Tag Archives: games

Why I Love The 90s: The Original Video Game Movies

2 Aug

I have a compulsion to watch every video game film I can find. I know most of them are trash, about 98% of them are directed by Uwe Boll, and they deviate crazily from the source material, but I can’t help but track them down, just to see how bad they are. I can count the number of passable video game movies on one hand. The only video game film that I think of as ‘good’ is Silent Hill.

Pyramid Head is a busy guy.

However, there are still plenty of enjoyable shit movies from the early days. Let’s have a look at the pioneers of the sub-genre and all of their flaws.

 

Super Mario Bros

Awww yeah! Super Mario Bros is the one that started it all. It’s a horrible, horrible mess of a film: part kid’s comedy, part action, part Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk nightmare. Bob Hoskins puts on a brilliant Brooklyn accent as Mario and John Leguizamo plays a snotty teenage Luigi. In spite of all its problems, I still love this movie. Dennis Hopper is brilliant as King Koopa, there are about ten billion quotable lines and some really fun set pieces. Hell, it starts with a couple of dinosaurs talking in New Yoik accents. Sure, it’s a bad film, and has nothing to do with the games, but it sits comfortably – and brilliantly – in the so-bad-it’s-good section of my movie library.

 

Double Dragon

We’ve all played Double Dragon, right? A kidnapped girl leads two brothers to go kick the crap out of a gang and generally be total badasses. The obvious choice for such a simple, dumb story, then is to add a bunch of jargon about a magical amulet and evil overlords. Throw the bad guy from Terminator 2 and Alyssa Milano into the mix and you’re sure to win an Oscar, right? Well, not quite. But you do get an awful movie full of 90s clichés and some awful performances. Kudos to them for making Marian, the girlfriend from the game, into an active character though.

 

Street Fighter

This film can be summed up entirely in a single casting choice: the lead character is Guile, a man so American he has the star-spangled banner tattooed on his arm. Who’s the best person to play this all-USA dude? Why, the Belgian actor and roundhouse-kicker Jean Claude Van Damme, of course! The movie-makers managed to squeeze a load of the characters from Street Fighter 2 in, which certainly deserves credit, but it means that the plot is completely insane. It all looks incredibly tacky, too. What saves it? Why, a brilliant performance from the late, great Raul Julia as M. Bison of course! It was his last movie role and it’s worth the cost of the DVD alone. Well, that and seeing Kylie Minogue acting. Yup.

 

Mortal Kombat

Aside from Silent Hill, I actually think Mortal Kombat is the best video game movie. It’s trashy and dumb, but it’s just so much darn fun. It’s also got a plot that kind of makes sense (well, in comparison to the likes of Super Mario Bros and Street Fighter), and who needs acting talent when you’ve got wise-cracking, shades-wearing kung fu heroes punching four-armed monsters in the bollocks? Great fight scenes, awesome special effects, awful one-liners: this movie has it all. Unfortunately, the sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation isn’t quite as good.

 

Wing Commander

Last and possibly least is 1999’s Wing Commander. The games had a great cast – with Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell in the brilliant Wing Commander III – and what better way to continue that trend than with the magnificent Freddie Prinze Jr. Ahem. The movie follows the usual plot of the plucky young rookies who manage to save humanity whilst being very cool and relatable for the film’s target demographic.

 

After these trendsetting films, the video game film adaptation trend really kicked off, particularly after the big success of the Resident Evil franchise. But for me, these 90s films are very interesting to watch back. In fact, I would rather watch Super Mario or Mortal Kombat than the likes of Max Payne or Hitman any day of the week.

Seriously, how can you ever beat scenes like this?

Why I Love The 90s: Violent Videogames

15 Jul

Violence has always had some kind of place in videogame culture. A lot of the time you are either the hunter or the hunted; from the extermination of invading forces in Space Invaders, the prevention of the apocalypse in Missile Command, and even the mindless destruction of various fungal and animal creatures in Super Mario Bros (har har).

It was in the 90s, though, that the world really seemed to take notice of it. Whether it was the more realistic graphics, the increase in widespread popularity, or the fact that violence in other media had gotten stale to argue about (“oh look, another newspaper article about violent movies. BORING!”), it was in the 16-bit era that videogame nasties caused a stir.

The Toxic Avenger had a goddamn toy and cartoon series

It must have been hell for a parent. As a kid, though? It was pure, unadulterated bliss.

