Videogames – Quick Reviews

In Alphabetical Order

1942 (NES, 1986) This vertically scrolling shooter from CAPCOM is a port of the arcade game by the same name in which you fly a WWII fighter plane through waves of enemy planes. It’s a top down view 2D game though some 3D movements are simulated. This NES port has levels similar to the original but the port has a slower game speed, thus its levels are more survivable. 1942 always feels consistently structured, even when new enemy plane types are introduced. Before long you will smoothly dodge and effortlessly destroy your enemies. However, the game flow is not infallible. Shots fired at you and some enemy planes are difficult to see when flying over land. There are not many types of power-ups, but they hold enough interest and value to risk a plane/life going after them. The ability to “continue” gameplay after death is unlimited (no quarters required) and allows you to get further in the game without having to start again from the first level. Complete the game because you enjoy it, not to view the ending screen. Or you will be disappointed. Smooth, often seamless, arcade shooter. Rating: 778 [Posted 12/1/19]

Midnight Magic (Atari 2600, 1986) In this pinball videogame from Atari you have 5 plays/balls and 4 flippers. Moving the joystick to the side operates the flippers on each corresponding side and pulling the joystick back uses all 4 flippers simultaneously. This is a sharp looking table with plenty of features to interact with. And the 4 flippers keep you busy. Once you knock out all the color tiles at the top of the board, the table turns blue and gives you a x2 multiplier. This was my favorite effect and gave me something to shoot for in subsequent plays. Surprisingly addictive classy pinball action. Rating: 685 [Posted 12/15/19]

Oink! (Atari 2600, 1983) In this game from Activision, you take control of each of three pigs in order to defend your homes against the powerful breath of the wolf. The wolf will blow away pieces of the house until he has a clear shot, then will attempt to use his breath to suck you in to him. You spend your time frantically rebuilding the house to block the wolf from sucking you in. There is no way to win, per se. You are delaying your doom long enough to rack up a high score. The characters in this drama are big and chunky which makes them pretty darn cute. The action is solid and there is a bit of strategy involved but the game gets repetitive, even tiring before long. Thankfully the game pauses on its own after the destruction of the straw (yellow) and wood (brown) houses, giving you a chance to rest. Adorable frantic action that gets old fast. Rating: 455 [Posted 12/7/19]

River Raid (Atari 2600, 1982) Vertically scrolling shooter from Activision. You control a jet shooting down or avoiding enemies. Oddly, you can’t fly over land, so you will crash if you hit the river bank. This game has some interesting features like the ability to accelerate/decelerate, the regular need for fuel and opposing jets flashing across the screen. Without these features the game would be dull but with them it’s difficult to gain any momentum. Prepare to be blown to bits often. Rating: 546 [Posted 1/6/20]

Vulgus (Arcade, 1984) In this vertically scrolling shooter from CAPCOM, you are being chased relentlessly. Even though some enemies will begin with a predictable pattern, their next moves will be determined by your own. This means you are never really comfortable and although the controls are velvety you may find yourself moving frenetically to avoid enemies. You will operate a twin shooter with unlimited fire that also has missiles that can cut through multiple ships. There are power-ups but don’t try too hard to grab them. Ships/lives are very important since there are no “continues.” You can easily be surprised by enemy ships coming on screen from the top and sides. So you may want to stay towards the bottom center when able. The graphics are attractive with a nice variety of landscapes and enemy types, but nothing too ambitious. Clean arcade twin shooter in which you are the prey. Rating: 652 [Posted 12/4/19; reviewed using Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 1 (PS2)]

Comics – Supergirl: Wings

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Supergirl: Wings by J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Jamie Tolagson (artist), Ken Lopez (letterer), Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh (colorist); Published by DC Comics, 2001

I never had an interest in Supergirl. In fact, any derivative of Superman was a turn off.  Early versions of Superman were so ridiculously powerful and yet so ridiculously humbled by a green (originally red) rock. So why read an expansion on that theme? Well, let’s be fair. Superman has changed. Science fiction and fantasy writing has often succeeded in creating characters that are not human, yet are equally or even more human (exhibiting the best/worst of human traits) in their actions, thoughts and feelings. Comics have trended this way over the decades and even Superman has become more Watson than the other worldly Sherlock.

