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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for PSP

So, guess what?
I started playing Castlevania a while back. And I like it.
This isn't the first Castlevania game I've ever played, Dawn of Sorrow was what introduced me to the series. But I have to say, Symphony of the Night deserves the legendary status it has attained.
Symphony of the Night was a game that dared to stay 2D in the transition to 3D, and it looks the better for it. Lots of games from that time period haven't aged very well, up to and including SotN's 3D counterparts on the N64, which have aged horribly in both the visuals and gameplay as far as I can tell, having only ever seen footage of people playing them, and not having played them myself.
The version of SotN that I'll be reviewing today is the PSP version that was included as an unlockable with the Dracula X Chronicles on the PSP. As I couldn't find any art just depicting the Symphony of the Night logo with PSP markings, I had to make it myself.
Special thanks to The Cover Project for having a ton of high-quality scans to choose from, otherwise this cover wouldn't have been easy to make
Before I get to the main event, I might as well briefly talk about The Dracula X Chronicles, which I only considered playing because it had Symphony of the Night on it.
The only game you've got immediate access to is the 2.5D remake of Rondo of Blood. And you remember what I said earlier about certain 3D graphics aging slightly worse that 2D?
Well for a 3D rendered game presented in sidelong 2D (Akin to New Super Mario World or Donkey Kong Country Returns) the graphics look pretty bad. And I've seen some good-looking 3D PSP titles. We're not judging this at the same standards as Final Fantasy Type-0, or anything, but looking at least as good as MGS:Peace Walker or Portable Ops, or even Silent Hill Origins isn't too much to ask, is it? I don't think so, especially considering this is Konami we're talking about.
Personally, I find the designs for the characters to be slightly lacking, especially compared to that of the original Rondo of Blood. The colors on Richter's model look bland, washed-out, and generic. I like the brighter, more colorful design he had in the original.
Second, it's not a very good game. The whip-control is lackluster, and the movement is so stiff I feel like I'm playing...
Well I feel like I'm playing one of the NES games. And all the enemies move faster and swifter than you do, which leads to inexperienced players taking a lot of damage.
And finally, the lives system. Oh god, the lives system.
I know this is a level-by level game, but do you really need a lives system in any kind of game?
Don't answer that, you don't. And making you go back to the beginning of the level after losing all your lives is a pretty bizarre move, even back in 2007.
The main problem with the lives system is that you only get three lives to start with, and if I remember correctly, you can only get like one extra life per level if you're freaking lucky. And while this remake is apparently much easier than the original game, the terrible controls and sluggish movement mean that your three lives get eaten up real fast. At least in Super Mario World you could easily get a ton of lives fairly quickly, so you wouldn't have to go all the way back to the beginning of the level after dying three (or four) times.
I don't know how accurate this system is to the original version of the game, and frankly I don't care.
Because the Castlevania I know is the Metroidvania style from Dawn of Sorrow and Symphony of the Night, and the super-fast acrobatics of Castlevania IV. I've had people tell me that the more limited control scheme is just something you should get used to, because the free-form controls of Castlevania IV made it way too easy.
To which I say, if you can't make a game hard without making the controls suck, then you should go back to the drawing board. Symphony of the Night shows that you can have good controls and make a game hard as well.
When a game has to rely on arcane mechanics, like a limited number of lives, limited control of your weapons and character, a health-meter that (To my knowledge) can't be refilled, and controls that feel more dated than those in games that were fifteen, twenty years old by then to try and be hard, you're doing it wrong. I think that Dracula X Chronicles had some great potential to it, but the game is so slow and so boring that I just can't play it. The whole reason I played it was because you had to get to a certain point in the game before you could play the game I really wanted to play, the sequel to Rondo of Blood, Symphony of the Night.
And then there's the fact that Symphony of the Night has to be unlocked by collecting an item that's pretty out of the way, about three stages into the game.
After you finish Stage 1 (Stage 0 doesn't count because it's so short), you gotta take an alternate path through Stage 2 (Which has one of the hardest bosses I've ever faced at the end) that takes you to Stage 3', which is different from the standard Stage 3.
It takes a ton of trial and error to be able to get through any of the stages with enough health to take on the boss at the end, and considering how difficult the boss at the end of Stage 2 is, you might wind up having to play the whole level over several times. I actually had to look up how to beat the Stage 2 boss, because there are a total of zero clues as to how you're supposed to kill the big bony dragon-thing. And even then, after I knew what to do, it didn't help much since Richter moves like he's wearing Link's Iron boots.
So after that, you gotta make your way through Stage 3', which seems like its even more out to get you than Stage 2 was.
Seriously, though. I know Richter is only human, but the enemies that Alucard just laughs at in Symphony of the Night are freaking deadly in Dracula X Chronicles. And some of them will chase you to the furthest corners of the level if you don't kill them.
And then, when you get almost to the point where you can collect the item that unlocks Symphony of the Night, you wind up being forced to do precision platforming.
These controls were not made for precision platforming.
There's a bit before you actually get to the room where Symphony of the Night is located with a bit of platforming, but you're not asked to do anything really precise until the next room.
But in order to get to Symphony of the Night, you have to kill a giant wall-mounted skeleton-snake. And to do that, you need to make sure you don't get hit too often, because that snake takes a lot of hits and dishes out as hard as it can take it. So you also need to have as many lives as possible banked from the beginning of the level to get the best chance at beating it you can.
After you kill it, that's when the precision platforming really starts. You gotta have a decent ranged weapon to cut down the platform that lets you reach the upper part of the level, and then you have to jump onto small ledges above, being forced to walk back to the beginning and start over if you fall into a gap. Not to mention that some of the platforms fall down and make it even harder to get to the destination without falling down and being forced to start all over again.
While The Dracula X Chronicles comes with three Castlevania games, and while I do think it's work it to have as a physical copy of Symphony of the Night for the PSP, I'm left to question whether the method of unlocking was implemented well. Because on the one hand, I didn't enjoy my experience with The Dracula X Chronicles, and I wouldn't want to repeat it if my save-file got corrupted, but on the other hand if they'd just handed Symphony of the Night to me I probably wouldn't have put any time into The Dracula X Chronicles, at least not at first. And feeling like I was forced to play an annoying game just to get to a good one leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
And the worst part is that they tout the inclusion of Symphony of the Night on the back of the box, without even saying that you have to unlock it! They include screenshots from Symphony of the Night on the back, along with the logo for Symphony of the Night! For something that was essentially marketed as a "Castlevania HD Collection" they should have just let you select which of the games you wanted to play from the menu, instead of making you play through the main game to unlock them. I'll betcha that would have been received better.
