Pokémon GO in Taiwan – Catching Mewtwo

I’m a serious Pokémon GO player. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know this. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably think it’s all I play because I rarely post pictures of anything else. To be fair, that’s only because you can only post pictures to Instagram from mobile so posting console screenshots takes more effort than it’s worth. I consider myself a hardcore player . . . for an American. I’m a level 36. I’ve walked 2,121 km. I’ve caught 18,704 Pokémon.  My Pokédex is at 342 (149 Kanto/96 Johto/97Hoenn) of 384 currently available spots. Though I wouldn’t give a single red cent to a company as shady and predatory as Niantic, I have definitely spent money to play this game. I’ve purchased multiple phone holders to play while biking. It took three tries before I finally found one that was perfect for playing while riding. I’m on my second charge bank because my first one died. I’ve purchased data in multiple countries so I could play while on vacation. Literally this week I spent $60 for a roundtrip train ticket so I could participate in the Chiayi Lantern Festival Safari Zone event just so I can finally catch a Mr. Mime. I am a serious Pokémon GO player . . . for an American. But I don’t live in America. I live in Taiwan.

chiayisafarizone

Taiwan is like the eSports league of Pokémon GO. And that’s speaking as someone who has played in multiple countries such as the United States, Hong Kong, and Thailand. I have witnessed things in this country pertaining to GO that most people will not believe because the stories sound too ridiculous to be true. If you’ve ever seen one of those ridiculous anime about a sport or game like Prince of Tennis or Hikaru no Go where everyone in the show seems to take something way unimportant way too seriously, that’s Pokémon GO in Taiwan. I genuinely believe the rules of the current game are not suitable or fair for play in Taiwan and that Niantic should change the way the game works in this country just to make it fair for the majority of players. I have played every single day without fail since the day the game became available in Taiwan. Since they changed the gym system I have amassed a measly 500 coins. This is unfair. It should not be this hard for someone who plays as much as I do with Pokémon as strong as I have to get coins. But it is because the level of play here is so competitive that unless you live on a gym, it’s nearly impossible to amass coins at a practical rate of return. I wish we could go back to the days of getting 10 coins a day for getting onto a gym. That’s hard enough in this country. To have to hold it for several hours to get a decent amount of coins is ridiculously hard. Not impossible, but way too hard for every free player to get a fair amount of coins. And the cash players are definitely holding gyms much of the time.

The things I have seen are preposterous. I’ve seen a literal syndicate of players controlling a mile long stretch of gyms that isn’t in a residential area at past 1 AM. I’ve seen a biker gang of players roving the streets looking for new catches. I’ve seen elderly couples raid like it’s their job. It is normal behavior here to have multiple accounts and multiple phones to play them on. And it’s no particular age group in Taiwan. Players come in all ages in both genders and play all hours of the day. I once snuck into a school yard at 11 PM to catch a Gen 3 basic only to find 20 other people already inside the school yard to catch the same thing. I’ve seen traffic stopped because a Lapras appeared. I’ve seen a crowd of over 100 people stampede for a single Dratini. There have even been stories on the news in the US about people playing GO in Taiwan because the player base is that hardcore here that it’s newsworthy. Playing seriously in Taiwan is like constantly playing Smash Bros. at EVO level. So let me tell about my most recent crazy Pokémon GO experience.

 

Pokemon Zombies
Pokemon GO mob I witnessed first hand.

Mewtwo is currently the hardest Pokémon in the game to acquire. I won’t say he’s one of the hardest to catch, because he actually has a very fair throw distance, a very readable attack animation, and he’s not too much harder than any other Legendary raid Pokémon to battle. I do think he’s a little harder battle wise, but he can be brought down with a party of 10. The reason he’s so hard to acquire is that you can only get him from an EX Raid. An EX Raid is like any other raid except you need a special EX Raid Pass to participate. This pass is given several days in advance at “random” and requires you to attend a specific raid at a specific gym at a specific time. This is non-negotiable. Meaning in my case that I had to take time off work to attend this EX Raid because for some reason Niantic decided that it’s ok to do that at 11 AM on a Monday morning. This was my first EX Pass. I honestly didn’t even think they had them in Taiwan because I’d never seen one and I’d never seen a Mewtwo raid before. Niantic has shown regional biases time and time again, so it made perfect sense to me to assume there were no EX Raids in Taiwan. I was proven wrong in this belief when I finally did attend this first EX Raid because multiple people there already had multiple Mewtwos, which I consider highly unfair considering how hard it is to get an EX Pass and how many people actually do play the game seriously here that may never get one. But in any case, I finally had an EX Pass and I was determined to finally catch a Mewtwo.

EX Pass
My first, but hopefully not last, EX Pass.

I showed up at the gym an hour early hoping to take the gym for my team (GO Team Mystic!) so that I could get extra balls to capture Mewtwo with. I was not the only one who had this idea, but not enough of us were present this early to be able to take this gym from what I can only assume were some very dedicated cash players because we couldn’t knock off a single Pokémon. We spent 30 straight minutes and they just kept healing everything on the gym with gold berries. I had believed there was a finite number of berries a Pokémon could be given based on my own past experiences but if this is true it didn’t apply here because they healed their first defender well over 10 times before I finally gave up. And other people kept playing for the rest of the hour unable to make a dent.

By the 30 minute mark, there were at least 40 people there waiting for that Mewtwo raid. By the time it started, there were easily more than 50. Again, this was a Monday morning at 11 AM. Just about everyone there was a middle aged working class person. This raid was in my neighborhood, which is almost entirely low or working middle class. But we do have homeless people as well and yes a number of them also play Pokémon GO. Once this crowd arrived, they began coordinating like I’ve only ever dreamed. They weren’t there to compete. They were there to catch Mewtwo and ideally everyone present was going to catch a Mewtwo. They were splitting up into color based teams and taking counts to make sure every group had enough to beat the raid. It was immaculate. It was what I’ve always dreamed of not just in Pokémon GO but in gaming in general. Whether mobile, console, or PC I have never seen this level of fast paced coordination for a game between complete strangers before. And that’s the important part. These were all random people who didn’t really know each other save for the fact that they all live and catch Pokémon in this same neighborhood. I’ve played The Division, Destiny, Assassin’s Creed multiplayer, Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda, and many other online multiplayer titles. I run a league in Injustice 2 Mobile. I have never seen a group of completely random players in any game on any platform coordinate this seriously, this successfully, and this well so quickly ever before in my more than 20 years of gaming. The only other time I can remember a group getting close was in Ayakashi Ghost Guild, an older mobile game, when I was running a guild and this was not random. It took several weeks to get this group of 20 people playing well together and in time with each other.

