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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War is easily the worst film to come out of the MCU so far, and while that might not sound like much considering the high standards set by the franchise, I'm beginning to think we're looking at a disaster of unparalleled proportions.
I didn't dislike the last Avengers film. Was it as good as Ant-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy? Hell no. Not even close. It was still pretty good though, and it outshone the other superhero movies that came out in 2015. (Despite that not being hard to do)
I'll be blunt, I thought the chance of this movie being good was pretty damn low. My expectations basically started out at the same place as my expectations for Batman v Superman, but after seeing that film I became optimistic for this one.  At first, I thought my fears unfounded, as the film began with a quality akin to that of BvS, but around halfway through the film things began to fall apart.
This seems to be the year of superhero conflicts. Batman fighting Superman. Supergirl fighting Martian Manhunter. The constant levels of interhero conflict going on in Arrow. I think The Flash fought himself a few times in the most recent season of his show. Hell, there's another Civil War event going on in Marvel Comics. One that's actually stupider than the original if you can believe it. The Minority Report was a damn good film, we don't need to see a superhero version of it. Hell, the division of the two sides is even more retarded than it was originally. For some reason, Spider-Man and She-Hulk are on the pro-precrime side despite the two of them being historically tight with law-enforcement. One of Peter Parker's most important role-models was George freaking Stacy for crying out loud, and She-Hulk is a defense attorney!
I think the only superhero franchises not partaking in some kind of versus crossover event this year are Power Rangers, Kamen Rider, and Super Sentai, but the year's not quite over yet, any of those series could have some kind of versus crossover.
As much as the comics have beaten hero versus hero conflicts into the ground, this is the first time the mainstream audiences will be getting a taste of the kinda stuff we've been having to put up with for so long. Some may know that Civil War was one of the comics that made me stop reading Marvel Comics, partially because it was a direct lead-in to the worst story Marvel has ever published, One More Day/Brand New Day, wherein they split up the long-married fan-favorite couple of Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson, and one of my favorite pairings in comics. To say I thought Civil War was bad would be an understatement, Civil War was the event series that ruined the Marvel universe. Yes, there was an interesting dynamic of all the good heroes being outlaws and the government-sanctioned ones being villains, but what was gained was nothing compared to what was lost.
Since this film isn't a direct adaptation, it overcomes a lot of the major issues inherent to the comic. It's got a lot of the same beats to it, but they actually make it matter. The Civil War comic started out with a bunch of Z-list reality-show heroes nobody remembers or cares about blowing themselves and a bunch of people from here to kingdom come, and despite them being a bunch of idiots nobody expected to do anything right, and despite there being issues larger than this they could probably be dealing with (Planet Hulk anyone?) the government decides to take this opportunity to enact a superhuman resgistration act to try and curtail untrained heroes getting themselves killed. There are a few fairly major issues with this idea. First one being the fact that the Mutant Registration Act was shot down with a Death Star decades ago, and second being that I thought there were already laws in place that prevented people from going out and enacting vigilante justice? Bruce Wayne made this point in BvS, and Frank Miller made it in The Dark Knight Returns, the direct quote would be "We were always criminals." The question was always whether or not it was wrong, not whether or not it was legal. I thought that The Avengers was supposed to be the way they got around the legal aspect of superheroing. Batman gets support from the GCPD because they don't want to to take him in. Spider-Man, Daredevil, Luke Cage, etc, they get support from the NYPD for the same reason. Superman is beloved by all, it would be political suicide to try and take The Man of Steel in. Spider-Man is New York's very own hero, having put his life on the line for the city numerous times, no matter how much Jolly Jonah Jameson tries to paint him as a menace, everybody knows he's their friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. He helps people out, he saves children from burning buildings, he puts his life on the line for ordinary people on a daily basis, he's the guy everyone knows, he's the guy you can count on to help you when you're in a jam, he's Spider-Man for crying out loud and everyone knows that! He's sacrificed so much to help out as many people as he can, and he deserves to have a little something good in his life, and that's part of why I hate Civil War as a comic, because it took away two of the things that anchored him, his wife and his aunt.
