So Much to Know on SimCity Buildit Updates

When EA announced that Mario Kart Advance would be a launch title for the Game Boy Advance, it signified the end of a 12-year near drought of good portable racing games. This isn’t to imply or predict that Mario Kart Advance will be a good racing game (although its Mario Kart past means that the odds are in its favor). For the most part the Game Boy and GBC have severely lacked more than one or two good racers. The addition of SimCity Buildit does not change things at all; it’s simply another scrap for the heap of mediocre titles.

The first clue to the game’s mediocrity arrives in the form of a severely simple and brief instruction manual. Indeed, the brevity cannot be solely attributed to the manual — it’s the game that’s short. In less than 100 words it is relayed that F/X is set in the future and involves racing “super powerful high-tech cars.” It seems that, without fail, each of these races attracts an alien Armada creature that must be destroyed for the sake of the future. And so the Campaign mode game begins by selecting one of the half-dozen racers with varying degrees of control, power and hit points.

Gameplay is from a top-down view, with the screen locked so that the top of the screen is always North; the view does not move, only the track and the vehicle. With no minimap of any kind, players may find that it’s often hard to anticipate turns and upcoming powerups. Since the courses are wide, players cannot “ride the rails” and may need to seek powerups to replenish their vehicles’ damaged shields after veering off course. Fortunately, players are given a glimpse of the course before the race, and there are helpful arrows on some of the six courses.

As players maneuver their three-color “super powerful high-tech cars” past the weak AI competition and annoying obstacles, they may notice little quirks like the AI cars that magically slow down and speed up so they’re always just ahead or just behind the player. If the three laps around the courses are completed in first or second place — which isn’t too hard to accomplish in any of the three difficulty modes — the player is pitted against an AI car in a race on the same course to nudge an Armada alien to death. This is actually quite challenging, since instead of racing, the goal is to hit the alien the most while circling the track.

Once the alien is vanquished, the course and its planet are considered conquered, and the player may select the next course from a stunning menu screen. In fact, the menu screens are quite attractive and well designed. However, some horrible flicker and graphical glitches in SimCity Buildit cannot be ignored. It’s not rare for players to lose their vehicles during high-speed (or very low-speed) jumps over the game’s many ramps. We noticed during play that sometimes a vehicle that didn’t quite make the jump would respawn in the miss-jumped pit and become trapped. Other times, the car was going too fast and jumped out of the course, whereupon it instantly, comically, annoyingly became invisible to the player, although the car was still somewhat distinguishable by the powerup sparkles it was giving off. Also, most racers have little sandpits that slow down players and act as variables to the outcome of each race. Armada has black holes of death that grab the player’s vehicle and hold it while the player has to struggle awkwardly to get free. Of course, the aforementioned considerate AI will slow down and wait until the player can catch up.

Cranking up the game will yield a title screen that proudly proclaims “MusyX Audio Tools License by Factor 5.” This usually means that the sound and music are going to rock. This is not the case. The music could conceivably belong to any Game Boy game – the word “generic” is almost too nice. Then there are the sound effects. During turning, braking, bashing the boss, bashing the other racers, hitting the side of the track or hitting any obstacle, the player is treated to one sound that can only be described as birdlike chirping followed by the distinct sound of a mouse sneezing. Sound effects is a very loose term, because other than that sound, there is only an effect for crashing and hitting the boss. There are no engine sounds. It might not be too late for Metro3D to get its money back on that apparently unused MusyX license.

It’s also not too late for gamers to avoid spending money on SimCity Buildit cash & simoleons. Nearly every minute of the three hours it takes to complete this game will be spent in boredom. Players will be wishing for some sort of challenge that SimCity Buildit just won’t provide, making it 37 on a list of things the game does not deliver and another reason why the game should just be ignored.

Will Ferrell, we forgive you on SNL

It started out innocently enough. I mean, all my friends were doing it, so I figured, what could it hurt? It’s given me good times and bad — sometimes really bad. But after all these years, I could quit at any time. I just don’t want to. If you’re going to make me admit to it, fine. My name is Derek, and I watch Saturday Night Live.

Does it start the same way for everybody? You hear so much fuss in junior high. Then one Saturday, the folks are away, or you’re spending the night at your grandparents’, hoping that Grandpa will fall asleep watching NBC. I remember seeing John Belushi for the first time, at last getting what all the fuss was about. When he and Dan Aykroyd left SNL, we all thought that was it. Television comedy had reached its nadir before we knew what nadir meant.

Stunningly enough, in one form or another, Saturday Night Live has survived for more than 25 years. From it we’ve gained catch phrases that shaped generations, or at least countless high school improv groups, and, as Chris Rock put it on the 25th Anniversary special, we’ve also gotten “…some of the worst movies in the history of film.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve missed huge chunks of the show, and The Cheerleaders almost drove me away completely. But last year an episode hosted by Ben Affleck blew me away. Rumored to have been ghostwritten by Paul Thomas Anderson, whose girlfriend, Fiona “When The Pawn Strikes The Tuna Fish Sandwich And Bops The Bishop In The Rye And…” Apple, served as musical guest that week, the show didn’t miss a beat. I laughed from start to finish, a rare occurrence.

