Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Forgotten Gems: Godzilla 2, War of the Monsters

Building off of last week, there was actually an NES sequel Toho produced to their Godzilla game. This time, it was a significantly different genre of game. Where as the first game was basically, at it's heart, a side-scrolling action title, Godzilla 2 on NES took a vastly different route, experimenting with the (at the time) fairly new "tile based strategy game" genre.  As a kid, naturally, I rented it because it was there, and it was Godzilla. I would have rented it if it was called "Godzilla Teaches Spelling". That actually might have been pretty awesome, now that I think about it. Also, the cover really lures you in.

I mean just look at that bad boy!

The cover definitely promises something amazing. Giant Godzilla, towering above skyscrapers (which is unrealistic, because he's not THAT big, only 40-50 odd stories tall in most films), surrounded by lighting and an ominous red hue. Funny story, that artwork is actually the Japanese promotional art for the 1984 movie "Return of Godzilla", the first film in the so-called "Hesei Era", the first Godzilla film in roughly a decade, after the last "Showa Era" film, "Terror of Mechagodzilla". For the uninitiated, Japan tends to refer to "eras" of the nation's history by the title of their Emperors, and "Showa" was the title of Emperor Hirohito. A little cultural history for ya! But yes, that was the super-awesome (and somewhat misleading) promo art for the first of a whole new line of Godzilla films, whereas the promo "art" we got in America for our version, "Godzilla 1985", was just an image of Godzilla's face straight out of the film. They obviously decided to use the Japanese art for this game, and considering I never got to see most of the "Hesei Era" Godzilla films until I was in my late teens (they weren't really available until then), I of course had no way of recognizing it, even though I had seen "Godzilla 1985", which isn't all that great as G-films go. But I digress.

Just look at that action.

Back to the actual game, what you see above is pretty much the game in a nutshell. You have 12 scenarios to choose from, each a different map with different monsters and varying goals. The overall goal in each scenario, is that in this game instead of playing as the monsters, you play as the Earth's military defenses, which include fighter and bomber planes, tanks, missile launchers, electric maser cannons, and even the Super-X ship from "Return of Godzilla" (and 1989's "Godzilla vs. Biolante").  You do get to play as one monster though, Mothra. She starts out certain scenarios as an enemy monster, but if you find and protect her egg, you will then gain control of her as a friendly unit to fight other monsters with. As a kid, naturally, I was disappointed to be fighting against my hero, "The Big G". But I still played the hell out of it, and I may have even rented this game more than once (I really can't recall now).

"You couldn't hit the broad side of a Godzilla!"

As you can see, the way the game plays out, is that you move units around the map, and when you run into monsters, or they approach you, you can initiate a battle sequence, wherein you choose from whatever attacks your particular unit has at it's disposal, and then as seen above, you play some weird "slot machine" type game, where you have to match up different icons, that do different things like raise your defense or attack, accuracy, etc., and literally depending on what you get in that, is the basis for how that battle tends to go. If you don't defeat a monster relatively quickly, and they move away from you, they will recover health, while naturally you don't. To do that, you have to move your units back to their particular bases for repairs, which you can do as many times as you need. However, once you exhaust all available units, it's game over, as there is no real "resource management" in this game, just the units you start with, and a limited number of reserve units you can call into action from the bases. Like I said, it's a very basic, bare-bones tile based strategy game, but it's not really bad at all. It's fun for what it is, and it helps if you're a Godzilla nut like I am. The tunes in this game aren't nearly as awesome or memorable as Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, but they're decent, if not a bit repetitious after awhile.

The one real flaw I'll levy at this game, is that it doesn't have a real ending. I know, I've played and beaten all 12 scenario missions. You get the same little "Congratulations" screen for beating each one, but there is nothing for beating them all. Too bad really, but it's still kind of neat for what it is. So if you're into Godzilla, or are curious about an early tile based, turn based strategy title, I'd suggest giving it a spin.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Forgotten Gems: Godzilla, Monster of Monsters

If you've been following my blog, you might have figured out by now, via my site logo, and various graphics employed on the Twitter and Tumblr pages, etc., that I'm a pretty big Godzilla fan. In fact I pretty much decided from the moment that I began Retro Revelations, that Godzilla was going to be the unofficial mascot. When I created the logo banner graphic, I did so with several thoughts in mind. The foremost among them, was that having a depiction from a video game would help convey my love for video games, Godzilla, and film in general, as well as helping to convey what this blog site is all about: All things Retro and Classic. Plus I felt that utilizing that particular pic, which is actually from the ending of the game I'm about to talk about, was especially poignant, because the blog slogan is "Revisiting the Past, One Blog at a Time", and I felt the image of Godzilla and Mothra looking at the Earth from the Moon, was especially evocative and kind of helped drive that home. So there ya go, a free peak into the creation of this site!

