Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The King of Queens (1998-2007)

The thing with me and the sitcoms that I like is that I was never a fan of them during their original runs. The Cosby Show not withstanding (because I wasn't alive for most of its original run), I love shows like Home Improvement and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air now but when they were originally being produced, I was either too clueless, stubborn, or preoccupied to actually sit down and watch them. The same goes for The King of Queens, a show that I consider to be the end of an era in terms of 1990's sitcoms. As with most of these shows, my mom started out as a fan of it and I slowly but surely started watching it and became a fan myself. When I said I view it as the end of an era, what I mean by that is that it when it ended in 2007, it was the last of those shows started in the 90's that had that certain vibe to it (although most of it took place in the 2000's). After that, sitcoms were never the same to me.

The King of Queens is about IPS deliveryman Doug Heffernan and the life he lives with his tough-talking wife Carrie and her crazy father Arthur in Queens. Most of the show's episodes deal with Doug trying to get what he whats, usually at the expense of his friends and wife's feelings, as well as him having to deal with his wife's temper and generally bad attitude or his father-in-law's nuttiness. I actually didn't see the pilot episode for a very long time and it's interesting to see how the show evolved from there. You find out that the reason Arthur has to live with Doug and Carrie is because, being the maniac that he is, he accidentally burnt his own house down and Carrie didn't have the heart to take him to put him in a retirement home. Also, Carrie's sister was prominent in this episode and the several of the ones afterward but then just disappeared and was never seen or even really mentioned again. Odd. Also, Carrie didn't seem quite as mean or as tough with Doug in the pilot as she would eventually become.

The interesting about this show is that the three main characters, while likable, can sometimes be downright horrible people if you think about it. Take Doug (Kevin James), for instance. He's your quintessential man's man, a fun-loving guy who loves sports, action movies, and food. While he does clearly love his wife and care about his friends (and Arthur, to some degree), he can be a very selfish, spoiled baby at times. The lengths he will go to in order to get what he wants or stop something he doesn't like is downright scary sometimes. There was one episode where he didn't like the idea of Carrie trying to open up their "world" by becoming chummy with people she works with and actually went out of his way to repulse them so he wouldn't have to be friends with them. Another time, he took a lewd picture at a friend's wedding and let his cousin Danny take the fall for it. The worst thing he did was in the first part of the series finale where Carrie finally got the apartment in Manhattan that she always wanted but he was determined to stay in Queens no matter what, even if it means spoiling his wife's dreams (which, it turns out, he'd actually done at the beginning of their married lives).Despite all his negative traits, though, Doug is a pretty good guy. He's almost never attracted to other women and even the infrequent times that he is, you just know he would never cheat; he generally does love Carrie and sometimes does go out of his way to make her happy; and usually has enough sense to know when something has gone too far.

Carrie (Leah Remini), on the other hand, is much more prickly and difficult to like. You can't blame her, though, because in later episodes, you find out that Arthur wasn't the best father to her while she was growing up. But still, she does sometimes go a bit too far in her mean attitude towards Doug and other people. Some of the things she won't allow Doug to do are extreme and the reasons she gets mad at him or bans him from certain places and people can seem like borderline mental illness. In one episode, you find out that she's not happy unless the people around her are miserable, which is pretty screwed up. In one episode, she tried to end a good relationship between her friend Holly and another man because Holly's life being awful made her feel better. Still, she is good enough to realize that she has some serious issues and does try to figure out why she does what she does. And honestly, there are times where you can't blame her for getting mad at Doug or her father or other people.

Arthur (Jerry Stiller) is, honestly, the main character in the show who can be very grating for me. He's the one whom you wonder has some sort of mental disease, according to the stuff you see him do as well as what Doug and Carrie mention him having done. He yells a lot, makes childish demands, often causes trouble for Doug and Carrie's relationship, and not only messed up Carrie's childhood as I said but you find out that he hid her acceptance letter for college from her because he wouldn't have had anyone to make money for him. That's a loathsomely selfish act. He also cooks up schemes to get rich and doesn't care if they threaten Doug and Carrie's very livelihood and loves to pick on Doug's friend, Spence. But, as with Doug and Carrie, some good qualities do shine through. My favorite was when he dragged Spence into a scam that involved them pretending to be father and son. Arthur was extremely harsh to Spence but when the latter broke and was clearly hurt by it, Arthur felt bad. Another time, he and Carrie had a heated fight in which she called him a lousy father. Arthur, feeling guilty, tried, albeit in his own crazy way, to set things right.

Out of all of Doug and Carrie's friend, Deacon (Victor Williams) is by far my favorite. He seems like a laid back, easygoing guy you'd just want to hang out with. While he and his wife do experience marriage problems, he always has time to hang out with Doug. He does do the jerky act of cheating on his wife (it's not in a sexual way, though) but feels bad about it and tries to make things right between them. I do wish he would have stood up to Doug a little more and not let him drag him into some crazy situations. I also like Spence (Patton Oswalt). He's a likable geek who has a pretty rough life, with dead end jobs and being stuck with his crazy mother. (What is it with this show and insane parents?) He's done something deplorable every now and again but not to the point where you hate him. I just can't help but like geeks like him who get picked on because that was me throughout elementary school and junior high. Then there Danny (Gary Valentine, Kevin James' real life brother), Doug's cousin who becomes Spence's roommate. Doug actually despises him at the beginning of the show but grows to like him when they become coworkers. (While that does seem mean of Doug, I can relate to that because I've had some relatives and people who wanted to be close to me but they annoyed me so much that I tried to get away from them.) A running joke throughout the show is that people think he and Spence are a gay couple and even though you know they aren't, they often act like they are. Not much else to say about Danny other than he seems like a likable guy overall, if a bit annoying.

Holly (Nicole Sullivan), a young woman who works as a dog-walker and takes Arthur for walks often, is both sweet and annoying at the same time. On the one hand, she is a genuinely nice person. On the other hand, though, her insecurity and lack of skills to get a boyfriend can get irritating. Sometimes when she talks about the odd ways she goes about getting a boyfriend, you can't help but want to knock some sense into her. One friend of Doug's who didn't last long was his friend Richie (Larry Romano). Richie was your typical ladies' man with a Brooklyn accent and always referred to Doug as "Moose." While I didn't mind him, he was a bit of stereotype. I did think he was funny, though, especially in the flashback episode where it's revealed how Doug and Carrie met. You also had former Hulk-actor Lou Ferrigno, playing himself as the Heffernans' neighbor. He was often the brunt of a lot of jokes because of his having played the hulk, which he found really annoying, but he was a gentle giant. Kelly (Merrin Dungey), Deacon's wife, doesn't have much to do but from what you can hear, she and Deacon's relationship has sometimes been so bad that she's whacked him with a frying pan! One guy whom I'm glad only appeared in a few episodes was Ray, from Everybody Loves Raymond. I have never liked that show and I've never particularly cared for Ray Romano either. Every time he appeared in this show, he seemed to cause trouble for Doug and his voice and attitude always rubbed me the wrong way. Screw him.

One thing that's interesting about The King of Queens, which I never thought about until someone mentioned it to me, is that the conflict of each episode often isn't resolved by the end. The characters are often left either in a stagnant position or to wallow in more misery. I have mixed feelings about this concept. I do like it because, besides being unusual for a sitcom, it makes it more realistic. In real life, problems aren't solved just like that. They can take weeks or years and sometimes, are never resolved. In that case, this show's decision to have most problems not solved by the end of the thirty minutes lends reality to it. But on the other hand, it can sometimes be frustrating. When it comes to dire problems, I often want to know what happened afterward, if everybody came to terms with each other about what happened, and so on. So, it's a toss-up for me.

As per usual with my television reviews, here are some of my favorite episodes.

Hungry Man: Carrie's boss is hosting a cocktail party and Doug skips lunch to make it there. Unfortunately, there's no food whatsoever at the party and poor Doug goes to great lengths to find food, embarrassing Carrie in the process. I love this episode because Doug's attempts to get food are hilarious. He tries to eat a bunch of little finger foods and tic-tacs but nothing works. The best part is when, in desperation, he swallows some raw eggs and he later gets sick. Carrie tells him that if he throws up, she'll leave him but he can't help it. He tries to get to the bathroom but someone beats him to it; he tries to go out a back door but it's locked, etc. It's hilarious. There's also a funny moment where he has to change clothes in the elevator but unfortunately, opens right to the guy's apartment so everyone gets a glimpse of him in his underwear.

Art House: Arthur almost gets Doug fired and after a bitter fight, Doug forces him to move out. Arthur ends up getting his own place and it looks like he's going to be well off... of course, everything isn't as it seems. My favorite part of this episode comes at the ending. With Arthur gone, Doug reclaims his basement and moves everything back down there. But then, Arthur arrives, having no money to pay the rent for the apartment, and wants to move back in. Doug loses it and begins screaming at the top of his lungs, saying Arthur may as well just take everything from him. Arthur is hurt and walks out of the house and down the street, with no place to live now. But, you see Doug run after him and brings him back home. I like that moment because it's proof that, despite his selfish, childish way of acting sometimes, Doug does have a big heart.

Queasy Rider: Doug buys a motorcycle, even after Carrie forbids him from doing so. To get back at him, Carrie starts smoking, claiming that they should each do something that makes them feel more alive. The scenes of Doug riding the motorcycle are hilarious. He constantly crashes when he tries to park it in the garage, he gets rained on, and he has to endure giving Arthur rides to his job. The best part is when he sells the bike but tries to retain his dignity with Carrie by saying he was worried about their relationship. Carrie, feeling guilty, buys it back from him and that's when he has to confess that he now hates the bike. I like when he says it was partly her fault because of this insulting buzzer noise she made in front of his friends when she turned him down for a bike, adding, "I especially don't like it when you do it during sex!"

Assaulted Nuts: Doug fools around with a staple-gun at work and ends up stapling himself right in the balls. Unfortunately for him, he had a fight with Carrie earlier, saying he doesn't fool around at work and to keep his dignity, he has to endure signing an important waver while keeping his painful situation a secret. This is just every guy's worst nightmare and watching Doug have to go through it is really funny. The best parts are when Arthur demands Doug let him see it in the middle of the hospital and when, during the meeting with the person signing the forms for him and Carrie, she keeps stapling things together and he yells, "For God's sake, get a paperclip!"

Get Away: Doug, Carrie, Deacon, and Kelly go on a trip for the weekend but Doug and Carrie discover that Deacon and Kelly's sex life is much more active than theirs, which leads to problems. This episode is funny due to the amount of times Deacon and Kelly have sex, which is indicated whenever you hear Let's Get It On playing. Poor Doug and Carrie have to endure this again and again, wondering if they just don't have it anymore. By the end of the episode, the situation is switched: Doug and Carrie are about to do it big time whereas Deacon gets tossed out of his room after accidentally insulting Kelly.

