Author: Bill R. Boggess

Nintendo Quest: An Enjoyable Romp Through the Retro-Verse

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I’ve tried to watch just about every gaming-related documentary out there. Truthfully, there’s not that many but each time something like Man Vs. Snake hits the market, I’m usually quick to nab a copy and delve into the subculture of gaming, which I continue to find fascinating. My own experience with this medium started at approximately three years of age and hasn’t slowed and I am forever fascinated by anything that allows me to view this world through a different lens. Gaming – despite still being a relatively new medium when compared to its closest cousin, film – has been around long enough to have developed an interesting and expansive history and that history is now effectively being archived by a legion of collectors, artists, and enthusiasts, something I mentioned in my previous blog.

Nintendo Quest is easily one of my favorite gaming documentaries, as I adore slice-of-life endeavors and I can also relate to the heady nostalgia of this particular era of gaming. For those of us who grew up in the NES era – an era largely defined by an entire medium that was essentially rebounding on the shoulders of one innovative company and their console – there are few things that resonate more than the look and feel of classic NES cartridges and Nintendo Quest is a fun, well-made distillation of that period while simultaneously offering an interesting peek into the lives of retro-game collectors.

The premise of the film is simple: director Rob McCallum challenges his close friend Jay Bartlett to collect every single game released on the NES in North America – 678 in total – in 30 days. The biggest stipulation to this challenge is that Jay cannot purchase these games from online retailers but instead must acquire them physically, in-person. This sets up an unapologetically geeky road trip spanning several states and encompassing visits to numerous small, retro-shops along with interviews and discussions with several like-minded individuals about the almost intangible magic of the NES and its many, many games.

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Jay is also working within a fixed (though undisclosed) budget, meaning that he must manage his money carefully given that some of the harder to find NES games often suffer from astronomical grey market values. These negotiations are of particular interest, as Jay is continuously trying to balance his need to get a game versus his ever-dwindling resources.

Essentially a road trip documentary, the viewer is given a sense of Jay as an amiable and decent fellow who enjoys an extensive knowledge of the NES library. As he acquires cartridges, each game collected is tallied on screen so that the viewer has a running log of his progress. Jay is a savvy collector and seems to possess a firm grasp on fair market values of the games he is purchasing, always careful never to pay too much and sometimes walking out of stores that have inflated prices, poor selections, or staffed with people unwilling to haggle. He’s also privy to generous transactions with friends over the course of his journey, many of whom drop a handful cheap cartridges into his lap, some of which are relatively rare and valuable.

Along the way Jay also meets up with an eclectic and varied stream of interesting, like-minded collectors and enthusiasts, among them several gaming luminaries including Marc Ericksen, Walter Day and Todd Rogers. The film also gives the viewer a concise history of the NES, punctuated by testimonials from NES devotees who explain what this system and its library means to them. McCallum also injects some gravitas into the proceedings as the film proceeds, specifically delving into Jay’s turbulent past with his now-deceased father along with his attempt to acquire a rare and expensive title, which clearly carries some hefty emotional significance. These intermittent doses of pathos however never feel overwrought or artificial but rather do a solid job of mining the deeper compulsions and motivations that compel people to collect and subsequently examines the weight we give these cherished objects, which is something I can personally relate to as a collector myself.

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The film is also interesting in that it gives viewers an education about the most valuable and rarest NES games being coveted by collectors, many of which are relatively obscure titles valued primarily for their scarcity rather than their excellence. Many of the most expensive games aren’t necessarily the oft-cited classics usually associated with the NES but instead are, ironically, the stuff that didn’t sell particularly well back in the day or suffered short production runs. There’s a certain alchemy to what makes something collectible; most products advertised as such never become even remotely valuable and what is interesting about this film is that many of the rare games being pursued have their own interesting backstories, some of which make it into the movie. Interestingly, the most valuable game in the documentary is one I have only a vague recollection of and certainly isn’t a title I immediately associate with the storied legacy of the NES.

I won’t reveal here if Jay is successful in his attempt to garner the entire NES library in 30 days but what I can state is that Nintendo Quest is a fun and good-natured examination of the gaming subculture presented through the eyes of collectors, all of them clearly moved by their respective passions. More than anything however, this documentary is a celebration of the NES, it’s library, and the many people who glean enjoyment from its numerous software. It also acts as a proponent regarding the importance of preservation, emphasizing the need to archive the artifacts of this medium before they gradually erode away entirely.

