Video Game Review: Mercs (Arcade)

As I’m trying to get the most out of my RetroPie’s MAME section, I wanted to revisit another classic arcade game that I used to play the shit out of but haven’t touched in almost thirty years.

Mercs took a lot of my hard earned money when I was in sixth grade. They put one in at the arcade next to the chicken wing spot my family would go to. I’d always run next door and then baffle my mother when I’d come back ten minutes later, already depleted of the five bucks she gave me.

I actually liked this game so much that I ended up getting it a year or two later on the Sega Genesis. However, the arcade version is still the superior one.

This takes the side scrolling beat’em up gaming style and makes it a shooter that actually scrolls from bottom to top as you move up the level, blowing up everything from shacks, tanks, jeeps and human beings trying to shoot you first.

It’s highly energetic and just a badass experience.

For fans of the Ikari Warriors games or Commando, this is basically more of the same but for lack of a better term, this is like those games on steroids.

It’s also not too long where Ikari Warriors felt like it went for friggin’ weeks.

This has solid graphics, smooth gameplay and you can kick its ass in about a half hour. Granted, it’s good that I can play it without quarters now, as my playthrough probably would’ve cost me the same as a down payment on a Kia Sorento.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other button mashing arcade shooters of the late ’80s/early ’90s.

Comic Review: Captain America: Winter Soldier, Vol. 2

Published: October 11th, 2006
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Steve Epting, Michael Lark, Mike Perkins

Marvel Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

This was a pretty good second half to the original Winter Soldier story. I liked the first half a bit more though. But I think that’s because reading this lacked tension, as I knew that Winter Soldier was actually Bucky and that he’d come around and start to see the light.

That lack of tension is my fault for taking so long to read this story. It’s certainly not Brubaker’s fault and I’m sure this was tense as hell for those that read it for the first time in 2006 without any knowledge of the Winter Soldier character.

I like that Brubaker does spend a good amount of time flashbacking to World War II and the Invaders era. The context was nice and the parallels between Cap and Bucky’s lives then and now was well done.

This story also adds in Falcon and Iron Man, which obviously influenced the MCU films that saw these two characters chime in on Cap’s relationship with Winter Soldier.

Like the previous volume, the art was really good and Brubaker truly benefits from having solid artists on his Captain America books, as they definitely enhance the atmosphere and tone of the plot in the right way.

For Cap fans who haven’t read the Brubaker run, you’re doing yourselves a disservice. Hell, for fans of just the movies, this is definitely worth checking out just to understand the depth of these characters’ bond.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the rest of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run.

Film Review: The Human Duplicators (1965)

Also known as: Jaws of the Alien (video title), Space Agent K1 (Germany)
Release Date: March 3rd, 1965
Directed by: Hugo Grimaldi
Written by: Arthur C. Pierce
Music by: Gordon Zahler
Cast: George Nader, Dolores Faith, George Macready, Barbara Nichols, Richard Arlen, Richard Kiel, Hugh Beaumont

Hugo Grimaldi Film Productions, Woolner Brothers Pictures Inc., 100 Minutes, 80 Minutes (cut)

Review:

I’ve had a lot of good luck lately with watching and reviewing films from classic episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. What I mean by that, is that the last few films were actually enjoyable and not total poop.

The Human Duplicators, on the other hand, is a return to form for what is the quality of the typical film riffed on MST3K.

At least this one has a cool poster, though. Also, it was trippy as hell in some parts and it featured Richard Kiel, most famous for playing Jaws in the James Bond franchise but also seen in another MST3K featured film, Eegah.

The premise is about a bunch of aliens that clone humans. I mean, I guess the film’s title gives the cloning thing away. But other than the general premise, this is such a mess of a film that it’s hard to pay attention to the shoddy details.

The acting is terrible, as is the direction and the general look of this picture. At least, as far as the cinematography and lighting go. Although, some of the sets were imaginative but that’s probably due to their trippiness and because I was on edibles while watching this. But don’t be fooled, the sets still look like they’re cheaper than a Huddle House hooker in Starke, Florida.

In the end, I can’t recommend this movie but I did enjoy it enough with Joel and the ‘Bots making fun of it.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other bottom of the barrel schlock that owes its continued existence to Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Book Review: LIFE: Film Noir: 75 Years of the Greatest Crime Films

While this was technically released in a magazine format, it’s written more like a book, is devoid of ads and I read it on my kindle. Also, I want to read more specialty magazines like this for review purposes but since there are only a few I have, at the moment, I’ll categorize them with books for now.

This one looks at film-noir throughout history. It’s really broken into two sections: one that deals specifically with classic film-noir and then a latter section that deals with neo-noir, showing the effects and influence that classic noir had on later motion pictures.

The films selected here are all pretty top notch pictures in the genre. I thought it a bit odd that Sunset Boulevard was omitted but this magazine did seem to put its focus more on noir that were primarily crime dramas. But not really mentioning the impact of that film, as well as the influence of Citizen Kane, as far as style goes, seemed off. Especially when this does mention the stylistic influences it took from German Expressionism.

But I’m not going to gripe about those films not really being on the radar of the staff that put this together.

I think that this would have been a better and much richer read had it been put into something larger than a magazine. I blew through this in an hour and while I liked reading about the films discussed here, each chapter was pretty damn short. But I also get that this is more of a crash course and primer on noir movies than a full semester at film school.

The best part wasn’t even the write ups about the films, though. It was actually a lot of the captions that came with all the photos thrown in here. I learned more new information that way than from the film write ups themselves.

