Lego Lord of the Rings – Wii, 3DS, NDS, PS3, PS Vita, XBox 360

helms-deep

They’ve reigned in Legolas’ showboating. A little.

By now, these Lego game reviews are becoming somewhat of a crisis for me. What do I talk about? A licensed game? A corporate tie-in? A movie parody? A series of games so identical they make the Republican National Convention look like a celebration of diversity and globalism? A chance to play with Legos as a grown-up without having to worry about cleaning them up when I’m done? A series of relatively short games I can play when I need to write about something quickly? Probably a combination of all of those. The Lego Games are a lot like Will Ferrel DVDs in that respect—short, easy to get through, with a few humorous parts here and there, and something I’ll put on my shelf without looking at the extras and knowing that I’ll more likely than not never have the urge to come back to it.

rohirrim

Let’s mow down some motherfuckin’ orcs!

What then, if they adapted the best movie of all time? No, not Revenge of the Nerds IV. Not Ghostbusters either. Nope, not Cool Runnings. Or Back to the Future (although…). Or Star Wars…wait, yes on Star Wars, but no on this game. I’m talking about Peter Jackson’s epic take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings, the beautiful modern-Medieval epic metaphor about the loss of our relationship with the natural world due to the effects of ambition, politics, and the desire for control over others. Yeah, it turns out it makes a pretty good game about plastic toy blocks.

plastic-lave

So if the lava is 1300 degrees, how hot does the air have to be to melt plastic?

Lego games are starting to remind me of my time among in Korea. If you spend enough time with them and give them the proper attention, you start to wonder how people have trouble telling them apart. The earlier games were more combat-intensive, if you can consider a hunk of plastic the size of a ping-pong ball to be capable of combat. These games, most notably the Lego Star Wars games, had boss fights reminiscent of a poorly lubricated rock-em-sock-em robot set, whereas the boss fights became somewhat more complicated as the gameplay shifted more toward puzzle solving. At the extreme other end of the spectrum is Lego Jurassic World, a thrilling man-v-nature fight for survival against vicious predators in which the dinosaurs calmly stand by as you set up convoluted Rube Goldberg contraptions that will lead to their untimely re-extinction, sufficing to snarl kindly if you get off-track from your mission.

nazgul

No, I am your father.

Lego Lord of the Rings meets these halfway, with perhaps a bit more emphasis on puzzle-solving than is healthy for a story that lists “Medieval Combat” at the top of its resume. Characters have skills and abilities which help you solve logical, intuitive puzzles such as catch-a-fish-to-throw-at-the-bird-to-distract-the-nazgul, catch-fish-to-throw-at-gollum-so-Sam-can-tie-the-rope-around-his-neck-so-Frodo-can-stab-him-with-Sting, and gather-fish-to-throw-at-the-wall-to-open-the-gate. And if you’re not into piscine-themed puzzles, enjoy such classics from the movie like Galadriel’s gift to Frodo. “I give you the light of Earendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light to you when quest items are hidden where other characters cannot access and need your help to get to.”

mt-doom

You know what protects your ring better than a smooth, unguarded pathway leading to a ledge over the only thing hot enough to destroy the One Ring? ANYTHING!

One think I thought novel of this game was that it told a more fluid rendition of its source material, rather than the Greatest Hits parade of other Lego games. You begin in the prologue, fighting against a Sauron that makes 300’s Xerxes look like a member of the Lollipop Guild. Once completed, you begin a long, arduous climb up Mt. Doom realizing that Sauron, the Ancient and Most Powerful of the Maiar, Lieutenant to Morgoth the Valar of All Things Corrupt, Fell or otherwise Evil, Etc, actually did very little to protect the One Weapon of All-Power and item that housed his mortal essence, and was easily outdone for security by a Dutch toy company. From there, each film seems to play about six levels to the usual five, and the traditional hub world for Lego games is replaced by a completely open map of Middle Earth that the player can travel to go from level to level, receive side quests, buy characters and items, and get completely turned around in despite the trail of phantom Lego studs leading you to your next destination. Levels are segmented and shorter than in other games, and often give you the choice between groups of characters, offering a timeline with a little more control and reason than the books give you.

mumak

That still only counts as one!