Dire Strayts: This is the only episode featuring Ray Romano that I like. Doug invites Ray and Debra to have dinner with him and Carrie but ends up unintentionally insulting her when he tells her to "tone it down" since she's never met Debra before. After a tense dinner, Doug and Ray try desperately to see a ballgame but when the TV reception is poor, Doug tries to go up into the attic to fix. Ray boosts him up through a hole in ceiling of the bedroom closet but Doug ends up stuck and Ray throws out his back in the process. Just the image of Doug's legs hanging out of the closet ceiling is funny. Also, Carrie sees a rat near Doug and since he's not able to get away, he panics in a funny manner. This best parts are when Richie and his fire brigade come to get Doug out and he has to deal with Richie's teasing.

Fair Game: Doug discovers that Carrie has a bad habit of cheating at board games. I like this episode because it ends up addressing one of the issues between Carrie and her father. After Carrie cheats at board games again even though she said she was sorry, she admits that something comes over her when they're in the heat of the game. It turns out, when Arthur played board games with Carrie when she was a child, he would mock her whenever she lost, leading to her hatred of losing. I don't know why I like that, seeing as how it makes Arthur look like a horrible person, but I can't help but enjoy this episode.

Paint Misbehavin': Carrie makes the mistake of telling Doug that she does find Deacon attractive, which gets Doug jealous. He, Carrie, Deacon, and Kelly then go paintballing along with Danny, Spence, Richie, and Doug's sister to celebrate Deacon's birthday but things get personal really fast. Honestly, I like this episode for one hilarious moment during the paintball battle. There's this hardened war expert with them that does a roll to avoid shots but when Doug tries to imitate the roll, let's just say his physique doesn't allow him to pull it off. It's one of the funniest things I've ever seen. There's also a great moment near the end when Carrie tells Doug that if he shoots her, he's not getting sex ever again, to which Doug screams, "You can't do that!"

Inner Tube: Doug lies to Carrie about having to work late so he can play mud football and not have to go to a seminar of hers. Doug gets a bad cold from the experience and has to stay in bed the next time. In his fevered mind, Doug dreams of himself and his friends being in various TV shows. I just love the various TV shows that Doug dreams being part of, as well as how the style and filming techniques change from one to another. My favorite part is the Honeymooners section, where Doug does a great imitation of Jackie Gleason and Deacon is quite adept at mimicking Art Carney. I also like the Young and the Restless section just because it's interesting to see these characters filmed in that soap opera way.

Pregnant Pause Parts 1 & 2: In this two-part episode, Carrie discovers that she's pregnant and after Doug finds out, he offers to take much of the burden off her.. which about runs him ragged. There are plenty of funny parts in the second part with Doug having to work extra jobs and getting exhausted from it. The best is when he has to drive a limousine for a bunch of rowdy teenagers and when he sees a couple of them taking off their pants, he screams, "PANTS ON!" However, the episode has a tragic ending when Carrie has a miscarriage. The scene between the two of them when she tells Doug is very touching and heartbreaking. Leah Remini really pulls it off well there.

Sight Gag: Doug decides to get Carrie laser eye surgery as a birthday present so she won't have to wear glasses but she ends up nearly blind from the operation. This is hilarious. Arthur insists on Doug not helping Carrie when she can't see, which leads to some really funny fights. The best part is when Carrie discovers that Doug decided to be a cheap skate and got her an unprofessional surgeon who took a coupon(!) for the surgery. She tries to punch him but since she can't see, he easily dodges it. It's a funny fight.

As you can tell, I really like The King of Queens. There are better sitcoms but I love the characters in this show as well as Kevin James' likable charisma, the storylines, and genuine hilarity. I honestly wish more sitcoms nowadays would be like this because I feel it's a lost art. At least we'll have this and other great sitcoms in syndication to keep us entertained for years to come.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With: Whose Line is it Anyway? (1998-2004)

Few TV shows have ever caused me to absolutely keel over laughing than Whose Line is it Anyway? This was an Americanized version of an English improv show, hosted by Drew Carey, and featuring performers like Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Brad Sherwood, Chip Esten, among others. I have watched a few episodes of the English show and I do think it's pretty funny as well but since this is the version I know best, this is the one I prefer. My mom discovered it long before I did. One night, I remember hearing her laughing like crazy in the living room and when I went to investigate, she let me in on what was so funny. I began watching it with her, slowly learning how the show was played, what the rules were, etc. Eventually, Mom stopped watching it on a regular basis but I continued on, watching it for many, many years, following it from ABC to ABC Family. I am convinced that this is one of the most criminally underrated and hilarious shows ever.

The show went like this: Drew Carey hosted and there would be four performers. At a certain point in the early seasons, the three regular performers were Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, and Ryan Stiles, with the fourth person either being Brad Sherwood, Greg Proops, Chip Esten, Jeff Davis, or Kathy Greenwood (it was always random who would be on the show). Drew would choose improvisational games for them to play that were written on his cards and would sometimes get suggestions from the audiences. The show's hilarity came from the fact that there were really no rules to this show and the cast members could do whatever they wanted in the games, sometimes pulling poor, unsuspecting audience members into the games. This would sometimes result in things getting out of control and it was always funny as hell. Sometimes, the performers made it clear that they hated certain games and that would result in hilarious backlash from them against Drew; other times, the games were so hard and the suggestions the individual performers would get were sometimes so weird that it would be funny to watch them try to pull it off (and they would show their mastery of the art by doing so more often than not).

At first, I had mixed feelings about Drew Carey as the host. He would often make really bad jokes that caused you to roll your eyes and he seemed to think he was being funny when he wasn't. He also tended to beat a funny line to death by repeating it over and over and it could get annoying. At a certain point in the series, the last game of each show would involve him joining the cast (there would be an arbitrary winner who would get to sit it out) and he proved that he wasn't the best improver. However, as I watched the show more often, I began to really warm up to Drew. He seemed like a nice guy (I've heard he really is) and you could always tell that he was having a blast. The best thing about him was his hilarious, high-pitched laugh he would bust out whenever things got really crazy and it often did. It was an infectious laugh and often made you laugh just from listening to it. But I think the thing I loved the most about Drew was his laid back way of hosting. No offense to Clive Anderson, the host of the UK version, but whereas he seemed a bit more stringent in hosting, Drew's presence made it feel like they were all a bunch of buddies getting together to have a good time and that's what I like.

Wayne Brady became a regular performer of the show by the second season (this had to be one of the first things he was ever involved with). His biggest skill was singing and dancing, at which he was incredibly skilled. In many of the singing games featuring him, they would throw different music styles at him or make him sing while imitating a famous artist and no matter how crazy it would get, he would always master it. It was remarkable. As an actual improver, though, he wasn't the best. He wasn't horrible, but he was nowhere near the level of Colin and Ryan, who were veterans since they were on the UK version. I sensed that the writers of the show knew he wasn't the best because his suggestions were never that difficult to pull off; however, Wayne always made the most of it and he would sometimes do something hilarious, even if it wasn't always intentional. He also seemed to be enjoying himself (which is more than I can say for him as the host of Let's Make a Deal).

Colin Mochrie was my favorite of the show. He was just so hilarious and really skilled at improv. He was  the one who often had everybody else dying of laughter at the end of each game while he finished it. His skill at holding in laughter, even when something very funny was going on, was one I wished I had because I've often laughed at the worst possible moments. What made him so funny was not just that he said outrageous things but he would often say it with a sweet, soft-spoken demeanor or sometimes come out of nowhere, acting all crazy. Another endearing thing about him was that he knew when he'd just said something that either wouldn't make it to air or would get a lot of people angry at him and his reaction was often as funny as what he said. He often was the butt of jokes, which either stemmed from the fact that he's bald or Canadian. However, you couldn't help but go, "Awe!" at him when he acted hurt and his friend Ryan would comfort him. He could give as much as he could get and those that made fun of him often wished they hadn't. It's a shame that this guy has never had his own show because it would be awesome.

Ryan Stiles was one half of a very funny comedy duo, the other person being Colin. Whenever they acted in a scene together, Ryan often acted as the straight-man to Colin's madness but Ryan could be capable of some really crazy (and often raunchy) stuff himself. He seemed to get the most bizarre suggestions from the show's writers, even more so than Colin. I'm guessing they were trying to see if they could stump him but they never did. Ryan hated the game "Hoedown" more than anybody else and almost always ended it by either insulting Drew, the staff, or the game itself. (The uncensored outtakes of him singing hoedowns on the DVDs are priceless.) There was one hoedown where he was either completely drained of ideas or just refused to do it because Drew had to come up behind him and sing for him. Ryan was almost never the arbitrary winner of the show and had to endure the hoedown, which was often the last game of each show. Still, he always came out on top.

Like Colin, Brad Sherwood often said really outrageous, politically incorrect things on the show. He was the one whose stuff was often so dirty that they couldn't air it (as seen on the outtakes) or if they did, things would get awkward. Still, he was definitely one of the funniest non-regulars and blended in well with scenes involving Colin and Ryan or acting as Wayne's singing partner. Greg Proops was also a very funny non-regular. What I liked about him was that he seemed much more intelligent and cultured than everyone else, which made the crazy stuff he would do even more funny. He was the best at foreign accents as well, especially German, and his acting in games was superb. Jeff Davis was really good at both singing and improv; he was very skilled at impressions and foreign accents and always seemed to have the most confidence of everyone. Chip Esten was it his best when he was singing; as an improver, his skills were fairly lacking. The humor from his performances came because he sometimes blew his suggestion. But, he always seemed like a nice guy and I really liked his level-headed attitude towards all the craziness around him.

There were some women improvers on the show as well, though most of them didn't last very long. Denny Siegel was always my favorite woman improver because she could be as wacky as the men most of the time (although her lack of skills in the game Scene To Rap often made me cringe). She was really good at a game called Hey You, Down There, which acted as a 1950's instructional film and she was the narrator while Colin and Ryan were the ones acting out the task. The woman who appeared most frequently was Kathy Greenwood, whom I couldn't stand. I don't know why she was chosen to appear so often because she had no improv skills, often barely participated in the games, and sometimes, barely said a word the entire show. I knew a woman who was a big fan of the show as well and Kathy was her favorite, something I was never able to understand. The worst woman improver by far was Karen Murayama, who only appeared in a few episodes, thankfully. She was absolutely awful, especially at guessing games. She was so bad at figuring out a person's quirky that you often wondered if she was stupid. (One time, Brad was supposed to be an Amish guy and she thought he was Sean Connery. What?!) Drew pretty much said she was stupid when he said, "Don't ever go on Celebrity Jeopardy." The best, however, was Josie Lawrence, a veteran of the UK version who appeared in a couple of episodes. I wish she'd stuck around because she was really funny with her British sense of humor and sophistication.

