How Does Spider-Man: Battle For New York Hold Up?

I love the ol’ Web-Head, but with how many games he’s had there are bound to be some duds, and the chances of finding the bad ones certainly increase when we look to the handheld systems. Spider-Man doesn’t actually have a horrible record there, but many of the titles began to feel similar and worn. When I stumbled across Battle for New York on the Game Boy Advance, I wasn’t expecting much, but appearances can be deceiving.

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Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts (PS4) REVIEW – Shaky Aim

There is this absolute cathartic carnage in watching an unsuspecting soldier have his partner’s brains explode right in front of him, leaving him stunned and horrified until his own bullet arrives. That’s what we are getting into with Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts.

I’m not too familiar with the Sniper: Ghost Warrior series. I’ve played many similar games, even the franchise that most would directly compare these to (Sniper Elite), but as someone who is legally blind, I don’t usually go for games that would put such a focus on long-distance shooting. However, the desire for some first-person shooter action and stealth gameplay lured me in for some spots of exhilaration in an otherwise slow and desolate experience.

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Creepshow (2019 TV Show)

 

I’ve always had a fondness for the Creepshow films—the first two, no one talks about the third—encompassing a lot of what I loved about 80s horror. Those movies most likely helped cement my admiration for Stephen King and Creepshow 2 was how I saw my first pair of breasts. When I was eight or nine years old we had a babysitter who was a horror fiend and let me and two other girls watch a lot of stuff we probably shouldn’t have seen—giving me a fair share of nightmares. That aside, the original material for this franchise was great and I was excited to see that a television show was in development, but worried that it may not recapture some of the magic I felt from my first exposure.

A lot of the people who worked on the new show also helped with the originals in some way or at least have strong ties to the genre. So, it should be no surprise that they kept a lot of the elements from those: the comic book panels, transitions, odd angles, varying distances for similar shots, and it all looks so good and I wish they had gone into that aesthetic even heavier. The only returning thing I wasn’t sure about was The Creep itself, the puppet that bookends each of the fables. It has never offered too much to the overall experience since The Creep doesn’t speak per se, but I figure there has to be more that can be done with it or simply just keep it as a mascot that doesn’t take up episode time.

Those visuals could use a bit of tweaking, but the audio department stood out, even if for the wrong reasons. There is some decent mood music to accompany most of the episodes and some fun cheesy sound effects. The best part was when they used Shutterbug by Outkast’s Big Boi, who has a small cameo in that episode—I was way too distracted and pleased at that.

The television show offers up six episodes in its first season with two stories each. Viewers will notice several actors that appear across the twelve tales, with names like Tricia Helfer, Dana Gould, Giancarlo Esposito, DJ Qualls, and horror icon Tobin Bell. They have an impressive array of directors as well, like John Harrison, David Bruckner, Greg Nictero, Roxanne Benjamin, and Tom Savini who brought the words to life in front of the camera. Those names compliment the writers that penned the narratives, with Stephen King involved, his son Joe Hill as well as Stephen Langford, Joe R. Lansdale, and others, but my favorite name on the list is Paul Dini.

The stories are quite varied, touching up on a lot of traditional anecdotes, but taking new approaches for the most part with some obvious themes. Sometimes the monsters win, other times bad people get what they deserve, and I love that it isn’t always clear who the audience should be rooting for. The House of the Head is a solid example of a decent episode with a classic concept that doesn’t linger too long on the tired tropes, just upping the ante a small bit with each new scene. I always appreciate a good werewolf story, like Bad Wolf Down, something that feels inspired and shows the audience how it can have a little fun, or The Man in the Suitcase, where that seemingly humorous situation can quickly turn.

There is a solid mix of episodes, how some can be straight horror while others are psychological, a good number of them have extreme levels of gore while a few keep it small and let the imagination work. The only issue that some might have here is that it is hard to nail down a tone for the whole show and doesn’t always feel like it lines up perfectly with the previous films. Times is Tough in Musky Holler feels like the most authentic and core feeling to how I remember that type of horror at its campiest, and it’s just fun, but I kept feeling like nothing landed quite like some of those original stories.

Perhaps it’s because the individual tales are so short and self-contained, but it often feels like these episodes weren’t sticking the landing. Few of the endings were truly satisfying. I know that Creepshow doesn’t always give the audience answers—there’s no need for a background in the story usually—it just presents something cool and builds suspense toward a fun climax while trying to impart an idea. Wrapping up some of the stories though seems to be difficult or less important.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy watching every part of it. I’m hoping we get more episodes soon that lean into the originals more. Creepshow has always felt like this great experiment to me, something that tries to capture certain aspects of horror and make the audience just a little uncomfortable while not letting them forget what they saw on screen.

