Ranting Time Reloaded

Apparently slamming the Matrix for not being worthy of the title visionary has enraged the masses, so prepare yourselves. It’s clobberin’ time.

First off, if you haven’t already, check out the article mentioned above. You can find it here.

In that article I explain that the concept of the matrix itself is pretty much identical to the matrix from Shadowrun, so I won’t get into that any further in this article. Instead, I’ll be going into the other things that the Matrix stole from.

Before I begin, however, I must point out that I do not hate the Matrix. I like the movies, they’re entertaining. I do, however, hate undue accolades. The movies do not deserve to be called visionary, and neither do the creators.

Right then, first things first. Bullet time. When the first Matrix film came out the big thing that people talked about were the bullet time sequences, mainly the one where Neo does that limbo move to dodge bullets. While the sequences did in fact look cool, they weren’t original. The bullet time effect has appeared before the Matrix. In the first Blade film bullet time is used briefly during the sequence in which Deacon Frost asks Blade to join him whilst holding a young girl hostage. Blade was released before the Matrix. Second example. Futurama. That’s right, a cartoon did it before as well. In the episode entitled “A Clone Of My Own” the Planet Express crew rescues Professor Farnsworth from the Near Death Star(a space-bound retirement home). During their escape a bullet time sequence shows the Planet Express Ship freeze in mid-takeoff, then the environment spins around it in exactly the same manner as the scene from the first Matrix film where Trinity jumps up into the Karate Kid-esque pose, then kicks somebody in the head. That episode first aired in 1999, and was written a year in advance.

The next argument for the Wachowski brothers being geniuses is their blending of religion, philosophy, and science fiction. Nope, sorry, not going to do it. Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” in 1818. “Frankenstein” blends philosphy, religion, and science fiction into a much deeper story with better defined characters. The main themes of “Frankenstein” is the debate of nature against science, man against machine. Guess what the main theme of the Matrix is. Yep, you guessed it, man against machine. In “Frankenstein”, however, Victor creates the daemon who is, in the end, the death of him. In the Matrix, the human race creates the machines to help them, and in the end, the machines are the death of the human race(most of it, anyway). The Matrix takes the theme of “Frankenstein” and makes it literal, but in the process loses the character depth and substitutes it with wooden, cliched stock science fiction characters. Neo is the staple “reluctant chosen one”. Trinity is the love interest who really doesn’t have much to her character aside from being said love interest. Morpheus is the cryptic mentor whose main purpose is to wax philosophical and propel the plot. Agent Smith is the one-dimensional villain who has no character traits aside from wanting to take over the world and destroy the hero in the process. All of these are standard science fiction archetypes that have been seen many, many times before. So, to recap, the philosophical/religious context of the Matrix is essentially the same as “Frankenstein”, which was written nearly two hundred years beforehand.

The other main theme of the Matrix is “do we really exist?”. A good, thought-provoking theme. That’s been discussed for hundreds of years. And is also the theme of a Game Boy Legend of Zelda game, which came out in 1994. In the Zelda game, subtitled “Link’s Awakening”, Link finds himself shipwrecked on an island. Eight dungeon crawls and a big boss battle inside of an egg later, it turns out that the entire island was the mental construct of the big fish that lived inside of the egg and was not in fact real. Much like the Matrix is the construct of the machines and is not in fact real.

Arguments that have been put forth as to why the Matrix is in fact visionary can be broken into several main categories. The first two of these categories have been addressed already. Those categories are technological/special effects impressiveness and the combination of religion, philosophy, and science fiction. Another of those main categories is the argument that it was a mainstream hit, and that because of that it merits the title of visionary. That argument, however, is weak, and here’s why: the insipid and unorginal beast that is reality television is riding a huge wave of mainstream popularity. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s visionary, or even good, it just means that it was marketed well and/or pandered to the lowest common denominator.

The rest of the arguments put forth as to why the Matrix is visionary involve slamming other films, which isn’t particularly relevant to the discussion. The Lord of the Rings movies did very well, yes, but no, they’re not visionary films either. Star Wars falls into the same category. A visionary film is, at it’s core, a film that tears down preconceptions about the medium and innovates something new. The Matrix did not do that.

I know that there will be those of you who read this and still think I’m a crazy Matrix-hating Star Wars geek, and that’s fine. You can continue to line the Wachowski’s pockets and phellate their egos at your liesure.

