Friday, June 28, 2013

For your enjoyment, the Incredible Floating Passenger!

I was playing Red Dead Redemption a while back, and something odd happened. Not "Cougar Man" odd, but odd nevertheless. Our fearless, peerless hero John Marston happened to be hanging around the railroad camp near Tall Trees, when he suddenly bore witness to this:


That dude is floating. Literally floating above the railroad tracks, as if the train has left the station and he's still there. And he just stayed there.


I walked Marston all around him for the better part of five minutes. Then I remembered I had a camera right next to my bed, so I decided to snap some photos of this, probably the strangest video game phenomenon I've seen so far.

Still there. 
After a while, the guy still hadn't moved, so I walked even closer to him. Finally, he decided he'd had enough of the whole David Blaine schtick and dropped back down to terra firma.


At which point he walked away. I dunno, just thought I'd share. Anybody else find funny stuff in video games lately?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The most dead-on casting in superhero films


Some superhero movies do a great job of bringing comic book characters to the big screen, capturing the essence of what made the original versions special. Good examples of this include, for instance, Henry Cavill in this year's Man of Steel, or Chris Evans in Captain America. Sometimes, though, you get George Clooney as Batman or Halle Berry as Catwoman.  
It's either frigid in the Batcave or he is VERY happy to see you.

Here are a few of my favorites. Bear in mind, of course, that I'm not limiting the list to main characters. Sometimes, as you'll see, the supporting cast can be just as delightful. 


Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler (X2: X-Men United)

-Capturing both the gentleness and the bad@$$ery of Nightcrawler was no easy feat, but Scotsman Alan Cumming did both with ease. His Nightcrawler was sweet and na├»ve, but an absolute terror in battle. Although some liberties were taken with his look (the intricate scar designs), the key aspects of his appearance remained intact, as did the character’s strong faith and love of peace. Would Cummings’ presence have been enough to save X-Men: The Last Stand? Doubtful, but it sure would have been nice to see him again, regardless. 
THIS DOESN'T COUNT!!!!

Anthony Hopkins as Odin (Thor)

-I could go on a long spiel about how excellent the casting in Thor was—all of it. Chris Hemsworth was excellent as Thor, Tom Hiddleston was absolutely perfect as Loki (although he was even better in The Avengers), and Idris Elba surprised a lot of people when he proved a black actor could effectively play a Norse god. Really, the only weak casting was Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, and the absolute best was Anthony Hopkins—Hannibal himself, as well as Zorro and even Hitchcock—as the Allfather Odin, he of the bristling beard and the manly eye patch. 
Ummm . . . not him, but close.

Sam Elliott as General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Hulk)

-Now, let’s get one thing straight: I like William Hurt a lot. He can play nice (Michael), he can play complicated (The Village), and he can play stone-cold just as easily (Nightmares and Dreamscapes). And if I had only seen The Incredible Hulk (2008), I probably would have liked his version of General Ross a lot more. But I had already seen Hulk (2003), and now, whenever I think of General Ross, I think of Sam Elliott (of Tombstone fame). Hurt’s Ross was a quieter, more calculating Ross; Elliott’s chewed the scenery into a fine paste and spat it back in a rage rivaling that of the Hulk. “If you come within 100 yards of my daughter again, I will lock you away for the rest of your natural life!” Now, that’s intensity! That’s Thunderbolt Ross! That’s a guy who’s just crazy enough to carry on a vendetta against a big, green rage-engine of destruction. 
Or appear in a Nicolas Cage superhero film, for that matter.

Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus (Spider-Man 2)

-Easily one of the greatest comic book villains to be brought to the big screen, Doctor Octopus required a number of traits. First would be the look. Doc Ock is a big lump of a guy with a round face and a nearly perpetual scowl. Alfred Molina had that and the occasional devious grin, to boot. Second would be the acting chops. Ock’s a sympathetic villain in many ways, and Molina nails that aspect of the character. He also pulls off the “magnificent b@$+@rd” persona, exuding arrogance and ruthlessness (“Butterfingers!”). Plus, Ock’s bat-$#!+ insane. Molina can play crazy, too. Anybody else remember his manic chocolate binge toward the end of Chocolat
I can guarantee his stomach still hasn't forgotten. UGH!

