From a Mind of Eternal Chaos

A place where I post whatever happens to strike my fancy

List #2: 10 video game music tracks that sound like other music — November 23, 2016

List #2: 10 video game music tracks that sound like other music

You know, we really need a better way to describe music written as a standalone piece rather than being written for a video game, movie, etc. “Real-life music” doesn’t cut it, nor does “band music”. It certainly would have helped with the title of this article. The point is, have you ever noticed that sometimes certain pieces of music sound like others, even if the similarity was unintentional, and in some cases, even if the music in question comes from completely different genres and contexts? I have. And since I’ve played a fair number of video games and listened to even more video game music, I’ve noticed a number of music tracks from video games that sound like a song composed for a live band or performer intended to be played for an audience (see what I mean about how to describe that kind of music?). This isn’t even remotely an exhaustive list, but it’s some of the most familiar and striking ones I’ve noticed. (That is, not counting ones that are clearly a direct rip; for instance, Earthworm Jim 2 uses at least two movements of the Moonlight Sonata for level music.) These are ranked roughly on how much of each song sounds similar to the other and how great the level of similarity is (though I want to emphasize “roughly”; these kinds of things are tough to rank accurately).

10) Donkey Kong Country 3 (Game Boy Advance version) – Rockface Rumble/Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama

Here is the Donkey Kong Country track, and here is the Lynyrd Skynyrd song.

They admittedly don’t sound that much like each other (which is why this is only #10), but they have a similar cadence and feel, and they use the same chord progressions in parts.

9) Paper Mario – Huffin’ and Puffin’/Taylor Swift – State of Grace

Here is Huffin’ and Puffin’, and here is State of Grace.

I have two sisters who are huge Taylor Swift fans (though less so now than they used to be), and I remember hearing State of Grace and thinking of it as “the Taylor Swift song that sounds like Huff N. Puff’s theme”. Most of the songs aren’t that much alike, but the similarity of the percussion is very noticeable, especially at the beginning before the melody of each song comes in.

8) Yoshi’s Island grassland theme/The Four Tops – Loco in Acapulco

The Yoshi’s Island theme is here, and the Four Tops song is here.

Okay, so I kind of cheated on this one. I actually didn’t know about the latter song until it was specifically brought up, but listening to it, I can definitely hear the similarity. It’s hard to say whether this one should be higher or lower than the Taylor Swift one, because while the similar section in this one extends to more than just one line of instrumentation, it also is mainly just at the beginning rather than throughout the entire song.

7) Mega Man Zero 2 – Gravity/Led Zeppelin – Kashmir

The music from the Power Room, Phoenix Magnion’s stage, in Mega Man Zero 2 is here, while the song that is pretty much always the first song I think of when I think of Led Zeppelin is here.

Once again, the similarity is pretty much confined to a certain part of the song (at least, for the former track), but the chords are nigh-identical in that section, to the point where Kashmir was pretty much the first thing I thought of upon hearing the Mega Man Zero 2 track.

6) Mega Man X6 – Weapon Center (Infinity Mijinion stage)/Europe – The Final Countdown

Here is one of my favorite Mega Man tracks of all time, and here is a song from the late ’80s that, honestly, I know from my brother playing Just Dance more than anything.

Interestingly, I think this is the only pair of songs that are on here for their instrumentation and structure more than the sequences of individual notes. The synth brass in the two tracks sounds uncannily similar, though the percussion isn’t that far off, and they both have fast electric guitar solos.

5) Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex – Atmospheric Pressure/Edvard Grieg – In the Hall of the Mountain King

The fourth boss theme of the fourth Crash Bandicoot game can be found here, and In the Hall of the Mountain King is here.

Now here’s one with a classical piece rather than pop or rock. The rhythms in these two tracks progress similarly for much of the time, though it would admittedly be more obvious if they were at the same tempo. I vaguely remember hearing that the track from Crash Bandicoot 4 was actually inspired by the Grieg piece, but since I’m not sure if that’s actually true, I will leave it at this.

4) Super Mario Land – Muda Kingdom/The Beatles – Penny Lane

You can find the Super Mario Land music here and the Beatles music here.

Again, the main riff of the SML theme really reminds me of Penny Lane, though is it a bit faster. Of course, the track is so short that it doesn’t really even have time to mimic more than the refrain of the other one.

3) Mega Man X3 – Neon Tiger/Guns ‘n’ Roses – My Michelle

Neon Tiger stage theme here; Guns ‘n’ Roses song here.

That’s the third Mega Man example on here…what is it with that series? The problem with this one is that it’s on here for the same reason as #8 was; I’d never even heard “My Michelle” before it came up in the topic of video game tracks that sound like something else. Beyond that, though, the main riff of both pieces is quite similar indeed, not to mention both of them are played with an electric guitar. Funny enough, I remember playing this game in the living room years ago, and my dad thought this stage theme sounded more like Genesis than Guns ‘n’ Roses (the band Genesis, not the console).

2) Yoshi’s Island world map theme/Enya – Anywhere Is

Here is the Yoshi’s Island track (a version of it that includes all 7 variations of the theme), and here is the Enya song.

