Author Archives: Paul O'Connor
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy return to theaters this week. I’m already a fan of the first movie, and of the comics — both old and slightly less so — so it didn’t take a lot of convincing to part with five bucks American to download the first chapter of Telltale Games’ Guardians of the Galaxy on my iPad.
I’d noodled around a bit with Telltale’s Walking Dead Game, and admired the conversational interface and the emotional stakes of that game, but I wasn’t especially eager to dwell in that dour world, and the game never grabbed me.
Guardians, though … Guardians is something different.
This game is frankly irresistible. You’re on the spot right from the opening screen, with ELO’s “Livin’ Thing” pouring from your speakers over an image of the Guardians punching each others’ lights out. It’s just a main menu, but it’s buoyant, happy, and demands your affection, like a puppy that’s jumped in your lap. And the game that follows is every bit as engaging, masterfully capturing the spirit and tone of the film, whisking us away on an adventure that promises a battle with Thanos, but is really more about the relationships at the heart of the not-so-dysfunctional family that is the Guardians.
The set-up could come straight from the comics — the Nova Corps calls in the Guardians to help run down Thanos, and after squeezing the Corps for future favors (or not, as you wish), we are off on an interstellar treasure hunt. There’s an alien enigma, and the Kree show up, and of course Thanos is there to chew the scenery. The game also takes a couple unexpected swerves that I won’t spoil, save to note they are completely in character and reinforce the story’s core theme of families and what makes them tick.
The interface is simple and easy to use — at least on touch screens. Back in the day we would have called this a point-and-click game. Now it’s about swiping and touching, but really, these kinds of controls haven’t changed all that much since Dragon’s Lair. Most action scenes are navigated with “Quick Time” events. Shooting and punching baddies is accomplished by tapping targets on the screen before they disappear. You dodge danger by swiping the screen when prompted. It’s pretty hard to fail, though I still managed it a time or two.
Sometimes you tap or swipe the screen to move things around. Sometimes you walk around and explore places. Star Lord flies around a bit, which was cool. There was a walking mechanic that required incessant screen-swiping that I could have done without, but for the most part, the game’s interaction economy is spot-on: not so much that you can’t appreciate the story, but not so little that you can afford to take your eyes away from the screen.
Even more engaging than the action scenes were the conversations, which don’t seem to find their way to different destinations so much as they unfold with differing tones — you can be thoughtful as Star Lord, or a dick (or both!), it is up to you. Sometimes the best response is to just let the timer run out and say nothing at all. I appreciated how the game let me do things my own way, even while guard-railing my characters — at one point, Gamora said that she’d never heard me talk this way before, causing me to reflect that, yeah, Peter is more self-centered than I was making him out to be. Gamora had rightly detected that it was me who was chatting her up, and not Star Lord! Cool.
And it is Star Lord that you control in this game. Aside from throwing a punch or two on behalf of other characters during the Thanos fight, it is Star Lord’s thoughts and actions that you will steer through each scene. Star Lord’s voice performance is probably the poorest turned in by the sound-alike voice cast, but that’s mostly down to Chris Pratt’s unique range — he really is a master at sliding between sweet and smarmy. The supporting voices are pretty strong, with Rocket being especially on-point. I would love to see succeeding chapters put other members of the Guardians in the driver’s seat, if only to see how Telltale handles a conversation tree when all I can say is, “I am Groot!”
The game’s technical performance left a bit to be desired. I played on my iPad Pro, and the textures still swam around on me from time to time, and a few of the load times had me tapping my toe. Prompts didn’t always respond to my first tap, despite hitting a static green bullseye dead-on. Based on this performance, I’d hesitate to recommend this game for lower-end mobile devices. I would expect console versions to run crisply, but fumbling for buttons on a controller doesn’t sound like a lot of fun compared to tapping screen prompts.
