Friday, August 29, 2014

Ray-se Your Own Zombie Army Through Ray's the Dead Kickstarter Campaign

I love it when monsters appear in video games, but there aren't nearly enough games out there where players can actually be the monster. Thankfully, Ragtag Studio hopes to address this unmet need through a Kickstarter campaign for Ray's the Dead, a morbidly humorous zombie game.

Ray's the Dead puts players in the lumbering footsteps of Ray LaMorte, a zombie who has just risen from the grave. He doesn't remember how he died or what the glowing device is that has been attached to his head. Throughout the game, players control both zombie Ray in the present and living Ray in flashbacks to solve the mystery behind Ray's resurrection. Players can also use the device that's stuck to Ray's head to turn enemies into controllable zombie minions.

From what I've seen and read about Ray's the Dead so far, it looks extremely promising. The Kickstarter campaign has already reached its initial goal for producing the game for PC, Mac, Linux and Playstation 4, and additional stretch goals include voice acting, an additional boss fight, a release for Wii U, and more. Go to the official Ray's the Dead Kickstarter page for more details. You can also check out the game's preview video in the window below.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Marvel Movie Universe Soars to Greater Heights in Guardians of the Galaxy

I haven't seen many movies in the theater this summer but of the two I did see, I'm glad that they were both Marvel movies made by Marvel itself: Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. (On the other hand, I haven't seen Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past, this summer's Marvel movies that were not made by Marvel.) I don't know how Marvel does it, but it makes the production of entertaining, interconnected superhero movies look so easy.

In contrast to the tense, somber Captain America movie that kicked off the 2014 blockbuster season, Guardians of the Galaxy is a wild, humorous romp into parts of the Marvel universe that aren't located on Earth or Thor's home world of Asgard. As such, Guardians is more of a pulp sci-fi space opera that's told with a wink and a smirk--due in no small part to director James Gunn, whose filmography includes oddball genre flicks like Slither and Super--but superhero fans won't be disappointed.

The basic plot of Guardians is that a group of space-faring misfits--including a two-legged talking raccoon and a hulking, tree-like being who can only say "I am Groot!"--come together to stop an evil alien fanatic from using an ancient power source to destroy an entire planet. This is run-of-the-mill popcorn sci-fi stuff, but the creative sparks that make it worth the ride are Gunn's direction, a witty script, jaw-dropping special effects, and a willing and able cast that includes Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. In case you're wondering how far Marvel has come in building its reputation for making films, consider this: It was able to cast noted acting talents such as Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro and John C. Reilly in bit parts in Guardians and it looked like they were having a blast anyway.

Of course, what would a Marvel movie be without nods to other Marvel movies and comic books? Guardians has got that in spades, providing a treasure trove of Marvel trivia that could launch even more spin-offs. Cameo appearances are made by the Chitauri (the villains from The Avengers movie) and Dark Elves (the villains from Thor 2), and a subplot includes one of Marvel's supreme villains, Thanos (the character who made a cameo appearance at the end of Avengers). While there will be a sequel to Guardians, there are enough nods in this film to open possibilities for Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock, Nova and many other characters and story arcs from the Marvel archives.

Keep it coming, Marvel. I can't wait to see what you bring to the silver screen next.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Red, White and Mego: Diamond Select Toys' Marvel Retro Captain America 8″ Figure Set is Available for Pre-Order

Diamond Select Toys has just announced that it is taking pre-orders for the next installment in its Marvel Retro series of limited edition 8-inch Mego figure sets: Captain America. The first set for Spider-Man was announced a few months ago, and upcoming sets are rumored to include Iron Man and Wolverine.

Like the Spider-Man set, the Captain America set will be a limited edition that features a precise recreation of the original 1973 Mego Captain America action figure along with additional head and hand sculpts, costumes, and accessories. Unlike the Spider-Man set, none of the head sculpts, costumes or accessories will include nods to the '70s era live-action TV version of this superhero. Then again, the '70s weren't very kind to Cap, since that particular incarnation (played by Reb Brown) looked to merge him with attributes from motorcycle stunt superstar Evel Knievel, presumably for merchandising reasons. Even HYRDA wouldn't be that cruel.

Captain America from the '70s: Genetically-enhanced Super Soldier 
and motorcycle stunt attraction. Top that, Chris Evans!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Retro Review: Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce (1985)

Lately, I've been getting a kick out of The Strain TV series. I haven't read the novels, but I enjoy how Strain's creators Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan have reimagined vampires into hosts of wormy, body-mutating parasites while being true to the key details that make vampires what they are (e.g., blood-sucking, fear of sunlight, preference for sleeping in coffins, etc.). It's also cool that The Strain depicts vampires as a disease-like epidemic; in fact, long before George Romero started the first zombie plague in his 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead, Richard Matheson depicted a vampire plague in his 1954 novel I Am Legend.

If you're impressed as I am with what The Strain has done with vampires, then you might want to take a look at another unique depiction of the notorious night creepers: Lifeforce, the 1985 sci-fi thriller that was directed by Tobe Hooper. Read on for my review of this odd, spectacle-driven vampire tale.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Classic Atari Game Consoles Live on at the AtariAge Store

In the vast realm of geekdom, it is not uncommon for avid fans to take matters into their own hands whenever the market fails to meet their merchandising needs. If an insufficient amount of collectible items are produced for a particular franchise, fans will take it upon themselves to fill the gap through homemade resin model kits, customized action figures, detailed costumes and so on. Some fans will even do this for video game consoles that were discontinued ages ago, which bring us to the topic of this post: AtariAge, purveyor of homebrew video games for the classic Atari consoles from the '70s, '80s and '90s.

