July 2021 in Summary: Semaphore

Also known as the one where Red Metal does a traffic light impression with the games he reviewed.


Films watched in July 2021:

In theaters:

  • <None>

At home:

  • Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam, 1981)
  • Office Space (Mike Judge, 1999)
  • The Hustler (Robert Rossen, 1961)
  • The Color of Money (Martin Scorsese, 1986)

I started off this month by watching Time Bandits, the first installment of Terry Gilliam’s Dreamers Trilogy. I’ve actually watched quite a few Terry Gilliam films by now, and from what I’ve seen, I feel he’s a great writer with a major weakness – that weakness being that he has tremendous difficulties sticking the landing. He once stated in the DVD commentary of The Brothers Grimm that he hates happy endings, and, despite what edgelords and certain critics believe, I think that tendency tends to work against him just as often as it benefits him. And I get it – endings are tough, but it’s absolutely an important skill to master in order to elevate your work to those upper tiers. To wit, the endings to The Holy Grail and Brazil worked because they were self-deprecating and tonally fitting respectively, but Life of Brian (which he didn’t direct, but did cowrite) ended up stretching an admittedly good joke way too far whereas this film just kind of peters out at the end. It certainly displays more imagination than the average contemporary fantasy film, but its rough landing makes it a difficult sell. I can see others getting more out of it than me, though, and it did heavily influence the Ultima series (Ultima II especially), so I can at least appreciate it for that.

Next, I watched Mike Judge’s Office Space. Mike Judge is one of those creators whose work I’m quite familiar with (King of the Hill is a personal favorite of mine), but I haven’t had much of a reason to bring him up until now. I’ve heard a lot of people say he’s the kind of creator Seth MacFarlane tries and largely fails to be, and that’s a pretty apt comparison. Mr. MacFarlane is a little like Doug Walker in that he stumbled into one successful enterprise and tried to stretch his talents, but with limited success. Mike Judge, on the other hand, is what Seth MacFarlane would have been if he had the talent to back up his ambition.

Despite providing insufferable elitists everywhere with their holy bible in the form of Idiocracy and having cocreated the nonstarter known as The Goode Family, I find Mr. Judge is an incredibly reliable creator, not limiting himself to any one thing and succeeding fairly well in what he sets out to do. And boy, Office Space is one of those legendary comedy films that absolutely lived up to the hype… and then he had and go and ruin everything by ripping off Superman III. Instant 1/10 for that.

And finally, I ended up seeing The Hustler and The Color of Money back-to-back. Both are classic Paul Newman films that make for great watches even all these years later. The Hustler is more iconic, but The Color of Money is not to be discounted. It’s really intriguing seeing a sequel to a film made several decades after the fact and starring the same actor; you really get a sense as to how much time passed. Then again, it’s evident just when examining the background only to realize that, in The Color of Money, arcade cabinets adorn the bars.


Games reviewed in July 2021:

Keen Dreams

Seriously? The main antagonist of this game is named Boobus Tuber? Are we sure Beavis and Butt-Head didn’t make this game?

Anyway, every so often I’ll get a game that’s mechanically better than those that came before yet fails to surpass them by virtue of making two or more new mistakes for every improvement. It’s happened with King’s Quest V and Mother 3, and we have another instance of that weird phenomenon occurring with Keen Dreams as well, which is pretty impressive given that the series was already pretty subpar up until this point (even if its influence is a lasting one). The better controls don’t mean much when you’re saddled with the single most worthless weapon in the history of platformers. Coupled with a bland level design and the ability to skip most of the experience, and you have quite the mess.

Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals

Now, this review was a long time coming, wasn’t it? There is a bittersweet sentiment to revisiting this game (far more sweet than bitter) in that it just misses the mark of being a 9/10 or even a 10/10 by the slimmest of margins that it’s a crying shame it didn’t make it. In a way, it’s kind of The Wind Waker of the fourth console generation – a superb effort that, thanks to a distinct lack of follow through (two dungeons being cut from The Wind Waker and a general rushed design in Lufia II’s final third), cheats itself out a well-deserved spot in those upper tiers.