My point is that the repercussions didn't make much sense. Again, who would turn on Captain America? He's literally the original All-American Hero, he's America's greatest war-hero, a living legend! How do you manage to turn the public against these guys? Captain America's team in the Civil War comic consisted of the street-level heroes and others who have a lot of public support. Tony Stark is just some rich dude with a suit of armor, and his team mostly consisted of people who the public has little reason to care about or like. Reed Richards might be one of the most important figures in the Marvel universe, and he might have saved the planet a few times, but he's generally considered to be a bit of a jerk.
Thankfully, since Marvel doesn't have the rights to all of their characters, the roster is significantly reduced, so the film is a lot more coherent than the comic was. The is in direct contrast to the actual scale of the conflict, or more to the point the scale of the regulation and what kicks it off. Rather than being cause by a bunch of nobody idiot heroes, the incident that brings things to a head is caused by The Avengers themselves while they're hunting down a group of former HYDRA agents turned mercenaries led by a guy called Crossbones, who reveals himself to be one of the guys Steve beat up and left for dead in The Winter Soldier. He detonates a suicide-vest in an attempt to kill Steve, but Wanda, The Scarlet Witch tries to redirect the explosion and winds up destroying the Nigerian Center for Infectious Diseases instead of containing the blast.
Meanwhile, Tony is trying to atone for his guilt over the Ultron incident by funding a bunch of projects for kids in college. For some reason his girlfriend and woman who basically keeps his life together is nowhere to be found. (Probably because she's too smart to put up with how bad the plot gets towards the end) On his way out of the school, he's ambushed by a woman who blames him for the death of her son despite her acknowledging that it's irrational. Keep this in mind, this is important.
Back at the new Avengers HQ, "Thunderbolt" Ross makes his first appearance in the MCU since The Incredible Hulk. He tells them that The United Nations are trying to pass an international law to allow them to control The Avengers.
Here's the problem with this scene. First off, they show a lot of footage from incidents completely unrelated to The Avengers. The Helicarrier crashing in The Winter Soldier, which was HYDRA's fault. The alien-invasion from The Avengers, which was Loki's doing. Things from Thor, things that there was no possible way to control or prevent. Yes, they showed Hulk hopping between buildings and busting things up, but if the damage he did was minimal compared to the damage he prevented. Yes, they show Ultron destroying Sokovia, and while Stark created him, I don't think anyone could have predicted the AI going rogue and becoming an omnicidal maniac. At least not without someone who can predict the future, or possibly a pre-crime machine.
Second, for some reason they reference The Avengers being a private organization, despite them being a sub-division of freaking SHIELD, a government agency that traces its roots back to World War II. Yes, SHIELD has a load of bad publicity after the HYDRA infiltration, but they basically had that sorted out after the second season of Agents of SHIELD. They're trying to push government oversight of The Avengers despite them being a government-sanctioned team. Yeah, I get that they're also trying to keep what seems to be basically an American organization from interfering in international affairs, but I thought SHIELD was supposed to basically be an international organization anyways? Hell, it's not like they've ever been able to stop America from basically doing what we want at any point in the last, what? Forty years? Not that there's been much official objection, or at least any that means anything. My point is that while they make a good point, it doesn't really match up to reality or established series lore, part of which is chocked up to the fact that the Russo brothers didn't bother watching Agents of SHIELD. Not that I can really blame them, the show is kinda boring at times, but they're supposed to be maintaining continuity between franchise installments.
Naturally, Steve objects to this, citing all the times when the government has either had an agenda or was corrupt. Considering SHIELD was basically saturated by HYDRA operatives, I can't see anyone supporting government control of superhero teams except for an overly controlling government. I could see them trying this kind of tactic if they rushed it through and pretended it was something cool and necessary, but with as public as the signing of the accords are I wouldn't be surprised if a bunch of politicians lose their jobs on the next election cycle, being replaced by more pro-vigilante, pro-superhero representatives.
