Spider-Man Training Studio Was A Mistake

Spider-Man was and still is one of my favorite comic-book superheroes of all time. His fictional heroic acts have always inspired to do my absolute best in real-life, while also putting my best foot forward. In fact, I’m sure the character of Spider-Man inspired many kids growing up. With that in mind, it’s not too surprising that Spider-Man would get his own workout video! After all, almost every big-name celebrity and popular fictional character gets one.

This is where the “Spider-Man Training Studio” comes into play. The Training Studio was a Spider-Man themed mat that came with a inflatable punching bag. The goal of this was to get kids to exercise and be active, which is an admirable sentiment. The problem is that the exercise kit comes with one of the silliest and campiest training video DVDs ever made.

The video revolves around a pair of kids, “Lee” and “Stan”. Apparently, the parents of these kids were really into Marvel! Spider-Man then breaks into the house of these 2 kids, all so he could train them to fight dangerous super-powered criminals. Spider-Man trains them through the usage of the eponymous “Spider-Man Training Studio”. He puts the viewer and the two random kids through general exercises and tons of inflatable dummy punching.

The weirdest part of this sequence is that Spider-Man has named all of his attack moves after his villains. It’s an odd choice, especially because that could get him sued for copyright infringement! Then again, I imagine the courts would rule in favor of Spider-Man, due to all his villains being untrustworthy in a court of law.

Anyway, the video uses footage from the 90s Spider-Man cartoon. I found this odd, since Spider-Man 3 was released that very same year. Could they not afford to put footage from Spider-Man 3 in there? Maybe the price to use footage from the films was too high, so they just resorted to using the cartoon instead.

Aside from the cartoon footage, there was also a CG sequence made for the video. Near the end of the DVD, you are tasked with fighting off Venom. You somehow have Spidey’s abilities in this sequence, and he cheers you on for beating up his arch-enemy. It’s never stated what Venom was doing to deserve this, since he seemed to be mostly minding his own  business.

In fact, Venom SETS OFF Spider-Man’s “Spider-Sense” in this sequence. How? The Spider-Man comics and cartoons make it clear that Spidey’s Spider-Sense can not detect Venom. My guess is that Spidey somehow knew that Venom would be in town, so he sicced his fanboys on him no reason. Considering this Spidey broke into a house, it wouldn’t surprise me.

And that was the ridiculousness that was the “Spider-Man Training Studio”. Watching this video online definitely takes away from the experience, but I feel that I probably wouldn’t have been interested in this DVD at all back in the day. I would’ve been 16 at the time, so I would’ve been out of the proper age demographic. Regardless of what age I watched this at, I would still enjoy it just for the silliness alone. Outside of camp value, there’s not much here to enjoy. I say to just watch it for silliness alone, since the DVD is just lacking in quality.

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Dragon’s Dogma For Nintendo Switch Review

Fantasy adventures are the best kind one can have, at least in my opinion. Nothing beats a good old swords & sorcery quest over an ancient land, while fighting off giant monsters and collecting tons of gold. I’ll take a good medieval fantasy adventure to a sci-fi space opera any day! That’s why I dig Dragon’s Dogma, because it’s an epic fantasy adventure in its purest form.

This was an open-world RPG that focused on having great action, characters, and lore. The game started off obscure at first, but quickly gained a large and dedicated fan-base. As a result, this RPG has been ported to every gaming platform imaginable! This resulted in the game being brought over to the Nintendo Switch, which is currently the hottest console on the market.

Dragon’s Dogma is a hard game to describe to those who have never played it, especially for people who just look at videos or screenshots of it. A person may be fooled into thinking that this game is some kind of cheap cash-grab RPG made in Europe, due to its dated graphics and low price-tag.

However, Dragon’s Dogma isn’t really like that at all. In fact, it’s one of the most immersive and entertaining modern Japanese Role-Playing Games made in a long time! It does have its faults, but they’re outshone by the amazing feats the game displays. I feel it’s time for me to do a detailed review of one of my favorite RPGs of all time. After all, I need to do something special for this 400th post!

So, what makes this game amazing? Well, let’s start off with the game’s plot. The game kicks off with your custom character living in an average fishing village. A dragon comes by and attacks your village one day, prompting you to rush to defend it. The dragon easily takes you out, rips out your heart, and devours it. You survive and awaken much later, now lacking a heart and cursed with a magical ailment.

With an army of expendable magical humanoids called “Pawns” now backing you up, you set off on an quest to defeat the dragon and reclaim your heart. The game starts off as your typical “Chosen One” story, but evolves into something much greater near the end.

I definitely dug the story, even if parts of it felt a bit too obtuse or needlessly dark. However, the true appeal of the game was in its gameplay. The ability to grapple onto monsters in combat adds a level of verticality that most games wish they could achieve. Leaping off a cliff and jumping onto a griffin’s back in order to attack it is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done in a game.

