Monday, July 28, 2014

The 50 Greatest Neo Geo Games of All Time! (Part Two: #040-#031)

Part two of a five-part series celebrating the best SNK and pals had to offer! 


HEY! Looking for part one of the series? It's right here.

The Neo Geo is one of the most beloved consoles of all-time, and pretty much the definition of a gamer’s system. Originally released in arcade board form, the Neo Geo Multi Video System (MVS) delivered some of the absolute best coin-op titles of the 1990s, via an ingenious cartridge set-up that allowed gamers to play four different titles on one machine. With its impressive hardware specs, it provided gamers with some of the era’s most dazzling graphics, and introduced players the world over to such acclaimed franchises as Samurai Shodown, Metal Slug and Fatal Fury, not to mention tons of less heralded, underappreciated gems such as The Last Blade, Pulstar and Top Hunter. Not content with dominating arcade parlors, SNK also released the system as a high-powered (and absurdly expensive) home console, known as the Advanced Entertainment System (AES) which LITERALLY brought the arcade experience into players’ living rooms.

For almost 15 years, SNK and other developers published titles for the AES and MVS, giving it one of the absolute longest life spans of any console in gaming history. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the console’s official retirement, THE INTERNET IS IN AMERICA is rolling out a special, five-part series, counting down the 50 greatest games to ever grace the Neo Geo.

Before we continue, a few notes about the criteria for the list:

001.) Both MVS and AES releases are eligible for the countdown. Unless explicitly stated, the versions of the games referred to on this list are the MVS iterations.

002.) Only official games, produced during the console’s original lifespan, are eligible. Sorry, homebrew enthusiasts.

003.) SNK games from the era, which were not released on the MVS or AES, are ineligible for this countdown. In short, that means no Neo Geo CD or Hyper Neo Geo 64 games are in the running.

004.) In Guantanamo, prisoners should be forced to play “The Legend of Success Joe” ten hours a day.  This, I believe we can all agree upon, is punishment enough.

With the fine print out of the way, who is ready to hop right into the countdown? All aboard, just say “S-N-K…”

Number 40:
Metal Slug (1996)


Ah, the first “Metal Slug” game. Obviously, it wasn’t the best in the series, but for a first-go-around, it was mighty damn impressive.

Yeah, compared to later installments, the first game in the franchise seems a bit standard, but at the time, it definitely stood out from the crowd. The gameplay, more or less, was your basic run and gun experience, but unlike the countless “Contra” clones released since the late 1980s, “Metal Slug” actually had a bit of personality, and most importantly, humor. With its nonstop action, gargantuan mechanical enemies and even a few rides of your own to jack, “Metal Slug” was a nigh perfect satire of the action game genre as a whole.

The game looked great, with some extraordinarily detailed character sprites. But where the game really shined, of course, was in its gameplay, which was just sheer arcade blastin’ joy. Yeah, you could say that the game is a bit too short, and that the final boss battle is something of a letdown, but overall? This is a dandy two-player experience, and as the starting point of one of the most-beloved 2D franchises ever, it certainly deserves its props.

Number 39:
Bust-A-Move (1994)


In the 1990s, fighting games, cartoony sports titles and gimmicky shooters ruled the arcades. In addition to harking back to a Young MC standard, Bust-A-Move was definitely a breath of fresh air, providing “Mortal Kombat”-obsessed coin-op enthusiasts a decisively old-school break from the norm.

Known as “”Puzzle Bobble” in Japan, “Bust-A-Move” was a fairly inventive puzzle game that, in some respects, could be considered a combination of “Tetris” and “Puyo Puyo.” The object of the title is simple: manning a battle station as a very familiar looking chibi dinosaur, you shoot differently hued marbles into the playing field. Like “Columns,” if you line up enough similarly colored marbles, they evaporate from the playing field, and once all the marbles have vanished, you proceed to the next round, where you do the same dance all over again, only this time it’s a bit faster and more difficult.

It’s a very standard sounding game, but I think that’s ultimately what gave the game its contemporary appeal and staying power. It’s easily accessible and extremely addictive, and man, is it ever fun shooting marbles against the walls of the playing space and watching them change trajectory. Also worth noting: the super-fun two player mode, which depending on the competitiveness of the players, often leads to showdowns that are more intense than a “Street Fighter II” tournament bout!

Number 38:
Prehistoric Isle II (1999)


What do you get when you combine “R-Type” with “Rampage?” If you said “a real goddamn mess,” you’d be correct. But when that pell-mell mixture of destruction and hot shoot ‘em up action is as nice as it is in “Prehistoric Isle II,” how could you possibly complain about the odd goulash?

As a sequel to the super obscure “Prehistoric Isle in 1930,” this game ups the ante and places you inside a fighter helicopter equipped with an impossible amount of firepower to save modern civilization from a whole slew of Triassic period beasts, who through some weird plot mechanic, have found themselves in the mid-1990s. So, yes, this game pretty much IS an unofficial “Dinosaurs Attack!” game, which is just about the most awesome thing to never be turned into a proper licensed title.

As a game, the title is very solid, if not a bit outmoded. Having come out right at the tail end of the 1990s, the graphics are a bit underwhelming, and some of the pseudo 3D elements do look particularly bad. That said, the game overcomes its visual deficits by providing a really, really fun (if not way too short) SHMUP experience, with all sorts of neat dino gimmicks. My favorite? Shooting the brontosaurus until it decomposes into a pile of bones, “Evil Dead” style. Although, for the life of me, I have NO earthly clue what that final boss is supposed to be, to this very day…

Number 37:
Nightmare in the Dark (2000)


Old schoolers may remember the  puzzler “Snow Bros.,” which in addition to being a mighty fine coin-op release, was also ported to the NES, Genesis and Game Boy in the early 1990s. “Nightmare in the Dark,” essentially, has the same premise, but it manages to outdo its obvious inspiration in just about every category.

For starters, the graphics in the game are really, really good, as is the music. As a huge horror fan, I definitely dug the spooky aesthetics in this one, which has you taking on the role of a robe-cloaked graveyard dweller who torches zombies, mummies and gargoyles into gigantic fireballs. And if that wasn’t enough for you, the game also has some downright kick-ass boss fights, including a particularly memorable showdown with one of the hairiest Frankenstein monsters in video game history!

While in some ways a fairly formulaic game, its hard to not enjoy the kooky, Halloween ride that is “Nightmare in the Dark.” It’s probably one of the easier games on the countdown, but it certainly has enough character of its own to keep you playing until the final level. It may not exactly top “Bubble Bobble 2,” but then again, “Bubble Bobble 2” didn’t have flaming zombies in it, did it?

Number 36:
Robo Army (1991)


Despite having what is quite possibly the most generically nondescript title in the history of video gaming, “Robo Army” is anything but your average side-scrolling beat ‘em up. Sure, you may spend a majority of the game going left-to-right, beating the hell out of the same enemies over and over again, but there’s more than one tweak to the tried and true genre formula going on in this one.