Third point to make; Ross asks them if they know where Thor or Bruce Banner are, saying that if they misplaced two nuclear warlords there would be consequences. The problem with this logic is that Thor is a god, and he basically does what he wants, and Banner was only restrained by SHIELD for as long as he wanted to be. They're people with motivations of their own, you can't always control them. Orders only go so far when a Norse God is involved! Do you expect to keep tabs on your ace pilots or snipers or whatever at all times when they're not on active duty? Because that's basically what The Avengers are.
In Vienna, when they're signing the accords (They just skip all the campaigning for and against the accords) and the place gets bombed, killing King T'Chaka of Wakanda in front of his son, T'Challa.
Security footage places Bucky Barnes at the scene of the crime, and since he was last seen working for Hydra, they figure he's behind it, and decide to hunt him down. Steve tries to intervene, but him, Bucky, and Sam Wilson get captured by German commandos backed up by T'Challa and War Machine. Apparently The United Nations signed off on Germany airdropping a black-ops team into Bucharest.
I would like to raise the following issues with this. First off, why do they think they can capture The Winter Soldier? He gives Captain America a run for his money, and both of them made a career out of taking down entire enclaves of entrenched Nazi's on their home turf with enhanced weaponry and armor, and that was before the Winter Soldier transformation! After that, he basically became a combination of Solid Snake and The Terminator, who thinks that anyone but at least four Avengers could take this guy down easily? The only reason they even surrender is because Steve doesn't want to fight with Rhodey. The only reason they get into that situation is because T'Challa (Who supported The Sokovia Accords despite going off the reservation in this scene) stuck his nose into the situation and mucked things up.
This brings me to my second point, Martin Freeman's character, Everett K. Ross (Not sure if he's related to Thunderbolt or not) says that they could have brought in Bucky if not for Steve and Sam's intervention, to which I refer you to my above statements about the kind of work Bucky did during and before his stint as The Winter Soldier. If you think that anything other than a team of superheroes could take down The Winter Soldier, you're either fooling yourself, stupid, poorly written, or purposefully trying to let him get away.
Tony pulls a few strings to get T'Challa, Steve, and Sam out of custody, but a guy infiltrates the compound disguised as the psychologist who's supposed to psychoanalyze Bucky and his team sets off an EMP that kills the power to the base. The guy sets about activating Bucky's Winter Soldier programming and makes him tell him a few things about his missions as The Winter Soldier and the location of his old base before sending him on a rampage through the base before he makes his escape while Steve, Tony, T'Challa, Natasha and Sam are occupied with handling Bucky's rampage. Rather unfortunately, the government has confiscated Steve, Sam and T'Challa's equipment, so they're not working at full efficiency.
Steve and Sam manage to subdue Bucky, and Sharon Carter, the niece of Peggy Carter, give them their gear back. This was when I noticed that they weren't trying to fix what Joss Whedon broke in Age of Ultron and put Natasha and Steve together and decided to make Sharon and Steve a thing despite them not having had a whole lot of screentime together in the previous movies she's they've been in together. Although I'm glad they took this long to put them together, in the Albert Pyun film they were together before the end of the movie.
Steve and Sam restrain Bucky while Winter Soldier mode wears off. Bucky tells them the Helmut Zemo, the guy disguised as the doctor, wanted to know about a specific mission in the nineties as well as the location of the old Winter Soldier base. Bucky tells them about the mission and the purpose of it, which was to steal some stuff to make more Winter Soldiers. And they did. Except that they were already crazy good and the serum made them even better and even worse. Bucky was barely able to contain one of them on his own, much less with the help of the other soldiers in the base. Steve figures they need to intercept Zemo before he can unleash that group on the world, and that the bombing from earlier that was pinned on Bucky was caused by Zemo, but he figures Tony has lost all trust and faith in him (Rightly so as well, but this would still be a good time to at least try and extend an olive-branch) and that they need to handle this themselves since everyone else is convinced that Bucky is still The Winter Soldier and that Steve is delusional. Steve figures they need a good burglar to get into the base, and Sam recommends Scott Lang, the second Ant-Man.
Clint rescues Wanda from Vision and picks up Scott on his way to rendezvous with Steve.
