Sunday, December 15, 2013

Frozen (Film) - Review

I was taken by surprise at the decent acclaim that Tangled garnered, and so too was I taken aback by the response to Frozen. The trailers make Frozen out to be nothing too special, but that isn't the case. This is a special movie that will almost certainly go down in history as another Disney classic. With Frozen, Disney has crafted a self-aware, forward-thinking, and also very enjoyable film.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Video Game) - Review

When The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was first announced, many reactions were quite skeptical, including mine. A handheld, button-controlled, top-down Zelda instantly sounded like a good idea to me, but I was unsure about its decision to harken back to A Link to the Past as strongly as it seemed to be. As more information about the game creeped out, I continued to fear that the game would be overly dependent on the past. The game is out, and sure, I wish it didn't borrow as much from A Link to the Past as it does, but that doesn't come close to stopping it from being the absolutely fantastic and innovative game in the series that it is. 


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Jett Rocket II: The Wrath of Taikai (3DS) - Review

2010's Jett Rocket went under the radar when it released on the WiiWare service from Shin'en, but it did receive positive reviews. It was a 3D platformer that sparked comparisons to Super Mario Galaxy, despite it not including any gravity-based gimmickry.  I never got to play this game even though it always interested me, so when I saw its sequel, dawning the quirky subtitle The Wrath of Taikai, while randomly deciding to browsing the 3DS's eShop, I decided to give the 3D trailer a watch. The trailer very much impressed me, so I went ahead and bought the game that day and was overall pleased with what I played. Jett Rocket II: The Wrath of Taikai is a good little game.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"Ramona" - Fiction

I'm in Creative Writing this year, in high school. Like the last time I was in the class, two years ago, the first grading period has you writing a multiple-assignment story about one character. Five assignments: one character biography and four stories. Think of each assignment as a chapter. 

That's all done now. I threw together my assignments and edited them some. I think this is pretty alright. Please enjoy.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Rayman Legends (Video Game) - Review

2D platforming is such a simple genre and one so full of games, that I sometimes worry we'll eventually reach a time when the genre as a whole grows stale. After each time I play one, I get more and more concerned that developers will just run out of ideas. Rayman Legends is the kind of game that restores my faith, but with some strings attached. Rayman Legends is a great game rife  with clever design and superb aesthetics, even though it left me without a proper sense of satisfaction after the credits rolled.


Rayman Legends is a joy to play. The controls and physics are very solid, meaning that the inputs are merely an expression of your skill. There are some hairs to split, like wall-running getting a bit disorienting in terms of which direction to move the stick/d-pad, but overall, again, very solid overall. The level design is truly remarkable. Most levels are designed to be ran through quickly in a sort of rhythm. This makes things exciting and fast-paced, even though technically only some levels actually force you to maneuver quickly. Throughout the duration of the game's main five worlds, original concepts are sprinkled into the bowl. The best example is the stealth portion that is mixed with swimming, which offers a pretty unique experience. It's also the little things that really stick out, like the cleverly-placed hidden collectibles. 

Rayman Origins got the attention it did thanks in large part to its gorgeous visuals, and the ante has only been upped in Legends. This game is beautiful, with intricate and fun animation and bucket loads of color. The music is also quite good here, offering enjoyable tunes that both enhance the feeling of playing and are good in their own right. The aesthetics are remarkable.


Each world ends with a boss and then a music level as a bit of a reward, essentially. The bosses are polygon-based 3D, which is a cool way to contrast them off of the rest of the graphics. Taking down the bosses is good, patterned-based fun, even though none of them are particularly anything to write home about. The music levels are definitely cool, offering a really entertaining mixture of level design and music to enjoy, but they are somewhat lazily put-together. Gameplay footage makes it seem like these are interactive-rhythm segments, but they're actually a fake version of that, as your interaction doesn't create the music, it just goes along with static music in the background. A string of lums (coins) is set to a series of guitar strings, for example, but if you don't collect the lums, the guitar strums still happen. I did enjoy these, even though they don't involve the player in a way that makes game like the Bit.Trip series so neat.

The big disappointment here, though, is just that the main game ends abruptly, leaving me still wanting. The story is a load of nonsense, which means that there is no added sense of satisfaction at the conclusion because there's basically nothing here. Narratives in games like this don't need to be anything more complex than a hero saving a princess from a monster, but something should be here to give a sense of purpose and conclusiveness to the adventure. It would probably seem silly if that was the thrust of my explanation of my biggest problem with the game, but that is just secondary. The short feeling of the main game adds much more to this abruptness. These five standard-length worlds don't feel like enough. I wanted more.


That's not to say that there isn't a lot of content here, because there is. Legends does a brilliant job of constantly holding a carrot in front of your face, giving you new challenges like short time trials (as well as daily ones that are ranked online!), and new rewards like character skins. It's quite addictive! There's nearly an equal amount of remade Origins levels here, which are still incredibly fun despite feeling jarring and useless, considering this game is lacking on new levels and since Origins was so recent. 

I get the sense that Rayman Legends could have so easily been an incredible or even masterful game, when it's really just a great one. So you could fairly say that I'm disappointed. But really, I love this game. It is an absolute blast and very smartly designed. Its aesthetics are wonderful. It's great.

***

~  Reviewed on Playstation 3, single-player ~

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Louie: Season 3 (TV) - Review

It's not controversial to say that Louis CK is the most successful contemporary comedian; it's also not controversial to say he may be the best. I love his standup, but he also has a television show which I somehow appreciate even more. When I first got into Louie, I did pretty much nothing else with my free time other than watch the show, as I was so engrossed. I remember thinking that the first season was absolutely incredible, although I thought, as a whole, the second was just okay. But even during the large rough bits of the second season, it was easy to watch because Louie is truly unique. I recently watched the third season; there are some issues, but overall it is very funny, very moving, and very great. 


Typically, on the surface, the stories told in episodes of Louie are seemingly mundane. Louie follows Louie CK, a fictional character based heavily on the real-life dude who plays him. He is a fat, middle-aged, divorced comedian with two kids and an awkward demeanor. We watch him be a father, date women, and work. Louis CK writes and directs the show, on top of playing the lead role. Popular comedians like Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman also have [great] cameos in the series, showing just how tapped into show business CK is.  

Louie is both a drama and a comedy, and it balances the two remarkably well in the third season. One of the best episodes is the third, in which our protagonist finds himself in Miami for work and befriends a hunky, friendly lifeguard. Against what Louie has always considered his sexual orientation, he gets some tension around the lifeguard, which makes for smart, awkward humor but also captivating storytelling. Another highlight of the season is a two-episode story arc in which Louie dates an eccentric woman with a depressing past - something that really shows. She acts wacky which garners laughs, but her phenomenal acting means that we can see the tortured part of her soul just by watching her facial expression. And then also Louie's reaction to her through his facial expression. This season of Louie can have me cracking up one moment and then tearing up a few minutes later. What I find most remarkable about Louie in general is its intimate grip on realism, and its control of such which allows it to create something that is truly compelling to watch. Much of the humor and drama rests on displaying the realistic in a way that affects.

This is why my biggest complaint with this season is the unrealistic curveballs that get thrown into the mix every now and then for shock laughs. These moments are downright cartoonish: For example, in one episode, a naughty kid whom Louie is babysitting shoves a baby carriage into oncoming traffic, creating a dangerous, toxic gas leak, and Louie's response is to head home and let someone else deal with it. Moments like this contradict and cheapen the actual, realistic characterization of Louie as well as the realistic set up of the show's world. My other complaint, which is lesser but still notable, is that it's not just consistency in tone that isn't properly respected, but also consistency in story continuity. Louie occasionally (and effectively) pulls from past episodes' plots, but sometimes it intentionally goes against past plots just for the heck of it. Continuity flubs can be forgiven when the changes make sense, but these changes seem pointless. Either respect continuity or make each episode its own thing; you can't have both. 