There were celebrity appearances on the show, either as a fellow cast member or appearing for only a few games. Robin Williams' episode was freaking hilarious. Also good were Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Griffin, and Stephen Colbert (long before he became well-known for his political satire show). Other celebrities who appeared were Jerry Springer, David Hasselhoff, Richard Simmons (God, wait till I talk about that show), Florence Henderson, Sid Caesar, and Hugh Hefner, among others.

Drew often awarded points at the end of each game, although he always stated that Whose Line was, "The show where everything's made up and the points don't matter." His descriptions of how useless the points were often got a chuckle out of me. (There was one episode, however, where he decided to actually keep score, although that was forgotten by the end of it.) There was also banter between him and the cast members between games, which only added to the laid back fun of the show. The show also had its fair show of inside jokes, usually caused when somebody flubbed a line or said something really outrageous. These included an episode where Drew referred to Africa as a country and the cast would not let him forget it for the rest of show; Colin discovering that Wayne is actually really ticklish and tickling him throughout the episode; Colin randomly saying, "Meow" in a sexy way and it was repeated throughout the episode; Chip blowing a game where he was supposed to be singing Mel Gibson and the Wrestler but somehow got it mixed up with professor, among others. Even the credits were funny because after the first season, Drew had some random cast members read the credits in a weird quirk.

There are so many memorable moments from this show that if I were to try to list them all, this post would go on for pages and pages. What I'll now do is go through my favorites and talk about some of my favorite moments from those games.

Scenes from a Hat: Probably my favorite game, this one involved Drew pulling suggestions written by the audience out of a hat and the performers having to act out whatever situation was described.

Robin Williams: Probably the funniest one by far was the one on the episode with Robin Williams. It started out simple enough with them acting like bad superheroes but it started getting funny when the suggestion was, Bad Topics for an Interpretive Dance. Ryan said, "Diarrhea flows like a river." Robin did him one better by saying, "Impotence is a horrifying thing," starting out in a small position and gradually standing up. Next was, If Entertainers Worked Funerals. Robin came out and said, "Alright, start the truck Johnny," and acted like he attached the corpse to a car battery. He then yelled, "Wow, look at him move! Isn't that incredible, ladies and gentlemen? With just six volts, you can make your relatives dance again!" Ryan and Colin came up doing various funny things; Ryan acted like he stuck his head in the corpse's mouth; Colin acted like he twisted the corpse into a shape and said, "A dog,"; and Ryan acted like he stuck his hand up the corpse's back-end and said, "Harry and I would like thank you all for coming by, wouldn't we, Harry?" One that, for some reason gets me to laugh is, Frivolous things to ask for when a genie grants you three wishes, and Colin simply comes up and says, "Uh, two Cokes and some chips." Next was, Inappropriate Anecdotes to tell on a talk show and Ryan came up, pointed at his wedding ring, and said, "Okay, long story short, this is the stone I passed." So damn funny!

I Didn't Mean to Cook Your Dog: One suggestion one time was, Songs about life's embarrassing moments. Colin came up and sang, "Hey, I didn't mean to cook your dog, but hey those things just happen. I was just standing there and his little toes, they started tappin'. So I cut his throat, (something about a goat), and then I put him on the barbecue..." Before he could go on Ryan, as he often did, took off the stage, as if to say, "Okay, that's enough."

If Actors Were Completely Honest During Their Acceptance Speeches: During that suggestion, Colin came up and said something that was outrageous, half of it was bleeped but I think you'll know what he said: "Man, I can tell you how man BLEEP I've had my BLEEP up just to get this." Wayne and Chip looked absolutely horrified. Wayne came up and said, "It's been an honor working with Colin Mochrie all these years." I bet it was.

Bad Times for a Woman's Water to Break: Yeah. The funniest parts during this one came from Colin and Ryan naturally, who first acted like they were riding horse's when Colin's water broke and then acted like they were going down the wedding aisle. Even funnier was the next suggestion was, When a Deep, Passionate Kiss is Complete Out of Line, and the two of them repeated that aisle moment, then acted like they were going to kiss. Hilarious.

Read a Book, People: This came during the suggestion, Outtakes from the Hillbilly Shakespeare Festival (or something similar). Wayne came up and said in a redneck accent, "Hear ye, the two revenuers from Verona approacheth." No one reacted and Wayne, keeping his accent, said, "Read a book, people!" Everybody broke up laughing and Drew's laugh was hilarious.

Things You Can Say About your Boat, but not you Girlfriend: Colin came up and yelled, "She's takin' on water!"

Song Styles: Wayne Brady (and Brad or Chip if they were on that particular episode) would come sing songs either to an audience member or by himself. Every now and then, the other three performers would provide back up for him. This was often a game where I didn't pay much attention but there were instances that were hilarious.

Village People Polka: This was an instance where Wayne was joined by everyone else, including the audience member (a sanitation worker named Howard), singing in the style of the Village People (they all wore hats to match the various members). It started out typical enough, with the song being played in the style of YMCA, but then about halfway through, something went wrong with the keyboard and the music started going really fast. Everybody started moving and singing fast to keep up with it (Colin's face was hilarious; he was like, "Help!") and Wayne even sang, "How'd this song get so damn fast?" Finally, they had to cut it prematurely and that's when Drew said, "I didn't know the Village People did polkas." Even funnier was that Drew pointed out that Wayne spelled Howard as H-O-R-W-A-R-D and Wayne said, "It's hard to spell at 210 beats per minute." However, Wayne spelled it wrong before the music went crazy so he couldn't use that as a defense.

Singing Strip-O-Gram: Drew brought down this elderly woman who was a lunch lady and he revealed to Wayne that he sing to her as a singing strip-o-gram. Everybody immediately burst out laughing and this is the only time you could hear Colin unable to control himself and laugh out loud. Poor Wayne was so embarrassed but he went through with it, unbuttoning his shirt and unbuckling his belt as he sang. The best part was the last verse that he couldn't finish. He sang, "You get to have a little spaghetti and two great meatballs..." Wayne lost it right then and Drew had to take his glasses off because he was laughing so hard. After it was over, you could hear Wayne tell the lady that he was sorry! He sat back down and he said, "I feel so dirty!" Drew said, "You feel dirty? How about poor Leigh, the lunch lady?"

Weird Newscasters: The performers act out a news show. Colin is the usually anchor but Brad is if he's on the episode, Wayne does sports, and Ryan does the weather. The co-anchor, sportscaster, and weatherman have an odd quirk they have to act out. A lot of the fun comes whenever Colin is the anchor; he gives himself and the rest of the guys weird names and comes up with hilarious news stories. Some of my favorite names he gave himself were: Ti-Toe through-to-tulips, Horse-Ye-Rode-In-On, Keith My-Pasthy-White-Butt, Thore Just Thinking About It, and Oswald That Ends Wald. He gave his co-anchors names like Smiley Dick (Chip), Dwayne Da-Bathtub (Ryan), Reggae Jackson (Wayne), Ruby Squealer (Wayne), and my favorite, Gunther Do-Something-Amusing (Ryan: his face was hilarious when he heard that name). There was one time where Brad was the anchor and Colin was the co-anchor and Brad gave him the name, Baldy Flap-Scalp (lol!).

Colin's best top stories to me were: a man who was swallowed whole by a whale escaped today by running all the way to the end until he was pooped out; when talking about a human cannonball who was shot out of a cannon along with his donkey, Colin said, "It took the doctors six hours to remove Linguini's head from his ass"; he talked about how Rudolph the Reindeer was killed when he was flying over Barcelona and was hit by a flock of birds and a 747. He said that eyewitnesses reported, "That the reindeer in Spain was hit mainly by the plane." He also once talked about how Hugh Hefner prevented a bunch of friars from planting flowers on his property and said that someone commented that, "Only Hugh can prevent florist friars."

Some of the best quirks were when Wayne had to be an old vaudeville star whose plastic surgery collapses. The faces that guy made were downright terrifying. Ryan once had to be a Bigfoot caught on camera and desperate to escape being filmed. The noises he made and the way he ran off just break me up. One of the funniest was we had to be Frankenstein's monster looking for a mate and he pulled this poor guy out of the audience, took him behind the green screen, made a bunch of passion noises, and they both came out looking like they had been really hammered. It was hilarious. Wayne had to be Jerry Lewis one time but he clearly didn't know what he was doing and blundered his gag, which made it even funnier. Colin once was the co-anchor and he panicked at the slightest thing. When Wayne acted as the Spanish Crocodile Hunter, he accidentally sent a wad of spit flying and Colin acted like it was in his hair. Colin also once acted as a nudist and when he went to get out of his seat, he said, "These damn seats are vinyl!" He then acted like it was stuck to his butt and when he got it loose, he put his foot on the stool with his knee up. Brad acted like he was trying to block his privates and he about cracked up.

Party Quirks: One performer would act like the host of a party and the other three would have bizarre characters they'd have to act out, with the host having to guess who they are. This game had some of the craziest moments to ever happen in the entire show.

Ryan Breaks the Light: Ryan's quirk was that he had to be Carol Channing whose head keeps getting stuck to things. He headed head-first right to Drew's desk, which has a neon light on the front, and he accidentally smashed the light. Everything came to a screeching half as everybody tried to compose themselves: Drew, after realizing Ryan wasn't hurt, laughed so hard his face turned red and Wayne had to turn his back to the camera so nobody would see him laughing. The amazing thing was Ryan, being the trooper he is, insisted they go on with the game and stayed in character until Kathy Greenwood finally guessed who he was. I had the utmost respect for him after that.

The Melissa Incident: Wayne had to be footage from King Kong vs. Godzilla and grabbed this woman out of the audience. What he didn't realize was he'd pulled her skirt up and everyone in the audience as well as everybody in the country watching the show could see her underwear. He let her go immediately but he felt horrible and Drew was rolling. Chip as the host was great because he was trying to get things back under control. All in all, I felt so bad for that poor woman but I myself about passed out, I was laughing so hard.

Colin Gets Too Hot: Colin's quirk was that he was convinced that everybody wasn't the sex they claimed they were and was trying to find out for sure. Colin proved nothing would stop him in carrying out his quirk: he started grabbing everybody's crotch! Soon, all the other cast members were trying to get away from him, especially Ryan, who had to be shooting studly photographs for the cover of romance novels, and had to try to look sexy while covering his crotch. Colin also did grab Kathy's breast at one point. This isn't the best episode to use to introduce to a newcomer to the show because they'll think it's the gayest show ever.

Merchant Seaman: Colin's quirk was that he was an angry sperm looking for an egg. He was the last one left and Brad (I don't know if he'd figured out or not) asked him, "Were you in the marines because you look like a merchant seaman." I about died at that point. Colin's face was really funny.

Brad Goes Too Far: Brad was hosting the party and when Colin came in, his quirk was that he was a performing seal. He was doing the body movements of a seal as well as the barking. That's when Brad said, "I'd like you to meet BLEEP." I found what was bleeped out what Stephen Hawkings. Everybody in the audience groaned at Brad and Colin had a look of sheer horror on his face. It passed but I'm sure Brad received a real guilt trip from the censors afterward.