The art gets the job done. The ships and space scenes are tight, and the environments are adequate. The character models have kind of a second-tier CG animated series look to them, but they work — Telltale’s animators do a fine job of wringing sometimes subtle emotion from them. Body animation is about what you’d expect, though I found Star Lord’s walk cycle a little stiff (and he walks a lot in this game). Lip synching is (usually) convincing. Scenes are well-lit, somehow giving us clearly-visible characters even inside the murkiest spaceport dive bar.
But this isn’t really a game that’s going to win you over with screenshots. The heart of the game is … well … its heart. There’s plenty of derring-do in abandoned fortresses and Kree battlecruisers, and the game does deliver with a Guardians vs. Thanos beat-down that works in an Intergalactic Wrestling Federation sort of way, but the real action in this game comes through the conversations and the relationships between the characters. In this, the game reaches back to the core of comics storytelling. After all, in the long run, there’s little doubt our heroes will defeat the big bad … but will Gamora be able to deal with her daddy issues? That’s harder to predict, and its a unique pleasure to play to find out. Yep, it’s all about the feelz, and I welcome it. I already have plenty of games where you solve everything by shooting at it.
I also enjoyed the little touches and side-gags. Rocket and Drax both got off some zingers that were entirely in character. Helping Groot ride out a hangover was appropriately gross (and all I did was listen to it). I loved that a random piece of email from the Universal Church of Truth was helpfully flagged as spam.
The chapter was just long enough for me. I didn’t clock it, but it felt like it took a bit less than ninety minutes to play the whole thing. Content felt equivalent to about three issues of a comic series. The ending came at the right time and didn’t leave me hanging so much as feeling intrigued. Some of the asides clearly set up later chapters — like Gamora’s communication with her sister, Nebula — and I think I saw Moondragon in the bar, but for the most part the chapter can stand on its own, and in this it does a better job than your average, decompressed modern comics issue.
One area where this game was more setup than payoff was in development of emotional relationships. By the end of my play-through, I’d pissed off Rocket, softened-up Gamora, forged a strong bond with Drax, and sealed an alliance with the Nova Corps, but none of that mattered in a major way in this chapter. Given that this game is scheduled to run five chapters, I can’t blame Telltale for deploying their chess pieces for later, and if I wasn’t allergic to pre-orders, I might have opened my wallet for the season pass upsell that followed the closing credits.
Once I’ve cooled off a bit I might even go back and replay the game, to see what happens if I zig instead of zag, and I can see where a player might dive deep into this thing to ferret out the different permutations of every scene. The closing score screens provide a roadmap for where I took the story, compared to the community at large, hinting at the different outcomes.
But I don’t much care about multiple outcomes — for me, I was just glad to while away a rainy afternoon with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and feel a part of their family and their troubles. Emotional reactions of any stripe are difficult to elicit with games, so hats off to Telltale for not only accomplishing this rare feat, but also making it the center of their game. If I come back for the second chapter, it won’t be to learn more about the MacGuffin that permits Peter to speak with ghosts — it will be to see if I can continue to win Gamora’s trust, and to learn if Rocket really means it when he keeps acting like I’m driving him out of the group. The game-making side of my brain tells me the actual number of outcomes isn’t that large, but my illusion of control is such that it is easy to believe my decisions created a unique outcome.
I am happy to suspend my disbelief to ride along with the team. I wasn’t much interested in investing this kind of time and emotion in Telltale’s Walking Dead or Batman games, but this Guardians of the Galaxy game really was delightful. As an experience, it was a bit more than a comic, and a bit less than a movie, but thoroughly unique and enjoyable. I hope I walk out of the theater after seeing Guardians 2 feeling half so positive! Recommended.