The curveballs really don't happen too often - think once every other episode, more or less, but some episodes are affected more than others. One otherwise excellent episode's climax is one of these moments, making it one of the weaker episodes. The continuity changes are annoying in their pointlessness, but being pointless does mean that things aren't changed in a way that really alters the story. These two things are problems, but not deal-breakers. At the show's best, witty comedy mashes with captivating drama to form a tour de force of exemplary, truly special television; it's just a shame that tonal and continuity inconsistencies bring it down sometimes. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Anchorman (Film) - Review

Anchorman should be so much better than it actually is. It casts Will Ferrell alongside the likes of Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, to parody 70s-style misogyny in news broadcasting.  It's produced by Judd Apatow. Maybe by the standards of 2004 this was better, but today, at least, this is bad. What could have been a hilarious ride of mocking sexism is a joyless mess of a film that is only occasionally funny.


Ferrell's character Ron Burgundy is the beloved lead anchorman for a San Diego news station, along with other respected anchors for sports and weather and such. I can't tell you their names, because they're too boring for me to remember. One's gimmick, the one played by Carell, is that he is mentally retarded with an "IQ of 45," but the only real difference between him and just about every other character is that his mental problem has been diagnosed.

They're on top, so when a woman is hired on the station and garners some success, they become enraged, because she's a woman! This premise lends itself to an ongoing joke in the film; the anchors are sexist! They treat women like means for sex, and this is acted out in a very juvenile fashion. Prejudice is funny when it's made to look ridiculously bad, but here, it feels like just another joke. Initially the film-makers try to make the woman, played by Christina Applegate, a straight-man to their idiocy, which was functional until they gave up on that idea. Eventually her character becomes a whole lot less strong, and she falls for sexist dope Burgundy because that's what the dumb script calls for. I cringed and literally face-palmed throughout the film.


The core issue here is that the movie really doesn't know what it wants to do. Is it really trying to smartly satire old-school misogyny? If so, why is the woman turned into a submissive (and even damselized, at the end) joke? Is it about Burgundy's station beating out its competitors, like a very involved fight scene towards the middle, and an important exchange of dialogue at the climax, both seem to allude to? If so, why is it so underdeveloped? There's a colorful bit of animation abstractly visualizing sex, is it really just supposed to be a senseless, ludicrous collection of comedy?  If so, why ground the movie in troubling, serious subject matter?

The movie also has a habit of pretending its actors are much more talented than they actually are. And that isn't a slight at the talent here, because it really does bring together impressive performers. It's just that most of the jokes are one-man shows. We're usually watching an actor act towards the camera. To sustain a movie, it would make more sense to have the cast working off of each other more.


I can be a bit positive about the movie. It's not actually offensive, it just doesn't work. And it is occasionally funny. The attempts at satire don't really work, but when it's just trying to be humorously stupid, it tends to work a good bit. That animation I mentioned earlier is quite funny, and there's some good laughs when things get very ridiculous towards the end.

But the high points really aren't enough. I was surprised how much of a mess this movie is. Anchorman sports an all-star cast alongside its fantastically talented leading man. It's a shame that it's so awful. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I'm Excited About the Wii U

When the Nintendo 3DS was unveiled at E3, the gaming community lit up with excitement. There was no doubt that it was going to be a smash hit as a gaming platform, and there was even buzz about its ability as a movie-player. When it launched, it did not do very well for awhile. But eventually, with the aid of a big price drop, a stellar new Mario and Mario Kart, as well as a sweet Ocarina of Time remake, the system got itself on track. Today, the 3DS is the success that gamers initially expected, minus the movie-playing, which didn't go anywhere, really.

When the Wii U was announced, gamers knew better than to expect a hit success right off the bat. And, indeed, the Wii U's initial launch was rough, and still is quite a bit rough. Sales haven't been all that great, software hasn't been there, the launch UI was problematic, etc.

But today, in August of 2013, I can confidently say that I am excited about the Wii U.

Pikmin 3 is Phenomenal

I haven't played the first Pikmin, but I have played the Wii remake of the second, and I enjoyed it, but I'm not a huge fan of it. It's a good little game, but it doesn't get me fired up about its quality. Pikmin 3 looked to have amazing visuals when Nintendo first showed it off at E3 2012, which helped me get interested in playing the game, but I wasn't really excited about it. Now, when the game was about to come out, and the reviews were hitting the gaming sites, I started to get excited. Partially because the game looked great, and partially because it's something to play on the Wii U I got back in December.

I bought it, and expected a great time. I had a phenomenal time. Pikmin 3 is phenomenal.


For the first four days I had Pikmin 3, I basically did nothing else with my free time besides play it. It's a magical game. It's a door into a beautiful world that I loved being in. Exploring PNF-404 for all sixty-six pieces of fruit with my pikmin buddies is an experience I'll never forget. I became attached to the little guys, feeling bad every time one died. The game's story is surprisingly charming, funny and uplifting, as well. I loved it so much.

Even though I really wish the multiplayer aspects were online...

The Gamepad is Cool

The battery life on the Gamepad isn't so hot, and the fact that you can't turn the display off while you use the buttons does not help. The shoulder buttons are placed oddly high, and the triggers are not pressure sensitive. But that's where the issues with the Gamepad start and end. The first issue isn't even as crippling as some like to make it out to be, because I imagine most people play their games near an outlet where the Gamepad can be plugged in. I always play it near an outlet, so for me it's nothing more than a minor inconvenience.


It's a neat little doodad. During my Pikmin 3 hibernation, I enjoyed controlling the game with the Wiimote+Nunchuck and having the Gamepad on my lap for a map. I was able to beam the game to the Gamepad and take it upstairs while I microwaved my frozen lunch. I can beam simpler games to it and play without hogging the TV. It's also an immensely comfortable controller. Much more comfortable than that of the PS3, and probably on par with that of the 360.

Miiverse Rules

Pikmin 3 was able to show me how much Miiverse rules. There is a very active, positive and friendly community on the service, and it is set up very well. Seeing a bunch of posts from other users whenever I boot up the console, with a bunch of Miis all over the place, is fantastic. It's not locked to the console, even; you can access it on any browser.


It feels like a really fun forum experience, mixed with Twitter. Each game is like a section on a forum, with posts essentially serving as threads. You can befriend people without any friend codes, and even follow people for their posts without them having to do anything. Maybe it's just because it's early on in the system's life, with the current Wii U owners mostly being big fans of gaming and/or Nintendo, but the discussion is good.

And holy crap, some of the drawings people do are incredible.

Earthbound is on the Virtual Console

It's finally rereleased, guys! I haven't been able to play it yet, but it's Earthbound!


A Long Line of Games to Look Forward To

We have Platinum Games's promising The Wonderful 101, along with Rayman Legends coming out in September, Wind Waker HD and Sonic Lost World in October, Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze in November, and Super Mario 3D World in December! And then Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. to look forward to in 2014.

I played the demo for The Wonderful 101, and I had mixed feelings. It's a colorful, explosive looking game and there's certainly fun to be had. I did, however, find it hard to control and keep track of. But it's a very high-quality developer, and even if it isn't all that great, it will at least be interesting. Rayman Origins is an amazing game, so surely the sequel will also impress. The Wii U seems to have the definitive version, from what I've seen, to boot.