Ayakashi-Ghost-Guild-810x456Now all of this was taking place in Mandarin, because I’m in Taiwan. I don’t speak Mandarin. So I wasn’t part of this whole team up scenario. I was just going to join a random group and hope for the best. A random person walked up to me, speaking almost no English, but was able to ask me what color my team was. Upon hearing that I didn’t have a team, without being asked he took it upon himself to find me a “blue” team. I was placed with nine other players who were all Team Mystic. A few of them spoke some English. The first question they asked me was how many accounts I had and upon hearing only one were almost shocked.

Now I’m an American. That means I’m very selfish and even more impatient. This group of 10, including myself, coordinated a private lobby once the raid started. The problem was one of the players got an error but for some reason seemed to either not know that when you error out of a raid you can rejoin the same group even if the battle has already started. He was acting as the leader so he made us all leave the raid and make a new lobby. This irritated me, but I did it. Then it happened two more times and I started to get really frustrated because this was my first and possibly only chance ever to get a Mewtwo. EX Raids only last about 45 minutes and as people complete them you lose potential help. So it’s imperative that you finish the battle as soon as possible. By the third time this happened, I voiced my concern that nine of us were losing out on our chance to catch Mewtwo because this one guy’s phone wasn’t working. I even tried to explain that he could just rejoin the battle without us ending the fight and starting over (also wasting more healing items) but he claimed this wasn’t the case. I reluctantly exited the battle again. Then my phone errored out and everyone quit again, which I was thankful for but as an American still found completely ridiculous. Now it’s one thing if you already have a Mewtwo because if things don’t work out you’re not affected that badly by it. But if you don’t have one, the prospect of not getting one because you couldn’t even get through the battle because of other people sounds insane, because it is. But finally we all got into the fight, no one errored, and we beat Mewtwo. By this time basically everyone not on our team was already gone, probably to work.

 

Mewtwo battle

I had looked up videos for catching Mewtwo online, but you never really know what to expect till you’ve experienced it firsthand. We got 10 premier balls, which I consider the shitty jungle balls of Pokémon GO, to catch Mewtwo. I had plenty of gold berries so that wasn’t an issue. I threw six beautiful throws and landed all of them with a good or better. No catches. With only four throws left and many past experiences of raids screwing me over unrightfully, I was really stressed out about not catching Mewtwo. My hands were literally shaking. This guy, who was on the team, walked up to me and asked if I had caught it yet. I told him no. Upon seeing I had four throws left, he asked if he could give it a throw. Since he had literally just caught two Mewtwos with his accounts, I said sure take a throw. He waited about two minutes and then with his thumb, which I find crazy, he did a perfect curve ball in the dead center of Mewtwo’s catch window while it was at its literal smallest point and caught the Mewtwo first try. And he didn’t have to look. As soon as the ball landed on Mewtwo he handed me my phone and said there you go congrats on your first Mewtwo. It was the most epic, surreal mobile gaming experience I’ve ever had.

My 1st Mewtwo
My first Mewtwo!

Every one checked to make sure everyone else had caught Mewtwo, compared CP levels, thanked each other, and went on their way. This was not competition. It was collectivism. It was not a group of selfish individuals taking advantage of each other for the same goal. It was a team working together for a common goal. Everyone wins or nobody does. It was serious. It was noble. It was impressive. It was professional caliber play. It was Pokemon GO in Taiwan.

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Nintendo Switch IS for Families

This week is/was Chinese New Year/Lunar New Year depending on what type of Asian you are/know. In America that doesn’t mean much. At most you go to dinner at a Chinese restaurant or possibly cook dinner at home and maybe a few relatives and friends come for the meal. Here in Taiwan that means no work for a week, multiple family gatherings, and buying gifts for people ranging from your girlfriend’s grandmother to your land lord because you just kind of have to do it. So I really didn’t have time to delve into any serious topics for my blog this week and haven’t beaten anything recently to do a Gaming Photography post because I happen to be playing both Final Fantasy VII and Super Ghouls’n Ghosts currently, both of which are nothing but long, drawn out headaches. Granted Super Ghouls’n Ghosts isn’t supposed to take more than 90 minutes but it absolutely is because it’s the most unfair, bullshit game ever made and if the SNES Classic didn’t have save states I would surely never be able to beat it. I’m currently stuck on the boss of the game. So it seemed easier for me to write a short anecdote about a gaming moment that happened to me this week rather than try to do something serious.

At one of the multiple Chinese New Year gatherings I attended this week I was asked to bring my Nintendo Switch. For me this was a special occurrence because I had yet to actually take my Switch anywhere. Since I got it in November, I have used it quite a bit but not once had I played it portable or taken it anywhere else. It’s been a dedicated home console just like my PS4. So I was kind of excited to see how the whole experience would be.

switch contents
All this plus an extra Joy-Con set and Grip and Cartridge Case.

The first thing I’ll say is that this is the easiest home console to transport I’ve ever owned. Packing it up, including the dock, into the official carrying case is a breeze. It’s such a fast, easy, and efficient process. I was able to fit the console, dock, four joy cons, two joycon grips, a cartridge case, and the necessary wires all in the very compact carrying case from Hori. I can definitely see myself taking the full console setup to other places in the future simply because of how easy it is to do.

This gathering consisted of about 15 people, including me. All 15 people enjoyed the Switch. Not all 15 actively held a controller, but everyone present enjoyed seeing it in action and watching the various hands on participants play the games I had. We only played the local multiplayer games I have, which consists of Just Dance 2018, Overcooked, Snipperclips, Super Bomberman R, and ARMS. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe would have been a perfect game to have present but I refuse to rebuy a game I already own on the Wii U.

switch travel bag

Just Dance was the most fun for the people present. Even the older adults gave it a try and got really competitive. My girlfriend’s parents even challenged us to a couple’s dance off, which was absolutely hilarious. People were recording various members of the family playing and there were even bets placed on who would get the best score. Of course I got first place in every round, except for one where my girlfriend managed to sneak by me.

