnabout or two).  Maybe it’s just my lack of skill in fighting games, but often winning with Phoenix Wright can be like climbing a mountain without arms or legs. But that’s all right, because 1) he’s still the lead in one of my favorite franchises, and 2) holy crap Ace Attorney 5 is coming.

Capcom’s made a lot of…iffy decisions, but I can’t help but love the company.  They’re THE developers of stylish crazy action and hyper combos; it’s like every game they make has to overflow with pizzazz or they’ll explode.  Ace Attorney is no exception, and I have high hopes for the next installment.  With a sequel comes a chance for improvement.  Not just new stories, but a chance to fix old mistakes.  And of course, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the game will pop up on the 3DS -- new technology for new experiences.

But then I thought to myself.  “What if Ace Attorney 5 WASN’T a 3DS release?  What if it came out on consoles?”  And just that, a big smile started to spread across my face.