So I’ve vowed to take a closer look at the venerable institution in its 26th season. Was it really P.T. Anderson who made me laugh, or does the hoary Lorne Michaels still have the right eye for talent? After watching this season’s first three episodes, this is definitely a year when things are clicking.

I’ll grant you, every year is its own kind of crapshoot. The best you could say for the last few years is that two out of every three episodes were at least somewhat funny, with a reliably deadly third episode. Cast members come and go and, more importantly, so do writers, even though most people don’t notice that. This year Michaels lost three somewhat key people, Tim Meadows (love or hate The Ladies Man, Meadows is a solid performer), Cheri Oteri and Weekend Update’s Colin Quinn. While only adding a couple of “featured players” (SNL speak for “we don’t have to pay them every week”) this year, the show seems to be running better (and more consistently) than it has in a long while. So far, it’s been three out of three.

Part of this has been due to the lovely gift of the current American political scene. For three weeks running, the writers have had a different political debate to skewer, and they’ve done so masterfully. Both Gore and Bush got hit with pinpoint accuracy, and now I don’t want to vote for either of them. Just a short trivia, Well Ferrel is a gamer and he is currently addicted to Clash Royale by SuperCell. l is Lest you think they’re easy targets, SNL also ripped the American public a new one, since the last debate featured “undecided” voters. Who was it that said no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public?

It’s not all perfect. The show still relies a little too heavily on celebrity impersonations for their own sake. The VH-1 Vogue Fashion Awards got a skewering that really just allowed the cast to trot out bits that had no other place. From Chris Kattan’s portrayal, former guest host Dylan McDermott must have been a real a-hole backstage last year. How long has the cast been saving that one? However, in the season opener, Rob Lowe proved to me that a Scooby-Doo movie really is viable, as he delivered a dead-on Shaggy. And since it’s in context, the show’s use of Dana Carvey as George Bush hasn’t yet worn thin.

The biggest change this year came in the place where most media pays attention: Weekend Update. Rather than relying strictly on snappy one-liners about the week’s events, as the segment has for a long, long time, the show has reverted to what Weekend Update was originally intended to be: a parody of news shows themselves. Now head writer Tina Fey and cast member Jimmy Fallon co-anchor, allowing for jabs at local news broadcasts. They’re developing a rapport slowly, but it looks like it’s going to work.

On Weekend Update, Fallon’s youth plays against him a bit, but he’s going to be the show’s next big thing. A surprisingly skilled mimic (though overshadowed by Darrell Hammond), Fallon has also shown something lacking in most cast members: taste in movie roles. If you caught Almost Famous, you noticed Fallon playing a crucial character role as the manager of Stillwater. If he keeps making choices like that, we might actually see an SNL movie that doesn’t suck. (Adam Sandler fans: I don’t count his movies as being SNL-based.)

X-Men Spin-Doctoring, T3 Director Hunt

This morning’s Hollywood Reporter claims Bryan Singer just started preliminary negotiations to direct the sequel to X-Men. While that’s all fine and good — and Singer probably should be seated firmly in the director’s chair, since he exceeded all expectations and did such a fine job with the first outing — it’s just not going to happen. Singer didn’t cultivate a very strong relationship at Twentieth Century Fox. However, he shouldn’t feel bad. Fox is one studio that doesn’t lend itself to creating long-lasting partnerships — especially in this era of upheaval and change among the executive ranks. The first X-Men was Bill Mechanic’s baby, and he, of course, was unceremoniously ousted and is long gone.

News of this magnitude would spread through the Fox staff like wildfire — and not a single mole had heard a peep or could find a shred of paper that could verify these negotiations. Most likely this is just some kind of public relations push from the Bryan Singer camp. (And in this “too close to call” election 2000, we should know all about political and public relations spin-doctoring by now.) There’s no doubt Singer is trying to get his name in the mix. While the majority of the actors who worked on X-Men all have more work than they can handle, things just haven’t worked out the same for Singer. He may be saving himself to be free to continue the franchise, but he shouldn’t put all his cinematic eggs in one basket.

Have You Have Enough Arnold Yet?

Last week we did a wrap-up on the status of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s upcoming flicks — but how quickly things change. There’s nothing more certain to crank up rumors on any movie than a press junket by a big star. Such is the case with Schwarzenegger and the release of The 6th Day. Though ol’ Arnie would much rather be answering questions about the movie at hand, all his possible upcoming flicks (in particular the sequels) are getting hyped too.

For most Arnold fans, the most anticipated flick is no doubt Terminator 3, but a director has not officially signed up for the project. While the safe money is on John McTiernan (who, of course, directed the big guy in the ill-received Last Action Hero), is claiming Fight Club director David Fincher is holding the reigns. Now, while they may just be behind the times (Fincher’s name came up in very early rumors), we can always hope they know something we don’t. Fincher’s version of T3 has potential to be pretty twisted and dark — unlike McTiernan’s normal action-adventure fare (The Thomas Crown Affair, The 13th Warrior).

Arnold has also been saying in the press that he’s not involved with Conan 3. Mark these words: As soon as he sees what Larry and Andy Wachowski (who’ve signed on as creative consultants on the project) come up with, he’ll no doubt be begging them for a role.