NEXT MONTH: DC Legends
Apologies for the long silence here at Longbox Graveyard, and thanks to my readers who have stayed with me through this interruption. I’ve been distracted these past several months with a job search on two continents, and then an international move to accept a new position in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.
my new neighbors
I planned my move like the Mad Thinker, and used this latest change as another opportunity to downsize. I brought precious few of my geeky possessions to my 600 sq. ft. Canadian attic digs. A couple boxes of books, a few games, and no comics at all — digital serves me fine in this regard. I have an old video game console, streaming music, digital subscriptions to HBO and Netflix and Filmstruck, a Kindle full of books to read, an iPad perfect for comics reading … really, I have more entertainment on hand than I could plow through in a lifetime. Plus my landlords offer free cable, so after being unplugged for two years, I’m catching up on hockey.
Longbox Graveyard Canadian HQ
My first month here has been spent riding out the rainy rump end of the winter, and settling in at my new job. There hasn’t been a lot of time to do much more than go to work and tinker with my new apartment. My wonderful wife remained behind in California to stay close to our boys as they finish out with school, so I am a fifty-something bachelor up here, able for the first time in decades to devote myself to work, work, and nothing but work. It’s fine.
But with the skies clearing up and my furniture all bolted together, I’ve gotten the itch to go out a bit. My job is sedentary so any excuse to walk is welcome, and when the sun makes a rare weekend appearance, it is practically a survival imperative to get outdoors and get in some miles. Nerd that I am, thought, this hasn’t meant experiencing Vancouver’s startlingly-close and dramatic wilderness (though I am looking forward to that).
more-or-less the view from my back door
No, when I go for a walk, I go for … a NerdWalk.
My geek life began as a NerdWalker. In the summer of 1974 — my twelfth year, my own personal Golden Age — I walked up and down Hollywood Boulevard, poking into comics shops and record shops and magic shops and used bookstores, sneaking into R-Rated Bruce Lee movies and buying slices of pizza with a wadded-up dollar bill.
I don’t remember the girl (sadly), but I remember that shop!
My first impressions of independence and imagination are indelibly intertwined with dusty magazines, old movie stills, rock & roll posters, and long walks up and down cracked sidewalks, carrying treasures home in paper bags … and I still have many of those treasures, packed away in my California home, things that have stayed with me despite my many purges.
So it should come as no surprise that my pulse stirred a bit when I realized there was a comics shop about a fifteen minute walk from my front door. And that there was a horror memorabilia shop about fifteen minutes past that, with three used book stores along the way. Planning it out on Google Maps promised a moderate three-mile loop would stretch my legs and let me pretend I was twelve years old again.
a bit before my time, but spiritually accurate
What better way to spend a Saturday?
I hit the horror shop first. I was really intrigued by this place — it looked so funky from the curb, a real throwback to the bizarre retail caves of my youth. And the shop was pretty much what I expected. It was smallish inside — not much bigger than a convention booth — and the stock was a little thin. Mostly posters, a few books, a couple games, an odd collection of used books and some handcrafted items. Not so different than a comics shop, with a narrow focus on horror. The guy behind the counter was friendly enough. There was a Boris Karloff poster that I kind of wanted.
But I remembered that I’d walked to the shop, rather than taking the car, and I didn’t want to haul that framed poster back to the house on foot, especially with the stops I still had planned. And even though the prices were reasonable, I wasn’t eager to open my wallet. I’ve moved to Canada to take a job and send money home to pay tuition for my boys. I mean, if anyone could be said to need a Boris Karloff poster, I’m your guy, but even I don’t really need a Boris Karloff poster.
don’t give me that look
I said goodbye and hit those used bookstores.
I had a vague plan of trying to scare up some cheap, classic science fiction and fantasy. Maybe a vintage paperback edition of Frank Herbert’s Dune, or some Fritz Leiber fantasy, or maybe an old Roger Zelazny book — it’s been decades since I read Lord of Light. The stores were well-stocked, and they had plenty from those authors, but nothing that suited my Goldilocks demands — that cover wasn’t quite correct, this series wasn’t exactly what I was looking for … nothing was just right.
either of these would have done
One store had a terrific collection of mystery novels, and I had a nice hardback edition of The Maltese Falcon in my hand for awhile, but I’ve already read that book several times, and the only reason to buy it would have been to perch it on my shelf, where it might offer a fatal distraction from getting out from under Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, which has pinned me under 1300 pages of stop-and-start bedtime reading since the first of the year. I remembered that I’d already hauled three or four books to Canada with me, and that I try to buy only things I will use (and right away at that). Thugs and adventurers from around the world might be willing to kill their mothers for the Maltese Falcon … but sorry, Mr. Hammett, back on the shelf you go.
why the long face, Bogie?