I didn't play long enough to unlock Rondo of Blood, and I've never played it, or Dracula X for SNES before, so I have no frame of comparison between those two and this. I'd hope that both of them are better than this remake.
So, let's get to the meat of the reason why we're here. The main attraction, one of the greatest games ever made, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
I didn't play a whole lot of the original PlayStation version, but I'll try to do my best to compare the two from what I know of the original.
The very first thing I noticed was that the dialogue has been changed, and for the worse.
Yeah, I know the translation needed to be improved, but not at the expense of some of the most iconic lines in the series. Gone is the line "What is a man?! A miserable little pile of secrets!" I don't care if that's a mistranslation or not, that was an awesome line! What's replaced it is overly flowery, Shakespearean purple prose that feels out of place, unnatural, and just plain stupid in some places.
Not to mention that the voice-acting has taken a huge hit in the transition, because with a new script comes new voice-acting. And in some remakes, that's a good thing. Take Resident Evil on the GameCube, or Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. While they re-recorded their voice-acting for different reasons, they both still needed it.
That's not really the case here. While the new translation has cleaned up a lot of the big issues I noticed, the new voice-acting is leagues behind the original.
I'm going to single out one specific performance here. Yuri Lowenthal. I have nothing against him, and I actually kinda like him as a voice-actor. He played Ben Tennyson in Ben-10 Alien Force, Sasuke Uchiha in Naruto (And I mean all of Naruto) and he has literally hundreds of credits to his name. Hell, he's playing Beck in Mighty No. 9! But there's something that's just wrong about the way he played Alucard in this game.
All of his dialogue sounds like they were recording him when he was reading the script for the first time. And all of Alucard's lines just lack any kind of power, or emotion, or even just the correct inflection.
Like I said, I like Yuri's work. Ben 10 Alien Force is still a great show, and it wouldn't be as good if Yuri's performance in it sucked. The problem is that in this he just sounds like a robot...
And you know what? I think I'm going to say it. He sounds like Kristen Stewart in Twilight. It sucks that I have to say that, but he does. But at least Yuri is a better actor than Stewart.
The worst part is that Alucard sounded a lot better in the original, when he was voiced by Robert Belgrade.
I'm happy to see that Belgrade is going on to act in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, working alongside another of my favorite voice-actors, David Hayter.
In the PlayStation version of SotN, Alucard sounded confident, self assured. He sounded like someone who could punch a giant wolf in the face and kill it with a single hit. Yuri's new work for Alucard includes grunts and whatnot, and those are the worst of all of his work for this game. Those samples are just too soft for Alucard. Like I said before, they lack emotion, and they're not as good as the samples.
Speaking of annoying voice-acting, the text-scroll after you beat Dracula for at the beginning of the game has some amateur dramatics student narrating it. Back in the original version, there wasn't a narrator talking over it, just the background music. In this one, some dude is talking over it. He puts the emphasis on the wrong syllables of his words, and his voice is just not epic.
The thing about a text-scroll like that is you either get a great voice-actor to narrate it or you don't narrate it at all. Would Star Wars have been made any better by getting someone to narrate the opening text crawl? No, it wouldn't have. Unless they had James Earl Jones himself, or Morgan Freeman narrating the crawl, it would have just sucked. And that's why you leave text crawls to be read by the audience. A bad narrator can ruin the atmosphere.
Now that I've gotten my critique of the most annoying thing about this port out of the way, let's go ahead and talk about the good stuff.
The castle is expansive, it's got a load of interesting enemies to tangle with, and plenty of cool architecture to jump around on.
Now, while the graphics have aged very well, as I mentioned early in the review, Konami unfortunately did not opt to expand the cameras field of view. There's an option in the menu to either display the game at its "Native" resolution (Which I kind of doubt is the native resolution of the game since the PSP and the PS1 have similar resolutions) or to stretch it to fill most of the screen.
Now, when I was getting my Fallout playthrough set up, I was experimenting with the mod I installed that allowed me to play the game in windowed mode. With that mod comes an option to upgrade the resolution from the original 640 by 480 to much higher resolutions. And instead of upscaling the graphics, they just expanded the cameras FOV, which makes the graphics look much better than they would have otherwise.
And back when I played Cave Story for the PSP (Which was an unofficial port not worked on by Pixel) they'd expanded the games FOV to fill the PSP's screen with the graphics.
It's always head-scratching whenever I see any game that doesn't expand the FOV so the game fills the screen. Especially ports of older games. I guess it all depends on the limitations of the engine, but if you have access to the source-code of the game and the source for the engine itself, you should be able to make the necessary changes.
That is if Konami didn't lose the source-code and some of the assets like they apparently did when they made the Silent Hill HD Collection, at least according to Jim Sterling. Which, considering what I've heard, I wouldn't necessarily be surprised.
I've heard that the XBLA and PSN releases of Symphony of the Night don't expand the FOV either, opting to pose still images of Alucard and Dracula on opposite sides of the screen to fill the gaps.
As for the plot, I don't know what to say. I've never played any of the Castlevania games that came out before it for more than a few minutes at a time, so I don't know a whole lot about the plot of the series as a whole.
But the story is actually pretty good. They really take the concept of "Show, don't tell" to heart. Alucard is a great character, Richter is cool, Maria is cool too, and Dracula is freaking awesome.
The weird thing is that you have to run around and find a few specific items that you wouldn't know to get without either talking to someone who had done it, or looking up a walkthrough. And if you don't do that, you literally miss out on half of the game.
I did my best to map out all as much of both castles as I could, and I wound up with a completion percentage of 195.4%. Man, oh man. There is so much to do in this game, and so many places to go. If you wind up being stuck on one area you can go off somewhere else and find something else to do.
The gameplay is great, and the controls are a dream, especially compared to those from The Dracula X Chronicles.
Now, let's talk music. This is one awesome soundtrack, with plenty of good music in it. The unfortunate thing is that when they redid the game for PSP they removed one of the best songs from the soundtrack, I Am The Wind. Yeah, it's kinda cheesy, but I think it's a better song than what they replaced it with, Mournful Serenade.
Now, if they wanted to do this, they could have, and it would have been great. Use Mournful Serenade in the bad ending and I Am The Wind in the good ending. That way you include both songs, and it works out for everyone.
I know Mournful Serenade was the original ending song in the Japanese version, and I know they were trying to be more accurate to the original version with this release, but all in all I think that was a bad idea.
Not that that makes this a bad game, by any means. I'd still rate it as one of the best I've ever played.
And you know what? I'll give it a 9.8* rating, knocking off three points from perfect for the script, acting, and the removal of I Am The Wind.
So, after having spent all day working on this review, I hope you guys liked it!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Fire Emblem Awakening: Part 2