Puzzle-solving aspects alternate between the overly simplistic “stand here and push Z” (and during a handful of boss battles, just “stand here”) and “Throw fish at the wall to move forward,” which is about as intuitive as scraping a hedgehog across your keyboard to restart your computer. For those of you hoping for clunky, plastic Medieval warfare, there’s still a fair amount of that in the game, although it handles like old men swinging their walkers at each other, Legolas’ arrows have all the force behind them of an old Nerf dart blown out of the end of a wrapping-paper tube, and most of the battles come down to puzzle solving anyway. The humor starts out strong, but withers up like a dead orc near the end, and the game is riddled with glitches. So what reason, if any, remains to play the game?

It’s a scenery smasher. And in the end, don’t we all just want to hulk out and take revenge against all those Legos that refused to separate, even when we had the special separator tool? Take that, Lego environment! When I’m finished with you, you’re going to wish Climate Change had gotten to you first!

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New Super Mario Bros Wii – Wii

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I know you’re probably reading this in February, but you have to understand that I’m writing in November. As it stands, we’ve just elected a new president who A) Lives in a tower, B) Enjoys grabbing maidens, C) Has legions of robed followers who call themselves wizards and D) Wants to rule the world for his own personal profit. As interesting as it might be to live under the rule of a dark sorcerer, no chosen one has come forth to end his reign, so life has been a little stressful. On top of trying to get Obamacare to pay for a four-to-eight year supply of Xanax before it’s repealed, I’ve also had to spend the semester student teaching, which basically means I’m spending all my time learning how to do a job I’ve had for ten years, and paying for the privilege of teaching someone else’s classes for free. But under Trump’s new education secretary, that may become the new norm. So in short, I haven’t had a lot of time for games lately. Here’s a Mario review.

The plot of New Super Mario Bros Wii opens with Bowser publicly denouncing his criminal ways. To offer restitution for the harm he’s committed in the past, he turns toward philanthropy, building up infrastructure in the Mushroom Kingdom and starting a foundation for the survivors of the Toad army to go to college. Mario embraces this new Koopa King, but Luigi can’t shake thirty years of dogged bullying, and secretly investigates Bowser’s sudden change of heart. Meanwhile, a dark and mysterious force moves in, trying to tempt a seemingly tranquil Bowser back to his old ways and…

…I’m just fucking with you. Bowser kidnaps the princess. Mario chases after him. This plot is Nintendo’s sugar daddy, and they’re going to stick to it like they were walking through Mirkwood and deviating from the path even slightly meant they’d be devoured by spiders the size of SUVs. (Although, they may want to consider a change in formula. I can see how the orange-haired monster grabbing the girl and taking her back to his tower while his magikoopa wizard tries to help him conquer the world might start inducing PTSD flashbacks like Pokemon induces seizures.) Fans are desperate enough for narrative consistency that Nintendo published a Zelda timeline that looks like it belongs in the office of an FBI agent hunting a serial killer. But Mario gets to remain frozen at one point in 1986, basically getting the same free pass as your racist, sexist grandfather. “He’s from a different time.”

hub

Like the hub world from SMB3, but with the added benefit of not having to make as many decisions!

So how does the game actually play? Well, pretty much like Mario 3, with a few cameos thrown in for fan service. You go through the same desert, ocean, ice world, etc, as you did on the NES. You fight the same koopa kids who haven’t bothered to take so much as a beginner’s judo lesson since Super Mario World and can still be taken out by three quick stomps to the head. You still follow a hub map from course to course as though you’ve got a bus pass for the Mushroom Kingdom and will be damned if you don’t get your money’s worth before you walk around the spinning lava-filled battlefield of murderous turtles. The game dishes out free lives and power-ups like Chick tracts, all of which have the stopping power of a broken condom when compared to the fire flower. In fact, they’ve paired up the fire flower with an ice flower that can freeze certain enemies for short periods of time. While it’s more useful than not for stopping your typical fire-proof enemies, and while it’s kind of fun to encase fish in a block of ice and make them float upwards to “sleep with the humans,” it generally slows enemies down about as much as stepping on a wad of chewing gum.

penguin

Penguin Suit. Because nothing says “Take to the skies!” like a chubby flightless bird with a strict black tie-dress code.

It’s a 2D platformer, and although I play platformers with much the same enthusiasm as renewing the license plates on my car every year, I’m glad they made the game. Too often, I think, developers confuse “what’s technologically possible” with “what’s mandatory for a game to include.” It’s the same sort of logic that leads people to confuse “abortion is legal” with “here’s some Vaseline and a plunger. Now get on the exam table or go to prison.”

