Saturday, July 14, 2018

An Assortment of Random Cards.

You ever have one of those moments where you're looking through your stuff and begin to wonder, where did all this come from? Perhaps you're confused as to how you ended up with a set of hobo clown paintings, or those Star Trek III Taco Bell glasses. Recently for me it's been cards, just tons of cards. Partly this is due to subscription boxes like last months Dino Drac Fun Pack, other times it's just leftovers from childhood, The largest offender is my recent obsession for dead collectible card games. While these old playthings used to command heavy price tags, they can currently be gotten for a song. Not one to let this influx of forgotten excess go to waste, I figured we'd make a post of it. So fix a drink, lean back, and let's look at vastly outdated paper products from the collectors bubble era.

As far as comic imprints go I've had very little exposure to Valiant outside of my brothers sighed copy of Turok #1 which is still floating around here somewhere. That lack of familiarity helps to create an odd mix of fun and bewilderment when looking at these cards. I mean it's one thing to have heard of X-O Manowar, but to learn he teamed up with a time-displaced Native American dinosaur hunter to take on spider aliens simply boggles the mind. This knowledge is delivered via cardbacks featuring quick recaps of individual issues of the different comics. This could have been a cool feature back in the day for fans to quickly relive fond memories but as it stands now it's simply a barrage of unsolicited spoilers. I'm currently equipped with knowledge of characters I've never heard of, dying in issues of comics I'll never read. It's like having a stranger walk up and tell you key events from season 4 of Falcon Crest.

If you prefer your camp art to be a bit more childish, maybe the Adventures of Ronald MacDonald is more up your alley. If you're able to collect the full series then you're treated to a stories of Ronald's Adventures with just flat-out odd art. Most interesting of all are the jokes. Awful, terrible, piss-poor dad style jokes printed on each card like “What kind of Dog Loves air-conditioning?” “A Hot Dog!” Give that on a try the next time you want out of a social function.

Linking the themes of primeval beasts and children entertainment we have this card series based on the obscure Disney flick, Dinosaur. You won't find many folks talking up this film but by god did Disney ever push for it to be a massive hit. These cards are pure excess. We're talking postcard size with an envelope for packaging. Sadly most of them are composed of out-of-focus film stills though there are a few more colorful entries to perk things up.

Oh Saved by the Bell, that timid sitcom for normal kids who failed to understand that Saturdays were meant for Tales from the Darkside and American Gladiators. In this case we've got card for the short lived prime-time spin-off the college years. If you ever craved a collectible card set that will give your your own Kelly Kapowski only to guilt-trip you for it, here's your chance.
Actually the guilt is delivered via a Leslie card. She was a new character who served as another potential love interest for resident sociopath Zack Morris. The card in question features a quote where she chastises Zack for treating woman like trading cards. No shit, this may be the first self-aware card I've ever come across. Hope it doesn't mind being stashed under my bed.

The Weird-Ohs franchise is one of those topic you find to be much larger than you ever imagined. Starting as a line of model car kits with a decidedly cartoon bent that also spawned different card sets based on various sports like Surfing and in this case baseball. This is actually from a reprint set which thankfully didn't trim out any of the more violent subject matter.

One of the earliest collectible card games coming hot on the heels of Magic: The Gathering, Wyvern focused on real mythology utilizing beings like Tiamat and Beowulf or my personal favorite the Lambton Worm. Why that one me hardies? Because of the song my friends, ohhh the song. If you've never had the opportunity, I suggest spending some time on Youtube and getting that little diddy wedged into you gray matter. Personal recommendation for the renamed D'ampton Worm version from Lair of the White Worm.

Yet another early CCG this time based on a pen and paper RPG with a decidedly 90s attitude. On The Edge is a painfully dated creation that reminds us of the era of Johnny Mnemonic and chumbawomba. I have yet to spend much time with these after my sister got me the burger box packed full of a metric fuckton of cards. At a cursory glance I gotta go with patrol ape as it's the closet thing I have to a playable version of killer baboon flick, Shakma.

Lastly we have Kaijudo. A remake of the earlier Duel Masters game which essentially boils down to Magic: The Gathering sans all the bullshit. This is a much more streamlined and quick playing title aimed at kids. Sadly it went belly up after a couple of years supposedly due to some later developments that completely screwed the game balance. Haven't gone through many of these cards yet but I enjoy the lack of subtlety on display. There's little confusion as to what a guy named Soul Crusher is all about.