I grew up loving Godzilla, and while I have yet to get around to writing about the classic movies I love so much, trust me, it's going to happen.  I do not clearly remember which Godzilla film I saw first, as I grew up in a (better) era of television, when local stations would often show old monster movies late at night. But the first G-film I do clearly remember, is the first one I ever got on VHS tape. It may well have been the first VHS tape of my childhood that was actually "mine", and not just the family's. That movie was "Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster" (1966), which is still my second favorite Godzilla movie to this day. My first, of course, being likely the second movie I ever got on VHS, "Godzilla vs. Monster Zero" (1965). Regardless, from at least the age of 8 or so, I was a Godzilla fanatic as a child. In fact it sucks that there were several Godzilla/Toho films I didn't get to see as a kid, because they were never on TV or I never saw them on tape, that I wish I could have just because I would have enjoyed them so much more as a child, when everything generally felt more awesome. You know, before we all grow up and die a little inside. But sufficed to say, being a kid obsessed with both Godzilla, and Nintendo, discovering there was a Godzilla NES game was bound to lead to love at first sight.

Straight out of my childhood.

The game in question is "Godzilla: Monster of Monsters" for the NES. It was actually published by Toho, the studio who created Godzilla and produced his films. It was developed by a little known (now defunct) studio known as Compile, mainly known for their classic shoot 'em up games such as Aleste, Gun-Nac, Blazing Lasers, and The Guardian Legend. But with this game, they took a crack at the side-scrolling action game, and it certainly is a unique take on the genre. As an adult, I have heard many negative things said about this game, and to be fair, it's not the greatest game I've ever played. But to also be fair, for what it is it's also pretty solid, and doesn't deserve some of the shit that the internet retro gaming community has heaped upon it. As you can see in the pic above, in the game you travel to different planets, trying to stop the forces of Planet X, and each world map is depicted as a kind of chess board, with hexagonal spaces. In a way, the game plays out, at least on the surface, similar to a turn-based strategy game, as both monsters you control (Godzilla and Mothra) get a turn to move on the board, and then the enemy monsters also get a turn. Though that's about as far as that goes, as there is literally no other real strategy to the board, you simply have to move across it, defeat the enemy monsters, and take out the enemy base on each planet (the space with the satellite dish thingy). 

Yup. That's a slack-jawed space dragon.

Each space on the board that you move to, represents a short side-scrolling level that you must play through as either Godzilla, who can move two spaces per turn, or Mothra, who can move four. Godzilla is stronger, with punches, kicks, a tail whip, and of course his "destroys everything" thermo-nuclear breath. But Mothra is faster, can fly, and attacks with eye beams and "poison wing dust". Basically, it's a lot easier getting through shit as Godzilla because he's a living wrecking machine, but Mothra is able to fly over many of the ground enemies, so it is technically possible to get through some stages faster with her. Once you reach a space on the map next to an enemy monster, or they move next to you, it initiates a more fighting game style one-on-one battle. For each monster you defeat, your power and life bars upgrade a bit. After you defeat the monsters, and take out the enemy base, which consists of just getting to the end of that stage, you have beaten that world, and move on to the next. One of the knocks on this game is that it's too repetitive, and I'll grant that it really is. There is a bit of variety to the stages, with moon levels, weird alien jungle levels, firey volcano levels, strange subspace levels, and of course the robotic enemy base stages. But that's about it, and they all pretty much play out the same, move left to right, destroy enemies, get to end of stage, move on to the next. So in that sense, for that part of the gameplay I can see how some could get turned off by it. But as a kid, I didn't give a single shit. This was GODZILLA, on NINTENDO, and I actually received it as a gift for my (if I remember correctly) 9th birthday, along with several other games such as Loopz and Spy vs. Spy. But Godzilla was the one I cared about, naturally.

Godzilla vs. his greatest foe, King Ghidora.