Wind Waker HD being worthwhile is a pretty safe bet. I loved the original up until the triforce fetch-quest, which is getting streamlined in this version. Other things are getting streamlined as well, to improve the game's pacing, which was a bit shoddy in the original. The new graphics look excellent, and I'm sure that having your equipment on the Gamepad is going to be cool. Sonic Lost World looks like a fun Mario Galaxy/Sonic mashup, even though something about the trailers gives me fatigue. It may be a lack of originality, or it may be memories of Sonic Colors, which I didn't like. It's something I'm definitely interesting in checking out, at this point.

I am super-stoked for Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. DKC Returns may just be the best 2D platformer Nintendo has ever put out. It's perfectly challenging and very tight. Many of the levels force you to be constantly moving, to platform your way out of insane set-pieces. The sequel will surely be great. Super Mario 3D World is also a sure-fired hit because of its amazing predecessor. 3D Land is one of Nintendo's finest 3D platformers, in second place right behind Galaxy 2, in my mind. I love that Nintendo is allowing four players to play together for the first time in a 3D Mario game, even though it probably won't be online. And unlike the New Super games, each character has their own distinct abilities, and Peach is playable!


The Wii U has problems. The wifi signal isn't as strong as just about any other gaming system I've ever owned, forcing me to move my gaming set-up in my house. The horsepower in comparison to the PS4 and Xbox One is going to seriously hurt Nintendo's relationship with the triple-A third-party scene. It's still not performing nearly as well as it needs to for Nintendo. 

But I'm excited about the system, and I'm confident that by next year, things will really pick up for the Wii U. Even if it isn't a success, I'm sure there will be a steady stream of great games for a standard lifetime, like there was with the Wii. 


Friday, August 2, 2013

Kid Tripp (Video Game; iOS) - Review

Apple's iOS platform has proven itself to be a spectacular platform for interesting, fun, and cheap games. Anybody can make a game for the platform for cheap, and getting on the App Store isn't difficult. This excellent ecosystem of games to play on your phone or tablet gives us fantastic little games like Kid Tripp from "Not Done Yet Games." Kid Tripp is another mobile runner with pixel graphics, but it's an especially well-designed and entertaining one. 


There's a cute little story to be followed through simple cut-scenes at the beginning and end of the game. It's very minimal, but charming. The real thrust of the game comes from playing it, and it's a real joy. As stated earlier, this is a runner, but not an endless runner. There are four worlds with fives levels each. A tap on the left jumps, a tap on the right throws a rock, and, smartly stopping you from spamming the rock-throws, a hold on the right makes your character run.

This is one of those challenging, deceptively simple games. Your character automatically strolls forward, and there are spikes and baddies to avoid, springboards to use, and coins to collect on your journey to the end of the level. That's it. But it really is challenging, starting off mildly hard and progressively getting expletive-shoutingly hard towards the end, but it's always a joy. Levels are very short and you get shot right back to the beginning whenever you fail. I found it absolutely exhilarating to finally get past a part of a level I was stuck on for so many deaths, only to be flung into the next portion and be forced to figure out the next death trap. 


Kid Tripp's controls feel very tight and responsive, too, which makes flinging around your character all the more cool. There are times when bouncing on an enemy's head is essential to moving on, and there are some obligatory mine-cart sequences that are exciting. The game's pixelated visuals are very pretty, and the game runs very smoothly. Enemies are cute and reasonably varied, and the tunes are good, although certainly nothing special. 

There's really not too much to complain about here; this is a totally solid game. I don't like the black bars on the screen (which is more obtrusive on the iPad or 4 inch iPhones/iPods), but that's a small complaint, really. I was able to brave my way through it all in about an hour, but the game is designed to be replayed. When you finish, it counts the number of coins you managed to collect, how quickly you got through, and how many times you died - all of which are tracked separately through online leaderboards. You can pay levels separately to master them, and the game will award you medals on your mastery to let you know how well you did. 


I really love this game. It's fantastic. If you have an iOS device, which you probably do, I highly recommend you fork over a mere dollar for this gem. Just be in for a challenge. 

***

Played on an iPad 3rd Generation for approximately an hour and fifteen minutes. I'm matt456p on Gamecenter for those who want to try to beat my scores! 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ikachan (Video Game; Nintendo 3DS eShop) - Review

Ikachan feels like the video game equivalent of a decent little short story written for a high school Creative Writing class. It's noticeable that the creator took some short cuts to get this done. And it's over quickly. But even if it's certainly not great, there's a distinct joy to be gotten out of the experience. Ikachan is an okay game that makes up for some laziness with charm. 


This game casts you as a cute little squid named Ikachan. You maneuver him around with a combination of aiming his head with the circle pad and propelling him forward with the a or b button. It controls similarly to an underwater level in a 2D Mario game, save for aiming replacing more direct movement. The physics feel great and it's fun to maneuver Ikachan around. 

This game is at its best when you're avoiding enemies, collecting fish to level yourself up, and taking down the few bosses. The game gives you a small, open environment to explore, and this provides for some neat metroidvania-style gameplay, in which you gain new abilities or items that can be used in past areas. The game has gorgeous and adorable pixel art that looks even cooler when the 3D is flipped on. The sound effects and chiptunes combine with the visuals to create a really engrossing atmosphere.


Unfortunately, a lot of the progression depends on going back and forth, talking to NPC's. The story is cool but the diaogue is usually a bit dull and it gets frustrating when you have to arbitrarily initiate conversation with the characters until something happens. The most banal areas of the game, by the way, are where all of these characters are.

At the end of my playthrough, I felt more positive than negative about my journey. Since the game is only an hour long, it's hard to forgive boring, text-heavy segments that probably made up half of my play-time. But it's a pretty trip that tells a weird, charming, simple story, with a cool ending to boot. It's clear that the creator had fun making Ikachan, and I had fun playing it. It's okay. 

***

This game takes place in the universe of Cave Story, and is made by the same dude. It originated as freeware, but I played the Nintendo 3DS eShop version for review. It costs $5, which is a decent price. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move (Video Game) - Review

Back in 2006, Nintendo put out Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis for the Nintendo DS, which was quite the departure from Mario vs. Donkey Kong on the Gameboy Advance. The original game on the GBA was a spiritual successor to Donkey Kong on the original Gameboy, which is often dubbed Donkey Kong 94, in order to distinguish this 1994 release from the classic arcade game. These two games on the GB and GBA are brilliant puzzle-platformers, but when that DS game came out, the series changed to straight-up puzzle games, similar to Lemmings

Many fans were disappointed with this change. I, for one, enjoyed the newer ones, but I have to admit that the series was getting a bit stale. Since MvD2, there have been three more games in the series. The latest, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move, for the Nintendo 3DS's eShop, is actually quite different from the others since MvD2, despite being another straight-up puzzle game. The problem of staleness is not evident in this release. Minis on the Move mixes things up enough to feel fresh, and it's a smart, addictive puzzle game, despite some missed opportunity. 

The major difference between this game and the few games before it is the angled, 3D view, replacing the on-the-side, 2D view. That may not seem like too big of a deal, but I'd say it gives the game an updated feel. The goal of this game is to place tiles on a board to form pathways for the series-signature minis (adorable little toys of Mario and co.) to use, in order to get them to the goal. Along the way, there are doodads to be collected which are unneeded for progression, but the game is definitely most enjoyable when attempting to collect everything on each board. These boards are very fun and challenging to solve. Completing a board with all of the doodads collected is very satisfying. Aesthetically, it's certainly colorful, certainly cute, and it looks nice in 3D. The music is fine, yet forgettable: If you'd like something to do while watching TV or listening to your iPod, this is an alright game to mute and play during. You'll just have to go without the satisfying victory music and crushing failure music. 