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian (Watchmen)

-To be fair, Jackie Earle Haley was equally superb as Rorschach, but really, despite the striking physical resemblance, it was the gravelly voice that made it work. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Comedian, however, was perfect in every single way. Not only did he look like he stepped straight out of the comic book, he absolutely nailed the attitude and the swagger. When he tells Nite-Owl he’s looking at the American dream, he says it with just the right amount of cynicism and despair. 
He might be a disgusting lout of a human being, but DARN, he's bad@$$!

Ron Perlman as Hellboy (Hellboy)

It’s no surprise that director Guillermo del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola both wanted Ron Perlman for the role of Hellboy. I mean, look at him. He’s massive, and that craggy face and deep voice go perfectly with the character. But more important than the look is the soul of the performance. Perlman’s Hellboy looked absolutely ridiculous; he was covered in red foam rubber and sported a tail, for crying out loud. But literally within minutes, I forgot I was looking at a special effect, because Perlman made me care about the man underneath the effect. Under his horrifying (and horrifyingly silly) exterior was a gentle, insecure guy who just wanted to kick back, eat some “pamcakes” and have a beer. He was the everyman in the body of a demon, and despite the cheesy prosthetics, he was perfect. And then there's this:
What kind of kid picks meeting Hellboy as his "Make a Wish"? An awesome kind.      

Christopher Reeve as Superman (Superman)

As excellent as Henry Cavill’s performance in Man of Steel was, there is one true Superman, and that’s Christopher Reeve. A full 6’4” with broad shoulders and the misfortune of actually looking believable in sky-blue tights, Reeve was the heroic ideal incarnate, taken directly from a Curt Swan/Murphy Anderson cover. And his Clark Kent—nebbish, nerdy and klutzy—was just as dead-on. Although the movies were pretty campy (and only got campier with each successive film), there was nothing silly about Reeve’s Superman. We believed a man could fly, and, more than that, we believed that man was Superman.  
As if there were any doubt.

J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson (Superman)

-No contest here—Simmons' JJJ is the best. What’s funny is that Simmons looks absolutely nothing like Jameson when he’s out of makeup. But he has the attitude in spades. Nobody—nobody—could have played the part better than Simmons, and I’m glad to see his legacy carry on in Ultimate Spider-Man, even if Marc Webb ends up not using him in his films. In character, he looks exactly like the Ditko-era Jameson, from the flattop to the stogie, and he spouts off Jameson-isms at the speed of an accomplished typist hammering out an editorial. “Meat! I’ll send you a nice box of Christmas meat!” Simmons’ portrayal of Jameson is simply a cut above everything else, even Reeve’s Superman, and I hold out hope that we’ll get to see him again someday. 
And then there's this . . .

Friday, June 14, 2013

Power vs. Responsibility: A review of "Man of Steel"


WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD

I went into Man of Steel with only medium expectations; I expected to get my money’s worth, and perhaps even justify the purchase of popcorn and a small soda, but not the greatest superhero film of all time. Although I was correct on the latter point, Man of Steel is nevertheless the best Superman film of all time, and as a die-hard fan of Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman, it feels very strange to say that. 

Sorry, Chris. You're still the best Superman actor, if it makes you feel any better.
One of the biggest flaws of the 2006 bomb Superman Returns was casting. Although Kevin Spacey was perfectly cast as Lex Luthor, capturing both the calculating cruelty of the comic book version and also the impudent charm of the Gene Hackman version, the rest of the cast was pretty poor. Brandon Routh looked like Reeve, certainly, but his Clark Kent came across more effeminate than nebbish. Kate Bosworth was simultaneously too young and too unassuming to portray the strong investigative reporter Lois Lane. Even Frank Langella was woefully miscast as Perry White, his only memorable line being a lackluster uttering of “Great Caesar’s ghost.” 

Behold! The only good thing in that awful, awful movie.

Man of Steel does not repeat that mistake in casting. First off, Henry Cavill, who I had first seen as an awkward teen in The Count of Monte Cristo, was born to play Superman. Reeve will always be my favorite, but Cavill is the first actor in more than 25 years to truly pull off the role. His Superman is regal, gallant and . . . well . . . nice, the way Superman is supposed to be. He’s a genuinely good guy, which is surprising in an era of angst and anti-heroes. And although I did and still do mourn the loss of the red overshorts, Superman is portrayed in such a dynamic fashion that his accessories are the last thing we're focusing on. He's zipping through the sky with giddy abandon when he first learns to fly, and his joy is contagious to the audience. Then, when he's racing to stop a world-threatening menace (that has apparently stolen Doctor Octopus' metal tentacles), he rockets along with purpose and power. This is the Superman that 1978's movie magic couldn't give us in practice but desperately wanted to give us in spirit. This Superman feels super. 