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Wrestlers Removed from WWE Video Games

 

[This is a script I wrote for the video below]

INTRO

The yearly roster for WWE games is always a big selling point. Speculation runs wild as to who will make the cut, what Legends will get their time to shine again, and which superstars are given the best stats. Some names come so close to making it into the games, only to be ripped away or walled off as abandoned DLC, or to have their parts spread across the create-a-wrestler mode at the last minute.

Reasons for why this happens can be numerous, but it always hurts when someone’s favorite doesn’t make it. Most of the time it’s because that star isn’t big enough yet, hasn’t been on television lately, or left the company, but rumors have it that Vince McMahon has even pulled wrestlers from WWE games as some sort of punishment or just plain spite. It might seem like an odd business move, but few will have trouble believing that the chairman can be petty.

In the 8 and 16-bit days, development was a bit different and many games simply had various skins to represent a fighter, with wrestlers sharing all but one or two moves, so there was less need to remove characters from those games. It is a bit harder to find information for instances when that happened back then, and even today the reasons for someone being cut aren’t always clear, as many more performers are considered but wind up discarded. With all of that in mind, here are some of the more notable absences over the years.

 

 

WWF In Your House (1996)

For those who never played In Your House, it’s less of a traditional wrestling game and something that wanted to be more like Mortal Kombat—arcade style, with each competitor having their own stage to fight in. The game had a quiet release and isn’t too highly regarded by fans, but anyone who was fond of Jeff Jarrett at the time would have been especially disappointed. The man with a lot of double letters in his name would leave the WWF that year a few months before his first foray with WCW, but that meant that The King of the Mountain would be pulled from the game, even if it was last minute.

Jarrett was planned to be a part of the final roster to such an extent that the superstar was filmed and digitized—ready to fight. A contract dispute is said to be what sent him packing, but that also meant that he was taken out in the virtual realm as well, leaving many wondering what his personalized stage would have looked like.

There was also a rumor that both Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were on the list for early planning of the game, but their defection to WCW most likely meant that they were scrapped early on as well.

 

WWF Wrestlemania 2000 (1999)

A rather misleading title, as the game released several months before the actual event it was named after. Most fans of wrestling video games that enjoyed this one on the Nintendo 64 remember it as the first entry that was placed in the capable hands of THQ.

Both Tiger Ali Singh and Gillberg were discussed for the roster but they stopped appearing on WWF programs and were removed at some point in development. There were also several women wrestlers that had been eyed for the game, but Nicole Bass, Ryan Shamrock and Sable were all left out upon leaving the company. The last two supposedly had a good bit of work put into their characters due to the timing.

Most importantly may have been the absence of Golddust. Dustin was supposedly unhappy with his character at the time and went to WCW to do…the Seven storyline. A good bit of work had been done for Golddust though and upon his leaving, that character slot was given to Chris Jericho.

 

WWF SmackDown PS1 (2000)

In the first WWF/E game by long-time developer Yuke’s, the new PS1 title would take on the name of the hit weekly show. Once again, Jeff Jarrett would be worked on for a title and leave the company just a few months before its release. We know that ol’ Double J was deleted from the game thanks to information in the debug menu and his name and picture can be found as well. The images look to be from an earlier build, but still indicate that his character was decently far along before being cut.

Another rumor proposed that this had also happened to Golddust again, but no evidence proving that he had been removed was found.

 

WWF No Mercy (2000)

In THQ’s last hurrah for the N64 and they published one of the best-selling titles for that console. No Mercy is regarded as one of the best wrestling games of the era, where the developers tweaked their formula to near-perfection, but also had to remove some characters.

One large name, and star, was notable by his absence. The Big Show was having a rough time in the federation as he was pulled from television and sent back to OVW. This was due to the performer’s weight, an issue that the company viewed as such a problem, that he was also removed from the game. It may seem quite harsh, but the giant is still in the code and accessible with a GameShark.

Notably, players could also see pictures of several wrestlers not in the game via some work, with the likes of The Headbangers, Mideon, Gangrel, and The Mean Street Posse showing up in image only. These wrestlers can all easily be created within the game, allowing fans to still play as their favorites.

 

WWF SmackDown 2: Know Your Role (2000)

One of the best-selling sports games of its era; to say SmackDown 2: Know Your Role was ‘good’ may possibly be an understatement. Two athletes wouldn’t get a chance to celebrate the success though, as both Big Show and Ken Shamrock would be removed from the game late in development.

The year 2000 was not a good one for Big Show in wrestling or the video game world. As mentioned before, issues with his weight would have him taken off of television, sent back to OVW, and cost him a spot on another game’s roster, but being taken off of two seems a bit cruel.