After apparently traveling throughout the solar system or at least some of their moons, the final destination is Planet X. In the film "Invasion of the Astro Monster" (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero), the only Godzilla film to actually feature him going into space (and in my mind the best Godzilla film ever made), Planet X is depicted as a small, barren, rocky planet. But in the game, it's depicted kind of like the Death Star from Star Wars, as every stage on the board is now an "enemy base" stage, complete with non-stop guns and missiles and ships firing at you from above that you must trudge through. It's worth noting, for fellow Godzilla fans out there who would know what the hell I'm talking about, that while the game does feature several generic enemies, such as that goofy space dragon and fiery phoenix bird in that screenshot further up, many enemies from the game are also taken from other Godzilla/Toho films. Some of these include the Moonlight SY-3 ship from "Destroy All Monsters" (1968), the Gotengo ship from "Atragon" (1963), the Super X ship from "Return of Godzilla" (1984), and Planet X flying saucers from "Godzilla vs. Monster Zero". There were also generic missile launchers and electric "Masers", etc., featured in various classic Godzilla films.

On Planet X, as with the previous worlds, you have to face all the monsters you previously faced, plus of course the game's final boss, King Ghidorah, who also naturally happens to be the hardest monster in the game. If you can manage to take his three-headed ass out, and destroy the final enemy base, you have saved the Earth, send the Planet Xians packing out into space exile, and get to enjoy the end credits. One thing that has to be said about this game, is that while the gameplay is "so-so", and the graphics are decent, the one area that really shines, is the music. "Godzilla: Monster of Monsters" features one of the best NES soundtracks I've ever heard in my life, I mean the tunes in this game genuinely rock. Every planet has it's own tune, as does every monster (with the exception of Moguera and Baragon sharing a tune). The ending/end credits theme, is honestly up there with the Super Mario Bros. 2 end credits theme as one of the coolest and most satisfying "I just beat the game" songs I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. And similarly, it's very soft and somber, kind of a nice closer to the game.

If you've never played "Godzilla: Monster of Monsters", while it's not the BEST game in the universe, if you're a Godzilla fan, merely curious, or just want to enjoy some great "chip tunes", I highly suggest checking this game out. It brought me a lot of great memories (and a few frustrating game deaths) from my childhood, and I still to this day consider it a "classic" in it's own right. Cheers!

Look familiar?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Unnecessary Sequels: Mortal Kombat

Back once more with another installment of the shitty film sequel chronicles! Today we're going to look at a film that is near and dear to my heart, along with it's unnecessary sequel, which was the first experience I ever had as a movie-goer where I was crushingly disappointed not just after the film was over, but during the entire thing. For a bit a of background, I may have mentioned previously that growing up, my grandmother was of a firm mind that seeing movies in theater was a "waste of time", and thus I had to miss out on experiencing a lot of awesome movies on the big screen that other kids my age got to. As such, I didn't get to really start seeing movies in the theater (except for a couple from my very early childhood that I barely remember, such as E.T.), until I was actually 13 years old, when we finally moved to a bigger town right before she passed away. I can't clearly remember what the first movie I did see was, there were many during that summer of 1995, such as my first exposure to Jackie Chan in "Rumble in the Bronx", which to me at that time was mind-blowing (as I had never seen Jackie and his antics before). I'm going to propose, however, that the first one I probably saw was "Might Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie", as both it and "Batman Forever" were out around the same time in June '95, and it was a toss-up between those two among my two friends and I. My friend Harold (the one who loves M.C. Kids), was the tie breaking vote to go see Power Rangers, to my chagrin, so we did. I wound up enjoying it to some extent, and we eventually also went to see Batman (which I liked at the time, now...not quite).

But no, the movie I'm about to talk about came out in August, and while I had certainly wanted to see Batman (being a big fan of the animated series), this movie, was the first movie I actually got to see in theaters that I remember being hyped to see, and to me at least, it totally lived up to the hype. It was my first "wow" experience going to the movies, and it holds a special place in my movie-loving heart to this day.

Film: Mortal Kombat
Year: 1995
Director: Paul Anderson
Unnecessary Sequel: Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)

 The movie in question, as you can see, was "Mortal Kombat", based on the at the time fire-hot arcade game.  Funnily enough, when Mortal Kombat originally came out in 1992, and for some time after that, I was a Street Fighter obsessee, and naturally among kids (just like with Nintendo vs. Sega) there was a Street Fighter II vs. Mortal Kombat divide, with different factions arguing which game was better. To me, SFII was unquestionably better, and I also initially didn't like the (what I considered at the time, at age 10 or 11) excessive blood and violence of the game. I think it was actually after Mortal Kombat II came out in 1993, that I actually came around to liking it more. MKII had a bit of a deeper sense of story than the first game did, and it also had the (attractive to this monster nut) unique setting of "Outworld", and all of that started to turn me around on the subject. I was officially a fan by the time MKIII came out in early 1995, so as I said I was genuinely hyped to see the film. And as I said, it didn't disappoint.

