Saturday, December 31, 2011


Well, I thought we'd commemorate the end of 2011 (a year I will be exceedingly happy to throw in the bin, because God DAMN it sucked) and post #400 of our little miracle we call Witless Prattle by completing the circle on a somewhat infamous feature.

If you remember, back in the Prattle's first year of issue, I looked at The King of Fighters XII, which was the most recent--and the first HD-ready--installment in the now nearly twenty year old series.

It was a disaster, and I was not kind about saying so.

Essentially, what we got was a half-baked game that had some great-looking character animation, but had no storyline, no end boss, and half the moveset gone. My litany against this awful, awful, game was only one of many--pretty much everyone panned it, and it was such a failure, in fact, that talk was afoot that SNK would probably be finished.

Well, since today we're looking at the 13th installment, the answer is "obviously, they weren't." The even better news is this: The King of Fighters XIII is the return to form that XII should have been, and features pretty much everything that was missing from that misbegotten mess.

This is good and bad, but we'll get to that in a little bit. The storyline picks up from XI again as effete antihero Ash Crimson finally pays off his ongoing master plan, which, I'm not going to lie, started out being overly baroque and ends in the most "wait, what?" way possible and a lot of things get explained and yet don't. I'm being intentionally vague, but even if I explained it in detail it would still make your head explode.

If this seems like an awful lot of tortured plot for a game which involves people beating the crap out of other people, let me remind you that previous storylines involved clones and satellites blowing up cities and millennia-old Japanese mythology. This is just about par for the course.

Gameplay-wise, things are back where they should be, featuring the usual teams of 3 vs. teams of 3 combat and an insanely cheap boss at the end, as is the custom with SNK games. To round out the package, there is a massively increased roster with a substantial increase in moveset (supplemented by 3 DLC characters who act as enhanced alternate versions of three of the cast members) two unlockable characters, and several different play modes.

It's not all sunshine and roses, however. The online is god-awful, despite the legion of killjoys online who will try to make it out to be your fault for not having a wired connection and playing with a joystick The Way God Intended. Fortunately, Atlus is on the case and an online patch is on the way to deal with the crippling lag which is a problem because . . .

KOF XIII has the strictest damn inputs for special moves I have ever seen. And given the depth of the combat system this time and how dependent it is on cancelling moves into other moves and all that, and since online is such a major part of the fighting game scene nowadays, it's kind of a major flaw.

(Then again, one might say that overly byzantine combo and combat systems, coupled with strict inputs and a rather unforgiving learning curve is what ensures your fighting game falls more on the Street Fighter 3 Third Strike--which demands a certain investment of time and is not for everyone--end of the scale, rather than the more accessible Street Fighter II, which pretty much anyone could pick up and play. I'm not saying that one or the other is good or bad, I'm just saying this is what the split between depth and accessibility looks like)

But the general underpinnings of it are sound (and they are making some headway to working on the problems, which is more than we ever got for KOF XII) and I've had more fun with this game than I have an game in a few months (though Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 was still the winner of the year) and over and above all that it's great to be able to have one of these end on a high note, so let me bottom line this by saying that the sins of the past are put to rest, and I have plenty of hope for King of Fighters XIV. This game is well worth your time.

Monday, December 12, 2011


(Beginning a new feature that will hopefully expand the scope of the Prattle, provide some content and has nothing to do at all with the fact that I haven't had any comics to talk about in a fortnight or so, here we take a look at my other big obsession--80's cartoons)

So, back in the early-to-mid 80's, thanks to a loosening of advertising guidelines with respect to children's television, it became OK to create cartoons based on toy lines whose sole purpose was to show off the toys with only the merest skein of a story to hold the whole thing together. This coincided with the rise of syndication as a major force in filling program hours (this would ultimately be killed dead by the infomercial at the end of the decade, but that's another rant altogether) The upshot was--there were more independent stations (typically UHF) and they needed airtime filled, and these were a good investment, as kids tuned in every day and pestered their parents for what they saw, and kids, being creatures of habit around the age of 10, would set aside hours of their live to circle round the TV and watch the damn things.

I speak from experience.

Now, for a successful cartoon back then, you needed a couple things. The first was a toy deal--whether the toy company instigated it or would back you with one later on is immaterial. The second was, you needed 65 episodes for a single season (Think about that--cartoons now are lucky if they have 65 episodes in their entire run) or enough to run an episode a day for five days of the working week for three months time.

So, when you get right down to it, mass production is really the goal here more than artistic expression. It's nice if it happens and the people are involved enough and care enough to raise it over and above the level of a toy ad, but in general the main goal is to full 65 half-hours and sell that bastard across the country. Then, if all goes well, you come back and do 65 more.

There are a number of ways to do it. Robotech squeezed three anime series together and sanded off the rough edges as much as they were able to make it a generational saga. Voltron did the same with two other anime series (though really everyone only knows the first one) Transformers did a 13-episode first season, and made up the difference with the second, G.I. Joe did three five-day miniseries before they rolled out the other 50 episodes in its first season.

Now, the point of this discursive blather is to set up a problem--generally, whatever your storytelling engine, sixty-five episodes of it is a fucking awful lot to do. Imagine watching the Coyote chase the Road-Runner every day for three months and see how long it takes you to get sick of it. Even the best shows can get numbing after awhile--how many times can you watch He-Man punch Skeletor, or Mumm-Ra get his ass kicked by furries (or heaven help us, Berbils) before the episode is a foregone conclusion?