Ken Shamrock left the company in late 1999, but was still being used in other games that year, so he was a solid bet for SmackDown 2 as well. Whether the company realized he wouldn’t be returning soon or simply soured on his decision to try and refocus on MMA over working for them, The World’s Most Dangerous Man was quietly cut.

There is plenty to find in the game’s code to show how much work was put into these two, but their themes being present and the character models having been updated are the biggest tells. Moreover, the two grapplers can make an appearance in the game. As Big Show returned that year to the Royal Rumble in real life, it was appropriate that he and Shamrock have a chance of appearing in this mode for the game, and without a cheat. Even though both possess updated move sets, these characters are still unfinished and have a chance of crashing the game under certain circumstances.

Call it Big Show’s revenge.

 

WWE Road to Wrestlemania X8 (2002)

Game Boy titles already have it rough living up to their main console counterparts, but this prequel to the Wrestlemania X8 version on the Gamecube would face another small setback. Scott Hall was still featured in the main Wrestlemania X8 offering since the game came out just over a month before his release from the company, but they had several months to take him out of the Game Boy installment.

 

WWE Raw 2 (2003)

Since Raw 2 was pushed back a bit in development, there was a chance to update the roster to something more current. Because of this, both Scott Hall and Jeff Hardy were dropped from the list of playable superstars. The characters were present in early builds, but both had been released from the company due to issues of substance abuse. Hardy had begun no-showing events and his in-ring performances were suffering, while Hall had a particularly bad incident with the infamous Plane Ride from Hell.

Maybe if the developers had spent less time cutting superstars and updating the game to match current WWE content, but rather more on the gameplay, Raw 2 would be remembered more fondly.

 

WWE SmackDown: Here Comes the Pain (2003)

Little needs to be said about Here Comes the Pain, as its reputation is well-established. Not only did this installment refine many aspects of the gameplay and add series mainstays like the Elimination Chamber and Legends in the roster, but tons of fans hold it up as one of the best wrestling games period. Many fighters were removed from the finished product but still remain in the game in pieces, but there were a few that were much closer to keeping their spots.

Wrestlers like William Regal, Billy Kidman, Spike Dudley, Bradshaw, Rosie, Billy Gunn, and Molly Holly were all removed for various reasons from being off WWE television to production times, but they can all easily be recreated as CAWs. Al Snow is one who is believed to have been cut due to time, as he is still somewhat playable, only with The Rock’s model. Just remember to turn entrances off when doing this or the game could freeze.

Both Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior have stats and images on the select screen. Hulk actually has two, one of which seemed to be for a Legends model. Hogan had left the company during his Mr. America run, just after unmasking, supposedly due to irritations with creative, but more likely the money he was being paid at the time. For Warrior, things were always a bit shaky, but there were apparently threats of lawsuits being thrown around, which is why he was left out. This is not too hard to believe since it was only two years before WWE would produce the infamous Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior DVD.

The worst offense for some was the absence of Jeff Hardy, who had been released for the same reasons he did not appear in Raw 2, as previously mentioned. This time felt like more of a slight though as the high-flying daredevil had been removed quite late in development, so much so that he was even featured heavily in the trailer.

 

WWE SmackDown vs Raw (2004)

Following up one of the greatest wrestling games ever can be tough, so it’s best to change the name and make sure the cover looks badass. SmackDown vs. Raw was a good attempt, even being nominated for Best Fighting Game at the Spike Video Game Awards that year, but there were some omissions.

Rumor has it that The Basham Brothers were involved in the initial development of the game, but the reasons for their removal seem unknown. The British Bulldog on the other hand was so close to being finished that he can still be played with the help of cheats. The idea of having him there to team with Bret Hart was a solid one, but licensing issues prevented him from being included fully.

 

WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2006 (2005)

The next installment in the series would go for more realism, and to hit that point home and keep it like the real life WWE, the company would give the shaft to almost fifteen characters. Most of these are simply because Yuke’s didn’t remove a lot of information from the previous games, but a few were because the stars weren’t appearing on television as much or had lost favor with the audience, even with most of their information already in the system. No one was safe apparently, as even Stephanie McMahon didn’t make the final roster.

There were a few interesting names of wrestlers who almost made it, like Kenzo Suzuki, and cheats that would allow players to take control of non-traditional combatants, but the more interesting one here is that Mr. America was once again removed, but this time at the request of Hulk Hogan. This was most likely still over money, but we know that he and Suzuki were intended for the game by announcer introductions for those two. Indications of Maven also still reside in the game files.