This upbeat, nostalgic Nintendo overworld track and this pretty, atmospheric Enya song might have a very different feel to them on the whole, but the melodies are remarkably reminiscent of each other, to the point where, as with the Led Zeppelin and Taylor Swift examples, I tend to think of the Yoshi’s Island music every time (read: on the rare occasions that) I hear “Anywhere Is”.

1) Super Mario 3D Land World 4 map theme/Deep Purple – My Woman from Tokyo

The two variants of the Super Mario 3D Land overworld music are here and here, while My Woman from Tokyo is here.

As with #4, the video game representation here is too short to sound like more than a small part of the other music, but boy, that map theme really sounds like the refrain of “My Woman from Tokyo”, with pretty much the same melody line (and this time, the “this reminds me of that” feeling is the other way around compared to most of the others since I heard the Deep Purple song first). The version from the regular World 4 is similar enough, but the Special World 4 version sounds even more like it.

…and that’s about all I have to say about that. I hope this was interesting and entertaining.

So it begins… — November 18, 2016

So it begins…

“You shouldn’t make political posts on Facebook!” my sister says. “It’s embarrassing, awkward, and stupid!” All right, Miss Kvetchlord, I’ll make political posts on my own darn blog. Happy now? Besides, this post isn’t entirely about politics. And yes, the election was several days ago, but you know me: Neither rain nor snow nor Trump presidency will prevent me from procrastinating on projects that I should get done.

Now, about that election…well, about all I can say at this point is “yikes”. I didn’t really even pay attention to politics until a few years ago, and I’m kind of glad I didn’t. I already have enough anxiety and depression in my life as it is, not to mention lack of faith in humanity. I wouldn’t say Donald Trump himself is the biggest problem…I can’t stand the guy, though Hillary Clinton has a lot of detractors too. Personally, I would have liked Bernie Sanders, but he kind of got thrown under the bus. The real issue is what it indicates about our society. While half the people in the country probably aren’t racist, sexist, homophobic, prejudiced against disabled people, and the like, the fact that they didn’t consider all that a deal-breaker is suspect at best. So while my reaction to anyone who voted for Trump (I even know a few people) might not be “you’re an evil, hateful person full of prejudice”, it just might be “what the @#$%&!! were you thinking?!“. And then, of course, there are the people who actually do agree with all the hateful rhetoric and consider it perfectly acceptable to threaten and assault people for being different from themselves, who have been given a new surge of zeal now that the leader of the country at least appears to be validating their beliefs. I’d call it a sociopathic mentality, but that might be offensive to sociopaths, at least some of which are decent people despite their abnormal neuroanatomy. (And in the case of the people who are frightened of the changing times and would rather America be as it was in the ’50s, I’d call them a bunch of driveling old dinosaurs, but that might be offensive to the older folks I know, who are generally kind and open-minded.) I do still think understanding, solidarity, and a sense of why people would support such a slimeball is important, especially for the next 4 years, but…if your Glorious Leader has been happily endorsed by Kim Jong-Un and the KKK, and hate crimes in his name are already on the rise after his election, he just might not be your best spokesperson if you don’t want to come off as a psycho intolerant bigot. And to anyone who did vote for him despite not being a bigot, since you were the ones who had faith in his moral fiber, it’s mainly on you to let people, especially people in positions of power, know that that kind of garbage is unacceptable.

Now, I’d imagine at least some people are wondering why I’m so fervent about all this, considering nothing that I’ve mentioned really affects me personally. First of all, yes it does, because I have friends and acquaintances who would be hurt. Do you think I want my black friend threatened, my Muslim professor deported, my female friends and family assaulted, or my LGBT+ friends to have their rights stripped away? (Heck, I almost fall into the LGBT spectrum myself, though you have to extend the acronym out a few letters for me.) Second and more importantly, not caring if someone or something is threatening the rights or livelihood of another group of people because it doesn’t affect you is an extremely self-centered way of looking at things and not a mentality that I would condone. It’s easy not to worry about drowning when you’re on dry land, until the flood comes. Honestly, I’m not sure why any of this is so difficult. In this day and age, we can talk to a person on the other side of the world instantly and for free, we can fit entire collections of literature and movies into a space the size of a fingernail, we have entire buildings floating in space, and we’re developing robots small enough to travel through a person’s bloodstream…and yet, we can’t seem to accept a person who is trying to enter the country to escape a warzone, has a higher level of melanin in their skin, worships a supernatural higher power in a different way or not at all, or wants to marry someone of the same gender. Congratulations, human race; you fail at everything forever, especially priorities. (Seriously, forget being American; I’m not even sure I want to be Homo sapiens right now.)