Which finally, however many hundred words I've written thus far, to the subject of today's little rant: The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, a show you've never heard of, but should definitely check out, as it's an interesting little curio that generally managed to stay fresh through its only 65-episode season.

It also has one of the most badass intros of all time:

(Yes, you were just dropkicked in the face by the 1980s. Take it and like it.)

The folks behind Galaxy Rangers came to the table with a number of influences in their heads--Thunderbirds, X-Men, anime (especially Space Adventure Cobra) The Velvet Underground (no really!) and Westerns (obviously) and decide they were going to smoosh all that together into a tasty melange which manages to be traditional and offbeat and pretty awesome.

The general plot is more of a skeleton for the various sub-stories to run through, but here we go: After mankind has it's first contact with friendly aliens who give them hyperdrive technology, mankind starts its early colonisation efforts, which are fairly on-the-nose references to the Old West. However, as mankind makes its way to the stars, a crumbling but still powerful interstellar empire, the Crown, is still a force to be reckoned with.

From here, the plot vectors off in several directions, each of them a storytelling opportunity. Sometimes (merficully rare) episodes would involve a range war between colonists, or problems with aliens or colonisation tech gone amuck, Or the Rangers would run up against one of the minor gangs that plagued the colonies--the Black Hole Gang, Captain Kidd, and the awesomely named, yet sadly underused, Daisy O'Mega.

But the two main threads were directly tied to two of the Rangers, and it's past time we got to know them, so let's ROLL CALL this!

ZACHARY FOXX--The leader of the group, Foxx is tied most directly to the threat of the Crown Empire, as in the opening episode, his wife is kidnapped by the Empire and turned into a Psychocrystal (The leader of the Empire, the Queen of the Crown, creates Psychocrystal to power her Slaverlords, who enforce her will across the galaxy. Humans seem to make the most awesome psychocrystals) To get her back, Foxx gets cyborged and can turn his hand into a cannon. He's also played by Jerry Orbach who was on Law and Order forever. I would like to think these two things are related, but can't really finesse a reason why they would be.

NIKO--The Token Psychic Girl who's not a Token Psychic girl, Niko gets to kick ass with the boys and thankfully avoids being constantly kidnapped or a useless shrinking violet through most of the run of the show. Niko's psychic power is enhanced with the strength of her bionics (all the Rangers are cyborgs) but even if she didn't have that, her tendency to jumpkick people in the face or draw on them with the Ranger equivalent of a sawed off double-barrel shotgun. Niko is pretty damn hardcore, is what I'm saying.

SHANE GOOSEMAN--Man, the Goose, despite having a ridiculous name, ended up being the breakout character on this show. Gooseman is a Supertrooper, a pre-Rangers attempt by Earth's military to create super-soldiers. This went wrong, as they so often do, and in trying to juice them up, they created a bunch of super-powered psychotics, all except for Goose, who is the only stable one. Goose's bionics give him the power of reactive adaptation--whatever he needs to do to protect himself, his body will automatically adapt to protect himself. As a condition of his duty as a Ranger, Goose is also charged with hunting down the other renegade Supertroopers, which is our other long-running subplot through the show's run. Goose is also Clint Eastwood, more or less (mostly more) and is utterly badass. If you meet one of the ten people who remember this show, there is a better than average chance, 80% will say Goose was their favourite character.

DOC HARTFORD--Doc is the plucky comic relief of the group, and he sadly gets the least character development out of our little quartet. That said he's always quick with a joke (and his humour doesn't feel all that forced), never portrayed as less than competent, and actually has a pretty interesting skillset. Doc essentially has a Six Demon Bag of computer programs which can infiltrate and take over any computer system. Even better, said Six Demon Bag is shaped like a whiskey flask, which is all kinds of awesome. Despite getting the short end of the stick when it comes to character development, he's still just as cool as all the other guys.

I'm leaving out the rest of the extended cast or I'd be here all day. Wikipedia has a partial listing of them here (though they sadly omit Daisy O'Mega), and even the show's creators on the DVD commentary joke that they would gleefully add 5 10 characters per episode and think nothing of it--whatever broadened the scope of the show and gave them liberty to explore in later episodes was fine with them. Whatever else you can say about Galaxy Rangers or how well it aged, it one cannot fault for ambition.

So, uh, why is it mostly a footnote now? Well, it had a couple strikes against it--one, they couldn't quite balance their toy deal with their syndication clearance, it had the handicap of debuting simultaneous with two other space Westerns, the seriously cool Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs and the utterly wretched excuse for a cartoon that was Bravestarr (Seriously, I have seen few shows as utterly despondently terrible as fucking Bravestarr). But their main problem (and they're pretty up-front about this on the DVD) was that the show was successful in the wrong demographic--older and college kids loved it (especially in Europe), but as demographics didn't really make allowances for more grown-up kids digging cartoons at the time so while it completed its initial order, it wasn't brought back for a second series, although there was plenty of storytelling gas in the tank.

The entire series is available on DVD (and has been marked down in price quite a bit as well) and its well worth a look, as it presages quite a few things that would become more common practice (more obvious anime influences, arc stories, a little more maturity in characterisation, etc.) and pretty much did Firefly before Firefly was a thing. It's well worth your time!