"My hands may be in chains, but my crotch has never felt so free . . ."

Amy Adams, too, surprisingly reinvigorates Lois Lane after years of associating her with the likes of Bosworth and Teri (blech) Hatcher. She has wit, smarts and moxie, but she is also sweet, willing to scrap the biggest story of her career because she sees good in the alien invader she has discovered. Be prepared for product placement, though, as her Nikon camera always seems to find its way into the foreground when she’s on-screen. 

"Now kiss!"

Michael Shannon’s General Zod does not demand that anyone kneel; he assumes that shoving his boot in your face will get the message across. He’s a very different kind of villain from what we’ve seen in recent blockbusters. He isn’t a sneaky plotter like Loki in The Avengers. He isn’t a brutal-yet-hammy bruiser like Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. He’s not even a cold, manipulative killer like Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Khan in Star Trek into Darkness. Devoid of the charisma that made those three memorable, Zod is just a very angry man who thinks he’s doing what he’s supposed to do to preserve his people, by any means necessary. He does not smile. He does not deliver witty one-liners. He does not relent. And that works very well. I was initially unfamiliar with Shannon's work, and frankly, I was worried when I heard the interview in which he talked about preparing for the role of Zod. He seemed rather bland and disinterested, and I didn't expect him to bring much intensity to the role. Aaaand then I saw this (don't watch if easily offended by profanity). Talk about intensity. Plus, his one-track drive to finish what he started leads Superman to cross a serious line, something no other enemy, not Luthor, Brainiac or even that danged Mr. Mxyzptlk (unless you count "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow," in my opinion the greatest Superman story of all time), can boast. 

"If you're planning to break my World Engine, DON'T F***ING BOTHER SHOWING UP!"
Something that really stood out in the film is the way both of Superman’s fathers, biological and adoptive, laid down their lives to protect him. Jor-El, played superbly by Russell Crowe, is murdered by Zod after sending little Kal-El to Earth in a rocket. And Jonathan Kent, played by Kevin Costner, dies in a tornado after convincing his son not to save him, so as to protect his identity. This . . . really rubbed me the wrong way, and I’ll tell you why: Superman is supposed to be a selfless figure who uses his powers to help people. He is truly the epitome of Spider-Man’s “With great power comes great responsibility” mantra, and he displays that character many times throughout the film. But who the heck did he learn it from? Certainly not from the man who raised him, that’s for sure. After saving a bus-load of kids from drowning, Pa Kent suggests that maybe Clark should have just let them drown; after all, saving a few human lives isn’t worth blowing his secret. I know he’s just trying to protect his son, but compare that to Uncle Ben telling Peter Parker about power and responsibility; he didn’t even know his nephew had super powers, but he still wanted him to understand that doing right sometimes means putting someone else’s well-being ahead of your own. That seems like the kind of thing Pa Kent would have told Clark, too, but he kind of went the opposite direction there. Throughout the movie's flashbacks, Pa keeps telling Clark he was sent to Earth for some purpose, and he's meant for great things, but at every turn he stifles his potential, telling him the world isn't ready for him. Talk about a lack of faith in his son, which, thankfully, Clark ultimately rises above (and yes, as it turns out, the world is ready). Jor-El, on the other hand, actually has some good fatherly wisdom to impart, encouraging Clark to save people AND to test the limits of his power, which Pa seemed adamantly against, despite his insistence that Clark has a bigger purpose. 

"Well, gee, son, when I said you were sent here for a reason, I meant football scholarships and a million-dollar signing bonus with the Chiefs. I didn't expect you to, y'know, get all altruistic and stuff."

There’s also kind of a good, old-fashioned allegory for communism vs. capitalism in the film. Krypton is portrayed as a heavily bureaucratic society in which everyone’s roles are predestined before they are even birth, and to forge one’s own destiny is . . . well . . . unheard of. That’s what makes Jor-El such a revolutionary, because he wants his son to have a chance to live his own life. Indeed, Zod is portrayed as a slave to his own nature, claiming he was born and bred to be a warrior and must therefore follow a bloody path. Superman is the American archetype, fighting for individuality and personal autonomy. 

Ummm . . .