As for me, I’ll just have to see how it goes. I’d say that the situation has made me lose a lot of hope for the world, but that would imply that I had hope for the world to begin with. I’ll probably be dealing with this highly adverse situation the same way I deal with most things in life: Copious sarcasm and smart remarks, supporting my friends and family as much as possible while getting support from them in turn, a bit of Weird Al and video game music (and video games, for that matter), and some Chocolate Brownie Thunder ice cream. (What? Chocolate goes well with nihilism.) I’d also like to remind everyone that we are all unique, and while a person in a position of leadership might represent a group of people as a whole, they pointedly do not represent each person as an individual. Just because we elected Donald Trump as President (and mind you, he’s not president yet), that doesn’t mean we all have to agree with him. (To be honest, as much of a narcissistic jerkwad as Mr. Drumpf is, I almost feel a bit sorry for the guy; the position is a big burden to bear (look at all the stress it caused Obama), and he clearly has a narrow, twisted sense of reality if he believes half the reprehensible and preposterous things he’s said.) Now, I won’t even bother saying that we all need to come together (considering that that would mean, in at least some cases, that victims would have to accept their tormentors), but we are at least not alone. I doubt I’ll get involved in any sort of activism, because I am a self-admitted humongous wuss who wouldn’t have the courage to protest against a social studies teacher let alone an entire governmental organization, but I’ll be there for moral support. I will support the continuing diversity of our country (which, if you ask me, is really what makes America great, relatively speaking); I will support my LGBTQIA, female, non-white, non-Christian friends and family and anyone else who needs it; and you bet I will be wearing my safety pin. Giving up is not an option.

The List of Limbo #1: Super Mario 64 – The standard for 3D platformers (unfortunately) — November 2, 2016

The List of Limbo #1: Super Mario 64 – The standard for 3D platformers (unfortunately)

Here is something a bit new. While my rating scale for normal reviews has all possible permutations for level of quality by my personal opinion, I will admit that most of my reviews will probably be for things that I at least somewhat liked (or if I didn’t like them, if they at least went by quickly enough that I could put up with them). More importantly, I only ever review things that I’ve actually finished; I feel that if I don’t get all the way through something, I can’t really give a fair assessment of it. Now, what does that have to do with this “List of Limbo”? Quite simply, the List of Limbo is basically reviews for things that I might never do a real review of because I may never actually finish them for whatever reason, because of personal bias or preference against the genre, not enjoying it enough to want to continue, running into a roadblock, or whatever else. I even have a separate rating scale for the List of Limbo, as seen on the info page below the regular rating system, for how likely I am to ever return to that item in the future and do a proper review of it.

The first work of media that I’ll be looking at for this is Super Mario 64. It may be a timeless classic in a lot of people’s minds, but if it’s on this list, I clearly don’t agree. I warned you all that when it came time for me to review things, I might be stomping on some childhood memories along the way, but you know what they say about omelets, so…let the childhood stomping begin.

Super Mario 64, if you didn’t know, is the first 3D Mario game and a launch game for the Nintendo 64. For a lot of people, it is probably the game that codified the 3D platformer genre. This time around, I guess Bowser’s trapped all the Toads in paintings or something in his perpetual quest to give a princess both PTSD and Stockholm syndrome, and we as Mario must enter the worlds depicted in those to retrieve special stars and use those stars to return things to relative normalcy. There are 15 main levels in the game, each with 7 stars to collect, and there are a few stars elsewhere as well for a total of 120 stars. Each level needs a certain number of stars to reach by way of locked doors in the castle.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, I’ve been saying for a while that 3D platformers might be the only genre easier to screw up than RPGs, and Super Mario 64 is a pretty good example of that. Given that it was one of the first 3D platformers, it stands to reason that it would have some rough spots. The camera is pretty bad, for one; it has a marked tendency to position itself at awkward angles, and despite supposedly having a manual control option (I’ve actually heard that the Nintendo 64 controller was designed for Super Mario 64, the C buttons being one reason), messing with the camera using the C buttons doesn’t seem to work very well. And speaking of the controller, the controls in this game are actually kind of annoying. I’d imagine most people have probably heard about how janky the Nintendo 64’s controller is by now, but I will at least reiterate how crappy the analog stick is, and I’m not sure why this game even needed analog control in the first place. Really, I’m not sure why analog control in general is supposed to be so great; in every game I’ve ever played that had it, I could only think how much more accurate it would have been with a separate button, rather than having a control stick that you’ll inevitably end up pushing a micrometer too far in a particular direction, causing your character to run too fast right into an obstacle. Things like “use the analog stick to tiptoe so you won’t wake up the sleeping Piranha Plant” seem just as shoehorned-in to me as the Wii’s infamous motion controls. The presence or lack of good controls can really make or break a video game, and this one definitely tends to lean more toward the “break” side. Sure, it added new moves such as the triple jump and wall jump, but I felt like the basic controls just weren’t as accurate as they should have been, especially when swimming.

Both of those pretty significant problems, however, are still less important than the thing that really ruined this game for me: the gameplay. The levels, from what I played before I gave up on the game, are small and not generally organized or paced very well, and there are only 15 of them in the entire game. One might assume that that is rectified by the star system, but the levels really don’t change much. Whichever star you’re going for, you’re still playing basically the same level, even if you’re not taking the exact same path through it. The end effect of this is that it feels like rather than playing up to 105 short stages’ worth of content, you’re just doing the same levels over and over again, and at least some of the repetition is mandatory, since you need at least 70 stars to defeat Bowser. I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea or an enjoyable way to play a game. It’s as if worlds 3 to 8 in the original Super Mario Bros. were retreads of all the levels in the first two worlds, with the only differences being that some of the levels had a few blocks, platforms, or enemies added or removed. I guess one reason for doing this could have been to save cartridge space, but considering Super Mario 64 doesn’t come anywhere near maxing out the available space inside a Nintendo 64 cartridge (the biggest games ever made for the system used 64 MB cartridges, while this game is only 8 MB), that excuse only really flies inasmuch as it was a launch game and they probably hadn’t tapped into the potential yet, similar to how Super Mario World was squeezed into a 512 KB cartridge when later SNES games such as Donkey Kong Country quite easily went up to 4 MB (in fact, the ratio is the same).