At least this entry will always be seen as favorable for introducing GM Mode.

 

WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2008 (2007)

SVR 2008 is remembered fondly by some for introducing the new ECW brand, but it also has a shadow that looms over it. Chris Benoit was set as a finalized member of the roster, but the real life murder suicide that occurred in the summer of that year caused WWE to have him and all hints of his signature moves to be taken out in fear of a public relations fiasco. This is one removal that was completely understandable.

The Boogeyman and Jillian Hall were also dropped late in development for seemingly no reason.

 

WWE SmackDown vs Raw 2011 (2010)

The last game to focus on the two main brands facing off and use the vs. title had four noticeable absences. Okay, maybe three point five, depending on how many people actually wanted to play as The Great Khali. No one seems too sure why he was removed, but like the others, everyone removed from this entry were worked on quite a bit. All were referenced in various ways in the final game, like with their names appearing and some moves being available.

Both Tommy Dreamer and Carlito were dropped when they left the company, but the more confusing one is The Hurricane, as he even appears during Ry Mysterio’s story mode.

Carlito and Hurricane are complete but all four missing wrestlers were quite far along and had most of their elements left on the disc, with moves and entrances that are easily accessible. The Cool One, Carlito, is the only grappler who is playable through cheats it would seem.

 

WWE ‘12 (2011)

The game that was declared to be, “Bigger, Badder, Better,” added some needed life to the core mechanics but sacrificed on many of the other modes. This entry is less of an obvious missing name and more of what could have been, supposedly.

After his Wrestlemania match against The Big Show, professional boxer Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather was preparing to make another impact on the WWE a couple of years later, but this time in video game form. If the rumors are to be believed, Yuke’s had made a lot of progress on Mayweather’s moveset and entrance, only for the boxer to back out of the deal late in the game’s development. Thankfully, most of the work was still used in WWE ’13 for Mike Tyson’s character.

Did we really miss out?

 

WWE 2K15 (2014)

Many see WWE 2K15 as another installment that made an attempt to not only update the roster, but the feeling of the gameplay to match the current atmosphere of the WWE, most of this centering around the revamped stamina meter.

CM Punk almost didn’t make it into WWE’s new installment after leaving the company around the game’s release, but some quick dealing between The Best in the World and 2K kept Punk in the game. Curious how WWE felt about that.

Trish Stratus is one of the most revered performers of the women’s division and a Hall of Famer, but she was left out of WWE 2K15 for some reason. The giver of Stratusfaction was in the game at some point of development, possibly even planned for the story mode, but perhaps even considered for being a selectable character. Stratus’ theme shows up in the European release of the game and all versions have a line of dialogue from Michael Cole mentioning her. Some players have even said that the line has a chance of triggering in normal matches, but this seems to be rare, if possible. Cole’s dialogue could also produce a rare line for another cut superstar, Sin Cara. He was meant to be a part of the NXT Arrival DLC pack but was abandoned for what could be various reasons.

Lana appears in the game alongside Rusev for his cutscenes, but data in the game has many speculating that she was meant to do much more, either remaining at ringside to interfere in a managerial role or possibly even making the roster as a selectable character. She is listed as a manager during online play and her render is even available as a player icon as well.

Hulk Hogan also made his way into the game that year as pre-order DLC, but was removed from stores on multiple platforms over six months later. This was due to a controversy about racist comments made by the superstar that left him immediately scrubbed from WWE and their games.

 

WWE 2K16 (2015)

For those same reasons, Hulk Hogan was also removed from the game currently in development, WWE 2K16. The Hulkster’s taunts and comebacks are still present, but little more remains after the deep cleaning. 2K was also denied being able to use Cody Rhodes in his standard persona, but were instead made to include The American Nightmare as the Stardust character. These particular changes were certainly not the worst parts of the game and could easily be overlooked.

 

WWE 2K18 (2017)

This installment into the franchise saw the introduction of many new wrestlers and offered the ability to create Colonel Sanders, probably to distract from how bad the Switch port was.

To be expected, several superstars were cut, as Eva Marie, Alberto Del Rio, Stardust, Simon Gotch, and the Dudley Boys had all left the company. A little bit more of a bummer though was one of the missing stars of 205 Live, Austin Aries. The Greatest Man That Ever Lived was released or asked to leave, depending on what story we believe, but everyone agrees the banana eating cruiserweight had a bad attitude. He was supposed to appear as part of the roster and was removed well into the game’s development. Aries even responded to a fan on Twitter, commenting that he had been cut, even though the former champ had been scanned in.

 

WWE 2K19 (2018)

In what many saw as a step in the right direction, improving on a lot of small things from the recent years, most of the issues concerning the roster was the absence of two popular NXT stars.

