August 22, 2007

Metroid Classic

About a decade after its initial release, I finally conquered Samus Aran's debut adventure in the Metroid franchise.

Despite owning a Nintendo Entertainment System about a year or two after it surfaced on American shores, much like Godzilla does in Japan, I had very little Metroid experience. Sure, I've had a few rounds with it because a friend of mine had a copy, but I didn't get my own cart until the NES passed the torch to its super successor. It was a cheap purchase, but didn't get much of my attention in lieu of other games. The reason I never gave it the full play through it deserved is because... well, it was too difficult.

That wasn't the only chance I was offered to delve into the planet Zebes to splatter The Mother Brain. Nintendo gave players a chance to play Metroid if they hooked Gamecube's Metroid Prime up to Game Boy Advance's Metroid Fusion. Also, another GBA release called Metroid: Zero Mission, a remake of the original, rewarded you with the NES version upon completion of the game. But I never felt the desire to go old-school with Samus until only a few days ago.

My chosen vehicle for excavating Zebes was Zero Mission. Anyone who's familiar with the franchise knows that all games beginning with Super Metroid featured an in-game map, because every mission Samus accepts takes her through an underground labyrinth. But as I said, "beginning with Super Metroid". Metroid 1 didn't offer you such a luxury, the game was one of the earliest releases of the NES era that even required you to enter a 24 character password in order to continue your progress after turning the system off. So what would you have to do in order to find your way through the vast tunnels of Zebes? Grab a pencil and paper and map it out yourself! That's not a bad thing for the most part, mapping your progress was enjoyable. However, even that couldn't save you as you continued further into the game.

Arguably the worst aspect of Metroid was its repetitiveness. When you reach the areas known as Norfair and Hideout I, you begin to experience deja vu, as well as deja vu of the deja vu you already had. That's because the corridors within each section feature the exact same layout, from the positioning of the obstacles to the enemies featured within. So while you're making a map while traversing identical locations, you start wondering if you already charted that area before, rendering your personal guide useless. But this being the 21st century, there's always the Internet and its vast resources to help you out. I cheated a bit and headed to GameFAQs to look for a more trustworthy map just to find out where the hell I was going wrong in Kraid's Hideout. I noticed I missed quite a few valuable tools during my initial journey through Norfair because there was a small piece of floor I failed to bomb that would grant me access to the nether regions of that place. So I back-tracked, collected the missing upgrades, and then straightened myself out on the path to Brinstar's boss.

Another aspect that can be perceived as a flaw at first is the high difficulty level when you first start off on your Metroid murdering mission. You get a weak little beam that's fine for taking out the crawling Zoomers and dive-bombing Rios of Brinstar, but when you advance further and meet up with the thicker-skinned residents of Norfair, such as Gerutas and Multiviolas, it's best to freeze them and continue on because they're powerful enough to weaken you with only a few attacks. And if you die, you're resurrected with only a measly 30 health units, which will only let you survive two hits from more powerful enemies. Novice players will probably forget that missiles are good for offense as well as opening a few red doors, so they'll probably want to conserve them. But let me tell you that a lot of enemies drop missile refills upon defeat, so go ahead and blow those critters to smithereens. It'll make your trek much easier until you can equip yourself with the Hi Jump Boots, Varia Suit, Screw Attack, and Wave Beam. Then you'll be tearing through aliens... excuse me, extraterrestrials, in no time.

So if you can accurately chart your progress and survive the frustration of getting knocked around repeatedly by pipe bugs and hopping monsters, Metroid is a pretty fun game. But I highly recommend the upgraded version Zero Mission because it solves the problem of repeating corridors by cutting down on them and offering more variety, and low and behold, comes with an automatic map feature that keeps track of where you've been and where you're going if you download data from key rooms within each region of Zebes. It also adds a few new weapons, another part of the planet to explore, a more advanced plot, and a surprise after you complete the original game's objective.