Don’t think that makes the game unworthy of your time, however. In fact, I’m positive that this game can win over people who aren’t fans of JRPGs (or even people who slightly dislike them) because it does a lot of things other games in the genre simply don’t do. A JRPG having dungeons with genuine Zelda-style puzzles would be commendable today let alone in 1995. It is truly difficult to believe that the series had gone from mindlessly imitating better games to offering an experience that left many Nintendo or Square games in the dust in less than two years. If you haven’t played this game before, just ignore the fact that it’s a sequel and jump right in blind; you won’t be disappointed.

Donkey Kong Country

Also known as the one where Red Metal loses his Rare fans.

I tend to retrospectively approach Donkey Kong Country the same way I approach The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I hear from fans about how they’re some of the greatest of all time, causing me to think that perhaps I missed something about them when I played them as a kid. And then I replay them as an adult only to conclude that, while I did frequently miss the mark as a kid, in these particular cases, I was right the first time.

Much in the same way that I tend to favor Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages over Link’s Awakening, I tend to lean more towards the sequels to Donkey Kong Country over the original itself. I can kind of see why the original would be lauded the most because it is, ironically given what issue the Stamper brothers attempted to address, the only game of the original trilogy in which the title character is actually playable. And at the risk of getting a little ahead of myself, I can certainly understand why the third game isn’t highly thought of.

Nonetheless, I always find myself slightly disappointed whenever I revisit Donkey Kong Country because I feel like I’m playing through the prototype of a masterpiece when I could be playing the real deal. On the other hand, it’s not the style-over-substance experience the circa late-2000s independent critics would have you believe. I myself once compared it to the original Uncharted. It kind of is in the sense that its presentation outstripped its quality, but between the games, I can easily say Donkey Kong Country has aged much better by virtue of A) providing substantive challenges to the player and B) not suffering an identity crisis. Also, while it’s not as impressive now as it was in 1994, I wouldn’t trust any source that insists it belongs on a list of the most overrated games of all time. If it’s overrated, it’s because fans insist it’s one of the best games ever made when, in practice, it’s just merely slightly above average – bad (or even average) it is not.


Featured articles:

Donkey Kong 40th Anniversary – A Barrel of Memories – Yes, as mentioned before, Donkey Kong, the classic arcade game that put Nintendo on the map is now forty years old! The Gaming Omnivore takes a retrospective look at the franchise.

Donkey Kong and Mario Turn 40! – And, of course, Scott of the Wizard Dojo, a fan of the series, pitches his two cents about its anniversary.

Project G-The Return of Godzilla (1984) – Continuing with his Godzilla retrospective, Aether leaves the Showa era and enters the Heisei era (well, not really, but close enough), starting with the 1984 reboot The Return of Godzilla.

Post-Pandemic Check-in: Orchids, tin whistle, and video game music! ♪ – In the midst of this pandemic, Backlog Crusader checks in and posts various interesting updates about what she’s been up to.

The Beast Inside – Luca of vgartsite takes a look at this interesting horror indie game The Beast Inside.

Superman III (1983) Movie Review – Lashaan Balasingam takes a look at Superman III, which is generally considered the worst of the classic Superman films – even if Mike Judge totally ripped it off.

Summer cleaning game review (?) special #7: Super Radical Solitaire / ART SQOOL – AK, having purchased a summer bundle, takes a look at the various games included therein.

This Game Wasn’t Made For You: The Interesting Impressions of Cyberpunk 2077 Athena – I swear after 2013 or so, the AAA industry can’t seem to go an entire year six months without making complete fools of themselves. Athena takes a look at the scandal surrounding the controversial Cyberpunk 2077.


Links to my articles:

Game reviews:

14 thoughts on “July 2021 in Summary: Semaphore

  1. Thanks for the link! I’ll be covering more of those games soon, I hope.

    Yeah, Office Space is a classic, though I can appreciate it better now than when I first saw it. I am a fan of Mike Judge’s work in general, and I agree with that contrast you make with Seth MacFarlane. Even Family Guy really wore on me after a while, though it seems like that was true for a lot of people — I wasn’t even watching anymore when it really went downhill apparently, at least according to what I’ve heard from fans.

    It’s also true that the constant “ha ha we’re living in Idiocracy” comments get annoying.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome! And that would be nice – it’s always great to spotlight indie talent.