For starters, how many “Final Fight” type games have you played that allow you to temporarily transform into a futuristic dune buggy and jump on top of enemies? Well, “Robo Army” gives you just such an option, along with all sorts of neat-o “cyber ball” attacks that you definitely WON’T be seeing in “Streets of Rage” or “Rival Turf.”

In terms of both character and level design, this game deserves major props. The sprites in the game are very detailed and rather original; I especially dug the robotic gorilla boss at the end of the first stage, although the mechanical spiders and the purple baseball-cap sporting cop (with guard robo-cougar!) later on were also very cool. There’s even a rope descending stage at one point, which is handled WAY better than in “Battletoads.” With great graphics, tons of unusual gameplay add-ons and really, really solid beat ‘em up action, “Robo Army” is definitely a hidden Neo Geo gem worth checking out.

Number 35:
Andro Dunos (1992)


The Neo Geo is probably best known for its extensive fighting and run and gun library, and for good reason. A lot of people, however, tend to overlook the staggering number of great shoot ‘em ups on the system, and “Andro Dunos” is definitely one of the console’s best, unheralded SHMUPS.

From Visco Games, “Andro Dunos” is your standard horizontally scrolling shooter. You pilot a spaceship, you collect power-ups and you blow up a LOT of enemy crafts. It may not win any points for originality, but it definitely makes up for its commonality with some hot and heavy gameplay.

I’m not sure if the game is supposed to be a satire of the genre or what, but it sure does seem to nail just about every SHMUP trope you can think of. The game includes both a “Lightening Force” like underwater level as well as a “Salamander” style organic stage, and the final level bares more than a passing resemblance to the “R-Type” series. Alas, as derivative as the game may be, the core gameplay is just so intense and satisfying that its hard to really complain about anything “Andro Dunos” provides you. It’s straight up, old school, no frills shoot ‘em up fun, and for that, it deserves some recognition.

Number 34:
Magician Lord (1990)


Despite being an MVS and AES launch title, “Magician Lord” actually holds up pretty well today. A fairly straightforward action platform, the title plays like a combination of “Ghosts N Goblins” and Sega’s “Shinobi” games…albeit, way easier than the former and arguably with more fluid controls than the latter.

To begin, the level design in this one is great, with each stage looking and feeling completely different from the last. The boss fights, for the most part, follow the same pattern, but the enemy aesthetics are so neat, you probably wouldn’t even notice (or be bothered by) the redundancy.

If you ever wanted a game that looked like “Actraiser” but played more like “Super Mario Bros.,” then “Magician Lord” is definitely for you. The levels are filled to the brim with fun platforming spots, and there are ample power-ups scattered about. The game itself is rather short, and hardcore genre fans can probably tear through it in under an hour, but for what it is, “Magician Lord” is a rock solid offering. Early ‘90s side scrolling fans should definitely give this one a try.

Number 33:
Aero Fighters 2 (1994)


There were a ton of great SHMUPS on the Neo Geo, and “Aero Fighters 2” (also known as “Sonic Wings 2”) is certainly one of the weirder genre games to hit U.S. coin-ops in the 1990s. For starters, this is a rare SHMUP that contains a character select screen, and among your potential avatars are a ninja, a baby dressed up in Erwin Rommel duds and even a dolphin!

With such a zany cast, you’d think the game would fall into the “cute ‘em up” genre. Surprisingly, the aesthetics and core gameplay of “Aero Fighters 2” is catered for the hardcore, with intense techno-military-themed action spanning dozens of levels. The graphics may not be the best in the world, but each stage looks distinct and vibrant. And the boss fights, as expected, are downright awesome.

The final stage -- set inside a chapel, complete with stained glass windows -- is really one of the most inventive SHMUP levels of the decade. With specific character endings and a “hidden” boss or two, the replay value on this one is very high -- and for Engrish aficionados, I bet you can’t wait to “fry to the rainforest.”


Number 32:
Last Resort (1992)


No, it’s not a Papa Roach-themed maze game, like that one Journey coin-op from way back when. Instead, “Last Resort” on the Neo Geo is a side scrolling horizontal shooter that places an emphasis on hot and heavy, bullet dodging action. Casual gamers need not apply here!

Admittedly, the visuals in “Last Resort” are quite weak, but this one is ALL about the gameplay. Trust me, your right thumb will be calloused by the time you make it to the game’s final boss -- if you enjoy tough-as-nails blast-a-thons, then you will undoubtedly dig this title.

Two things really struck me about this one. First, the tempo of this game is ridiculously fast, and the challenge curve is WAY the hell on up there. Secondly, I really liked the game’s little satellite gimmick; your ship comes equipped with this robotic orb thingy that has all sorts of functions, from serving as a much-needed rearview blaster to a bomb-placing mechanism -- which is MUCH needed for the game’s grand finale. Without giving away too much, all I can say is that even ace SHMUP pilots probably spent a good ten bucks or so in quarters grinding their way through the last challenge in “Last Resort”…

Number 31:
Baseball Stars 2 (1992)


Hey, remember “Baseball Stars” on the NES? It was arguably the best sports game of its type on the 8-bit console, and to this day, many retro game fans tend to forget that SNK was its developer. Even fewer are aware that SNK carried the series over to its Neo Geo consoles, and even fewer than that probably realize just how awesome “Baseball Stars 2” was.

Incidentally, there WAS a “Baseball Stars 2” released on the NES, but it wasn’t developed by SNK. And of course, the official Neo Geo release kicks the shit out of it anyway, with impressive graphics, super fun arcade game play and audio that -- at the time, anyway -- was among the best to ever grace a video game.

The presentation here is just phenomenal. The screen showcases both the batter and the pitcher in window boxes, and every base hit includes a mini-window of the hitter hauling ass from base to base. And the zoom in effects (especially the foul ball animations) put Mode 7 to shame. Even the mascot gets in on the action when you bop a homer! With great batting, pitching and fielding controls, it’s really hard to think of a better arcade baseball game from the era…or really, any arcade baseball games, for that matter.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Double Review: "Tammy" / "22 Jump Street"

Looking for some laughs this summer? Well, here are two big budget movies that are about as funny as concentration camp footage! 


It's been a while since I've been to the movies, and that's for good reason. For one thing, even matinee tickets nowadays cost in excess of ten bucks American, which is at least five or six dollars too many. Secondly, new ownership at my beloved Starlight Six Drive-In has implemented some downright Hitler-esque policies as of late (the Nazi scum got rid of the tofu dogs!) and rather than support their goose-stepping business practices, I'd rather take my wallet elsewhere (and by elsewhere, I mean nowhere, 'cause there's a shit load of free movies I can watch on YouTube whenever I damned please.)

But those aren't the primary reasons why I've avoided the cineplex like an AIDS-infected barbed wire fence lately.