Goldeneye – Wii

goldeneye

Totally based on the movie. Not based off the N64 game in the least.

As of writing this, it’s December 16th, and I’m still reeling from a year full of people pointing out every old rich person who dies, teaching for free so I can learn to utilize all the newest research in an environment run by die-hard traditionalists, and wrapping my head around the fact that I live in a country full of people who believe that the complete annihilation of all life on earth is a preferable alternative to electing a president who routinely cleans out her Yahoo spam folder. Needless to say, my recreation time as of late looks less like a shelf full of video games and more like a bowl full of Xanax. However, I did manage to make it through a game or two during this time (even if Anne may have hijacked my 3ds), and in honor of increased global tensions and madmen secretly working with Russia to unleash mass destruction on the world, here’s the remake of Goldeneye.

The original Goldeneye for the N64 was, of course, the stuff dreams are made of–the angry, violent dreams of a ninth grader with social issues. Probably the best game on the system other than Ocarina of Time, it was more popular than porn for a year or two, partly due to a multiplayer system that revolutionized ways to passive-aggressively beat the Living Daylights out of your friends. The game was perfect…so remaking it makes about as much sense as a Lord of the Rings reboot with Gilbert Gottfried playing Frodo, Gallagher as Gandalf, and Larry the Cable Guy as Aragorn. No one ever uses their remake powers for good. Why not remake Resonance of Fate? Or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Or Michigan: Report from Hell…actually, that one’s a game that shouldn’t be remade without a vat of sulphuric acid at the end of the assembly line. But still, let’s remake the lousy games and leave the good ones alone, shall we?

To match the recent films, Goldeneye has been updated to fit the grittier, earthier, Daniel Craigier Bond. There’s something forehead-slappingly ironic about rebooting an outdated formula firmly entrenched in the Cold War by digging a ditch through the Bush era. The new storyline focuses on terrorism, which has become less of a theme with Bond and more of an indication of tourette’s syndrome. Other than a few shout-outs, the basic plot remains the same; the Janus organization wants to steal all the money in England and disguise it as an act of terror. That level of effort may be as smart as trying to get out of a parking ticket by setting the White House lawn on fire, but hey, it worked in Die Hard. Except, of course, for the fact that Hans Gruber set an Olympic Diving record as the first German to do a 100-meter high dive into a hunk of concrete, but seriously, what are the chances that Trevelyan will go the same way?

natalya

At least the girl is still hot…and you only have to babysit her once.

But aside from the fact that they got rid of Hagrid, Ned Stark, and the douchy boyfriend from Mrs. Doubtfire, how does the game play? Not bad…if you have a plentiful supply of Dramamine and don’t mind Bond glancing expectantly at the heavens for divine intervention every time a small football team’s worth of enemies are trying to aerate your digestive system. Although this game was released on the NDS, PS3 and Xbox 360, I feel like the Wii controls, which handles about as well as a marching band mounted on Roombas, make this version unique—like shopping in the “discount: irregular” bin at Walmart. Personally, though, I don’t think James Bond is the type of spy who’d go on a mission dressed in pants with one leg that stops at the knee and a shirt with a third sleeve and a hole for an extra head.

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James Bond isn’t really an action hero (unlike all those guys who do rush into battle with six-fingered gloves and boots with toes at each end)–his movies are spy thrillers. Just like how action is the genre of choice for people who would rather exchange bullets than lines of dialogue, people who watch spy thrillers and play their games tend to want something with a bit more intrigue. The original Goldeneye had that. There were fast-paced battles, but there were also slower, tenser moments, stealthy sections, and mission objectives that required a little more thought than playing “follow the bullets” and “corpse hopscotch.” The new Goldeneye, coming from the same era as Final Fantasy XIII, took all of those classic gameplay features and chucked them out the window…or, rather, down the hallway. While ostensibly, the game gives Bond objectives, most of them amount to getting the player to a certain point in the level, which triggers a cut scene or asks the player to hit the action button, but oftentimes you get credit just for being there, as though the game feels the need to pass out participation ribbons to the special breed of player that now dominates the scene who can’t handle much more than your average Madden or FIFA game.