Thus ends our adventure through stack of old junk. For those of you impatiently waiting for one of our regular recurring features, there should be a new Star Wars book review within the week likely followed by a new Sentai recap. Thanks for the indulging in these weird off-shoots.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

CosmicSparky's Birthday Haul 2018

I often wonder if a persons birthday has any baring on their taste in seasons. Is it simple coincidence that makes myself and my related summer-borns hate the sun and heat while those born in winter seem to cherish it? Is it some sort of cosmic joke that you naturally dislike a point in the year when you're supposed to be happy? Whatever the answer, the 4th of July came & went altering a digit on all my paperwork.
Let's set the scene for this year. Like a good amount of the U.S. My area was experiencing a nasty heat wave, ensuring that outdoor activities be kept to a minimum. No hanging out by the barbecue & lining up drinks this year, no sir. Other than some brief excursions into the searing heat it was hanging out indoors with a full house as even the cats didn't want to step foot outside. Naturally this curbed most firework activities as well though there were a few people with some nice ones that I was able to watch from the back yard before an armada of mosquito threatened to suck me dry.
Overall it was one of the least active birthdays and independence days I've ever had, to the extent that it didn't even feel quite much like a holiday, instead it was just a very odd Wednesday. Even so, as a very possession obsessed person, most people actually know what to gifts to get me which helps offset the usual dull-drums that come with aging. This was somewhat surprising this year as I figured the multitude of vet and hospital bills from all the springtime insanity would have left people high and dry. Granted you may not wish to read about my birthday haul but bear in mind us old folks like to ramble. Plus none of my other blog topics are anywhere near done. Turns out us old folks are lazy too.

My niece got a classic horror 4-pack though it’s title is a little misleading as only 3 of the films fit into a proper horror classification. Terror of the Tongs (sadly not a killer salad flick) is one of those racist adventure/crime flicks where somebody has to fend off an evil Chinese gang made up almost exclusively of British actors in horrible make-up. These kind of movies frequently sneak into budget horror collections because of studio or actor cred. In this case it’s a Hammer production staring Christopher Lee, pretty much catnip for terror lovers. Granted I’ll most likely enjoy watching Lee do his most dignified racial stereotype but the other movies are the real reason to be excited. Just look at The Mad Magician. I mean it’s Vincent Price as a illusionist on a revenge killing spree.
I received even more classic horror flicks from my parents in the form of a classic sci-fi collection (primarily made-up of monster flicks) and a blu-ray copy of Them! Hadn't seen this bit of giant-ant mayhem since the 90s and it still provides some decent entertainment, even if the ending is a little lacking.

What could pair better with fine horror cinema than some top quality hooch? Despite my enjoyment of spirits I'm not usually much of a tequila fan,. Kirklands Anjeo from Costco on the other hand is some really delicious stuff for a pretty damn good price. Not much to elaborate on with this one. If you've got a Costco membership you should probably buy a few bottles for yourself. It may be the only tequila I've found that's good straight, and it pairs excellently with a viewing of Monster on the Campus.

Yet another Star Wars novel was added to the Summer reading pile, this time in the form of a Solo tie-in titled Most Wanted. I'm well aware that I've fallen behind on book reviews lately but there will be some extra free hours over the next several weeks which should give me a chance at catching up. I've been considering how to approach further entries in the series after the past few have left me underwhelmed. Maybe finishing this current stack of four books will help me decide how best to continue.

Recently my tabletop gaming hobby has been undergoing some change with my primary focus being game design. Part of that has involved an obsession with studying old and oftentimes forgotten collectible card games like On the Edge. My sister was nice enough to grab me the burger box display, seemingly a last ditch effort to get the game in more stores as it offered a little bit of everything with minimal overhead. Clearly this product push didn't pan out as it was the last item released for the game. There’s a fascinating aspect to opening these mid-nineties relics. I think it's because there's still so much potential in these. If you buy an old stand-alone game it's just that, it will never be anything more or less. With a collectible game there's the entire lifespan of the game available in sealed packages that might contain the best or worst of what the system had to offer yet it's often available for dirt cheap. It's like a physical manifestation of untapped potential. This isn't the only beastie I've claimed as I also nabbed a sealed booster box of Wyvern and am watching far too many others for it to be healthy. There's just so many unique concepts in these old games and at such low prices, I intend to plunder them for ideas and a little fun on the side.

Beyond that there are a couple of Funko items, and a nice little two-player card game called Fox in the Forest. Furthermore I got to actually go out and do something a couple days later which made it feel as if I'd had a birthday instead of a weekday with gifts. You'd better believe getting twenty miles away from town to see a Marvel movie and pick up some picture frames makes a world of difference. Now I can bask in the glory of this Bloodsport print by Jeff Delgado. Least you think I was completely selfish on my day out, I also did some shopping for other family birthdays since they're all crammed together like sardines.

And that's the aimless story of my birthday. Hopefully it will usher in a successful year as I go back to college, expand my writing, and attempt to pitch a game design to some willing publisher. Worry not, friends. I'll not let these activities keep me from sharing all sorts of nonsense with you.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Lupinranger vs Patranger Episodes 18-21

Being that it's the eve of Independence Day, my birthday, whichever you prefer to celebrate, nothing seems quite as American as gabbing about another countries pop-culture. Actually that's just a cute excuse for being so late on recaps, as most long-time readers can attest that Summer leaves me feeling as energetic as a sloth. Right this moment I'm pratcially falling asleep in front my laptop but if I ever intend to throw some new weird articles your way then I'd best catch up on Patranger vs Lupinranger first. Should also get one of those damn Star Wars books reviewed too. Can you guess I'm not one fore Summer reading?