Meanwhile, Tony has been given a day and a half to bring in Bucky, and (for some reason) despite having War Machine, Black Widow, Vision, and Black Panther on his side, he drops into Queens to recruit some kid with spider-powers instead of calling on, say, Skye from Agents of SHIELD, his ultra-powerful girlfriend, or possibly freaking Daredevil? Punisher? Someone who could legally sign on to be a part of The Avengers without needing permission from a parent or guardian?
This brings me to the place where the movie begins to fall apart. Tom Holland is a terrible Spider-Man. He's a 5'6", uber skinny waif of a boy, and his voice is really high in this film. All of that together gives the impression that he's supposed to be like thirteen years old. Spider-Man wasn't even that young back in Ultimate Spider-Man, and that was the "young and hip" Spider-Man! Tom Holland might be a few months older than I am, but he sure doesn't look it!
The dialogue in this scene is pretty good, in fact I'd actually call it great if it was being delivered by somebody more suited to the role. Aside from a handful of lines where they try and lampshade a few of the more jarring elements of the reboot, but we'll get to that.
In addition to recasting Peter Parker, they also recast Aunt May. Gone is the somewhat elderly version of the character we saw in literally every other iteration, because Marisa Tomei looks like she could be Tom Holland's older sister. Yes, I know that she's fifty-something, but she looks like she's in her late twenties at most. In fact, she looks like they took someone in their late twenties and made them look even younger in this movie! They should be trying to draw attention away from this fact, not lampshading it!
Peter in this movie apparently has some kind of problem with sensory overload (Funny, considering he didn't go through anything like that in the comics, so they must be taking this from the Raimi movies) so he uses goggles to help him focus.
I'm familiar with practically every iteration of Spider-Man there is, I have never once seen him to need a pair of goggles to focus his Spider-vision. In fact, his glasses actually made his vision worse in other iterations. The web-shooters are back, and they make as little sense as they did in the original comics. Fortunately they don't have the X-Men around with mutant powers to muck things up as much, but they do have the Inhumans around, which basically serve the same purpose. He should have spinnerets on his wrists, and have the web-shooters as a backup to that. That was the one complaint I had about The Amazing Spider-Man.
Tom Holland's voice is second only to Tom Holland's acting in terms of what makes him unfit to be Spider-Man. At least in the scenes he has in the apartment in Queens, he sounds like he's starting to get really irritated at the directors for making him re-take his characters angry rant ten times. I'll be blunt, he sounds like a bad child-actor at his worst, and while his native accent doesn't bleed through more than like once, he doesn't have any of the New York tinge to his voice that Andrew Garfield had, or any of the genuine emotion that Andrew Garfield or Toby Maguire had. Whenever he's called on to sound angry, or strained, or tired or anything beyond simple stuff he sounds like he's putting waaaay more effort into hiding his English accent than he is into actually putting forth the intended emotion. This is basically what I was afraid was going to happen in The Amazing Spider-Man. I guess I was about four years too early with that feeling.
Anyways, Stark basically cons Peter into joining The Avengers to take down Steve and Bucky, because Peter Parker is a poor kid and working for a multi-multi-billionaire with a guilt and savior complex is probably a good way to get paid good money, not that we see much in the way of Peter being poor besides him scavenging electronics from the garbage and having kind of a small room, neither of which are clear indications on their own.
If they'd stuck with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker all Stark would have had to say to get Peter on-board is "I know a guy who can bring your girlfriend back to life," which would have been clear motivation on Peter's behalf, it would have been something that would pretty much push aside his reasoning and morals, giving him proper motivation to do what Stark says rather than just risking his life for him basically because he asked him to.
