Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bits and Pieces 13: Open With the Pull Tab

Use By Date

I don't know.  I really don't. 

When the New 52 was first announced -- DC Comics' soft reboot of their entire superhero line -- I was kind of excited for the possibilities of what was coming.  A fresh new start for the oldest superhero universe in American comics, a breeding ground of new possibilities and stories to be told; a brand new day.

Yet, when the first day came, August 31st, 2011, of this relaunch and the first comic given to us comic book readers was on the shelves, or, as it is in my case, available for download on the excellent Comixology app for my delightful little pocket device of preference, the end result left me wondering what had happened.

JLA # 1 (short for Justice League of America) reads like a very badly written fan-fiction version of the Justice League, but drawn by Jim Lee.  That shouldn't be the case, as Geoff Johns, the author of this little episode, is anything but a bad writer.  He's really good.  Yet for this particular comic book he gave us a team book with no team, a hit-the-ground-running adventure with no build up, no set up, no attempt at rebuilding the DC Universe for the potential new readers that are supposed to be flocking in droves to this new comic (which evidently happened).  It features Batman chasing some kind of glowy creature, being shot at by Gotham City PD, and running into the Green Lantern midway through.  Lantern joins him in his chase after this glowy creature only for the creature to blow itself up, then the duo runs to Metropolis where Lantern gets sucker punched by Superman.  It's nonsensical, it's light reading in the greatest sense but in that it loses the sense of awe that a superhero comic should have.  It's a very badly written comic by people that know better.

Almost twenty years ago, Jim Lee was involved in the Image Comics Exodus with his little comic book WildC.A.T.s with co-author Brandon Choi.  This book was accused of being derivative of Lee's former work on X-Men, which it may or may not have been, but I never saw it.  The book unraveled at a kinetic pace, rapid fast, but even there, in that single issue of a book that so many people hated was a better story being told than what we saw in JLA # 1, nineteen years later.

JLA # 1 reads as though it's the next adventure of several characters that everyone should already know, but this is being retold for the first time.  The soft reboot relaunch rewhatever reset the DC Universe, so long time readers and new readers alike are being exposed to Batman, Green Lantern and Superman again for the first time again.  I'm thinking that this little book, the first chapter in this universe-wide reboot, is meant to be read after the rest of the 52 have been read.  My theory is that this book should not have been read (or published) until the other 51 books have been read.  I'm going to attempt this at the beginning of October -- or whenever -- I get those 51 issues read, money provided, to see if I'm right about it.  I think I am.

Then again, maybe I'm just not the target audience of this reboot; this relaunch or rebirth of an entire universe.  I've been reading comics for a very long time now, and I've seen, literally, every trick the superhero genre has to offer thus far.  In this new age of superhero comics, the one that comes after the nastiness of the Dark Age and everything wonderful that lead up to this point (including my favorite Post Costume Age that gets very little attention), that this stuff is just not for me.  This new age being marked by the reboot (and a few other new #1s being issued by Marvel Comics) could very well be for a younger audience, or an audience only familiar with the superheroes through their big, silver screen variations.  Even with that in mind, I really can't see a justifiable reason for the likes of Geoff Johns or Jim Lee to dumb down their storytelling techniques and skills to appeal to a wider audience.

I suppose we'll see.  I actually told myself that JLA # 2 wasn't a comic I was going to buying because of the lackluster performance given to me in the first issue.  However, Jim Lee posted the pencils of a two-page spread of JLA # 2 featuring Batman and Superman and it looks brilliant.  And me, ever the artnut, really wants to see this spread inked by Scott Williams and colored by Alex Sinclair.  In the end, we shall see.

It's Official, You Suck

I remember getting Mortal Kombat 3 for my home console of choice back when it was released 199whenever.  I had already spent a high-school fortune on the arcade edition of the game at Aladdin's Castle, learning combos, playing other people, and performing fatalities.  At that time it was almost impossible to play a single player game to the end without someone else jumping in and taking you to the edge of your competitive skills.  I love playing people within proximity of myself (I despise online play because it's not the same as chilling at home or in the arcades playing other people), but I have this thing about the fiction of fighting games.  I love playing these games by myself, learning the stories of each character, and finishing the game with each of the characters available.

It wasn't until I got Mortal Kombat 3 (the first iteration, not Ultimate or Mortal Kombat Trilogy) home on a console I can't even remember (was it the PlayStation? probably) that I learned of the rude taunts of the game's boss character, Shao Kahn.  I knew of them from Mortal Kombat II, having played that game on the Super Nintendo for an unrecordable amount of hours, but this was something different.  There was the Mortal Kombat II taunts, of course, but then there was this one little line that both made me laugh out loud while playing games by myself and feel a little insulted.

"It's official, you suck!" shouted the sword and sorcery dressed Emperor of Outworld as he kicked my ass completely.

That taunt, once again, reared it's nasty head with the new Mortal Kombat released earlier this year.  This time, I scoffed, and delivered him multiple defeats as cheaply as I could.  Revenge was mine after the horrible ass beatings that Shao Kahn put on me in Mortal Kombat Trilogy -- one of the games with the worst AI opponents I'd ever challenged.