There are four different variants on this basic design, each intertwined and each equally fun and well thought-out. One, entitled "Mario's Main Event," gives tiles for you to use mostly randomly. If you don't use the tiles given to you quick enough, your pipe of tiles will overflow and you'll fail. Things like bombs, which get rid of tiles on the board, and trash cans, which will take three unwanted tiles in your pipe, make things easier on you, but this mode remains very tense. It's tons of fun. It forces you to think quickly, and frantically tap your mini in order to get them to go faster. The "Giant Jungle" mode is basically the same, except that boards are massive and with much more to collect, making it ludicrously challenging, which makes this mode fun in its own right. 

"Many Mini Mayhem" throws multiple Minis into the equation, and doesn't let you add any tiles onto the board. Instead, some tiles on the board can just be moved or manipulated. This mode is the most frantic of them all, and a real rush. Another is called "Puzzle Palace," which gives you all of the tiles you're allowed to use at the start. This mode forces you to carefully think things out, without pressure to do anything quickly. This difference in design means that this variant has to have more complex boards in order to be as challenging as the others, and it pulls that off. 

Each mode ramps up the difficultly progressively by adding new tiles and obstacles into the equation, which means the game doesn't wear thin. "Mario's Main Game" has seventy levels, "Puzzle Palace" has eighty levels, and "Many Mini Mayhem" has fifty. If you collect all of the doodads on each of the levels of these three modes, you'll receive a star. The doodads on "Giant Jungle" are stars, and there are ten of these on each of the three levels for that mode. These stars, 230 possible, overall, go in a shared pool, which cleverly connects each mode. Once you reach certain amounts of stars, mini games and virtual toys are unlocked. 


There are four mini games, and each has at least a few variants, which are individually unlocked. One is "Mini Target Smash," which is a pretty standard but enjoyable shooting range. Another is "Fly Guy Grab," which is definitely the worst of the bunch; not bad, but pretty mediocre. "Cube Crash" is the best, which is similar to the shooting range game, but instead of regular ol' targets, you smash large, three dimensional structures. The last is "Elevation Station," which is an alright on-the-side 2D affair in which you move around a mini to avoid bullet bills and collect coins. All of these, besides the last, look very striking in stereoscopic 3D. Overall these mini games are a great diversion, and progressively unlocking more variants on these four mini games really incentivizes collecting those doodads! 

There is also a creation suite which allows you to create levels which can be uploaded online for anyone with the game to download [or stream] and play. Creation is simple, uploading is simple, and players others' levels is simple. Levels are organized into "Top Weekly," "Random," "Popular" and "Friends" categories. The only problem is that you can only make levels like the ones you'd find in "Mario's Main Game." 


That problem is really one facet of a larger problem, which is the only one plaguing this game, and that's missed opportunity. Why don't the four modes have an identical amount of stars in them, making the experience even more cohesive? Unlocking the little "Toy Collection" toys and polishing them and looking at them is neat, but why can't I play as them? The best example of missed opportunity is how frivolous the top screen feels during the main game. All of the control for placing and moving tiles is on the bottom screen, and the entire board is depicted on the bottom screen, albeit with a minimalistic, uninteresting look. The top screen merely has a visually interesting look at the action, with no real useful information besides the timer, so you'll mostly never look at it. Why not make it less frivolous? None of these things really affect the quality of the game in any mechanical way, but these all just feel jarring. These are just nitpicks, but they all pile up into one big nitpick - there is clearly missed opportunity here. 

But don't get me wrong: The game as it is, is great. The core mechanics are very clever, and it's a totally addictive experience. There's a lot to do, and none of it feels like padding, making this feel like a very substantial package. A very cute, substantial package, that is sometimes frantic, sometimes methodical, and always mentally stimulating. Even though there are things I wish this game would have done, I love it for what it is.   

*** 

According to my 3DS's activity log, I played this game for 11 hours and 42 minutes. It currently costs $9.99, which is a fantastic price.   

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Paranorman (Film) - Review

The commercials leading up to the release of Paranorman did not properly represent what it is. These previews made the movie out to be a mindless kids-slanted comedy, albeit with some pretty animation. And that's really not a fair depiction of this film. It's much better than that. Paranorman is funny, and has some stunning visuals, but it also tells a thoughtful, moving little tale.


Paranorman is a mash-up of drama, comedy and horror. The movie's endearing protagonist is Norman, a kid ostracized because of his supernatural powers. He can see the dead, and while it's very real to him, others don't believe him and don't wish to attempt to understand him. However, things get interesting when an outbreak of zombies attack the town, and Norman is the only one that can save the day. It's a clever set-up that lends itself to a compelling theme.

Paranorman confronts the nature of fear, and how it makes well-intentioned people treat others poorly. And all throughout the movie, there are bits of smart, more random satire that fit in snugly. I was taken aback at how well Paranorman manages to make commentary without attacking any kind of people. Bullies, for example, are challenged in this movie, but through comedy and simple logic, the movie lets the audience know why we should be against bullying, without demonizing the children who happen to be bullies. And then some of the humor is just gags, and it's mostly very funny and clever. Like most comedies, it slips into awkward, groan-worthy territory at times, but here it's very rare.


This movie has superb aesthetics, which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has seen a commercial for it. The stop-motion animation is quick, snappy and gives the movie a distinct and delightful charm. The movie is vibrant within its specific color palette, which is a bit dark, but it fits. All of the characters have exaggerated personalities that are perfectly represented visually, and the performances for their voices are also great, for that matter. The dull, teenaged beef-cake, for example, has a ridiculously toned chest, rarely seems to look people in the eyes when he speaks to them, and has a compressed, simple voice. The movie effectively plays up a light-horror vibe. The movie's intro sequence and end credits do an especially good job of this, but the creepy yet goofy monsters and nods throughout also do the trick.

Paranorman surprised me. It's a brilliant film. It looks excellent and is filled with creativity. It's very funny. And it's also a very intelligent movie that says a lot and does a remarkable job of saying it all. I love this movie: It's truly fantastic.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Monsters University (Film) - Review

Pixar was once known as a group of film-makers with a perfect track-record. Now, with movies like Brave that didn't give people the oomph they expected, and an influx of sequels that are making people doubt the studio's creativity as of late, that reputation has dwindled. Monsters University is Pixar's latest film, and it pains me to say, as a big fan of Pixar, that this movie is very bad. There are some good laughs and the movie looks nice, but it's aimless and sometimes even mean. 


Monsters University is a prequel to Monsters Inc., following Mike and Sully as college students. In Monsters Inc., it's established early on that these two are amongst the best in their profession, and this movie aims to tell the story of how they got to that point. And it really doesn't tell that story at all! The story of how they actually get good at their profession is told through a contentless time-lapse at the end of the film, after the climax. What actually makes up the bulk of this movie is a meandering lot of comedy, visual effects and underdeveloped, lazy, senseless plot that actually manages to offend. 

About half of the jokes are tired and groan-worthy affairs that have been done to death in other movies. Get ready to see a stock-nerdy kid moan at his mom for making him look lame because she's a mom and that's lame. The other half are very funny and very clever, playing off of the stereotypes of the characters. That same lame mom character has a particularly hilarious bit when we learn about her music tastes. And continuing on a positive note, the movie is very colorful and animates very well. The characters really come to life and some cool things are done visually every now and again. 