Episode eighteen revolves around, of all things, Good Striker. Ya know the goofy puppet thing that allows both teams to utilize their giant robots and super abilities? Well it was his time for him to receive a little emotional depth. By all rights this story simply shouldn't work but if any show can make a talking toy seem sympathetic, it's this one.
Back in episode sixteen there was a seemingly throwaway bit about how Gangler safes essentially act as their cores. The exact core they were studying which had been stored at Police HQ is restored and its Gangler back from the dead though a little different. This tips off the cops that they've got a mole in their organization. No resolution to that point just yet.
The resurrected monster is the handy-work of Destra who's working on an experiment of his own after getting some info from Zamigo. The big grenade/pineapple man (seriously, what is he exactly?) drops some knowledge on us that Kogure later repeats to the Lupinrangers. The items from the Lupin collection were originally from the villains dimension, and have been altered for usage by humans. This work was originally started by Arsene Lupin who made Good Striker to enhance and protect the collection. His focus on this creation eventually gave it a will of its own.

Good Stiker becomes the focus here as both team require his services to deal with the monster yet neither consider his feelings towards the matter. In his case he wants to defeat Ganglers to protect the collection but that means he can't let Patrangers destroy the baddies before the thieves reclaim their items. His impulsive nature means he still wants to work with both teams but thus far only Lupinranger has made an effort to understand that he has a will of his own.

While most of the action was of the giant variety, there was one scene that worked as almost proof of concept for a series like this. Since the monster was giant sized, the thieves need Good Striker in order to steel the collection piece. Patranger steals him away, acting almost like villains as they force a sentient being to do their bidding, but Kairi slips his machine into the mix. The result was a spectacular mix-up where he fights two of the cops inside the cockpit while keeping the robot fighting against the gangler.

I've noticed a trend with this series that whenever I point out something that could become a problem, the writers address it within a few weeks. It's as if they're keeping a running Talley of their weakness in order counteract them later. In episode nineteen we finally get to see Touma start to give a crap about the folks on the other side. It's not much mind you, in fact he's still probably the least developed character, but it's progress and that counts for something.
The main thrist of this little adventure revolves around Sakuya becoming the target of a Gangler who can turn invisible. The little bugger uses that ability to get the guy suspended from the police force by making him lash out against his team and a higher-up in the force. Lucky for him Good Striker and Touma are on the case and find the real culprit. Lupin Blue even encourages Striker to help the cops get some revenge. Guy has a heart after all.

We also get some additional depth to Commander Hilltop as we see himput his own job on the line to help Sakuya get back in the game. So far, Hilltop has become one of my favorite mentors as he does more to help his team than dispense nuggets of wisdom or personal challenges. It may not have been an outstanding episode but it made nice steps towards improving these three chracters.

Throughout the series there have been small mentions of the Paris branch of the world police. While a couple of them have seemed important, most slip under the radar as a bit of additional color or world-building. In fact these small asides have been hints about the new ranger and his importance to the overall narrative. All of which becomes more complicated with the arrival of Takeo Noel AKA Lupin/Patren X. We're going to talk about episodes 20 and 21 together as they are tightly linked and have so much to cover that something might even get lost in the shuffle.

I think it's safe to assume that most viewers figured the new guy would play each team off of the other. Keeping a dual-identity and hiding secrets from both sides seemed guaranteed to be the order of the day. Instead we get a far more refreshing approach in that he announces himself to be both a thief and cop, doesn't hide this fact at all. That being said he intends to protect the other thieves from the cops and protect the lupin collection all while doing his duty as an officer of the law. Though in truth he serves the Lupin family just like Kogure, answers to a different chain of command within the police force, and he's the engineer who modified the collection pieces to be usable by humans. He says that some of these accidentally ended up with the police which is why he joined their ranks but it's obvious that along with Kogure he is hiding a deeper truth.

Personality wise, Noel is a bit much. He's one of those over the top, just a bit effeminate, blowhards. At this point he could easily become an annoying presence if not for the obvious fact that there's more going on. Once we get past his flashy facade and see him build relationships with the other heroes, I can imagine him becoming much more bearable.
Throughout these two installments, Noel showcases the full potential of his duality shifting from one form to another mid-battle, aiding a team one day and fighting them the next. As you can imagine this hardly sits well with either group. In the end they come to their own conclusions about him. The Patrangers decided to believe his claim that he wants the Lupin collection to be used for the betterment of mankind though this is hardly a unanimous decision. Out of the three, Tsukasa is not that thrilled with the situation. In the case of the Lupinrangers they've decided to manipulate him to their advantage since they've got an inkling that some larger game is being played.

And with that, we're all caught up. It looks like the next few weeks will be spent pairing Noel up with different characters and finding his niche with the story. I'd imagine we'll get to another big plot development soon afterward.