I first stumbled onto this film some months back on Amazon Prime and enjoyed it enough to purchase a copy for the very reasonable sum. Only available on DVD (I doubt the Blu-ray format would add much to the proceedings given the nature of the camera work and cinemaphotography), the disc is a bit sparse in terms of additional content but given the price and the quality of the film, it is easily recommended nonetheless. Nintendo Quest is also available on iTunes and I hope it garners a widespread notoriety among gaming fans and collectors at it most certainly deserves it.

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Why Retro?

Some see it as a regression. I see it as something else entirely.

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Recently a very close friend of mine began collecting film on VHS.

It’s a cheap hobby, with most of his acquisitions coming from yard sales and the occasional, dusty stock of a local thrift store. There’s practically no market for used VHS – it’s essentially a dead, discarded format with very little appeal to entice and motivate collectors to preserve them. Outside of some incredibly rare specimens, VHS tapes sell very cheaply and my friend has picked up his entire VHS library for pennies on the dollar.

Now bear in mind that my friend is also a videophile and has a profoundly learned understanding of HDTV technology. At the slightest provocation, he can rattle off detailed technical information about the latest advances in the market. In short, he takes visual fidelity very seriously. He and I have spent endless hours discussing the advent and proliferation of streaming versus the visual superiority of Blu-ray. We constantly compare notes when sitting down to watch the latest horror film remasters from Arrow Video and Shout Factory!, marveling at how exceptional these prints look.

Yet, not only does my friend keep an archive of VHS cassettes in his viewing room but he also intends to eventually have a little corner station set up so that he can play these tapes on a VHS player.  He plans on pumping the signal through a thirty year-old CRT television. As we all know, this is going to look atrocious when compared to the pristine, high res images we’ve all become accustomed to.

So, the question is why?

Why expend time, energy and resources to watch films in an inferior way?

Why do collectors spend so much time tracking down old vinyl, films, and video games that could be just as easily downloaded?

While I won’t answer for my close friend, I will state that from my own experiences, the answer is simple: HISTORY.

When my buddy began his collection a few months ago, he asked me if there was anything I might like to own on VHS. I gave him an accounting of my favorite films and told him if he came across anything on the list, to nab them and I’d reinburse him.

Since then, he’s actually delivered a generous smattering of awesomeness, including an original copy of The Empire Strikes Back in worn but good condition and a copy of Ghostbusters, factory sealed.

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The latter is of some significance to me because Ghostbusters was one of my favorite films growing up and when it was released on video, it retailed for close to 100 dollars. Owning a copy was something that wasn’t possible back then so when my friend tracked me down a new-in-the-box copy of one of my very favorite childhood movies, there was something almost cathartic about finally owning it. While I obviously have the Blu-ray sitting on my shelf that offers a picture and sound quality infinitely superior, that VHS cassette is not only a part of the storied history of the medium – it is a part of MY history; a once unattainable item from my youth now in my possession. The irony is that this VHS copy – even factory sealed – is worth practically nothing and yet it’ll adorn my collection forever as something to be cherished.

My friend also tracked down a copy of JAWS – one of my Personal Top Ten Films – and the kicker here was that this was a video store copy from a local shop that had closed down nearly a decade ago. This particular store served the surrounding community for more than thirty years before it shuttered and not only had I and my family rented from there innumerable times, I’m almost positive this particular copy of JAWS – a movie I forced my parents to rent continuously as a child – is the exact copy we checked-out repeatedly .

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When I think about the trajectory that tape has followed to eventually wind up in my possession, this time permanently, it makes me smile. This is an old copy – three decades or more – and the fact that it exists outside of a landfill is practically miraculous, as is the fact that my friend managed to acquire it and returned it to me. When I consider that tape, I can remember my much younger self in that now defunct video store, looking at the back cover, and in doing so, recollecting a very different time.

What is truly special about these artifacts – these relics of the past – is that the history they carry is both of the medium itself and also of the thousands of hands that grasped that case and watched that film, including my own.