One other thing that tends to turn me off Super Mario 64, though it isn’t the game’s fault, is its fanbase. Poor game-modding communities aside, I hardly ever hear anyone who likes Super Mario 64 describe it as less than not only the best 3D Mario game but the only 3D Mario game worth playing, or even the one that all other 3D Mario games’ design should be based on. There’s always some qualifier about, for instance, Super Mario 3D Land and World not actually being 3D games (looks like somebody needs to look up what “3D” means) or being objectively inferior to Super Mario 64 (keep that dictionary around to look up what an opinion is while you’re at it), or all 3D Mario games needing to be open-world and have star collecting to be good, or some other garbage. It’s fine to like the game even if I personally don’t, but it’s not fine to tout it as the be-all, end-all approach to 3D Mario games and disparage anyone who doesn’t agree.

Summary:

Problems: The way the levels are set up makes the game extremely repetitive, the camera is questionable at best, and the controls could have used some touching up.
Things that were okay: The music is decent enough.
Circle of limbo rating: 3

I really tried to like Super Mario 64, but I think I’ve given it enough chances; I wasn’t really having fun with it, and I doubt I’d ever have much incentive to give it another try. The controls are screwy, the camera is even screwier, the levels frankly feel like a whole lot of blandness and repetition…and is it just me, or is a good portion of this game’s fanbase absolutely insufferable by Mario game standards? Super Mario 64 might have been impressive in 1996, but in 2016, not so much. There are some games from that era that have aged like fine wine (Super Mario RPG, Yoshi’s Island, the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, and possibly the Mega Man games), but Super Mario 64 aged about as well as a bowl of potato salad in Death Valley. There are good 3D platformers out there, but this, as far as I’m concerned, is not one of them.

PSA: Don’t be a jerk — October 12, 2016

PSA: Don’t be a jerk

I probably could have come with a better title for this post, but hey, titles are hard. The point is, the daily flood of social media posts have been even more “how much faith in humanity can I possibly lose?” than usual today, which is an achievement, and I felt like saying something.

The point is, while there are no shortage of psychopaths within our dysfunctional species, I’d like to think I’m one of the relatively un-psycho ones. And while I won’t claim to be entirely free from prejudice nor lacking in bias (trust me, that will probably come up eventually if I keep writing reviews), there are a lot of things that people are being persecuted for that I quite simply do not consider important. In light of that, as well as National Coming Out Day yesterday (to be honest, until yesterday, I didn’t even realize that was a thing), I’d just like to say that as far as I’m concerned, you can be whatever gender you feel like, you can be in love with whomever you want or none at all, you can follow whatever religion you want or none at all, you can be interested in whatever you like, and whatever ethnicity you are, whatever country or region you’re from…quite simply, it just doesn’t matter to me, at least as far as assessing your “worth” or anything like that goes. At worst, I might ask you about yourself out of curiosity if you have a background that I don’t encounter very often (like, “So what does that religion teach? How is that sexuality defined? What was it like living there?”). But as far as whether I’d like you or not, the only thing that truly matters is whether or not you’re a good person, or at least have the potential to be one. If you’re a good person, I will first and foremost define you by that, whatever other positive, negative, or neutral traits you may have (in something like, I don’t know, “that Hispanic friend of mine who is good at kickball but has questionable taste in hats”, the operative word is still “friend”), and the same goes if you’re not so good. I try to avoid dividing and labeling people that way, but if we must divide them, let it at least simply be between “nice people” and “jerks”. I could scarcely care less if you’re a lesbian Belarusian Jew who is overly obsessed with Taylor Swift, as long as you’re not a jerk.

Movie review #2: Tangled – A story of lost hairs — September 30, 2016

Movie review #2: Tangled – A story of lost hairs

Well, we started the month with a video review, and it looks like we’re ending it the same way. I finally watched Tangled all the way through recently, so that’s what we’re looking at this time around. If you didn’t know, it’s more or less a retelling of Rapunzel with a lot of details and side plot added. There’s a flower that grants eternal youth and life, a nasty old woman hides it, its powers end up in the hair of the new princess, the woman raises the princess as her own daughter confined in a tower, she decides to leave the tower one day, shenanigans and epiphany ensue. That sums it up vaguely but concisely. The rescuer is a wisecracking thief on the run, and Rapunzel is a spirited 18-year-old (for most of the movie) armed with a frying pan. There will be unmarked spoilers this time, since I’m not really sure how else to explain certain things.