Walrus out.

Ranting Time with Walrus

“The Wachowski brothers are visionaries”. That’s a paraphrased quote from the ad for the Matrix 10 disc set, and I call bullshit.

The Wachowski brothers aren’t visionaries. They didn’t create the Matrix.

Yeah, they wrote and directed the movies, and came up with all the philosophical crap and the machines and junk, but they didn’t create the Matrix.

In the 1980s a pen and paper RPG called Shadowrun was published by a company called FASA. It’s a game set in a cyberpunk-ish setting, but magic has been reborn into the world and so there are orks, elves, dwarves, trolls, dragons, and other such beasties roaming around the planet along with the humans. That’s not particularly important to this article, though, so I’ll get back on my ranting track. Anyhow, inside the Shadowrun rulebook is a section about using a decker(a hacker-type character) to navigate the matrix. That’s right, the Matrix appeared in Shadowrun in the 1980’s, many years before the film hit the silver screen.

The Shadowrun matrix is a virtual world inside of computers that characters with the appropriate skills are able to navigate. The matrix can look like nearly anything, as can the decker inside of it. In one example from a Shadowrun novel called “Wolf and Raven” by Michael A. Stackpole(which is really good, by the way), a decker enters the matrix to steal information from a corporation. The decker is incredibly skilled and can warp the matrix to her will(Neo flying, anyone?). She’s also a baseball nut. She warps the matrix into a baseball diamond, and battles the programs sent out by corporate security to get her out of their system by putting them out in the virtual baseball game.

A virtual world that people can warp to their advantage if they have the skills, and which is populated by programs and drones just going about their business. Sound familiar? That’s because the Wachowski brothers pretty much mashed a philosophy lecture and some Hong Kong action movie scenes together, put them in a setting taken from a fairly obscure(to the non-gamer, at least) game, and called it their own.

So next time you hear somebody call the Wachowski brothers visionaries, think nice and hard. Would you call somebody a visionary if they ripped off the Matrix films? No, I didn’t think so. So don’t call these guys visionaries for ripping off an RPG from the ’80s.

Buried Treasure – Review: CT Special Forces

Fast Facts
Title: CT Special Forces
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Publisher: Hip Games
Developer: Similis

CT Special Forces came out in January 2004 with the usual hoopla of a Game Boy Advance title not headlined by a major Nintendo icon. Which is no hoopla at all, in case you were wondering. That is very unfortunate, because GBA owners are missing out on a great game for a great system that doesn’t get the respect that it deserves.

CT(Counter-Terrorist) Special Forces is a throwback to the old arcade game Metal Slug, which itself spawned several console successors, and will soon have a GBA version(which will probably be reviewed here as well). Special Forces is a side-scrolling shooter in which you take on the role of counter-terrorist agents out to rid the world of the most powerful terrorist cells. In each of the four worlds you will infiltrate enemy installations, blast apart terrorist ground forces in a helicopter, and free hostages in sniper mini-games. The variety of gameplay is what really sets CT Special Forces apart from most other side-scrolling shooters, and keeps the game from stagnating and becoming dull.

The graphics resemble the old Metal Slug games quite strongly, which isn’t a problem in my opinion because those games looked very good. You play as two different CT operatives, one clad in a gas mask and winter gear, the other in jungle fatigues. The enemies are different in each world, including parka-clad troops styled after Russians, jungle raiders resembling South American guerrillas, and of course the obligatory brown guys, most of which resemble Saddam Hussein. The chopper levels look very good, with the buildings on the ground suffering from different levels of ruination, as well as rivers running through some parts of the stages.

Gameplay is split into three basic types: side-scrolling levels, chopper levels, and sniper mini-games. The side-scrolling levels are the majority of the game and involve running around large and well-detailed environments searching for terrorist leaders to arrest(you can kill them if you want, but arresting them awards an extra life) or the item that you need to get to the next part of the area, such as a grappling hook or parachute. Of course, each of these stages is packed with enemy troops whose purpose in life is to shoot you or blow you into small pieces, and herein lies the meat and potatoes of the gameplay. Each foe requires a different strategy to defeat. Some fire high and require you to crouch and shoot, some fire low and require you to hurdle their bullets before you can kill them, and some fire chain guns, missiles, or mortars at you. The mix of run-and-gun action and deciding which weapon works best on which enemy is very satisfying and makes a stage different each time you play it.