However, the joyous nature of my revenge from all those years was relatively short lived.  Yes, I had defeated Shao Kahn multiple times in the new Mortal Kombat game on several different modes of play.  I lost several battles along the way, I was even murdered by his hands with two relatively grotesque fatalities on occasion, but for the most part I told the Conan wannabe who was the real boss in his massive, Colosseum-like arena.  Then the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection came out a few weeks ago and once again the taunt echoed in my ears as my digital avatar's face was pounded into a red mess.  Yet, the taunt wasn't being said by the Emperor Shao Kahn this time, at least not at first.  Oh, no.  It was echoing in my own ears from those memories of Mortal Kombat 3's first release on that unrememberable console as EVERYONE beat my ass into a red oblivion.  I resulted in pushing the difficulty down to the easiest setting imaginable for the game, and yet, the AI still knew how I was going to perform better than I did.  It knew the moves before I knew I was going to perform them.  It knew I was going to take flight to deliver an airbased arsenal of combatitive fury and promptly took to the air and knocked me out of it like a rabid surface to air missile.  PEW WOOSH BOOM _______ WINS.  That's how my first assault on the Arcade Kollection went for almost a week.

It almost seems that a lot of developers of games that primarily focus on the multiplayer aspect of the game (such as fighting games often do) forget about the single player aspect of that same game and either go out of their way to make it as unfun as possible, or simply neglect the fun factor of the game at all.  Games are supposed to be challenging, I completely agree with that, but when the challenge is to take down an opponent that can and will constantly render your entire offense moot and useless, it becomes unfun.

Unfun is no fun; unfun is bullshit.

However, I was fed up with the bullshit this morning.  After suffering the onslaught of a full-fledged migrainal attack at 9:30 this morning and sleeping the fucker off until 4:35 PM, I turned the PlayStation 3 on, picked up the military green DualShock controller, and loaded up the game.  I selected Mortal Kombat first, and picked Sub-Zero.  It's always Sub-Zero with me, even though Scorpion is my favorite of the two.  I don't understand that myself.  And I played through Mortal Kombat until it submitted to me the way I wanted it to.  I made it sit, I made it lay down, and I made it roll over and, inevitably, play fucking dead.  I had to result to a cheap tactic of hitting the opponents, especially Goro, with as many jump kicks as possible, but finally it succumbed to my offenses and the game's credits rolled.

[My biggest complaint about the Arcade Kollection's AI is that I've played newer games on their hardest difficulty settings, including the new Mortal Kombat, with the same resistance.]

Then it was on to Mortal Kombat II.  I decided to take a different route with the second feature by selecting Kitana instead of my favored ice-cold assassin.  Kitana was a favorite of mine when Mortal Kombat II hit the 'cades back in the day, and I used her diligently to destroy the arcade mode of the console version on the Super Nintendo.  Kitana's dehabilitating raising fan attack makes for a good use if the AI's defenses aren't ready for it.  The opponents put up their attacks and several continues later, the cast of Mortal Kombat II fell to Kitana's deadly fans and I was facing off against Kintaro and, subsequently, Shao Kahn with his cruel taunt.  Unfortunately for them, I remembered fully Kitana's cheap as hell tactics against these two, and both fell with a single attempt.

Two down, one to go.

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, like Mortal Kombat 3 before it, and Mortal Kombat Trilogy after it, has the cheapest AI of the series.  As difficult as the two games were before it, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3's AI controlled opponents know everything you're going to do before you can even think about doing it.  There's a term called SNK Boss Syndrome out there in this fabulous world that was coined to describe the insane difficulties of SNK's fighting game bosses.  Rugal Bernstein, Geese Howard, these guys were relentless in their difficulty.  It seems that Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3's base characters contracted this apparently contagious syndrome and it's on full display after your first three wins in the game.  Unfortunately for me, the character that I ended up fighting against when the SNK Boss Syndrome kicked in was Jade with her projectile-proof glowy attacks and all that fun stuff. I lost count on how many continues was necessary for me to reach the first boss of the game, but I was changing characters left and right.  Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Smoke, Kitana and Kabal.  After almost acing through the Endurance Match -- where you fight against two opponents with one health bar, in this instance it was Jade and Reptile -- I met the biggest asshole of Mortal Kombat's elaborate mythology that isn't Shao Kahn: Motaro.  The centaur bastard of unrelenting offense.  It took several continues to get the rhythm of the bastard which was jump kick, jump kick, jump kick.  No other offense I could muster up was successful, but this aerial onslaught seemed to work until he was done.  Then Shao Kahn.  Shao Kahn and his bastard taunt which came again and again and again, and seemed to accompany every loss when the continue option was presented.

Finally, he fell, too.  A cheap tactic using Scorpion's spear attack over and over and over until the big bastard fell and the game was over.

After what felt like a literal lifetime, I learned that only two hours had passed.  Two hours of unrelenting martial arts supernature for the struggle of our very dimension and I was done.

I loved these games when I was younger, and here they are, arcade perfect in almost every way.  Yet, because of the AI difficulties I'm not entirely sure I can resume playing them with the same adoration I had almost twenty years ago.  Perhaps I'm just getting too old.  Perhaps again, the digital gloves need to be hung up and retired and greener pastures of easier explorations of my digital fascination with martial arts need to be explored.  Perhaps still, that's even more bullshit and I just need to avoid games with ridiculously cheap AI.

Earlier this summer I attempted to take on Marvel vs. Capcom 3's hardest difficulty setting and found it too relentless for me to tackle.  I'm not particularly good at the vs. game series in terms of consciously putting workable extravagant combinations together that also look quite beautiful, but watching the characters I've chosen being ritually destroyed by such combos at the hands of AI opponents had proven too much for me to handle and the unfun began and I gave it up. Until a couple of weeks ago.  I attempted it again and made the AI my bitch by adopting my own version of SNK Boss Syndrome by using Sentinel and repeating the same attack over and over again.  If the computer can do it, and it works for them, why can't I?  The game proved to be less difficult this way and I felt somewhat accomplished in achieving the objective.

But, playing a series of games almost twenty years old on the easiest difficulty and having the same issues with the AI and resulting to the same cheap tactics that do not expand my interest or skills within the game? 

Well, that just sucks.

So, I say to you, developers of the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection:

"It's official, you suck."

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