I liked the movie overall. I’m not sure I’d put it on my “all-time favorites, must watch” list, but it’s at least probably in the highest quadrant, and Rapunzel is probably one of the best Disney princesses. On a side note, there’s been a minor argument in my family about whether Tangled or Frozen is a better movie, and…I’m not sure, really. I guess I’ll get to that more if I ever review Frozen, which is likely. In any case, though, it was an interesting adventure, not to mention pretty, a worthy addition to the franchise. Also, I actually found Mother Gothel to be one of the creepiest villains in a Disney cartoon show. She didn’t even need any magic to make Rapunzel do what she wanted (in fact, there actually isn’t any magic in this other than Rapunzel’s fabulous hair); she nearly ruined the poor girl’s life with nothing but manipulation, which is perfectly possible in real life. Yikes.

Come to think of it, though…how exactly does a “drop of sunlight” fall to the ground and turn into a healing flower anyway? If it’s a gift from some higher power, why the heck isn’t it better protected? What happened to the flower after the queen used it anyway? Surely she didn’t need to use the whole thing and/or kill it? Why didn’t Eugene cut Rapunzel’s hair after she healed him with it? And why did Rapunzel need to make and keep that agreement anyway? Just once, I’d like to see the hero agree to that kind of “offer you can’t refuse”, then stab the villain in the back (possibly literally) as soon as they let their guard down. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the kind of person who very much values honesty and keeping one’s word, but being under duress invalidates any sort of honor or responsibility in that regard. In fact, Rapunzel could have just cut her hair at any time once she found out what her emotional abuser was really up to, maybe hiding the fact that she knew if necessary. Inside or outside the tower, all she needs is a pair of scissors and the wretched old hag is irrevocably screwed. As an aside, did anyone else find the scene where they’re trapped in the cave much more unsettling than it was probably meant to be? Maybe I’m just a bit claustrophobic when it comes to certain things, but…yeesh.

Summary:

Plot: Fine

I guess if nothing else, it’s noteworthy that they managed to take one of the shorter, simpler fairytales and expand it into a full-length movie without really padding anything.

Characters: Fine

Rapunzel was pretty decent, a more modern princess who can take care of herself and doesn’t just have to wait to be rescued. Eugene was likable enough, if a bit self-centered at first. (Though I have to wonder what crimes he committed that were bad enough to warrant execution…maybe it’s just because it’s semi-medieval times and punishments were harsher back then?) The side characters were cute, even if they weren’t onscreen enough to have that much to them. The non-speaking animals were good for a laugh, particularly Maximus (though before seeing the movie, I’d thought he was Eugene’s horse). I will say, though, that while Mother Gothel was a pretty chilling villain, she was actually a fairly flat character. She not only wasn’t at least entertaining like some Disney villains, she didn’t really have a personality or motivation beyond “I want to live and be young forever and will use any means necessary to do so, including ruining an innocent girl’s life, because I’m a manipulative butthole who doesn’t care for anyone other than myself in the slightest”. You really have to wonder with these death-cheating bad guys what exactly they’re planning on doing with all that extra lifespan (presumably just sitting on their tuchis thinking “ha ha, I’m not dead yet, screw you, Grim Reaper” a lot).

Effects: Existent

Do cartoons even have special effects? Well, I guess the art was pretty, quite well-done.

Dialogue: Good

The dialogue felt pretty natural. I can think of plenty of moments of charm and humor, but not really any that made me cringe or sigh.

Positives: I certainly can’t complain about either the lovely art and animation or the strong female lead protagonist. We need more independent, determined, strong-willed princesses in stories. Though I guess Disney’s been doing pretty okay with that lately, after not only Rapunzel but also Tiana, Merida, Anna, and Elsa. From what I’ve seen so far, Moana looks to be going in the same direction.

Negatives: Well, I’ve already mentioned not finding the antagonist an interesting or compelling character, so I shan’t repeat myself on that note. I guess one other minor knock against this is that I didn’t find the soundtrack particularly memorable. It wasn’t bad, but if we’re comparing it to Frozen, I can think of plenty of songs from that other than the (in)famous “Let it Go” that I still remember well after seeing the movie, whereas here, the only song I can even recall, much less sing any of, is the one from the “I have a dream” scene. (Well, no, I guess I also remember what “Mother Knows Best” sounds like, but that’s not what I’d call a great song or anything.)

Final score: 6

Tangled is a good movie, both in its own right and as part of the larger Disney series. I’m not really sure what about it prevents me from feeling like rating it higher, but hey, I enjoyed it.

Movie review #1: Spy Kids – They’re going to save the world — September 3, 2016

Movie review #1: Spy Kids – They’re going to save the world

Well, my brother just watched this movie the other day, I hadn’t seen it in a while, and I definitely remember liking it, so I figured it would be a pretty decent choice for my first movie review. In it, Carmen and Juni Cortez are two kids whose parents are international spies, which they only find out when their enemies break in and kidnap them and another secret agent has to explain the situation quickly and get the kids to safety before they get kidnapped as well. What follows is a combination of chases, wacky hijinks, action, adventure, drama, and intrigue, as they must escape the enemy agents and their robotic minions, figure out how to work as spies themselves with their new fancy gadgets, and make some unlikely allies along the way.