Between the three hour long "Transformers" rehashes and the shameless Disney cash-ins and the increasingly dumb comic book offerings and the needless "Godzilla" remakes starring the dad from "Malcolm in the Middle," this may very well be the single worst summer at the box office EVER.

Given the option of watching Disney hokum, crappy CGI kids movies or whatever Tyler Perry's crapping out these days, it SEEMED like going the R-rated adult comedy route was the right path to take for a weekend double feature.

Folks, I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

FEATURE NUMBER ONE:


Tammy (2014)
Director: Ben Falcone

When it comes to box office draws of the 2010s, none are as unlikely as Melissa McCarthy, the dough-faced anti-Sandra Bullock who became an unexpected star after her breakout (and sink-clogging) performance in 2011's "Bridesmaids." After "The Heat" and "Identity Thief," McCarthy seems to have found a niche of sorts playing semi-sociopathic dunces -- in short, they're the kind of roles that we're tailor-made for Roseanne Barr 25 years ago.

The thing is, although Barr's pseudo white-trash psychosis would be believable (if not all that far removed from reality), McCarthy's characters just come as painfully one-dimensional. "Tammy" is McCarthy's worst vehicle to date, a really, really uninspired CINO (comedy-in-name-only) that may have one or two cheap chuckles within its 90-minute run-time. The rest of the film is dedicated to inconsequential background dressings so bland and uninteresting, you tend to wonder if the filmmakers couldn't have made a better, more focused film in a 22-minute sitcom pilot.

Tammy herself is a crude, dumb and completely unsavory character. The film begins with her losing her job as a burger flipper (and for good reason), and then segues into that old chestnut/convenient plot mechanic for lazy writers, the coming home to find your spouse cheating on you sequence. She then meets up with her mother, and decides to embark upon an aimless road trip with her alcoholic and diabetic grandmother -- played by Susan Sarandon, in a role about as far removed from "Dead Man Walking" as you can conceivably get as an actress.

To say the film is "directionless" would be an understatement. The two end up buying a jet-ski, and granny ends up shacking up with some blues bar patron while Tammy tries to put the moves on his less-than-interested son. Eventually, Tammy and grammy both wind up in the slammer for getting into a supposedly comedic brawl outside a liquor store. The saving grace there, I guess, is that it actually contains one of the few truly funny moments in the entire film, a scene in which Tammy encourages some underage drinkers to take up bath salts instead.

To procure money to spring her grandma from jail, Tammy decides to stick up a burger joint. Now on the lam, the duo wind up at a mansion inhabited by middle-aged lesbians (enter Kathy Bates and that Asian chick from "Grey's Anatomy"), but of course, justice eventually prevails and Tammy winds up behind bars ... for all of like two seconds, before she's rescued by daddy Dan Akroyd. Apparently, the bail for armed robbery is a whole hell of a lot lower if you're a woman, I take it.

The film concludes with everybody going to Niagara Falls and having themselves a gay old time, with Tammy (now a convicted felon, mind you) somehow wooing the disinterested suitee from earlier in the film. If all of this sounds painfully uneventful, it truly is -- at certain points in the film, it feels like "Tammy" didn't even have a script, and they just dubbed in a plot in post-editing after filming a good 300 hours of ad-libbing.

Bad movies are one thing, but bad comedy films are an entirely different kind of animal. If a horror movie fails to scare you, or a romantic movie doesn't make you feel tingly or sentimental, it's not that big of a problem. Unfrightening horror films and unemotional romantic films, hypothetically, can still prove decent overall films, but an unfunny comedy movie? It fails at the core essence of what it supposedly is.

"Tammy" is an utterly lifeless film. It doesn't feel funny at all, and you can almost sense the displeasure the actors themselves feel being in it. It's stupid and uninteresting and completely unrefined, with paper-thin characters and a script so by-the-numbers, you half expect to see connect-the-dot markings show up on the celluloid. It's not the worst film of the summer (which should you tell something about the general quality of Hollywood films nowadays), but it's so utterly forgettable that odds are, you will have removed the film from your memory bank as soon as the end credits start scrolling.

This is a poor film, in just about every category. Worse still, it's not even an exceptionally poor film that embraces its own awfulness. Mediocrity is sometimes a grimmer fate than abject failure -- a truism that "Tammy" seems to go out of its way to validate for the summertime moviegoing masses.

Score:


Two Tofu Dogs out of Four.

FEATURE NUMBER TWO:


22 Jump Street (2014)
Directors: Chris Miller and Phil Lord

I never saw the first "21 Jump Street," but I'm a huge fan of the other works in Chris Miller and Phil Lord's oeuvre. Ultimately, the sequel is one feature length, self-referential gag -- what some would call "reflexive," I tend to prefer calling "lazy" and "half-assed" instead.

The big problem with "22 Jump Street" is that, despite its self-awareness of being a half-hearted sequel, it never really rises above being anything other than just another half-hearted sequel itself. The movie tends to go out of its way to remind us just how similar it is to the first film, and how its nothing more than a cash-grab-designed retread. Strangely enough, the film feels less an apology than it does the smarmy self-reflection of a student turning in a crappy term paper and boosting about their C-minus grade. The filmmakers, so it seems, can't even pretend to pride themselves on releasing such an uninspired production.

The film -- a really, really on-the-nose parody of buddy cop movies -- features Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as undercover cops trying to break into a drug ring at your all-American, cliche-filled college campus. Tatum's football aspirations, alongside Hill's under-the-cover exploits with an art school student, drive a wedge in their homoerotic-beyond-words relationship and throw a monkey wrench into the subterfuge mission. Hilariously (not really), no one in the film believes they could pass for college freshmen, yet no one in the film seems to have enough brain cells to put two and two together and determine they're narcs. I suppose you have to suspend disbelief for comedy films like this to work, but "22" takes it a step further and asks you to hang your intelligence on the coat rack as well.

I suppose there are some funny moments in the film. There's a great scene where Tatum flips out after finding out Hill is boning the daughter of Ice Cube, and there's a fairly funny split-screen drug trip sequence (featuring, of all things, Creed's "Higher") but beyond that, there's really nothing within the film too funny -- or intriguing, to be honest.

"22" is a post-comedy-film, and I mean that in the term's most negative sense. The intent of the film, ultimately, isn't to make you laugh but impress you with the scope of its own knowledge -- literally the entire film is one oblique pop culture nod after the other, with the self-aware "yeah, we know it's a sucky sequel" gimmick serving as the film's only real adhesive.  Interestingly enough, the same hook was used in another underwhelming sequel, the disappointing "Muppets Most Wanted," earlier this year. Methinks were seeing an emerging trend here, regrettably.

You may enjoy the TV stars galore -- that mustachioed guy from "Parks and Rec" and the Lucas Brothers, among them -- but you will rarely find yourself laughing because of the wit and insight of the script itself.

The absolute best thing about the film is its end credits -- which, yet again, really tells you all you need to know here. The filmmakers quickly give us previews of the next fifty or so "Jump Street" films, which of course, share the same plot device of the first two films. The best bit, probably, is the advertisement for "22 Jump Street" action figures, which feature a kid being shocked a plenty by the torrent of four-letter words flowing out of Ice Cube's plastic cakehole.