I recently reviewed an exceptional retrospective art collection by Bitmap Books called the NES Visual Compendium, which highlights numerous games from the Nintendo Entertainment System, specifically their pixel art. One thing I took away from that book was how powerful nostalgia is and how often people seem to regard it in a dismissive way instead of embracing what a compelling, heady bit of time travel it truly is. Human beings are largely a collection of experiences, and those experiences, and how we respond to them, make up a significant part of who we are. These images and objects can, like a talisman, ignite something deep in the psyche. They can fire synapses and flood our mind with rich, warm memories.

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And that really is a remarkable thing.

After the recent announcement of the SNES Classic, it has been astounding to watch people get excited about the impending release of a micro-console that plays software from two decades ago. And while just about every game on that list is admittedly exceptional, I think there is also a strong pull to the aesthetics of the hardware. Like the NES Classic, people want to play these games on something that looks like the SNES, using controllers that are essentially replicas of what they used twenty-five years ago.

And that brings me back around to retro-collecting and a defense of those who seek out vintage film and games (and all their many peripheral trappings) to the confusion of some.

Scouring all corners of the globe for software that can often be attained easily (legal or otherwise) probably strikes many people as an inconceivable and unnecessary time sink. Yet there really is nothing quite like holding an artifact of the past – your past – in your hand. Downloading a ROM of Mega Man 2 and playing it on your current console or PC is fine. But it is a decidedly different experience than having the actual cartridge, replete with the artwork and tactility of that grey little treasure, in your hand before putting it into a NES and powering it up.

Cultural history takes many forms and what is shocking is how much of that history is lost to landfills, carelessly discarded as new conduits for our media emerge. We have transitioned to a digital age. A time when media is so much encrypted data on hard drives and disposable devices. Retro-collecting isn’t about hoarding or being stuck in the past; it’s about acknowledging that past and giving what came before some semblance of recognition and posterity. In many ways, the retro-enthusiast has become something of a curator. And when I consider the vast and interesting output of the many sites, authors, Twitter feeds and everyday collectors who compile and share these important vestiges, I am moved by their appreciation for a history that their hobby will help to preserve.

Be Proud of What You Do, Fellow Collectors. It’s More Important Than You Might Think. 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe: A Smart, Creepy and Intelligent Horror Film (Blu-Ray Review))

 

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For me, horror in the last couple of years has been all about the smaller, obscure films.

That isn’t meant to come off as snobbish or exclusive-minded. Truthfully, I look forward to every horror movie as a chance to experience something original, poignant, or just plain terrifying. I’m a hopeless optimist when it comes to new and emerging horror. I have also adopted a broader definition of the genre to allow excellent films like Don’t Breathe and The Green Room, often considered merely thrillers, to be included. Unfortunately, far too many of the horror films being churned out right now – even those coming out of smaller studios at lower budgets – haven’t been particularly inventive. When I reflect on the absolute best stuff I’ve seen – flicks like It Follows, Southbound and The Void – it seems as if the best of the genre is being regulated to the margins of filmmaking and production, as if the studio heads cannot wrap their minds around more abstract, inventive horror.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one of those smaller films that has the potential to fall through the cracks. Hopefully however, through strong word of mouth, it can rightfully become a cult classic as it is a clear and shining example of what more imaginative, intriguing horror can accomplish, even when its creators are operating on a relatively modest budget.

Directed by Norwegian filmmaker André Øvredal, whose previous credits include the interesting faux-documentary Troll Hunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is minimalist horror at its most effective. The entirety of the film takes place in a family-owned morgue run by Tommy Tilden (played by the always reliably superb Brian Cox) and his son Austin (Emile Hirsch). Tommy is portrayed as an unwavering professional, intently serious about the coroner work he performs. By contrast Austin, while competent, clearly has doubts about continuing the family business and this unspoken tension hangs in the air between father and son. Amidst this subdued family drama, the delivery of an unidentified woman’s body by the local sheriff – recovered from a gruesome and mysterious crime scene – requires their immediate attention and both men begin a late-night autopsy to determine the cause of death.

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As they progress, they rapidly discover various physical anomalies about Jane Doe that would seem to belie her expired state. It isn’t long before they uncover increasingly bizarre evidence that the nameless woman on their table is something more than an inert cadaver.