Ultimately, Man of Steel is not as good as last year’s The Avengers; indeed, it’s not even quite as good as this year’s Star Trek into Darkness. But it’s still a fantastic movie, Costner's two-facedness notwithstanding, and hopefully the start of a great franchise, just as Christopher Nolan’s Batman films were, and Zack Snyder (who also directed the truly epic film adaptation of Watchmen) was the perfect choice to revitalize the character. You will believe a man can fly . . . and carry on an epic battle with another flying dude in the middle of a crumbling city. Or, for that matter, in an IHOP. 

"Welcome to IHOP . . . b!+ch!"

I give Man of Steel a well-deserved 4/5. Go see it in theaters, for sure, but maybe go out to get a popcorn refill after the bus scene. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Games That Shaped My Childhood


Okay, so maybe they didn’t shape my childhood, but they certainly enriched it. My parents never wanted me to own a video game console (ironically, I own four now—a Sega Genesis, a Playstation 2, a Nintendo Wii and a Playstation 3, and I’ve owned a PS1 and, briefly, an X-Box in the past), only letting me rent them every once in a while until 2003, when I convinced my mom to buy a Genesis at a yard sale (I was clever about it. There were two Genesises . . . Geneses . . . ummm . . . two Genesis consoles in a box with a bunch of games. One had all the hook-ups and the other was missing some stuff, so I convinced my mom to buy the box for my brother, so he’d have something to do when he got off work. As it turned out, the other one worked fine, so all I had to do was pick up an RF cable and voila!). The next year, I bought my best friend’s PS1 when he bought a PS2, and then I got a PS2 for Christmas (I sold my parents on it by stressing the fact that it played DVDs. Unfortunately, DVDs ended up killing it . . . don’t play DVDs on your PS2, kids). Anyway, here are some of the games I really enjoyed growing up, and what made them special.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Sega Genesis)



When I was a kid, I looooooooved the Sonic the Hedgehog Saturday morning cartoon on ABC. It was my absolute favorite, and, for bonus points, my first ever comic book was an issue of Sonic. When I found out Sonic was a video game character, I was absolutely stoked, and got my brother to rent Sonic 3 for me (more on that later). Goodness gracious, was it awesome! My favorite character on the TV show was Tails, so I was very pleased to learn that not only could I play as him exclusively, I could also play in a co-op mode of sorts that allowed Tails to carry Sonic to hard-to-reach areas. Although Sonic and Knuckles is probably the most-lauded of the series, Sonic 3 was and remains my very favorite. Years later, I bought the Sonic Mega Collection for the PS2, and was finally able to beat the darned thing. Good times, good memories. It was the game that started it all for me. Well, that and Arcade’s Revenge, but I don’t really want to talk about that awful thing. 

The opening screen and music are fantastic. The rest is garbage.

X-Men (Sega Genesis)


No other game has really captured the feel of the old X-Men comics the way this one does, except maybe the arcade game. Not even X-Men Legends, with its super-detailed X-mansion and ginormous roster, quite hit the mark (seriously, who wanted to play as freaking Magma?). 1993’s X-Men hit the mark, though. Six levels, increasingly difficult, along with a catchy soundtrack and just about perfect portrayals of classic heroes and villains. Although there are only four playable characters—Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Wolverine and Gambit—their abilities are distinct and make each one well-suited for different missions. There are also assist characters—Iceman, Rogue, Archangel and Storm, as well as Jean Grey, who shows up to save you if you fall off the map. The levels, too, are lifted straight out of the comics: the Savage Land, the Shi’ar empire, Excalibur’s lighthouse, Ahab’s future world, Mojo’s crunch and a final showdown at Asteroid M (which, I’ll admit, I still haven’t been able to beat). Cyclops has the most potent power and the best double-jump; Nightcrawler can bypass whole areas with his teleportation ability (and is the cheapest character to use against Apocalypse); Wolverine kinda sucks, but he has some good special attacks and can heal over time; and Gambit’s bo staff gives him extra reach. It was one of my favorite games to rent as a kid, and now it’s one of my favorite games in my collection. 