The chopper levels involve flying a military helicopter into enemy territory, usually to drop off your CT operative into a new environment. The terrorists won’t make this easy, however, and send their own helicopters to dogfight with you. In addition, tanks fire at you from the ground and anti-aircraft batteries lauch homing missiles that take a huge chunk out of your health unless you can blow them out of the sky before they detonate. Straying from the beaten path is encouraged by health power-ups scattered in out of the way areas, although you will usually have to go through a tank or six to get to them. Sniper areas are a mid-level diversion during side-scrolling stages and require you to pick off a designated amount of terrorists within a time limit(usually two minutes). The terrorists are tricky, however, and will hide in buildings or behind obstacles in the environment to avoid being killed, only to pop out and shoot at you when you aren’t looking. In addition to killing all of the bad guys, freeing five hostages in a sniper area will earn you an extra life, which is good since I usually die at least once during these sections.

CT Special Forces is a blend of throwback gameplay with modern style, a satisfying combo that will keep gamers coming back for more. And, before I forget, keep an eye out for CT Special Forces 2, which features even more old school terrorist busting action.

Hits and Misses
+ Detailed graphics
+ Good variety in gameplay
+ Difficult but not to the point of being frustrating

– Only 12 levels
– All of the weapons used by CT operatives look the same

Return of the Kings of Metal

Seven years ago, heavy metal rocked the Northlands Colliseum.

Times have changed, the arena has changed, the show has changed… but heavy metal is back.

On March 22nd Metallica and Godsmack blew the roof off of Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and I was there amidst the guitar riffs and reefer smoke. In recent years Metallica has come under fire for their lawsuit against Napster and their latest album, St. Anger, which wasn’t really given as fair a shake as it deserved as far as critics are concerned(see Chaos’ review of St. Anger elsewhere on this site for a very in-depth analysis that puts most professional critics to shame). When the lights went down, however, not a single person in the arena could care less about Napster or the critics. On March 22nd it was all about Metallica.

But first it was about Godsmack. Because security insisted on searching every single person who entered the venue for drugs(they didn’t look very hard, judging by the entire row of folks stoned stupid in front of me), the show which was supposed to start at 7:00 didn’t begin until closer to 8:00. People complained, but once the music started all was forgiven. An extended version of “Awake” kicked things off, followed by Godsmack frontman Sully Erna informing people that there was only one rule to a Godsmack/Metallica show: “nobody sits on their asses like a fuckin’ 85 year old man”. That said, everybody was on their feet as the band tore through “Straight Outta Line”, “Keep Away”, and a song off of their first album that I can’t remember the name of. Then came “Voodoo”. Lights designed to look like candles illuminated the stage and lighters everywhere were lit. Words can’t really describe the amazingness of hearing this song live, so I won’t even try. What I can describe, however, is the dueling drums that followed it up. The regular drummer, who’s name I don’t recall started a drumline. The spotlight then shone on the second drumset, which everybody had thought was Metallica’s, behind which Sully was perched playing bongos. After several minutes and some improvised guitar and bass parts, Sully broke out some sticks and the drum duel began, with each drummer trying to outdo one another. After several more minutes, an absolutely superb version of “Whatever” and an excellent rendition of “I Stand Alone”, Godsmack was done.

After a plug for a documentary based on the making of St. Anger and all the drama involved with James Hetfield’s alcohol abuse, and an intermission long enough to allow the stage to be modified with a weird ramp thingie(excuse the technical terms) that would allow Metallica’s members to go all over the stage(which was massive) without much trouble, it was time. The lights went down and the sound came on, and it was wild. Trying to put the feeling and energy of the show into words would be a waste of effort on my part. It was one of those “you have to see it to believe it” sort of things. ‘Tallica’s playlist included “Blackened”, “Harvester of Sorrow”, “Frantic”, “St. Anger”, “Nothing Else Matters”, “Welcome Home(Sanitarium), and “King Nothing”, as well as the heavy hitters of the show. “Sad But True”, which was supposedly the last song of the night, was a big hit with the crowd, who sang along throughout the entire tune. Then everybody thought the show was over. Nope. Wrong. For the first of three or four times, Metallica started playing again after they said they were done.

