Now Playing: Contra series (1987-?) Part 1

Oh, original Contra, how I love thee. Ever since I played you at my cousin’s house, then begged to have you for Christmas, then my grandparents bought me GOLF instead, and I cried like a little bitch. Anyway…Contra is still one of the greatest games ever made, to this day. I’d put it in my top 5 greatest games of all time without hesitation. It was amazing then and it’s still amazing now. I must have played it hundreds of times by now and I still never get tired of this damn game. It is the ultimate arcade shooter with awesome combat, level design, boss design, and music. It’s also one of those rare games where the home version was actually better than the original arcade version it was based on. The arcade version had better graphics, but was inferior in every other way. The music was nowhere near as good, the controls (especially that weird jumping) were a bit awkward, the levels were much shorter, and some of the best bosses were completely missing. No contest. It’s really kind of a shame that there have been so many damn sequels, yet not one of them has ever been as perfect as the original. Still gonna play em all though!

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Now Reading: Miracleman

Miracleman, originally called Marvelman, was originally a blatant Captain Marvel/Shazam ripoff, but upon his revival in the early 80s by THE ORIGINAL WRITER, he became one of the earliest examples of a superhero comic trying to be painfully realistic. Miracleman confronts his goofy secret origin, meets his creator, wrestles with his own godliness, and reaches the only natural conclusion that a godlike superbeing could reach, that he and the few others like him should run the world. This occurred a bit before Gruenwald did it in Squadron Supreme, and was of course, with THE ORIGINAL WRITER involved, a great deal more graphic about it.

It’s not the greatest work of THE ORIGINAL WRITER, but it was still a very memorable series while it lasted and under the Comico label, was able to deal with much more mature and dark issues than the other mainstream superhero books were allowed to touch on at the time. Neil Gaiman picked up the title after THE ORIGINAL WRITER left, but the publisher went under right before the last issue of his second arc, The Silver Age, leaving us with arguably the worst case of comic book blue balls in history. Amazingly though, since Marvel picked up the rights and reprinted all the old stuff over the last few years, they have finally made a deal with Gaiman to come back and finish the story, which is supposed to be happening sometime this year. Maybe he’ll even get to do the final arc he had planned, The Dark Age. We shall see.

Anyway, despite the way these modern Marvel reprints are disgustingly overpriced and packed full of filler “extras” pages (literally only 50% or less of each volume is actual story), they remain the best, and realistically the only, way to physically enjoy this essential classic series.

Now Playing: Ascension: Chronicle Of The Godslayer (2011-2017)

Ascension is a collectible card game that may look a bit similar to Magic: The Gathering, but other than it being a fantasy-themed card game, it’s actually quite different. You don’t get lands or creatures, you just take whatever cards you get each turn and use them all up, trying to make the best use of whatever magic points, attack points, spells, and etc, that you can before the next turn when you get a whole new hand. Instead of directly attacking the other player, you both compete to gain the best cards and defeat the strongest enemies from the ever-changing center row, until the set number of max points runs down to zero, at which point, whoever has gained the most points wins.

Let me tell you, you’re not going to find a better card game than this for your phone, period. It’s easy to pick up, but has a lot of complex strategy that you can use to your advantage if you learn its ways. The touchscreen interface is amazingly simple and effective. Best of all, this is not one of those fucking free to play games where you can only gain powerful cards by countless hours of grinding or paying out the ass, no, in Ascension there are simply a selection of static sets of cards. Naturally, they all cost money (except the original set, which is still free SO FUCKIN TRY IT), but they’re only about 2-4 bucks each, and once you buy one, that’s it, no grinding or pay-to-win bullshit, you just have all the cards in the set forever. You can play each individual set or mix and match some or all of them together if you want. Play against the AI at varying lengths and difficulties or play online against random people if that’s what you’re into.

I’ve been playing this here and there for 6 years now, over the span of three separate devices, and they’re still making interesting new expansions, with all new cards and mechanics, and I’m still not tired of it. In fact, their latest expansion, War of Shadows, just came out and all the old expansions are on sale for 99 cents each, so now is a damn good time to check this game out.

Now Reading: Scalped

Scalped is the magnum opus of big-time comic writer Jason Aaron. Whatever your feelings may be on his mainstream superhero comic work (I’m of a mixed mind myself, loving his Thor, not really liking his Dr. Strange too much), these mature readers books are where he really shines, and Scalped, in particular, is something every comic fan should see, if they’re not too squeamish for it.

It tells the story of a bunch of people on a Native American reservation: some are criminals, some are the people trying to bring the criminals down, some are just everyday people caught in the middle, and all of them are thoroughly, disgustingly entangled in a complex train wreck of bleak misery. It’s certainly not for everyone. My wife often expresses her disgust in great detail when I play her movies and shows like this, where everyone is basically just awful and all they do is try to screw each other over, and she always asks me what I see in such dark, depressing stories where there isn’t really anyone worth rooting for. I’ll tell you the same thing I tell her: I just like dark shit, bro!

Anyway, also see the currently ongoing Southern Bastards for more similarly delightful Jason Aaron bleak-as-fuckery.

Now Playing – Nier (2010)

Playing the original in preparation for the long-awaited sequel coming out…tomorrow actually. Nier is a strange, strange game that is not for everyone and I’m pretty amazed that it’s actually getting a sequel. Nier is actually an indirect sequel to the first Drakengard game back on PS2. The plot doesn’t really require any knowledge of the Drakengard storyline to understand, but it does help, as the fallout of the final battle in Drakengard is what caused the world of Nier to turn out the way it did. What follows this final battle is a mysterious disease, the sudden appearance of monsters and magic, and a collapse of modern society that leads to everyone living in villages and fighting with swords and etc again. This neo-fantasy world seems simple enough, but as it turns out, the story is much, much more complicated than it first appears.

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Now Reading: Mind MGMT

Mind MGMT, put simply, is Matt Kindt’s tale of a secret organization of people with bizarre mental powers. The main plot is about a group of former members fighting against the Mind MGMT organization, which was formerly a beneficial one, but is now corrupt and evil, but the book also gets into the long history of the organization and its many weird members. As usual with Kindt, the powers these characters have are a lot more varied and unique than the usual telepathy/telekinesis/etc-type abilities you expect when you hear the term “mental powers”. Sure, there’s a little of that too, but mostly there’s a bunch of unconventional powers involving controlling and affecting minds through various mediums like books, music, and art.

This world and its characters are made even more dense by the unusual placement of pieces of side stories around the gutters of the pages and by Kindt’s dreamlike water colored art, which tends to contain a lot of double-imagery and other odd visual subtexts.

My only complaint is the same one I usually have about these kind of self-contained independent comics: the ending feels a bit sudden and condensed compared to all the slow build-up preceding it, a common problem with these kind of niche titles. Still definitely a worthwhile read though.

Now Playing: Final Fantasy Dimensions (2010)

Final Fantasy Dimensions is a mobile exclusive Final Fantasy game that’s based heavily on the old-timey Final Fantasy games of the NES and SNES days. The similarity to older Final Fantasy games is both the best and worst thing about this game. Yes, the retro look and mechanics and all the references to the old games are nice, but it brings all the old weaknesses with it too.

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