It’s difficult to go into more detail without spoiling the well-crafted tension of the narrative and ruin the various twists and intrigue. What I can comfortably state is that The Autopsy of Jane Doe is an effectively creepy and taut horror film that gets considerable mileage from an interesting premise. Most notably, the decision to have strange, frightening and potentially paranormal commotion occurring amidst two men whose job it is to dissect the dead is an interesting conceit. Clearly, neither of these characters – especially Tommy – are queasy or easily rattled, yet their stoic, clinical demeanors dissipate in the presence of something they cannot fully explain or account for. Eventually, these men of science and logic are forced to confront something that exists well outside their scope and understanding. The result is that Autopsy is an especially fantastic example of character-driven horror.

Another aspect that impressed me about this film was – unlike so many contemporary horror movies that feel the need to unleash a hefty torrent of exposition – The Autopsy of Jane Doe has enough respect for the intelligence of the viewer to keep things ambiguous and, subsequently, mysterious. Although the viewer has a solid idea as to what has happened at the conclusion of the film and why, there is room for the unexplained to tickle the back of the brain and give us a sense of broader, unseen machinations. And that is much creepier than a lengthy, laborious explanation of the sort so often foisted onto viewers of these types of genre films.

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Ultimately, The Autopsy of Jane Doe succeeds because it is a smart, tightly constructed and genuinely scary film buoyed by a small but talented cast and an intelligent script that assumes its audience is equally bright. In many ways, this film is the antithesis if not an outright refutation of the current pool of mainstream horror films, many of which focus on only on spectacle, shamelessly recycle predictable and well-worn tropes, and are often shameless derivative. By contrast, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is starkly original and manages to evoke fear and dread by venturing into new territory in both subtle and inventive ways.

The Blu-ray transfer, done by the always reliably excellent Shout Factory!,  is gorgeous, with sharp, poignant colors and an overall excellent picture quality. The only complaint is that the disc is incredibly barebones; the only extras are a handful of promotional trailers which is disappointing considering the quality of the film. At the very least I would have appreciated a commentary track from the director on how he pieced the film together. Here’s hoping we’ll get a more robust edition of this film down the line. Regardless, The Autopsy of Jane Doe is worth your time and money and I cannot recommend it enough, especially to those horror aficionados dissatisfied with the endless glut of mediocre zombie flicks and puerile, PG-13 horror.

 

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The Top Five Star Wars Games We All Want (Even If We Didn’t Know It)

 

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I don’t think there has ever been a film franchise that lends itself more appropriately to the gaming medium than Star Wars.

From its expansive universe to its wild assortment of intriguing villains and heroic archetypes, videogames and Star Wars go together with the ease of chocolate and peanut butter. Since the original Star Wars debuted in 1977, there has been a plethora of videogames based on the franchise, yet even today, on the cusp of this medium’s technological apex, there are plenty of SW games that have yet to come to fruition; experiences still waiting to be molded and wrought by developers.

Here’s my short list of five Star Wars games we should all want.

And if you don’t like mine, come up with your own.

(Seriously though, my choices are pretty cool.)

Errant Knight: Obi Wan Kenobi  

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“It might look cool, but having two suns suuuucks.”

 

Dream Developer: CD Project Red

Genre: Action/Adventure/Open-World

After being exiled and placed on extended babysitting duty, Obi Wan Kenobi had thirty years to kill before the events in A New Hope and I rather doubt he spent all of them messing with Sand People and stroking his beard thoughtfully.

I envision Errant Knight as an open world construct set on the barren but expansive planet of Tatooine. Here, a player would assume a now middle-aged Obi Wan as he quietly avoids detection yet ultimately becomes ensnared in local conflicts, unable to turn a blind eye to injustice. Be it freeing slaves or staving off bounty hunters and Imperial spies who get too close to young Skywalker, Errant Knight would offer an opportunity to play as a rogue, exiled Jedi, balancing duty with survival and featuring numerous locales and familiar faces and buoyed by a robust combat engine replete with various non-lethal options, including mind-control and disarming (literally) antagonists.

Duality

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“I am your father. Also, sorry about the hand.”

Dream Developer: Namco-Bandai or NetherRealm Studios

Genre: Fighting

It’s difficult to fathom that there hasn’t been a dedicated lightsaber fighting game based on the visually appealing, cinematic ballet of the lightsaber duel. (And no, Masters of Teras Kasi doesn’t count)

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Yeah, this was a thing.