So, it's been about a year since I last talked about Fire Emblem Awakening... I suppose I should follow up on it finally. By the way, for those of you who missed the first part of this review, click here.
At this point I've clocked about seventy-five hours on my main save-file and over a hundred and eleven hours in the game as a whole, and I've reached chapter nineteen in the main story mode. I've unlocked about forty characters, and recruited six legacy characters and about twelve avatars from Streetpass hits. I've married off almost every first generation character, and I've spent a good deal of time finding out who among the second generation had the best chemistry with whom.
Aside from Story of Seasons, I don't think I've ever poured anywhere near that much time into a game. Super Mario World might come close for the amount of time spent on a game in a single save-file, and Ocarina of Time could possibly come close for total amount of time spent on a single game, but that's spread over three different save-files and almost two years of play.
Think about that. One-hundred and eleven hours, and I'm already planning what I'm going to do on my next playthrough! That says all kinds of positive things about the game right there!
Recently, I've spent a lot of time grinding my lower-level characters up to higher levels. I'd heard that some of the characters I'd neglected, like Donnell, had the potential to become very powerful.
Up until that point, I'd been blazing through story missions and paralogues fairly easily, having stuck with a group of tank characters like Chrom, Kellam, Stahl, GalanDun and Frederick. So I decided I might as well jack up my lower level first generation characters so I could build relationships between those characters and unlock more second generation characters.
Now, I've probably neglected the second generation worse than I did the first, since I tended to just keep them alive past their paralogue and then dump them into my army database safe and sound, never to be used for fear that they would die when I tried to level them up, like Donny kept doing so many times, whenever I tried to grind him higher early on in the game.
But what could I do? I couldn't bring them on story missions, since they'd have to be paired with one of my main units to survive more than one or two hits. The problem with that is that they wouldn't be able to get more than maybe one hit in before the enemies died, which would mean that they would get hardly any experience.
So what I did was summon a team of Legendary Heroes from the Bonus Box that was a low enough level that the weakest among my army could take them on and have a fighting chance.
For those of you who don't know what the Bonus Box is, it's a place where the game stores a bunch of free DLC that Nintendo sends out via Spotpass.
They haven't sent out anything new in a very long time, but what they did send out is invaluable. You get a handful of free weapons that are very powerful. You get some bonus maps, and most importantly, you get infinite access to a ton of elite squads from pretty much every Fire Emblem game ever made.
You've got characters from Shadow Dragon up to Radiant Dawn, with their levels ranging from one to thirty, and you can summon them up as many times are you want.
Which, naturally, makes grinding neglected characters up to higher levels a lot easier. So I went ahead and used the lower-level teams from Shadow Dragon to jack my lower level characters up a bit in case they ever needed to be in combat.
This was about the time when I turned off battle animations. Even though I liked them for dramatic purposes at the beginning, they started annoying me after a while. Despite the fact that they're fairly short, I decided they were taking too long as a whole, and interrupted the flow of battle. So I turned them off.
While you can use a button to skip the combat animations you don't want to see at a whim and let others that you do want to watch play, more often than not I'd forget, and the animations would just annoy me.
It's not much, but it's a small positive, the ability to turn off the elaborate combat animations. I can tell you, if I couldn't turn them off once I got tired of them, I would have been a little annoyed.
And the sad thing is that I didn't miss them after I got rid of them. I turned them off months ago and I've never felt the need to turn them back on.
Anyways, in the 96 or so hours I've spent on the game since my last article on Fire Emblem Awakening, I'd reckon that about twenty to thirty of those hours have been spent on grinding.
And even though I'm the kind of person who tends to hate grinding in RPGs, I had a lot of fun.
It was great pairing off both first and second generation characters. Testing to see who has the best chemistry with whom, and building relationships between units that can had relationships? It was awesome. Plus, the combat is still fun even after a hundred hours of play.
After I leveled most of my low-level characters up to the level cap and then upgraded them to stronger classes, they started becoming more useful. My avatars darling wife, Lissa, became a Sage, since a pure healer is hard to deal with in combat. Their daughter, Morgan, went from a Tactition to a Grandmaster, to a Grandmaster again, because it's just easier to reset a characters level to one than it is to try and adapt to a different class, at least for me. Then I spent time upgrading their weapon skills to maximum so they'd hit a little harder.
I've spent so much time grinding characters now that I've burned through almost all of the weapons I'd acquired. The good thing is that my army has a ton of gold in its treasury, so I can just walk up to any shop and buy silver weapons for everyone who can wield them and still have enough to buy more later.