This is back when Sanity looked to have a bright future ahead of them as they moved to the main roster, but Nikki Cross was initially left down in the black and gold brand. It could have been an issue with the contract, as NXT performers have to sign a separate contract for video game appearances, but it was most likely just bad timing on the move. Still, many felt the Twisted Sister was missed.

Perhaps not as much as the then current NXT champion though. Tommaso Ciampa, conspicuous by his absence, may have missed being scanned in because of a previous injury, or simply felt that the contract offered him wasn’t substantial enough, but many fans were upset that they couldn’t play as the champ to defend Goldie.

 

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WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain (Video Script)

 

[This is a script I wrote for the video below]

INTRO

Wrestling fans had been told to Know Their Role, Just Bring It, and Shut Their Mouths, but the fifth entry in the SmackDown series proudly proclaimed a title that would resonate for many years: Here Comes the Pain. Though the phrase was once closely associated with Brock Lesnar’s ferocity, it has become more synonymous with the titular game, an experience that, in actuality, brings more enjoyment than suffering, while allowing players to lay hands in the best way possible.

Published by THQ and released in the EU on November 7th, 2003 (NA: October 27, 2003) for the PlayStation 2, Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain (HCTP) would signal the end of an era for long-term players. It was the final game to use the standalone SmackDown designation before donning the WWE: SmackDown vs. Raw name. Under the guiding hands of Yuke’s, the developer was able to bring in new fans, bring forth a fresh wave of WWE superstars, as well as improve on the ideas and groundwork they built over the previous installments.

 

ROSTER

Annual sports games sell because of their updates to graphics, engines, and more importantly for most, a stacked current roster. For 2003, HCTP boasted sixty-five characters in what would have been one of the most up-to-date lineups, had the game not begun development many months before its release. One example of this is how someone like Val Venis was originally supposed to be presented in his Chief Morely character, but was reverted back last minute. Many wrestlers were also cut for various reasons.

Development saw icons like Hulk Hogan in his classic colors and as Mr. America, The Ultimate Warrior, and the one whose absence upset many fans, Jeff Hardy, as he was in the initial commercial for the game. Warrior was removed for legal reasons while Hogan and Hardy were omitted most likely for leaving the company. Data found in the code for other wrestlers who were left out include William Regal, Bradshaw, Billy Kidman, Spike Dudley, 3-Minute Warning, Billy Gunn, and Molly Holly while Al Snow, Bill DeMott, Nunzio, Hardcore Holly, Scotty 2 Hotty and Johnny Stamboli were all cut in the early stages. None of those characters had finished models like Hogan and Warrior. Though the roster was still quite large, many fans felt that certain favorites were missing and the lack of selection for female wrestlers stood out to some (We needed Molly Holly).

There were other active wrestlers at the time that seemingly weren’t even considered for the game like Maven, Farooq, Sylvan Grenier, Rene Dupree, and the Best in the World, Shane McMahon. Selection had to be tough with such a large pool of talent though, as HCTP adds mainstays like John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Shelton Benjamin, Chavo Guerrero, Bill Goldberg, and Batista for their first appearances in the series. It also represented a change for Kane, being the first game where he would wrestle without his signature mask. Many of these spots would be taken by the addition of Legends, bringing the superstars of old back to fight in fantasy bouts against the new breed.

This did bother some fans who felt that these spots could have been used for athletes on the current roster instead of non-active challengers, but for long-time or older viewers, seeing the likes of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Animal, Hawk, Hillbilly Jim, George Steel, Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, Sgt. Slaughter, Ted Dibiase Sr., Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, and even an early 90s iteration of the Undertaker, brought a new nostalgia-laced sense of enjoyment when playing. These Legends characters would become a staple in the series for years to come. HCTP would also mark the last time The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin would appear as active competitors, showing up as Legends themselves from that point on. It is also possible to have Jerry “The King” Lawler or Jim Ross as a special tag team partner during some parts of the game, but they are not available in most regular modes.

Though HCTP boasts an impressive roster, some players prefer to blaze their own path and create a unique superstar for the game. This mode saw the least amount of changes from the previous entry, Shut Your Mouth, but it is still just as engrossing. Create-a-Wrestler offers more in most areas with new options, but some categories like hairstyles, strangely have less to choose from. There is a ton to play with outside of building a new persona, like animations, move sets, stables, and entrances, but some elements inside those modes that appeared in other wrestling games from the same time period did not make it into HCTP, even though Yuke’s was also involved in their development (Wrestlemania XIX).