In addition to being a game where running the gauntlet is less free-roaming than playing Gauntlet, it also gives Bond constantly regenerating health. It may be a little hard to believe that even a super-spy can recover from a shotgun blast to the lungs by crouching behind a cardboard box to catch his breath, but since most good video games and Bond films stretch my imagination enough to be considered a Medieval execution method, I’m okay with that. They even manage to counterbalance Bond having the regenerative powers of a Gecko hyped up on Red Bull and cocaine with enough of a challenge that the game doesn’t feel too easy or too hard. However, they mostly accomplish this by throwing a sizable chunk of the Russian army at you in every level, which again takes away from the suspense and mystique of a spy thriller and turns it into ten hours of the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. There is a classic mode where you pick up body armor and don’t regenerate health, but you still have to face down the entire population of Eastern Europe, so the only thing it balances out is the explanation why each enemy still jumps out at Bond after witnessing him murder all their colleagues.

From Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone to Frasncisco Scaramanga’s golden gun, spy gadgets top off the genre like a cherry on the top of a sundae of political intrigue, murdered diplomats and at least two or three assumed STDs. A lot of a story’s success can be inferred by the covert weapons in unlikely places—who can talk about Goldfinger without mentioning Bond’s car or Oddjob’s hat? So it says a lot about the reloaded Goldeneye equips the player with…a smart phone? My, my, how chic and trendy. Is there really an app for everything? Garroting an assassin in a Finish sauna? Placing explosive charges on the insane billionaire’s secret underground bunker? Is there an app for knifing a bloodthirsty shark when your hands are tied behind your back? Do we now have to picture Bond playing Angry Birds between scenes? Or flipping through an overactive Tinder profile while sitting on the toilet? That may sum up the big problem with this game. It’s not that it deviates from the original, removes Robby Coltraine, Sean Bean and Pierce Brosnan, or has Wii controls that alternate between feeling like you’re trying to sketch on a pad three meters away with an extremely long pencil and trying to brush away a spider you just found crawling up your neck tie. It’s that it takes the extraordinary life of a spy and turns it into something commonplace.

multiplayer

There’s a multiplayer, too. I didn’t bother.

Xenoblade Chronicles – Wii, 3DS

xenobladeFrom Monolith Soft, the team that brought us Xenogears and Xenosaga, we get Xenoblade Chronicles, yet one more story about human beings questioning the rights of gods and breaking free from the shackles of predestined fate. Generally, I like this idea. Xenogears is my favorite game of all time, and I put Xenosaga high on my list even if Episode I plays like a ten-season anime series that periodically gives you quizzes to make sure you’re paying attention. Still, the theme of rising up to challenge the will of God might ring a bit more inspiring if we weren’t constantly given characters with superhuman qualities who are powerful enough to be gods in their own right. Yes, I know this is a game and it has to be engaging and challenging without being impossible, but there’s still an element of fantasy in playing as characters who can shrug off a napalm shower by chugging a few bottles of Mr. Pibb and recover from mortal wounds with a good night’s sleep and have no lasting effects. As much as I want to identify with game protagonists, I know it’s because I have as many heroic qualities as a bald hedgehog with lymphoma. My personality isn’t quite forceful enough to let me confidently stroll into the Vatican with a buster sword and demand to “speak with the manager.”

Xenoblade Chronicles sets up a scenario in which two ancient gods fought a battle in an endless ocean and just sort of simultaneously zoned out long enough for entire species to evolve and develop civilizations on their bodies. The flesh and blood inhabitants of the Bionis are locked in an eternal struggle with the Mechon, the residents of the other titan, Mechonis. As such we set up an interesting and unique Man versus Machine scenario that has never been done before. Except in the Matrix, Terminator, Blade Runner, I Robot, the Paul Bunyan myth, the John Henry folk song and about six thousand other things over the last thousand years. In a Mechon attack early in the game, protagonist Shulk sees his will-they-won’t-they girlfriend, Fiora, murdered by a machine, setting the pace for what ends up a 70-hour string of cliches (Including, “The girl is at the fortress. Come and get her,” a villain with the courtesy to get himself killed right after the protagonist takes the high road by sparing his life, and a system of quests wherein everyone in the world only wants things that require combat with monsters to obtain). Shulk vows revenge, and fortunately discovers he’s the Chosen One who can control the legendary sword of the Bionis, the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monad_(philosophy)”>Monado, because what Xeno game would be complete without a dense basis in graduate-level philosophy that will sail over the heads of nearly everyone who plays?