WCW Mayhem (Playstation)



My best friend was really into professional wrestling. I was not. How in the world might this bridge be gapped? Or is it the other way around? In any event, within a year, I was into wrestling, too. Why? WCW Mayhem. This game is pure ’90s nostalgia. You’ve got all the WCW stars we grew up with—“Hollywood” Hogan (but he’ll always be the Hulkster to me), Sting, Lex Luger, Ric Flair, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and even announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund and managers Jimmy Hart and Sonny Onoo as playable characters. You’ve got decidedly goofy characters like Disco Inferno and a create-a-wrestler system that allows you to create invisible characters (or, in the case of one I created, an invisible character save for his striped, purple tie). And, although the combat system is . . . well, kinda terrible . . . it’s well worth it to be able to run backstage and beat up your opponent there. Even better, you’ve got Tony Schiavone and Bobby “the Brain” Heenan on commentary, telling us the broadcast is sponsored by “Chork” (one part chicken, the other part pork) and suggesting that the contestant attempt an attack “south of the border, if you know what I mean, amigo.” Even now, although it hasn’t aged well in a lot of ways, where it counts it’s still got it. 

Mortal Kombat (Sega Genesis)

"I SAID SPRING WATER, NOT MINERAL!"

This is the one that almost got my video game privileges revoked indefinitely, and it wasn’t even mine. My buddies loaned it to me for a week, and, even though the violence is fairly tame by today’s standards—and even by 2004’s standards, which is when I borrowed it—my dad just about flipped his sh!t when he saw Kano rip Sonya’s heart out. Never mind that it wasn’t even my game, he very nearly made me get rid of my Genesis altogether. I appeased him by saying I’d only buy sissy games from there on out, and proved my point by picking up Bass Masters Classic (it’s as bad as it sounds, but also somehow awesome). This whole fiasco is especially funny considering all the violent movies my parents let me watch as a kid. Bad language and sexual content, apparently, would traumatize me, but watching a lion rip a skinny Irishman’s throat out (in The Ghost and the Darkness, a very good movie, actually)? Sure, let the kid watch it. 

Oh yeah, nothing traumatizing here.

NASCAR Thunder 2004 (Playstation)


One of EA Sports’ best offerings (they can’t make a decent basketball game to save ‘em, but they do understand racing), my dad and I played the crap outta this game for more than a month. Featuring a limited create-a-car feature, a roster of up-and-comers as well as legends (such as my favorites, Bill Elliott and Richard Petty), hilarious crew chief voice-over and a great soundtrack (including Fuel, Avenged Sevenfold, Iggy Pop and 411), it’s the best NASCAR game I’ve ever played. Dad and I almost always played on the Indianapolis and Talladega tracks, and we got really good at them. Alas, we knew the tracks so well that we knew when we were beaten; if we didn’t start perfectly, we’d restart the race. We restarted a lot, which was a little unnerving. Sometimes, though, if I knew I was losing, I’d pull a U-turn and wipe out the competition. Sometimes I just ended up totaling my car; sometimes I actually eliminated my rivals and ended up winning. Unfair? Maybe. But very, very fun. I ended up trading it in for the Playstation 2 version, which I regret in retrospect; what it gained in terms of graphics and features it lost in terms of fun; if your car got rammed from behind too many times, it would run out of gas on the spot. Race over. Yuck! For the best racing game ever, however, pick up Need for Speed: Most Wanted (PS2).

NBA Jam (Sega Genesis)


BOOM-shaka-laka! Best. Basketball game. Ever. The dunks are wild. The commentary is spot-on. The roster has all the greats of the ’90s (except, alas, for Michael Jordan and Shaq). Plus, no fouls, but plenty of harm! It’s extremely satisfying to drop an opposing player with a hard shove or an elbow thrust. Plus, imagine charging down the court as Barkley, spinning high into the air with a Tarzan yell and shattering the backboard with a dunk. Surprisingly, the Genesis version is actually better than the SNES one, with simpler controls and clearer voice over. And, honestly, the only other basketball game I’ve played that comes close to being as much fun is NBA Street Vol. 3. I’ve never been crazy about hyper-realistic basketball games, and the NBA Live series has never impressed me. 

WWE Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth (Playstation 2)


When I got my PS2, this was one of the first games I picked up, and I still love it today. True, the subsequent Here Comes the Pain featured a lot of improvements (such as create-a-wrestlers with teeth and probably the best season mode out of any wrestling game), but the arcade-style action and zany easter eggs in Shut Your Mouth give it a special place in my heart. Want to have a snowball fight in Times Square? Heck yes. Want to climb up to the top of the Smackdown fist and hit your opponent with a flying clothesline? Go for it. Want to pick a fight with the Undertaker and get dragged behind his motorcycle? Probably not, but it can happen. The create-a-wrestler system, while flawed (again, no teeth . . . it’s weird), is loads of fun, and allows players to create near-perfect replicas of Spider-Man, the Hulk and even Gollum. Plus, I was even able to create dead-on replicas of myself and my dad, circa 2006, and we used to play pretty regularly.
 