Reading this was a breeze but frankly, it left me wanting more… a lot more. But there are several great books on film-noir that give you a lot more meat and potatoes.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other books on film-noir: Into the Dark, Film Noir FAQ and The Dark Side of the Screen.

Comic Review: Exilium

Published: September 27th, 2018 – July 25th, 2019
Written by: Ben Slabak
Art by: Salomon Farias, Marc Sintes

Alterna Comics, 192 Pages

Review:

I’ve been a fan of a lot of Alterna’s comics. In fact, I subscribe to everything they release because you can’t beat the price and almost everything is quality.

This one didn’t resonate with me though.

I found that kind of surprising as I like sci-fi stories, especially involving war and drama. And this was also a pretty epic release for Alterna, as it was six issues, the finale was double sized and it took nearly a year for the entire arc to come out.

I think that the art didn’t pull me in. It was definitely competent, it just wasn’t a style that I liked. Frankly, I thought the art and the colors were kind of drab.

As far as the story went, I just couldn’t get myself to care about it.

So with those two main components not clicking in the right way, it made getting through 192 pages kind of a slog.

Now the majority of other reviews and comments I’ve seen about this series are fairly positive. Some people really dug the hell out of it.

But at this point, I’ve read a lot of Alterna’s stuff. Some of it isn’t my cup of tea but most series I still find something I enjoy in them. For instance, I would have never picked up Cyco KO on my own but it amused me and made me a fan.

Exilium aimed high and it was ambitious. In the end though, it just didn’t connect.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi releases by Alterna Comics.

Film Review: Arcadia of My Youth (1982)

Also known as: Space Pirate Captain Harlock: Arcadia of My Youth (English title), Vengeance of the Space Pirate (US dubbed version)
Release Date: 1982 (Japan)
Directed by: Tomoharu Katsumata
Written by: Leiji Matsumoto, Yoichi Onaka
Based on: Captain Harlock by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Toshiyuki Kimori

Toei Animation, 130 Minutes, 101 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“At the end of their lives, all men look back and think that their youth was Arcadia.” – title card

I never really knew who Leiji Matsumoto was. As a kid, I loved Star Blazers though and I had heard of Captain Harlock but I never knew that they were associated. Had I known that, I probably would’ve watched this film when it came Stateside.

Now, I’m trying to rectify the injustice of not watching Matsumoto’s other work. So I started here, as this was free for Prime members and because I’ve always been intrigued by Captain Harlock, even though I’ve never seen any of his shows or films.

Maybe I should have watched the earlier anime series first but this does serve as a prequel to it, as well as a prequel to one of Matsumoto’s other creations, Galaxy Express 999.

This is a space opera at its core but that was Matsumoto’s modus operandi and he was able to craft fantastic tales within the genre. Arcadia is no different and ultimately, this made me want to watch the earlier Harlock series.

The thing that really works and makes this so compelling is the tone and the atmosphere. Visually, it’s both dark and fantastical.

The opening scene with Harlock in his biplane being confronted by the spirit of a witch that haunts the Owen Stanley Mountains of New Guinea is pretty breathtaking and lures you in like you’re being pulled by a powerful phantom’s grip. And maybe that’s the witch coming through and having an effect on the audience. Point being, the opening is so well crafted that it made me a fan of this picture from the get-go.

Everything that follows is also pretty fascinating. This is a story with a lot of drama but most importantly, high adventure.

The hero is cool, most of the other characters are great but most importantly, the design of the ships, vehicles and the universe they inhabit is imaginative and stunning.

The audio is presented in mono and I’m not sure if a remastered stereo version exists but the mono sound kind of adds to the atmosphere. Granted, that could also be nostalgia triggering in my brain, as it gave me the same experience I had watching old VHS tapes of Star Blazers and Voltron.

If anything, this feature film sold me on the franchise and further strengthened my appreciation for Matsumoto.

I’m not sure where my odyssey through Matsumoto’s oeuvre will take me next but watching the original Captain Harlock series, as well as the Galaxy Express 999 stuff is a must.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Captain Harlock films and shows, as well as Leiji Matsumoto’s other work: Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.

Video Game Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)

I fed this arcade game so many quarters in 1990 that I never had money to buy anything else. I usually had to persuade my mum into giving me more quarters, as well as giving me an extra allowance just for comics.

Anyway, I’m glad that I can play this whenever I want now and the quarters are free because with MAME, I only have to hit “select” to add credits.

This was and still is one of the all-time greatest side scrolling beat’em up arcade games in history. Sure, the genre was going strong by the time that this came out but it took things to a new level. Maybe that’s because the Ninja Turtles were the biggest thing in pop culture in 1990 but even then, this is such a perfectly polished and energetic game that it’s greatness can’t be brushed off simply because it’s associated with a massive franchise.

The controls are superb, the gameplay is fluid and this isn’t a beat’em up that gets dull or all that repetitive. Each level feels fresh and new, the levels aren’t too long and even if you are fighting a dozen enemies at once, you don’t get so overwhelmed that you have to blow through quarters just to get off of one screen.

What’s also great is that this was a four player game. So you and four of your friends could jump in together and kick Foot Clan ass. Even if you didn’t have friends with you at the arcade, there was never a shortage on kids ready to jump in and give you a hand. I actually met some friends this way.

This was an arcade game that I would often play to completion. It was perfectly balanced on its difficulty and every kid felt like they could beat it without completely going broke. There are days where I played through it twice in a row.

The Nintendo port that came out after this was never as good. It always felt like the cheap, incomplete and buggy version of its superior arcade father. Granted, the NES version did add some interesting new levels and characters.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling beat’em up arcade games from the era, especially involving turtles.