Duality would be a fighting game designed specifically to emulate the look and feel of the combat as seen in the films, with a wide offering of playable Jedi, Sith and even a few Expanded Universe additions like Mara Jade and Revan to round out the roster. Instead of merely being the equivalent of Soul Calibur with laser swords, Duality would have a combat engine where deeper techniques, including deflection, parrying, the utilization of stance, along with footwork and maneuverability, would form a unique experience similar to something like Ubi Soft’s For Honor, but with a faster pace and verticality built into the level design.

Han Solo: Enemy of the Empire

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“Lucas wasn’t there. I was. I shot that green bastard first and I regret nothing.”

Dream Developer: Remedy or Naughty Dog

Genre: Third Person Shooter

Before he was a hero of the rebellion, husband of Princess Leia and a kabob on the end of his angsty son’s lightsaber, Han Solo was a top-notch smuggler and man of fortune.

Han Solo: EOTE would chronicle a pre-New Hope smuggling mission gone awry. When a job he takes on inadvertently intersects with a covert Imperial assignment, Han is placed in the crosshairs of the Empire and an elite, clandestine squad set on silencing the notorious rogue forever. A fast-paced, visually gorgeous shooter, (think Uncharted meets Star Wars) Han Solo would give us a glimpse at the darker side of our hero and the many exploits for which he became a reputable and feared member of the underworld.

Rogue Squadron: Ghosts

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“It’s been a long day. This planet better have an In-and-Out.”

Dream Developer: Factor 5

Genre: Flight/Combat

A belated but welcome addition to the Rogue Squadron franchise set after the events of Return of the Jedi. Wedge Antilles and company battle the remnants of the shattered Empire and chronicle the years leading up to The Force Awakens, including the eventual recruitment of Poe Dameron into their fold.

Or just let us blow up shit with Tie Fighters and X-wings.

We’re easy.

The Crucible of Darth Vader

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“I was only playable in one level of The Force Unleashed. This displeases me.”

Dream Developer: Platinum Games

Genre: Third person action/combat/adventure

Sent by Palpatine to negotiate the dismantling of the criminal organization known as Black Sun, Darth Vader’s convoy is attacked and the Sith Lord is left stranded on a hostile planet with no backup. Surrounded by a legion of mercenaries and bounty hunters, all vying for a hefty bounty placed on his helmeted head , Vader must fight his way to the very heart of the galaxy’s most prominent criminal underworld and destroy its leadership, facing insurmountable odds and generally kicking all sorts of alien ass.

Utilizing a frenetic but deep combat engine that includes melee lightsaber use and force wielding, The Crucible of Darth Vader’s gameplay can best be described as a playable version of the last five minute of Rogue One.

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Yep, you’re basically f***-ed.

So that’s my list.

Most of this probably won’t happen but I can dream, right?

Let me know what you think of my list or better yet, post one of your own.

 

Will Nintendo Screw Up a Good Thing Again?

 

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The internet is aflame with buzz over the official announcement and launch date of the Super NES Classic Edition (Sept. 29), Nintendo’s predictable follow-up to their massively popular but scarce NES Classic, which was released last holiday season but was more difficult to find than a pristine copy of Earthbound. (Not really but you get my point)

The retro micro-console, like its predecessor, will come pre-loaded with a smattering of titles, most of which are genuine 16-bit classics guaranteed to make vintage and retro enthusiasts drool like Homer Simpson in a donut shop. The packed-in software includes:

  •  Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy III
  • F-ZERO
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man® X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2
  • Street Fighter® II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania IV
  • Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts®
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!! ™
  • Yoshi’s Island

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There’s really no overstating just how ridiculously amazing that lineup of software is. Truthfully, there isn’t a bad game on that list and most are legitimate masterpieces representing the very best of the era. To further compound the awesomeness, Nintendo is including Star Fox 2, which was never released in any market, foreign or domestic, during the SNES’s storied run. (Leave it to Nintendo to debut a 22-year-old exclusive)

This is of course fantastic news. Yet, as we all move outside to dance in the streets and usher in the launch of one of the best entertainment-related values of the fiscal year, storm clouds are forming, threatening to rain on our parade. Ironically, the source of this potential torrent of negativity is the very same entity that first brought us the sun: Nintendo.