But I can't be too positive. Two big things really ground my gears, which brings me to my conclusion that this is a very bad movie. The first is that the movie establishes an interesting, tough dilemma, but really doesn't solve it at all. Mike and Sully both want to be great scarers, but Mike lacks natural talent and struggles actually performing, and Sully is too caught up on resting on his laurels and doesn't want to hit the books. Do they better themselves? Sometimes they do things that are impressive within the context of this movie, but it always feels fake. Mike doesn't find any solution at all for his problem, and Sully consistently refuses to hit the books and try harder. And for whatever reason, even though they both seem to have equal problems to me, the movie looks down upon Mike more and Sully less, which is jarring. 

The second problem is what actually managed to strike me as unethical, which is the elitism that the movie defends. Other professions besides scaring are always treated as a complete joke by this movie. At one point Mike is discouraged from scaring, and goes to a class about the production of scare canisters, which is an important role in this society, but even the professor hates it. There are a few stock-nerd characters that Mike is trapped into playing with in a scaring competition, and two of them show passion for unique career choices of their own, but by the end of the film they still decide to go for scaring. Their "skill" that is "gained" in scaring is even faker than Mike and Sully's because their apparent skill gain is usually just meant to be goofy anyway, because the notion of these characters doing well with scaring is laughable. 


This isn't a good movie. Unlike Cars, I can't even say that it isn't bad, because it is. It's very bad. The movie struggles to make a point, and when it does, it's not very nice. There are some laughs that are truly great, and Pixar is still able to make a very pretty movie, but that's not enough to pull this lazy movie out of the mud. If this wasn't a sequel, I wouldn't believe you if you told me it's a Pixar movie.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Last of Us (Video Game) - Review

The Last of Us is special in many ways. It marks the first time Naughty Dog has started a second new IP on the same platform. It's essentially the last big release that is exclusive to the 7th generation of consoles. And it's also not only one of the finest video games of said generation, it's one of the finest ever crafted. With its unparalleled, visceral combat, jaw-dropping aesthetics, and unprecedented storytelling, The Last of Us is truly masterful.


The Last of Us is another story about a zombie apocalypse, but it does enough of its own to ensure that doesn't make it feel stale in any way. For example, these zombies are not even quite zombies, but a growth after affliction from a fungus. As time goes on, the growth gets worse, first making one lose control of his or her body, then taking away vision, etc. What's smart is that not only does the growth get worse with each stage for the victim, but the further along a particular victim is in their sick state, the more difficult of an enemy they are to deal with in the game. This game builds its own world, with a crippling government run via Martial Law, and a rebellion group against the government known as The Fireflies. 

Soon enough the player finds himself in control of a man named Joel, escorting a fourteen-year old girl named Ellie somewhere because of a prior agreement. They're great characters, Joel a shell of a once normal man with remnants of his humanity left, and Ellie a chipper girl that has adapted very well to the only world that she's ever known. The game very easily got me invested in these characters as well as the various other characters along the way. Comedy, drama, and horror are all elegantly represented here. It's very funny, and it's very sad, and it's very intense, and each of those types of story-telling are balanced remarkably well. 

The game is absolutely stunning. The beginning of the game actually isn't, I should say, with lots of unimpressive textures, but once the game really gets started, the beginning's lack of graphical flair is easily forgotten. The facial animation is top of the line, not looking awkward at all and getting across the emotion of the characters well. The world is packed with detail and may just be the most impressive display of visuals on this generation of consoles. The great contextual animation that Naughty Dog gave to the industry with Uncharted 2 is here, which means that when a character approaches a wall, for example, their hand will casually touch and push off of it for no reason other than aesthetics. The score is also fantastic, drumming up the proper emotion for each particular moment.


I have always wanted combat in video games to be as good as it is in The Last of Us. Many action games of this kind, with varying levels of detriment to their respective qualities, come off as artificially challenging, through lazy design like enemies that take a ludicrous amount of bullets, but not this one. It's perfectly challenging, with every death feeling like my fault, partly due to the multitude of equally viable options available. The fusion of gunplay and stealth feels more natural than other games that attempt to do the same because one does not feel cheap because of the other. It doesn't feel like a shooter with stealth tacked on, and it doesn't feel like a stealth game with shooting tacked on. 

The AI is very well-done and impressed me more than I've ever been impressed by such a thing. Enemies react dynamically to how you play, in familiar ways such as flanking you when in a bad position, but also in new ways. For example, if you are dominating your opponents, they will run away from you, frightened. Your allies also have impressive AI, helping you in a way that doesn't make the game too easy, but in a way that makes sense. The AI overall comes off as organic.  

The violence is very brutal, which made me feel genuinely bad about my actions, but the tense, survival-horror atmosphere makes me empathize with the character I'm in control of. He's just trying to survive. This game had me of two minds, one of my own, civilized perspective, and the other of Joel, this man whose sense of morality is mostly broken due to a country whose order has crumbled. This makes the combat even more engaging. I feel like the successes of my character are truly my successes, and when I finished off a large group of dudes, I needed a breather.  The only other types of gameplay to be had other than combat are good puzzles that don't ask much of the player and serve as a nice break, and RPG elements that eschew things that bog down gameplay like inventory management and stick with completely fun things like upgrading weapons and your character. 


That level of empathy for actions that are unacceptable when scrutinized under civilized morality is a concept that runs from the beginning of the game all the way to its controversial ending. Many have reacted differently to this hard-to-swallow ending. I think the ending solidifies a pretty clear theme: In this world where everything has gone awry, many have dropped their sense of morality because their own survival seems more important to them. This is a theme that can be picked up from things like The Walking Dead, but The Last of Us hammers it home more strongly than any fiction I've ever experienced. And part of its effectiveness lies in the emotions that being forced to take the role of someone in a world like this intrinsically bring about, which is revolutionary for gaming. 

The Last of Us also features a multiplayer component, which presents a unique type of gameplay. You choose a faction to align yourself with and you play alongside other real people. As you do well, your camp of people grows and remains healthy, and vice versa. The combat of the single player is recreated pretty well in multiplayer, and it comes off as a well-thought-out diversion. It's fun, but it's not the star of the show here.  

The star of the show here is this masterful single-player experience. Naughty Dog has crafted a piece of high art. The Last of Us is a pretty much perfect experience. It is one of the finest achievements in the history of video games. I laughed, I cried, I nervously clenched my controller, and I wrote this glowing review with optimism for the gaming industry. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Man of Steel (Film) - Review

For the last five, maybe ten years, Batman has been the king of superheroes in the mainstream, as well as in the not-so-mainstream realm of actual comic books. Because of this, the hype for Man of Steel, a Superman movie directed by Zach Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan, has been big. The movie is out today, and it's great. Snyder and co. have crafted a fantastic story that nails what makes Superman so special, and sets a pretty much perfect foundation for future movies, but some shoddy film-making takes away from the high quality of the story. 


This movie starts from the beginning of the Superman mythos, with Kal-El being born into a dying Krypton and put into a spaceship to Earth, where a pleasant country family finds and adopts him as their own. Krypton is filled with future-technology and dragon-like creatures and it's all quite cool. The premise is established clearly in this scene - Kal-El is being sent to Earth, and once he's there, he would be like a god to humans. His loving parents reluctantly say goodbye to their son, finding comfort in the possibility that he'll serve as a source of hope for humanity. 