 

GAMEPLAY

Much of the gameplay was overhauled, even if it might not stand out immediately. Not only was how wrestler’s stats determined tweaked, but some logic was tied to their interaction with each other. No longer would a high-flyer like Rey Mysterio Jr. be able to pick up a heavyweight like A-Train for large moves, but rather show how stressful the attempt was. Even if this didn’t affect finishers, it added a more realistic hurtle to the matches for some characters. This new attention doesn’t mean that some wrestlers aren’t still overpowered or certain moves weren’t broken, as using Brock Lesnar or Goldberg just felt cheap at times.

The grappling system saw a major revamp, bestowing players with four times as many moves and making chain wrestling feel like more of a possibility. Limb-specific damage was also a big attraction to allow more strategic players a chance to work over their desired extremity and finish off big with a submission move. Body damage is now displayed to help with this and submission meters for both participants are in as well. Reversing also saw a change that most people appreciated, designating a button specifically for countering strikes and another for grappling. Though these changes greatly improved on overall gameplay there were still collision issues and some longer matches will result in cramped hands from all of the button mashing.

Playing is fun and there are a ton of modes to choose from. Most of these bout types are standard but HCTP introduces the First Blood match, Bra and Panties fights for the women, and the fan-favorite Elimination Chamber, another staple for the series. Strangely, the I Quit match and King of the Ring options were removed, leaving many to wonder why.

There are plenty of modes to keep the replayability for HCTP high, but the exceedingly entertaining arenas are a major part of that. These lethal playgrounds offered more interaction and increased the insanity for those who dared to think big, like being able to jump from a helicopter onto an opponent.

 

VISUALS AND SOUND

For the time it was released in 2003, HCTP was the best looking WWE game to date. An extended version of the opening video could be unlocked, working as one of the best hype packages for any sports game. The majority of the roster looked exactly like their real-world counterparts (with a few exceptions), while entrances and attires made fans quite happy. Many were especially overjoyed with the inclusion of blood and how the engine showed it off once a competitor had been busted open.

HCTP features nearly every wrestler’s theme song, with almost all of them being accurate to the time, except for Victoria, Kane, and Rob Van Dam, as well as the Legends. There is music that plays over the action while a match is going on, while other tracks accompany menu and selection screens that offer decent tunes that can become quite repetitious.

Good commentary is tough enough on the live product, but it can be harder to do well in a wrestling game. Since what the previous entries offered was received so poorly the development team decided to take it out completely with this new installment. The sound effects (Foley) for the various attacks, slams, and crashes are all satisfying and add a nice cushion of violence for those listening closely.

 

SEASON MODE

Fans have come to expect compelling storylines in their WWE games, that or a GM Mode to keep them entertained until the next outing. The season mode for HCTP is quite engaging and though it only lasts for one year of the chosen superstar’s career, it is well worth playing again for how unpredictable and all over the place the different arcs throw the player. This feature has built off of previous games and refined the experience, but for brand new players Season Mode will feel like something fresh and special. Players get to make decisions about where they want to go, SmackDown! Or RAW, which titles to go on the hunt for, and who they ally themselves with.

After a superstar is selected to follow through the year, there is a lot to do other than just put on incredible matches. The backstage socializing is the crux of the experience, using the locker room as a central hub area, the player can adjust their profile, manage a stable when the time comes, or visit the ShopZone. Players will be able to move to certain sections of the backstage area when they become available if there is another star or event to interact with. The back entrance, parking lot, training room, General Manager’s office, and corridors of the arena are all worth visiting when the story calls for it. Meeting up with another wrestler or manager can set up the next story segment, result in a character-building conversation, or wind up causing an impromptu match. Some players complained about the lack of being able to freely roam, like with Shut Your Mouth, but in some ways, less is more. It is much easier to make sure the story is progressing and decisions feel like they matter more.

For those who really want to continue after the year is up, HCTP will keep track of every wrestler’s title and stat history as well as their win/loss record and most common opponents, but some of the storylines will begin to repeat, even if there are plenty of options to play with. Additionally, some were upset with the roles given to the women wrestlers in Season Mode, as they were expected to be included along with their male counterparts. They do make appearances here in certain matches or as managers and love interests, but they have a tendency to vanish halfway through a storyline and there is no way to play as them on their own, something the series still has trouble with.

 

CONCLUSION

With fantastic gameplay, a top-notch roster, unlockables, and so much to do, it is no wonder why HCTP is held in such high regards. The game feels worth more than the original sixty dollar asking price on replayability alone, but has an extra dose of nostalgia for most as well. Had THQ and Yuke’s simply made a roster update and touched up the previous title’s look, they would have been fine, but the companies listened to their fans and re-examined what needed tweaking to improve the overall experience. Their success showed in how well the game sold and the accolades it received, like winning the 2003 Spike Video Game Award for Best Fighting Game. Even under scrutiny, SmackDown: HCTP shines through with how much it accomplished and got right, much like GameSpot pointed out by saying, “What the game lacks in innovation, however, is more than made up for in sheer playability.”