I had high hopes the comic shop would make my NerdWalk worthwhile, but you can already see where this is going, can’t you? The shop was fine — no different than others of the better breed, with plenty of stock, clean, well-lit, a friendly staff. But. You know the but, right? I’m a digital guy and (despite giving it a go recently) I don’t do monthly comics any more. Omnibuses are nice, and all, but they’re expensive, and why did I drop a grand on an iPad Pro if I was going to be buying big reprint books? And etc. and etc.
I came home empty-handed, pleased that I’d stuck to my frugal ways, but a bit depressed with this fresh evidence that whatever it is I’m seeking right now, it isn’t something I’ll find in a shop.
enlightenment — when you least expect it!
So I buckled down and spent another week as a grownup.
I woke up the following Saturday to a surprise — sunlight. It was supposed to rain all weekend, but here was unexpected sun. That the sun was still up when I dragged out of bed well after noon left me no option — I had to get out for a walk. Despite the previous week’s disappointment, I felt the itch to do another NerdWalk. If nothing else, those shops would give me a destination. I needed a haircut, and I remembered a barber next to the horror shop. Plus, I kept thinking about that Boris Karloff poster.
The horror shop improved with reduced expectations. Nothing had changed in the preceding week — I expect I could have come back after a year and found things the same. Actually, though, something had changed. I had changed. I wasn’t comparing everything to Hollywood in the 70s. Now I was just a guy who wasn’t so uptight about spending a nickel and who thought it might be fun to get some art for my apartment, a humble geek pleased to support a local merchant mad enough to make a go of “horror shop owner” as his career.
I remembered that the pleasure of a geek shop isn’t that it is some Aladdin cave of wonders — it is the simple miracle that it exists at all.
I bought Boris.
And Godzilla, too!
The walk home was a little awkward, with those sleeved posters flapping around in the wind, but not too terrible.
I got my miles in. I got some sun. My attic retreat is a bit more nerdy. My NerdWalk expectations are properly calibrated, and now I’m looking forward to walking down for a haircut once a month or so, and dropping by the horror shop to see what strange new temptations have mushroomed up in my absence. Maybe I’ll go back to the comics shop, or give the used bookstores a second chance, and see if anyone has adopted that Maltese Falcon. I think I even saw a place where I could buy pizza by the slice.
All I need is a sleazy movie theater showing Enter The Dragon and I will be twelve years old again. For the length of a NerdWalk, at least.
Thanks for reading! It’s good to get Longbox Graveyard going again. I plan to get back to monthly publication, but stating your plans is a way to hear God laugh.
NEXT MONTH: #167 — Guardians of the Galaxy!
Longbox Graveyard is moving to Canada next month. My move is a tale for another time, but in advance of my move and starting today I will be putting several lots of comics and games up for sale on eBay. Support Longbox Graveyard and add comics to your collection — check out my listings below!
I had planned a similar review series for DC’s Rebirth, but for any number of reasons, that project never came together. I’m offering a large lot of Rebirth books for sale — click HERE for details.
A couple single #1s are also for sale — click HERE for my general eBay listing. I will be adding more lots of graphic novels and games in the weeks to come, so check back often!
Thanks in advance for your support. Tell a friend!
Thought I’d start the New Year off by looking backwards at the best performing Longbox Graveyard posts of 2016. Most are legacy posts from the early days of this site, with a new article elbowing in at the top of the list.