So, let's go ahead and talk about everything I can remember about the plot so far. After the death of the Exalt, Chrom has taken over the throne and has managed to keep the peace for about the length of a year. His people love him, and he rules well. Then Virion shows up and starts talking about his back-story.
We never really found out anything about him in the beginning, when he showed up. He was just the randy French archer who was crushing on Sully.
So what's his story?
Apparently he's the duke of a country that's been taken over by some whacko dude, and he's brought along one of his retainers, Cherche. They tell Chrom about the dude and about how he's running around the continent of Valm taking countries over. And now he's apparently set his sights on Ylisse.
And even though his forces vastly outnumber the Shepherds, guess what they decide to do?
Yeah, you got it. They hop onto a fleet of ships with some help from their allies in Regna Ferox and Plegia and sail off to kick his ass to kingdom come.
Before we address the epic battle on the high-seas, I'd like to talk about what happens in Plegia.
You see, the current ruler is a guy named Validar. And he just happens to be a guy that my avatar personally slayed in the initial assassination attempt against Emmeryn early on in the game. So that's weird.
What's weirder is that he's palling around with a guy who looks exactly like my avatar. He looks the same, sounds the same and has the same name. And guess what? Validar claims to be the father of this weird duplicate
The problem is that he's got a completely different personality. Namely, he's a secretive and probably evil person who seems to revel in the suffering and annoyance of others. Diametrically opposed to my avatar, who stands against evil in all its forms. Who would give his every last breath to defend the helpless.
This started to get me thinking.... My first hypothesis was that we've just encountered some sort of stable time-loop.
The guy who looks like GalanDun (Which is what I called my Avatar if you don't remember) is in fact him from his past, and that duplicate will at some point travel back in time, through some method that winds up erasing his/my memory, and the actions of my avatar are what lead to him/me traveling through time.
The weird thing about that is that nobody except GalanDun and his daughter, Morgan, have amnesia. So that would mean he either had his memory wiped after he traveled through time, or before. Before doesn't make any sense, but there's no evidence that he did so afterwards....
The second hypothesis is that my avatar has found some way to destabilize a stable-time loop and escape from it, and whatever bad future the second generation came from is going to be averted through the actions of my avatar.
The third hypothesis is that my avatar has been faking his memory loss and he's really still an evil person.
This leads me to an idea I had early on about the plot.
The prologue shows you, the avatar, and Chrom killing Validar. And then it shifts to a first-person FMV from the perspective of the avatar, where they kill Chrom, who tells them that it wasn't their fault.
Then it cuts to you waking up in a field, being found by Chrom and the Shepherds.
In the case of my avatar, I married Chrom's sister, the princess of Ylisse. And I routinely have Chrom's life in my hands. With Emmeryn dead, and Chrom in control, all GalanDun would need to do would be kill Chrom and his wife, Sumia, and he'd essentially be in charge of Ylisse. Lucina isn't legally old enough to claim the throne, and while Future Lucina might be old enough, this is where time travel becomes tricky. Legally, Lissa is next in line, and GalanDun seems to have won over pretty much everyone in the Ylissean army, to the point where they would follow him into hell itself. And if he killed Chrom in secret, I would bet the country would take his word for it if he said that Chrom was slain by an enemy. He probably wouldn't even need to kill Lucina.
Now, knowing what I do about my avatar through interactions with other characters, I doubt this is true. I just thought I'd share this little headcanon I came up with last year with you guys.
Now, let's go ahead and talk about that navy battle, shall we?
The issue with it is that you've got no agency in it at all until the fighting starts. That might not sound like much of a complaint, but the avatar makes a pretty major decision on their own during the cutscene before the battle starts. Yeah, the decision that the avatar made was pretty brilliant, but it'd be even better if I could have been the one to make that decision. As it stands, not knowing what the character that's supposed to be your avatar is going to do is a little annoying.
What your character does is fill all of the ships with skeleton crews since they can't crew them all to their fullest, and then have them all set the extra ships on fire when they meet in combat with the enemy and hop onto the adjacent ships, effectively halving their fleet, but destroying most of the enemies vessels.
Thing is, as a player, I'd have liked to see if I could have made the journey from Ylisse and Valm with the entire fleet intact. That's pretty much all I have to say about that. It would've been cool to see if I could wipe out the enemy without suffering any casualties in either the form of personnel or equipment.
I'm not saying I could have, but I love having options. That's what I love about tactical RPGs. You get to move everyone around the field instead of just standing friend and foe on opposite ends of the screen and hitting each other in turn. Again, Intelligent Systems seems to have either forgotten to put an option in where one should be, or they possibly cut something out that they couldn't finish.
Considering they were under a crunch to make this the best game they could, I wouldn't be surprised if it was the latter. The surprising thing is that that's the only thing so far that I would reckon as having been cut for time. Aside from maybe the little thing we talked about last time this game came up, but that just seems like they only had one option in mind for how that scene was gonna go.
Unfortunately, I can't remember what happens next, and I don't want to look it up for fear of spoiling the game.
Yes, I've been playing this game for over a year now and have owned it for two years, and I haven't finished it. I've gotten a lot of stuff in for review, and I didn't really have a deadline to reach for this game.
So I'm just gonna act like this happens after the epic naval-battle. And don't get me wrong, it was great. I just think it could have been better.
So that's all the things I did in the game since my last article. I know this is going up pretty late, but I've spent all day working on it and refining it until I thought it was good enough to be read. If I missed anything, or if I made any mistakes with spelling or grammar, feel free to point them out in the comments.
Since I haven't finished the game yet, I won't be giving it a rating right now, but it's looking at a perfect ten-point-one right now. See you next week!