      Office Space is actually one of those films I’ve seen clips of every now and again, but here, I finally sat down and watched the whole thing. And I do realize comparing Seth MacFarlane to Doug Walker is a little bit insulting to the former (because for whatever can be said about MacFarlane, he at least put himself out there), but they are alike in how they managed to have one gigantic hit only for them to peter out when their attempts at branching out failed – all while their flagship works ended up nosediving in quality. General consensus is that Family Guy fell way harder than The Simpsons did in a much shorter amount of time.

      Either way, yeah, Mike Judge is what Seth MacFarlane would’ve been if his attempts at branching out were successful, although it helps that unlike MacFarlane or Walker, Judge is absolutely not a one-trick pony when you consider how different the tones of his works can get. Also, the soundtrack to Office Space was great.

      And yeah, those edgelords are annoying, although describing an edgelord as annoying is like describing water as wet; it’s kind of a package deal. What really caused me to turn on Idocracy was this compelling Vice article. What I’m sure was intended to be a sick burn on society was, in practice, absolutely drenched in unfortunate implications.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Reading that article, yeah, I can see all those implications you mention. It’s unusual for those to slip by a thoughtful guy like Judge. Probably Beavis and Butthead is a much better sick burn on society, honestly, though I haven’t seen any of the new series, just the old 90s one. Or hey, King of the Hill works just as well if not better.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yeah, not so fun now that we know it’s basically demonizing poor people for being poor, huh? That’s a pretty major misstep from someone who’s as good of a writer as Mike Judge. It’s something I’d expect from your average 2010s science-fiction writer but not, you know, an actual talented person. And you’re right, Beavis and Butt-Head basically does the same thing better. The reason it works better there is because the sick burn is actually pretty subtle, and even if it isn’t, it’s still a lot of fun watching those two idiots do stupid things. King of the Hill works as well because there’s a real earnestness to it that Idiocracy simply does not have.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Hey! Thanks for the mention! I actually thought you would have referenced my reviews of the Space Jam movies or my Top 10 Nintendo 64 Games to Play Today list, but happy to see you liked my DK anniversary post (though I feel guilty I didn’t write more about it).

    I think I definitely appreciate the first DKC a bit more than you, though I definitely agree that it feels like a warm-up to the genuine masterpiece that followed with the second entry. You can’t deny the soundtrack is an all-time great though (but again, the sequel’s is even better. And if there’s one area in which the third entry really fell short, it’s in the soundtrack). And I agree, don’t trust anyone who says it’s one of the most overrated games of all time. We live in a world of Final Fantasy VIIs, Braids, and The Last of Us Part 2s. How can anyone lump good ol’ DK in there?

    Also, I love King of the Hill. Personally speaking, it was probably the best of the primetime adult animated sitcoms in terms of consistency. With all due respect to The Simpsons, that show eventually hit a downward spiral that it just can’t climb out of. But King of the Hill retained its quality throughout its twelve-year run. Meanwhile, Family Guy may have been remembered fondly, if it had stayed cancelled the first time around. Those earlier episodes of Family Guy (when it was basically just a more absurd and edgy Simpsons) were pretty funny. Had it stayed cancelled, it may be seen as a cult classic today. But it came back, overstayed its welcome, and devolved into a plotless exercise in irredeemable tastelessness. A Mike Judge, Seth MacFarlane certainly is not.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome! And those were good articles as well. You definitely spotlighted some good games in that list. It’s interesting how you chose Mario Party 3 as the representative entry in that series’ N64 canon; I think a lot of people tend to gravitate towards Mario Party 2 more, although I think I remember the third game being better myself.

      And I realized I kinda risked a controversial opinion by giving Donkey Kong Country a 6/10, although it’s a grade I stand by. At least we can agree that it does come across as a warm up to the masterpiece that is Donkey Kong Country 2, right? And the soundtrack is indeed really good. I’d say more, but I’m in the middle of typing up my Donkey Kong Country 3 review, and my Donkey Kong Country 2 review is scheduled to be posted tomorrow morning, so you won’t have to wait long to get my full thoughts on either.