"22" is entertaining at parts, but as a whole, it's very underwhelming. I'd consider it a marginally better film than "Tammy," but not by much. As with "Tammy," the film just feels forced, like the people who made it really wanted to do anything other than work on the actual film. It's an uninspired, unenthusiastic flick, and that lethal lethargy permeates every second of the onscreen product.

Unfortunately, this appears to be where Hollywood comedy is headed for the foreseeable future. Whereas prior Hollywood genre classics like "Slap Shot," "Blazing Saddles" and "The Kentucky Fried Movie" had no qualms about shaking the politically correct hegemony, today's comedy's are just too god-damned full of themselves to be either compelling or funny.

The irreverent comedy film is dead, and the era of the post-post-modern self-reflexive comedy film is upon us. In other words, if you plan on having a good laugh, it looks like your local cineplex is going to be off-limits for the next few years, at least.

Score:


Two Tofu Dogs out of Four

Monday, July 21, 2014

Girl Meets World SUCKS.

Does the long awaited series reboot live up to the hype? The answer, I am afraid, is a resounding "No." Screamed, very, very loudly. For like, 20 minutes straight. 


I really liked “Boy Meets World” as a kid. It wasn’t the best show in the world, and it certainly didn’t have the staying power of something as gloriously messed-up as “Family Matters,” but it was fairly entertaining, for the most part. That is, until Corey got all old and stuff and graduated high school and went to college. I mean, who wants to watch that shit?

To be fair, “Boy Meets World” was nothing more than a really, really light and frothy version of “The Wonder Years.“ Considering the dueling Savages going on here, I suppose the comparisons are all but unavoidable. Still, it had its moments, and even now, I can go back and watch some repeat airings and smile a goofy, nostalgic smile.

When “Girl Meets World” was announced, I was semi-excited. Then, I learned the Disney Channel would be handling the reboot, and the enthusiasm got sucked out of me like a perforation in a Macy Day’s balloon. Sure, Disney WAS the parent company of ABC throughout most of the original “Boy Meets World” run, but that was Disney at half power. The Disney Channel is Disney at its unfettered, shameless worst, and my greatest fear was that instead of feeling like an authentic update to “Boy Meets World,” this newfangled program would basically be nothing more than just another Disney Channel crapola-fest with “Boy Meets World” wrapping on it.

After watching the first few episodes of the retooled program, I sadly have to say that little worry of mine has become a reality. “Girl Meets World,” far from just a bad television show, also happens to be a bad Disney television show, which is an entirely different kind of awful.

The live-action sitcoms on Disney -- at last estimate, there are roughly seventeen billion -- all follow the exact same formula. You have an impossibly cohesive, impossibly functional and impossibly white family, whom speak only in G-rated patter. Despite the myriad plot variables -- sometimes the family lives in space, other times, the family lives with a talking, social media savvy pet -- the dialogue, flow and general feel of each show feels identical.

All Disney TV shows take place in what I call “the Disney vacuum.” Sure, it may look like the reality we all know, but it’s different. For one thing, there’s no queers or cursing, and only the occasional appearance by an off-white face. There’s no divorce, no real religion, nothing even close to resembling politics, racism, poverty or class differences. Like the utopia presented in “Demolition Man,” the Disney vacuum is a world were, though some unspeakable eugenics program, all of the human beings unserviceable for Disney have been somehow eradicated. “Girl Meets World” is no different, with Corey and Topanga turning into to prototypical upscale -- but not TOO upscale -- family unit with two young uns, no doubt clamoring endlessly for more Disney-related paraphernalia as soon as the invisible camera swings away from them.

There are some good aspects, I guess. The actress playing Riley, the main character, does seem to have Corey’s mannerisms down pretty well. You can tell she brushed up on her homework -- if Corey and Topanga actually DID have a kid, not only would it look like her, she’d probably act like that, as well.

I also kinda’ like the whole “Shawn and Corey” dynamic between Riley and Maya. It’s a really easy path to take, but Maya is a pretty interesting foil. She’s not really a bad girl, per se, but I like the way she contrasts Riley. And although it’s not really a plot point or anything, holy shit, Corey and Topanga have not aged a bit. They look exactly the same way they did in 1997 -- which means the fountain of youth must be located somewhere in the vicinity of Philadelphia.

Now, as far as the negatives go -- you might wanna’ brew a pot of coffee real quick, ‘cause we’re going to be here for awhile.

First and foremost, the show doesn’t feel like “Boy Meets World” one iota. Even Corey and Topanga feel less like their “BMW” characters than they do the super purified, ultra-sterilized Disney idealizations of who middle aged parents should be. The episodes feel like the Mormon fan fiction writings of a 14-year-old waiting for marriage to pop kiss for the first time; whatever minor edge “BMW” may have had has been sanded off and dulled to an edge so blunt and brittle, it may disintegrate if a fly lands on it.


Secondly, the characters don’t act even remotely human. Corey, a middle school teacher, acts more like a kid than the students, showing the type of classroom leadership that would make Jaime Escalante go full-on “Machete.” Even worse, Topanga hardly seems to have any dialogue at all, appearing almost exclusively in breakfast table scenes where she lightly derides Corey, gives her kids some glib encouragement/exposition and then disappears back into the sitcom abyss. The secondary characters, including the Matthews’ youngest child -- an ADHD furball called “Auggie” -- and a super-annoying mega-geek character called Farkle, are all really bland and uninteresting. Worst of all is Riley’s crush, this junior high heartthrob whose charisma is on par with a paperweight. “Boy Meets World” had a stronger than average cast, but its Disney re-do/update definitely pales in comparison.

The episodes I’ve seen all seem to follow the same pattern. During an in-class lecture, Corey brings up some historical tidbit -- like the Civil War or the bombing of Pearl Harbor -- and somehow, the central theme of his diatribe reflects whatever miniature conflict is going on in Riley’s preteen social life. Meanwhile, Topanga just kind of hangs out in the background, solving whatever subplot -- usually involving Auggie -- and then, everybody gets together at the very end, has a chuckle, and voila, whatever stressor from earlier on has been alleviated. For a 2014 sitcom, it seems oddly unaware of its own anachronistic style -- not only does it feel like a misplaced early 1990s show, it would probably feel misplaced if it was an ACTUAL 1990s sitcom.

“Boy Meets World” was by no means a slice of life program, but compared to “Girl Meets World,” it’s practically “All in the Family.” In the debut “GMW” episode, two preteen girls hop aboard a New York subway, where they are given sage life advice from a sassy overweight black woman. So far, that’s the edgiest thing that’s happened on the program, a show so eerily neo-Victorian that we haven’t seen Corey and Topanga -- a MARRIED couple with two kids -- so much as swap spit yet.