Show Stopping Number: Ryan and Colin would act out a scene, joined eventually by Wayne, and whenever Drew pushed the buzzer, they'd have to make up a song using the last line they said. Naturally, Drew would wait until they said something stupid and then hit the buzzer.

Without a Hole, Where Would You Be?: The scene was Colin and Ryan were working at a Swiss cheese factory, having to poke holes in the cheese, and Wayne came in at the Hole-In-Things Fairy. When Colin asked him why he puts holes in things, Wayne said, :"Because without a hole, where would you be?' Drew hit the buzzer and after Wayne gave a shocked look to him, he sang, "Without a hole, where would you be? No place to <nnnh!> and no place for the pee." He went on but when it was finished, everybody was laughing and poor Wayne walked back to his seat and totally face-palmed.

Hey, Buster, Hire My Friend!: The scene was Ryan and Colin were working in an office and Ryan had just been fired. Colin said he was going to go up to the boss and say, "Hey, buster, hire my friend!" Drew hit the buzzer and Colin sang, "Hey, buster, hire my friend or I'll put my foot right up your end!" And then, out of nowhere, he started making weird noises, going, "Whirr, whirr, whirr, aba zeeky no goy ah!" Ryan stopped him and asked, "What the hell happened there?" It was so out of left flield!

Improbable Mission: Colin and Ryan are secret agents carrying out a mundane task, and Greg or Wayne gives them their instructions.

The Cat!: This was one of the funniest moments ever. Colin and Ryan had to wash the burnoose for the Emir of Groovefunkistan. From the get-go, it was obvious that neither of them knew what a burnoose was. It was funny enough when they acted like they put the burnoose into the bathtub to wash and Ryan had to fart in the tub to agitate but it got really crazy when Colin said, "It's taking too long. The Snackafark of Emir will be here!" Ryan tried to keep acting but he started laughing and Colin yelled, "The cat!", which he'd suggested earlier as a way to clean the burnoose. That tipped Ryan over and everybody was dying at that moment. Colin then said they needed some fabric softener, "Saying, well you can't have static cling! The burnoose will stick to his..." everybody broke up again and he just said, "thing!" He then yelled, "The cat!" again and Ryan had to turn his back so nobody could see him dying of laughter.

And that's only a small sample of the many hilarious moments on Whose Line is it Anyway? There are so many more games and moments I could mention but I think I've spoiled enough already. If you've never seen this show before, by all means watch it on ABC Family or watch clips on YouTube. Few shows are just plain and simple fun as this one was. Drew once asked if any of us have this much fun where we work and I'm sure few of us could say yes. It's a shame that the show had to end and even though Drew eventually created a new show called Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza, it doesn't match Whose Line to me. A show that honestly funny just doesn't come around that often.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With: Donkey Kong Country: Legend of the Crystal Coconut (1999)

In a VHS from Nintendo Power in 1999 that promoted upcoming Nintendo 64 games like Jet-Force Gemini and Donkey Kong 64, there was an advertisement for a CGI Donkey Kong movie. The first time I saw this commercial, I was a bit taken aback. Donkey Kong's voice sounded kind of strange but otherwise, it looked cool. Little did I know that this wasn't really a movie but a compilation of four episodes from a Donkey Kong Country television show that was airing on Fox. I knew about that show but since I never watched Fox, I didn't know that this was the same thing. I got this VHS, along with the game Donkey Kong 64, for Christmas that year and wasted no time in watching it.

I need to give a brief overview of the show so, in case you've never seen it, you'll understand where we are here. From what I can gather, Donkey Kong and the rest of the apes on the island (which is called Kongo Bongo in this show) started out as your average primates until DK found the Crystal Coconut. After summoning a bunch of bananas, he and his friends eat the bananas, which give them increased intelligence, enabling them to build up the island into what is now. As you can guess if you know the video game franchise, the show is about Donkey Kong having to protect the Crystal Coconut from King K. Rool and from a new character, Kaptain Scurvy. This film, as I said, compiles together four episodes of the series.

The show was an odd experience at first but when I got into it, I had fun with it. It may not be the most sophisticated thing imaginable (in fact, some of it is pretty kiddish and dumb) but it was (and still is) enjoyable to watch. It does have its fair share of problems, though. For one, the CGI animation ranges from dazzling to really bad and amateurish. I guess I shouldn't be too hard on it since this show was first produced in 1996 but the animation tends to be inconsistent. It can't decide whether Donkey Kong has a mouth full of sharp teeth or no teeth at all; the design of Kaptain Scurvy's skin on his chest switches constantly from a bright, defined yellow to see-through yellow where you can see his scales (that was a bad description, I know, but it's hard to explain); sometimes the limbs and skin textures slip (one character's arm jiggled wildly for a few seconds), etc. One of the most obvious mistakes was when Donkey Kong was in a barrel and you could see his head's shadow on the floor but that was it. The barrel's shadow wasn't there. It was weird.

The biggest shock for me was that there are songs in this show. Each episode has at least two songs sung by various characters and as a result, this movie is full of them. On the one hand, most of the voice actors are pretty good singers but unfortunately, many of these songs have a big problem that befalls most animated musicals: they cause the story to screech to a halt. Don't get me wrong, I actually like some of the songs, but it gets to a point where you realize one is about to start and you're like, "No, just get on with it!" It can get grating.

As for the characters, some of them retain their personalities from the games, others have new ones, and there are other characters that were created specifically for the show. Richard Yearwood as Donkey Kong is a contrast to how he's usually portrayed in the games. In the games, he comes across as a bit of a chunkhead; not exactly stupid but slow and more apt to use his muscle. In this, he feels more like a care-free surfer dude. He's like a teenager who has the enormous responsibility of defending the Crystal Coconut but lays around when he's not doing so. As such, he is likable. He gets a bit cocky and wants to run before he walks when it comes to being the future ruler of the island but he is strong and dependable nonetheless. You do get the feeling he'd drop anything to save his friends from danger.

Diddy Kong's character is fairly consistent with his video game persona. He seems like the dependable sidekick he's always come across as being. Andrew Sabiston gives him a squeaky voice and a touch of mischievousness that I think does fit. The only problem is when he tries to sing. He doesn't sing in this movie but I've seen episodes where he does and he sounds like a girl. I don't know if it's actually Sabiston singing or not but it's bad. Cranky Kong also feels like his video game persona, if not as mean. It's never made clear here how he and Donkey Kong are related but DK does seem to really care about him. As I said, Cranky isn't as mean here as he is in the games but he does feel like the typical old fart who has little tolerance for young whippersnappers. I wish he did complain about how video games used to be but since this isn't that type of universe, he doesn't. Aron Tager does do a commendable job as Cranky. Funky Kong is also around, voiced by Damon D'Oliveira. He feels like the laid back surfer dude he always was, although he's preoccupied with karma, which he never mentioned in the games. I guess they had to give him a bit more character.

Candy Kong is voiced by Joy Tanner, and unlike her video game persona, she has more of a personality. She's got quite a temper and is not the bubble-headed blond that she came across as in the games. She's also very sarcastic and works at a factory that creates barrels, where she has to fend off advances from her boss, Bluster Kong. Bluster (voiced by Donald Burda), was created specifically for this show and is a pompous ape who thinks he's the greatest thing on Earth and that Candy should be throwing herself at him. However, when things get dangerous, he cowers in fear, shown in gratuitous detail in the last episode here where King K. Rool takes control of the factory and gets on his hands and knees, promising to help him so he won't be hurt. Class act. Dixie Kong also appeared in the show but since she isn't in the movie and I haven't actually watched the show in a while, I don't know much about her personality. (I know she was voiced by Louise Vallance but that's it.) There's another character created for this show called Eddie the Mean Old Yeti, an ape lives in the snow-covered mountains of the island. He only appears briefly in the movie and I don't remember any of his episodes but he's apparently quite primitive, talking like a caveman. Finally, there's a god-like character named Inka Dinka Doo, who comes in the form of an idol in an ancient temple. Nothing to say about him other than he has a big booming voice and gives out advice every now and then. He's voiced by Rick Jones.

There are two bad guys in the show. One, of course, is King K. Rool and his criminal army. K. Rool (voiced by Benedict Campbell) has had a different personality in various games, sometimes coming across as a big blowhard and other times coming across as intimidating, as in Donkey Kong 64. Here, he's a typical hot-headed bad guy with an English accent and can sometimes come across as quite prissy. His design here is also strange: he has no tail, a very short cape, and no swollen, blood-shot eye. His subordinates are two familiar characters, Klump and Krusha, who are simplified to one character each instead of being troops. Klump, voiced by Len Carlson, is a blowhard general who's dead-set on pleasing K. Rool. He's always tactical and his military sensibilities tend to get in the way of his job. Krusha, voiced by Ron Rubin, is a big dimwit who is the best example of all brawn and no brains. In fact, he's almost like a child. There are also Kritter troops but they don't speak in this movie.

The other villain is a pirate named Kaptain Scurvy. His basic design is that of the enemy Kannon in the game, Donkey Kong Country 2. He's such a stereotypical pirate, saying stuff like, "Arrgh!", "Shiver me timbers," and so on, that it's kind of cringe-inducing. Did they have to make him this stock? Scurvy is, however, an important character in the context of the show, as it was an ancestor of his who brought the Crystal Coconut to Kongo Bongo. He has two mates, Green Kroc and Kutlass, both of whose designs are loosely based on enemies from the games and are voiced by Dan Hennessey and John Stocker. (I don't which one voices which character, though, because the characters' voices kept swapping throughout the movie. I've never understood how that happens in any animated show or movie. Can't they keep up with who's voicing what character?)

The episodes in this movie are thus: the first one has Donkey Kong wanting to know all the secrets of the Crystal Coconut. He asks Inka Dinka Doo about it and when he's told, "To know everything, you must give up everything," he misinterprets it as meaning he has to give the Crystal Coconut away. Very stupidly, he gives it to King K. Rool. Now he has to get the coconut back from K. Rool as well as keep it away from Scurvy. Not bad. It's interesting how everybody is after the coconut here; K. Rool, thinking it's some sort of trick, orders his henchmen to give the coconut back to Donkey Kong but when DK visits him to retrieve it, K. Rool tells them to bring it back to him instead (did you get all that?). At the same time, Scruvy's after it as well but he has a painful toothache and promises to give anybody who cures it whatever they want. That's how DK eventually gets the coconut back. The funniest part is when Klump and Krusha initially try to return the coconut but Cranky, thinking it's a trick, sets up a bunch of traps that about knock them senseless. At the end, Scurvy ends up accidentally leaving his two mates behind and Klump and Krusha are stuck onboard the ship in an attempt to get the coconut back, not knowing that Scurvy no longer has it (and Krusha decides now to tell Klump that he can't swim).