For true fans of the series, or wrestling games in general, HCTP feels like an evergreen title. One that ushered out many stars and ideas of what would soon be a bygone era and signaled that the new age was immanent, as both came together for a brief moment blissfully on the horizon to create a masterpiece; a relivable moment in time, a thing that almost all wrestling fans can agree upon as one of, if not the best.

 

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Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King – The Worth Lies Far Within

Like respectable youths of my generation, I grew up playing (far superior) the Super Nintendo version of Aladdin while The Lion King was that frustrating title I could always make it to the end of, but not beat. I prefer Aladdin over The Lion King (in film and games), but they are both excellent, no matter which version is played. I was happy to see both make their way onto new hardware, even if my preferred choice couldn’t be included.

 

This is a new collection that brings together two Disney giants and multiple, similar, versions of the games. I’m not going to go over everything here, but both titles have their Genesis incarnations (denoted by Console S), two forms of the Game Boy installments, Japanese versions, and The Lion King has it’s SNES counterpart front and center (denoted by Console N). I have already talked about how my beloved Capcom created Aladdin isn’t in this bundle—most likely for licensing reasons—and that is a crying shame, but they make up for it by including the 1993 C.E.S. demo of Aladdin as well as a Final Cut edition of the Genesis game made for the collection, which fixes some of the bugs, camera issues, as well as tweaks the hit detection in parts.

 

That is a lot. The gathered titles will pique the interest for those who hold a certain nostalgia for the two properties and anyone wanting to try out all of the content, but I can’t say it is definitive by any means. Not only is my darling Nintendo version of Aladdin absent, but both titles were missing something, rather it be PC ports or the one I wanted to try again, The Lion King on the SEGA Game Gear. I’m sure there are good reasons why these were left off, but it will be a sticking point for some.

There is also a “museum” option for both games that have some incredibly fun bonus content. Videos that dive into each game’s development and history are accompanied by interviews, musical tracks, and a ton of concept art. Again, for a collector or someone with fond memories of these games—or perhaps just the IPs they represent—this is cool. At $30, this is certainly not the worst deal for those already familiar with the games. For those unfamiliar, or younger players that may be attracted to this release because of the Disney name and colorful trappings, I need to remind everyone how difficult both of these can be.

Disney made sure their games were hard to combat the rental system and, by doing so, punished anyone who might want to have a little more casual fun in these great worlds. Cheats have been added to this new release for anyone who wants to give the middle finger to Jafar and Scar. Not only do we have the classic rewind and save anywhere capabilities, but there is that excellent jump in anywhere option. Watch someone (most likely) better than you play through the game and when they get somewhere new and fun looking, take control. This is something the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection did also and I hope it becomes the norm. If those aren’t enough though, simply enable that invulnerability! Using this feature does mean achievements can’t be earned, but that doesn’t bother me one bit. If anyone wants to play these games more casually now, the tools are there, making the games more accessible.

Although I’m not a fan of the menus themselves, I should say I’m happy to have the ability to adjust several settings. Buttons can be remapped for ease and combining that with any controller other than the Joy-Cons may improve the experience immensely. There is also a plentiful amount of options for the visuals including everything from filters and borders to the screen size.

I’m sure the default settings here are meant for the best possible experience when it comes to presentation, but that is far too small for me and my bad vision. I know most won’t like it, but I ended up playing a lot of both games with the stretched screen. As I’m digging into these on the Nintendo Switch, using the device in its mobile mode looks good and is honestly manageable if I have the stretch option selected, making this one of the few games I can play on the go without giving myself too much of a headache. Others with better vision will most likely enjoy it more when undocked.

Revisiting both of these games has reminded me how much fun they can be. Both are incredibly well-done movie tie-ins—maybe two of the best—and that says a lot, knowing how the original developers had a restricted timeframe to work on them. Playing through both again has reminded me how much I enjoyed these adventures and maybe even increased my appreciation for the Genesis version of Aladdin (even if still prefer my SNES) and has convinced me to finally dethrone Scar in the near future. As a retro collector, I have both of these games on the SNES and Genesis sitting on my shelf already, but I’m always going to try and support exposing more people to classic games, especially when the re-releases are done right.

It isn’t whole new worlds for most, but they are still kings.