Now I just need to buy a Wii and download Kid Icarus. That's another classic I had very little playtime with that I would like to tackle. Fun note: Metroid and Kid Icarus were created with the same game engine, as evidenced by the password feature.

And that's just the way it is.

Bonus: Here's the map I created to help me through the game. No wonder I got lost.

Who's Afraid of Edward Albee?

I just completed reading Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, another book version of a somehow "popular" play. The front cover proclaims it as "the most talked-about drama of the last ten years." Most likely on how atrocious it is. It received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Tony Awards as the Best Play of the 1962-63 season. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess it was the only play during that season.

This book features a small bio of Albee, and mentions that he began his writing career with poetry and novels, which he himself thought weren't good. So he decided to turn his sights to big theater productions to torture people. People who apparently didn't know much about what's good. I mean, I did mention all the praise his plays, including Virginia Woolf, received.

A question you've surely wondered upon hearing of this story's title is "who is Virginia Woolf"? Upon reading the book, I can assure you that Virginia Woolf is... nothing. The book title itself is a line in some nonsensical poem the loonies break out singing for no reason at all at certain points in the book. The characters, or maybe just the author himself, belong in an asylum. Now I realize all the characters are supposed to be drunk throughout most of the story, but you can see in the beginning that two of them are screwed up in the head long before alcohol enters their systems. Now that I think about it, if you're the kind of person that enjoys watching your friends getting sloshed out of their minds, you might like this story.

There are only four characters in this book. The entire play takes place at a house on the campus of a New England College. A Streetcar Named Desire was shorter, with more characters, and was wholly more interesting. The premise is something along the lines of what's real and what's fake in the lives of two of the characters that you could only "get" if you dissected the book. With a fine tooth comb. Those last two sentences made more sense than this story's plot. The play-viewing audience didn't have such a luxury to cross examine this story, so rather than seem uneducated and unrefined, they claimed what a masterpiece the spectacle they just saw was to impress the rest of us who didn't get it. Apparently, a movie studio comprised of lunatics themselves thought this play would make a good film, which means it is forever burned onto celluloid to horrify and mislead people into thinking what a "timeless classic" this dreck is.

I know people will end up telling me the "meanings" behind the more confusing aspects of the story. Hidden meanings. You're not supposed to have "insider knowledge" that your audience isn't privy to. That'd be like if I wrote a story about Jose Canseco and Sammy Sosa. See? You don't know what the hell I'm talking about because it's an inside joke shared between me and two others. But that didn't stop me from making an entry in my web comic about it...

Following this book, I sifted through the case containing my father's books from his youth and discovered Romeo and Juliet. But the book is a neutered iteration, meaning it's rewritten to be more comprehensive to a modern (read: modern back when my father was a lad) audience. In addition, it decided to help us out more by inserting explanations throughout the book in case we still couldn't understand. Jeez, if it's that hard for you, invest in the Cliff's Notes version. So I'm abandoning Shakespeare's masterpiece until I can find an unaltered version.

And that's just the way it is.

August 5, 2007

A Journey To The Streetcar Named Desire

This entry will contain reviews of two stories I recently finished reading: a novel and a play.

A Journey to the Center of the Earth was written by a not-so-obscure author named Jules Verne. I actually read it by my own will, not against it. It seems most people may only read classical literature if assigned to by one of their English professors. But as a budding novelist myself, I feel that I should be familiar with most of the writings by the pioneers of my trade. Now there's no requirement for any writer to read the classics, and by no means am I being forced. The reason these stories earn the distinction of "classic" is because they're still heavily regarded today because of their quality. And most, if not all, of the more celebrated pieces of literature have already been made into movies of differing value, some even more than once.