The only problem was that after a while, my friends got really sick of me showing them all the cool stuff I had created. Indeed, they got really sick of wrestling games altogether. Me? I’ve played all of ‘em except WWE ’12, because apparently it’s not so great. The worst of them all, however, is Smackdown vs. Raw 2007. Avoid at all costs. Or, more accurately, avoid at no cost; don’t buy it. 

Red Faction II (Playstation 2)


The first FPS I ever loved, Red Faction II is nine shades of epic. The single-player campaign is plenty of fun, featuring voice actors including Lance (Aliens) Henriksen and Jason (The Expendables) Statham, but it’s the multiplayer that really shines. I remember many an afternoon spent at my best friends’ house, huddled around the TV and chasing each other’s characters with grenade launchers. The zero-gravity level is a fun-yet-frustrating experience, but for maximum fun, we’d play the “Warlords” level, taking potshots at one another with rocket launchers from parallel bases. My friends’ little sister even got in on the action a few times: “Die! Die! Die, ya Filthy McNasty!”

Spider-Man and Venom in Maximum Carnage (Sega Genesis)


My favorite Spider-Man game, more even than the Playstation one or even the PS2 adaptation of Spider-Man 2. For starters, Venom was one of my favorite characters as a kid, as he was for a lot of ’90s kids. Getting to play as Venom for the first time was a dream come true. The game is based on “Maximum Carnage,” a 14-part storyline across the various Spider-Man titles in 1993, in which Spider-Man, Venom and a bunch of other superheroes have to team up to take down Venom’s sinister spawn, Carnage, and his band of homicidal misfits, Shriek, Carrion, Demogoblin and the twisted Doppelganger Spider-Man. With a rockin’ soundtrack by Green Jelly (which sounds even better on the Super Nintendo version), tons of guest stars and assist characters (like Morbius, Cloak and Dagger, Captain America and Deathlok, as well as a cameo by the Avengers at the end), a great fighting system and tons of secret areas and Easter eggs, it’s loads of fun even now, although, like the original story, it’s ridiculously long and difficult. What I like most about it is the difference between playing as Spider-Man and Venom. Spider-Man is lightning-quick and agile, while Venom is a bruiser through-and-through. When Spidey picks up an object, he lifts it with both arms. When Venom picks it up, he lifts it with one hand, and walks with a distinct swagger. His power moves are better, too; he smashes the pavement to create a shockwave to deal with groups, and when he’s in close range, he tosses his opponent sky-high, leering in self-satisfaction. Like a boss. 

 Eternal Champions (Sega Genesis)


When I was but a wee lad, I convinced my brother to rent a Sega Genesis. My mom approved, so long as he didn’t rent any violent video games, or, to my frustration, any Marvel superhero games (which I specifically wanted to play). I ended up talking him into getting Spider-Man and X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge anyway (it turned out to be bland, inoffensive, and terrible) and Sonic the Hedgehog 3. He also picked up Eternal Champions for himself and my other brother, but my mom wouldn’t let me play it. I got to watch from a distance, but I didn’t get to play, so of course I reeeeally wanted to play. Several years later, I got my wish. And. It. Was. Awesome. So awesome, in fact, that renting it became a tradition every time my brothers were in town. There are only nine characters, but each has a very specific, detailed moveset. No two characters have the same moves (unlike Mortal Kombat, where all the characters are basically repainted versions of each other with separate special attacks), and they all have specific looks and characteristics. The premise of the game is that nine warriors were plucked from various points in time to compete in a tournament, blah-blah-blah. My favorite was Larcen, a slick cat burglar from the early 20th century. My brothers liked RAX, an arrogant, sneering cyborg gladiator, and Xavier, a cloaked medieval alchemist. My dad, who got in on the action after a while, favored Shadow, a Japanese assassin from the ’90s. He liked her because A) she was very, very hot, even in 16-bit graphics, and B) she had a cheap move, “Shadow Mode,” that rendered her invulnerable for six seconds. She could kick a lot of butt in six seconds, and if we turned the power meters off in “options,” Dad could keep her in Shadow Mode pretty much indefinitely. Playing against Dad became a real challenge, one that I eventually got around by timing my attacks perfectly every six seconds. Thus, out of all the games I’ve played over the years, Eternal Champions was one of the only ones that really got the whole family involved . . . except Mom, of course. She still hates video games. 

This game, which I love, didn't help.