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Angry Video Game Nerd, Volume 2, The
Though creator James Rolfe began producing episodes of The Angry Video Game Nerd only six years ago, it's easy to see that he's had lots of practice. Like most children growing up during the 1980s and beyond, an attraction to video games was natural---and with some of the most entertaining and influential titles being released during that era, it's no wonder that some of them have been placed on pedestals. Many of these games simply defined our childhoods with terrific graphics, catchy music and perfect play control. Pitfall II. Super Mario Brothers. The Legend of Zelda. Metroid. Castlevania. Unfortunately, The Angry Video Game Nerd doesn't bother reviewing those games; instead, he focuses on the mountains of games that didn't measure up to the classics. From mainstream to obscure, Atari to Nintendo, these abominations were sold to impressionable young gamers and their parents, since neither had easy access to online reviews yet. Even if we didn't know how bad they were at the time, it's become painfully obvious by now. Rolfe's tongue-in-cheek reviews combine satire, disgust, frustration, unspeakable vulgarity and, most importantly, a love for classic games into some of the most entertaining nuggets of nostalgia you're likely to come across.
The Angry Video Game Nerd is still a regular fixture at Rolfe's Cinemassacre.com (in association with ScrewAttack.com and GameTrailers.com), where new episodes are posted approximately ever other week. Though I didn't get into AVGN until roughly a year ago, it's easy to spend the better part of an afternoon watching a few dozen episodes---and within a few days, I had pretty much dug through them all. Of course, the replay factor on these is pretty high, thanks to Rolfe's charismatic delivery, profane catch-phrases, and the simple nostalgia of seeing some of these old games again. I'm still the proud owner of a top-loading NES and the semi-proud owner of a Virtual Boy, and I've owned (or at least played) more than half of the featured games in the AVGN back catalogue back when they were new. But even the ones I'm not familiar with are a blast to watch; for the most part, the featured games are like car wrecks you just can't turn away from...and believe it or not, these things retailed for $50 at one point.
Volume 1 covered the earliest dates of The Nerd, from the first two 2004 episodes through the end of 2006. Volume 2 follows suit by collecting just about everything from 2007, and it's a mild improvement in more ways than one. Like Volume 1, though, all of these 20 episodes can be found online via Cinemassacre.com (and in uncut form, no less), but it's still great to have one handy collection. Though casual fans may want to stick to the website (and new fans, likewise, can test drive a few episodes), those looking to support Rolfe in this way should consider Volume 2 a pretty fair deal. At less than $20 for more than four hours of total content (or available as part of several money-saving bundles), it's an easy way to ensure that more episodes get made. Here's what this three-disc set includes:
(20 Episodes on 2 single-sided discs)
"TMNT III" (VHS tape destruction)
"The Atari 5200"
"Bugs Bunny's Birthday Blowout"
"Texas Chainsaw Massacre"
"An AVGN Christmas Carol"
Bonus Features (covered below)
On average, these episodes are almost twice as long as the ones on Volume 1; in fact, all but a few easily surpass the 10-minute mark. But there's a slight increase in quality here as well: this slightly expanded format allows for more in-depth coverage and some pretty clever detective work, and multiple games are often covered within a single review. The three-part "Ghostbusters" saga covers a half-dozen terrible installments on a variety of consoles (OK, one's not too bad), "The Simpsons" focuses on a frustrating pair of Bart-related NES titles, "Atari Porn" looks at nine different eye-popping adult games for the 2600, "Halloween" continues the Atari love with three spooky titles (top right), while "Fester's Quest" pairs two Addams Family-related reviews with a black-and-white tribute to the franchise. It's a smart move to group together similar titles, and we'd see many more Nerd reviews done in this style from here on out.
This more focused style continues during a few general console reviews as well, including separate episodes that roast the Atari 5200 and the Sega CD and 32-X add-ons; all three failed miserably and most did so in a matter of months. These reviews maintain the documentary style present in many of The Nerd's better episodes, pairing history lessons with his trademark rants. This time around, however, one of the episodes serves as more of a tribute: "Nintendo Power" (below right), which focuses on everyone's favorite magazine from the 8-bit era. He still manages to grill it in his own special way, but it offers a welcome change of pace that we'd see more often in the future. Fans of his more basic roasts shouldn't worry, though: instant classics like "Bugs Bunny's Birthday Blowout" (below left), "Silver Surfer" and "Dragon's Lair" rank among The Nerd's best.
Also like Volume 1, a handful of episodes have been slightly modified for this DVD release; specifically, movie clips and licensed music cues have been removed. This is understandable, given the circumstances, but it's still a disappointment when these reviews can be seen online in uncut format. This time around, however, a few steps have been taken to somewhat remedy the situation: "Ghostbusters", for example, displays new art cards (drawn by collaborator Mike Matei) to replace the movie clips, and the end result is more fluid than a complete removal...like in Volume 1's "Back to the Future", for example. The only glaring absence is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III movie review, which originally led off the 2007 season. The fan-favorite VHS tape destruction is still present and accounted for (above left), but everything else is understandably missing in action.