Super Bomberman R was a big hit because it, more than any other game, bridged the age gap between all the people present. Local PVP Bomberman has existed since 1983, meaning that just about everyone present with any gaming experience had played it at some point. Even my girlfriend’s dad was totally into it and actually quite good because the rules of engagement have changed very little in the more than three decades that people have been playing Bomberman PVP.

bomberman

Overcooked and Snipperclips are both hilarious and nightmarishly difficult to play when you can’t communicate well in the same language. I have all the knowledge and experience but can’t speak Chinese which made coordinating three other people to be able to complete team based challenges super irritating and nearly impossible with some levels of Overcooked. It also doesn’t help that my girlfriend finds both games super irritating in general because she hates teamwork based games. Or at least playing them with me . . .

All in all, I was very impressed with how the Switch performed at a family event. It was convenient, inclusive, entertaining, and versatile. I absolutely don’t believe that the same amount of fun could have been had with either a PS4 or an XB1. And it certainly wouldn’t have been as convenient or efficient as far as space and setup time for either of those two consoles. So if you don’t have a Switch and you do want something to use with other people in person, I highly recommend it for people of any age group. It definitely did exactly what I needed it to do in this scenario.

Happy Chinese New Year!

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Black Panther – More a Social Commentary than a Review

Three days ago I saw Black Panther. It surprised me in many ways. It took me about a day to really mull over the film before I felt comfortable putting my thoughts about the film to text.

Let me start by saying that, like the title clearly states, this isn’t really a traditional film review. If you want to know whether or not you should go see the movie, that’s an easy question to answer. Yes, you should absolutely go see Black Panther. It’s a well-made film worthy of the Marvel name. It is not the best installment within the MCU ever made, nor is it the worst. I’d place it somewhere in the top half but I’d have to do a thorough ranking review before I could give it a specific placement within the Marvel hierarchy. It’s a beautiful, well written, excellently acted, great sounding movie and there is no reason any MCU fan shouldn’t see this film. And really, because of the way it was written, even if you’re not a committed MCU fan, this movie is still very good and very watchable. Similar to Ant-Man, the plot is very small and enclosed within the world of a specific character, in this case Black Panther and Wakanda, without really spilling into the rest of the MCU, save for the post credits sequence, which honestly gives you no information that the Avengers: Infinity War trailer hadn’t already given us. There are a total of two characters, not including T’Challa or any other Wakandans, with speaking roles that you’ve seen in past films plus one more in the after credits short. Both of these two have only been seen in one previous MCU film, don’t have special powers, and are of little consequence to the overall plot of the film, though they do have some important impacts on the events that take place. Even placing Black Panther on the MCU time line is very negotiable because of the way it was written. The only thing we know for absolute certainty is that it takes place after Captain America 3: Civil War, and with the inclusion of the after credits sequence, most likely but not necessarily before Avengers: Infinity War if we disregard the traditional notice at the very end that says “Black Panther will return in Avengers: Infinity War”.

Wakanda
The majority of the film takes place in Wakanda.

From a neutral film-making/viewing standpoint, with no bias towards race or specific characters, I only had two minor complaints about the film. The first was that it felt short. Not under written, but short. This is strange because the film has a 135 minute runtime. I think most people would agree that when you leave a film wanting more and also don’t feel like the plot left unanswered holes that should have been addressed, it’s the mark of a good film. That’s exactly how I felt leaving Black Panther. The second, which I don’t actually believe has any real bearing on the film, is that the soundtrack was too limited. The trailers sold this film as if it was going to be the Black equivalent of Tron: Legacy (2010). As in, even if the movie sucks, which I’m not saying about either Black Panther or Tron: Legacy, you’ll still get a movie chock-full of amazing music from amazing music artists. In the case of Tron: Legacy that meant Daft Punk and they absolutely delivered on the music front. In Black Panther that means Kendrick Lamar among, or at least that’s what I was led to believe, a number of other music artists. That’s not what I got from Black Panther. Or if I did it was done in a very covert way and most of the music, which at many times I was actively listening for when viewing the film, was undercut too heavily by the movie’s sound effects. The only song I was genuinely moved by was the end credits song by Kendrick Lamar. And that’s mostly because the rest of the music just didn’t stand out to me during the movie. I don’t feel that the movie provided the audience bad music. In fact I’d say that what I actually heard was really good music. But it was few and far between as far as number of tracks that stood out. Which again, I only cared about and even noticed because of the way the film was packaged in the trailers and music, specifically “Black music”, was a big part of that marketing.

Though I don’t personally subscribe to the number based review system, because of how detrimental it is to both the overall image of films and because it prevents many people from taking the time to actually read reviews, I always play along because it’s a standard entertainment media review norm. I would rate this film an 8.4/10, which in my book is a very good score for a film, video game, or any other form of entertainment media. I would absolutely watch any movie scored a 7 or higher from someone with my level of experience reviewing entertainment media and my educational background (B.A. in Cinema Studies) so I don’t feel like my giving this movie an 8.4 should be considered a put off in any way. But I’m sure at least one person will take that score as low, not actually read the rest of my “review”, and move on with their day. But ultimately my point, which again is not the actual intention of this post which is far from being over, is that you should definitely go watch Black Panther from a purely film making and comic book movie viewing standpoint.

cast

From here on out there will be a great many SPOILERS and an in depth analysis of the plot, or at least important portions of it so if you have not seen the movie and you actually care, you have been given fair warning.

I want to discuss Black Panther speaking/viewing specifically as an African American. So obviously we’re about to talk about the racial politics of the film both on and off screen. If you’re not prepared for that then you may want to stop reading now. You’ve been warned. That’s not to imply in any way that only African Americans or Black people should read and/or comment on the rest of this post. All people are invited to read and discuss the opinions laid out here and I hope you take the time to do so. I’m merely stating my perspective and inherent bias when viewing and discussing the film from a social/political standpoint.