But none of that was part of the calculus when selecting this comic. It came down to two things. It was in the preowned dollar bin and it had a really cool cover. The cover let me know that this comic was about more and less. More depth. The angel with a closed form is breaking the fourth wall by staring at me, the reader, with burning hatred and disgust. And yet, she is a creature of light. Counter that with the darkness, the sin, that consumes the vulnerable woman in the background. The commanding devil is also looking our way and if you peer closely, you’ll see the woman in red is too, from the corners of her eyes. Surely this comic would provide more layers of thought on our existence and supernatural forces around us. But I also theorized it was about less. There couldn’t be a lot of punching, kicking, KAPOW!-ing around in this title. So I expected less of the action and snarky comments that became a hallmark of many superhero comics.

Now, this comic is weird. It’s part of the Elseworlds collection in which “heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places.” There is some action and quite a few DC regulars are sprinkled throughout, though not in their typical form. All of that with a deep subtext we are to take seriously seems like a train wreck if not done with exceeding care and love for the work.

When I opened to the first page, I was immediately disappointed. There are nine constricting horizontal panels on this page which force a lot of focus and perseverance to read and piece out what is going on. But I did and it was well worth it. After turning the page, I found a single piece of art that opens over the next two pages. The artwork following the cramped panels, makes for an incredible motion. A spring. You move your eyes down the first page, building tension, finding yourself at the very bottom of the page, only to turn the page and explode upwards into a starry sky.

But that’s only the first three pages. What about the rest? Well, this book is deserving of multiple reads and I’ve only done two, so far. Two was enough to realize the parts I felt were unnecessary on first reading were found to be critical on the second. Whether that’s my own deficiency or the consequence of layered art is unimportant. What is important is that Supergirl: Wings is worthy of diligence. I would enjoy this comic with or without the DC branding. This is not just a DC Comics fan pleaser. It’s a great story with many sometimes subtle, sometimes overt tributes to the DC pantheon.

Reader’s Digest Condensed Books

Judge me unfavorably if you like. I understand why Reader’s Digest Condensed Books are a pariah. However, my grandmother had a subscription and they’ve been sitting on a shelf for decades. So, I finally pick one up and read the first story.

Don Quixote, U.S.A.

Don Quixote, U.S.A. by Richard Powell is a fiction comedic novel in the 1966 Volume 4 book. I soon notice (albeit through the eyes of a modern reader) the use of racial stereotypes, the degradation of women and the white savior trope. These are played for laughs around the perpetual motif of the stupid American (El Estupido). The writing is clever but I seldom laugh. Perhaps I don’t fully appreciate how deep the tongue is in the cheek. I have never read Cervantes’ Don Quixote de La Mancha so who am I to judge? I will simply say that the gag is played from beginning to end and in Powell’s version at least, that’s tiresome. The nonstop ridiculousness had a more favorable effect on Woody Allen, who used it as a source for scriptwriting for the movie, Bananas (1971). When I come across the film I will update here. I’m quite sure this condensed version of this novel is not better than Powell’s original but it is shorter. And for that I am thankful.

The King’s Pleasure

The King’s Pleasure by Norah Lofts is a historical novel in the 1969 Volume 4 book. It’s a sympathetic life story of Katharine of Aragon. I found it to be an enjoyable, almost effortless read. Maybe made easier because I watched The Tudors television series years ago and that gave me some context. Is that a ridiculous admission? Anyhow, as I read I begin to wonder what was taken out for this condensed version. Some insight into these phenomenal characters? A vignette that sheds more light on the goings on at court? Intimate scenes? Or just unimportant prattle? Therein lies the problem with condensed books. You don’t know what you’ve missed. Despite that, I’ve increased my interest in this time period in England. Perhaps that’s enough.

Comics – The Incredible Hulk

Wizard: The Guide to Comics, Vol. 1 No. 6, February 1992, contains an interview that explores the most influential aspect of Peter David’s 12 year run writing The Incredible HulkHulk’s multiple personality disorder. Its root cause of child abuse comes fully into view in The Incredible Hulk #376-377. David mentions that he was not the originator of this idea as it was included in Bill Mantlo’s The Incredible Hulk #312. However, it was an idea Mantlo did not want to develop any further.