I plan on being back here before the week is out, a little older but likely no wiser. Everybody enjoy the holiday and don't blow off your hands with fireworks.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Dino Drac's Fun Pack June Unboxing.

Among a trio of packages that arrived from jolly New England this afternoon is something we haven't talked about in quite some time, a subscription box. Obviously it's been a while since our last unboxing and I've missed the spice it can add to life, especially during these humdrum days of summer. Plus I like to get one of these things around my birthday as sort of a weird extra gift. With that in mind I turned to a service I'd been meaning to try for a very long time, Dino Drac's Fun Pack. This one's a little different than our usual mystery crates, now let's see if it's worth it.

If you don't know what Dinosaur Dracula is, then by god what are you doing here? You've been using the internet all wrong! DD is the delightful blog of Matt, formerly of X-Entertainment fame. I've been reading his work for... god, like fourteen years or something though I didn't interact in any form until three or four years ago. The guy's a huge inspiration towards the creation of this spot and has entertained so many for such a long time, growing a surprisingly decent little community along the way. If you have any interest in nerdy nostalgia, junk food, weekend trips to flea markets, basically a bunch of the stuff I do here, but it's even better there. You should really go check it out, but please do come back, I need all the hits I can get.

A few years ago, Matt created his own monthly fun pack. Instead of doing this as a business he uses it as a means of supporting his website. Think of it like a Patreon only with more old toys and trading cards. The thing you have to keep in mind is that this shouldn't be judged by the traditional cash-value standards of a mystery box as it's more of a thanks for supporting his work. In an effort to make the whole process more welcoming he also reveals nearly everything that will be included in advance. Because of that you can consider this more of a reaction than a traditional unboxing.

You might be wondering why if I'm such a fan o Matt's work, did it take me so long to subscribe to the fun pack? In general it's been a combination of finance and circumstance. Most of the time my money is dedicated elsewhere and as you all know I have to be careful about timing something extra like a mystery crate. It has almost always been the case that when Matt had stuff I really wanted in the box, I couldn't afford it. Then when I was flush with cash he'd have stuff that held zero interest for me.

There is another reason I've been more cautious towards this fun pack than others, and it's honestly because this isn't something from a faceless company. Usually it's pretty easy to judge a box if it turns out to be disappointing because you don't know the people involved. I've been a fan of Matt's work for so long, what do I do if the box experience turns sour? Hell; what if I open the box only to discover he leaves a horrible smell on everything he touches?

Thankfully the initial steps of the process have gone very smoothly. The price is a flat $25, and shipping is fast so when you subscribe to the June box, it actually arrives in June. Compare that to something like Cryptocurium where the August edition didn't arrive until late September. For those interested I believe this is the sort of service where if you wish to unsubscribe, you have to block further payments via paypal. Somebody please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. With all that preamble outta the way, let's dig in.

Starting off with some smaller items we've got stickers, one being particularly nice with the Cruel Summer art from Matt's current seasonal motif. I'll at least pop that one onto my record players dust cover, it'll look good hovering over my Cobra Verde soundtrack. There's also a sealed pack of Marvel Superhero stamp stickers I'm assuming from the nineties. We've also got a postcard photo which is a regular feature to these boxes. This month we see My Pet Monster vegging out one some hot summer night as he feasts on Planters Cheese Balls. Lastly is that baggie which contains two old Jurassic Park pins. It's been a long while since I've added anything to the lampshade and I'm rather impressed how well these have held up over the past two decades. The one with the T-Rex will have to go on the far side of the lamp. Don't need that thing staring at me when I'm trying to sleep.

Trading cards are a mainstay of these packs with some pretty weird series often included. This month is no different with themes like Ronald MacDonald, Saved by the Bell: The College Years, Weird-Ohs Baseball, Valiant Comics, and Disney's Dinosaur. For a fairly unpopular Disney flick they sure went all out on the trading cards. Matt warned us these were big I didn't expect something like this. The package is bigger than my credit card bills! I'm a little hesitant to open these packs up just yet since there's probably a whole posts worth of entertainment contained within. Look forward to that one.

No subscription box would feel complete without some toys. First up is a little plush Pilsbury Doughboy. I swear someone in my family had one of these exact plushies so it's odd to encounter it again. At least this one's still in the original packaging. The other toy is the real draw however. Each subscriber got one of two figures from the Spanish Super Monstruos line. I've been reading about these guys for years but never saw one in person until just now. They're much bigger and heavier than I imagined them to be, pretty impressive for a brand of knock-off monsters. I had my fingers crossed for the Bruja but ended with the still awesome Simio. It may not be as cool as an old-fashioned witch, but I ain't complaining. Thing's damn cool.

Wrapping up there's an exclusive newsletter and article just for these boxes and some foodstuffs. Usually my inherent germaphobia makes me wary of mystery box food but nothing keeps me from Herr's Ketchup Chips. Truly one of the finest crunches in all of North America and a rite of passage for any self-respecting foodie. Also in tap is a packet of Jamica Kool-Aid. This is apparently a regularly available flavor though I could swear it's never been in any nearby stores. While the temptation is there to turn it into one of my Kool-Aid pies, I'll do the normal thing and just drink this one. Really looking forward to mixing up a batch to pair with Saturday night horror flicks.