The original show, despite some goofy asides, at least FELT like it took place in the reality you and I live in. There were poor people and shitty parents and motorcycle wrecks and cult leaders and Corey complaining about Topanga not letting him touch her breasts -- needless to say, something tells me you won’t be seeing episodes of “GMW” where Riley calls Maya a “wop” or helps Big Van Vader defeat Jake “the Snake” Roberts.

There might be some hope for the show -- Shawn is set to return for a few episodes -- but I doubt those minor glimmers can really save the show entirely. Apparently, Mr. Feeny’s ghost is still out there, haunting the subway system of New York City, so hopefully, he pops up to give today’s Smartphone-lugging young-uns a good-old fashioned serving at some point.

Alas, all of that would mean the producers of the show suddenly start striving to make the program feel at least somewhat authentic. And if you’re anyone who knows anything at all, you already know that’s a game Disney won’t play whatsoever.

Still, I hold on to my dreams of grim and gritty updates to other beloved TGIF programs. How about a “Step By Step” re-do, where a widowed Patrick Duffy and that one karate wife-beater dude that used to live in a van out back team up to become bounty hunters, or a sequel of sorts to “Full House” in which Dave Coulier plays a vigilante seeking the murderer of the Olsen Twins?

No matter the execution, it would have to prove a more entertaining program than “Girl Meets World,” that is for sure…

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The 50 Greatest Neo Geo Games of All Time! (Part One: #50-#41)

Part one of a five-part series celebrating the best SNK and pals had to offer! 


The Neo Geo is one of the most beloved consoles of all-time, and pretty much the definition of a gamer’s system. Originally released in arcade board form, the Neo Geo Multi Video System (MVS) delivered some of the absolute best coin-op titles of the 1990s, via an ingenious cartridge set-up that allowed gamers to play four different titles on one machine. With its impressive hardware specs, it provided gamers with some of the era’s most dazzling graphics, and introduced players the world over to such acclaimed franchises as Samurai Shodown, Metal Slug and Fatal Fury, not to mention tons of less heralded, underappreciated gems such as The Last Blade, Pulstar and Top Hunter. Not content with dominating arcade parlors, SNK also released the system as a high-powered (and absurdly expensive) home console, known as the Advanced Entertainment System (AES) which LITERALLY brought the arcade experience into players’ living rooms.

For almost 15 years, SNK and other developers published titles for the AES and MVS, giving it one of the absolute longest life spans of any console in gaming history. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the console’s official retirement, THE INTERNET IS IN AMERICA is rolling out a special, five-part series, counting down the 50 greatest games to ever grace the Neo Geo.

Before we continue, a few notes about the criteria for the list:

001.) Both MVS and AES releases are eligible for the countdown. Unless explicitly stated, the versions of the games referred to on this list are the MVS iterations.

002.) Only official games, produced during the console’s original lifespan, are eligible. Sorry, homebrew enthusiasts.

003.) SNK games from the era, which were not released on the MVS or AES, are ineligible for this countdown. In short, that means no Neo Geo CD or Hyper Neo Geo 64 games are in the running.

004.) Goddamn, was Mudman from “World Heroes” a freaky little bugger.

With the fine print out of the way, who is ready to hop right into the countdown? All aboard, just say “S-N-K…”

Number 50:
3 Count Bout (1993)


Known as “Fire Suplex” in Japan, “3 Count Bout” isn’t even close to being the best arcade wrestling game of the 1990s -- of course, any old schooler worth his or her quarters would be quick to tell you which particular game that would happen to be. Alas, even staring down stiff competition from titles like Capcom’s “Saturday Night Slam Masters,” this SNK fighter manages to have a charm of its own, and while it’s not exactly the most technically exhilarating product out there, it’s still a really enjoyable title.

The cast in the game is pretty hilarious, ranging from the all-American pastiche “Terry Rogers” to the eighteen-sizes-too-small-shirt bedecked Big Bomberder. And quite a few characters in the title bare more than just a passing resemblance to some popular WCW and WWF stars from the era -- with Gochack Bigbomb and Master Barnes standing out as the most brazen copycats.

Despite taking place primarily inside a wrestling ring, the title really plays more like a traditional brawler. You have the ability to exit the ring, and unlike most fighting games from the era, you actually do have the ability to move in more than two directions. The grappling action isn’t too impressive -- this thing is a button-mashing affair, through and through -- but the visuals and music are quite nice, and I really got a kick out of the parking lot death match mode. Hey, it’s pretty hard to hate on a game that lets you taser shock a Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat doppelganger while commandeering a figure known as “Blubber Man,” no?


Number 49:
Burning Fight (1991)


As one of the earliest Neo Geo offerings, “Burning Fight” hasn’t aged particularly well. The graphics are pretty disappointing, the music sounds warbled, and the controls are absurdly rudimentary…yet somehow, it still manages to be a surprisingly entertaining experience.

“Burning Fight” makes no apologies for its shameless copying of “Final Fight.” While Capcom’s venerable side scrolling beat ‘em up is definitely the superior arcade game, “Burning Fight” does manage to provide an enjoyable experience all its own, complete with destroyable environments, some really unusual projectile weapons and some pretty damn challenging boss fights. And on top of it all, its multiplayer mode is also fairly satisfying.

I guess you could call “Burning Fight” something of a guilty pleasure. It doesn’t do anything particularly well as a brawler, but the cheese factor here is more than enough to keep you pumping in the tokens. Whether you’re fist fighting the least intimidating-looking end-boss in video game history or receiving bizarre oral “favors” from random hobos, “Burning Fight” is the kind of weird-ass, early ‘90s throwdown that’s nearly impossible to dislike.


Number 48:
Ghost Pilots (1991)


As a SHMUP, “Ghost Pilots” was a rather formulaic title. In essence, it was just “1942,” albeit with beefed up visuals, but because of its numerous appearances on “Nick Arcade,” hardly any true gamer circa 1992 hadn’t given the game a try…or at the very least, heard about it.

While far from being the best looking side scrolling shoot ‘em up from the timeframe, “Ghost Pilots” did do quite a few things differently from its contemporaries. For one thing, it allowed players to choose their own courses from a centralized game hub on certain stages (with a ten second time limit imposed, of course), and with the inclusion of a bomb selection screen, the game did require just a smidge of strategy.

Really, “Ghost Pilots” was all about the twitch action, and as a no-frills SHMUP, it definitely delivered the goods. In addition to being one of the more challenging genre offerings from the early ‘90s, the game did have some pretty cool environmental effects working for it, including some nice cloud “particles” and a really awesome level set above a sprawling volcanic landscape. It may not have been anywhere close to being the best SHMUP of the decade -- or for that matter, one of the best SHMUPS produced by SNK during the same timeframe -- but if you’re looking for a hard-as-hell, straight-and-to-the-point vertically scrolling shooter, “Ghosts Pilots” is likely to scratch whatever’s itching you.

