Monthly Archives: January 2015

Platypus Musings: The Wily Wars

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Ah, 1994. As I waxed in a previous post, I consider that year to be one of the most memorable in my thirty-plus years of existed. I traveled to Kauai as part of what one could describe as a grandiose family reunion, toured the American Midwest and Ontario, and most of all, solidified my identity as a Sega enthusiast. Unfortunately, it was also the same year that solidified my interest in the Blue Bomber, Megaman. My cousin and I played Megaman 2 endlessly when were staying at my uncle’s in Mississauga and I even got a taste of Megaman 6 when we visited the Nintendo pod at Ontario Place. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to reconcile my enjoyment of both Sega and Megaman because the latter was Nintendo exclusive. Imagine my excitement when I saw Megaman: The Wily Wars listed as future release in a Consumers Distributing catalogue…

…Only to face disappointment as the game never saw a physical North American release, though it was available on the short-lived Sega Channel.

While ROMs of the Japanese and European versions circulated on the Internet via emulation, I never found myself too immersed in the game when playing on an emulator. I am a proud console/retro gamer and it feels too unnatural to play the game on a keyboard in a tactile sense. Hence why I turned to the Virtual Console re-releases for the Wii/Wii U/3DS for my fix of the original three games. However, I found a reproduction cart of the game at the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo last year and did not hesitate in buying it. So how does the remake compare to the originals?

It is certainly beautiful from a graphical standpoint; the Genesis’ superior palette makes the classic “trilogy” more vibrant than its NES counterparts. Plus, the added power of the Genesis allowed for more detailed backgrounds, tiles, and sprites, which is quite apparent in the original Megaman where the backgrounds were mostly solid colors with a few exceptions. Wily Wars adds a nice rippling “heat wave” effect for Fire Man’s stage or scrolling clouds for Elec Man’s though the graphical enhancements for Megamans 2 & 3 are not as eye-catching. I would say that I prefer the look of Wily Wars to Megaman 7. While the SNES packed more of a punch in the graphics department, Megaman 7 was my least favorite of the classics because the larger sprites made the screen appear more cramped and the cartoony look always seemed more exaggerated whereas Wily Wars seemed more balanced and the colors bold compared to 7’s semi-pastel look. Megaman X still outshines this game though not only in graphics but also music, which bring me to my next point…

Say what you want about the Genesis; it may have lacked the sound chip the SNES possessed, but it could send Nintendo packing in the right hands. Listen to Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack for Streets of Rage, Masato Nakamura on Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel—hell, Tommy Tellarico pumped out some good tunes for Global Gladiators and Disney’s Aladdin, which outshone some the SNES’ best music. None of that is present in Wily Wars, which I would describe as serviceable but generic for the Genesis. I like to believe that each Megaman game had its own character. 2 had an exciting, blood-pumping track that made you believe you kick the gate open when you stormed Skull Castle; but it sounded much more subdued when I played Wily Castle 1 in Wily Wars. While the quality varies, the general feel from the music is something I would expect from a middle-of-the-road Genesis game and not something that is of Capcom’s caliber.

I suppose I can blame of that and the game’s other “quirks” on its troubled development, which Keiji Inafune described the debugging as a nightmare (according to Megaman Complete Works.) Though I can only speculate, I assume that many of the game’s drawbacks are a result of the developer’s unfamiliarity with the Mega Drive’s hardware. The biggest of them is slowdown, which is very prevalent in the game though it is your saving grace against the Yellow Devil without the classic pause/resume trick from the NES original. Oddly enough, the Wily Wars is easier than the originals in some respects. Remember how a game over meant losing your E-Tanks in Megaman 2? That is not a problem because of Wily Wars’ save feature. Otherwise, the Wily Wars difficulty is identical to the originals’, even Megaman 1’s unforgiving difficulty.

Though what makes Wily Wars a must have for me is the inclusion of Wily Tower. Wily Wars draws many comparisons to Super Mario All-Stars and for good reasons (graphical and audio upgrades), thus Wily Tower functions as the Lost Levels in that it offers extra content. However, unlike Lost Levels, you need to unlock Wily Tower by completing the first three games, which separates the diehards from the casual players. It (and a bout of insomnia) motivated me enough to slog through Wily’s domain in the game: a gauntlet of four robot masters fought consecutively with no health refills with one that can clip off a third of your lifebar in one hit if your jumps are not pixel-perfect. It was worth it so I could mix and match weapons and items from the first three games to use against three new bosses and another Wily castle. Though brief, it feels like the game tosses you a bone for playing through the slowdown.

So in the end, was it worth the twenty-year wait to plug it into my Genesis? As a fan of both Sega and Mega Man, I would say yes. More fair weather fans would be better off playing the NES orinals, the devoted can go download the ROMs, and the truly diehard should either import or by a reproduction cart. It is an interesting if not obscure piece of Megaman history that deserves at least one glance.

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When is a Warrior Justified?