The second one involves Donkey Kong and Diddy playing a trick on King K. Rool when Klump steals a walky-talkyof theirs. They make K. Rool think that a strange object they've found is a magical amulet and he ends up sending Klump and Krusha on a wild goose chase to the island's forbidden forest to look for it. Cranky, however, doesn't like that they play practical jokes and tells DK and Diddy that the amulet they've found is evil. He sends them to the forbidden forest as well to find someplace to hide it. That turns out to be Cranky's attempt to teach them a lesson. All the while, Scurvy arrives on the island to get the Crystal Coconut and gets caught up in the chaos; at the same time, DK doesn't like being in the forbidden forest because he thinks he saw a monster there when he was a kid. The best parts come when Klump and Krusha get stuck in thick mud and K. Rool has to retrieve the Crystal Coconut himself. Also, DK finds out from Cranky that the bog monster he saw was Cranky, who did that to make DK stay out of the forbidden forest. However, the episode ends with a suggestion that the monster may actually be real.

The third story has Donkey Kong land straight on his head after falling out of his tree-house and lose his memory. He runs into Kaptain Scurvy, who tells him that he's a pirate and gets him to steal the Crystal Coconut. Later, DK runs into King K. Rool, who tricks him into believing he's a Kremling called Donkey Rool and gets him to steal the coconut for him. This is probably my favorite part of the movie along with the previous one, although the ways that both Scurvy and K. Rool trick DK into thinking he's a bad guy make our furry hero look really stupid, even if he does have amnesia. This episode, as well, cripples this movie as a whole because there's a point where Funky and Diddy try to make Donkey Kong remember who he really is and Diddy reminds him of a time when Scurvy locked them both in barrels. That episode is the next and last one in this compilation. Makes you wonder if those that put this movie together were paying attention or even cared for that matter.

The last episode starts with King K. Rool stealing the Crystal Coconut and taking over Bluster's barrel factory, forcing him to make exploding barrels he can use to take over Kongo Bongo. Donkey Kong and Diddy manage to get the coconut back but then Scurvy steals it and they have to get it back again. That's where the aforementioned scene on Scurvy's ship comes in. This episode is interesting because it introduces Klap Trap, the little enemy from the games, as a character who is held captive by Scurvy. (I can't tell from this episode if he's part of K. Rool's clan or not, probably is.) The little guy does a pretty rocking song as well. The battle between DK and Scurvy's crew is pretty funny, as well as the ending with Scurvy and his mates stuck on a small island.

As I said, I do think this show is funny and enjoyable, but it does have its fair share of weirdness (and that's saying something). For one, Cranky has a tendency to use the Crystal Coconut as an avatar to appear in different areas as a floating, see-through form so he can warn Donkey Kong about what's going on. That comes out of left-field in this movie with no explanation and really took me off-guard. Also, King K. Rool apparently has cameras all over the island because there's a monitor on his throne that he uses to talk to his cronies, no matter where they are. I guess I shouldn't be complaining about logic in a show like this but it is odd. Also, was that backstory involving the Kongs starting out as normal apes and turning intelligent due to the Crystal Coconut's power necessary? Couldn't they just stick to the basic plot of the games? It doesn't really bother me but I'm just asking.

This movie, and the Donkey Kong Country TV series, may not be the best thing to come out of Nintendo's many game franchises but it is fun nevertheless. If anyone was going to watch this, I'd advise turning your brain off, as well as lowering your expectations about it being like the games, and just have fun with it. Maybe I'm just easily amused but all I'm saying is don't take it too seriously and you'll like it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With: Pokemon Snap (1999)

As I said back in my retrospective of my personal connection to the Pokemon franchise, this was the first game I actually played. I knew what Pokemon was and it didn't appeal to me initially; however, this game looked very unique and special. There aren't a lot of games that simulate wildlife photography, (no doubt because it could probably be boring if not right), and treating Pokemon in that way seemed like a very cool thing to do. I got it at Wal-Mart one evening and played it the minute I got home. (I love what it said on the back of the box: this is a game pak, not a camera.) I did like it from the moment I played it, although, as I'll elaborate on, it could have been better.

In the game, you play as Todd, a photographer who's been hired by Prof. Oak (from the Pokemon anime) to photographs of Pokemon in different parts of an island for a report he's creating about the ecosystem there. (Todd would actually show up in a few episodes of the anime, under the name Snap.) The gameplay is very simple: you ride a vehicle called the Zero-One through different environments on the island, taking pictures of any Pokemon you come across. To progress to different areas, sometimes all you need to do is take a certain number of pictures of different Pokemon; other times, you need to open up the path to the next area yourself. Also, as you progress, you get items like food, Pester Balls, and the Poke-Flute. With these items, you'll be able to go back to areas you've already been and either make the Pokemon you've already seen do different things or find new Pokemon altogether. You also have to search out various "signs" in the areas in order to unlock a special course where you can find a very rare Pokemon.

If I'm not mistaken, this game was the first to feature the Pokemon in 3-D. (I'm surprised they never created a version of the original game for the N64 or any of the later counsels.) I found this game to be pretty addicting. It's fun journeying through the various areas, searching the weeds and bushes for Pokemon to photograph, and watching all the poses and reactions you can make them do. Getting the different items gives you an incentive to go back and see what else you can unearth. It's also surprising how eagerly you want to better your old photographs and get better shots. (I personally became obsessed with doing better than I had before.) After each run through of an area, you choose which pictures you want to show the professor, who grades them based on how close you got to the Pokemon, what the pose of it is, and if the Pokemon is centered in the photo. He also gives extra points if you get more of the same Pokemon in the frame or if the Pokemon is doing something very unusual. This system encourages you to do better, to try to get closer to the Pokemon (although it is possible to get too close), to get them to do different things, and to better your skills.

Unfortunately, as fun and clever as this game is, it could be a whole lot better. For one, the animation when you first start up the game is a bit of false-advertising: it shows Todd wandering on foot in a field, spotting the rare Pokemon Mew, and trying to get a picture of it. I wish that was an actual option in the game: to choose whether you want to ride in the Zero-One or go out on foot. Understandably, you would have to be in it for courses like the River and the Cave but couldn't you have an option for some of the others. Also, I know this sounds like I want complete control over the game, but wouldn't it be possible to control the vehicle yourself, to stop when you want, go when you want, and even go back if you need to. While the Pokemon do come at you when you enter a course, it would be cool if you could sit and wait for them to come, seeing what they would do.

Another thing that could have been better is the length of the game. With only six courses and one special one, Pokemon Snap is quite a short game that can be thoroughly explored very easily. True, you can explore courses to find new Pokemon but I think there should have been more courses, like a rainforest, a desert, or even a cold region. Also, there's only one route through each course except for secret ones that simply lead to the next course. Why not have different routes you can take in each area and, as a result, have different Pokemon you can encounter on each one? As for the Pokemon, why only 63 out of the 150 at that time? Why not have at least half, with the evolved forms of Bulbasaur or Squirtle, or Hitmonlee or Hitmonchan? I just really feel that they could have made this game much bigger if they put in a little more time and therefore, give it more replay value than it already has.

One of the coolest things about Pokemon Snap is that it had a feature to actually print the photos you take in the game. You could take your game cartridge to Blockbuster Video and actually print out photos you had taken in the game as stickers you stick in a manual (the strategy guides for the game had albums in the back where you could stick your stickers). They later did the same for Pokemon Stadium. I really enjoyed that and thought it was a neat way to make the game seem real. I was disappointed when I inevitably went into Blockbuster one time (forgot what year it was) and they said, "We don't do that anymore." It was fun while it lasted.

What I'll do now is go through the courses, talk about the Pokemon you encounter there, and how easy or hard it was to get pictures of them.

The Beach

As the first area in the game, this a very easy place to get pictures. The Pokemon here are very curious and often come right up to you. The first Pokemon you run into are three Pidgeys who are easy to get good pictures of. They don't react at all to any of the items but that doesn't matter. You run into other Pidgeys being chased by Meowths and at the end of the course, you can see two Pidgeys unleash a tornado attack on a Meowth that got too close to their nest. This is the first special pose you can get in your first run-through of the game. There are several Doduos here that bound out across the track but getting a good picture of one requires hitting it with an item to make it stand still. Otherwise, they don't interact with you at all and your only other way of getting a picture is to zoom up to one when you get the Dash Engine. There are also some Pikachus here. You can get the first one you encounter to jump on an abandoned surfboard by luring him there with food. That leads to a special pose called Surfing Pikachu. Later, if you can coax out a Scyther in the grass near a couple of stumps, two Pikachus will run out and sit on the stumps, which is another special pose. Pikachus also react to the Poke-Flute by shooting their electric powers, which always makes for impressive photos.

There are plenty of Butterfrees at the beginning of the course as well as two other spots. They don't react to the items but they're easy to get photos of, whether it be closeups or group shots. Also there are some Lapras (those plesiosaur-like Pokemon) out in the ocean and every time you can see the ocean, take a picture of one. They'll get closer and closer until one will get very close to you in a small bay near the end of course. It'll make for your best picture of one. They don't react to the items, though. Sleeping in the grass at the first part of the area is a lazy Snorlax. If you take a picture of him snoozing, it won't register as a Pokemon. You can make him wake up briefly and scratch his belly if you hit him with a Pester Ball but he'll get up and dance for the Poke-Flute. Right past the Snorlax is the first of several Meowths. If you hit this one with a Pester Ball, he'll fall off his hill and you'll be able to get a better shot of him. He'll also eat food if you throw it to him or dance for the Poke-Flute. (I like his natural poses like when he goes, "Meowth!" or makes weird faces at you.) As I said, there are other Meowths but I think this first one is the best one to get a picture of. The hardest Pokemon to get a picture of by-far is a Scyther in the patches of high grass. It's hard to get him to come out and when he does, he usually has his back facing you. He's also quick. You can get some Magikarps to jump of small pools of water but you'll have plenty of opportunities in the game to photograph one of those fish. There's an Eevee and a Chansey by the small bay and you can get good pictures of both when you make the latter stop rolling by pelting it with an item. They also dance to the Poke-Flute. There's a Kangaskhan facing away from you on the cliff but if you hit her with an item, she'll come up and roar in your face. You can also make her dance. (I call it a she since she has a pouch and carries her baby in it.)