The place went dark. Pyro the likes of which I’ve never seen before went off around the lighting fixtures. It sounded like and looked like everybody in the building had each tossed a grenade at the stage. When the lights came back up the lighting fixtures had been replaced with twisted steel hanging limply from the ceiling and “One” started up. “Master of Puppets”, the second best song of the night, and “Seek And Destroy”, number one, were the highlights in my opinion. Those two tracks had the entire audience headbanging and screaming for more. After “Seek And Destroy”, it was all over. Actually all over, not just another false ending.

I went home exhausted, smelling like pot, and basking in the knowledge that I had just attended the greatest concert of my life.

The Master of Illusions Strikes!

Title: Spider-Man: Mysterio’s Menace
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions

Back in 2001, Vicarious Visions released Spider-Man: Mysterio’s Menace for the Game Boy Advance. This time around ol’ Webhead is taking on the master of illusions, Mysterio, who has enlisted the aid of many of Spidey’s nemeses in his quest to destroy the webslinger.

Right off the top of the game the thing that stands out is the story sequences. The storyline bits are hand-drawn comic book art that look fantastic and tell the story of Mysterio’s villainous plot against Spider-Man and the city of New York as it unfolds. The story is fairly solid, beginning with Mary Jane sending Peter Parker out to get her a fishbowl. Unfortunately for Peter, news reports of chaos all over the city start sprining up, and it looks like a job for Spider-Man. Spidey swings out to save the day and the battle begins.

Speaking of battles, the gameplay in Mysterio’s Menace is surprisingly good, considering the inherent difficulties in making Spider-Man operate in a way that does the character justice. Spidey can swing on weblines by double-tapping the A button, throw punches and kicks by hitting B, stick to walls, throw web-balls, snare villains in web-nets, and even spin a web-shield to protect himself from the onslaught of the game’s assorted goons, thugs, and super-powered ne’er-do-wells. The only issue I found with the controls cropped up when Spidey was on the side of a small platform, making it difficult to figure out which direction I needed to push to make Spidey go where I wanted him to. Other than that the controls are crisp, responsive, and well-done. The actual gameplay involves moving through multi-tiered levels thrashing goons and, in some cases, searching for stolen goods or switches that will allow you to move on. Each level ends with a boss fight against one of the members of the Spider-Man rogues gallery, including such luminaries as Electro, Rhino, Scorpion, and of course Mysterio, as well as lesser-known villains such as Hammerhead and Big Wheel. The boss battles are fun, but are either very easy or very hard, with not much middle ground. Scorpion and Mysterio, in particular, are very difficult opponents, while Hammerhead and Big Wheel are rediculously easy to defeat, since Spider-Man takes very little damage from most attacks.

The bold and colourful grahpics, which are especially cool during the story sequences, are also very good in-game. Spider-Man is big and easily recognizable, as are the boss-characters. The hired thugs employed by the super-powered psychopaths that make your life as Spider-Man difficult look good, although there isn’t a lot of variation in the appearances of each of enemy classes, which include basic thugs, clowns, skeletons, guys who may or may not be AIM Agents, and ninjas(probably Hand Ninjas, but that wasn’t made clear during the game). In a neat twist, Spidey can also pick up different versions of his suit, including Spider-Armour, which increases the webslinger’s health, and suits resistant to electricty and fire, all of which change Spidey’s appearance on-screen.

The sound in the game is good, the pinnacle of which I found to be the very satisfying “UGH!” noise that the bad guys make when they’re dispatched by the wallcrawler. The music in the game is nothing to sneeze at, though, and is reminiscent of the soundtrack to the old ’60s Spider-Man cartoons with some techno-style beats mixed in to create a new and groovy soundtrack for all your villain-thrashing needs. Hey, every vicious pummelling needs the proper musical accompanyment.

Mysterio’s Menace is a solid game with bold graphics and solid gameplay, but suffers from a major flaw: enemy attacks don’t to much damage to Spider-Man and there game isn’t that long. I managed to finish the game in under two hours the first time I played it, so be warned, an expert gamer will probably be able to beat it in less time. I definitely want to see a follow-up to this game, though, as more levels and more balanced difficulty in the boss fights would make it a GBA classic. Mysterio’s Menace is a great game while it lasts, and is enough fun that I want to go back and play it again, so Spider-Man: Mysterio’s Menace gets a 7/10.