Great cast.

Ironically, the film was directed by Paul Anderson, who really should be commended for doing a great job with it, though he would go on to be derided by yours truly in future years for a long string of substanceless crap such as the "Resident Evil" films, "Death Race", etc. I'd like to think that part of the reason this movie turns out so well, is because the creators of the game were deeply involved in it's production, and so perhaps they reigned in whatever nonsensical bullshit he might have wanted to do with it. Then again, maybe he just had one great (to me) movie in him, and then gave in to an overwhelming urge to progressively become one of the worst directors in Hollywood? But I digress.

To me, everything about "Mortal Kombat" the movie was pretty much perfect, from  great casting, to great cinematography, to (for the time) fantastic special effects, amazing sets and ambiance, a killer soundtrack, great fighting action, you name it. In fact, the set-builders did such a good job with their "Outworld" set they created out in a California desert, that it actually scared commercial pilots flying over it by night. The casting really couldn't have been much better. Christopher Lambert almost steals the show as Raiden, god of thunder and lightning. Linden Ashby was perfect in the role of cocky martial arts film star Johnny Cage (especially considering he had no prior training, he looked great in his fight scenes). Bridgette Wilson had a strong and evocative turn as conflicted special-forces operative Sonya Blade. Cary Tagawa was both chilling and awesome as villain sorcerer Shang Tsung. And of course the star of the show, Robin Shou was practically born for the role of shaolin warrior Liu Kang.

Mortal enemies, ninja assassin Sub-Zero and undead spectre Scorpion.

As for the film itself, from beginning to end, it just really pops. If you're a Mortal Kombat fan, it has everything you could want. If you're just a fan of martial arts/action films, it still has plenty to keep you entertained. And honestly, even if you're not usually a fan of that kind of movie, it's still a quality flick worth seeing, in my humble opinion. What they managed to do in this film for a (by today's standards) paltry $18 million budget, is really surprising. A lot of care and attention to detail was put into everything. And while certainly, not everything is 100% accurate to the games, and many things added or embellished, none of it detracts from the film or makes it feel "off" at all. In fact some of the additions to detail, such as many facets of Shang Tsung's private island (obviously inspired by the great Bruce Lee epic "Enter the Dragon"), and the created-for-the-film character of martial-artist Art Lean.

Prince Goro, half-dragon, four-armed ruler of the Shokan race, and reigning Mortal Kombat Champion.

As seen above, they pulled off the boss character from MK1, Goro, with a combination of a live actor in a suit, and animatronics. And as you can see, it came out pretty good, easily as good as that of, say, the TMNT movies or the "Dinosaurs" tv show. It really holds up well, even today, and while CGI might arguably have helped make him look "better", I find that often times practical effects make things more organic and realistic than computer effects. Goro was voiced by legendary voice actor Frank Welker, who also did various other voices in the film, such as that of the creature/warrior Reptile, and a cameo appearance at the end of (SPOILERS) "Outworld" ruler Shao Khan.

All in all, the film, again in my opinion, is just very well done. Great fight scenes include: Liu Kang vs. Sub-Zero, Johnny Cage vs. Scorpion, and Liu Kang vs. Shang Tsung + souls of vanquished warriors near the end of the film (ALSO SPOILERS). Someone I knew had the soundtrack to the movie, and I listened to it quite a bit, even for a couple of years after the movie had come out. Mortal Kombat was a phenonenon in the 90s, and this movie was/is a perfect preservation of that. I honestly could continue to go on about it at length, but that wouldn't leave time for the bad news. And the bad news is, that unfortunately, this films' sequel, which I was ALSO super-hyped for, wound up being a complete shitter.

"Destroy All Expectations" certainly did.