By the way, I scanned the above image from the cover of my personal copy of Fire Emblem: Awakening, and I edited it myself. The scanner washed out the colors a bit, so I had to deal with that, and then I had to mess with the logo and stuff, converting bits and pieces of the cover to grey-scale and then recoloring it to make it look good. I also made a rather obvious edit to it, moving some text over and adding some more.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Old Dogs

What do you get when Robin Williams and John Travolta team up to do a movie together?
Do you get an awesome, laugh-a-minute rapid-fire Blues Brothers style hilari-fest?
Do you get a well acted and well directed subversive drama about getting older and staying young inside?
No, you get a mediocre family-comedy that doesn't do anything new and doesn't do much well. The fact that it has the Walt Disney logo on it, combined with the fact that it's a live-action movie means that any of the edge it might have had was probably lost in production.
If it was released by one of their subsidiary studios it probably would have turned out better.
Unfortunately, I think I've used up all my negative criticism for it since it's really not all that bad a film. It's just sort of bland. It's not the kind of thing that I'd ever want to watch more than once.
And unfortunately it's not something I watched when I was a kid, like The Pacifier, so I can't even pretend I have any nostalgia for it. I literally just watched this movie this year!
And you know why I watched it? Travolta and Williams, that's why! They're both better than this!
Robin Williams! You were in The Bicentennial Man! You were in plenty of good movies, why waste your time and talent on something like this?
And John Travolta! Battlefield Earth might not have been great, but you've done a lot of good work! I would have to hope that most of the budget went to paying Travolta and Williams! Because it certainly didn't go into the special effects!
Seriously, there's one big effects shot of Williams flying in a jet-pack of all things over a zoo of all places!
No, that doesn't make any sense. Yes, that scene is eerily similar to one from the Arnold Schwarzenegger Christmas weirdfest, Jingle All the Way. No, this isn't a Christmas flick.
Let's go ahead and get this out of the way. If you've seen any (And I mean any) family movie in the last decade or two, then you've seen this movie. You can skip it. There's nothing in here that you've never seen before. At all. No, I'm not kidding. If this movie were a person, it would wear a five-piece suit of cliches, Magic: The Gathering cards for shoes with spats made out of re-used jokes and a hat made out of old reconstituted newspaper. This movie is a study in cliche and retread. It's not quite Daniel X level of cliched, but it's damn close.
And Bernie Mac is in it. And this was his last movie before he died. And of course, the few scenes he's in are great, and yes they're among the few highlights of the movie, but it's still a shame that he didn't have a better movie as his last. And he's barely in this!
Anyways....
So, let's just lay out everything right here. This movie is light on laughs, light on jokes, light on wit, and the plot is straight out of nowhere.
So while I'm writing this, I'm wondering if I should try to analyze why every unfunny joke sucks, or if I should just make a blanket statement saying that the movie doesn't have anything unique going for it and move on to reviewing another movie for the second half of this review.
Time for a rundown of this movies bad reception. It was nominated for four Golden Raspberry awards. And it didn't win in any category! Let's go ahead and run down what beat it out, and decide if they treated it right.
Worst picture: The other contenders were G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra (Which I didn't mind) Land of the Lost, All About Steve (Which looks really bad) and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which won the award.
Was Old Dogs terrible? No. Was RotF worse? No. I'd actually rather watch Transformers 2 than Old Dogs, simply because I don't feel like it wasted my time. And I feel like this movie was a true waste of my time. I still don't like Transformers 2 a whole lot, but I don't think it should have taken the award over Old Dogs.
John Travolta was nominated as worst actor, which I think is kinda harsh, since he does try to be funny, but there's no way he was a worse actor than Seth Green was in this film. Not even gonna comment on the rest of the category, since I don't disagree with it too much.
Worst Supporting Actress went to Sienna Miller in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra as The Baroness. Like I said, I didn't mind that film, and I don't think she did a worse job than Julie White did in Revenge of the Fallen as Sam's mother. And while Kelly Preston wasn't terrible, her role did suck a lot worse than Sienna Miller's did.
And finally, Worst Director went to Michael Bay.
Just, no... No... There's no way Michael Bay did a worse job as director than almost everyone in the category, especially not when Phil Traill was in the category for directing All About Steve, and not when Walt Becker was in the category for this mediocre and unstimulating piece of bland failure.
That's the problem, there are almost always movies that are worse than what Michael Bay puts out.
I wouldn't call this movie bad by any means, but I have more love for Revenge of the Fallen that I do for this film. Revenge of the Fallen wasn't a good film, but for every low trough it still had some high peaks.
This movie starts off with a nearly flat waveform and only gets closer to a flatline as time goes on.
That's just it, the biggest crime this film committed was being generally boring and cliched. And will I say that makes it worse than one of my most hated movies I've reviewed?
Yes. I remember when they were marketing this movie, the commercials acted like it was gonna be a laugh a minute comedy with two of the best comedic actors in the business teaming up to bring us a great movie that was going to be worth every second.
And it wasn't. It was a study in cliche, it was a study in mediocrity. It had no original ideas, and they flat-out lied about what the movie was going to be like. It didn't suck, but it was less than what they said. And I detest that. I can't stand that. This movie was a total of not plus great, divided by a marketing campaign that shot it in the foot.
And a movie that actively lied to the audience is a movie that I don't like.
And yes, Transformers 2 wasted its potential, and so did this. But it was still more memorable than this. So that's that. I'm not gonna rate it. Old Dogs deserved a rundown, but it doesn't need a rating.
I'll see you guys next week with something. I don't know what.
Hell, I didn't even know I'd be writing about this movie this week, I just resurrected an article I shelved before I even started writing it because I felt like talking about it this week. I've been a little sick this week, so it's unsurprising that I didn't have much new to talk about. Time to end this before I run on too long.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Satoru Iwata: 1959-2015