The Hits and Misses
+ Great comic-book style graphics
+ Solid control
+ Includes lots of classic Spidey villains
– Unbalanced boss battles
– Could use more levels
– Some control issues while wallcrawling

Buried Treasure – Review – The Goon: Nothin' But Misery

Fast Facts

Title: The Goon: Nothin’ But Misery
Format: Graphic Novel
Art/Story: Eric Powell
Colours: Eric & Robin Powell
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

It’s a twisted world where a mafia thug battles the undead hordes of his arch-nemesis, the Zombie Priest with no name who lives on Lonely Street. It’s the noir-influenced 1930’s which Eric Powell’s Goon calls home.

The Goon is a mob enforcer who, with the aid of his pal Franky and the motivation of the protection money that rolls in, battles the living dead of the Zombie Priest bent on the destruction of the Goon’s boss, the myserious LaBrazio. We learn very quickly that LaBrazio is not one to be trifled with, as does a television announcer and the dastardly Fishy Pete.

Throughout the pages of Nothin’ But Misery we meet the strange and hilarious denizens of The Goon’s world. The first is Fishy Pete, a gangster who, as his name suggests, is a fish-man. His arms and legs have been taken by The Goon and replaced by hooks and peg-legs, respectively, and Pete isn’t too happy about it. There’s also Buzzard, an Old West gunslinger cursed by the Zombie Priest to feast on the flesh of the dead to survive. Merle the Werewolf with an unnatural phobia of midget hands makes an appearance, and there’s even an appearance by Santa Claus and his elves. The most interesting characters however, are The Goon and his sidekick, Franky. Which makes sense, really, because they’re the main characters. The Goon fights the forces of evil for money and, more importantly, because they’re infringing on his turf. Franky… well, he’s just freakin’ hilarious. You’ll have to read the book to see what I mean.

Powell’s art brings the dark and dingy world of The Goon to life with a fairly muted colour scheme, interspersed with a billious green or a bright dash of red(usually, and unsurprisingly, blood). The Goon looks as goonish as you can get, appearing, as he describes himself as “a shaved gorilla with twenty pounds of ground beef for a head”. Pools of blackness are common and reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, which will probably appear in this column soon or later.

The Goon is probably one of the best comic books you’ve never heard of, and you’d be doing yourself a favour to pick up Nothin’ But Misery and see what’s up. Trust me, even if you don’t like comics you’ll find something to like about The Goon.

Buried Treasure – Review – Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance

Fast Facts

Platform: Playstation 2
Publisher: VU Games
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Players: 1-2
Genre: Action/RPG

It’s time to delve into the vaults and pick out another buried treasure, kiddies. This time it’s Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance for the PS2, a diamond in the rough to be sure. I think there was a Baldur’s Gate game for the PC before this one, but that game doesn’t matter at all because chances are slim that it’s as good as its console counterpart.

Dark Alliance sets you in the middle of the Forgotten Realms of Dungeons and Dragons; a town called Baldur’s Gate, to be exact. You show up, get mugged by some goons working for the new Thieves Guild, and are rescued by the city watch, who take you to the Elfsong Tavern to recover. Not exactly a heroic debut for your character(a Human Archer, Dwarven Fighter, or Elven Sorceress), but that’s okay, because pretty soon the fur starts flying – literally – when the barkeep asks you to help clear out the rats in the cellar. An exterminator job sounds lowly, but pretty soon you’ll be lopping off kobold limbs and hacking apart big gelatinous cube things and other fantastic monsters on a quest to save the world from the Dark Alliance of the forces of evil.

The gameplay is solid, featuring hack and slash style combat coupled with the RPG elements that would be expected from a game using the D&D license. There’s a button to attack, jump, use magic, and interact with the environment. You can pick up or leave items at your liesure, not only because they’ll still be there later but also because your character will complain loudly if you try to cram too much stuff into their pack. New weapons and items can be found by looting the corpses of dead foes as well as raiding the weapons stockpiles of the more organized enemies such as the Thieves Guild or the Dark Elves. You can also buy weapons and armour from the various shopkeepers, although you’ll want to keep your trips to their establishments quick, because after a while they’ll get irritating with their incessant banter.

That leads me into the sound. The voice acting in this game is, simply put, amazing. Each character that you meet has their own personality and voice, and, surprisingly enough for a game with this much dialogue, the voices don’t sound like actors reading off of scripts in a studio. I know, I was shocked too. The music isn’t spectacular, but you rarely hear it over the din of battle anyway. What you can hear between bloody clashes adds to the ambience though, so that gets a thumbs up from me.