And that's what Dino Drac's Fun Pack is all about. It may not be some mind-blowing box full of exclusive items but it is a fine thanks for supporting a great website. All things considered there is a lot here to keep you entertained be it reading material, Spanish toys, or good old fashioned drink mix. Would I buy another one? Absolutely. Can I buy another one? Probably not for a while. Money's tight until funding for my return to college starts to roll in. My recommendation is for anyone who's never visited Dinosaur Dracula to go visit, and maybe try a box for yourself down the road.

On a far more serious note; while writing this article I heard the news about Roger Barr from I-Mockery. While not the biggest influence, he also provided some inspiration towards the creation of CosmicSparky and has provided plenty of entertainment through his yearly Halloween antics. He's going through an incredibly difficult situation so if you can spare a few minutes to read his post and share some good vibes and positive words, please do so. Lord knows he could use it.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

One-Thousand Horror Movies and Counting.

A nifty package arrived in the mail this week. A little stack of blu-rays that finally pushed my horror movie collection into the quadruple digits. Due to being a bit picky I always sort of doubted I'd hit this number but the more likely truth is I would have reached one thousand a long time ago if not for all my other hobbies. Still; it feels good to have hit this milestone.

What’s all the more odd to me is that I still cannot pinpoint the moment when I decided to collect these things, it just sort of happened over time. If we were to trace it to an exact moment then I’d say it was my first ever DVD purchase way back in the late nineties when I picked up Blade from the local Wal-Mart. This is back when the electronics section was a little isolated square in the center of the store. It was somewhere in the early 2000s that I actually made a habit of picking up titles semi-reguarly. Best information I have date wise is that I have been collecting proper since at least 2006. I can signal out that years thanks to a memory of buying House of Wax and a Final Destination two-pack with a promotion for the third. In case this story isn't dated enough, I was shopping at Circuit City and hadn't even been in college for two years.

So what film took the honor of my one-thousandth piece? It’s a little iffy to say since several discs arrived at once. If we were to narrow it down, I'd say the honor goes to Hell Night, a really excellent slasher flick staring Linda Blair.
If you'll indulge me, I'd like to take a bit and look over the towering monolith of terror (actually an IKEA Billy Bookcase) that I've pieced together over these long years. Obviously we can't talk about everything but let's hit on a few key categories.

The Monstervision club:

I’ve written previously about how much TNT’s Monstervision with Joe Bob Brings influenced my love for this genre, so as you’d assume I have a good stash of flicks from those old shows. Some are absolute classics like The Exorcist and Alien. Others are pure oddball stuff like The Wraith or The Monster Club. In some cases these were films I did not enjoy back then but developed a nostalgia for in the following years. Think of something like Saturn 3. I've always known it's crap but turning it on is a surefire way to feel like a kid again. Now if I could only find a mid-nineties Pepsi folding beach chair and a tube TV the experience would be complete.

Milti-feature row:

One puzzling thing I've encountered over the years are collectors opposed to multi-feature releases. Alright, so I sort of understand the urge to have one dedicated slot for each film (it definitely makes organization an easier task) but the sheer value and space-saving of these sets can't be overstated.
More than anything, these sets can bring some real surprises into your life. Way back when I picked up a volume for Motel Hell, yet another Monstervision classic, I was still enough of a horror newbie to have no clue what the accompanying film Deranged was all about. Flipping the disc over provided quite the surprise as the film became the real favorite thanks to it's grim narrative and an outstanding performance by Roberts Blossom. You all might know him better as the creepy old shovel guy from Home Alone.
Of course they can't all be golden. Consider the Mutant Monsters collection that offers up two so bad they're good flicks with The Being and The Dark alongside what may be the worst movie ever, Creatures from the Abyss. Even with those imbalances in quality there's still so much good to be found in these items that at least one will usually find itself among the weekly stack of selections.

Scream factory:

If there's any one company working towards a monopoly for my collecting dollar, it's Scream Factory. If anything they actually release too much stuff, causing budget-minded folks like yours truly to occasionally miss out. That's an easy cross to bear when dealing with a company that has given us kick-ass deluxe editions of Lifeforce, and the Halloween series, right down to unappreciated fare like The Ambulance and Blacula. There are so many outstanding titles from this one company that I could, and very well might, create a countdown of their best. Hearing new announcements is always thrilling as you never know what bit of genre history they'll unearth. They're the first line of great horror and the ones I call on for bringing back lost classics. Speaking of which, can you guys please release Full Circle AKA The Haunting of Julia? It's so damn good. While you're at it I'd also like The Wraith, Split-Second, and.. I'd better stop myself.

