Sometimes there’s a book or a movie that you’ve heard so much over the years, but never managed to see or read for one or another reason. Buckaroo Banzai aka The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is one of those missing pieces for me. Due to these circumstances, the cloud of expectations was definitely bigger than the pure core experience. I know that the movie is seen as somewhat of a cult classic, but I’m at loss why exactly. I find it hard to say something positive about the movie.
The acting is overwhelmingly awful, even from actors who have managed good performances in other movies. The action is barely watchable and far from good 80ties actioners. The story is completely inane and makes the SF fan in me wince (an alien military dictator who tries to go home, the pacifistic, good aliens decide to threaten Earth with genocide if we don’t stop their evil brothers). Okay, I liked some of the effects, but that’s it.
I hope fans like the movie for being over-the-top and fucking ridiculous, instead of actually liking the awful characters (I really, really hated Banzai, who is such a goody-two-shoes it’s not even funny anymore) or the story. I was expecting a movie who is all style and attitude over substance, but while I was right on the second account, the attitude and style was as poor as the content. This was definitely not a winner.
I said about Luna Park that I mostly enjoy crime fiction when it’s detective stories, but this piece is the exception to the rule. Normally I don’t like stories about lonely hit man, since most of them end predictably with their death. The Killer (Le Tueur) by the French duo Matz and Luc Jacamon is different enough, even if it’s far from the wellspring of originality. The main character is a hit man who gets into a job that is more trouble than he expected, but he shows his initially unknown enemies that he’s also more trouble than they expected.
At the start of the story he’s the typical lone wolf, who doesn’t want anyone around him and who believes that he’s better off alone. Despite his intentions he gets new friends and discovers that even someone like him craves something normal as companionship. That said, he never gets the moral syndrome A of hit man stories, where the hit man discovers what a monster he is. The Killer always remains aloof and calculating, certain that he isn’t an aberration, merely a more pure expression of the beast in us all. That’s certainly refreshing and makes for a good read all around. And the art is excellent too.
The first five volumes of the comic cover this story (Long feu (1998), L’Engrenage (2000), La Dette (2001), Les Liens du sang (2002) and La Mort dans l’âme (2003)), but there are new volumes coming out that see the killer coming out of retirement because of boredom. As expected, his first mission turns out to be just as much of a clusterfuck as his last before he retired.
Luna Park starts as a generic crime narrative with a hero who is at the bottom, only to find out that things can go worse. People who like that kind of story will be initially satisfied, but I wasn’t, since detective stories are the only crime stuff I really like. Later things start to get off track completely.
The main character’s origin, which is Russian, takes on a more important role and fantastic elements begin to creep into the narrative and completely overwhelm the initially simple crime story. It all ends in a WTF-moments, albeit not a really interesting one.
I really dislike the idea of history (the bigger and the personal one) being cyclical. It’s both factual wrong as it’s personally (to me) unsatisfying. Also the whole comic buys into the cliche that literature with a strong Russian influence has to be about misery and despair as much as possible. That said, the art by Danijel Zezelj is both beautiful and very fitting.
Orton and the Princess is a short and easy flash-based platformer that utilizes a minimalistic look and feel (four colors max, characters and other things are done in blocky outlines). Due to the low difficulty it’s easy to beat the game in less than ten minutes, but that makes it ideal for playing in a coffee break. Apart from the falling small pebbles in the later levels that make the ground unreliable, there are no new gameplay elements. But I always like well crafted, short games.
One of the best games I recently played is Daniel Remar’s sequel to his 2006 hit Hero. Hero Core is the type of sequel that takes the best of what came before and then manages to improve on it. Everything bigger and better is the maxim of Hero Core. There’s more plot (we learn some of the background of Tetron), the gameworld is bigger and the game has transformed from a level based action game to a more mature metrovania-style of gameplay. There are many different and ingenious boss-types and a very driving and atmospheric soundtrack.
And after you’ve beaten the game in normal mode you can play two more modes: a side-story with bullet hell style enemy firing patterns and hard mode where the enemies from the normal mode are, well harder. Both of the two new modes have entirely new levels, so no chance of getting tired of the same old (I haven’t beaten neither hard nor annihilation mode yet, but I keep trying). All in all this is great game, highly polished and all around fun. One of the best this year so far.
I already tried a game by Mark Johns aka Doomlaser in the past (Space Barnacle), but again I can’t really recommend the game. Standard Bits high concept is that you control a lonely pixel in a low-resolution, highly pixelated environment that you have to explore. I really like well done pixelart, but the art in Standard Bits just doesn’t work for me. I’m just not much of a fan of “art” games that don’t give you a clear goal or at least a sense of what you have to do. Apart from simple arcade elements I wonder what actually constitutes gameplay here. It’s more an abstract sandbox things than what I consider a proper game.
Icycle by Damp Gnat is a lovely short platformer with an unusual concept. You’re a man woken up from being frozen. You discover a frozen bicycle (hence the icycle of the title) and a fellow escaping from you, leaving a trail of frozen bubbles behind. You follow and have to make your way over a mostly frozen landscape, slowly discovering that the whole world all over has frozen up.
The story (if you can call it that) doesn’t make much sense, but the gameplay is neat, if a little bit on the easy side. The most impressive aspects of Icycle are the visuals. They remind me of the flat animation style of old cartoons or ad designs. It just looks marvelous and makes for an excellent atmospheric experience, mixing the beauty of the frozen landscape with the melancholy and loneliness of a dead world.
Whereas even three full collections of Donald Duck shorts haven’t completely won me over to the character, the one collection of Goofy shorts was enough to make me a big fan of him. I always thought previously of Goofy merely as a secondary character, but his own shorts show his full potential. These shorts cover two time periods of Goofy, the early ones where Goofy sports as the main character in a How to… format. Goofy tries a new activity out, while a voice from the off explains how to do it right. Goofy, as expected, manages to completely make everything go fubar, but in a really heartwarming and charming way.
The later shorts show Goofy as your typical everyman of the 50ties. A tired family father who often fails to do the most basic stuff outside of his work environment. I think what I really like about Goofy is his optimism and enthusiasm, even after repeatedly failing at a task. His shorts made me laugh out loud many times, despite their age. The humor is innocent and yet destructive enough to be funny. And parodying the whole self-help-manual-movement is just a big bonus.
Of all three collections of Donald short movies, this one has been the most enjoyable to me. Either I’m starting to warm up to the charms of Donald as a character or I just like the later short more than the earlier material. It’s your typical mix of well crafted but formulaic cartoons (Donald vs whatever petty thing earns his ire) or the occasional short that’s a bit (but not too much) different (like Donald’s Dilemma).
My favorite short was Clown of the Jungle, which pits Donald (who wants to photograph birds) against a weird bird who wants to get the spotlight, but Donald isn’t interested. By the way, I find the warning for some cartoons bizarre, but in America you probably have to protect yourself against any nutcase who takes offense at the slightest things.
Super Karoshi is the latest game in the Karoshi series by Jesse Venbrux. At this point there’s not much evolution of the gameplay, merely refinement. A high number of levels with some serious puzzle levels (that sadly never really pose a challenge if you’ve played the other games in the series) and the usual off-the wall levels that provide most of the fun. Since there are over 50 level and since the game is so easy, you can play through it in one session and still feel like you’ve accomplished something. So far I still find the games in the Karoshi series fun, even if the gameplay has gone a bit stale. But I do wonder how long Venbrux can pump out more Karoshi games before people get really tired of them.