The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 37 | On Movie Tie-in Video Games, “Hidamari Sketch,” and more

Leaving Proof 37 | On Movie Tie-in Video Games, “Hidamari Sketch,” and more
Published on Thursday, July 21, 2011 by

Captain America: The First Avenger is opening in theaters later this week, but its movie tie-in game has been available on various console platforms since yesterday (July 19). Perhaps to no one’s real surprise, the game has received less than stellar reviews, with the PS3 and XBox360 versions currently rated on Metacritic at 58/100 and 57/100, respectively. This is generally in line with the upper-middle end of the Metacritic aggregate review scores garnered by the most recent movie tie-in games, as seen in the following list (note that I don’t consider Batman: Arkham Asylum a movie tie-in game, as it was developed independently of 2008’s The Dark Knight):

  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon: 61/100 (PS3); 59/100 (XBox360)
  • Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters: 59/100 (PS3); 60/100 (XBox360)
  • Thor: God of Thunder: 39/100 (PS3); 38/100 (XBox360)
  • Battle: Los Angeles: 46/100 (PS3); 39/100 (XBox360)
  • Iron Man 2: 41/100 (PS3 and XBox360)
  • Kick-Ass: 33/100 (PS3)
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: 63/100 (PS3); 61/100 (XBox360)
  • Watchmen: The End Is Nigh: 54/100 (PS3); 55/100 (XBox360)
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine: 73/100 (PS3); 75/100 (XBox360)
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: 43/100 (PS3); 42/100 (XBox360)
  • The Incredible Hulk: 55/100 (PS3 and XBox360)
  • Iron Man: 42/100 (PS3); 45/100 (XBox360)
  • Transformers: The Game: 54/100 (PS3); 52/100 (XBox360)
  • Superman Returns: 51/100 (XBox360)

Of the games in that list, only one (the Raven Software-developed X-Men Origins: Wolverine) received an aggregate review score that can be considered significantly above average. I’ve played the game, it is quite fun and suffers from none of the usual problems associated with movie tie-in video games, such as multiple game-breaking glitches; ostensibly low quality textures, models, and animation; and a notable brevity and lack of content. The root cause of these problems is almost always attributed by observers to the abbreviated development periods devoted to these games, because their releases are timed to coincide with the theatrical runs of the films they are based on, a tradition of sorts that goes all the way back to the infamous E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial video game for the Atari 2600.

Of course, a lengthy development period provides no real assurance that the resulting video game—movie tie-in or not—will be received well critically or indeed, that it will be considered a “quality game” at all (see the cases of Duke Nukem Forever and Too Human). But if there’s any truth to the assumption that the major ill that plagues movie tie-in video games is a lack of development time, I don’t see why film and video game studios don’t simply change the release date of their tie-in video game from coinciding with a film’s theatrical premier to instead coinciding with the date of its DVD/Blu-Ray/Video On-Demand debut. That gives the video game studio a few more months of development and play-testing time, at least, and still allows for significant “marketing synergy” or whatever the popular term for coordinated and complementary retail support is these days.

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Spent last weekend watching the first two seasons of Hidamari Sketch, a “slice of life” anime comedy based on the popular yonkoma (four-panel comic strip) by Ume Aoki. I’ve never actually read the strip (four volumes of translated collections, under the title Sunshine Sketch, are available from Yen Press, and the fifth volume was supposed to go on sale yesterday), although I’ve managed to catch a few stray ones on the Internet here and there. I found the show to be quite entertaining, much to my surprise (the setting and genre aren’t exactly my usual fare). The series follows the daily adventures—and in this case, “adventure” can be something as mundane as helping a friend keep her leaky apartment dry during a typhoon—of four art high school students living in the titular Hidamari Apartments. It’s a leisurely paced, dialogue-heavy show infused with a simple charm, but likely won’t find wide appeal among Western audiences.

Of note is the unusual sequencing of the series’ episodes. Each episode usually covers the events of a single day, but these are presented out of order chronologically, in a random arrangement as far as I can tell. The first episode of season one, for example, takes place in January, while the second episode is set in August of the previous year. It’s a clever way to introduce narrative tension in a show that is largely devoid of major, plot-driven conflicts, as the viewer is motivated to cross-reference various events and piece together the “proper” chronology of key sub-plots.

Still, the real strength of the show is in its dialogue. Given its origins as a four-panel humour comic strip, I’m surprised at how seamlessly each gag segues into the next within the 22 minute-long episodes. While a lot of the humour is very culture- and language-specific (particularly the jokes that rely on certain Japanese homophones and misinterpretation of idiomatic expressions), I never really felt lost watching the subtitled episodes. Also adding to the show’s appeal is just how—and please appreciate that I’m not normally the type of person who’s given to moé—cute and adorable the main character Yuno is. Her interactions with the rest of the cast (particularly with classmate and next-door neighbour Miyako) and her internal monologues are often both the funniest and the most affecting parts of each episode. Anyway, it’s a funny and occasionally touching show that’s worth getting into if you want to watch something besides the usual shōnen anime that makes its way across the Pacific.

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Atlantis undocked today (0628 GMT) from the International Space Station and began its final flight back to Earth, marking the end of the 30-year old Space Shuttle program. I can’t help but feel a little sad over the craft’s retirement. As a kid growing up in the 1980s, the Space Shuttle and the astronauts that manned it stood for so much more than America winning the space race. They stood for mankind’s desire to reach ever greater heights of achievement, even at great personal cost. The stars feel just a little bit further out of reach today.

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