Man of Steel nails the most important thing for it to nail - Superman's supreme moral goodness. Superman is much more powerful than anyone on Earth, but chooses to do good. Having these powers gives him a heightened sense of moral responsibility. Life is sacred to him, regardless of whether it be humans, or Kryptons, and he feels as though he has to help because he can. We see Kal-El, or as his Earth parents come to name him,  Clark Kent, struggling with his place in the world from a young age, to a teenaged age, to an adult age. Henry Cavill does the role flawlessly as well: There isn't much more one could ask from him. The various child and teen actors Snyder casts as Clark at earlier stages in his life do an equally impressive job for their respective roles. 

Not only does Clark have to figure himself out, but he needs to be accepted amongst the people of Earth, as he's potentially very dangerous from an outsider's perspective. Because of this, General Zod is the perfect villain to use first, because his philosophy towards Earth is the exact opposite. The movie smartly compares his mentality to cold, evolutionary biology - the dominant species will get rid of the inferior ones, and claim their land and recourses as their own. Michael Shannon's performance is nothing special but he does his job, and Zod's an intimidating villain, threatening the entire planet. It's through this character that humanity understands that Superman is not a threat. He's the perfect character foil, exemplifying Superman's supreme moral goodness.


The problem with the movie is that it doesn't have the punch that it needs. The movie has an excellent story and sets up an excellent world with an excellent hero-villain dichotomy, but it doesn't deliver the powerful cinema that it needed to. There are essentially two action scenes, both of which are quite long, and they're not that great at all. The first action scene is cleverly brutal, showing truly the first challenge that Clark faces, having been amongst mere humans his whole life, but it's really just a bunch of punching. A bunch of punching for a long period of time with buildings blowing up all over the place gets boring. The second fight scene, at the end, is mostly more of the same from the first, albeit with some cool things thrown in here and there - like Zod attempting to hit Superman with a girder only to have Kal's laser beams cut it in half - but it's not enough. Aside from just better action, more could have been done, like cheers or teary-eyed thank-you's from the people of Metropolis, but none of that is here. The only fist-pumpingly exciting scene in the movie is a small moment that a member of the supporting cast has. 

And then there are smaller things that I didn't like. This is a nitpick, but Snyder has Cavill doing a good bit of screaming in the movie, and it's a little annoying. Less of a nitpick, Amy Adams plays a very well-written Lois Lane, but she doesn't have the fierceness that I want a badass reporter like Lois to have. She has a soft voice and a welcoming gaze, and that's not what I want. And the comedy here is good but I could have used maybe a bit more to help cleanse my palette from all of the sternness. It is a movie about a dude that wears a big, red cape, after all.


But overall it really is great. Not only are Superman and General Zod brilliantly built up, but the supporting cast is excellent. Russell Crowe is a perfect Jor-El (Superman's actual father); assertive yet calm and collected. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner as Clark's adoptive parents are sweethearts. Laurence Fishburne as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet and Christopher Meloni (Stabler!) also stick out, especially the latter, whom steals the show with that fist-pumpingly good scene I mentioned earlier. Despite the action being nothing special, the special effects and the hammering score in the background are impressive. And the ending is cute. 

Like The Amazing Spider-Man from last year, Man of Steel is a great, but not excellent or fantastic movie, that lays a pretty much perfect foundation for sequels. This movie gives us an amazing Superman made even better by a brilliant character foil in General Zod. It just simply isn't as enjoyable of a movie as this story could have easily been, due mostly in part to action that is just okay. But it's the first movie in a series, and with that in mind, what Zach Snyder and Christopher Nolan delivered is admirable. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My Thoughts on Xbox One

Last week, Microsoft held a little conference to unveil the successor to the Xbox 360. The name of this successor is Xbox One, making reference to the apparent "all-in-one" philosophy behind the development of the console. Some aspects of the Xbox One are controversial, some are expected, and some are simply intriguing. The reaction to the Xbox One has been very interesting to observe, with many rallying against the system while others place themselves on the defense. It has some good and bad things going for it, and so far it really doesn't seem like it's for me but there's potential for that to change.


I guess I'll start out by addressing the name. It's bizarre. Microsoft chose not to give it a quirky name like Wii, but instead an additive name like Super Nintendo. What's so odd about it, though, is that is uses a number that doesn't indicate which it is in its series of platforms. Sure, the same can be said about the Xbox 360, but nobody hears that and thinks it's the three-hundred sixtieth Xbox platform. When someone hears "Xbox One"? Many would instinctively think of the first Xbox home console, but now they're going to think of the third, unless they haven't heard of it yet. In that case you'll have conversations like the following: 

"Man I love the Xbox One. Such a great system."
"All I really liked on there was Fable."
"Which Fable?"
"There was only one Fable on the first Xbox."
"No, I'm talking about the Xbox One, not the original Xbox."
[after a long pause and an incredulous look] "What?"

So, yeah, we can't call the first one "Xbox 1" anymore. In all fairness I've always called the first Xbox the "original Xbox," but this name still needlessly complicates things. When someone hears that the "Xbox One" is coming out, will they instantly think it's a step up from their Xbox 360? Will people think I don't need a One, I already have a 360, in a similar fashion as those who thought I don't need a Wii U, I already have a Wii? Maybe. It also draws attention to the multimedia functions of the console, which distracts from what many would assume its main function is; playing video games.


The conference held last week was not focused on gaming, in fact. A lot of it was on the UI, the cable television functions, and apps like Skype. The multitasking looked cool, besides the sketchy Kinect controls. Being able to switch from television to games to music on the fly sounds great, and it's technically impressive. But it's controlled by voice commands and gestures? What happens when you say something in conversation similar to a voice command? What happens when you have a person (like me) that constantly gesticulates? There's going to be annoying miscommunications between the Kinect and its users, and that's excluding those with disabilities (like speech impediments) and troll friends and family members that will fiendishly shout out obtrusive commands. 

The cable television integration seems fine, I guess, but it really doesn't interest me, personally. I don't watch TV. If the Kinect controls actually work well or can be avoided, and Xbox Live is as impressive as before, it's likely that if I owned this it would be my main source of multimedia entertainment on a television; especially because of the blu-ray drive, which was one of the 360's multimedia Achilles' heels. However, I definitely wouldn't buy this for that purchase, as I spend more time on a tablet than a television anyway, and also because my Wii U and PS3 do the job just fine. What's going to sell this to me is viability as a gaming platform. 

Not much has interested me so far, in that regard. Microsoft had a few sports games to show off with EA, all of which doesn't do much for me, as I'm not into sports. A new Forza will be there at launch which is great, but I'm not into cars at all, so simulation-racers don't appeal to me. Call of Duty: Ghosts looks impressive, but military shooters don't get me excited, and that's not exclusive anyway. Quantum Break is a neat concept that I'll be looking into, but not only does its tv-show integration sound personally unappealing for me to get into, but details are vague. The only things I've seen that are exciting to my tastes are the enhancements to the controller (like the novel vibrating sticks), power on par with PS4 (no longer lagging behind Playstation in that department like in the 7th gen), and the announcement that there will be fifteen exclusives in the first year; eight of which new IP's.


The Xbox 360's line-up of games doesn't appeal to my tastes nearly as much as that of the PS3 and Wii, and I've honestly never been interested in buying an original Xbox due to its seemingly weak supply of exclusives that I want to play. Exclusives games are a good thing, and fifteen in the first year is not bad. It's good for me that over half will be new IP's, because Microsoft's established game franchises aren't amongst my favorites. I like Gears of War but I don't love it, I loved the Fable series for the first couple of hours of Fable 2 and then I lost interest, Halo has always seemed cool but I've never actually bought any of the series, etc. It would take a lot from new entries in these franchises to get me to buy this console. 