The first thing I want to say is that the plot of Black Panther very much surprised me. I went in not exactly sure what I was going to get because no other live action Black Panther film has ever been made to the best of my knowledge. This meant that unless you watched the animated stuff, of which there are only a few options, at least one of which I find/found very stereotypical and offensive, or actively read (about) or at least researched the character then you really had no background information on him outside of what was shown in Captain America 3: Civil War. So I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a traditional origin story or a day in the life plot that assumes knowledge the viewer may or may not have. I was actually very happy with the way the film wrapped up the character’s (Black Panther not specifically T’Challa) origin myth very early and actively used that explanation throughout the film to inform the viewer about certain plot occurrences such as the involvement but ultimate lack of inclusion concerning the Jabari Tribe and their leader M’Baku, who is a reference to Man-Ape and the White Gorilla Cult. The one thing I can say for sure is that I went into the film expecting this to be a very straight forward good versus evil plot with a hero and villain and as the hero in this film is ethnically Black, and more specifically African, I of course expected the villain to be White.

mbaku
M’Baku and the Jabari Tribe

Black Panther starts off by pretending to confirm my bias induced plot expectations. The first 30 – 40 minutes of the film make it come off as if this is going to be a movie about T’Challa, a Black African leading a country of exclusively Black people, fighting against Klaw (Ulysses Klaue), a literal Nazi who in at least one timeline was personally sent by Adolf Hitler to Wakanda to steal their secrets. In fact, early on in the film we’re told that 30 years prior to the modern day events of the film Klaw snuck into Wakanda, stole a ton of Vibranium, and killed several people including the parents of T’Challa’s best friend and the leader of possibly the strongest military tribe within Wakanda with the debatable exception of the Dora Milaje, the badass, super tall, bald personal security squad of the King of Wakanda. This is all set up early on in the film very well to lead the viewer to believe that they’re about to get a normal and mostly predictable Black person/people versus White person/people plot. And as a Black person living in 2018, I’ll be completely honest and say that I would have been completely ok with that. Is it interesting writing? No. Is it out of the box plot development? No. Do Black people both need and appreciate straight forward forms of entertainment like that right now? I think it’s fair to say yes. That’s not to say that all our entertainment should be that way or even most of it but as a race we definitely need those easy wins at least some of the time. But to my great surprise, Black Panther is not that film . . . and ultimately that’s a good thing but the reasons for that when viewed in the context of the world and industry outside of the film can be read in a number of different ways ranging anywhere from introspective to pessimistic and sinister.

dora-milaje
The Dora Milaje

Klaw, played by the great Andy Serkis, is setup as the epitome of evil and antithesis of Black people, literally referring to Wakandans, arguably the most technologically advanced society on the planet within the world of the film, as savages on multiple occasions knowing full well that they are the most technologically advanced society on the planet. The viewer is led to believe that he’s a powerfully troublesome villain with Mark Hamill Joker level psychopathy, a Heath Ledger Joker level strategic mind, and technologically advanced firepower. A big part of this character is due to the excellent, but ultimately short lived performance by Andy Serkis. Though as a Black person I’m not supposed to say it in reference to a film like this, he, yes a White man, gave the best performance in the movie. Granted his character was the only one that isn’t traditionally written as stoic and emotionally controlled within this particular story. And any experienced, socially aware Black film viewer knows exactly why that is. Black people are often presented as overly emotional, comedic, and illogical in their film characterizations so presenting the Wakandans as such not only would have broken canon, but also done a disservice to the image of Black people in cinema, which we should all be able to agree goes against the supposed intention of this particular film. Especially considering that two of the three credited writers for the script are Black. It’s for this reason that Klaw was able to stand out among the rest of the B characters in the movie.

Klaw
Klaw (Ulysses Klaue)

After setting up this very black and white plot, the movie flipped and tossed my expectations out the window. I referred to Andy Serkis’ performance of Klaw as “short lived” because literally minutes after he escapes capture from both T’Challa and the CIA, with the help of two Black people mind you, he gets killed. And by killed I mean shot point blank, by a Black guy, from Oakland, in an almost gang style execution. It’s a very cathartic scene . . . after you’ve already seen the movie. The first time you watch this scene, you’re very surprised, but you don’t get to experience any of the emotional, social, and political overtones of the scene because of the sequence of events leading up to the killing and the person pulling the trigger. What you don’t know till the end of the movie is that Klaw’s executioner, Eric Stevens aka Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan, is a highly educated (I believe MIT), extremely well trained (US SPEC OPS), very socially and historically conscious, direct descendant of the Wakandan throne that had to live his entire life as a lower class African American orphan whose father was murdered by the previous Black Panther and King of Wakanda, who also happens to be his uncle. At this point in the film you also have pretty much zero knowledge of his motivations. All you really know is he’s Wakandan, he has murdered or assisted in the murder of several innocent people on screen, betrayed Klaw, who he was working for up until this moment, and literally in the same scene murdered his supposed girlfriend who also happens to be Black. So when you see this execution happen, you don’t get to experience all that cathartic goodness of seeing a well-educated African American/Wakandan Black man take down a murdering Nazi psychopath that very well may have murdered, not necessarily intentionally, members of his extended family in Wakanda three decades earlier. It’s made clear later in the film that this was all part of Killmonger’s grand scheme. His motivations are two fold because the only thing he seems to hate more than White racists and oppressors is Wakanda for their apathy towards other Black people suffering at the hands of White people around the world. So it was all intentional that he would use Wakanda’s greatest enemy to hurt them only to then turn around and betray him with a shot at point blank. And that’s really what makes this movie so interesting to watch for Black people. It’s a multi-layered web of social and political questions that occur in moral grey areas for the Black community.

killmonger vs black panther
Killmonger vs Black Panther

This film is difficult to watch as a Black person because it externalizes a longstanding internal debate that pretty much all non-upper class African Americans and presumably many Black people around the world have been thinking about for centuries. Killmonger is not a villain. He’s an anti-hero. He just happens to cause problems for T’Challa and Wakandan tradition, which paints a negative picture of him in the eyes of Black Panther for much of the film. But it’s important to note that even T’Challa feels guilty about Killmonger for most of the movie. It doesn’t help that they are actually cousins that had grown up not knowing each other. By the end of the film it’s safe to say that T’Challa not only sympathizes with Killmonger but actually puts his ideals into practice in a peaceful manner. But we’ll get to that later. Killmonger is one half of this internal debate and T’Challa is the other. By the end of the film we’re asked what the right answer is/was but really it’s impossible to say for sure what the right answer is when you’re a Black person with even a high school level of knowledge about the history of Black peoples around the world and how they have been affected/treated by White peoples. I use the term peoples here rather than people because there is not one homogenous group of White people responsible for all the atrocities against Blacks throughout history nor is their one homogenous group of Black people that have incurred all the suffering of these atrocities directly.