      Personally, I would add Spec Ops: The Line, the original The Last of Us, Gone Home, Dear Esther, and Limbo to that list you mentioned, by the way, so the odds of Donkey Kong Country ever appearing on it are slim to none (although I never finished Final Fantasy VII). Also, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, and I know this is going to sound crazy – insane, even, but I actually think The Last of Us Part II is better than the original if for no other reason than because there was an actual artistic risk being taken with that game (unlike the very paint-by-numbers original), and I feel that has to count for something (plus, the gameplay is better, so there’s that). Nonetheless, it would deserve to be on that list all the same (it would just simply rank lower than the original).

      King of the Hill is great; it’s one of those shows I liked as a kid, and as an adult, I’ve really learned to appreciate the subtle intricacies of its humor. I think the quality did drop off a little starting with Season 9, but it never became outright bad unlike The Simpsons or Family Guy. Indeed, one of my favorite episodes, “Mutual of Omabwah” (the one where Hank realizes he forgot to send his insurance check), is actually in Season 9. Most sources suggest that Family Guy fell way harder than The Simpsons did, so in a way, it’s a shame the show had to be revived because now there’s little chance it’s going to go out on a high note. Otherwise, yeah, I don’t think there’s any question that Seth MacFarlane is nowhere near the same league as Mike Judge.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks again! Well, I could have went with either Mario Party 2 or 3 (I mentioned you may as well lump all three N64 games as a tie), but I tend to gravitate towards MP3 since I think it added to just about every element of the first two games. Plus I always loved that Duel Mode, with the light Paper Mario-like elements added into the mix. I’d cry tears of joy if the upcoming Mario Party Superstars brought that mode back.

        DKC3 is also very good, don’t get me wrong. But it’s soundtrack is where it falls short. Admittedly, David Wise set the bar astoundingly high with the first two games (DKC2’s is my favorite video game soundtrack of all time), and DKC3’s soundtrack isn’t bad. It’s just not on the same level (perhaps unsurprisingly, David Wise was primary composer for the first game, sole composer for the second, and contributed a few pieces of music to the third. Also unsurprisingly, they brought David Wise in to re-record the music for the GBA release of DKC3). I’ve actually been meaning to write a few things about my favorite video game soundtracks, so maybe I’ll write more about that later. But in short, the first game’s soundtrack built atmosphere, the second game’s soundtrack built atmosphere and told a story, the third game’s soundtrack… saw cartoon monkeys so it made cartoony music. I may not be a music expert, but I can safely say I have yet to meet anyone who feels as strongly about video game music as I do. I often find it to be as much a creative inspiration as the games themselves. So if I’m rambling a bit on the subject, you know why.

        Other than the music though, DKC3 is an excellent platformer, and another example that the SNES was still delivering great games in its later years.

        Oh, there are quite a few other games I could have mentioned (Limbo certainly among them), but I was dropping a few names. And I’ll fully admit that FFVII isn’t as bad of a game as the others I’d name, my beef with it is that it kind of undid a lot of the improvements the late-SNES RPGs brought to the genre, and felt kind of retrograde as a result (case in point: making enemy encounters random again, which then went back to being the norm for several more years). But again, not as bad as a lot of others.

        I can understand if someone thinks King of the Hill did have a dip in quality towards the end, but I don’t think any dip it may have had was particularly glaring (like The Simpsons). As for Family Guy, well, from the beginning it was kind of a more exaggerated Simpsons, so it’s oddly (and sadly) fitting that its downfall would be even more drastic than that of The Simpsons. Again, had Family Guy stayed cancelled after its third season, people would still probably be talking about how funny those episodes were. Better to be loved by a few than hated by all.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That is a very good point. Final Fantasy VII reintroducing random encounters was a major step backwards for JRPGs, and may have even partially contributed to the genre’s decline in the 2000s. That game design choice was perfectly acceptable back in the 1980s when technical limitations precluded the ability to draw enemies on the field, but as games such as Earthbound, Lufia II, and even Square’s own Chrono Trigger demonstrated, the genre was much better off without them, which made their reintroduction in Final Fantasy VII baffling. Granted, it’s one of those things you don’t realize until you’re looking back on it retrospectively, but its contemporaries were also phasing them out (Grandia just to name one example), so it’s weird Square didn’t get the memo.