And now, let's get to the elephant in the room; the controversial features of the console that fight against used games, borrowing and trading, as well as the connecting-once-a-day thing. I don't like these things. I'm not going to precisely describe these things because Microsoft isn't either, so you can just look into specifics on your own as they are at the moment and as they progress. The basic idea is that Microsoft, with Xbox One, is trying to push physical games into a direction more akin to the format's handling in the realm of PC gaming, which is antithetical to the point of a gaming console - convenience. Being able to borrow games and lend them out, trade games, not having to worry about installing huge games, not having to connect online in order to play games, not having to register games, etc. all adds to the convenience of console gaming. How will the less-than-tech-savy - like children, for example - respond to this?

I have a job now, but before I did, I relied heavily on trading in and selling games to get new games, so if I didn't have a job, this would be a big deterrent. Why treat the physical format in this way? GameStop ganking cash from publishers through used sales may be a problem, but there are much better ways of handling this, such as including additive digital incentives for buying new (like discounts on DLC or a digital copy of an older game in the series) and online passes. These new things also make these games less durable in the sense that you may not be able to play them decades after they release like you can with physical console games right now. As I said, these features are not clearly defined and could change, but as it all stands - yuck. 

Many seem very against the Xbox One for these controversial features, some calling for a boycott and already placing themselves in a battle against Microsoft. If the Xbox One seems like it's worth my money, I'll buy it. If the cons (like these controversial features) outweigh the pros, I won't buy it. I don't want to deprive myself of a system I may like in an attempt to win a war against these features. If you can't wrap your head around the value in a system with these new features, I totally understand not buying it. By not buying it, you're showing through your dollars that what Microsoft is producing isn't reaching you as a consumer. For me, while I am against these new features, it's not enough on its own to stop me from buying the system.


Anyway, as it stands, the system isn't particularly enticing to me. As I said, the original Xbox has never appealed to me. The Xbox 360 was a hard sell, but they eventually got me once the slim model came out, finally completely stamping out the "Red Ring of Death" catastrophe. What truly sold me on the 360 was the impressive library of smaller downloadable titles that were console-exclusive, like Super Meat Boy and Splosion Man, and the superior social experience for multiplatform games because of Xbox Live. I actually sold my 360, but during a period in which I wasn't very into games. So the system itself wasn't the main reason for selling it, but it was the main reason I chose that one over my other systems. 

I already bought a Wii U and price is the only thing that has me holding my breath on the PS4. What's shown so far may be great for someone that just wants to watch Netflix and play shooters and sports games with their friends online, but that's not quite what I'm looking to buy. But things could change, and unlike some that have already given up on it, I'd love that. Let's hope the folks at Microsoft bring their A game to E3 this year: They need to. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dredd (Film) - Review

 When Dredd was announced and trailers started coming out for it, the response seemed pretty negative. I saw people write it off as Hollywood frigidly attempting to make a quick buck off of the nostalgia of its audiences for the 90s Stallone film and Judge Dredd comic book series. When the movie actually hit theaters, the reaction was surprisingly positive. Those that saw the movie generally had great things to say about it, and the movie was critically well-received despite being a financial flop, actually losing money at the box office. I haven't extensively read the comics, nor have I seen the Stallone movie, but my interest was piqued. I just got done watching it on Blu-Ray, and I'd say it's a pretty good action-filled romp, despite some problems with characterization. 


The movie starts off with an incredibly awesome intro sequence establishing Dredd as a badass cop [called a "Judge"] trying to establish justice in a city filled to the brim with crime. After that, Dredd is introduced to a rookie named Anderson that just narrowly failed her exam to become a Judge. He is instructed to take her out on duty and judge whether or not she should be hired, because she not only shows potential but she has psychic powers. The two decide to investigate a block at the scene of a triple-homicide.

They encounter a man that Anderson's psychic powers tells her is responsible for the triple-homicide, but Dredd decides rather than trust her "ninety-nine percent" certainty, it's best to take him in for interrogation. This intimidates drug-lord Ma-Ma, who has employed this man in her gang's murderous domination on other gangs and the production and distribution of an illegal drug called "Slo-Mo." She devises a plan that sends the entire block into lockdown, and intends to kill Dredd and Anderson in order to stop them from taking in the man for interrogation and spilling the details on her operation. The basic premise is established: Dredd and Anderson have to get themselves out of this block alive, and ensure justice is served. 


It's a pleasantly simple premise. This allows for tons of action, and the action is good. The violence looks great. It certainly leans on the cheesy side, but that doesn't take away from the entertainment value. People's faces get torn apart, mush that looks like bubble gum is underneath of skin, the "Slo-Mo" drug allows for some sweet slo-mo sequences, and the various applications of Dredd's weaponry are fun to watch. It's brutal, but rather than being uncomfortable, the brutality serves as spectacle when it's supposed to be spectacle and service to the story when it's supposed to be service to the story. The low budget makes the film look noticeably less produced than other movies you'd see at the theater, but it's not much of a problem. The story is unaffected and what they do with the budget is creative and looks good, so I can't knock it too much for its noticeably low budget.

My biggest issue with the movie is a rather annoying plot hole dealing with Dredd's characterization. As I said earlier, Dredd decides at the beginning of the movie that Anderson's "ninety-nine percent" certainty wasn't good enough to execute the man for the triple homicide, so they have to take him in for interrogation. This implies that he needs a spoken confession or hard evidence for an execution. However, later in the movie, in an act of rage, Dredd decides to do a makeshift interrogation of his own, and eventually allows Anderson to read the man's mind. "If you leave it to me he doesn't have to speak," Anderson says. She learns about Ma-Ma's operation in full through just her psychic interrogation, and not through a spoken confession or any hard evidence. Dredd doesn't object this time, and even formally accuses Ma-Ma of the new information he acquires from this moment shortly after. Is this because he gained more trust in Anderson from the start of the movie up to that point? Maybe that's what they were going for, but nothing here substantially makes that implication. By the end Dredd certainly seems to have gained trust in her, but I think the moments that made that change in him happen after this troubling scene. As it stands, Dredd seemingly makes a decision during this makeshift interrogation that contradicts the decision at the beginning of the film that gets them wrapped up in this predicament in the first place. 


Looking past that, the performances are great and the film does some great things thematically. Karl Urban plays a badass Dredd and has some really satisfying dialogue. The movie establishes him as an uncompromising function of the law that isn't against executing those that the law finds guilty of such a punishment. This of course raises ethical questions about government-sanctioned execution, that is thankfully challenged through Anderson's character, played by Olivia Thirlby. She hesitates to use her power to execute as she is more empathetic and kind, seeing the good in people and the problem with the coldness of government execution. Lena Heady plays a detestable bad guy as Ma-Ma that sets up a conclusion that has Dredd giving her a taste of her own medicine. How Dredd does what he needs to do comes off as uncharacteristically cruel from him, but brings her story arc full-circle in an inventive way.  

The action really is great, and unabashedly violent without being uncomfortable. The characterization of Dredd takes some head-scratching turns towards Unchallenged Contradiction City, which really hurts the film. But the characterization at its best is when the movie really shines, portraying Dredd as an utterly badass but ethically questionable function of law-enforcement and Anderson as a sympathetic counterweight, both fighting against the despicable baddy in Ma-Ma. As a whole, it's pretty good. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Iron Man 3 (Film) - Review

Iron Man 3 may just be the best super hero movie of all-time. This flick is jam-packed with sweet action, near-perfect characterization and great laughs, all tied together with smart story-telling. Like Tony Stark's suit, it's not free of its rusty parts, but dude, it's still a freaking Iron Man suit.