The first issue of Atari's Atari Age magazine (1982 - 1984), 
the source of AtariAge's name.

To call AtariAge an exercise in nostalgia is an understatement--it aims to completely recapture the Atari gaming experience for its homebrew games by selling the in system-specific cartridges in boxes that are modeled after the Atari video game boxes, including colorful cover art. If you just want to play old Atari games, there are plenty of emulators on the Internet that you can download; if you want the full Atari game playing experience, AtariAge is the place to go.

Four of the homebrew games available at AtariAge.

AtariAge sells homebrew games for the following Atari systems: 800, 2600, 5200, 7800, Lynx and Jaguar. It even sells homebrew games for ColecoVision, one of the consoles that rivaled Atari's in the early '80s. AtariAge's inventory also includes magazines, posters, and a selection of hardware items for those who are looking to modify their classic consoles.

I have to give AtariAge lots of credit for what it does, especially in a hobby area that thrives on cutting-edge technology and is built on the model of planned obsolescence. Video gaming is a culture in its own right and it's nice to see that someone is keeping the memory of gaming's early days alive in the years before online gaming gave pathological jerks places to vent their endless streams of bile.

Click here to go to the official AtariAge site, which also includes podcasts, discussion forums, blogs, and other stuff for classic gaming enthusiasts. You can also check out the AtariAge YouTube channel which features video clips of its many homebrew titles.

Here's a selection of Atari consoles that were provided by AtariAge to this month's
Classic Game Fest in Austin, TX. If you look closely, you'll notice that most of them
have been modified for stereo sound and S-Video and Composite output.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Go on a Kaiju Killing Spree with Wii U’s Tank! Tank! Tank!

Boy, times have changed for home video game consoles over the years. Way back in the early ‘80s, my friends and I judged the quality of a console by how closely it could recapture the video game arcade experience in the comfort of our homes. We wanted to play arcade hits like Donkey Kong and Pac Man in front of our TV sets without spending mountains of quarters, so we wanted to get as close to the original games' graphics and game play as possible.

Generations since that bygone era have looked elsewhere to evaluate the quality of home video gaming, because arcades have largely disappeared from the pop culture landscape. Thus, it came as a surprise to an old-timer like me that Wii U’s release of Tank! Tank! Tank!, an extremely faithful port of Namco's multiplayer arcade game from 2009, was received by many current generation gamers with a combination of bewilderment, boredom and disappointment.

From what I read in other reviews, many gamers had no idea that Tank! Tank! Tank! began as an arcade game so they dismissed it as z-grade shovelware. Leave it up to an old-timer like me to clear up the confusion: Fans of classic arcade shooters will get their money’s worth from Tank! Tank! Tank!, as will anyone else who has an appetite for super-destructive monster mayhem. Read on ...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Galactic Space Saga Gets Tiny in Hasbro’s Star Wars Command Toy Line

As with previous years, this summer's San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) previewed the release of many new TV series, movies and toy lines connected to familiar, well-worn franchises. Star Wars was one of those franchises at SDCC, with an upcoming movie trilogy in the works, an animated TV series named Rebels that's premiering this fall, and a wide selection of merchandise to keep the fans engaged and excited. The merchandise came in a wide selection of sizes, and one of the most intriguing and fun set of items appeared in a very small size: Hasbro’s new Star Wars Command toy line.

Star Wars Command takes characters and vehicles from the six movies and Rebels and gives them the plastic toy soldier treatment so that kids can re-create some of the saga’s epic battles. (No word yet on whether future Command released will include characters and vehicles from the Clone Wars animated series.) Command sets will feature multiple miniature figures and vehicles from one of four factions: Republic, Separatist, Rebel Alliance or Imperial Empire. Most of the figures will be soldiers, with an occasional "General" figure based on one of the major characters from the Star Wars saga. There’s a possibility of additional character types--I saw a picture of several Tusken Raiders (a.k.a. Sand People) on display with the other Command toys at SDCC --but the initial toy line appears to be focused on the saga's most heavily armed groups.

Star Wars licenses have yielded plastic toy soldier-like lines before, with varying degrees of popularity. Kenner first tried with its Micro Collection line back in 1982, but that didn’t sell well and disappeared before Return of the Jedi arrived in theaters the following year. Galoob added Star Wars vehicles, characters and play sets to its Micro Machines and Action Fleet lines and although they were a hit with toy collectors, the design of those items placed a much greater emphasis on compactness than combat-oriented play. In contrast, Star Wars Command aims to let kids engage in all sorts of scale-sized chaos.

In addition to the figures, the miniature vehicles in the Command sets come with "Strikers", pull-back motors that can be clipped to the vehicles for ramming into figures and other vehicles. The largest Command set comes with a remote control Star Destroyer; not only does the Star Destroyer move forward and backwards, but it also splits apart to launch "Energy Blast" balls. I'm hoping that if this toy line takes off, more RC toys based on larger Star Wars vehicles will become available and play sets will be produced based on key battles with the saga. For example, I think a play set based on the Hoth battle--complete with a battery-powered ion cannon that launches "Energy Blasts"--would be a great addition to the line.

Click here to see a complete list of Star Wars Command sets that will arrive on toy store shelves this fall, and check out the video below that shows a demo of the toy line from last February's American International Toy Fair.