The amount of cool and interesting skills you can buy in this game is staggering, which allows for even more ways to customize your playstyle. Speaking of customization, there’s a ton of that in this game! You can customize your player character and your “Pawn”. The height and weight of your character determines their level of competency in the game. For example, shorter characters can run faster, and larger characters can carry more.

This is something that most games will never try with its customization. This means that that almost every character you create will have defined strengths and weaknesses, depending entirely on how you design their body. On top of designing your own Pawn, you can also recruit the Pawns of others to help you through the game’s various quests.

The pawn system is one of the most fun concepts introduced by the game, due to how unique it plays out. You’re constantly switching out new Pawns as you level up, while gaining many party members over the course of the game. It’s not uncommon for a player to have gone through hundreds of Pawns by the time the game ends.

One of the best elements of this game is its exploration. Being an open-world RPG, there’s a lot of locations to explore in this game. From giant caves to sweeping dungeons, there’s a lot of variety on offer here. It also helps that locations are well designed and most of them even have realistic layouts.

Dragon’s Dogma on Switch plays like all the other versions, but on a portable device. Being able to un-dock the Switch and bring it anywhere means that you can play Dragon’s Dogma on the go! Having the game finally be portable is definitely a great thing, since now I can play it on the John!

To me, Dragon’s Dogma is what I want in an action RPG. It has a fairly solid story, good characters, great customization, and tons of areas to explore. Sure, the graphics are old and dated, getting to places is annoying and frustrating, and there’s a lack of direction in the open hours. In spite of the game’s many flaws, it’s still one of the most engaging RPG experiences I’ve ever played. The fact that I can now take it on the go just adds to its greatness! This truly feels like the definitive version of the game.

Front Row Joe: Cinema’s Coolest Cat

Believe it or not, there was a time when I thought that theaters were a magical place of wonder. These were places with fun arcades, tons of great movies to watch, and a generally solid atmosphere. Nowadays, theaters have devolved into this rather cynical experience. All the drink dispensers have been turned into barely functional I-Phones, arcades are pretty much dead and few theaters have them, and most of the movies that are shown nowadays tend to be of dubious quality.

I’m not saying theaters are terrible, but things have definitely fallen far from what they used to be. With that in mind, let’s flashback to a simpler movie-going time: The 80s. The year was 1988 and “Cinemark Theaters” had only been running for about 4 years at that point. Cinemark made the genius move of creating something new for their “Policy Trailers”, which tended to go over the theater’s rules for the audience.

It’s not always easy to get people to follow the rules, so Cinemark came up with a genius idea for their policy trailers: Animated musical shorts! Cinemark’s advertising agency created  “Front Row Joe”, an anthropomorphic cat in a world filled with other two-legged felines.

Joe was your average theater-goer, at least to an extent. Joe obeys all of the theater’s rules and regulations, but is rewarded far beyond what a regular follower of the rules would gain. Joe obtains a girlfriend, a best friend, the admiration of his peers and fellow patrons, and a fancy car. Why? It’s all because he wasn’t a dick at a theater!

In real-life, you’ll never receive much admiration for being a nice guy at the theater. These trailers make good behavior at the cinemas seem more rewarding than it actually is. Heck, nowadays few people obey the rules at a theater as is! To be fair, these trailers were probably more effective back than they they would be now.

So, what makes the trailers so good? Well, the animation and characters are pretty good. Sure, the animation was slightly above TV quality, but it had a lot of energy and passion put into it. It featured Joe heading to his local Cinemark theater, while being a nice guy to generally everyone he meets.

While this is happening, the local jerk “Clyde” and his sidekick “Wyatt” show up and generally break the rules. Well, Clyde breaks the rules and Wyatt just tries to enjoy the movie. In fact, Wyatt only ever broke one rule. This probably explains why he ends up becoming Joe’s friend in later shorts.

Throughout all of these shorts, Clyde continually did bad things at the theater and was cruelly punished for each individual violation. Good thing this was a cartoon, since I imagine this level of violence in live-action would scar the kiddos watching these films. Years went by and even more shorts were made, though the later ones varied in both quality and length.

The first 3 shorts were all 2 minutes in length, while each one after that was between 40-60 seconds long. On top of this, the animation quality took a nosedive in some of the 90s shorts. The 2D animation was done in digital cells during the late 90s, while early CGI animation became prevalent in the later shorts as well. As a result, the animation eventually became a mixed bag of mediocrity.

The songs in each short remained good throughout, due to covering a mix of different musical genres. From 50s pop to classic rock, there was a ton of good musical styles on display here. Sadly, all good things must come to an end. In 1997, a whopping 9 years after the original short came out, the series was discontinued.

This all changed in 2004, when Front Row Joe made a return in the most mind-numbing way. The shorts were brought back, but without the catchy musical numbers and heart that it originally had. The animation took a huge nosedive in quality, which resulted in it looking like poor quality art that wouldn’t be too out of place in a Microsoft Paint parody.