cousins

Wakanda is a literal Black utopia. It’s an idealized realization of Afrofuturism, a term that I don’t personally like using, that places Black people in the best of circumstances. It’s a society that is 100% pure blooded Black with no history of slavery, internal prejudice, unfair class divides, poverty, or even drug trafficking and/or addiction. The key premise of this society is that it has always existed, always been ahead of not just the Black curve but the entire Earth curve, and has always remained hidden in plain sight. It’s a culture steeped in ancient tradition that they have adhered to into the modern times even while advancing technologically and socially. This is seen in the fact that they have technologies that make Iron Man look like a kid playing with LEGOs and their entire research and development structure is run by a girl of no more than 20 years old (portrayed by Letitia Wright who is actually 24 in real life). They have advanced well beyond the rest of the world in every facet of technology including but not limited to medicine, weapons development, stealth technology, transportation, clothing production, mining, and even animal husbandry (loved that rhino scene). It is the ideal society of just about every Black person. Even the ones doing well would like to live in Wakanda. The most important tenant of Wakandan tradition is non-involvement with the rest of the world. They do not interfere, they do not give aid, they do not conquer, and they do not wage war even though they are very good at it. Though they do have spies hidden all over the world, their position is that it’s all simply not their problem. They believe, and have pretty much always believed, that in order to preserve their society they must remain hidden and uninvolved with the rest of the world. Publically they present themselves as a third world farming nation with sovereign borders and a functioning monarchist government. They are often referred to as third world within the film and refuse all trade and aid from all countries. They pretty much want everyone to think they’re a poor nation of uneducated farmers that have so little value as a country both economically and in natural resources that no one would even take the time to try to invade, conquer, or even visit their lands.

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Wakanda is possibly the most technologically advanced country on Earth.

The key reason for Wakanda’s seclusion is best expressed with a quote from T’Challa’s best friend W’Kabi, played by Daniel Kaluuya (the guy from Get Out). “If we let them in, they’ll bring their problems with them,” he says to T’Challa when asked his opinion about opening their borders and sharing their knowledge with the world. This is not a new idea. It’s not even an original one. We are currently dealing with this very debate right now in reference to Syrian refugees, illegal immigrants from South America, Muslim influence in the West, and a host of other immigration issues around the world. In general, many if not most people believe that foreign influence changes the way a country or culture works and often don’t see that as being a good thing. This is even more apparent when the country in question sees itself as being vastly superior to the country the immigrants come from. It’s the reason our President says things like “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?,” in reference to countries with predominantly Black and Latino populations and favors predominantly White countries like Norway. And if the supportive responses to his comments are any indication, he is clearly not alone in that opinion. This makes even more sense when we’re talking about a country like Wakanda where other people of any race could offer them literally zero benefits technologically, “steal” their technological advancements for their own countries, and in the case of White people, from a historical standpoint, would absolutely attempt to screw up their system of government and racial hierarchy. And many Black people agree with this position coming from the Wakandans. When I was watching the film, I didn’t feel angry or unsympathetic to their position. I understood it completely and had to really struggle over whether or not their position was acceptable. As a Christian, I was raised that when you can help people you should. But as an African American with a minor in history, I was/am very reluctant to support the idea of the Black utopia being ruined, and yes that is the correct word here, by outside influence, especially that of White people. Just look at something small like the history of gentrification in the United States to understand why an African American might feel this way. And let’s also remember that there are no actual laws saying any country has to help any other country fix their problems. Especially when we’re talking about a country with no actual treaties in place. Though Wakanda does appear at United Nations talks both in Black Panther and Captain America 3: Civil War, it’s never clearly stated that they’re even a member of the UN coalition. They have zero obligations to help struggling Black people in other countries or anyone for that matter. It would be nice, of course speaking as an African American, if Wakanda chose to help Black people around the world, because I would stand to gain in a such a scenario. But that’s a clear bias that clouds my objective judgement of the situation or would if it was actually happening and I was for whatever reason asked to give my opinion on the issue. And I feel the feelings I’ve expressed on this specific issue make sense to most people of all colors and are shared by many Black people.

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“If we let them in, they’ll bring their problems with them.” -W’Kabi

Killmonger’s position is the exact opposite of T’Challa and most of, but not all of, Wakanda. He speaks as the lowest of the low African American. He was born and raised in Oakland until the age of, I believe, nine when his father was murdered, by the Wakandan King and contemporary Black Panther. His mother isn’t actually mentioned in the film but it’s assumed that she was already dead. His position, which is of course formed by his experiences and education, both of which are well expressed in the film, is that White people have and continue to mistreat and oppress Black people all over the world and Wakanda’s refusal to use their superior resources to help Black people throw off the chains of these White oppressors makes them complicit in the continued subjugation of all Black people. He is the physical manifestation of what Black people refer to as “The Revolution”. This is a half joking, half serious ideal that one day all Black people will collectively organize, rise up, and overthrow White oppression through the most extreme and historically relevant measures. Essentially imagine if tomorrow all Black people as a homogenized group picked up the same detailed history book, read all the ways that White people had hurt Black people in the past physically, emotionally, socially, and economically and then reapplied those same practices back towards White people en masse. So basically that means murder, enslavement, denial of education, denial of rights, physical abuse, and if we’re going to be completely honest with ourselves about how people actually behave one has to admit that there would be a large presence of rape and sexual abuse as well. That’s not to say that I’m personally advocating for any of that behavior, and to be clear I’m not. But it’s foolish to pretend like in this revolutionary scenario that Black people would magically apply their form of oppression with some sort of higher moral standing than literally every other application of oppression in any region in the history of the world. If it happened, it would the same way. The only difference would be that Black people would justify the behavior by referencing historical occurrences of the same behaviors in order to dilute the issue from being a serious problem. Killmonger’s position is that the only way to fix the world is to conquer it with Wakandan resources and advanced weaponry and then rule the world with an iron fist that places Black people on top and Whites at the bottom. He’s not seeking or advocating for peace. He’s arguing for revenge. But again, he feels justified in this positon because of his own personal experiences growing up as a lower class African American and because of his knowledge of history. And just like when thinking about Wakanda’s choice to remain uninvolved, Black people as a whole can definitely sympathize with Killmonger’s position. That’s not to say that all, or even most, Blacks support his position as the correct way to approach this issue. It’s just to be honest in saying that we fully understand and have no problem considering this position as one of multiple possible ways to fix our problems as a race.