I just found out that one of the coolest people in the gaming industry has died young. Satoru Iwata, age 55, passed away earlier today due to a bile-duct growth.
He was always cool to watch in Nintendo Direct, and the world will be a sadder place without Satoru Iwata.
To the man himself, you helped make a lot of lives great and livened up many a day with Nintendo Direct. We'll all miss you, and I hope that wherever you are, you're happy. You've brought me joy that I will never forget.

Image from: http://www.flickr.com/people/46982319@N06

Fallout 4 Hype!

Hey everyone. I'd just like to let you know that I wasn't able to get an article written this week. I didn't finish any of the games I'm currently playing, and while I have some books in for review, I haven't had the time to read any of them, since I've been trying to keep my Let's Play videos and Dungeons and Dragons videos releasing on a steady schedule over on my YouTube channel. Especially since I've had those games in for a while and I want to try and move on to other games in my review backlog.
So, that in combination with how busy I've been has contributed to me not watching any movies this week.
I was planning on watching The Terminator, but unfortunately the local library doesn't seem to have a copy.
Which led to me watching The Big Bang Theory and The News Room all week.

That's the bad news. But I do have some good news. If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Player.me, you'll have already seen the announcement that thanks to popular vote, I will be starting a playthrough of the first five Fallout games on Friday. I'll be playing Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics for PC, and Fallout 3 and Fallout Tactics for Xbox 360, in order of release.
I'll be starting it out with two videos on Friday , one an hour long of me creating my character and watching all the opening FMV's, and one thirty minutes long of me playing the game. The first will go up at four PM Central time and the second will be going up an hour later at five PM.
From then on, I'll be releasing one half-hour video a day every day at about 4PM Central time unless I need to speed it up for some reason.

So anyways, I apologize for the lack of an article this week, but I'll be doing my best to get either a game or a movie lined up for next Sunday. I'll see you then!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Maze Runner

Did you know that The Maze Runner was a book? I didn't. At least not until I looked the movie up on Wikipedia.
So, like Ender's Game I went into this movie entirely blind. And I'm not entirely sure what to think of the film.
On the one hand there are a few minor issues with the cast, plot and pacing that I'd bet the book didn't have. On the other hand, I wonder how much they chopped up, rearranged and added in that wasn't entirely necessary. For instance, there's a clip at the end that struck me as completely useless and possibly an attempt to drum up anticipation for the sequel, The Scorch Trials. It's entirely speculation on my part, of course, but I've seen that kind of thing in a lot of movies adapted from books, where they take a big reveal from the second book and stick it into the first movie.
I'll find out if I'm right or wrong when I read the original novel of course. All of what I'm saying about the adaptation of book to film is going to be speculation, since I would prefer to read the book and verify facts for myself instead of looking things up online.
Anyways, looking on Wikipedia I've found out that The Maze Runner was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Compared to, say, New York City or Hollywood, that's essentially in my backyard. Hell, I didn't even know the movie was being filmed that close to me. If it was, I might have auditioned for a role.
Probably not, but it's nice to imagine :-P
Anyways, enough with the jokes, let's actually talk about the movie.
On a budget of $34 million, I feel that this movie managed to do a better job than the first Hunger Games movie did with its $78 million budget. The Maze Runner film seems a little more organic than The Hunger Games film did, but that's speaking from a film perspective, rather than an adaptation perspective, and I'll have to compare the movie to the novel later on to see what all the movie has improved, made worse, or adapted straight up.
Now, after that little tidbit, let's talk about the characters and setting.
The movie takes place inside of a squared-off area inside of the titular maze known as "The Glade"
Our hero, the one of the titular Maze Runners (Pictured above) is named Thomas. He enters the Glade through an elevator, where all of the boys in the glade have come from. The leader of the group is named Alby, played by Aml Ameen, and he shows Thomas around the Glade, introducing him to the cast of the movie.
There's Newt, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, the voice of Ferb Fletcher in Phineas and Ferb, which I really like, and Jojen Reed and Donald Clarke in Game of Thrones and Death of a Superhero, respectively.
Neither of which I've actually watched. But I do have to say that I really liked his performance in this film, and I think he'd make a great Peter Parker. He looks the part, he's the right height, and seems like he could do a good job in the role. Imagine that, right?
Anyways, aside from them, there are a ton of other boys in the Glade, and a few of them even have names!
There's Alby, who's the head enforcer in the Glade, and also a bit of a dick and an idiot all in one. If I had to guess, I'd say his character likely took a bit of a hit in adaptation, since he's a bit cartoony in his nature. Then again, sometimes there are characters that are as cartoony in their original form as they are in their adapted form, so I could be wrong.
Now, let's talk about something I mentioned earlier in the review, the casting.
Most of the cast is fine, as they seem to have the right builds and appearances for the situation they're in.
Except for one kid. His name is Chuck, as portrayed by Blake Cooper.
Chuck has been in the Glade for about a month by the time he's introduced, but he's still pretty chubby. Yeah, he's young, but he should be working hard enough that he wouldn't have much fat on him.
It makes about as much sense as the fat dude in Revolution Aaron Pittman being fat as well. Actually, it makes slightly more sense, since Pittman had been in a post-apocalyptic world for a good decade and a half at the very least.
That's not the say that Cooper doesn't give a good performance, he does. And I like him. Hell, the kid got the role when he contacted the films director, Wes Ball (No relation to Uwe Boll as far as I can tell) through Twitter. I appreciate that! I think that's a cool thing to have happen! I just figure he should have been put on a diet and workout routine before they started filming so that he'd click a little more with the look of the rest of the cast.
The last boy in The Glade that actually has a name and a purpose is Minho, played by Ki Hong Lee. He's in charge of the titular Maze-Runners, and winds up being another really cool character.