The level up system makes up for the lack of characters by allowing you to individualize your chosen champion in a number of categories. Aside from the usual characteristic increases, you can also give your character upgrades in the various skill sets available to them. The Dwarven fighter, for example, can gain an ability called Whirlwind which allows him to heft a mighty warhammer and whip it around him in a dervish of destruction, while the Elven Sorceress can learn a magic spell called Buring Hands which allows her to spew flames from her palms to roast her enemies.

I picked up Dark Alliance at the Blockbuster by my house for ten bucks, and I found an amazing game that got me hooked mere moments into it. That alone nets Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance Buried Treasure status.

Buried Treasure – Review: Workhorse Movement – "Sons of the Pioneers"

Fast Facts
Artist: The Workhorse Movement
Title: “Sons of the Pioneers
Release Date: ’99, I think, but I’m too lazy to look it up.
Standout Tracks: “Livin’ Evil”, “Motown”, “Keep The Sabbath Dream Alive”

How many of you have heard anything by the Workhorse Movement? That’s what I thought. This obscure metal band will be the focus of this week’s Buried Treasure, so put the Limp Bizkit albums away and pay attention while the Workhorse Movement how to blend metal and hip hop properly.

When most people hear “rap metal” they scoff and mutter something derrogatory. If you listen to “Sons of the Pioneers” and still scoff and mutter, you’re clearly not worthy of it anyhow and can go back to your pop punk or whatever.

After an odd but kind of neat intro, the disc’s first actual song is “Keep The Sabbath Dream Alive”. Unlike most rap metal tunes, in which the metal part sticks to the chorus and a usually lousy backbeat inhabits the verses, the metal part in “Keep The Sabbath Dream Alive” forms the beat of the song, and the crunching guitar riffs aren’t just reserved for the refrain. “Livin’ Evil” follows with more of the same, except the music speeds up and the vocals slow down a bit. This song also has an immensely catchy hook, and for that reason alone this song should be heard by everybody at least once.

Between “Livin’ Evil” and the next standout track, “Motown”, is “Gimme Some Skin”, as well as a trio of tracks that nearly made the standout section at the top, “Zero”, “Traffic”(featuring Esham), and “Heavy”. “Zero” features a thumping beat and an interesting tale about the devil trying to find his groove and get some soul to feel. “Traffic” features Esham, who I’ve never heard of, but that’s ok, since the tune is solid with a good beat and tight rhymes. “Heavy” brings more of the same to the table, albeit sans Esham and, as the title suggests, the beat is much heavier.

“Motown” is strange yet fresh blend of styles, employing the usual metal elements, hip hop rhymes, and a horn section. Now I haven’t heard of a metal song with a horn section in it outside of stuff done with an orchestra(such as Metallica’s “S&M”), which makes this song another highlight which should be heard by everybody. Why? Because I said so, that’s why.

A few more tracks go by, then it all wraps up with “Feel Like Bob Marley”, an ode to the late reggae artist. And to smoking weed. Smooth and jazzy, it’s a solid end to a solid album. That’s it from me for now, because I’m lazy and have other stuff that needs doing, so I’ll just leave you with this: “Sons of the Pioneers” is one of the best albums you’ve never heard of. Check it out, or suffer a grisly death at the hands of a million zillion ninjas. Walrus out.

Buried Treasure – Review: Cel Damage

Fast Facts
Title: Cel Damage
Platform: GameCube
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Pseudo Interactive
Release Date: 01/07/2002

Right off the top, let me mention that for the most part Cel Damage is either completely overlooked or crapped upon by reviewers. Well they’re clearly all anti-fun. Cel Damage should be played by every GameCube owner out there, because it’s a fresh spin on vehicle combat games that’s been vastly ignored.

The opening video sets up the premise of the game, a television show in the cartoon world where the cast of contestants cruise around in their personal rides blowing the living crap out of each other for cash and prizes. That’s about as deep as the plot gets, but this game isn’t about plot, it’s about mayhem and destruction, and lots of it.

The gameplay, which has been berated in most of the reviews of this game that I’ve read, is really solid. My guess is that the “experts” got frustrated when they couldn’t master the game in the first ten minutes and quit, but I digress. The controls are simple and fit the style of play well, which basically revolves around killing as much as you can before you are in turn offed, then respawning and doing it all over again. The computer AI is pretty punishing, especially on beginning players, but once you’ve made it past the rather steep learning curve the computer combatants cease to be frustrating and settle into the territory of challenging.