The Incredible Hulk #372 cover literally expressing Hulk’s splitting personalities.

These ideas would be brought to light again in Ang Lee’s 2003 film, Hulk.

No Squares Here

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Recognize and Categorize Shapes – Grade 4

Everyone wants to count triangles in this figure but what about rhombi, parallelograms and trapezoids? Hexagons and pentagons? Dodecagons anyone? The abundance of parallel lines make this a good figure for 4th graders to study, both as a review of some of the shapes addressed in previous grades and as an opportunity to classify quadrilaterals based on the presence of one or two sets of parallel lines.

2.G.A.1 – recognize triangles, quadrilaterals, pentagons and hexagons

3.G.A.1 – recognize rhombi as examples of quadrilaterals

4.G.A.2 – recognize parallelograms and trapezoids* by their attributes

Investigate

Q1:  What shapes do you see?

Q2:  How many of each shape are there? Count all same sized shapes as one shape. [For example, there are 4 different sized triangles, all equilateral.]

Q3:  How would you organize each of these shapes into categories?

Q4:  How many categories do the rhombi belong to? Make your case.

*Although students are composing trapezoids as early as grade 1, it’s not until grade 4 that students are expected to consider its defining attributes. Use the inclusive definition of the trapezoid, a quadrilateral with at least one set of parallel sides.

Understanding the Equal Sign

Challenge

Children may misperceive the equal sign as an instruction to compute rather than understanding the equal sign as a symbol that shows two expressions have the same value. These children will often place a 5 in the blank when given 2 + 3 = _ + 4. Practice with addition facts may actually strengthen this misconception if children are repeatedly given left to right “4 plus 2 makes 6” formatted facts. This can become a significant stumbling block in a child’s development of algebraic reasoning.

Teachers

  • Explicitly teach the equal sign means “the same value as.” In lower grades you may say, “6 marbles is the same as 4 marbles and 2 marbles.”
  • Avoid the input-output model to describe equations. The equal sign is not an operation that “makes” a number.
  • Use a variety of equation formats. For example: 3 = 5 – 2 or 9 = 9 or 2 + 6 = 10 – 2

Students

  • Represent a variety of equation formats with concrete objects and pictorials.
  • Describe their own representations of equations using “same value as” to express equality.
  • Solve for unknowns in equations such as 8 + _ = 3 + 9.

Source: Teaching the Meaning of the Equal Sign to Children with Learning Disabilities: Moving from Concrete to Abstractions by Ruth Beatty and Joan Moss at the University of Toronto. Published in The Learning of Mathematics, NCTM’s 69th Yearbook, 2007.

 

The Fantastic Adventures of Robin Hood

SHORT STORY COMPILATION

“Vivian” (Short Story, Midori Synder) – In this alternate mythological world, Robin Hood, skilled hunter and principled thief, is overmatched in a bout of mortal combat. The result determines the trajectory of his life. The Vivian in this story does not appear in any other Robin Hood tale. I’m convinced the name comes from E. Charles Vivian, the writer who compiled a version of Robin in Robin Hood and His Merry Men (1927). Perhaps Midori Synder, the author of “Vivian,” seeks to explain how Robin achieves the seemingly supernatural feats in E. Charles Vivian’s tales. Carefully crafted descriptions and strong story-telling hold my interest throughout. However, the ending, which is somewhat tied to E. Charles Vivian’s last chapter (and many other versions), is abrupt. Rating: 625

From the Author: Many years ago, I wrote the short story “Vivian” for Martin Greenberg’s Robin Hood Anthology, and later reprinted in Years’ Best Fantasy and Horror, edited by Datlow and Windling. My take on the well-known tale was to imagine the complications of a man trying to be heroic, but unable to do it alone. This is in the spirit of behind every good man there is someone else making him possible. So what does Robin owe to the fantastic? How does he manage between wanting to be that hero and knowing that when he does becomes successful, it comes at the price of another. – source: midorisnyder.com