The Tunnel

There's a Pikachu at the beginning that scampers away when you take his picture but if you take two photos, he'll jump on a rolling Electrode, resulting in a special pose. There's another Pikachu in a later cavern that will unleash a Zapdos from its egg if you lure him near the egg and play the flute. There's a third Pikachu in the last section that interacts with a Diglett. There are plenty of Electrodes in the course and you can make one explode by bonking it with an item. There's an Electabuzz at the beginning of the level and two near the end. The one at the beginning is the closest one you can get to but you can feed the two at the end if you turn the generator on. Whenever an Electrode explodes in the first cavern, some Kakunas will drop from the ceiling. You can get many in one shot or get a good closeup of just one. There are two Zubats in the level but these things are really hard to get good photos of; you just have to snap like crazy when you see one, hoping a decent picture will come out. (The second one is the easier, though.) The aforementioned Zapdos is a very rare Pokemon, so he makes for a good picture when he bursts out of his egg. There are two Haunters, both of which look like floating purple orbs but are revealed when the photo is developed. The second one is easier to get good photos of than the first, who zips around in a crazy pattern. There's a Magikarp in a small pool. There is a Diglett near a Pikachu in the last part of the level. After you take several pictures of him, a Dugtrio will appear. Each time you take a picture of it, more will show up and you can get a good group photo. There are three Magnemites at the end of the level but they'll screw up your picture with their magnetism. You have to distract them with food to get a good picture but if they all three get together, they'll turn into a Magneton. (That can make it annoying if you want a good picture of just a Magnemite.)

The Volcano

The minute this course begins, three Rapidashes come sprinting around the corner. If you throw some food in front of one, you can get a good photo of it neighing. There are three Vulpixes but you have to use food to get them to face you. There's a Magmar and a Charmander after the Vulpixes. There are better opportunities to get photos of them in the next area, though. Up ahead, you'll be stopped because an egg is blocking the path and you can get two Charmanders to call their friends over by giving them food, resulting in six Charmanders you can photograph altogether. Beyond that are two Magmars you can get to fight if you throw food between them (sometimes, they'll fight for no reason). Speaking of the first Magmar and Charmander, if you throw food between them, the former will blast the Charmander with fire breath, causing him to change into a Charmeleon. You can get a photo of the newly evolved Pokemon but there's another Charmeleon near the end of the area that you can get real good pictures of. Also, if you knock him into the lava pit he's running around, he'll become a Charizard. Pelt him with an item to get him to blast his fire breath for a really good photo. Speaking of that egg, when you finally knock it out of your path and into the lava, a Moltres will come screaming out. A picture of it screaming at the sky is a good one. In three cauldrons in the last section, you can get either Growlithes or an Arcanine to jump out (which one appears is always random). The best pose is when they're wagging off embers. There's some Magicarp in the small pool at the exit.

The River

This is one of my favorite areas because it feels like a natural area where you'd go on a wildlife expedition. There are some Poliwags hiding in the bushes at the start and if you can coax them enough with Pester Balls, they'll jump into the water and jump out randomly when you throw items into the river. Naturall, there are Magikarps in the river but they won't appear if there are Poliwags or Psyducks underwater. There are some Bulbasaurs around some logs at the beginning of the area. The best bet is to get two together and watch their reactions when you throw them food. Shellders randomly come out of the water at the beginning and end of the course. These things are a pain to get good photos of because they come up so random and they're hard to get close to. There's a Vileplume very early on that will dance for the Poke-Flute. One of my favorite Pokemon here are the Slowpokes because of their dopey, vacant expressions and sluggish movements. Needless to say, it's easy to photograph them. If you can coax one near a Shellder sign, he'll fish with his tail and become a Slowbro when something bites his tail. Like the Kakunas in the tunnel, there are Metapods hanging from a small piece of canopy over a river and if you get one to come down in front of you, the vehicle will stop and you'll have plenty of time to take pictures. There's a Psyduck swimming around logs and tree stumps near the Metapods. Bonk him with an item and he'll start jumping randomly out of the water, making silly poses (the spinning jump gets the best points). There are some Porygons on the bank (the Pokemon that are banned in America because they caused seizures in Japan from the anime). You can make them come out of the walls and shed their camouflage with Pester Balls (although the latter doesn't matter). You may see some Cloysters instead of Shellders on the last stretch of the river (it's random). There's a Pikachu onshore that will run like crazy when you take his picture. The fast Pikachu is a special shot.

The Cave

There are plenty of Zubats at the beginning and if you take a some good photos here, a trio will appear at the end, making for a great picture. There's also a Zubat later on that grabs a Pikachu. Belt him with an item and he'll drop the Pikachu, who'll deploy some balloons and safely float down (that's a special pose). An even better pose is when rides on the Articuno you release. There are Grimers far in the alcoves at the beginning but if you take pictures of them, two more will appear much closer a few feet away. If you hit a Grimer with three Pester Balls, it'll change into a Muk. There are also some Bulbasaurs nearby that look a little odd. If you hit them with Pester Balls, they will reveal what they really are: Dittos in disguise. There are three Jigglypuffs in the large cavern, each being bullied by a Koffing. You can save the Jigglypuffs by hitting the Koffings with items. The Jigglypuffs you rescue will show up at the end, singing in a concert that's worth a lot of points. (For a laugh, watch the sour expressions the singing one gives you if you bean her with an item or play the Poke-Flute.) You can also get a Koffing to dance if you play the flute near him. There's a Weepinbell floating around a pool. It's easy to get a picture of him. Hit him with an item and he'll fall into the pall, transforming into a Victreebell. Of course, there's a Magikarp in the other pool. There are two Jynxes washing their hair in the water around a crystal egg. Play the flute and they'll dance, causing an Articuno to erupt from the egg.

The Valley

This is definitely the hardest course because you travel so fast at points and it's hard to get good shots. You can get some Squirtles to come on shore if you hit their floating shells with Pester Balls. (Someone got four onshore at once but that is REALLY hard to pull off.) The most interesting thing with Magikarp happens here if you smack one out of the water near the shore. It'll flop over to a Mankey, who'll smack it over the horizon. You'll see that Magikarp later near a waterfall and if you it with another Pester Ball, it'll flop into the waterfall and transform into the gigantic eel, Gyrados. As for Mankeys, you'll see them all over the course but they'll be out of reach. The last Mankey, however, can be knocked off his hill if you aim a Squirtle towards him and hit him in at the right angle. The Mankey will be onshore after the ridge and hopping mad! There are Geodudes hanging on the cliffs near the start but you can knock one off with a Pester Ball. The first three will unearth some Sandshrews, who will jump for joy if you give them some food. There's also a Graveler above two Geodudes and if you knock him off, he unearth a Sandslash, the evolved form of Sandshrew. There are three Gravelers near the waterfall that you can make dance with the flute. Staryus and Starmies are hard to get good pictures of because they're small and float around really fast. Dratinis pop up everywhere here, especially near the whirlpool. Hitting said whirlpool with enough Pester Balls awakens the dopey Dragonite. Finally, there's Goldeen, the really pretty fish. I, however, first came to know Goldeen from Super Smash Bros. and if you've played that series of games, you'll know why I don't like this Pokemon. I don't like it here either because it rarely come up when you splash the water and when it does, it's so fast that it's hard to get a decent picture.

Rainbow Cloud

This special level's only Pokemon is the rare Mew. She's easy to get a picture of after you've gotten rid of her shields and if you bonk her with an item, she'll be stationary enough to get good shots. I actually hate hitting Mew with an item because she's so cute but it's the only way to get a good shot.

To conclude, Pokemon Snap is a fun, interesting spin on the Pokemon franchise. I wish they had made sequels to it because they could have expanded it in the ways I explained before. Unfortunately, it seems like this game is going to remain an interesting but pretty much forgotten curiosity piece in this enormous franchise.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With: Pokemon

Remember back in the fall of 1998 when an unusual little Gameboy game called Pokemon was released in America after having already conquered Japan? Remember how a freaking phenomena was created from that little game? Well, I must confess that I eventually did get swept up in the madness. I didn't buy into it at first, but by December of 1999, I had become a Pokemon fan. It was very gradual. I became fully aware of Pokemon when Nintendo Power created one of their special videos and I received it in the mail. It used the popular anime as a jumping off point, talking about the various types of Pokemon, how the system works, and so forth. My reaction honestly was just, "Whatever." Even more to the point, the first Pokemon game I ever played was not the typical one. It was Pokemon Snap, a game for the Nintendo 64 where you play as a photographer taking pictures of various wild Pokemon on an island. (I'll do a full review of that game next.) I bought it just on a whim because, even though I didn't have any interest in Pokemon at that point, that game looked fun. And I enjoyed it.

My liking of Pokemon Snap eventually led me to getting more interested in the franchise as a whole. I soon began watching the anime (I'll explain how that came about later) and I liked it. And as a result, I eventually started playing the actual Gameboy games. Before long, I was another Pokemon lover. I didn't go deep into it as some did, though. I never did much with the trading cards (I liked them when I ended up getting them in a game or so but that was it), I never battled my friends by hooking two Gameboys together, etc. I guess what I'm saying is that I didn't take it that seriously. I just saw it as a fun hobby. I actually saw a news program about how some kids were taking it way too seriously, using it as a gambling method and as a form of cockfighting. I didn't understand it then and I don't understand it now how someone could get so serious over a game. I also want to say I wasn't ashamed of being a fan of Pokemon but because there were people at my high school who thought it was the dumbest thing ever, I did have to be discreet about my liking it.

Now I'll go into how I felt individually about the Gameboy games and the anime, since they're actually two different versions of the same franchise.

The Games

I'm sure everybody knows what the Pokemon games are all about: they're RPG-style games where you journey throughout the land, catching as many different types of Pokemon as you can and using them in battles. Many individual Pokemon can evolve into more powerful forms when they reach a certain number of experience points, if you use a special item on them, or trade them from one Gameboy to another. You also run into other Pokemon trainers like gym leaders whom you have to battle in order to advance. Simple but very long games. (I'm not sure exactly what happens at the end of any of the games, if they even have endings, because I never got that far but whatever.) This was the only Gameboy game I ever remember having a strategy guide of any kind due to its sheer complexity and popularity.

When the game was first released in North America, it came in two versions: Red and Blue. I honestly don't think there was ever any real distinction between the two versions so I don't get what the point was. When you start out, you have three different Pokemon to choose from. Depending on which version I played, I would usually pick Charmander for the Red version and Squirtle for the Blue. Later, they released a special version called Pokemon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition, which took advantage of the color palette of the Gameboy Color and followed the anime more closely, with you basically playing as Ash and getting stuck with Pikachu as your first Pokemon. (I remember that you could actually turn to Pikachu and a little window with its face would pop up, showing you how it was feeling at the moment.) Pikachu honestly was never my favorite Pokemon. I was always a fan of Bulbasaur, Hitmonlee (whom I thought was named "Hippolee" for a long time), Hitmonchan, and Meowth, among others. I also remembered not understanding the fighting system of Pokemon and how it resembled rock-paper-scissors. But as I started to play it more and more, I quickly understood how certain Pokemon had advantages over others and vice-versa.

I actually almost completed the original Pokemon. I got near the end of the game where you have to face Mewtwo but I couldn't find a way to cross over to the area where you would do so. That bummed me out because I was looking forward to battling and hopefully capturing Mewtwo, since I always thought he was the coolest Pokemon of all. I found out from a friend how to get over to the island and I intended to do so. I never got it to it because, as I'll elaborate on later, I fell out of touch with the whole Pokemon franchise after a point.