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“The Revolution”

This is why Black Panther is so hard to watch for Black people. It’s not a straight forward good and evil plot. Once Klaw dies, there’s no real villain. There are simply two opposing opinions, both of which are valid because they’re advocating to help/protect Black people. The only difference is which Black people fall under that umbrella of protection and what’s the best way to do that. And it’s important to note that even before Killmonger shows up, T’Challa and his girlfriend, and presumably the future queen of Wakanda, Nakia already felt an obligation to try to help Black people outside of Wakanda. They didn’t agree on how to do that, but they both agreed that because they could do something they needed to try to do something. So this film tasks the Black viewer with having to choose between preserving the Black utopia or possibly destroying it by trying to help Black people around the world. And it does this by creating a Black versus Black plot that pretty much removes White people from the equation because it’s never assumed that White people couldn’t easily be defeated. Just that war with them may or may not be the correct course of action. Even now I still can’t say with absolute certainty which side of the argument I would side with in a real life scenario. And I know that many people who aren’t Black will take offense to that statement. They will accuse me of supporting racism for not vehemently opposing Killmonger’s position, while totally ignoring the fact that they make the same decision every day by having voted for and continually supporting the current President and administration of the United States, advocating against public healthcare, and fighting to essentially cease all immigration, legal or otherwise if we’re really being honest, of non-Whites. It’s the exact same thing. The only difference is I’m discussing theoretical fantasy scenarios shown in a Disney movie (See what I did there?) and they’re literally advocating to destroy and/or ruin actual people’s lives every day. So no I don’t feel guilty about my fence sitting on this issue. And I can say that as a person who not only has many close White friends and colleagues, but also as someone whose father is a White immigrant to the United States. I of course did not get to benefit from that because of my complexion, but my mixed blood heritage does factor into my opinions on such issues, even though I have always, not always by choice, identified as Black.

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Now ultimately the film climaxes with a split decision on the issue. Killmonger takes the throne and begins his plot for benevolent, for specifically Black people at the expense of Whites, world domination, after believing that he had killed T’Challa in ritual combat, as was his right as a member of the royal bloodline. T’Challa had actually lived and returns to retake the throne after an epic battle sequence and the death of his cousin, Killmonger, at his hands. And he takes no joy in that killing. He even tries to save Killmonger’s life, but he refuses help because he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison, stating that death is superior to bondage by referencing slaves that chose to jump off the slave ships in the Middle Passage rather than accept their lives as slaves. Also a very powerful scene. T’Challa’s response to this whole sequence of events and his deceased cousin’s worldview is to agree to tell the world about Wakandan technology and help improve life for Black people through peaceful aid and cultural diffusion. Now personally I didn’t like this ending because I felt like it was too soft because it’s a fence sitting position. But for a Disney film that exists as part of a much larger (and profitable), predominantly White franchise this ending absolutely made sense and I saw it coming a mile away once I knew for certain that T’Challa was going to get the throne back by the end of this movie. You can’t intentionally undercut your franchise target audience in order to make one really powerful film for a specific micro-audience within the market. That’s just bad business. I also think it’s fitting that like me, the two Black writers also were unable to make a hard decision in support of either side of the issue so they chose conclude the film on the fence as well.

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The Black Panther IMDB public rating scores in the 1st 24 hours of release.

I personally think Disney’s decision to greenlight this plot was more calculated than many others might read into it. I think it’s intentional that the film is ultimately a Black versus Black narrative rather than a Black versus White one. In the latter scenario Black people would obviously be the hero and by extension win because the movie is called Black Panther after all. It would be odd if the character’s debut standalone film ended with him losing. Not to mention it would be a PR nightmare. But at the same time making a film about an evil White man trying to destroy Black culture and people only to be defeated and presumably killed in the end would not sit well with the White target audience the MCU is geared towards. This movie had PR problems from certain groups before it was even released. There was even a campaign to destroy its IMDB score on opening day. And this is with the film as a Black versus Black conflict as the central focus. A White main villain would have brought racists out of the woodwork calling the film an anti-White SJW pandering film with pro-immigration undertones. Disney isn’t stupid. They know exactly what they’re doing. They may not be able to stop 100% of blatant racists from trying to destroy the film but they can and did definitely take steps to ensure that the bulk of White viewers would see the film as mostly innocuous from their point of view, which it is. And because of the film’s lack of direct ties to the other MCU heroes and films, people don’t even technically need to see the film to keep track of the rest of the MCU. White people can completely ignore it with little to no consequences. Or they can watch it and see a film about Black people fighting other Black people, ultimately confirming their racial bias about Black communities being violent, disorganized, and self-afflicting. It’s a genius tactic that will ultimately work very well in the grand scheme of things. Black people get a hero and movie for themselves and White people are left unaffected by it. Yet for those who do watch it, they still get Martin Freeman essentially playing the same slapstick sidekick he portrays in Sherlock as a bit of inclusionary comic relief. Plus the presence of not one but two credited Black writers makes it all seem benevolent and inclusionary rather than calculated.

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It’s not as if Marvel/Disney doesn’t do traditional, straight forward good versus evil plots in the MCU. Iron Man 2, Thor 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 1, Captain America 1, Doctor Strange, and Avengers all have plots like this. It would have been very easy and justifiable to do it with Black Panther as well. The fact that they didn’t as the first film for the character says a lot, in my opinion. That’s why I truly believe that Black Panther was written the way it was intentionally and for PR reasons.

Ultimately Black Panther is an important film. It marks the first non-White featured hero in the MCU to get their own film as well as the first Black hero to get his own film since like Blade. And thankfully it doesn’t suck. But this was an easy film to get made and sell. Minorities of all colors have been waiting for a non-White focused MCU film since at least Iron Man 3. The film doesn’t directly attack White viewers either overtly or covertly. Whites and Blacks can both watch the film without changing their biases about Black people whether they’re racist viewers or not. What I’m truly curious about is what Black Panther 2, assuming there is one, will look like because eventually Black Panther will have to face a White main villain.

Thoughts?