Number 47:
Aggressors of Dark Kombat (1994)


With the almost embarrassingly pun-tastic namesake, you’d figure “ADK” would be anything but a technically satisfying fighter. As it turns out, however, the title is actually quite fun and immersive, and really one of the more unique 2D fighting games from the pre-polygonal era.

The roster in “ADK” is your typical SNK goulash of ethnic stereotypes (including Fuuma from “World Heroes!”), but don’t think this is just another rehash. Alike a version of “Pit Fighter” that’s actually worth a damn, you have the ability to move almost 360 degrees around your environment, and similarly, the attendees in the background periodically enter the fray themselves. Thankfully, they are pretty easy to dispatch though, and even better, they tend to leave behind some horrific melee weapons for you to use on your authorized opponent.

The fighting system here is pretty simplistic, but the pared down combat actually feels pretty nice once you get used to the slower tempo and fairly lengthy one-on-one brawls. There may not be a lot of flash or pizzazz on display, but it’s an enjoyable genre offering nonetheless -- and hey, did I mention the game has a “crazy meter” mechanic that allows you dish out some of the wackiest “fatalities” in gaming history, as well?


Number 46:
King of the Monsters 2 (1992)


A huge fan of Toho’s rubber monster suit movies, I really, really wanted to like the first “King of the Monsters” game, but even a kaiju lover like me had to woefully admit that one had some pretty gaping flaws in its gameplay. For the follow-up -- given the hilariously self-congratulatory yet-still perplexingly non-descript subtitle “The Next Thing” -- SNK wisely tinkered with the game formula, turning this sequel into more of a side scrolling brawler than a standard fighting button masher.

Whereas you could choose from six different characters in the first game, this time around, you only have access to three playable avatars -- but since one of them is a lawsuit-baiting Captain America facsimile, it’s hard to make any real complaints here. The levels are much more diverse than in the first game, and the overall gameplay -- while still having some pretty hellacious monster boss fights -- is a lot quicker; a lot of times, genre-switch-ups don’t lead to the best of sequels, but in the case of “King of the Monsters 2,” the overall outcome is a much more fluid -- and enjoyable -- experience than its forerunner.

While characters like “Huge Frogger” and “Aqua Slug” probably won’t be guest starring in the next “Smash Bros.” title, “KOTM 2” is still a really fun, straight-and-to-the-point button masher, with a particularly enjoyable two player mode. Really, the only major downside to the game is its final boss --needless to say, “SNK Boss Syndrome” is out in full effect on this one…

Number 45:
Waku Waku 7(1996)


If you feel as if “Aggressors of Dark Kombat” is too subtle a parody of 1990s fighting games, then “Waku Waku 7” might be right up your alley. Simply put, this game is the “Austin Powers” of competitive beat ‘em ups, a sleek, tongue-in-cheek homage (or is it deconstrution?) of popular genre conventions and aesthetics.

Although the character roster is a bit shallow -- there’s only nine avatars overall, and on the home console version, you can only play as seven of them in the full story mode -- but what Sunsoft lacked in quantity, you could argue, they more than made up for with quality. Each character is a downright hilarious spoof of popular Japanese fighting game characters, ranging from your standard SNK sword-wielding protagonist all the way up to a goddamn Dominion Tank parody. Oh, and there’s also a punching bag, rocking the Ryu bandana. And a character seemingly based on My Neighbor Totoro. And an Indiana Jones doppelganger, for some reason.

Obviously, the fighting system here ain’t exactly “The Last Blade 2,” but its nonetheless very solid, and the inclusion of a chargeable special move system -- called Harahara motions -- definitely provide for some entertaining battles. One could argue that this game is more style than substance, but when the overall experience is this fun, who cares if the combat is about as nuanced as a game of Pong?

Number 44:
Street Hoop (1994)


While “NBA Jam” -- and to a much lesser extent, Konami’s unlicensed “Run and Gun” series -- defined 1990s arcade basketball games, Data East’s “Street Hoop” -- known in the States as “Street Slam” and also referenced as “Dunk Dream“ in Japan -- is actually a pretty fun little title, and probably worthy of a bit more attention than it currently receives.

If you’re playing the original Japanese version of the game, you get to pick from a series of national teams -- Taiwan, Italy, America, etc. -- while in the U.S. version, you get to play as three-man teams who appear to be color-coordinated expies of the timeframe’s most popular NBA franchises -- hence, all of the “Chicago” ballers are clad head-to-toe in red, with a certain Dennis Rodman look-a-like rocking a bright green baseball cap.

Yeah, it is over-the-top, and some of the attempts to replicate authentic “street” culture are downright embarrassing -- especially the game’s title track, which to the best of my knowledge, is the first video game to ever explicitly use the term “nigga” on a soundtrack. Even so, the game looks downright terrific, with smooth animations, detailed character sprites, and gameplay that’s fast, fluid and readily accessible to pretty much anybody who can operate a joystick.

Number 43:
Samurai Shodown IV: Amakusa’s Revenge (1996)


After the abject failure of the third “Samurai Shodown” game, the suits at SNK went back to the drawing board, and the end result was a much, much improved sequel that, while not as good as the series’ earlier entries, was still very playable.

I suppose the big attraction for part four -- both then and now -- were the inclusion of Mortal Kombat-style “fatality” strikes. Granted, they were really difficult to pull off -- you had to defeat your opponent, in under 40 seconds, with a full power bar and full health -- and yeah, most of them were just variations of dudes’ being sliced in half, but I guess it was a cool inclusion, nonetheless. There were also a ton of power moves, as well, and what may very well be the first “suicide” option in video gaming history; you can opt to “kill yourself” in mid round, as a means of immediately starting the NEXT round with a full attack meter. Weird, I know, but this IS Japan we’re talking about here.

Of course, the longlasting gameplay mechanic changes in “SS IV” involved the overhauled animations (the sprites in this one are large and beautiful) and the major fighting system tweaks; namely, the complete removal of blocking as a defense mechanism, which in turn, made bouts much, much faster, offense-oriented affairs. And personally, I really liked the whole “side-stepping” featuring, and really wished it was included in more 2D fighters. All in all, it’s far from being the best in the series, but as a standalone, mid-90s brawler? It’s mighty damned impressive, and mighty damned enjoyable, to boot.

Number 42:
Samurai Shodown V Special (2004)


Well, this was it folks; the absolute final Neo Geo release ever, having been released in the year of our lord 2004. While this 708 meg behemoth may not have been the best imaginable swan song for the console’s decade and a half long reign, it’s still one hell of a fighting game, and in many ways, a vast improvement to part IV.

First off, there are a ton of upgrades from “Samurai Shodown V,” including several new characters, new stages and a complete graphical overhaul. Greatly inspired by the “Guilty Gear” games, this one also included special one-hit, insta-death “overkill moves,” which are among the most difficult maneuvers to pull off in the annals of fighting game history. Of course, the fatalities from part 4 also return, but they are pretty much unchanged from the last game. Overall, the character balancing is quite good, and it’s a smooth, satisfying brawler, no matter how you slice it, dice it, or halve it.