And…it works. I mean, it’s not some intricate, transcendentalist work of art or something like that, but as a family action-adventure movie with a little sci-fi thrown in, it’s really pretty decent. (Obviously, real espionage is about a hundred times more dangerous and painful than anything that happens in this movie, but hey, having Carmen and Juni get tortured for information or be forced to assassinate people would take away the fun of the movie, no?) I like the interesting gadgets and machines, the background setting, the quirky side characters…Spy Kids is out to entertain, and it certainly does that. While spy movies have probably been done quite a bit by this time (admittedly, the movie has been out since 2001), it had enough interesting twists on it—particularly anything involved with Floop—to feel unique and interesting. It also seems to divide its time between action sequences, worldbuilding, and character interaction pretty well. Even the kidnapped parents got some good scenes, such as the banquet with Floop and the (failed) escape attempt down the halls. The ending was nicely done, too.

Summary:

Plot: Fine

I guess one noteworthy thing about the plot of this movie is that there’s not really one single overarching goal that the protagonists are after. There is one main one, which is to get their parents back, but along the way, there are lots of “steps” to complete first.

Characters: Decent

While the two main characters weren’t that noteworthy, I think the side characters are what really made it work (again, particularly anyone involved with Floop). Though I swear I don’t remember Carmen being so…abrasive when I watched it as a kid…

Effects: Good

I don’t generally pay attention to special effects much, but they did a good job making the sci-fi-esque technology (the spy gadgets, the robots, the virtual reality sequences) look believable. Except maybe the “instant food”; that one stretched my suspension of disbelief a bit.

Dialogue: Fine

The dialogue was generally pretty decent, though I can’t immediately think of any particularly good lines (though “You’re not that strong, Juni…” might be at least marginally quotable).

Positives: Probably the best thing about this movie is that it’s interesting and mature enough for an adult to watch, yet family-friendly enough to show to kids without really needing to worry (unless they’re pretty little). I can’t think of a lot of shows that I could say that about, especially live-action ones.

Negatives: Remember what I mentioned about Carmen’s personality? Yeah, I’m going to reiterate that. If I remember correctly, she does get better in the sequels, as well as late into this one, but…honestly, she spends an awful lot of the movie acting like kind of a jerk to her brother for no particular reason. I’m also not sure why the heck either of them thought it was a good idea to try melee-attacking the robots after the first failed attempt. After Juni nearly broke his hand trying to punch them, Carmen headconking one could only grant me a reaction of “…You idiot.” (And doing that even to a human isn’t exactly fun…) “You’re not that strong, Juni” indeed. On a related note, I’m pretty sure that you can’t put someone on a merry-go-round and then spin it that fast without either the person or the playground equipment—or both—suffering some significant harm.

Final score: 7

Spy Kids is a pretty good movie for family entertainment, I’d say. Some people might fancy themselves too sophisticated or highbrow for this kind of thing, but then, I could say that about quite a few works of media that are less well-done and less mature than this was. In fact, this actually used to be one of my favorite movies as a kid, along with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as I recall. I would highly recommend it. (Now, excuse me while I sing the theme song from the credits…)

Magic: The Gathering discussion #1: Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon, plus a general overview — August 17, 2016

Magic: The Gathering discussion #1: Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon, plus a general overview

Well, now that the Shadows over Innistrad block of Magic: The Gathering is over with and Eldritch Moon—the second and last set—has been out for a few weeks, I suppose it’s a decent time to discuss my thoughts about the block. Before I can do that, though, I suppose it would be wise to talk about Magic in general, since it’s definitely not a game that everyone plays or is familiar with. I will discuss the latest couple of sets in this ongoing game, but before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this story….

For anyone not in the know, Magic: The Gathering is a collectible card game (think Pokemon cards but for an older audience), wherein you buy various assortments of cards in random packs or individually online or secondhand and use these cards to build your own deck to play with. You can also get pre-built base decks, which are usually assorted with a specific color or faction in the game. The game is divided up into blocks, which each consist of a self-contained story and theme and are generally based around a particular world (or “plane”), and sets, which are subdivisions of blocks and are essentially parts or stages of the block. Most blocks contain 3 sets, though one of them had 4 and the newest ones have switched to 2. Planes often have a certain theme to them; in the past, there have been ones based around such things as Japanese mythology, gothic horror, old-time fairytales, and an enormous city with conflicting guilds.