So other than the unique perspective of titanic bodily parasites, what does Xenoblade have to offer? At first, it doesn’t seem like much. The first two or three hours of gameplay give the impression that the writers intended the story to be verbal diarrhea of cliches, tropes, and characters with no apparent ability to engage in inner monologue, all acted out with the pacing of Speed Racer dialogue by voice actors who sound like refugees from a Monty Python sketch. I thought the game had topped itself when the characters stumbled across an ATV spewing black smoke like it was trying to provoke a Prius into a fistfight, and Shulk said, “Who would abandon a buggy in such good condition?” Fortunately, that served as more of a turning point than a sign of things to come. The dialogue slowed down, edited itself—mostly—for redundancy, and while the story still meandered lazily, following around its older brother’s and sister’s shadow, the recycled ideas from Xenogears and Xenosaga still kind of work.
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Combat suffers from the same standard RPG combat issues: long repetitive battles, a cast of seven playable characters of which you can only use three at a time, and such a painful awareness that most of the time we’re just going to use the basic attack that they’ve taken away the option and just make your characters attack if they’re not doing anything else. Plus the game throws junk at you like it’s in the middle of a fierce domestic dispute, so 99% of the items, weapons, and armor you receive have less of an impact on your stats than bringing an angry duck into battle to bite your enemies. At the beginning of the game, I thought it was amusing that even the level 1 grasshoppers lugged around 18th century style wooden treasure chests filled with junk, but by the end of the game I understood that anyone living in this universe is, by default, a chronic hoarder who would need several shipping crates to store there crap were it not for the miracle of hammerspace. There’s also a weird quirk I’ve noticed on the few good modern RPGs I’ve played wherein the emphasis is shifted to an action format, thereby sacrificing control of all but one player. Based on some of the character’s unique fighting styles, certain combinations of characters can’t be used because whichever one you aren’t controlling will stand around like an idiot doing whatever will most likely destroy themselves and everyone around them.
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But it isn’t terrible. Characters have a selection of skills that take focus over auto-attacking, and each one has a unique set, and with that comes strategy. Shulk is the only one regularly capable of attacking mechon. One characters has defensive stats and the ability to draw enemy attention, contrasting with another who has high HP, but stealth attacks and minor healing skills. Since you can only control a single character, battle strategies mostly rely on the characters you choose to use, and different monsters call for different combinations.

Suffering from another RPG trope, most characters remain relevant to the story just long enough to prove their worth and be handed a membership card into the Rag-tag Band of Adventurer’s Club. Afterwards, they fade into the background except to call out the occasional platitude of inspiration about teamwork and/or friendship during a particularly emotional cut scene. Xenoblade takes this one step farther, creating battle music out of the wall of sound emanating from characters slurring out battle cries and announcing their attacks like three marching bands placed back-to-back in the same parade. This leads to some amusing mispronunciations, such as Thunder Buddy, Aflack!, Jail Slash and my personal favorite, Electric Dustbuster.

riki_swagBut for all the tropes and sins it commits, one character steals the show. As soon as you get control of Heropon Riki, the bureaucratically appointed hero of the Nopon tribe, all the focus shifts onto this obese chinchilla with the appetite of a garbage disposal. It’s worth playing the game just for him.

Lego Indiana Jones – PS2, PS3, Wii, XBox 360, NDS, PSP, PC

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I enjoy playing Lego games once in a while, but I could work with a metal detector, a team of bloodhounds, and ground-penetrating radar strong enough to take lewd photos of the earth’s core and I couldn’t find anything new to say about them. Indiana Jones would have trouble uncovering details that I’ve lost, and this review primarily focuses on him. Developer Traveler’s Tales found a formula that works. They recreate famous movie scenes with Legos. The player runs around collecting enough cash from dismantling the scenery to be dubbed “True something-or-other,” and throw in a fair dose of humor since they realize you can’t draw Picasso’s Guernica on a place mat with a box of Crayolas and expect art historians to publish articles about it for years to come. So for years they’ve been churning out the same products, a little bit stale, a little bit funny, but it’s something to do in the evening that hasn’t made me too sick yet. In that respect, the Lego series has much in common with McDonald’s.

Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures attempts to send the player through poverty-stricken areas of India, Somalia and Texas for a sobering look at the economic crimes of the rich. Just kidding! It lets you play through Indiana Jones’ original adventures! Although I don’t know why they have to specify “original” adventures as, thank Kali, they never made any more than the three. I suppose they could be comparing it with the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, but that pretty much faded into obscurity during the mid 90s, gone the way of Surge, Jncos, and those shoes with the lights that flashed every time you moved.