The Anime

I found out that Pokemon was a TV show before I even knew it was a game. When I put in that video tape I received from Nintendo Power, the first thing I saw was Ash. Besides talking about the game, the video also introduced various parts of the anime, like Pikachu, Team Rocket, Misty and Brock, and so forth. I didn't actually see the show until we were visiting family who lived in Wisconsin and I saw one episode of it on a local channel. I wouldn't see it again until the following Christmas when my mom got me several volumes of it on VHS. When I really watched it that time, I did like it. Obviously it's superficial and not exactly Masterpiece Theater when you look back on it as an adult but as a young twelve-year old, I did enjoy it. I liked the three main characters and even though Pikachu wasn't my favorite Pokemon, I did like its presence here as Ash's most faithful friend. I thought Team Rocket was funny, especially Meowth (whose voice changed not too far into the show). After a while, though, Team Rocket lost their charm and started to get annoying. The voice acting for all the characters wasn't exactly the best but I didn't mind it. (What I didn't get, though, was why the characters originally pronounced Pokemon as "po-ku-mon" but then switched a little while in and started pronounce as the accepted "po-kay-mon." I always wondered about that.)

Some things about the characters I liked and others I wasn't sure about. I liked Ash's determination and his caring for his Pokemon, but he could also be extremely stupid when it came to certain things. Misty I liked how she came across as a rather spoiled brat at first but slowly grew to care about Ash and become a more likable person. (She even forgot why she began following Ash in the first place.) How old was she supposed to be though? I'm assuming she's a lot older than Ash because she had a very feminine figure from the beginning. (Actually, let's not go into how anime has a habit of making certain age girls look sexier than they should.) I also liked Brock's transformation from a very serious character in his first couple of appearances into a much more laid back guy who goes ga-ga over any pretty girl he sees. One thing I didn't understand about the people in this world was why there were so many sisters who looked exactly alike and were named either Joy or Jenny and were also all nurses and police officers respectively. What are they clones or something?

There were some episodes that I did like. There was a very touching one called Pikachu's Goodbye, where the group come across a population of wild Pikachus and Ash makes the hard decision to leave his there. It's emotional because Ash is clearly hurting from this decision and we got a touching montage of all the times they shared. I thought the ending where Pikachu decides to stay with Ash and the latter's reaction was very heartfelt. You could tell that even though this wasn't exactly high art, they did try sometimes. There was also the episode where they encountered a Jigglypuff that would become a thorn in their side for episodes to come; it wanted to sing to people but its song was so soothing that everyone that listened to it fell asleep and in retaliation, Jigglypuff would mark scribbles on everyone's faces. There was a subplot when Charmander evolved into Charmeleon and it wouldn't listen to Ash due to his lack of experience. It carried over to when it evolved further into Charizard and liked seeing if Ash would eventually gain its trust (which he did but I didn't see that episode).

There was also the first movie, which was even called Pokemon: The First Movie, as if they knew this would become a franchise as well. I liked this movie when I saw it because it introduced Mewtwo, the cloned Pokemon who became my favorite. I was also surprised by how dark the movie actually is, with Mewtwo actually destroying the lab he was created in and apparently killing all the scientists. He also plots revenge of humankind and creates a storm to destroy the world. I was even more intrigued by Mewtwo's deep, creepy voice that would emanate from his psychic mind. Looking back on the movie itself, it was so-so, with really confusing morals when you think about it but due to the popularity of Pokemon at the time, it was a huge hit. It ended up being the only Pokemon movie I would actually watch or own in any format. There was also the short, Pikachu's Vacation, that came with it where Pikachu and all of the Pokemon of their respective trainers chill out in a playground like area. I thought it was funny and was refreshing to see the Pokemon outside of battling and just hanging out.

As I've said, I was a fan of Pokemon for a while. So what happened? Well, it wasn't an immediate thing where I just said, "I've had enough of this silly stuff" and just decided to leave it behind or even that I grew out of it. It was a gradual process, just like how I got into it was a gradual process. As I got deeper and deeper into high school, it became the number one priority and I just didn't have time for things like Pokemon anymore.  And after a while, I dropped out of it completely. I stopped playing the games and watching the anime. Eventually, I did just lose interest in it, as did many others. I guess it was just a fad that eventually petered out. There were things about the franchise itself that made me lose touch with it. Evolution was inevitable, I know, but as more and more different Pokemon were introduced, I became less interested. I liked the original 150 and honestly didn't care for all the ones introduced after that. A relative did eventually get me one of the more advance Gameboy versions (I think it was Silver) but by that point, I was out of it for good. As for the anime, Misty eventually left, and I didn't like the new characters that were introduced. I also felt that after a while, Misty was watered down because she had to be a surrogate mother to Togepi and it didn't allow her to do anything. I also didn't like how it went from Ash trying to catch every Pokemon there was to him just entering league after league and battling in championship after championship. I did get interested in the anime again in late 2006 but when I watched the newest season, the voice actors had changed and that destroyed my interest for good.

Now, Pokemon is a curious part of my life that was fun while it lasted but I doubt I'll ever go back to. It just became too different from what it originally was, for me, and now I'm just not interested anymore. (I guess I did grow out of it.) It may not be anywhere as popular as it was back in the late 90's, early 2000's but I'm amazed that the franchise is still going, both in the TV series and the games, with new versions still coming out. It's actually quite remarkable. Whether you like it or not, there's no denying that Pokemon is one of the most successful video game franchises ever (apparently, it's second only to Mario). And to all new fans of it, I say, "Power to them." Finally, to close, even though I'm not interested in it anymore, I'm not ashamed of having once been a fan of it. You can be addicted to much worse things than Pokemon, to be honest. I look back on my years as a Poke-fanatic with nothing but a smile and I wish things were as innocent today as they were back then. And that's my little retrospective on what Pokemon meant to me in its various forms. Hope you enjoyed it and hope you can relate if you were in similar circumstances at that time.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stuff I Grew Up With: Mission: Impossible for the N64 (1998)

I've honestly never been a fan of Mission: Impossible. I never watched the TV series and I'm no fan of Tom Cruise so I don't like the movies. So when I first played this game, it was purely a blind rental. I'd heard a bit about it from Nintendo Power magazine and that it kind of resembled Goldeneye in its design. Now I loved Goldeneye so I figured I'd give this a try. Much to my surprise, I actually found myself enjoying Mission: Impossible. I may not have been familiar with the series or the movies (other than the theme song, of course) but I found this to be an interesting and fun game to play.

Nintendo Power was right when they said level and character designs of Mission: Impossible resembled Goldeneye. However, as they also mentioned, the gameplay is very different. Instead of being a "shoot 'em up", this game is more about stealth. You sneak around a lot, silently eliminating enemies when necessary, recovering computer disks and documents, sabotaging the enemy's computer systems, destroying important buildings and hardware, and so forth. The plot vaguely resembles the first movie but as was the case with Goldeneye, there are missions that have nothing to do with the plot of the film it's based on.

You control Ethan Hunt, the point man for the IMF team. You maintain contact with and interact with a variety of characters, both friend and foe, throughout the game. There's Jim Phelps, the actual leader of the team, whom you're in contact with during the first two missions but who later turns out to be an enemy. After you terminate him, Ethan becomes the new leader. Candice Parker is a top cryptology agent whom you rescue during the second mission and becomes your contact and top friend for the rest of the game. During the Ice Hit and Ice Storm missions (the first and last missions respectively), your allies are John Clutter, a specialist in radio systems and explosives, and Andrew Dowey, an ex-marine colonel with knowledge of electronics and alarm systems. During the Recover NOC List mission, your allies are Sarah Davies, a deep cover agent who's valuable for information in high society; Dieter Harmon, another deep cover agent who makes as a bartender and is another valuable source of information; and Jack Kiefer, whom arranges your getaway at the end of the mission. During the Mole Hunt mission, your only allies other than Candice as two disavowed agents, Krieger and Luther Stickll, who act as snipers during the first part of the mission.

You have plenty of weapons during the game. The silent 7.65 is useful for killing enemies discreetly but I've always found its range to be a bit limited. You use a blow pipe during the first part of the second mission but it's very weak and not necessary to accomplish your goal. You only get one shot as well so I usually don't use it. Hi-power 9mm is very useful because it has a long range and usually works when going for headshots. The dart gun is for when you need to get enemies out of your way but you aren't allowed to kill them. It has a short range but one shot is all it takes to put an enemy out; the downside, though, is that on a couple of levels, the enemies wake up. The stunner is useful when it actually hits its target. Its range sucks though so I only use it as a last resort. Rocket launchers usually work but I think they're only available as a cheat. The Uzi is very useful due to its good range and dependency on killing in in just two shots. Despite my opinions on the weapons, you don't have much of a choice most of the time and as for the other equipment, I won't go into it because the individual are only available when they're necessary.

While I do like this game, don't get me wrong, it does have its fair share of problems. While the graphics are similar to Goldeneye, I think that game did a better job on them though. The graphics here are fairly standard, middle of the road quality. The characters' movements are much more fluid in Goldeneye as well. The sound design in this game is fairly good. The weapons, gadgets, and characters all sound okay in that you can hear them but they could be a lot better. There's no spoken dialogue in the game (it's all in text boxes) except for when you're given your mission objectives before three of the missions, but every once in a while, Ethan says something like, "There it is!", "There, that's better!" or "Piece of cake!" My favorite is when you accidentally touch one of the lasers during the infamous ventilation shaft level and he'll sometimes say, "Ow, that's hot!" My biggest problems with the game are the controls and camera operation. Cycling through your weapons and equipment is easy when you get the hang of it but the problem is that in some levels, you're limited in how you can move. In some, you can only walk and not run, which can be a problem in some instances. The biggest complaint I have is when you're hiding behind a wall and someone is on the other side. There's no way to peek around the wall except for moving out from behind cover, which puts you in the line of fire. This is also a game where you can't move the camera. You can go to an over the shoulder camera position but you can't move if you're holding a gun while doing so (and you sometimes can't move even if you don't have a gun). That makes firing around corners really challenging, especially when you're playing the hard Impossible difficulty where you have less ammo and the enemies take a lot more shots to put down.

The AI in the game can sometimes be a problem because the characters are sometimes either really stupid or so smart that they border on psychic. For example, there are parts of the second mission where you have to escort and protect Candice Parker. I can't stand escort missions anyway but sometimes while playing, she'll lag behind and you have to come and get her to make her come on. She's often done this to me during the Sewage Control section of the mission, where you have a limited amount of time to get to the supercomputer once it's unlocked. She has sometimes cost me the game because she takes too long to get to me. And for an example of the AI being a little too smart, take what happened to me one time during the Interrogation part of the CIA Escape mission. There's a part near the end where you have to enter this guy's off and put him down before he sets off the alarm. One time, I walked past his office to check out the last few rooms. I didn't go in, I just walked past. I suddenly got his dialogue box with him begging me not to shoot him because he was unarmed and then I heard the alarm blaring. That flabbergasted me because I wasn't in his office. That tends to happen where you'll caught when you're nowhere near an enemy. It's really annoying.