One word of warning, though: the AES version of this game is absolute dog shit compared to the MVS version. In a last ditch attempt to water down the violence after an elementary school student stabbed one of her classmates, it seems as if SNK royally fucked up the in-game code for the home release, ultimately resulting in a super-rare cartridge recall. Eventually, a revamped version of the game DID manage to make its way to the AES, but standing side-by-side with the arcade original? The MVS iteration is clearly the superior offering here.

Number 41:
Mutation Nation (1991)


I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for side-scrolling beat ‘em ups, and this 1992 button masher manages to combine that childhood love with another of my chief adolescent obsessions: horror!

OK, so maybe this game wasn’t exactly “Night Slashers,” but it certainly had plenty of goopy monsters, cyberpunk stylings and all of the generic, wannabe “Double Dragon” ass-stomping you could want from an early ‘90s coin-op. That, and the character design in this one is just awesome; for a game that came out during Bush the First’s presidency, some of the bosses are just absurdly detailed, even if your actual avatar is a bit…well, uninspired.

This is a traditional beat ‘em up, with all of the usual tropes which means, yes, it has both the “moving truck” and “elevator” levels that were apparently legally required for all genre games back then to have. The real appeal here, of course, is the multiplayer, which is undeniably a hoot. Sucking down power orbs and Chun Li lightning kicking a lawsuit-baiting H.R. Giger monster, while music that sounds suspiciously like the club scene from “Robocop” plays in the background? It may not be the classiest gaming experience, but you mustn’t have a pulse if you can’t derive just a bit of enjoyment from “Mutation Nation.”

Monday, July 14, 2014

Six Horrible Bands That Shouldn’t Have Survived the ‘90s

…and another half dozen who should’ve ruled the freaking world.


The 1990s were a great time for music, it being the era that gave us Cynic, Nada Surf, Wu-Tang, Anal Cunt, Merzbow, good Johnny Cash and of course, the Wesley Willis Fiasco. While most bands from the era have long since dissolved or turned into calcified husks of what they once were, quite a few bands from the era have remained quite popular ever since.

Today, we’re going to be taking a look at a dozen bands who, after becoming popular in the ‘90s, have had extended careers into the aughties and beyond. To be different though, we’ll largely be looking at six bands that have proven extraordinarily popular beyond the Sega Genesis era, who in my humblest of opinions, never deserved their success to begin with. Serving as palette cleaners, we’ll then bring up a band that SHOULD have had the post-Clinton success that the overrated artist did.

Odds are, this one will probably irk some fan boys, but that’s not exactly territory we here at the Internet Is In America is even remotely afraid to get into. Get ready, folks, it’s time to chow down on some supremely overrated sacred cow…

OVERRATED BAND NUMBER ONE:
Tool


Tool, and their fans, are people who overstate their own intelligence. They think tunes like “Prison Sex” and “Schism” are profound and intellectual and probing, but no -- they’re actually pretty fucking stupid, pointless and meandering to the point of being indecipherable.

Tool is pretty much Pink Floyd for people who might shoot up a school building some day. You HAVE to be high to listen to their music, because anyone with even the remotest sense of pitch and tune would hear three seconds of “Stink Fist” and probably mistake it for air conditioning static. The H.R. Giger claymation videos and lenticular album covers of Vitruvian Man and dudes blowing themselves pretty much tell you all you need to know about the band as an act -- they’re boring, they have nothing to say, and they have to be inauthentically “shocking” and grandiose to even be worth mentioning. At least Marilyn Manson and his followers know how stupid his shtick is -- Tool is a band glibly unaware just how painfully mundane they truly are.

Tool is the worst kind of band, the kind of band who thinks their music is better than what it really is. Ultimately, they’re just a shitty industrial band -- probably worse than Ministry or Prong -- who think they can overcome their drabness by filling their music with creepy stalker poetry and Bill Hicks references. You know why Tool songs often drone on for more than ten minutes? Because it gives you ample time to get up and find something better to do with your life, that’s why.

Who Should Have Been Popular Instead? 
DEATH


Far and away the best death metal band of all-time, and pretty much the act responsible for turning the genre from a goofy thrash offshoot into arguably the most intellectual and technically demanding genre out there. Truly intelligent people listen to “Human” and “Symbolic” -- mush heads keep waiting for Maynard James Keenan to write another song about egg recipes.

OVERRATED BAND NUMBER TWO:
Nine Inch Nails


And speaking of shitty industrial acts, hey ya’ll its Trent Reznor and pals!

Really, NIN shouldn’t have had a career after “Pretty Hate Machine.” “Head Like a Hole” should’ve made them a one-hit-wonder, and they should’ve faded away into obscurity by the time the mid 1990s arrived. But somehow, they managed to become goth-rock-Prozac heroes with “The Downward Spiral,” the techno-metal-emo magnum opus that’s probably been the soundtrack to more teen suicides than any other album in history.

Magazines like Spin and Rolling Stone praised NIN for being “emotional” and “innovative,” which is codeword for “playing like shit, but since its arty, we want to sound enlightened too, so we like it.” With a rock world tired of “woe-is-me” mopey  flannel shirt shit-grunge, Reznor had the business sense to cook up some “woe-is-me” mopey black fingernail polish electro-shit-emo to fill the lucrative void created by Kurt Cobain’s doped up corpse. Like a turd that won’t flush, they float up to the top of the commode every four or five years, with another boring-ass album that sounds just like the last one, but rest assured, the NPR crowd will eat it up, anyway. They say all you need to make it in show-business is talent, hard work and a hell of a marketing campaign. Thanks to NIN, we know now you only need one of those to thrive in the recording industry.

Who Should Have Been Popular Instead? 
MONSTER MAGNET


Quite possibly the best pure rock and roll band on the planet, and a group that’s been releasing consistently great dope smoke rock since the early 1990s. With a lead singer who looks just like the dude from “American Movie,” Monster Magnet is the kind of old school rock act that knows how to rip it up and get groovy at the same time. Whereas NIN is overproduced, computerized drabness, Monster Magnet is raw, mechanical sexualized fury -- in short, everything that makes actual rock and roll fucking awesome.

OVERRATED BAND NUMBER THREE:
AFI


AFI was -- and still is -- the Backstreet Boys of goth music. 98 percent of their fan base are prepubescent teen girls (who may be in their late 30s by now), who dream of being seduced by some 120 pound weakling with a lip ring while “Invader Zim” romantically plays in the background. AFI is a pseudo-band who makes pseudo-music, and they’ve undoubtedly made a lot of money courting the Hot Topics crowd like Jerry Lewis serenading kids to the gas chamber.

AFI was NEVER a real punk band. Even their ‘90s stuff was more “Green Day” than “Suicide Machines,” and their post “Girl’s Not Grey” stuff might as well be considered Top 40 pop. Their dark-romantic-Victorian-kinda-emo-straight-edge hook is one of the most noticeably formulaic in all of music -- their songs seem structured to sell iTunes downloads to fat punk chicks who would recoil in disgust at G.G. Allin’s mere visage.