Marvel rocked the comic book world last Tuesday when they announced the mainstream Marvel Universe (AKA 616) would come to an end in Secret Wars after fifty-year years. What this means is still anyone’s guess but in all probability resemble a fusion of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths and the original Secret Wars from 1984. However, I digress as the primary reason why I mention is because a comic blog I follow, Robot 6, profiled an artist who rendered their own “reboot” of the Marvel Universe to better reflect its diversity. While diversity in of itself is not “harmful and “bad,” it is problematic when mold to suit a particular ideology. The artist, who goes by the moniker “Calvin,” is immensely talented (I particularly enjoy his rendering of Pulsar AKA Monica Rambeau) but I noticed one thing: there are no white men.

Such a complaint may seem frivolous at first, even absurd, but I fear that “diversity” is becoming a codeword for “no white cishet males allowed” (as Social Justice parlance goes.) It essentially represents a toxic strain of fandom that is not only infecting comics, but also the media as a whole where the only acceptable prejudice is against white males. First and foremost, I stress that Calvin is perfectly within his rights to create and post what he desires and I am not trying to say otherwise. It is that I have always found it ironic that a certain group describes themselves as progressive, but reactionary in their thinking. Do Caucasian males face systematic oppression? Of course not, but it is not “justice” when social justice “warriors” use diversity as a bludgeon: it is petty vengeance, and it demeans ultimately minorities.

Case in point, in the description for Fantastic Four, it reads:

The original Fantastic Four disbanded after internal conflicts rose to unbearable levels. Reed Richards had grown jealous of Susan’s natural ability to lead and he feared her brilliant mind surpassed even his intellect. However, it wasn’t until Reed’s poor judgement and leadership led to the death of Johnny Storm. Refusing to take blame for the death, Reed lashed out at his companions, which ended Susan and Reed’s relationship. Reed then left with Ben Grimm and their current whereabouts are unknown but rumors tell of Reed’s mental instability and the possibility of him planning a villainous revenge plot.

What galls me about the description is that Susan Storm’s (AKA the Invisible Woman) worth as a character predicates on the demonization of Reed Richards. Granted, depending on the writer, Reed Richards is either a completely insensitive jerk or generally nice, but absentminded, professor. His Ultimate counter even turned to the dark side. Meanwhile, Susan was the backbone of the team for much of its existence. It is true that Stan Lee and Jake Kirby portrayed her as a constant damsel in distress with a power that was only initially good for hiding, however she did gain the ability to project invisible force fields and even use them offensively. However, when you compare her to the socially inept Reed, hotheaded Johnny, and self-loathing Ben Grimm, she was the calmer head that kept the team grounded, especially Reed. Her growth into the “First Lady” of Marvel Comics is remarkable as TV Tropes confirms:

Sue Storm/Invisible Woman from Fantastic Four is the poster girl of this trope. (Literally— See the top level page.) Originally the Invisible Girl, she was very meek,  and her power was only personal invisibility. She was so useless (not many opportunities for stealth came along), the best her writers could say in response to constant fan outcry against The Load (even in-universe) was, “Having a pretty girl around makes the boys fight harder.” Her force field power was added (less than two years after her introduction), and she gradually became better and more versatile with it, especially under John Byrne. More dramatic was the shift from her original meek personality to her current confident one, which her new choice of codename signifies. These days, Doctor Doom himself considers her the strongest of the Fantastic Four.

What Calvin did to Susan Storm was ultimately condescending and sexist. Not because any overt hostility towards her, but because she is worthless in her current role in the comics. Reed Richards needs to be a mustache-twirling villain that Calvin needs to “rescue” her from. Similarly, Johnny’s death appeared to be an inversion of the “Women in Refrigerators” trope where its sole purpose is to facilitate Calvin’s hatred of Reed rather than advance Susan as a character. It is not a valorization of Susan as such; it is more an ingrained sexism that white knights mask with ostensibly benevolent intentions, which is anything but. The inclusion of Robbie Reye, Kamala Khan, and She-Hulk also carries the unfortunate connotations that the line-up serves more as an affirmative action checklist rather than including the characters on their own merits. A shame too, considering I always liked She-Hulk as a member of the team.

I admit that I am being very liberal in my interpretations of Supreme Marvel; however, much of the reasoning behind “diversity” in media is the exclusion and demonization of others based on the actions of their predecessors. Yes, Eurocentrism and sexism caused much suffering for minorities, but prejudice against a certain group does not erase those crimes. There are two idioms that come to mind: “Trouble with an eye for an eye is that it leaves everyone blind” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” For example, slavery is not solely a European phenomenon; the Arab slave trade lasted into the 1960s yet there is no widespread condemnation of Arab crimes against Africans and Europeans since the seventh century. Likewise, this willful blindness shows a fundamental intellectually dishonesty within the SJW sphere.