There are 5 different colors of mana, each associated with particular types of spells (for instance, things that prevent damage tend to be white, things that damage players directly tend to be red, and large creatures tend to be green), and you need a certain about of mana to cast these spells, which is usually obtained by activating, or “tapping”, land cards that you’ve played. Each player has 20 life, at least in the normal style of play, and anyone whose life count reaches 0 loses the game. (There are other ways of winning the game besides reducing everyone else to 0 life, but that’s the simplest and most common.) There are various types of spells; creatures, for instance, stay in play and can be used to attack other players (usually), instant and sorcery spells grant a one-time effect and then go to the discard pile, and enchantments grant a permanent effect either globally or for a particular thing that they’re enchanting. Some cards can also have certain keywords for an extra layer of functionality; for instance, there is one keyword that causes a creature to gain you life whenever it deals damage, one that prevents the thing it’s on from being targeted by your opponents’ spells, and one that lets you look at a certain number of cards from the top of your deck and move some of them to the bottom if you wish. There are also keywords that are specific to certain sets and blocks, such as one that lets you make a single-target spell hit everything by paying extra mana and one that causes something to happen whenever a land that you control enters play.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about the game overall. It’s decently fun, I suppose, and some of the story and flavor is pretty neat, but the story can also get really freaking depressing and outright disturbing at times (we’re talking A Song of Ice and Fire-tier dark here, at least from what I’ve heard of the series). And even if you don’t follow the story (which is fair; there’s no reason you need to just to play the game), it’s one of those games where there are far too many ways to make your opponents absolutely miserable; as a corollary, it’s also one of those games where the amount of fun you’ll have depends greatly on the people you’re playing with. And since everyone makes their own decks, it also depends greatly on what kinds of decks you’re up against. (Tip: In a game with 3 or more players, if there is anyone playing a control deck or the “Manabarbs” enchantment, gang up on that person first.) On the other hand, the customizable nature of the game and the sheer number of available cards means that just about everyone will be able to find things they like and put together a deck or two for their play style. On the other other hand, most people would probably gravitate toward the cooler and more powerful cards if given a choice, and a lot of those tend to be quite expensive to buy individually (naturally, they also tend to be rare, so one could not easily find them in random packs). For instance, there’s a pretty neat card called Sword of Fire and Ice that I’d like to use. How much does it cost? Well, depending on where you get it and at the time of this writing, roughly 43 dollars. Yeah, no. And that’s not even considered all that bad compared to some high-tier cards…or quite a few infamously imbalanced ones from the oldest sets, some of which get up to the thousands. It’s not as bad when it’s a card that I could easily do without, one of those “this would be pretty cool, but it’s not super important for any decks I have planned” cards, but then you get some that would be really useful in a lot of things. The most infamous of those is Doubling Season; I’d use that card in all sorts of decks if I could, but how can I when I’d have to drop 37 bucks on one every time I needed it? I mean, I’m probably stupid for spending as much money as I do on this kind of nerd hobby, but I’m not quite that stupid. (There is the option of using proxies, which would only cost about 9 cents per card, maybe less depending on where you print them, but my playgroup doesn’t seem to be too willing to let me use those.)

On the other other hand, there are also plenty of cards that are pretty decent and much cheaper. Druids’ Repository, for instance, is also quite useful, and it’s only 24 cents. And let me just say—and I’m speaking from first-hand experience here—that even if they might not be as flashy, a hand-picked assortment of 200 15-cent cards for $30.00 will serve you much better than two $15.00 cards for the same price would. On the other other other hand (apparently, we’re borrowing Lakshmi Tatma‘s limbs to count on)…it’s possible to go a bit too far that way as well; you can buy large assortments of random cards on places like eBay, but in my experience, they tend to be mostly junk. I guess it’s okay if everyone is building their decks out of the same junk, but personally, I’d rather at least be able to get more of a plan together.

There’s also the issue of that story and flavor that I mentioned earlier. Now, generally, when a person talks about something being a work of the devil designed to corrupt innocent minds or something to that effect, my mental response is usually something like “Pffffftt…yeah, right, whatever you say. Hey, did you know they’ve now discovered that the world is round?”. In this case, however, I must admit that the puritanical types might actually have something of a point. No, I obviously don’t think Magic was inspired by Satan or anything like that, but it’s not exactly innocent either; simply put, the game might say it’s for ages 13 and up, but I don’t think it’s quite appropriate for 13-year-olds. It’s not because it encourages antisocial acts or anything, or even because it’s too complex for young people (a few rare edge cases of mechanic interaction might cause a bit of confusion, but a quick Google search ought to elucidate those reasonably well); it’s the imagery that’s the problem. I’ll be the first to admit that Magic: The Gathering does have some very nice artwork overall, and there are at least a few cards that I’d consider getting just for the artwork even if they weren’t that efficient in-game (providing they weren’t too expensive) because they’re just so gosh-darned pretty. But then you also get plenty of cards that are genuinely creepy and unsettling (yes, I can think of a few in particular; no, I’m not going to link them here). Some people might have a problem with the demon-related cards, but honestly, the cards that depict demons generally aren’t even that bad. So I suppose you just have to find the right cards, some reasonably innocent dryads, fairies, centaurs, or what have you.

tl;dr: Magic: The Gathering is a decent enough game, provided you have the right group of friends to play it with. But I wouldn’t give it to your 13-year-old if I were you, unless you’re prepared to go through the cards with him or her and filter out certain ones.