All things considered, The Angry Video Game Nerd, Volume 2 is a worthy successor to the landmark Volume 1...but in all respects, it's more of a companion piece than a replacement. This modestly-priced collection also includes a slightly-improved technical presentation and another entertaining batch of bonus features, some of which are exclusive to this release.
As expected, these episodes are still a little rough around the edges...but considering AVGN has never enjoyed big-budget production values, they don't disappoint too much. Presented in their original 1.33:1 format (a no-brainer, considering the aspect ratio of the vintage games), these episodes appear to have been taken from video masters. Recorded game footage is still on the soft side (possibly due to the source material), while other segments suffer from mild edge enhancement. Interlacing is also a minor problem, but the series' natural color palette is generally rock solid. Overall, these episodes look better than their online counterparts (and Volume 1, by a small margin), but there's still room for improvement.
The audio, presented in a relatively plain-wrap 2.0 Stereo mix, is low-key but gets the job done just fine. The Nerd's rants and other smart-ass comments come through loud and clear, while most of the game footage doesn't have to fight for attention. Like the ever-so-slight visual improvements, the audio is also a bit more consistent than Volume 1. Unfortunately, no optional Closed Captions or subtitles have been included; not surprising, given the circumstances, but still a mild disappointment.
Seen below, the mildly animated menu designs are fun and appropriate, and Disc 2's menus (below left) are especially awesome if you're a Capcom junkie. A handy "Play All" option has been provided for the reviews---and again, AVGN is one of the few series where I'd actually consider this option. Each of these 20 reviews has been presented without chapter breaks, while no layer changes were detecting during playback. This three-disc set is housed in a multi-hubbed keepcase; no inserts are included, but a complete list of contents has been printed on the back cover.
This time around, all bonus features are herded onto Disc 3, AKA "Volume Ass". Leading things off is "Top 10 Nerd Moments of 2007" (9:23), a best-of montage hosted by Stuttering Craig and Handsome Tom from GameTrailers.com. Like the previous installment, there really isn't any new Nerd material here, but it works well as a trailer of sorts. Up next is a "Nerd Room Tour" (7:03), a first-person walkthrough hosted by Rolfe; this was obviously produced before his relocation a few years back, so it doubles as a fun little bonus and a small piece of AVGN history.
We're also treated to a collection of YouTube Trailers (13:59 total), which were originally created to notify subscribers that new episodes were on the way. None are included for the TMNT III review or "Dragon's Lair", but what's here does a good job of promoting the episodes without giving too much away...and a handy "Play All" option is included, thankfully enough. Also here is a pair of Intros used during select episodes, featuring fan artwork and music by Ramon Cardinali.
Three clips of Vintage Nerd Material are also on board, including "1989-1991: First Game Reviews" (6:44), which features a few vintage 8-bit game tips; "1995: Street Fighter II for GameBoy" (2:44), an audio-only review with new George Lucas-approved visuals; and "1995: Midnight Demon Theatre" (2:22), a Doom-inspired short with a few neat stop-motion effects.
Fast-forwarding back to recent years, we're also blessed with four Audio Commentaries by Rolfe, including "Bugs Bunny's Birthday Blowout" (with Mike Matei, AKA Bugs), "Spider-Man" (with Kyle Justin, AKA Spidey), "Fester's Quest" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". Some of these are abridged slightly (and it's odd that they aren't simply paired as audio tracks with the original episodes), but these laid-back sessions are entertaining and definitely worth a listen. Closing things out is a rather lengthy collection of Outtakes for "Bugs Bunny's Birthday Blowout" (4:23), "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (4:59), "Halloween" (6:49) and "An Angry Nerd Christmas Carol" (0:42), as well as a several 2008 episodes ("Virtual Boy", "Wizard of Oz", "Super Mario Bros. 3", "Double Vision", "Star Trek" and "Batman" (below left).
Die-hard fans may also be able to find an Easter Egg tucked away on one of the menu screens (below right). All bonus features are presented in a mixture of 1.33:1 and letterboxed widescreen formats, while none include optional Closed Captions or subtitles.
The Angry Video Game Nerd, Volume 2 picks up right where the first installment left off, and it finds creator James Rolfe settling into a more in-depth, focused format. These episodes are longer on average and go into substantially more detail, extending their overall enjoyment and replay value slightly. Thankfully, the nature of this content hasn't changed a great deal: The Nerd is as profane and irreverent as ever, leading to several instant classics during this 20-episode 2007 season. ScrewAttack's three-disc package also shows a modest improvement over Volume 1; not only has the overall presentation been tightened up in several areas, but there's another batch of entertaining bonus features to dig through. While most of this material remains online via Cinemassacre.com (in uncut form, no less), the DVD release of Volume 2 is still a great way to keep AVGN going strong for years to come. Highly Recommended, because this three-disc set is most certainly not a fuckin' shitload of ass.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, mocking passers-by and writing things in third person.