Vincent Price:

Even with such a grand appreciation for all the classic horror stars from Karloff to Cushing, none have ever toppled my early love for Vincent Price. Maybe it was the voice, the subtle humor, or just all that class. Whatever the cause, Price captured my imagination early on with films like The Great Mouse Detective, Edward Scissorhands, and of course House on Haunted Hill.
As you can imagine, there is a massive and still growing selection of Price films throughout the collection. Some of em are single releases, others a trapped on those 50-movie public domain sets, and then there are those beautiful Scream Factory box sets. When times are tough, a good Price flick is just what the doctor ordered.


There are always a few items that you cherish not so much due to their quality or nostalgia, but for the opportunity to show off. Of course being a lower-income fan keeps me from getting those extra nifty editions that come with toys, statues, or jumbo boxes. What I can get however are those low-print oddities and old out-of-print goodies. Consider a release like Time Walker, a tremendously goofy alien mummy affair with a print run of just a thousand copies. Remember my piece about The Entity from a few months back? What was once a $12 purchase now ranges from the mid twenties to fifties. You guys should really pick it up before it goes any higher. Ya see those Vincent Price collections? Volume one goes for hundreds now. Now that I think of it, should probably put bars on the windows.

Unknown greatness:

Possibly my favorite element of any collection are those titles that aren't universally beloved, but are little hidden gems you hold close to your heart. Round here there are movies like the hillbillies abduct an alien thriller, Altered. Kevin Costner deals with a kid going through the worst kind of Puberty in The New Daughter. From Blue Sunshine to Deadly Blessing, and often forgotten thrillers like The Return. Every collection thrives on these kinds of hidden gems mainly because they provide a unique way of bonding with people. It's one thing to show someone your movie selection and discuss titles that are pretty much universally adored. It's a whole different thing to share something they might have overlooked. That's why I'm always more eager to talk about something like Sonny Boy than say Dawn of the Dead. There's a thrill to finding and sharing under appreciated films, especially one when someone shares one in return.

Thanks for indulging my trip down consumerist memory lane. It's rare for me to have someone new to the house that I can showcase this monument too. It may be an unpopular stance but I actually take great pleasure in what I own. Not just for my sake but the ability to share those experiences with others. Looking over this treasure trove of cinema never fails to make me feel good. Knowing that it's reached quadruple digits and only continues to grow makes it feel like an achievement.

What about your collections? Any of you have a massive stash of records? Maybe one of you keeps like 800 video games in their closet. I always love to see a good collection, even if it's something I don't care about. So long as you love it and share that enthusiasm with others. Gotta take some photos for this post now and work on some other posts. We've got a lot of stuff coming over the next few weeks from a new subscription box, Sentai recaps, and Star Wars novels. Plus I just remembered it's nearly the site's birthday again. Any suggestions for ways to celebrate?

Monday, June 11, 2018

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon Review

Growing up I largely sucked at video games. In all fairness this wasn't an uncommon phenomenon among kids. Old-School games used difficulty as a means of creating length, turning something forty minutes long into a project that could take a gamer weeks, months, or even years to complete. Even with such insurmountable odds there were some titles you could excel at, had me some wicked Mario 3 skills, and others you could never master, lord how I stink at Mega Man.
One series that often made this gamer sad was Castlevania. I mean the core concept was pure joy, giving us a chance to essentially play through a classic Universal Monster movie. Problem was I could never beat one to save my life. Even as my gaming skills improved, I still wasn't all that great at the series. Sure I could handle Symphony of the Night, a blessing seeing as it's an incredible game, but give me Circle of the Moon and things won't go so well. Still the dream was always there that I could try another and another until I found one I wasn't so terrible at. Until Konami tossed the franchise aside.

A few years back, former Konami employees including the main producer of the Castlevania games launched a Kickstarter for Bloodstained; Ritual of the Night. While that title has yet to be released, it's Kickstarter included one very important detail many people forgot about, a side project of an 8-bit entry in this new franchise. That little aside became reality just a couple weeks ago in the form of Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. I gotta tell you guys, this is just a fantastic little gem of a game.

A key factor in making this game so playable are the difficulty options. Not only can you unlock more challenging modes with each completion of the game, but you can always choose between veteran and casual styles. Veteran sticks you with limited lives and the handicap of being knocked back by every hit. Casual give you infinite lives and allows the characters to take a hit like a man. Personally I would have preferred a mixed option with the challenge of limited lives while maintaining the ability to stand my ground. Even so, I love having the choice.
Beyond those settings are multiple ways to play through the adventure which can make it more or less challening. You begin as Zengetsu, a stoic samurai on a mission to slay demons. At the end of each of the first three levels he can recruit additional characters and switch between them on the fly to access their innate abilities. Miriam plays a bit more like a traditional Castlevania hero with added attack range from her whip and a slide that lets her gets under obstacles. Alfred the wizard has a pathetic amount of health and terrible attack but his secondary weapons are crazy useful spells, the best of which is a protective barrier. Lastly is Gebel the vampire. His attack is terrible for low-ground enemies and he lacks secondary items but he's gifted with decent strength and the ability to change into bat form and fly over pesky platforming sections.
Let's say building a motley crew of adventurers isn't you bag. If that's the case you can kill these characters in order to grant Zangetsu new abilities like a double-jump, and airborne slash in order to play more like Ninja Gaiden. Perhaps you want to play the really hardcore way, well just bypass each character rather than killing them and continue on as the basic, wimpy version of Zangetsu. Or maybe just find your own mix.
As you can see the variety offered by the different difficulties, damage modes, and character options allows a player to shape the game to their skill level. If you recruit every character on casual mode, you're almost guaranteed to make it through with a little patience. Sticking with Zangetsu and veteran mode offers that old-school trial by fire. This opens up the game for anyone.