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IGN reports that Nintendo released the following statement regarding the production of the SNES Classic:

“Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super NES Classic Edition is currently planned to ship from Sept. 29 until the end of calendar year 2017. At this time, we have nothing to announce regarding any possible shipments beyond this year…”

As you might know, the NES Classic was a HUGE seller for Nintendo and its success caught the company entirely off guard, selling out consistently. I personally never saw a single unit on a retail shelf. At the same time, the micro-consoles were consistently being sold far above market value on sites like eBay. Nintendo, in response to this overwhelming success, did what any smart company would do when they have a hit product on their hands: discontinue it entirely while also giving scalpers the greenlight to start charging people the equivalent of a small nation’s GNP for a newly rarified product.

Nintendo clearly viewed the NES Classic as a one-and-done product but regardless, a considerable amount of money was left on the table when they cut the production run short and bizarrely, it looks like they intend to do the same thing with its successor.

To be fair, Nintendo has insisted they are going to ramp up production in contrast to the NES Classic but what mystifies me is their decision – at least tentatively – to publicly announce limited production on a product that clearly enjoys mass appeal. As slick and neat as the NES Classic was, the SNES Classic is infinitely better because of the software alone; precisely the type of product that could dominate the sales charts this holiday season because it possesses that truly alchemic combination of affordability, nostalgia and branding.

Yet Nintendo – simultaneously brilliant and stupid – seems ready and willing to once again snatch defeat from the jaws of an easy victory.

Nintendo has always been odd and surprisingly inept in regards to how they handle their older but still incredibly well-loved and valuable IP’s. When the Wii launched back in 2006, it carried with it the promise of the Virtual Console – an Apple Store type e-shop that would offer gamers a robust catalog of Nintendo classics running the full spectrum of their consoles in a centralized, easy-to-access hub. Unfortunately, Nintendo released those games at a trickle and the original promise of the Virtual Console never fully materialized on either the Wii or its successor, the Wii U.

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And it’s currently conspicuously absent on the Switch.

Sincerely, the NES and SNES Classics – like the Virtual Console – is a no-brainer. There’s a frothing, rapid market for this software, even with most of these games widely available as illegal ROMS that can be easily accessed on free, legal emulation software and run on practically anything that draws amperage. Clearly, people want to play these games and they want to experience them on a console that looks like a SNES so the obvious question is this:

Why is Nintendo getting in their own way in regards to selling these products?

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A concise summation of Nintendo’s current business strategy.

What’s maddening is that this decision is entirely the opposite to what Nintendo needs to be doing on the heels of the successful debut and ongoing popularity of the Switch, which has been a resounding hit both critically and commercially. After stumbling with the Wii U, the Switch has put Nintendo back at the forefront, with a console people want and software that has the masses – both casual and hardcore alike – buzzing with interest. Even when acknowledging that the SNES Classic isn’t the primary thrust of the company, it nonetheless is the equivalent of a goodwill ambassador; a modestly priced, well-intentioned device that seems downright generous in what it delivers to the consumer.

The problem is, when those consumers can’t reliably get the product, goodwill sours and “rare” becomes a synonym for “annoying.” Even if Nintendo can somehow justify this short window of product availability, announcing that the SNES Classic is, essentially, limited-time merchandise merely ensures scalpers will clog physical and online retailers, lapping up every preorder they can scavenge in hopes of selling these little machines for triple the value. The whole thing feels like a tease and I can only speculate on just how many people are once again going to be left out in the proverbial cold when the bulk of the stock evaporates before it has a chance to hit the shelves.

Of course, this is all speculative. If Nintendo produces a larger volume of inventory this time around, the saturation of product could drive down grey market prices and ensure all of us get one for the SRP, which would be a refreshing change of pace. However, Nintendo has always played it conservatively when it comes to manufacturing and it seems more likely that by the time they wind down SNES Classic production, plenty of us will still be looking to buy one and will either have to settle for inflated, egregious prices or go without.

Nintendo has done so much right these last few months that it’s a shame to see them revert back to the type of behavior that leads to an unsatisfied consumer base. The SNES Classic looks to be a great product and an exceptional value and if Nintendo doesn’t have enough sense to get one into the hands of every consumer who wants it, that’s on them.

I hope they get it right this time.

(And I really hope I can get one.)

Happy Hunting.