          Plus, we probably have Final Fantasy VII to blame for the “FILMS = GOOD, GAMES = BAD” mentality that would infect the AAA industry in the next decades, although that’s really more of the fault of the inspired people who missed the point of what made that game good for its time. The same thing would happen when Resident Evil 4 became a hit and the only thing a lot of people took away from it wasn’t the great level design, but rather “QUICK TIME EVENTS = AWESOME!” I tend to treat these instances like in criminal law where I ask myself if the bad impact was a reasonably foreseeable outcome, and I think the answer would be no in both of these cases (but it would be yes in the case of Dear Esther hence why I gave it a 3/10 despite technically kickstarting an entirely new genre).

          Because I never finished my playthrough of Final Fantasy VII, I can’t make a judgement of it either way, but on an educated guess, I think, despite arguably having a negative impact on the medium, I would probably lump it in the same category as Donkey Kong Country itself – overrated, but more in the sense that it didn’t age gracefully than because the critics give it far more praise than it deserves.

          I think what happened was that King of the Hill had some bad episodes scattered throughout the last third of its run as opposed to The Simpsons or Family Guy, which have consecutive bad seasons to their name. Fans may have lamented that King of the Hill got cancelled in favor of Seth MacFarlane’s The Cleveland Show, but 13 seasons without ever falling as hard as those two shows is really good, and its ending ensured it never would.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Boobus Tuber. I can’t get over that. They had professionals, people with like, real lives and suits and everything, putting this game together, and that’s what they came up with.

    And yeah, Donkey Kong Country is kind of a hard one to come back to, particularly once you get to the ice level on. I’ll maintain the overall design and gameplay is excellent, but the later levels do lack the polish and inspiration the earlier ones had. I think the way you stated it, playing the prototype of a masterpiece rather than the masterpiece itself, is really apt.

    And as always, thanks for linking here! And sharing a bunch of other interesting posts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Boobus Tuber really is right up there with Higharolla Kockamamie from Snake’s Revenge, isn’t it? I wouldn’t expect much else from the guy who once (in)famously claimed that “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important” – a quote that really did not age well.

      The funny thing is that it’s not necessarily that Gorilla Glacier is difficult per se, but rather the fact that you have to go through five levels in a row just for the privilege of saving is rather untenable (although Snow Barrel Blast is definitely one of the hardest stages in the game). I think the design team was definitely on to something with their approach to level design, but yeah, they’d need to take another crack at it before they would hit a grand slam.

      You’re welcome! It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the Heisei era goes – especially given how interconnected the films are compared to those of the Showa era.

      Like

    • The best part? The ending of The Holy Grail came about because that’s when the budget for the film ran out. I never would’ve guessed because it’s so tonally fitting that it felt like a natural conclusion. Plus, it makes the Intermission joke funnier given that it occurs about fifteen minutes before the end.

      And you’re welcome! August has been going well so far. Let’s hope it stays that way!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the shoutout! I’m still likely to point to the first Donkey Kong Country as my favorite one, but I have no issue whatsoever with anyone pointing out that DKC 2, or even Tropical Freeze, surpass the foundation laid out by the first game.

    I remember when King of the Hill first premiered on tv and thinking it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting having watched a fair amount of Beavis & Butthead previously. It’s definitely a show that I enjoyed watching as a kid, as it was usually right after the Simpsons on Sunday night, but have appreciated it more as I’ve gotten older. I definitely agree on Idiocracy as well, I remember laughing at the movie when first watching it years ago, but having long enough to think through it a bit more it drifts into the type of humor that’s simply “punching down” just for the sake of getting laughs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! And I agree; I liked King of the Hill as a kid, but revisiting it as an adult really only allowed me to appreciate it more. Given how many one-trick ponies there are, I can imagine watching it after Beavis and Butt-Head was indeed quite a shock.

      I can actually say Idiocracy was ahead of its time. Specifically, it foreshadowed the “let’s blame the audience for problems instead of using our own resources to combat them” attitude that Adam McKay and others would adopt in the 2010s. When you’re getting to the point where you’re blaming poor people for being poor, that’s when you know you’ve lost touch with your humble beginnings. Not to mention it’s pretty redundant given that Beavis and Butt-Head manage to tackle the same subject matter far more effectively.

      Liked by 1 person

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