So, here’s my pick of some of the most important – and some of the best – ultra-violent videogames from the 1990s.

 

Mortal Kombat

Like most kids of my generation, Mortal Kombat was the first real taste I had of a super-violent game. There was stuff in this game that was frickin’ awesome: ripping off heads (with spine attached), tearing out hearts, kicking people into spike pits, or burning your opponent to a crisp. Of course, knowing how to do those moves was entirely different to getting your ass kicked and having it done to you.

But Mortal Kombat was special for more than just the fatality moves. Every meaty punch and kick made a gush of ketchup-like blood from your enemy. It was ridiculous, marvellous, and amazingly realistic for a game of its time. It also rang alarm bells for concerned parents across the world.

I would give this game four Helen Lovejoy’s out of five.

 

NARC

This game taught me to respect the law. That is, if the law consists of two badass awesome dudes in a fast car who shoot up junkies in overcoats and mullet-bearing drug dealers. An interesting game mechanic was that you got more points for arresting a suspect than killing them outright. A game mechanic rarely used when one of the options is to ‘blow everything up with a rocket launcher’.

This game was originally released in 1988 but I didn’t see it anywhere until it hit home consoles in 1990. I’ve never completed this bitch of a game though, because of the hard-as-a-box-of-Danny-Dyer’s-nails final boss, Mr Big. Mr Big also happens to be Grade-A Nightmare Fuel:

 

Wu Tang: Shaolin-Style

Did you know that the Wu Tang Clan released a videogame back in 1999? Well, you do now. It is possibly the most concentrated mix of things parents hate in a single form: videogames, violence, bad language, dangerous weapons, and rap music.

“Stick around!” “Knife to meet you!” etc

Heavily controversial before its release, the game allowed for four players to pummel the crap out of each other on one screen. It lead to a game later on in this list, but most importantly probably paved the way for other ‘vanity’ projects like 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand.

Wait, is that a good thing?

 

Carmageddon

I have lost years of my life to this game. Released in 1997 (the same year as the original Grand Theft Auto), it is still one of the most notorious videogames in history. You take part in a gladiatorial-future-nightmare-race in the style of Death Race 2000, and are given three directives: win the race normally, win by killing all your opponent racers, or win by killing all the pedestrians in the stage.

Yeah. You read the last one right. This point caused huge problems for certain countries, and in certain nations the game was either banned, or forced to make drastic changes, with pedestrians either turned into green-blooded zombies or into robots.

Interestingly, the game is coming back to us in the form of an Android/iPhone release in the near future. Hang on to yer helmet…

 

Lethal Enforcers and Night Trap

1992 was one of the most important years in videogames – if only for the constant debate over the classification of violent and ‘unsuitable’ games in an industry primarily aimed at children. It also led to the final classification of the two biggest competitors in the videogame market. In 1992, Mortal Kombat was released. Nintendo, for their Super NES console, took the blood and gore out of the game. Sega, though, kept it in.

90s trash talking is the best kind of trash talking.

Quite simply, Nintendo kept their foundation as the family-friendly company, whilst Sega came out as the ‘cool yet reckless’ option. What games were released on Sega consoles the same year? Well, Lethal Enforcers and Night Trap. Two incredibly different games that faced the ire of the tabloid press for their unsuitable content.

Lethal Enforcers was a lightgun game in the style of Time Crisis, whilst Night Trap was more of a point-and-click-thing that a) wasn’t really full of violence and b) was awful. But since it had video clips and kind-of-scantily-clad women, it was clearly much more dangerous than alcopops for British schoolchildren.

 

Thrill Kill

A game so violent, so controversial, that it was never even published. Thrill Kill was a four-player fighter with extreme violence and sexual content. The plot consisted of four damned souls fighting in a tournament to win reincarnation. So, what choice of character do you have?

If you choose anyone other than the midget on stilts there’s something wrong with you.

Each of the characters has their own Thrill Kills, in the style of Mortal Kombat’s fatalities. So, the hillbilly who fights with the severed leg of one of his victims can use it to make his opponent explode. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), the game was cancelled because of its content.

Interestingly, the engine for the game was used to create Wu Tang: Shaolin-Style. Only that had murderous plastic surgeons and dominatrixes replaced with rappers and stuff.

 

Doom

Let’s finish with the granddaddy of ‘em all, though. No Doom, no Call of Duty. No Unreal Tournament. No Half-Life. No goddamn first person shooters ever. It’s a beast of a game, one of the most influential games ever, and it’s brutal. It’s literally you versus the demons of hell.