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Gaming Photography – Super Mario Odyssey

A few weeks ago I finished Super Mario Odyssey. This was actually the first game I beat on my new Nintendo Switch, which I absolutely love, by the way. So I wanted to share my experience playing the game visually with another Gaming Photography post.

I have to say that Super Mario Odyssey is objectively the best Mario platformer ever made. For the longest time I have said that this is Super Mario Galaxy, and I continue to hope for a Super Mario Galaxy 3. But Odyssey truly revolutionized Mario and 3D platforming in almost the same way that Super Mario 64 did back in 1996. It’s almost a perfect game. I got a full 100% completion. That’s all the power moons, all the costumes, all the purple coins, all the souvenirs, and all the possessions. It took me about 50 hours of play, which by today’s standards is great for a platformer. The game is innovative, imaginative, and beautiful. The gameplay works well and the audio, both effects and music, is top notch. I cannot recommend this game enough to Switch users and really platformer fans in general.

I took more than 1000 pictures in this game because there are just so many great moments in it. But the bulk of them were actually taken on my Switch directly rather than with my Elgato like I usually do. This is because the Switch is just so convenient for taking screen captures in games. So now I’d like to present my top 20 photos from Super Mario Odyssey. While this game actually does have a photo mode, I didn’t really use it because I prefer the natural lighting and appearance of the game in most cases. I also post game photos on my Twitter and Instagram often.

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Please let me know what you think of my shots. Any feedback is appreciated because I would like to improve my gaming photography skills.

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Tapei Gameshow 2018

Every year, for the last three years, I have attended Taipei Game Show. And every year I take the time to recount/review my experience. This year will be no different. For those of you who aren’t aware, Taipei Game Show (TGS) is an annual video games event held in Taiwan. It’s more like PAX than E3. It’s open to the public, there are no press conference style presentations, and usually they demo unreleased games to the public, but rarely if ever announce new titles. Or at least no new titles that will be important in the Western markets.

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Certain companies take TGS very seriously and make an appearance every year. This includes big names from multiple industries such as PlayStation, Ubisoft, Bandai Namco, HyperX, Twitch, and many more. There are also a ton of smaller names, mostly developers, and tons of indie projects from the known like Aragami, to the completely obscure. One thing I always find very interesting is the focus on mobile gaming. Mobile games, as in Android and iOS, are huge in Asia. Much bigger than in the West. They even have mobile eSports and take it seriously. As much if not more space is taken up at TGS by mobile gaming than PC gaming. But console is always king simply because PlayStation, Bandai Namco, and Ubisoft always show up in grandiose style. And yet, Square Enix had their own booth where all they showed was a single mobile Kingdom Hearts game that is only available in Asia, just to exemplify how important mobile is in this event and in the Asia market in general.

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What I find interesting is that XBOX has no real presence at TGS. Microsoft doesn’t even try to show up. There are plenty of XBOX ONE controllers used at booths for PC gaming, but XBOX makes no real appearance other than in the store where they sell every type of current gen gaming product you could want. This makes sense because XBOX has almost no market share in Asia. It’s not the platform people game on here. But I find it odd that Microsoft doesn’t at least show up for the PC gaming aspect of the event. But in a way I guess it’s not really necessary because no one in Asia legitimately tries to game on Apple and Linux isn’t a huge thing here for gamers like it is in the US. What I find very disappointing though is that year after year Nintendo makes no appearance. This is Asia. It’s an even stronger, more loyal market for Nintendo than the US. The Switch is big here, especially in Taiwan and Japan. Even higher ups in my company own Switches because Nintendo is a favorite in this region and it happens to be an amazing console. I was happy to see that the Switch had a big presence in the Ubisoft booth this year though.

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The free swag was good this year, but it’s not the best I’ve seen it. Ubisoft swag was amazing this year. They went above and beyond everyone else at the event. But the other booths were pretty underwhelming for the most part, save for a few exceptions. Even PlayStation was pretty weak on swag this year, offering only a sticky note pad. Of course the memorabilia available for purchase from PlayStation, and other companies, was quite nice.

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As far as the games shown, talking only mainstream AAA titles right now, I was underwhelmed. Usually they present demos and/or videos of unreleased stuff that you may have heard of but haven’t yet had enough time to really make a decision about because not enough had been shown to the public at that point. This year it was mostly stuff that you already knew about, and quite possibly played. A lot of it had already been released or at least had an open beta take place. Some examples of this that were on display to try were Assassin’s Creed Origins, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, Monster Hunter World, and Metal Gear Survive. I’ve played every game on that list in my apartment, with the exception of Assassin’s Creed Origins, at least one time. And AC Origins was released months ago. These sorts of titles should not be shown at an event like this, with the exception of maybe Dissidia Final Fantasy NT and Metal Gear Survive because those games aren’t actually on the market yet. But they both had open betas before this event so there was really no reason to display them here. I was also shocked to find that other than in the PlayStation brochure, there was absolutely no trace of God of War at TGS this year. I don’t know how that’s possible. The game is being released in less than three months. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to show a playable demo. In past years at TGS I’ve gotten to try pre-release games that went on to be huge including Horizon Zero Dawn, For Honor, Attack on Titan and The Division. So it seemed very odd to me that God of War wasn’t featured with such a nearby release.

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That’s not to say that there were no new games that hadn’t been played before, because their certainly were. New games on display with demos included Far Cry 5, The Crew 2, Hokuto ga Gotoku (Fist of the North Star), Attack on Titan 2, Detroit: Become Human, and Dynasty Warriors 9. There was also a large number of new mobile games you have never and probably will never hear about as well as a bunch of PC games and lots of HTC Vive VR titles. There was also a huge section of board and card games. This is the case every year and it’s interesting to see. Happy to report that they still carry Settlers of Catan.

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Personally, I was happy to get to try Far Cry 5, Hokuto ga Gotoku (Fist of the North Star), and Attack on Titan 2. I’ve been considering buying these three games, once released, for a long time now and I’m glad that I got to actually try them so I can make final decisions about each game.

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This was a good Taipei Game Show, but it was not the best year I’ve ever attended. In a lot of ways it made it seem like the best games currently on the docket are already out, Monster Hunter, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Assassin’s Creed Origins, and so on, rather than that we have some amazing games coming soon, which we absolutely do.  Maybe the timing was just a bit off this year or the very recent releases seemed more important than unreleased titles, but this TGS felt like I paid more for atmosphere than gaming news compared to previous years I’ve attended.