Now, I'll go through the missions and talk about what I like and didn't like about them. Since the Impossible difficulty adds new objectives to some missions, I'll discuss them as well.

Ice Hit
Ludkwist Base: Being the very first mission, this is simple in both difficulties. Getting the guy in the first building and taking his identity is simple. The strategy guide acts like once he leaves his office, he won't come back but I've found he will return if you wait a few seconds. The only hard part I encountered during the Impossible version was due to my own stupidity. You have to destroy these circuit breakers but I didn't check to make sure there weren't any guards around. I was spotted and the mission was shot because now all the guards were after me. Other than that, it's simple.

Subpen: This is pretty simple in both difficulties too. The first time I played it, I forgot to sabotage the enemy boat docked at the other end of the sub and ended up getting captured as a result. Other than that, getting the mines, getting one mine to Clutter, and joining the getaway is pretty simple.

Recover NOC List
Embassy Function: I always liked this level because it's the most casual of them all. Here, you're at a party in the embassy and you have to covertly accomplish your tasks. When I first played it, it took me a few tries to figure out what I'm supposed to do. Getting the facemaker from Sarah Davies and planting the smoke generators in the air ducts is easy enough but you have to keep your eye on the guard patrolling the halls; if he sees you doing so, it's instant game over. I had to figure out how to get the Ambassador's Aide to come downstairs but through a lot of trial and error, I was able to do so and give him the drink with nausea powder in it. The first time I followed him to the restroom, I didn't know I was supposed to knock him out. I languished until he got over his sickness and eventually went back upstairs, causing me to fail. The only difference between the two difficulties is that in Impossible, you have to eliminate the killer who's following you whereas it's optional in Possible. You have to lure her into the restroom but taking her out can be tricky because she'll sometimes stop in the doorway and if you knock her out before she gets all the way in, you'll be captured; if you wait too long, though, she'll kill you. I've found that the best way to get rid of her is to take the Aide's identity first, talk to her in the hallway, which will lead her to the bathroom, and then you can take her out because she'll be shocked at finding the real Aide in one of the stalls.

Warehouse: This level is easy to get lost in. First of all, when you destroy these crates to clear your path, the place starts filling up with toxic gas which slowly drains your health. You can find an antidote that will temporarily restore some of your health but you have to quickly find a bio suit to complete the level. It's in a different area in the Impossible version than in the other and once you put it on, you become a target for enemies. For another, I tend to run out of ammo in Impossible because it's so easy to get lost and you have to keep destroying crates to go further. Also in Impossible, you have to destroy five crates that contain pieces of special equipment. It's difficult but you can do it once you get acquainted with where everything is and with a little practice.

KGB HQ: The Impossible version of this level has its fair share of difficulties. When it comes to getting the facemask from the supply closet, there's a guard standing in front of it and you have to use a beeper you can find to distract him in order to quickly get in, grab the device, and get back out. (I usually end up getting stuck and thereby, get caught.) I've sometimes accidentally shot Barnes when you're supposed to talk to him, ruining the mission. When you grab the video freezer from the cell room, you have to make sure that the man inside and the surveillance cameras aren't looking at you. And when you take the Head Security Officer's identity and enter the secret room to jam the communications, you have to get behind the two men and quickly take them out or they'll sound the alarm. Still, it's another level that's difficult in either version once you get the hang of it.

Security Hallway: In both versions, this level is pretty straightforward. All you have to do is get to the end of the hallway while avoid the electric tiles and taking out the guards that show up. You have to be a little more careful in Impossible, though, because, whereas the red glowing tiles simply electrocute you in Possible, in this difficulty they'll not only shock you but either activate one of the sentry guns on the ceiling or blow you up, killing you instantly. Also, you have to be on your toes with the guards because they'll sometimes come up behind you instead of in front of you.

Sewage Control: The only problems I've ever run into here both have to do with Candice. First, you get on the platform to cross over the sewage, a guard will threaten her and you have to take him down quick or she'll be captured. Secondly, when you open the door to the supercomputer, you only have two minutes to get there before it closes and, as I said earlier, Candice tends to get lost and can cost you the game if you don't keep her near you. Also, some guards pop up when you go back to the start; you have to kill them quickly or you'll both be caught.

Escape: There are two parts to this. The first takes place back in the security hallway. Now you have to shoot the sentry guns so both you and Candice can make it across safely. Shoot them as much as you can because they will recover not long after you shoot them. When you're separated from Candice, there will be guards on either side of the room when the doors open so you'll more than likely get shot no matter what you do. Finally, there's the guard who steals the NOC list from Candice. In the Possible version, all you have to do is chase him and keep shooting. You'll eventually get him. In Impossible, however, you can't let him get far so shoot like crazy. The second part of this level is back in the KGB HQ. You have to unfreeze the videos, put on the mask of Golystine, get the exit key, and escape. It sounds simple enough but there are guards everywhere and if Candice gets captured, you have to release her. There is a time limit but I think you can just put the mask back on if you run out of time.

Fire Alarm: The last part of the mission is always easy for me, in both versions. All you have to do is get Candice to an elevator, get fireman suits from Jack, give one to Candice, and escape dressed as firemen. I have found out by accident not to go to the front door of the embassy when you're not dressed as a fireman or you'll be captured. You also can't let a guard follow you to the restroom where Jack gives you your uniforms or your cover will be blown.

CIA Escape

Interrogation: This is where the game started getting hard for me when I first played. Here, you're suspected of being a mole for a criminal named Max and you have to escape from CIA headquarters. Getting out of the interrogation room is easy but once you enter the main hallway, you have only ten or seven minutes (depending on which version you're playing) before the truth serum you were given takes effect. You also have to put guards out before they arrest you as well. The worst part is getting through the hallways and spraying the security cameras with paint. I don't think it's possible to avoid the first camera but as long as you're quick, you should make it. If a camera sees you, a guard (two in Impossible) will come after you and you have to deal with them. (These tend to spray you with a gas that will make you very slow and shaky for a little while.) Getting the guy you need to have lead you to the elevator can also be tricky because if you don't get the empty gun to threaten him with, he'll try to zap you with a shocker and make a run for it. Once you walk into the room where the elevator is, the serum will start to take effect and you'll have to knock the guy out before he can get into the elevator. Once you get to the infirmary, you're home free unless you did what I did originally and carried a weapon inside with you. After you get the antidote and create a distraction, you should be alright. However, sometimes the distraction doesn't work if you go straight for the window after doing it so be careful.

CIA Rooftop: This level can also be really tricky because when you put the guards out here, they tend to wake up after a while and you can easily get caught if you're not careful. I also learned that you better not put the EMS device on the box underneath the heliport lights before the helicopter lands or it'll crashed. (It was pretty funny, though.) I've also been captured while trying to scale the crates to get over the rail with invisible lasers on it, sometimes by a guard who had no way of seeing me. (I also like watching the cinematic when you jump off the building. It's pretty funny.)

Terminal Room: I absolutely hated this level when I first played the game. You have to be very familiar with the controls when you do this, otherwise you'll get screwed pretty quick. I didn't understand how I kept getting caught until I realized that the yellow lasers activate the alarm. The Impossible version is even worse because there are more lasers and one stationary yellow laser that you have to swing around (I must have gotten caught by that one so many times). There's a man that keeps entering the room and you have to remain perfectly still when he does. I also found out you can't touch the floor either and swinging to the lock on the door and the computer is really difficult.

Rooftop Escape: The hardest part of this level for me is when you have to jump over these lasers. I tend to get electrocuted when I try to jump and I have to try again, which causes me to run out of health. When you open one door, there's a guard on the other side that you have to quickly shoot or you'll be arrested. (What's worse is that in Impossible mode, he's right in front of the door so you have to act fast.) Also in Impossible, you can't let the helicopters' searchlights touch you or you'll be captured.

Mole Hunt

Station: In this level, you control one of two snipers and you have to protect Ethan as he walks around a train station. You have to help Ethan right away or he'll be killed. The level itself is not that difficult in either difficulty mode, other than Ethan walks around longer in Impossible and there are more bad guys to kill. You have to be so careful not to kill civilians because it'll look like they're taking out a gun when they're really taking out something else.

Train Car: This level is especially hard in Impossible mode. There are so many bad guys you have to kill in each car and civilians often get scared and run right in the line of fire. If you accidentally shoot one, it's game over. (I hate that in games.) I've also sometimes forgotten to talk to Candice before locking the door to the first cars. I've also found out you can't shoot when fighting the henchmen in the booths near Max or she'll detonate the bomb. Also, when putting Max out with the gas pellets, don't be in the booth with her or you'll put yourself out as well. I've also ended up detonating the bomb when I've heated it up too much.

Train Roof: This is a straightforward but dangerous level. You have to contend with henchmen on the roof of the train, drive-by shooters on the road, and choppers that swoop in on you. You can't let Phelps get too far ahead of you or it'll be game over. You also have to quickly destroy Phelps' chopper when you get to it (and I mean quickly).

Ice Storm

Subpen: This is really difficult on Impossible. Getting the items is hard because guards will come out of nowhere and quickly cut you down. You also have to be quick in getting Clutter the stuff he needs or he and Dowey will be captured. You also have to gas the inside of this guard house where an important item is being kept and that's hard to do when guards outside keep popping up and sapping your health. I also tend to miss the truck I'm supposed to jump on at the end.

Tunnel: Pretty basic level. All you have to do is avoid hazards when riding on the truck and jump onto platforms to destroy the scaffolding with dynamite. There are guards on every platform and in Impossible, it's easy to run out of ammo really quick. That's the only real obstacle about it, though.

Mainland: I really like this level because it's one of the most covert in the entire game. I have done stupid stuff like entering the bunker before I took on the accountant's I.D., which resulted in my being arrested. Also, when you play on Impossible, you have to go to these barracks and get a diagram of the breakers you have to destroy to find out which is which. I also once forgot that you also need to get the accountant's pass card or you can't get in to get the briefcase. Other than that, it's easy when you know what to do.

Gunboat: There's nothing to this last level except just blow away everything that you can, especially if it shoots at you.

After you complete the game, you return to the Embassy Function area where you can walk around and talk to animated versions of the game designers. Be sure not to punch any of them because they'll lay you out real quick. If you talk to them all, you see the true ending of the game where Ethan and Candice arrive, resulting in a huge party. (It's really nothing special.)

Mission: Impossible is definitely not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination but I do think that it's worth playing through at least once. I think it is quite enjoyable, all things considered.