The characters and weaponry are a big part of the freshness of Cel Damage. There’s Fowl Mouth, a smack-talking gangster duck from the 1930s who is in black and white because colour wasn’t invented back then, Sinder, a demon with bladder-control issues, Violet, an anime-style evil girl who likes to blow things up, and several others. The weapons are straight out of a Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon, featuring black holes that your opponents can fall into, axes to chop them in two, boxing gloves that pop out of your hood to beat your foes Lennox Lewis style, and even a heli-pack that lets you fly and fire twin machine guns. The entire game is cel-shaded, hence the title, but unlike most games the cel shading actually enhances the experience instead of just being a fancy trick designed to distract gamers. The game actually looks like a cartoon, and all of the locales(the Wild West, a jungle, Transylvania, and outer space) are beautifully done.

Each world features three different levels with their own unique challenges(aside from the constant challenge of homicidal toons trying to blow you to smithereens). For example, in the first level of the Wild West, a train periodically runs through the stage, smashing anybody who gets in its way. In the final Western level, a giant magnet can be activated that will pick up nearby drivers into a car-compacter, then ejecting them in their new form, a tiny cube. Piranhas and ravenous plants plague combatants in the jungle. A crossbow firing flaming bolts and monsters lurking in caves are featured in Transylvania, and in space screwy gravity adds a twist.

There’s no story mode, as such, but instead three distinct challenges for each stage. The three challenges are different gameplay modes. Smack Attack is a deathmatch style affair in which combatants wreak as much havoc as possible in their quest to reach 500 Smacks first. Killing opponents garners various amounts of Smack points depending on how you killed them, so wholesale carnage is the name of the game here. In Gate Relay your goal is to pass through the pair of gates alternately until you’ve gone through a total of twenty gates. How you do this is really up to you. I personally prefer to drive through one, then turn around and go against the flow of traffic to get back to the other one. The final mode is the intense Flag Rally which has contestants trying to gather four flags and make it to the designated goal. The catch is that the flags have legs and flee when you approach, and when the computer characters realize that you’ve finally managed to get four flags they’ll come after you with all the fury of a rabid lemur. Completing all three modes in every level of a world unlocks a new addition to the playable toon roster, such as Whack Angus, a homicidal bull, or T-Wrecks, a dinosaur-gone-Hollywood.

At the end of the day, Cel Damage is all about fun. Rampaging, explosive, destructive fun. Give this game a shot and I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s Buried Treasure.

Buried Treasure – Review: "Astrocreep 2000" by White Zombie

Fast Facts

CD Title: “Astrocreep 2000”
Artist: White Zombie
Released: 1996
Standout Tracks: “I, Zombie”, “Real Solution #9”, “More Human Than Human”

Not too long ago, Rob Zombie’s lastest album, “Past, Present, and Future” hit record store shelves. Along with Zombie’s solo work, the new disc featured some old classics from White Zombie, where it all started.

With Halloween a few days ago, I figured that now would be the perfect time to review this album in Buried Treasure. “Astrocreep 2000” is one of, if not the greatest albums in the history of metal. Combining elements of industrial and techno with traditional metal and some strange sound effects work, Astrocreep is a defining moment in metal on the whole.

The first track, “Electric Head Part 1(The Agony)” displays the aforementioned sound effects work more than an y other track on the album, with the first minute or so building into the track with weird effects and voice-overs. This is followed up by “Super-Charger Heaven”, a thundering symphony of metal riffs with some voice-over stuff put in for good measure. “Real Solution Number 9”, one of the best tracks on the album, is up next. I’m not even going to describe this one, hear it for yourself, it’ll be better that way.

I’ll skip ahead a bit now, up to “I, Zombie”, which features, among other things, a sample of a classical song, a goat bleeting, and one of the catchiest riffs ever. Everybody taking the time to read this should do themselves a favour and listen to this song. And read my other columns. “More Human Than Human”, the eighth and probably best known song, is an amalgam of industrial metal and techno beats with Rob Zombie’s strangely distorted voice crooning along with it.

And thusly, my slacker review has come to a close. Honestly, I shouldn’t even have to be hyping this album, because it really shouldn’t even be buried treasure, it should be credited in a hall of fame somewhere, but alas, it is buried, and so shows up here. Thank you, and good night.