The levels hit a good amount of classic tropes such as a train, stormy ghost ship, and you'd better believe there's a castle. Each one has a little something that makes it stand out, be it the forceful winds of the ship, or the shifting stacks of books in the library. Nice and spooky as these areas are I was a little disappointed in some of the enemies contained therein. Some of them are classic horror fodder like rats and bats, while others like smiley-face squid men are a bit too esoteric for my liking. There's something to be said for the simplicity of werewolves and skeletons.

On the flip-side the bosses are awesome all the way through. Each functions via classic pattern attacks but in a manner that allows for multiple strategies, more so when factoring in secondary weapons. For instance a boss that may normally require lots of jump attacks becomes far less of a problem if you bring in the chain or Miriam's daggers. Projectile attacks getting you down? No problem if you've got Alfred's barrier. The only boss who's pattern is perhaps a bit too unpredictable is the last one, and I mean the real final boss, not the one you face the first time through.
There are a couple of issues with these battles however. One is that the difficulty curve is not balanced at all. The boss for stage five is significantly nastier than the two that follow. In fact, stage seven's boss has one of the easiest to remember patterns I've ever encountered. Each of these villains also has a last ditch attack to try and take out the player with them. Some are perfectly balanced giving the player just enough opportunity to obverse and react. Some of these attacks however are more challenging mostly due to vague design. There's one in particular that I have made multiple attempts at dodging and still haven't found the proper method.

Even with those slight blemishes, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a special sort of surprise that is far too rare these days. A complete, thoughtful, and totally sincere production. There's no bloat or corporate nonsense. Everything a player needs to have a great monster slaying adventure is right here for only ten bucks. It's an even better experience for those of us who miss those old NES games but enjoy some modern convenience in our gaming. If you feel the need for a solid quick adventure to spice up your Summer nights, absolutely give this a try.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Lupinranger vs Patranger Episodes 13-17

Welcome back Super Sentai fans! As you might have noticed the recaps are a little late in coming. In my defense, reviewing the adventures of colorful superheroes isn't as much of a priority as keeping a cats bladder from exploding or trying to restart my college education. Thankfully the cat is doing aces. Meanwhile I'm only partially sure that I've registered for a Summer class, this shit is so vague. Anyway there's finally time to catch up with Lupinranger vs Patranger and man do we ever have a lot to talk about. Today's crop of stories makes some big strides in bringing more conflict and depth to the Patranger side of things while still giving the thieves time to shine. Let's get cracking.

Episode thirteen is part of a proud tradition of heroine-centric adventures though this one has the distinction of each girl belonging to a different team. Both Tsukasa and Umika have the day off and plan to spend it at an amusement park in order to obtain some special stuffed animals. For the lovely cop this is all to feed her weird obsession for plush beasts while Umika is going as more of tribute to her lost friend, Shiho.

Since the park runs out of single tickets the two girls go in as a pair and work their way through the rides before ending up in the haunted house which is not something Tsukasa enjoys. Turns out she's easily scared by this stuff which Umika takes in stride. Back when she used to come to this park with her friend she would shield her from all the scary stuff.

Of course this wouldn't be a proper adventure without a Gangler showing up to complicate matters. This one makes a dome around the park, sealing in all the guests. After separating, Umika fashions a disguise to protect her identity. This comes in handy when the baddie chains the girls together by the wrist. It takes a little work but they are able to overcome their differences and work together, though Tsukasa takes the bigger beating of the two. Umika is nice enough to get their stuffed animals afterward only to find that her new friend wasn't interested in the bear but the weird pig.

The best part of this episode is how well it showcases the inverse nature of each girl. While Tsukasa is very firm and stoic on the outside, she's much more of the traditional girly type. Umika on the other hand may seem like an adorable little ball of energy but she carries around a lot of emotional maturity and some good manipulation skills. This pairing has already proved to be so popular that they're getting another outing in a video special later this year.

Fourteen and fifteen mark a two-parter that brings the Patranger crew deeper into conflict with the Ganglers when a pair of villains seeks to kill a cop in order to rise through the ranks. A fun detail about one of them is that his brother was previously killed by Patranger during a giant-robot battle. He wasn't a combatant is the fight, just squashed underfoot.