A Gorgeous, Generous Slice of Nostalgia: A Review of The Unofficial NES/Famicon: A Visual Compendium

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[The following is not a paid endorsement nor is it something written for or at the behest of the company that sells this product. I recently purchased this book as an enthusiast and merely wanted to share my response to an exceptional product.]

For those of us who grew up during the heyday of Nintendo’s popularity, specifically the advent and widespread success of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), there is an almost immediate, emotional response to the images of classic, 8-bit videogames. These pictures conjure and evoke a warm cascade of emotions, harkening back to adolescence and transporting us to another place and time, when gaming was a young and simpler medium.

Personally, when I come across such imagery, I immediately think of blowing air into grey cartridges to remove dust, bombastic, often bizarre cover art, and pixelated visuals that were – almost miraculously – able to convey a bevy of actions, stories and characters using only a simple, plain and artful aesthetic.

In the decades since the NES debuted, the graphical fidelity of videogames has progressed rapidly, giving us playable experiences that rival the best CG-animation while gradually moving us towards genuine photorealism. And while such technology is exciting, the 8-bit aesthetic, instead of evaporating into irrelevancy, has emerged as something of a counterculture; a direct resistance to the cinematic and visually complex composition of modern software. In that sense, there is something very fitting about Bitmap Book’s wonderful NES/Famicon: A Visual Compendium, an endeavor that requires the reader to flip through its pages at a slow, deliberate pace and appreciate images that were initially designed to dart across the eyes at dozens of frames per second.

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Bitmap Books is a small, independent UK publisher that is largely funded by Kickstarter but don’t let that fact dissuade you from checking out their website and ordering a book (or two) as their products are of the highest quality and caliber, evidenced by the NES Compendium (the first of many books I plan to buy from them) which is a slick, softback volume encased in a hardback sleeve and embossed with a holographic replication of the cover art. At over 500 pages, this is a hefty volume but what surprised me the most about the book was its paper quality and binding, especially given the relatively modest price tag of £24.99 GBP. (31.70 US)

The book is a sumptuous visual treat, containing a robust smattering of classic NES games ranging from Nintendo-made exclusives to third party offerings, each with a brief but interesting bit of unobtrusively placed expository text detailing each game. With nearly 200 titles mentioned, this compendium doesn’t include every NES game within the console’s massive catalog but does highlight the majority of essential software with a few notable exceptions. Each game enjoys an attractive, two-page spread that displays – with a motionless clarity – the pixelated art and effectively makes each of these selected images worthy of being individually framed. A handful of games enjoy a larger, four-page fold-out display and while the titles that receive this extra-special treatment seem arbitrarily chosen, they are a welcome addition nevertheless.

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Impressively, despite being touted as a visual resource, this book also contains a bevy of interesting, well-written information, including a preface that gives a detailed account on the history of the NES/Famicon and several key interviews with designers, programmers, and artists in regards to their experiences working on games for the console. It also includes a segment where numerous, brief testimonials from every day people share their passion for the NES and its software. Additional segments include fan artwork, a sampling of various box art, and an addendum that contains images from unreleased games, many of which I didn’t know existed. (The Superman game looked exceptionally cool)

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Ultimately, it reads like a slick combination of a coffee table book and an encyclopedia and I’d say that no genre enthusiast – especially those who love this particular era of gaming – should be without it. The Unofficial NES/Famicon: A Visual Compendium is a well-crafted, hearty bit of nostalgic fun and a comforting reminder that while you can’t go home again, you can certainly visit.

My kudos to Bitmap Books and all the people involved in the construction of this excellent and enjoyable resource. You can order this and other similar books at their website: https://www.bitmapbooks.co.uk/

  • Bill R. Boggess

It Comes at Night Review : A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

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Being an enthusiast of the horror genre isn’t particularly easy given the crap-to-quality ratio of films released each and every year. I imagine lovers of other genres probably feel similar but sincerely, I feel that horror aficionados exist on a very specific and pronounced plane of frustration, having to wade through equal measures of banality and mediocrity to find even a competent entry worth a two-hour investment.

To further complicate matters, contemporary horror films seem to be struggling through an identity crisis of sorts, with studios adopting a safe, well-worn approach (which in my estimation is dishwater-dull) to the types of horror projects they pursue (i.e. James Wan flicks) and independent filmmakers often classifying their endeavors as horror when in reality they are something else entirely, using the label to attract a certain demographic.