Drumroll please …
A testament to loading your blog title with powerful keywords, this post is four years old, but still pulling respectable search engine traffic. Mostly it is an ode to why I can only seem to buy high and sell low on eBay, which means I’m no roadmap for that place …
“Top Tens” and “Spider-Man” are among the most most attractive content on this site, so it is no surprise that a post containing both of those things ranks so highly. It is a formula that will appear several times in this list. Guest author Mark Ginocchio of Chasing Amazing hit it out of the park with this 2013 article, calling out Spidey’s fights with Hobgoblin, Green Goblin, Venom, Morlun, and … (click to find out!) as the top web-head battles of all time.
I remain an enthusiastic subscriber of Marvel’s Unlimited digital subscription service. I first reviewed the service in 2012 — this updated review looked at the service after it evolved into an iPad-native format. If I was really chasing clicks, this would be one of the articles I’d gin up with keywords and new information, as there seems to be a hunger out there for information about Marvel’s service.
Remember how I said that Spider-Man Top Tens drew my best traffic? Well, here you go. Mark mentioned that he’s working on a Spider-Man book — hopefully he will raid the fine work he’s done for Longbox Graveyard for print.
And the Spider-Man trend continues! Spidey isn’t my specialty, and I’d really be lost without generous guest-bloggers to cover Marvel’s top hero. In this case, it was was Dan Gvozden of Superior Spider-Talk who rode to the rescue. And, yes, Dan does tackle MJ vs. Gwen, but not in this post … you’ll have to scroll down a bit to find that one.
Everybody loves a good secret base. Did I really rank the Pet Avengers Mansion above the Bat Cave? Yes I did. (Sort of). Nice to see this post is still drawing comment three years after publication — I suppose I deserve my comment section censure for omitting the Legion of Superheroes cool rocket ship clubhouse from my list.
The sole new article from 2016 was this article from last January about the popular Match-3 Marvel puzzler. Quite a few addicted players of this one out there (and I remain among them, despite the take-this-game-and-shove-it conclusion to the post). Maybe 2017 is the year I quit this game. Maybe.
Here’s where you’ll find Dan’s MJ vs. Gwen opinion. (I would have wimped out and picked Aunt May).
Gaming content has generally fared pretty well here at Longbox Graveyard. My post on Capes & Cowls was a good performer for many months, and this comparative review of two comic book deck-builders keeps getting views (and is due for an update, as both games have evolved quite a bit since my review). I’m not playing either game right now for lack of opponents, but Legendary is supposedly coming to iOS in 2017, and that might reignite my interest.
And finally, the #1 Longbox Graveyard Post of 2016 was …
This has been my top post since it was first published — it caught a Google search wave on the run-up to release of the second Captain America movie, and it’s been chugging along ever since. It’s another post long overdue for an update, especially in view of Baron Zemo’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War. But I’m not changing the bad guy at the top of the list … and no, it’s NOT the Red Skull! Want to know who ranks as the baddest Cap villain of all time? Add a click to my pile, I’m not proud!
And with the old year taken care of, I wish all Longbox Graveyard readers a Happy 2017. See you back here every month or so for more nostalgic comics goodness!
Happy Holidays to Longbox Graveyard readers far and wide.
The holidays ate me alive this year (in a good way), and so I failed to participate in last week’s holiday installment of Super-Blog Team-Up … but the week after Christmas is prime time to sleep in and catch up on cool comics, so I hope you will visit each and every one of these blogs for a special helping of super-powered holiday cheer!
- Between The Pages: The Ghost of Supergirl Past
- Retroist: Christmas Knight
- Superhero Satellite: 4th Annual Holiday Special
- The Unspoken Decade: The 1991 Marvel Holiday Special
- Chris Is On Infinite Earths: Christmas With The Super-Heroes #1
- Crapbox of Cthulhu: !mpact W!nter Spec!al #1
Here’s wishing my Super-Blog Team-Up comrades and comics readers everywhere a peaceful holiday season and a better 2017. See you in the new year!