Human nature has a dark side that does not recognize pigmentation, ethnicity, or creed. I am not suggesting that Calvin should have made white men the most prominent characters. If he truly a proponent of diversity, he would have recognized they have a role to play. They do not need in a dominant role; the inclusion of Sam Wilson (AKA the Falcon) as Captain America is a logical choice considering his history as a partner of Steve Rogers and the bird-of-prey motif fits with American iconography. What I would have hoped for is more balance; not a reactionary hatred that oppresses minorities more than any human could.

Why Write?

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When you ask, “what is the oldest profession?” to a random passerby on the street, chances are the answer they will give you will be “prostitution.” To that I say, “fair enough.” However, I believe the aforementioned quote by Alan Rickman proves to me that storytelling and authorship has to be in least the top five. It also gives me reason to contemplate my appreciation for the fantastic—particularly superheroes—and my desire to craft my own tales about them. I very much agree with Mr. Rickman that stories fulfill a very human need. Moreover, I agree that stories reveal who we are, which particularly resonates with me because I cannot help but inject a little of myself into my works.

Without revealing too many intimate details of my past, I admit that I was the kind of child whose head was up beyond the clouds and somewhere in the stars. Superheroes where always a part of my daydreams; I used to imitate swinging from building to building like Spider-Man from the 60s animated show (and confused my poor grandmother in the process on trips to the playground.) The makeup of them changed throughout childhood as I found inspiration from other series like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Samurai Pizza Cats, believe it or not. The core fantasy around them remained the same: I was the hero and my friends would fight evil with me and we would save the world on a daily basis.

Very little of that changed over the years. Prodigious began life as a blatant self-insertion fantasy where I was the star of the show with my friends, family, and even psychological hang-ups along for the ride. Flare was my avatar in this universe and represented my own desire to returned to what felt were more carefree times in childhood—complete with amnesia for a blank slate. The story evolved over time as some friends drifted away and disappeared from my life altogether and thus the characters resembled my friends, family, and myself less and less. It was originally just about me and my friends, but the idea for a “superhero school” in a town that makes Eerie, Indiana and South Park appear normal crept in. It became less about my friends and I saving the world and more about whatever skewed thought crossed my mind.

It feels that Prodigious is becoming more about the absurdities I see in world where it appears that the lunatics are running the asylum. Case in point, the (seemingly) willful ignorance that afflicts the denizens of Apex Falls, especially the mayor, Norman Blanche who could see Bigfoot riding a chimera bareback in front of him and find a way to deny that it happened. I see that cognitive dissonance is pervasive throughout society such as those who claim to stand for “social justice,” for example. As I have stated in the past, I am sympathetic to #gamergate. Not because I believe that the movement stands for journalistic ethics (anymore, at least) but because of how their opponents lack any sort of self-awareness. Opponents of #gamergate claim that their opposition to the movement is to stop harassment and/or threats to women and minorities. Yet, as this video reveals, they will harass their opponents with doxxing and swatting; threaten them with violence; and attempt to incite mass murder with impunity in the name of ideology. People like them deserve savage mockery because they have no sense of irony. It is not just “social justice warriors” but humanity as whole, where groups refuse to turn that critical lens at themselves. It ties to what Rickman said about needing stories to tell us about who we are.

Despite how Flare and the world I created around him evolved beyond what I had intended as an indulgent self-insertion story, I was never able to completely separate him from myself. Perhaps it is possible that he is a facet of personality; I was a timid kid who never stood up for myself and instead retreated into fantasy to escape the bullies and taunts. Who is to say there is not an element of truth in that fantasy? After all, Aunt May said in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.

“I believe there’s a hero in all of us. That keeps us honest; gives us strength; makes us noble.”

Everyone wants to believe that they are the heroes of their own story and I like to believe that Flare is my heroic persona. He is able to be strong and brave when I cannot; he is brutally honest; and despite being an impulsive brat, he is still noble and selfless. The only times you comes out is when my fingers touch the keyboard. Men like Joseph Campbell have deconstructed the hero myth, which seems to have transcended the cultural boundaries that otherwise divide the human race. Stories are the one thread that ties us together as a species and it is for that reason that I write. Even when I feel distant and isolated, Flare is my way of bringing everyone else into my world where anything is possible.

The Prodigious Files: The Cosmic Knight Dynasty

Cosmic Knight is an… interesting hybridization of two rather disparate characters. In his original incarnation I envisioned him as the Prodigious version of DC Comics’ Starman complete with storied legacy and his “cosmic lance” taking the place of the Gravity/Cosmic Rod. However, the later incarnations would utilize powered armor in their crusade against evil (as hackneyed as it sounds), which effectively bring them closer to Marvel’s Iron Man in that respect. With a the added tweak of transforming the Prodigious world into an amalgamation of several dozen parallel Earths, why not scrap the initial concept and build from the ground up? What makes the stellar sentinel particularly important to the overall series is that his grandchildren are central to story so his “dynasty” deserves a detailed history.

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