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Month: May 2020

Some Brief Thoughts on Streets of Rage 4

It’s October 1993. I’m turning 9 years old. My birthday party, arranged by my mother, is being held at Discovery Zone. For those who don’t remember, Discovery Zone was sort of a more play-based version of Chuck E. Cheese. Less mouse mascots, more indoor zip-lines and ball pits to climb through. It’s pretty much exactly what a 10 year old would want.

That said, my real want at the time was a Sega Genesis.

Somehow, I’d almost completely missed owning a video game system as a child. Besides a secondhand Atari 2600 which didn’t do much to hold my attention, my only exposure to video games was through my relative’s Nintendo and Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems. I never had one of my own.

But lo, on that fateful birthday, I opened the gift wrapping from a large present from my mother, and there it was. The Sega Genesis. But not just any Genesis, it was the “Fighting System”, which at the time, included my hoped for Sonic the Hedgehog, a mail-in slip for Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and some other game…Streets of Rage 2.

I was on cloud nine.

I came home that night, and after putting some time into Sonic the Hedgehog, which was as exciting and attitude-filled as the game promised, I decided to give this “Streets of Something” a shot.

And then I heard this music drop.

My 9-year-old brain absolutely melted.

Here was a game which played like the arcade brawlers I’d sunk quarters into at local mom-and-pop eateries (like Final Fight, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, and who can forget that massive X-Men cab?), but it was MINE. And that soundtrack. WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON.

This is a dopamine hit which I’ve spent my life, through to this very age trying to chase.

Now, literally 27 years later, I’m reliving all of these moments again, thanks to Streets of Rage 4.

Hitting PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox and PC this past Friday, I’ve put a few hours into the game, and while I’m recognizing how much my skills have atrophied, I’m pleased to say that the team at DotEmu have 100% delivered.

The game itself is beautiful, with high definition, hand illustrated frames for each fighter. The game play is as punishing as ever, and for better or for worse, the controls are almost 100% the same as before. They seem to have added some weapon tossing/catching mechanics, but…my kingdom for a double jump and a block! Maybe this is 35 year old me speaking instead of 9 year old me. But, I digress.

I’ve played both solo and, appropriately socially distanced online play (though I could do co-op in better times), and the game plays like a dream. This is what Streets of Rage was in my mind’s eye, even if some of those higher-resolution graphics have revealed how poorly I had connected the dots with some of the 16-bit pixel graphics back in ’93.

Simply put, if you’re gaming today, and you have that fondness for the Streets of Rage franchise, throw the money down. You’ll, even if just for a moment, feel that joy again. I know I did.

Oh, and as for the soundtrack this time around? Yep. Still rules.

 

Streets of Rage 4 is available now for Sony PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Xbox One and PC.

Apple’s Online WWDC Set for June 22, 2020

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced it will host its annual Worldwide Developers Conference virtually, beginning June 22, in the Apple Developer app and on the Apple Developer website for free for all developers. The company also announced the Swift Student Challenge, an opportunity for student developers to showcase their love of coding by creating their own Swift playground. Now in its 31st year, WWDC20 will be an opportunity for millions of creative and innovative developers around the world to get early access to the future of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS, and to learn from Apple engineers as they work to build app experiences that enrich the lives of Apple customers around the globe.

Pretty cool stuff. I’m not even a developer – though I code a lil’ bit here and there – and I might check some of this out.

First Trailer for Netflix’s Space Force

The first trailer for Netflix’s new comedy Space Force has arrived, and while it’s not quite the Office rehash one would expect, given that it’s a re-teaming of Greg Daniels and Steve Carrell, it does look pretty darn good.

A decorated pilot with dreams of running the Air Force, four-star general Mark R. Naird (Steve Carell) is thrown for a loop when he finds himself tapped to lead the newly formed sixth branch of the US Armed Forces: Space Force. Skeptical but dedicated, Mark uproots his family and moves to a remote base in Colorado where he and a colorful team of scientists and “Spacemen” are tasked by the White House with getting American boots on the moon (again) in a hurry and achieving total space dominance. From co-creators Carell and Greg Daniels (The Office), SPACE FORCE is a new kind of workplace comedy, where the stakes are sky high and the ambitions even higher. John Malkovich, Diana Silvers, Tawny Newsome, Ben Schwartz also star, alongside co-stars Lisa Kudrow, Jimmy O. Yang, Noah Emmerich, Alex Sparrow and Don Lake. Howard Klein/3Arts (The Office) serves as executive producer, with Daniels as showrunner.

What an absolutely looney cast. No idea how they got Malkovich for this.

Space Force lands on Netflix on May 29, 2020.

The Unexpected Joys of Middleditch & Schwartz

Late last month, Netflix — as they are want to do — added to their ever-expanding lineup of comedy specials with something rarely seen in the world of filmed and produced comedy: a series celebrating long-form improv, Middleditch & Schwartz.

Starring the titular Thomas Middleditch (best known as the lead of HBO’s Silicon Valley) and Ben Schwartz (of Parks & Recreation or voice of Sonic the Hedgehog fame), Middleditch & Schwartz is the end result of literally seeing a live comedy show come together before your eyes. They take a prompt from the audience, ask some questions, and then weave a tale running roughly an hour.

Literally, that’s all they’ve got to go on. And miraculously, it works. Sure, it helps that Middleditch and Schwartz respectively have both been improvisers for roughly two decades each, but each of the three specials is truly funny, and more importantly, truly alive.

A lot of writing has been done in recent memory about the media and content people are using to self-medicate during this pandemic. I’ve mostly tried to avoid the topic on here, so as not to bum folks out, but the secret ingredient of Middleditch & Schwartz is the “third member” of the show. The audience.

The live audience, like you at home, lives or dies based upon how quick Ben and Tommy can be on their feet. If it works, it’s amazing – you want the magic trick to continue. But if it didn’t work, you and the audience both would be completely uninterested. This is how it’s easy to see why no one had really ever brought improv into a properly produced format before. What makes the shows presented here so savvy, however, is that both improvisers are willing to break the fourth wall. They acknowledge their screw ups. They point out in jokes. They’re not afraid to engage when they’ve lost the plot. But more than anything, they keep saying “Yes.” And in turn, so does the audience.

I went into watching Middleditch & Schwartz looking to laugh and have a good time. I left watching it realizing how much I miss being a part of a live show — as a performer or an audience member — but the joys of their show, if just for 50 minutes at a clip, reminded me of how truly alive a great show can make you feel.

Throw it on. Laugh, hard. Have a great time.

Middleditch & Schwartz is available via Netflix, now.

Tom Cruise to Make a Goddamned Movie in Motherfucking Space. What the fuck.

Deadline:

I’m hearing that Tom Cruise and Elon Musk’s Space X are working on a project with NASA that would be the first narrative feature film – an action adventure – to be shot in outer space. It’s not a Mission: Impossible film and no studio is in the mix at this stage but look for more news as I get it. But this is real, albeit in the early stages of liftoff.

I did my best to homage The Onion in my headline there.

Seriously, while his religious politics are questionable at best and scummy at worst, I enjoy how late-era Tom Cruise has a Jackie Chan-level death wish.

Just sad that he’s gonna get to space before the Fast & Furious crew will.