Robert Downey Jr. is out of the suit quite a bit in this movie, which actually works to the film's benefit. The movie displays the man as the human being he is. As a line of dialogue accounts for, Tony is, on the surface, just a guy in a suit, in a world filled with aliens and super soldiers and demi-gods. Throughout Iron Man 3, it's made clear that Stark is a serious force to be reckoned with, and made more badass by the deck of cards he's dealt. It's awesome. This character is impossible for me to root against. He's the ultimate super hero.

His weaknesses really add to to his ultimate super hero status. Stark has developed severe cases of anxiety and insomnia from the events of Avengers, and when a terrorist called Mandarin is crafting disasters around America, he's pushed to the brink. Stark has severe panic attacks (which are depicted realistically, speaking as someone who has had panic attacks), makes some irrational decisions, and loses the trust of love interest Pepper. Instead of beating the character down in a way that makes him less compelling, this humanizes him, making him more compelling. Iron Man is the ultimate super hero because he's awesome despite the odds.


There's a major plot twist around half-way through the movie, and it just makes the main antagonist cooler and more intimidating. The origin of the bad guys actually ties in thematically with the demons and fears of Tony Stark, albeit not as strongly as it could. And it's just clever, and rather original. For the most part the performances for these baddies are great, creating utterly detestable faces to punch, but the most important role, while great, isn't superb. The character's performance is just one piece of the puzzle, though - the writing and placement in the story still rocks.


As I said, it's not without its issues here and there. The biggest issue is that the final fight scene, while purely satisfying from an emotional angle, is a lot to take in from a logical standpoint. After the credits rolled I was able to piece everything together to a point that made sense in my head, but that doesn't excuse the head-scratching. Besides that, the president of this film is frustratingly dopey, which is such a small complaint because, within the context of this movie, it doesn't really matter how smart he is, but I wish there would have been a joke or two thrown in or a scene of explanation to calm my mild frustration. And sometimes, I felt like it tried too hard with the comedy. 

But don't get me wrong, it's funny, and also just fun in general. Robert Downey Jr. follows up his stellar performances from before as a one-liner-filled powerhouse of amusement. Stark meets a tech-savvy kid that helps him out as the plot unfolds, and all of his bits don't miss a beat, at best managing to not only be funny but also charming. Don Cheadle is better than ever before as War Machine, and even Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper gets an upgrade in some respects. The action is fantastic, with some invigorating set pieces of pure visual splendor. These set pieces are often quite creative, the best of which being the scene with the plane in the sky from the trailers, forcing Stark to link save everyone in a fashion similar to, as he says, the game "Barrel of Monkeys."


Iron Man 3 is such a great movie. It gives viewers the ultimate super hero, who's incredibly awesome despite the odds. It's funny and purely entertaining, but it's also compelling on more intelligent planes. It's not perfect, but to quote the man himself, "glitches happen." Director Shane Black and all others involved have crafted one of the very best super hero movies.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Nintendo Made a Big Goof

I'm a big Nintendo fan. And I'm not even one of those Nintendo fans that says things like "Nintendo used to be good but now they've lost their way." No, no, I bought a Nintendo 3DS on launch day and don't regret the $250 purchase one bit. I think that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of the best video games ever made. I'm even willing to call myself a fan of Waluigi, folks. This is why, dear readers, it really saddens me to hear that Nintendo is cracking down on Let's Players.


Let's Player Zack Scott was the dude who kickstarted conversation about this new policy of Nintendo of America. He claimed that Nintendo forced ads onto his videos which shoots the ad revenue completely to Nintendo, not himself. Nintendo issued the following statement:

"For most fan videos this will not result in any changes, however, for those videos featuring Nintendo-owned content, such as images or audio of a certain length, adverts will now appear at the beginning, next to or at the end of the clips. We continually want our fans to enjoy sharing Nintendo content on Youtube, and that is why, unlike other entertainment companies, we have chosen not to block people using our intellectual property."

I love how Nintendo is trying to paint this as a good thing. Those other companies have these videos taken down, we just want to take these Let's Players' money!

There are some problems with that line of logic. For one thing, those "other entertainment companies" are, a vast majority of the time, not video game companies, they are music and film companies. I'm not going to necessarily defend or bemoan the actions of those companies, but there is a fundamental difference between what they do and what the big N is doing. What those "other entertainment companies" typically do is remove uploads of full songs and clips of films, that may include lyrics or subtitles, which are of course owned by the company and not the uploader. Let's Players film their own personal gameplay experience, and a huge component of the video is their entirely original commentary. 


If somebody uploads a full movie onto YouTube, the people who view that video have watched that movie. When someone uploads a video of New Super Mario Bros. Wii with their voice playing over it the whole time, the viewers aren't watching New Super Mario Bros. Wii in the same way that one would be watching a directly uploaded, say, Skyfall. Gamer X's playthrough and commentary of New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a different thing than the video game New Super Mario Bros. Wii. If you want to play New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you have to play New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you can't just watch a Let's Play of it. If you want to watch Skyfall? Sure, if some dude throws it on YouTube, you could - for the most part - get a proper viewing of the film.

Now, hey, sure: I don't deny that some people watch a Let's Play and, because they watched it, no longer have a desire to buy and play the video game. I watched a playthrough of Heavy Rain, and when I was done, my desire to actually pick the game up and play it was vastly diminished. I totally understand not liking that. But to use those situations as a means of justification for doing what NOA is doing is far from reasonable, especially on a pragmatic level. 

In a broad sense, I feel safe in saying that Let's Plays help game sales much more than harm because the experience of playing a video game is vastly different from watching someone else play the game. I've been motivated to buy and play a game more than I've had my motivation diminished, when it comes to watching Let's Plays. I think most people would agree that watching a video of someone playing a game is more likely to entice someone to play the game rather than take away that potential desire.  At least, surely, it has massive potential to create interest in the game.


And yeah, Nintendo isn't saying that these videos can't exist, but these big time LPers that build a career off of their videos - some of whom playing mainly or perhaps even exclusively Nintendo games - aren't going to waste their time on Nintendo titles if there's no money in it for them. There are similar websites like Blip that could be used as an alternative, but YouTube is much more popular - everyone reading this knows what YouTube is, but Blip? Not so much. I only know about it because of ThatGuyWithTheGlasses, and you may not know what the heck that is either. 

It's not just LPers that could be affected: Reviewers, for example, could fall into this trap as well, if it meets NOA's criteria. Shouldn't there be a legal issue in what Nintendo is doing? I'm no lawyer, but I don't think it's out of the question to say that these LPers' videos are completely legitimate, based on Fair Use law for their criticism. 

I think Peer Schneider of IGN hit the nail right on the head with this tweet:


"@PeerIGN: Only possible outcome: fewer Nintendo Let's Plays by the most influential YT elite + less Nintendo mindshare on the biggest video network."

Copyright infringement makes me queasy. For example, while I'm no SOPA supporter, I think I'm more anti-piracy than a lot of people. But I can't wrap my head around this decision from Nintendo. As a big fan, I'm disappointed. Here's hoping this doesn't become a large-scale, long-term issue, as it seems it will be at the moment. As it stands, Nintendo is on a road that will continue what may be their biggest problem; a distinctive negative stigma of Nintendo within the gaming community.

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