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To digress a bit, I’ve always wondered why, exactly, the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull failed badly enough that South Park accused George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg of raping Indy. It has pretty much the same formula as the other films. Indy’s on a search for a magical macguffin with some divine significance—yes, maybe with so many legitimate, respectable religions in the world, picking the gods of anal probes and hallucinating rednecks may have somewhat detracted from the air of importance—and there are bad guys to beat to the chase, slightly comical action scenes, and a girl to win over in a way that looks James Bond look as charming as the guy who waits until last call to pick up the women everyone else rejected over the night. But maybe it is about the air of importance. Most Americans will understand the Ark of the Covenant, even if they’re not Christian, and the Holy Grail has literally become synonymous with something you desperately want to find. Maybe we don’t really know what a Sankara stone is, but rescuing enslaved children makes sense. Plus as soon as you see the cult leader rip out that dude’s heart and hold it up high as it bursts into flames (…while blaspheming the name of one of those legitimate gods I mentioned earlier), I think we pretty much establish he’s the bad guy and we want to take him down. Same thing with Nazis. Indy hates Nazis. Jake and Elwood Blues hate Illinois Nazis. Pretty much any person with an ounce of decency hates Nazis, so you don’t have to explain anything to people. Soviets, on the other hand…not as evil in retrospect. At this point in Indy’s life, it makes more sense for him to be fighting arthritis. And the skull of Beldar Conehead doesn’t seem like something that matters whether or not it falls into the wrong hands. Also, we never got a movie about an aging James Bond reuniting with the mother of one of doubtless dozens of children he’s fathered along his swath of destruction through the Cold War.

But back to the game…you punch things. As usual, the real objective in the game is to collect enough money to unlock characters to help find all the hidden items that, quite honestly, I stop caring about once the movie plots end. To be fair, you can punch them or whip them. Either way, when the scenery explodes and all that cash falls out, it feels pretty good. Not to mention the explosion sound it makes pretty much sums up the force required to separate Lego bricks. Other Lego games give certain characters innate abilities that help them progress through levels. While to some extent this game does that as well, you also have the option of picking up tools, like shovels, wrenches, guns, or books, and using them to interact with the environment. Or to launch a rocket at a Nazi. The problem in this mechanic lies in the fact that the button to pick up these items is the same as the one to use innate abilities. And Willie Scott’s innate ability is screaming to shatter glass. Often during The Temple of Doom, I found I simply had to switch characters if I needed to grab something or else I’d have to listen to Willie shrieking like a 12-year-old girl at a Justing Bieber concert while she ran around looking for just the right spot to pick up the item.

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Boss fights, as usual for Lego games, are so lame I feel comfortable diagnosing the game with advanced stages of muscular dystrophy. Since Lego combat tends to be as threatening and authentic as a trip to Taco Bell, nearly every major villain in the game seems to have attended the Monty Python school of battle. So each fight plays out like any girl I asked out in high school; they run safely out of reach, leaving me nothing to interact with but the room around me. Since most of the game consists of finding pieces and building things to progress, boss fights don’t really change up game play. The only difference is you have some prick standing by to laugh at you when you screw up. So yeah, exactly like dating in high school.

But really, whatever. It’s a Lego game. If you like Indiana Jones and other Lego games, you’ll get pretty much the same experience here. It’s fun. It’s cute. There are also a number of Star Wars cameos hidden throughout the game, including Luke frozen upside down in a wampa cave in Nepal. Which is good. Like I said before, you don’t want to take yourself too seriously

Epic Mickey – Wii

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A gremlin serves as Mickey’s Navi. Gremlins spend the bulk of the game repairing busted machinery, which either indicates the Wasteland is so damaged that they can only repair things, or that Disney has no idea of what a gremlin does.