 

[A review code was provided for this title on the Nintendo Switch]

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Haunt (2019)

I’m indifferent to haunted houses. Went through a few when I was younger and even had a few friends who helped run them tell me some great stories. While none of them have ever truly scared me, I always keep in mind how being in one gets us to lower our defenses a little. We always believe that, though we are there to be scared, it is all in fun and nothing can hurt us. In some ways, this sets up an even worse situation if danger truly lies around the corner.

The setup for the film Haunt sees six college-aged individuals leave a lame bar in search of a haunted house, but they stumble onto the wrong one. This attraction was obviously off the beaten path for a reason, but they can’t say it wasn’t eventful. Haunt was written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, who are famous in the industry for writing A Quiet Place and the upcoming sequel. Taking another stab at the director’s chair though, I have to admit that the duo delivered.

This is a movie that feels like it was handled with some care and shot like a movie with a much bigger budget. This is accomplished through good cinematography, tight close-ups that don’t overstay their welcome and some excellent lighting on the sets. When the characters do fight with the bad guys, those scenes are kept brief and framed well, preventing any of the scuffles from seeming too hokey or indulging. The group of killers in the film share a theme of classic Halloween monsters, appropriate to the environment, but still just a little extra spooky when needed. The masks and makeup are stunning in some scenes and were properly used to make an artistic and eye-catching poster.

I knew from seeing that promotional image that the directors had some potential to make a horror movie that could rise above the average fare. The first few minutes may feel a bit awkward as everything is set in place, but it won’t take long to begin building the tension. That build is slow, taking a bit of time to keep the audience questioning as to exactly how things will proceed. There are some slight jump scares, a small bit of playing with noises, but nothing that was ever annoying or too distracting from what was going on. The gore isn’t present early on either, holding off until the right moments, far from the squeamish torture porn that is shown off so much. It does ramp up along the way and will satisfy those who are seeking the violence, even if only in short bursts, keeping the blood paced out well.

Some of those elements work better because of the atmosphere, which is fantastic from the moment the characters reach the haunted house. The set design is wonderful and works to help the visuals, building even more tension. The second half of the film has parts that use a lot of silence and ambient sound or slight swells in the music to give the structure more character. Intelligent uses of these tricks keep the audience focused, even though cuts start coming faster. Not every scene flows perfectly, with a couple of moments dragging, but the movie was never derailed.

Perhaps not a surprise with knowing who is behind it, the writing isn’t bad at all, even if I have come to expect less within the genre. We don’t learn much at all about the fiends running the house, and it honestly wasn’t needed. A lot of plot points are made very clear about the characters upfront with painfully obvious statements, like having them state their fears and then forcing those scenarios on them in short order. Some things are almost too on the nose, like having the girl who has a lot of medical knowledge be a nurse for Halloween.

Haunt does fall to some of the more classic horror movie trappings in the second half, but it still hides those well within the story and characters. There were a few moments where one of the victims would make it to a new location or different position without indication of how they got there, making it slightly jarring, but never causing a major hole in the plot or screwing with the momentum. There was one of the deaths I absolutely couldn’t wait to see that was partially done off-camera and that was a letdown. The last few minutes feel quite rushed, like they realized that it might be dragging slightly or were in a hurry to show how the main character had changed, but forgot about everything else they could have touched on in the process.

Harper, our main character, is established early on to be in an abusive relationship and later to have survived a dangerous broken home. When we had the scene of her make-shift costume being Little Red Riding Hood, I saw that we were going somewhere, establishing her as this weak prey and a forthcoming change. I was hoping to see the script do a bit more with her not being afraid of ghosts, vampires, and devils, because of her countless encounters with real things to fear. I may have been wishing for too much out of Haunt. There were some small brilliant moments for sure, chances for opportunity. Harper has this beautiful halfway sequence when she shows bravery, just for a mishap to bring her right back down to her fear and insecurity.

I wonder how much lost potential was there, but those moments that do work are even better thanks to (again, at my surprise) the acting being solid, especially Katie Stevens, who plays Harper. There are a couple of weaker deliveries and a few lines that don’t always feel like they work for the character, but nothing that should take away from the enjoyment.

It’s amazing when horror movies that I know little about surprise me. I want more of that from talented people. Beck and Woods showed some of their love for other films with references to Night of the Living Dead and having the character of Evan wearing a costume from The Human Centipede. The end credits also revealed another big name in horror who was involved, with Eli Roth acting as a producer for the film. It doesn’t feel quite like one of his works, but Haunt has some of his style.

All of the right elements came together for the most fun I’ve ever had in a haunted house. I think fans of horror movies—especially those who watch a ton of them—will see the good things in Haunt. I hope we see more like it soon.

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