A Journey was written in 1986. Wait, that was the date of the First Signet Classic Printing. It was actually penned/penciled/inked in 1864. Truth be told, I actually hated Verne's writing style after attempting to read a couple of his books in school, 20,00 Leagues Under The Sea being one of them. I guess my brain hadn't fully developed, because when I recently started A Journey I could hardly set it down and understood it all. Well, except for a lot of the scientific explanations. You see, it's been documented that Verne likes to explain the science in a lot of the missions and devices seen in his works. I see the value in this, as it brings an air of logic to his story, even if it is fictional, but it would most likely turn off readers nowadays with short attention spans that require non-stop action to be thrown at them. The scientific musings are shared between...

The main characters: Professor Hardwigg, his nineteen-year-old nephew Harry, and their Icelandic guide Hans. The story opens in their house in Germany, with the Professor boasting about an old book he purchased and an encrypted message that was found within. After about a day of both Harry and his uncle trying to decipher the code, it's Harry who accidentally discovers the translation. Immediately, Hardwigg plans for the expedition to the portal into the Earth's interior as described in the note. Jules Verne supplied the characters very brilliantly with the necessary provisions to survive such an arduous trek. The story becomes more addictive when the characters finally make it inside the Earth, because you want to know what they'll find within. Despite the fact the narrator (Harry) tells us that the book is an account of his journey after he returned from it, there are many times you wonder if he's going to expire anyway.

My favorite character in A Journey is neither the Uncle Hardwigg or nephew Harry. It's actually Hans, their hardworking guide during their tour of the bowels of this big crazy rock we call home. As long as he receives payment every week, he'll do his job without complaint. He is silent through most of the journey, usually only speaking a word or two in his native tongue to inform the Professor of what to look out for. Silent, resourceful, all business. Kinda like myself.

There's a point towards the end of the book where Harry is referred to as "Henry" for quite a few pages, although it reverts back to Harry by the finish. An error is editing, or a pet name given to him by Hardwigg?

My next foray into reading was going to be Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Foretopman, but the problem that prevented me from enjoying Verne's works in the past now affects me in the present. Though written in English, it's all too foreign to me. To make matters worse, it's full of words which seem to have fallen into disuse over the years. Even my spell checker is telling me that it doesn't believe "foretopman" is a real word. But I guess one thing I would have in common with my literary predecessor is that we invent words without telling anyone and slyly pass them off as real, convincing those who read them that they are "high level" words, only used by the Masters of English.

So I gave up on Billy Budd after the second chapter. That's when I looked through my father's old book collection he acquired for his school years and found another classic called A Streetcar Named Desire, the play by Tennessee Williams adapted into book form. Williams also wrote Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, but not Fiddler On The Roof. It was written, or at least copyrighted, in 1947. It's also where the famous line "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers" originated. I'm pretty sure most of you only know this story as being "performed" on The Simpsons, but that was only a parody. A Streetcar contains twelve active characters, the main ones being Blanche DuBois, her sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski (no relation to Killer). Blanche, a wilted Southern Belle, is trying to escape her old life by moving in with her sister and brother-in-law in their house in New Orleans. Stanley is a chauvinistic blue-collar worker whose personality naturally clashes with Blanche's. He also tends to hit his wife Stella when he gets angry, then apologizes profusely for his behavior which always brings her back to his stable. I'm just glad this is only a work of fiction and a situation like that couldn't possibly occur in real life. The story also contains undertones on homosexuality and pedophilia, two subjects which I thought were never referred to back then.

I finished the whole book... or should I say play... in a day, starting on my lunch period at work, continuing when I got home, and then finishing it before going to sleep. Fun fact: the original play featured a then-unknown Marlon Brando as Stanley, who didn't even get top billing.

I'm now reading another play adaptation called Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. This ancient tome is priced at ninety-five cents, which should probably give you an idea of how old this edition is. The pages are also falling out, and they have that aged pulp stink which will make this story hard to read on an empty stomach during lunch.

Tennessee Williams. Could I get away with calling myself Rhode Island Gannon?

And that's just the way it is.