Mickey Mouse stands as one of the most recognizable icons of all time. Lately, the little black-faced rodent has been eclipsed by Mario, proving that Americans hate anything more complex than a plate of spaghetti and a stupid accent. Even so, Mickey has still won votes in every presidential elections since 1928. In 2008, he beat Santa Claus, Joe the Plumber, and Jesus, and with 11 votes nationwide, he clearly has twice as many supporters as Jill Stein. Perhaps that’s simply America’s attempt at saying they want a leader who’s animated, unlike so many half-dead politicians (and, you know…Donald Trump), but if Mickey has so much charisma that America would follow an animal who literally can’t feed himself or get out of bed without a team of at least 20 people (You know…like Donald Trump), then it’s a wonder that Disney holds the rights to such a famous piece of intellectual property and does nothing more with it than pass out cheap felt-and-plastic hats to kids who coat them with a gallon of saliva and drop them behind the couch as soon as they get home. Other than the short that ran before Frozen, I can’t remember a single Mickey movie or cartoon since The Prince and the Pauper in 1990, and his animated TV appearances reduce him to the role of an MC. However, Disney still allows him to come out of his retirement home every now and then to run around, wreaking havoc in the occasional video game, of all things. And nine times out of ten, as is the case with Mickey Mousecapade, Mickey Mania, Kingdom Hearts, and now Epic Mickey, the theme of that game is remembering all the classic characters Disney has used up and left by the wayside like a futon in front of a frat house.

Epic Mickey 2.5

A home for forgotten characters, unless Disney really wants to use one that people remember.

Kingdom Hearts, turned the lovable trickster scamp into a Norse God, a mighty warrior-king, vanquishing enemies with a legendary sword, clad in his armor of…bright red hot pants. (Because nothing says, “Where dreams come true,” like a story about hearts and souls being torn from a person’s spirit.) Epic Mickey follows that disturbingly dark tone, sending the titular hero into The Wasteland, a gloomy, twisted model of Disney’s theme park built by Yen Sid (Yes…the sorcerer’s name is officially Yen Sid. Because nothing says “Magic Kingdom” like following the naming conventions of the Satanic Church.) to house all of the characters lost or forgotten over the years,

goldfinger

Poor Goldfinger…he just wanted to be friends with her.

So short version, Mickey spills a jar of paint thinner on the model, which unleashes the Shadow Blot monster. We’re supposed to view this symbolically as Mickey eclipsing all the other characters and literally as the sin he must atone for. However, I can only imagine Yen Sid was planning some Old Testament style rampage, keeping that thing right next to the Wasteland. Mickey gets sucked into the model and absorbs some of the Blot’s aspects, which apparently means he gets a magical paintbrush that shoots out both paint and thinner and lets him hose down the environment like a porn star. Disney apparently decided that Mickey was wasting his potential to be a dick to people, and thought he could use a moral choice at the very least. You have the option to solve most puzzles by either obliterating part of the landscape with thinner or by repairing it with paint. Same option for enemies. You can convert them by slathering them in paint, at which point they swarm the unconverted and beat them with copies of The Watchtower until Mickey can’t get a clear shot even if the Wii Mote didn’t interpret cross hairs over the enemy as the desire to make Mickey ejaculate paint all over his shoes. Or you could straight-up murder them and get the health items and paint/thinner refills they drop. The only difficult thing about that decision is whether or not you want to see Mickey Mouse acting like Dexter. But that’s not to say the game is simplistic. You get to make a whole bunch of moral choices, like whether or not to find the scattered limbs of your animatronic friends and put them back together. Or the moral choice to help or deny the human pirate in his quest to woo the cow of his dreams. Congratulations on the bestiality quest, Disney. (Although it isn’t the first time you’ve swung that way…)

Beast

The Beast’s orgasm face.

Epic Mickey 4

Now you don’t have to walk under such a bland scenery element.

Still, the bulk of your time will be spent spraying your various goos all over the landscape, trying to find the occasional interactive spot. Other than that, any potentially clever gameplay that let’s the player express themselves artistically is pretty much just a way to spend the bulk of the 10-hour game wasting time changing colors from bright to dark. And even though the paintbrush does amount to nothing more than a glorified paintball gun, the enemies seem like a formality more than anything else, as they appear only occasionally and fight back with all the vigor of a severely depressed lemming. The game play isn’t as inspired as it could be, but it certainly doesn’t suck…at least not until the final stretch, when it shifts from “exploring the wasteland and taking on quests” to “avoiding holes like you’re jumping over a gonorrhea clinic.” My old nemesis. Designers who completely missed the point of Mario. These people think, “I like coffee! I’ll boil it down until it’s pure, black sludge, and then it will be awesome!” These are the people who read Harry Potter and then write their own 1000-page novel on quidditch.

Epic Mickey 3

Mickey pulling what I call “Judge Doom’s Dip” on a monster that just wanted to be his friend.