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Goodbye Wii U . . . It’s Been Fun

With this post, as I do with all consoles, I would like to take the time to honor and formally retire my/the Wii U. I finished my last game on the Wii U, Star Fox Zero, and bought a Nintendo Switch. So it’s time to officially move forward with gaming history.

I enjoyed the Wii U. I have never once regretted the purchase. Nor did I regret owning a Wii. There are certain things about the Wii U that I wasn’t ultimately happy with. Such as the very short lifespan I got out of it. I only owned mine for 4 – 5 years and it’s already time to retire it. This has become common practice for Nintendo and it’s a huge problem. But at least it’s not as bad as XBOX and PlayStation offering the same console multiple times in a generation for higher prices with negligible upgrades. The OS/Miiverse was probably the worst thing about the Wii U as a whole.

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I believe the Wii U was a necessary iteration of console gaming, as has every Nintendo console to date. Nintendo is the leader in home console gaming innovation and has been for more than a decade. The things they create are ultimately panned by the public and then stolen by Microsoft and Sony, among other game development entities. PlayStation Move and Kinect would not exist without the invention of Wii Motion. And to this day I still hold to the opinion that Wii Motion Plus works/worked better than PlayStation Move and the now defunct Kinect ever did. I believe that the Wii U is directly responsible for current VR technology and have written about this in a previous article for Gaming Rebellion. So for me, the Wii U was not a waste of time/money and I don’t consider it a failed console. I will admit that I didn’t get to play as many games on it as I would have liked due to a lacking library, but I will also say that many of the games I did play on the Wii U were excellent. A few obvious examples include Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and of course Bayonetta 2. The fact that two of those games are being remastered for the Switch is very telling about just how good they are/were. Of course it does irritate me that I could have purchased them on the Switch but that’s so many games on all platforms these days.

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Another Wii U game I really liked.

By my count I beat 25 games on the Wii U and played a number of other ones. Certainly a low offering for a home console. But at the same time I can say that of those 25 only two of them were games I considered disappointing and one of those was an indie title valued at $3. That’s a 92% success rate for enjoyable games. I didn’t have anywhere near that success rate on my PS3 or PC and don’t on my PS4 now. So it really comes down to the quantity vs quality argument. But ultimately I am happy to have owned a Wii U. It’s an important part of the history of gaming and I am glad to have been fortunate enough to be able to experience it, even if for only a short while.

Now I have a Switch and I am very impressed by it. I put off buying one for a long time but knew that I would have to eventually get one to play Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But even without those two amazing games, I have to say that this is a great console. It’s compact, convenient, and versatile. The OS is worlds better than that of the Wii U. The system is way faster as far as loading times and movement between menus. The many control options make it perfect for every type of player. One of the greatest improvements is how easy it is to both capture and post screenshots to social media. You can even add text directly to the screenshots and make your own memes right on the console. That’s something all consoles should implement. I also really enjoy the sleep mode function. The console never really turns off. It just goes to sleep. That means that the load up is always really fast and you can turn the console off without closing the game and you pick up right back where you paused. But it’s a lot more complete sleep mode than that of the PS4. The lights turn off and the console seems to stop functioning altogether while the PS4 sleep mode still feels like the console is on and shouldn’t be moved for fear of damage. You can confidently move the Switch while in sleep mode without incurring any damage.

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Picture taken on the Switch.

One has to admit that regardless of how you feel about Nintendo and their games, the Switch is the most revolutionary console this gen, meaning once again Nintendo is the only company to really justify releasing another console by actually offering us a new generation of gaming rather than just increasing power and graphics quality and keeping pretty much everything else the same. I guess you could tack on VR to PlayStation but that’s not even as widely adopted as the Switch yet and it’s been on the market longer.

I’ve not played too many games on the Switch as of writing this, but I have already gotten 100% completion on Super Mario Odyssey and it was well worth the purchase. I’m inclined to call it the best Super Mario platformer ever made. But I honestly don’t believe that such an amazing console would have come about if not for the Wii U existing first. The amount of data gained from having that console on the market and the feedback from it made the Switch in its current form possible. So I’m glad the Wii U happened and I’m glad that I got to be part of that feedback cycle. So I say goodbye Wii U. I salute you for the many great gaming experiences I got from you and the countless more your legacy is and will be responsible for.

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Gaming Photography – Star Fox Zero

The final game I’ll be playing on the Wii U is Star Fox Zero + Guard. I thought it was appropriate to do this as my first Gaming Photography post of 2018.

Sadly this wasn’t the game it should have been. I’ve been playing Star Fox games since the original 1993 version and I’ve beaten every one to be released on home console, including Star Fox 2 on the SNES Classic. It’s a franchise I hold very dearly. I had high hopes for Zero, but it just doesn’t measure up. The truly sad part is that the only real problem with the game is the terrible motion controls. The graphics are quite good. The level design is true to the franchise. The narrative is the same rehashed Star Fox plot you get every time, and that’s fine. There’s new vehicles, new characters, new bosses, and the classic multi-path map that allows you to tailor your campaign experience differently every time. It’ s a sound Star Fox game. But the controls make it nearly unplayable. I could not fly with the precision necessary to beat the special bosses and challenges. I went into the game wanted to get a gold completion on every mission. I quit playing before I even made it through a second playthrough because I could tell I wasn’t going to make any noticeable progress in a manageable amount of time. I would absolutely play a remastered version of the game on the Switch if they did away with the motion controls completely and just let me play it as a traditional single screen Star Fox game with a pro controller and adjusted the targeting and controls accordingly for that gameplay scheme. But unless you’re a die hard Star Fox fan like I am, then I absolutely cannot recommend you to play this game. That however did not stop me from getting some nice pictures though.

I only took 327 total pictures over the course of this game, which is extremely low for me. But the lackluster gameplay cut my time with the game short. I was also very annoyed by the HUD and dialog text ruining many of my pictures but that is standard for this franchise so I’m not mad. So now I’d like to present my top 10 photos from Star Fox Zero. I take my photos through my PC with an Elgato Game Capture HD60 Pro in the case of console games. I also post them on my Twitter and Instagram often.

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Please let me know what you think of my shots. Any feedback is appreciated because I would like to improve my gaming photography skills.

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