It Comes at Night, which has been heavily marketed as a horror film, is most definitely the latter.

Which is to say it’s not really a horror film at all.

Let me quickly preface the remainder of this review with an understanding that I’m not trying to indulge in some sort of enthusiast-driven snobbery or hair-splitting. This isn’t an academic or myopic rant about what constitutes a “true” horror film. The fact of the matter is that by way of just about any objective metric, It Comes at Night simply isn’t a horror movie.

In actuality, it’s a post-apocalyptic drama; a dour, bleak deliberation on the fragility of society and how rapidly our civility evaporates in the face of existential crisis and impending extinction. It is also not particularly fresh nor insightful given the bevy of films that have already explored this well-trodden thematic.

For the sake of full disclosure, I’ve seen a smattering of post-apocalyptic films over the last year, including Z for Zacharia, Bokeh, and Into the Forest, all of which were released in 2015 or later and all of which are also bleak, character-driven narratives focusing on difficult decisions their respective characters are forced to make in the face of their own encroaching mortality. It’s safe to say the genre at this point seems a bit played out – especially accounting for zombie films which can also be categorized in this subgenre – and truthfully, I enjoyed all of the aforementioned movies better than It Comes at Night, which suffers from a plodding, poorly-paced script that is steeped in the redundancies of the genre, recycling worn tropes to such an extent that the film is entirely predictable in terms of its narrative trajectory.

That isn’t to say it’s a poorly-made film; it most certainly is not. The film is well shot, the cast is excellent, including the always laudable work of Joel Edgerton, playing Paul, a father whose singular goal is to keep his family alive by adhering to a strict, intractable set of rules in the face of a nameless plague that appears to have decimated humanity. He and his wife Sarah (Carmen Elizabeth Ejogo) and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) live a purposely sheltered and insulated existence and we are immediately introduced to their uncompromising ethos of survival when Paul is forced to kill Sarah’s father, who is infected and dying, immolating his body immediately afterwards.

The film offers little exposition; the virus and its origins are purposely ambiguous and we are never given the scope or expanse of the contagion. The film sets up and sticks to the family and their microcosm, making it a personal and minimalist endeavor. Eventually, Paul and his kin reluctantly take in another small family, and the film deals with the uneasy day-to-day ebb of flow of their collaborative existence that, unsurprisingly, goes south rapidly once paranoia and fear creep in.

The problem is that outside of some excellent cinematography, It Comes at Night is regrettably banal in the story it tells. With films like The Road and 28 Days Later having already astutely explored the vicious devolution that inevitably accompanies the breakdown of society in the face of a post-apocalyptic world, watching this film and its characters navigate similar circumstances and situations isn’t particularly interesting. There isn’t a single beat in this film that isn’t telegraphed and worse, for a movie that attempts to convey a more grounded notion of an end-of-the-world scenario, it is mystifying how entirely unrealistic and downright stupid the characters are sometimes forced to act, dampening the impact of the subsequent dramatic consequences that follow.

The climax of the film rings particularly false and is entrenched in violent, inhumane extremism on the part of the protagonists that isn’t earned or justified by their prior acts. It’s a nasty but telegraphed ending and it comes off as incredibly hollow, leading to an abrupt resolution that is clearly meant to be artful in its profundity but comes off as borderline pretentious and skirts dangerously close to being pointless.

My biggest gripe however, is that It Comes at Night was marketed and sold as a horror film yet contains nothing remotely scary or horror-themed. The closest thing we get to genuine horror are the surrealistic dreams Travis suffers each evening, but even these nightmares have a tired, familiar aesthetic about them. And while the movie is certainly depressing in terms of content, there’s nothing overtly frightening here. Especially perplexing is both the title of the film and the occasional allusions to night being especially treacherous but this idea that is never explored or expounded upon. The title itself seems to be an allusion to Travis’ dreams, which some might view as a clever sleight of hand but I personally consider part of a larger, purposely dishonest marketing campaign to attempt to garner a certain type of viewer with false promises.

And again, It Comes at Night isn’t a horrible film. Director Trey Edward Shults clearly possesses an abundance of talent and if you haven’t seen any of the myriad of exceptional post-apocalyptic movies scattered about over the last fifteen years, you might find the experience far more engaging. However, for the rest of us looking for something new or genuinely scary, it is unlikely you’ll find much here.

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