It’s not a terrible game, even if it doesn’t know where to end. If it does a saving grace, it’s that it’s actually pretty interesting to view Disney through a darker lens (although maybe not literally. Walking out onto dark sections of floor is more dangerous than Russian roulette.). And while a modicum of interpretation can usually reveal some dark, unintended message behind kids’ stories, Disney actually thought this out, decided “We want to show the misery our beloved mascot inflicted on all these characters by eclipsing them with his fame,” and then proceeded to buy the rights to Oswald the Rabbit, Walt’s very first character, for the express purpose of having him rule over the Wasteland, harboring a resentment toward the mouse. Because nothing says, “The Happiest Place on Earth” like a 90-year grudge held by a cartoon rabbit.

The Monkey King: The Legend Begins – Wii

Monk1

The publisher’s choice of box art, traditionally styled depiction, yet dull and unrepresentative of gameplay…

“Five dollars? Eh. Why not?” What better way is there to sum up the national epic for over a billion people, a brilliant, comedic satire mixed with a deep and insightful meditation on Buddhism and other traditional beliefs of China? An afternoon of boredom led me to explore a skeezy pawn shop, where I found “The Monkey King: The Legend Begins,” and figured “Why not try to overcome malaise by seeing what they did to this timeless myth?”

To be fair, a six-hundred year old book loved by the planet’s most populous nation is bound to more pointless adaptations than the entire Marvel and DC universes combined, and by the law of averages, some of them are bound to leave a taste in your mouth like coffee filtered through an old pair of Hanes briefs. So really, if I tried to protest every bad or unfaithful adaptation of Journey to the West, I’d be left with zero free time, a bill for cardboard sign making that rivals my mortgage, and an unreasonable hatred of Dragonball. So why not look at the game on its own merits?

Monk2

…versus the alternate art, which is accurate, but more visually assaulting than Where’s Waldo hyped up on Red Bull.

Immediately upon booting up the game, I noticed that the d-pad wouldn’t let me select menu options and the select button was way at the bottom of the Wiimote. Don’t laugh. I’ve never actually encountered a Wii game that wanted me to hold the controller sideways.

Gameplay reminds me of old arcade shooters, like Galaga or Gradius—because when I think of an epic meditation on spirituality and enlightenment, I think “Space Invaders.” The legendary Sun Wukong (or if you so choose, the unique and pointless Mei-mei) flies through China on his cloud, spinning the magical staff that, in the book, can grow or shrink to any size the monkey king wants, but which in the game shoots out a glowing orb. Because you can’t have a space shooter without lasers, right? Even if it isn’t set in space. And depicts events that occurred in the 8th century.

Honestly, there’s not too much I can say about this game. It’s a traditional arcade style. It’s fun, I guess, in the way that Dairy Queen is fun—you like it every time, but there’s never anything new about it, you really wouldn’t want to go there all the time, and whenever I go it plays a bad satellite radio station of all the songs from the 1950s that were so bad, the entire decade tried to set them on fire and bury the ashes so new music would grow, but it just festered in the ground until it sprouted something with the maddening powers of Cthulu. Er, well, you get the point. The music in the game is a little grating.

Monk3

Tilt, and the whole world tilts with you.

The one unique feature involves the system’s motion controls. If you tilt the controller in the direction you’re flying, you start careening through the level like a deer on collision course for a Volkswagen Beetle. If you tilt the other way, you slow down and become a much easier target for the dozens of enemies trying to dye your clothing with their viscera. An interesting idea, even if it does display a fundamental misunderstanding of gravity, as though the core of the earth were swinging back and forth from Los Angeles to Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, it’s a little too tempting to exploit. Every time you die, your next life comes back, blinking invincibly (as trauma patients often do when leaving the ICU). During this time, you can launch into turbo mode and skip through 25% of the level. Sometimes, if you position yourself at the right spot, you can do this even when not invincible and hit the boss in moments.

Monk4

…And a boss fight. There. You’ve seen pretty much everything.

The game is short, but still feels padded. You work through five stages, then a boss rush stage that calls itself “hell,” but hands out power ups like Halloween candy. And then you fly through all five stages again, literally backwards, starting with the bosses and then heading back toward the beginning.

Also, I know there’s a lot of violence in the book, and I know I read an abridged translation, but I don’t seem to recall pigs with rocket launchers in Journey to the West.