The FRJ shorts eventually went full-on 3D with CGI animation, before disappearing from theater screens in 2009. Joe and friends still make their way into some of the theater’s international advertising from time to time, but still remains mostly forgotten. It’s a shame too, because the FRJ shorts were truly entertaining for its time.

They went into detail on proper theater behavior and did it in a way that was both educational and entertaining. There’s nothing evolutionary about the shorts, but they were definitely fun little cartoons from a forgotten era. I’d love for Joe to make some kind of return to the silver screen, but it’s doubtful. Truly great policy trailers are a rarity nowadays, due to the lack of effort theaters tend to put into them. Regardless, I’ll never forget the classic FRJ shorts, even though I never actually went to the theaters that aired them.

Champions Online’s Wasted Potential

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Totally not Silverbolt!

Who doesn’t love a good board-game? There’s nothing more fun than having a few friends over, downing a couple sodas, and playing some good old Scrabble! Board-games have existed for over a century now, but video-games have been around for a lot less than that. Board-games and video-games are different in a lot of ways, but this hasn’t stopped the two pieces of entertainment from crossing over.

Adapting board-games into video-games isn’t something that’s new, especially when it comes to tabletop RPGs. I can’t tell you how many Dungeons & Dragons video-games there are, due to new ones coming out with each passing year! D&D isn’t the only tabletop game that gets adapted into video-game form, but it’s definitely one of the bigger ones.

One tabletop game that got the video-game treatment was the “Champions” board-game, which was a part of the “Hero System” brand. This was a board-game in which you could create your own superheroes, and go on your own adventures with them. It was a basic superhero setting, but it definitely had room to develop into something greater.

Let’s flash forward to 2007, which is often heralded as “the best year in gaming”. Cryptic Studios had just sold off the rights to their immensely successful superhero MMORPG, “City of Heroes”. It didn’t take them too long to bounce back, since they ended up snatching up the the rights to “Champions” the very next year. They purchased the ENTIRE franchise, including the boardgame itself. This was a genius move, since it meant they weren’t restricted by any license holder.

Champions was now in the hands of a talented development team and things were looking up for fans of superhero MMOs! At least, it was at first. The game ended up coming out in 2009 to generally positive reviews, which definitely made the game appealing to a lot of people.

However, things started to fall apart once people actually played the game. While Champions Online had superior graphics and gameplay to City of Heroes, it lacked the heart and soul of what made that game special. It was also lacking in meaningful content upon release. Even to this day, the game’s quests and the characters who give them to you are both painfully bland. The heroes in this game were just generic comic book fodder, while the story was as bland as you can get. The voice-acting was hammy, but lacked the charm that made comic book dialogue so endearing.

Worse still, the missions lacked any weight or significance. For example, the tutorial was just you entering a VR simulation of an alien invasion. Nothing you do in it has any consequence on the world or story, and the repetitive dialogue makes it a chore to get through. Compare this to City of Heroes, which has 3 different tutorial scenarios to start off your game with.

One has you breaking out of prison, while another has you help some heroes during a “real-life” alien invasion. Unlike the one in Champions, you actually get to team up with a bunch of players to fight a giant badass monster. Heck, that tutorial even gives you the choice to either save or kill another superhero, which will define your alignment for a large chunk of the game. Meanwhile, in Champions you end the tutorial by fighting a generic guy in a mech suit.

While this free-to-play game certainly wasn’t restrictive in allowing you to engage in its story or gameplay, it did feel like a far cry from what City of Heroes pulled off. Don’t get me wrong, this game is still amazing on a technical level. Its cell-shaded graphics meant that the game would age well, regardless of what year it was played in. The combat was fun and fast, despite playing like a typical MMO. You could do attacks by pressing the numbers on your keyboard, but your character would react faster than he would in CoH.

Is it unfair to compare this game to CoH? Well, it was made by the same people and using the same general concept: A superhero MMO where you create your own hero and do missions. Champions is so identical to CoH in so many ways that it kind of feels like Cryptic was just doing the same thing all over again, just in a less entertaining way.

The thing is that Champions never really took off like CoH did in its heyday. The game enjoyed its popularity for a few years, but dropped off in popularity once other MMOs started dying. Nowadays, barely anyone plays Champions. The game is basically dead and I only bump into a few people online when I play the game nowadays.

Traffic for this game has died down and the servers are barren. It’s especially sad when you consider that City of Heroes’ private server saw way more traffic in the past 2 weeks than Champions has seen in over a year. CoH just has better characters, a better world, and a grander scope.

Champions isn’t a bad game, but it just lacks the things that make a really good superhero MMO shine. While the game is great, it was missing the ambition and uniqueness of its spiritual predecessor. While Champions Online did manage to outlive CoH by a large margin, it sadly does not change the fact that the game feels lacking in meaningful stories and character. The game manages to be a fun comic-book-ish game, but fails to do much more than that.