There’s not much of a difference between AFI and the All-American Rejects or Fallout Boy, except maybe the clothing is darker. It’s major record label, niche target youth-baiting claptrap all the same, made worse because AFI and their fans actually think they’re a real band. Show me someone who enjoys AFI’s music, and I’ll show you someone with about as much depth as a drained kiddy pool.

Who Should Have Been Popular Instead? 
GWAR


Yes, GWAR, the group of Virginia art school students who dressed up like outer space bacon monsters and did stage shows filled with fake amputation and gallons of synthetic blood. To the untrained eye, it was all goofy showmanship, until you actually paid heed to the band’s lyrics, which were among the most subversively intelligent political satire of the last two decades. AFI are a bunch of rich pretty boys in eyeliner, whereas GWAR were a bunch of ugly motherfuckers who knew what TRUE art looked, sounded and sometimes smelled like. They were true audiovisual entertainment, not the commodified, Super Target discount bin-ready corp-pop that AFI has been for at least the last ten years.

OVERRATED BAND NUMBER FOUR:
Tori Amos


I don’t know which I detest more: Tori Amos, or Tori Amos fans. Let’s pick apart both, why don’t we?

Despite all of the accolades she receives,  Tori Amos is really nothing more than the female equivalent of Ben Folds. Except Ben Folds has dexterity, and he has the good sense to not make super-long paens to rape and domestic abuse staples of his catalog. EVERY goddamn Tori Amos song sounds the same -- breathless, absurdly forced egocentrically emotional pornography. “Look at me, I’m a woman, men are bad, I’ve been through bad stuff, women are good.” That’s pretty much the lyrical range to the entire Amos discography. PJ Harvey more or less had the same gimmick, but at least she has a decent voice -- Amos usually sounds like a raspy-throated Disney on Ice singer who stopped giving a shit a long time ago.

And goddamn, are Tori fans the most annoying throng of wannabe intellectual artistes this side of the Animal Collective fan club. They’re all so emotionally distraught over the most menial wrongs that have occurred to them. The aggregate Amos fan isn’t some chronically abused outsider, but some suburban mall rat whose worst day ever was the time she got the wrong coffee at Starbucks and what’s-his-name from geometry class never accepted her friend request. Liz Phair beats the shit out of Tori Amos any day of the week -- I’d rather listen to a scratched disc version of “Exile on Guyville” than ANYTHING this overrated ginger has crapped out.

Who Should Have Been Popular Instead?
MATTHEW SWEET


Matthew Sweet is the single most underrated artist of the 1990s, and under complete obscurity, he’s released nearly thirty years worth of the best guitar-driven power pop in the history of recorded music. If you want overblown, self-righteous sentimentalism, Amos is your girl; when you’re ready for no-frills, old-school emotional rock and roll, Matthew Sweet is waiting for you.

OVERRATED BAND NUMBER FIVE:
Radiohead


In a just world, Radiohead would have gone the way of Wax, Greta and Quicksand. “Creep” would have been a popular contemporary hit, their follow-up albums would have sold like crap and with enough luck, Thom Yorke would’ve died of a heroin overdose sometime in 1998. Alas, the winds of fate have blown the other direction, and as a global society, we’ve all had to suffer.

There’s no way around it: Radiohead is the pussiest band in history. They make Morrissey sound like Slayer and The Cure sound like Deicide in their prime. You MIGHT be able to give their guitarist credit, but that still leaves three-fourths a shitty band to deal with. And then, there’s the discography as a whole.

“OK Computer” is the most overrated album of the 1990s, and its not even close. From “Kid A” to “In Rainbows,” they’re discography hasn’t gotten any better, with their subdued, low-key high production value-low-fi sound becoming the aural template for countless Euro and US suck-core acts such as The Killers and Coldplay. More than any band of the last 30 years, Radiohead has been the most responsible for popularizing wuss-rock, the effeminate, absurdly morose wannabe art house genre that more or less represents rock and roll music as a whole today. For that alone, Radiohead deserves the world’s collective scorn. And they probably deserve even more than that for simply being Radiohead.

Who Should Have Been Popular Instead?
LOCAL H


Most folks only know Local H for their minor 1996 hit “Bound for the Floor,” and that’s a real shame. Unbeknownst to 99 percent of humanity, the Chicago post-grunge act has gone on to release outstanding album after outstanding album ever since, producing super-smart alternative rock that puts all of those egghead college rock groups to shame. Radiohead is music people listen to because they think it makes them look hip and intellectual; Local H is the kind of music people listen to because hot damn, does it ever rock.

OVERRATED BAND NUMBER SIX:
Neutral Milk Hotel


Without hyperbole, “In the Aeroplane over the Sea” is the single worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life, and I once heard the death scream of a kitten before. I’m not trying to sound acerbically humorous when I state that I have no earthly idea how anyone could find this type of “music” pleasurable. It’s so pretentious, and inauthentic and insincere -- authentically shitty music, I can handle, but disingenuous shit like this? It’s the absolute worst of the worst.

Neutral Milk Hotel isn’t a band. I’m convinced of it. It’s actually some kind of far-reaching, longitudinal MK Ultra experiment on mimetic desirability or something. The masterminds at DARPA used algorithms to create the absolute shittiest kind of music possible, and via media engineering, have convinced all of the pop music barons that it’s actually great, and since kids today are a bunch of mush heads who can’t think for themselves, they too, have convinced themselves that NMH is, and I definitely quote here, “good music.”

Between Jeff Mangum’s make-believe hillbilly yelp, the band’s inability to find a rhythm of any sort and the group’s sickeningly avant-garde for the sake of being avant-garde shtick (hey, let’s make an alt-country concept album about Anne Frank!), Neutral Milk Hotel is -- without question -- the single worst alt rock act to achieve critical or financial success in the 1990s. They may not have recorded any music since 1999, but they made enough shit from 1992 onward to forever leave their undeniable streak mark on the industry. I can be flexible on most things, but if you’re into Neutral Milk Hotel, I automatically hate you. It’s something much worse than having bad taste -- it’s a sign you, as an individual, have absolutely zero ability to think beyond what shitrags such as Pitchfork tell you to. To summarize: fuck Neutral Milk Hotel, and everyone on planet Earth who likes them.

Who Should Have Been Popular Instead? 
VIC CHESNUTT


If you want REAL alt country, it doesn’t get any better than Vic Chesnutt, the Athens, Ga. singer-songwriter who is probably best known for being the guy in the wheelchair in “Sling Blade.” With soulful, haunting songs about faith, disease and depression, Chesnutt was an artist who really made music that connected with you. As insincere as Neutral Milk Hotel is, Vic Chesnutt is every bit the real deal; as much as you owe it to yourself to avoid Jeff Mangum, you definitely owe it to yourself to give Chesnutt a thorough listening.