One of the most modded games ever, Doom has made it onto pretty much every home console and still has a community to this day.

Not only that, but it’s had some great sequels and…erm…this:

So maybe not all great.

 

I’ll leave it there for now. Up next – some more horror movies you might want to see.

The Hunger Games: Review

4 Apr

Disclaimer: I am coming to this as an outsider of the Hunger Games franchise. I have not read the books. I do not know the extent of the back story. This is about the movie, and about whether it works as a stand-alone film without knowledge of the source material.

I have always been a fan of the ‘horrible-death-game-to-help-maintain-an-evil-regime-in-a-dystopian-future’ genre. I count The Running Man, Rollerball, Battle Royale, and Series 7: The Contenders as some of my favourite films. So, I was more than a little dubious about a 12A title taking on the same premise. Without time to read the book (beyond other things I have been reading the Eisenhorn trilogy and couldn’t face parting with it) I went into the film relatively blind.

So let’s start with first impressions. The film starts with the pastoral setting of District 12, and our hero Katniss Everdeen spending her time hunting. It’s a horrible, grim, gritty place. The games are subtly put into the setting – a nightmare of Katniss’ sister, Prim, and a mention from a hunky love interest who looked like a young clone of David Boreanaz for instance – which was refreshing. It was well-handled and the message was put across without bludgeoning the GRIMDARKFUTUREGLADIATOR message into the viewer.

Unfortunately the setting jars a little soon afterwards. In the middle of this run-down imagery, we suddenly get a view of, well, these guys:

How do they keep those outfits so pristine?

And this woman:

I know who I'm dressing as for Halloween.

So we’re hit with two different worlds; the colourful, vibrant dystopian society and the gritty, pale outlands. I found (and it might just be me) that when these two worlds combined, it didn’t quite work. The guards looked out of place in District 12, and the jump from the very real opening setting to the CGI-laden capital city was a bit difficult to grasp.

Having said that, I loved the capital. The build-up to the games proper was handled superbly. It was easy to grasp, even the difficult notion of the sponsorship idea – that each of the ‘tributes’ could help their odds in the games by getting sponsored by the rich and powerful watching the games themselves. I felt the film really came into its own during these parts – the training sessions, the interviews with the absolutely brilliant Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson mentoring Katniss and Peeta, Lenny Kravitz giving the tributes a cynical look at how to succeed. The suspense in the build-up to the games was wonderful. You really started to understand the world, the decadence, and the way in which these games helped define the society. There were satirical jabs at reality TV, celebrity, and the like, in quite a similar way to The Running Man and The Truman Show. It takes a long time to reach the games proper, and it’s worth it – for me, this glimpse of a well-structured fictional society was the best part of the film.

Stanley Tucci is frickin' boss

But the show must go on, and the Hunger Games themselves had to start. Unfortunately this is where the film falls down a little. It’s not really anyone’s fault – as all of the areas where the film fails were inevitable. The idea of The Hunger Games itself is difficult – a book series for young adults about a world where kids will potentially have to kill each other in a variety of horrible ways. There was no way the filmmakers were going to be able to show the real horror and brutality of that premise without losing a 12A rating – and with it, the key demographic of the film itself.

So, instead of seeing these kids kill each other, we are instead shown shaky-cam fight scenes, cut-aways, and other tricks to help imply that something brutal has happened without really showing it. It’s a shame, because I think that this damages the overall film. Given how well the previous scenes were handled – showing the stakes that were held, the potential horrors that the heroes would have to face – the Games themselves were a major let-down. You put the brutality and intensity of Drive into this film and it could have been a classic.

If you get this reference you are awesome and I want to be your friend.

That said, there is nothing the filmmakers could have done about this, so it can’t really be held against anyone in particular apart from the censors.

To sum up, the film is worth watching. There are some fantastic performances, and even within the young cast no-one really lets the film down. The plot is solid, the setting is great, and visually (at least most of the time) it works. It is unfortunately let down by a weak second half and the fact that killer mutant dogs do never a good finale make. Definitely an enjoyable film, but maybe not worth the amount of praise it’s been given.

PS – And I’m sorry if this insults anyone who is a fan of the books, but why do they all have bloody stupid names? There seems to be very few deviations from current English language aside from them, so why did they feel the need to make everyone have a modern variation of a current name (I’m looking at you, Peeta and Haymitch).