Now, time to talk complaints.
For some reason, the kids in the Glade speak very cryptically about pretty much everything. It's like they were purposefully messing with Thomas. I hope it wasn't like this in the book, because if it was, they should have changed it. No matter how this weird little sequence came about, it shouldn't have existed in the first place. You could easily rewrite the situation so that it makes a little more logical sense.
First off, there are a few lines of dialogue that need to be cut, and a lot more that need to be altered. Have the rest of the boys tell Thomas more stuff outright, and some things not at all. And have Thomas ask a few different questions than he does.
If the other characters simply cannot answer someones questions, then you either need to have them flat out not know, find a good reason for them to not answer immediately (like some kind of event that interrupts the answer) or just make the character not even ask that question. It's that simple!
I don't know how people keep making that mistake when writing stuff. I see it everywhere, and I'm sick of it.
If one character does it, then that's fine. Hell, if the characters doing that are revealed to be deliberately screwing with the one asking the questions, I'm okay with that! But there's zero evidence produced in the movie that the boys in The Glade are messing with Thomas in any way. I wouldn't be surprised, but it just doesn't make any sense why some of the characters would do that to Thomas, considering some of the stuff they held back could have gotten him killed.
And then there's the fact that I'm not sure if some of the events are supposed to take place over the course of just three days, or a longer time. The reason I bring that up is because some of the characters seem to bond a little faster than they probably should over the course of three days.
That could be explained by hints of memory from their previous lives, but since that's never brought up, it's impossible to tell.
That's pretty much it for things that I noticed that seemed off, so now it's time to talk effects.
For the most part they look good. It wasn't until the very end that I saw some truly awful effects in the form of blood effects that are CGI'd in, rather than being practically produced. They look like crap and don't make much sense in comparison to the other (Very good) effects in the movie.
In the end though, it's a good movie. It's not as good as some films, but it manages to capture some movie-magic and save itself from being a boring affair.
All in all, I think it's good, and I think this series might be worth following. While it has some flaws that could have easily been ironed out, it doesn't have enough flaws to make the movie a waste of time.
I give it a 7.6* rating.
At the moment I don't have next weeks article planned, so you'll just have to check back next Sunday to see what I've decided to cover, or I might announce it over on the official Facebook page.