Trust me when I tell you there was a LOT of hype surrounding this movie. Not only had the first film been a huge blockbuster success, but Mortal Kombat III and even to a lesser extent Mortal Kombat IV had gone on in the following years to grow the popularity of the franchise. There was major hype surrounding the fact that it was revealed ahead of time that arch-enemies Scorpion and Sub-Zero would actually fight in this film (in the first they had merely been pawns of Shang Tsung). That alone was enough reason to get fans salivating over the possibilities. But as fate would have it, it was not meant to be. This is one of the very few films I've ever seen, let alone in theaters, that I shit you not, within the first few moments of the film, I already knew it was going to be a crap-fest. Literally, in the abrupt opening scenes of the film, what is supposed to be a giant portal from Outworld appears in the sky, as Shao Khan has cheated the gods' tournament system (the winner of ten straight would rule the Earth realm, but Liu Kang won the 10th tournament saving Earth), and his armies are invading. Just in that opening scene, that portal and the effects of the Outworld warriors teleporting to the all just looked so damn cheesy that I physically groaned. Then Johnny Cage, played by another actor because Linden Ashby either wasn't available or didn't want to be in the picture just to get offed in a short, crappy scene, gets uncerimoniously killed. No big, dramatic, touching warriors' death, fitting of a beloved character. Nope. Just a quick neck-break or something of that type.

In fact, the only returning actors from the first movie were Robin Shou, and Talisa Soto who played Princess Kitana, Shao Khan's adopted daughter and rightful heir to Outworld (or Edenia, as it's actually called). The rest of the new cast was, for the most part, fairly forgettable. Actress Sandra Hess was cast as Sonya, with Lynn Williams playing her over-the-top-acted partner Jax. James Remar, honestly a really good actor in most roles, was re-cast as Lord Raiden, and although he tried, it just wasn't the same without Lambert, who made that role. The villains this time around, were Bryan Thompson (Sir Brock from Dragonheart) as Shao Khan, and Musetta Vander as his "bride" Queen Sindel, Kitana's once-deceased mother. They themselves weren't exactly horrible, but the acting and everything else in general in this film, were really just sub-par and very "meh".

This picture honestly sums up all I really need to say.

The amazing thing, is that they took over two years to make this film, on a budget nearly twice as much as the first. They had all the time in the world to get it right, and while they had a new director (John Leonetti), that hardly should have mattered. All they had to do was follow the blueprint they already established with the first, and with a bigger budget, they absolutely should have made at least a competent film. But they didn't even accomplish that. The final product honestly resembles something made for tv or direct to video, not a $30 million dollar (which was big for the time) theatrical sequel to a blockbuster hit. Where the first film was, beginning to end, an enjoyable ride through an otherworldly story of mortal men and women fighting to defend Earth, the sequel is, beginning to end, a monotonous and sometimes painful exercise in just about everything you shouldn't do when making a film like this. The effects were somehow far cheaper on a bigger budget, the fight scenes shorter and shittier, even though Robin Shou himself handled the stunt choreography. The much-vaunted fight between Sub-Zero and Scorpion lasted (seemingly) less than a minute total, and wound up actually being a rather throw-away scene in a film chock-full of rather throw-away, pointless, nonsensical scenes.

They threw in several Mortal Kombat II and III characters, such as mutant assassin Baraka, Kitana's clone "sister" Milena, ninja warriors Rain, Smoke and Ermac (even a "not really" cameo by shadow ninja Noob Saibot), and as seen above, Shokan warrior (and former wife of Prince Goro) Sheeva, and leader of their rival centaur tribe, Motaro. But none of those inclusions, or others, wound up even mattering, because they were almost to a single one pulled off horribly. Kitana's mysterious ally Jade was also in the film, a green ninja woman, but her part was retarded. The cybernetic ninja character Cyrax makes an appearance, but is quickly destroyed. The Native American warrior Nightwolf (played by good character actor Litefoot), also makes a very brief cameo, in which they actually have him break the fourth wall and talk about Liu Kang learning to use his "Animality" (a type of finishing move from MKIII). The end of the film is a clusterfuck of bad, with the final nail being the writers deciding to tell the audience that Raiden and Shao Khan are actually brothers, and that the fallen Elder God Shinnock is their father. That's about as bad (and just as horribly incorrect) as the "Wolverine" film trying to tell us that Logan and Sabertooth are brothers (which they are not, nor have they ANY blood relation).

So the final verdict, is that this is one case where the sequel wasn't fundamentally "unnecessary", in fact if done right it would have been greatly warranted. The first film is a great stand-alone picture, but given the source material there was certainly room to do a sequel covering Shao Khan's invasion of Earth. BUT, while not unnecessary, it is a (sadly) perfect case of a sequel that obviously still SHOULDN'T have been made, because it wound up being, in this man's opinion, one of the worst films ever made. And yes, I'm fully aware that that is really saying something.

So if you've never seen it, do yourself a solid and watch the original Mortal Kombat film some night. But unless you enjoy watching painfully bad films, I'd highly advise completely ignoring the sequel. Cheers!