The evil plan is a bit of a long-con. An elementary school may have to cancel their field-trip due to Gangler activity and some mysterious underground rumblings. Keiichiro being the all-around good guy that he is won't allow these kids to miss out on their trip and promises to fix the situation. We actually get some backstory on his childhood when he attempted to protect a playground from some creeper before a local cop convinced him of a policeman's duty to protect everyone.

Gonna try and make a long story short but the villains purposefully leave their treasure behind, which is another vehicle that will allow the cops to dig underground and check out the seismic activity. Little do they know the machine is booby-trapped with poison spikes. He finds another treasure to be the source of the rumblings and defeats one of the villains only to be left on deaths door with poison corsing through his veins. His teammates likewise are savagely beaten by the Don himself who shows up to watch some death only to be disappointed by further failures from his thugs.

The continuation works towards bringing the gap between both teams when both Kairi and Umika go to the hospital to keep tabs on the competition. Each of them earns greater respect for the other half as Kairi learns just how dedicated Keiichiro is to his duty and sees a hint of caring, perhaps love, from Tsukasa for her partner. Meanwhile Umika learns that Sakuya is actually a fairly decent guy and not just some daffy womanizer. With renewed respect they set out to defeat the remaining Gangler before the Patranger get themselves in further trouble. Of course that's not how things work out as the cops finish off their opponent with just a little help from the yellow thief.

For episode sixteen we shift focus back to Lupinranger with another tale of Touma. I mentioned before that he may be one of those characters cursed with lousy focus episodes and this one doesn't buck the trend. Thankfully it's just as much of a Kairi adventure which helps to balance things out. The short of it is that a Gangler swaps bodies with our blue friend. The main conflict revolves around whether they can swap him back into his original body, and if not, does Kairi have the will to kill his friend?

As stories go it's not exactly bad, even has a few good moments, just not up to the level it should be. Writing about it makes it seem as if this should have been a richly dramatic story yet I can recall very little of what happened. The only part that should matter in the long run is the discovery that Gangler's safes are a biological component of their bodies, acting as something of a core or heart. It's currently unclear if this detail will play into a later plot-twist or perhaps serve as a metaphor but I can't imagine the writers introducing it for no reason.

At least we come to the moment I've been waiting for, an episode that focuses on series MVPs, Keiichiro and Umika. It's nearly as good as I'd hoped for too. Turns out our red policeman has a lady admirer named Mana. They met at the bistro and share an interest in classical music which leads to light gift exchanges as he lends her records and she brings him flowers from her garden that she claims are just leftovers from work.

Umika takes an interest in the budding romance and pushes to see these two get together. Problem is Mana will soon be going out of country for school which leaves just a couple of days to get keiichiro to profess his feelings. And you know some monster is going to get in the way of young love. This one has the ability to lock people into a blissful dream-dimension while it's treasure allows it to fight be stretching parts of its body. It takes adventage of those skills to trap all three Patranger along with Lupin Yellow in the dreamworld.

While lost in la la land, Umika searches for Keiichiro in the hopes of waking him so he can get to Mana before she flies off to Europe. Initially he's too lost in a blisfull daze, unaware that some monster is draining the life-force from his body. It's then that Umika remembers a song the two potential lovebirds shared an interest in and begins to hum it. This leads to a semi-musical moment that comes across as more odd than it should have. Still; her plan works and everyone's awake and fighting again.

Even with the world saved yet again, Keiichiro neglects to see Mana off at the airport. She doesn't hold this against him. In fact she seems to understand why he didn't show and wishes him luck in his fight against the Ganglers. Umika is far less forgiving when she confronts him that night. When she asks why he didn't go to the airport, he responds that he can't pursue two things at once as he's too awkward. She storms off while he begins to reconsider her and her friends as suspects. She was in the dreamworld after Lupin Yellow had been knocked out after all.

Unfortunately there is a something missing from this episode. When Umika wakes up in dreamland she finds everyone hypnotized by the things they love most yet she remains unaffected. Are we simply supposed to accept that she was so driven to get two people together that nothing would stand in her way? If so then there's some real missed potential as she could have reunited with a fake of her friend, Shiho. Maybe this incident will be brought up again later on but for now it seems odd that the monsters powers didn't affect her.

Looking ahead it seems like the main plot is about to undergo a few big events. The villains are making more back-alley deals, something seems to be going on with Goody-Striker, and it's about time for the new ranger to make himself known.
The show continues to provide excellent entertainment week after week. More than that it has smoothed out nearly every issues that has popped up. Currently the biggest issues are that some of the dangling plot-threads should probably start getting picked up, and Touma needs to bond more with other characters. As it stands, the Patrangers enjoy the company of the bistro workers and occasionally have civil interactions with their thief counterparts, Kairi has a decent level of respect for the cops, and Umika could almost be considered a member of both teams by this point. Touma is still very separate from everyone, and while that fits his personality, it could quickly become a detriment to the character if he can only develop through interactions with kairi.

Phew! (wipes brow) Was that ever one hell of a big recap. Now that everything is starting to settle down I hope to get back to normal length recaps. If you don't mind, I have to figure out whether or not I'm actually enrolled in college again.