Now, that brings me to Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon…

In Shadows over Innistrad, the first set of the block, we return to the plane of Innistrad, where mysterious mutations are afflicting people and creatures there. It turns out to be the work of Emrakul, an Eldrazi (basically, think H.P. Lovecraft-style monstrous otherworldly abominations) lured to the plane by a former friend of Sorin, a vampire from the plane, as revenge for leaving her own plane to be ravaged by the Eldrazi centuries ago. We don’t find that out until the second set, Eldritch Moon, though it’s pretty obvious to anyone who has been following the recent story, since the previous block also had a lot of Eldrazi involved and it was specifically brought to attention that one was missing (and the one who is most known for causing mutations of that nature). The main characters prevail, sort of, though there’s an odd plot twist at the end that might leave a lot of people wondering. The block introduces some new mechanics: investigate, which gives you an artifact that you can pay some mana and sacrifice to draw a card and only shows up in the first set; delirium, which allows cards that have it to grant an additional or more powerful effect if your discard pile contains four or more card types (there being seven card types in total, or eight in rare cases); skulk, which prevents a creature from being blocked by anything with higher power than itself; escalate, which allows you to choose multiple modes of modal spells by paying extra mana and only shows up in the second set; emerge, which allows you to cast certain creature spells cheaper by sacrificing an existing creature (also exclusive to the second set); and meld, which allows you to combine certain pairs of cards into one more powerful one should you have both of them out (ditto). There is also madness, a returning mechanic that allows you to cast cards as you discard them.

So, what do I think of this block? Eeehh…I’m not a fan, honestly. The main issue is definitely the story/setting/flavor; Innistrad was already a fairly dark, gruesome setting (it’s the “gothic horror” plane I mentioned in the second paragraph), and adding eldritch abominations to the mix just makes it that much worse. Granted, it’s still probably not as bad as the Scars of Mirrodin block from late 2010/early 2011 (though that level of dystopia is hard to top), but it’s a shoo-in for second place in most nightmarish block. Remember what I said about the game not really being appropriate for young people? Well, the Shadows over Innistrad block definitely isn’t, unless it’s a kid who has already seen enough fictional horror to be desensitized. I mean, some of the artwork for the corrupted creatures and stuff gives me the creeps, and I’m old enough to do basically anything lawful except run for president. (Okay, so I’m also rather sensitive to that kind of thing, but still…) Now, how about the mechanics? I mean, even Scars of Mirrodin had some pretty decent gameplay mechanics to play around with. Well, as far as that goes for Shadows and Moon…swing and a miss, I’m afraid. I’d imagine they’re fine within the set, but generally, the kinds of game mechanics I like tend to be ones that are open-ended enough to work well in a lot of different settings and with a lot of different cards. While meld was an interesting idea and escalate is one that I’m frankly surprised took this long to show up (at least as a keyword), the mechanics in Innistrad Part 2 generally aren’t things that seem particularly useful outside of the block, and they certainly don’t add anything to most of my existing decks. It really does not help that, with the exception of investigate (which, might I remind you, was only in one of the two sets), they only really care about the cards that they’re actually on; they can’t directly affect anything else. Big hairy deal.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the Shadows over Innistrad block is unquestionably one of my less-liked blocks in the game. I don’t know if it’s my outright least favorite, but it has to be close. I didn’t hate the story, setting, and flavor as much as Scars of Mirrodin’s, but Scars of Mirrodin at least had some interesting mechanics to play around with outside of the setting; Shadows over Innistrad didn’t even have that going for it. On a side note, what is with return blocks and turning the plane into a complete dunghole? Wizards of the Coast has done a total of four blocks (at least among the modern sets) that returned to a plane previously visited, and only one of them—Return to Ravnica—didn’t have all of the smelliest, grossest poop hit the biggest, fastest fan on that return trip. If it’s true that about every other set from here on out will be a returning one, I’m not looking forward to seeing what other planes they decide to ruin. (I really liked Ravnica in particular, so if they decide at some point to do “Ravnica 3: Now With 250% More Dark and Edgy”, it would be an understatement to say I’d be ticked off about it.) I’ve gotten a few particular cards from the Shadows over Innistrad block that I quite liked (Second Harvest was a particularly nice one), but…I think I’ll leave most of the rest of it to play in the septic tank. With any hope, I’ll like the next block much better.

Minor status update 11: Happy anniversary to me? — July 27, 2016

Minor status update 11: Happy anniversary to me?

Guess what day it is? It is the 1-year anniversary of when I started this site, if you didn’t know. I don’t have anything special in mind for the occasion, though. Here’s hoping I actually do more with it in the next year. Besides, I figured I had to post something this month.

On that note, yes, I realize I never finished Worldbuilding June. I’ll get around to it eventually. I was planning on not posting anything else until I had finished, but obviously, I decided against that. So I may post some reviews and stuff while I work on the remaining prompts.

Worldbuilding June – Days 26-30 — June 30, 2016

Worldbuilding June – Days 26-30

Well, I was behind on the prompts up to the end…and since I’ll be on a trip for the first week and a half of July, I don’t know if I’ll be able to get them done very soon. I’ll finish them when I can. Sorry for all the delays.

Day 26: Transportation

*to be filled in*

Day 27: Major Figures & Important Players

*to be filled in*

Day 28: Communication

*to be filled in*

Day 29: Weather

*to be filled in*

Day 30: Disasters

*to be filled in*

Worldbuilding June – Days 21-25 — June 25, 2016