Image from Impawards.com

Sunday, June 28, 2015

An important message about Spider-Man

Greetings, internet. My name is Alex Shannon, and I am addressing the following post as an open-letter to everyone at Walt Disney, Marvel, Sony, and whoever is involved with the production of the upcoming Spider-Man movies.
Way back in the early 2000s, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films ranked at the top of my favorite movies list. Super-hero films were picking up in popularity and quality, blazing forward into bigger and better things as time went on.
Time passed, new movies were released, new franchises gained ground, and some cinema-goers forgot the revolution that was Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies. I'll bet that some don't even remember how bleak the outlook on super-hero films was before Sam Raimi came along and made a movie everyone loved.
And then along came Spider-Man 3, and the star of Spider-Man fell in the eyes of the public. It was a little bit rushed, it wasn't as long as it needed to be, and there was a little too much going on.
But even as the 2000's waned, I still loved watching the Spider-Man films. You see, the first movie made me pick up the comics. And from that point on I became a die-hard Spider-Man fan. Before that, I didn't have much interest in comics. I knew they existed, but I didn't care about them.
And Spider-Man changed that for me. I got invested in the characters and the stories. Over time though, I abandoned the comics. Marvel's Civil War crossover left a bad taste in my mouth. Some of the characters I loved betrayed their beliefs and values for the sake of a pointless conflict, and others were forced to fight the best of their friends and loved-ones in response to that conflict. Tony Stark was especially out of character, betraying his friends, and siding with the pro-registration side? I'd like to think that he's got a stronger moral fiber than that.
And the fallout led to even worse things. As a Raimi fan, I shipped Peter and Mary-Jane like a fleet of Galaxy-class starships at Warp-9. So you can imagine my reaction to One More Day.
I kept reading for a while after that, but those storylines soured the Marvel universe for me. The magical spark that Spider-Man had was gone. The wonder of being a man who can do whatever a spider can just vanished under a cloud of darkness. This world of escapism and amazement which had so inspired me was gone, replaced by something less than it had been before.
So I stopped. I stopped reading comics about this time. I tried going over to DC for a while, but I had no clue what was going on or where to start, and eventually I just stopped reading ongoing comics altogether.
But I still had Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies, the X-Men movies, the Avengers series and Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. My favorites remained unruined and perfect there. Nothing could change that.
And that's why I reacted so negatively to the 2012 reboot of the Spider-Man movies. I became invested in Sam Raimi's version of Spider-Man. I wanted to see how he and Mary-Jane ended up. I wanted to see what new stories were to be had. And for all of that to be swept away in favor of retelling the story with a new cast? I hated the idea. Especially since the new love-interest was going to be Gwen Stacy.
I thought The Amazing Spider-Man wasn't going to be as good as Spider-Man, I thought they were going to ruin it and destroy everything that made the movies good.
But they didn't. They made it better.
Andrew Garfield was a better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire could ever be. And I'll remind you, I was among the most die-hard of die-hard Raimi fans. I went into the theater with dread in my brain and hate in my soul. And I came out of that theater inspired and rejuvenated. This was the magic of Spider-Man that had captured me in the first place. The wonder, the heart and soul of Spider-Man was back, and better than ever. With an amazing cast, a great director, and great ideas, this was the best thing that could have happened to the series.
And then, two years later, Amazing Spider-Man 2 came along and wrecked it all.
I don't know if any of you reading this know me personally, but most of my friends and family know I don't like Spider-Man 2. It was a downer of a movie with too much time dedicated to despair and depression, and while it had its good moments, I didn't like it as much as the previous Spider-Man film, which I felt covered Peter's particular issues with Uncle Ben's death adequately.
That was my main issue with Amazing Spider-Man 2. It went from Peter being on top of the world to seeing George Stacy's ghost warning him to stay away from Gwen.
And Peter heeding those warnings didn't make any sense. He'd already decided to ignore them at the end of the first film in the series, and there was no reason for him to go back to that. And that tone follows him around through far too much of the film.
That's part of the issue. Anotherpart is that Harry Osborn's character was ruined. Dane Dehaan makes a great villain, don't get me wrong, but he shouldn't have turned villain quite so fast, since it ruins any chances he'd have for redemption later on in the series.
And now let's talk about the bizarre plot.
Marvel's Civil War was a plot that hinged on certain characters making stupid decisions. The Amazing Spider-Man 2's plot hinges on Peter Parker and Harry Osborn making stupid decisions.
For one thing, Peter had plenty of opportunities to explain to Harry why using Spider-Man's blood wouldn't be a good idea. He could say Spider-Man has HIV. He could say that Spider-Man has some other blood-borne disease that the super-healing can't cure.
Or, he could just explain how he is Spider-Man and found some of his father's research that said that the Spider-Serum was tuned to Parker family DNA and that it wouldn't work for anyone else unless they find some way to engineer the Spider-Serum to work with Osborn family DNA.
And the best part is that Harry couldn't do anything about it. Peter would be able to tell (Spider-sense) if Harry wanted to go public with his identity, and if he tried to tell anyone Peter could just kill him. He wouldn't, but he could. He's Spider-Man, and no matter what, Harry Osborn could do a total of jack and squat to him.
Besides, he's Peter's best friend. Yeah, Harry is a little bit nuts, but he still would have understood, especially considering how much they uncovered about Norman Osborn's experiments in that film.
Then again, he might not have, considering how poorly his character was written.
It's not like the plot couldn't have worked. It just didn't work the way they made it.
And then there's the ending.
Spoiler warning, Gwen Stacy died at the end.
I dreaded that the moment I found out that the Green Goblin was going to be in Amazing Spider-Man 2. Despite my love of Mary-Jane Watson, Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy made a great impression on me.
She and Andrew were great together, and I couldn't imagine them replacing her with someone else. It would just be wrong. Peter Parker went through enough when George Stacy and Uncle Ben died in the last movie, and killing a character like Gwen would have just been cruel.
And they did it.
You remember what I said about killing the magic? Well that took what had become throughout the movie, the blazing fire of Spider-Man magic and doused it with enough water to drown a freaking whale.
Yes, they managed to recapture part of it with the ending. It doesn't matter. The shadow had been cast.
But I figured there might be a glimmer of hope. Spider-Man was going to be in The Avengers, and I thought that would improve matters.
But at this point, it's only looking worse and worse. Andrew Garfield is gone, replaced by Tom Holland.
Tom Holland is about four-inches too short to be Peter Parker, and he doesn't look a damn thing like Andrew Garfield.
Yes, we've had cast transitions in the MCU in the past. We went from Terrence Howard to Don Cheadle as Rhodey, from Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, and from Rebecca Romjin to Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique in the X-Men movies. Yes, I know all of those cast-changes worked. But the problem at hand is that they're trashing the pre-existing Spider-Man that captured peoples imaginations.
So I've got a proposal for Marvel, Sony, Walt Disney and everyone else who's working on that new Spider-Man movie.
Emma Stone has a contract for at least one more Spider-Man movie, right? And Marvel has an ongoing Elseworlds series where Gwen Stacy was bitten by the spider, right?
So here's my suggestion. Rather than rebooting the whole series, just rewrite the ending of Amazing Spider-Man 2 so that Peter dies instead of Gwen, and find some way for Gwen to get the powers of a spider.
Basically what I'm saying is that I want a Spider-Gwen movie with Emma Stone in the starring role.
Andrew Garfield might not be able to stick around in the role of Peter Parker, but we'll at least be able to keep some continuity with The Amazing Spider-Man series.
And best of all, we'd get to keep Emma Stone for a few more movies.
Granted, if you guys over at Marvel decide to do the right thing and scrap this upcoming reboot, fire Tom Holland and get Andrew Garfield back, you guys still have the perfect Mary-Jane Watson at hand, and her name is Emma Stone.
So, to the fans of Spider-Man who read this, which do you want to see? A continuation of The Amazing Spider-Man movies with the same cast as before, or a quasi-reboot with Emma Stone in the role of Spider-Gwen? I've made petitions for both, check them out below!
To maintain the series as it is, click here.
For a Spider-Gwen movie with Emma Stone, click here.

And for my fans who were looking forward to more of my summer cinema-catchup, I'll be getting back to that next week if there isn't another issue such as this one that requires my attention. The film in question?
The Maze Runner!

Image from Impawards.com