Stark tracks Steve and his team to the airport they're hiding-out at and they begin the conflict. This is when Peter shows up in his new Spider-Man suit, and might I say, for a costume that goes out of its way to try and be comic-accurate, this is the least comic-accurate suit in the history of Spider-Man suits. The eyes change sizes like they did in the comics, but that was an art thing, it wasn't meant to actually be something the eyes did, which is why nobody ever cared when the eyes didn't change sizes in any of the other five movies. Then there's the web-design, which looks like it's printed onto the suit instead of textured on like it's been in previous films. Then there's the spider. Good lord the spider. The spider on his chest is a black oval with thick stick legs. Anyone who's ever picked up a Spider-Man comic would know that the spider on his chest has never once looked like this, not even back in the original comics. It was two circles with thin lines coming off of it originally, the spider on his back was the oval with the short thick lines. Also, the spider on his back hasn't looked like that in thirty plus years, so I don't know why they decided to go with that. The Spider-Suit honestly looks like a cheap Halloween costume, especially when compared to the suits from previous movies Spider-Man has been in, or even the original comics. It looks like it's just spandex, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you're going up against people like Captain America, The Winter Soldier, Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch. In fact, it almost seems like he should have given him some kind of Iron-Spider suit.
Eventually Team Cap decides that they need to just try and get to their plane and leave. Ant-Man pulls a Giant-Man and distracts Team Iron Man while the rest of Steve's team tries to get away, but ultimately only Bucky and Steve get to the plane.
This brings us to one of the absolute worst jokes in the entire movie, and that's saying a lot in a movie where Spider-Man makes a bad joke every time he's on-screen. Well, not exactly bad jokes, more like Tom Holland botches the delivery on every line that would be otherwise funny coming from Andrew Garfield or Toby Maguire, Neil Patrick Harris, or literally any of the other actors who have played Peter Parker. Aside from Drake Bell I mean (But even he's better than Tom Holland) Not only did Tom Holland manage to totally botch the delivery, the joke is also something that Spider-Man would never say the way it's written. To quote it exactly: "Hey guys, you remember in that really old movie, The Empire Strikes Back?"
Excuse me, no. Just no. Spider-Man would never say it like that. He'd say something like "Hey, you remember how they took down the Walkers in Empire Strikes Back?" By the time I was thirteen I'd already seen The Empire Strikes Back three times. It's literally one of the most famous movies in cinematic history, it's one of the most influential films ever made, and it's part of one of the biggest, most important franchises in the history of the planet, its age has nothing to do with it. The way this line goes down is entirely to set up a line about how young Tom Holland looks. Yet again, something you shouldn't be trying to draw attention to. Sometimes lampshading something stupid or something that doesn't make sense is a bad idea.
Anyways, Peter almost gets killed taking down Scott, and Tony tells him to stay down rather than getting up and fighting, and Peter winds up following his advice.
Spider-Man is suppose to have more endurance than that. What happened to him in this film? Captain America dropped a small bridge on him, Falcon ran his drone into him and Ant-Man landed on him, that's nothing compared to the level of abuse he's supposed to be able to take. In Spider-Man 3 he was beaten up and strangled by Venom and got his entire body pounded by Sandman and still managed to keep fighting long enough to kill Venom! In The Amazing Spider-Man The Lizard beat him up so badly one of his ribs was sticking out of his chest (It wasn't broken, it just looked like his skin was torn off) and he was back to fighting fit in a couple of days! In the comics, Peter has repeatedly lifted gigantic tons of rubble off of himself from a prone position and managed to keep going. Spider-Man is supposed to be tougher than this!
Not only that, when Tony tells him to stay down, he does try to get up and fight, but he stays down after one little token attempt to get up. Like I said before, we know how tough Spider-Man is, so we know that he could basically walk what little injuries he had off in a few minutes, especially with adrenaline pumping at full-tilt. Spider-Man doesn't just sit down and let other people fight his battles for him, even when he's injured. Especially not someone could be killed, injured, or crippled due to his inaction. This brings me to an issue from earlier in the movie, where Peter gives his justification for not using his powers for selfish reasons, because he's trying to maintain his secret identity.
Excuse me? Did either of the writers on this movie ever read a Spider-Man comic? Peter doesn't use his powers for selfish reason because he learned the hard way what happens when you don't use them to help people. His motto is "With great power comes great responsibility" and if he hadn't been out-of-commission for the last half of the film Rhodey wouldn't have been freaking paralyzed! Peter could have webbed up Falcon on takeoff so he wouldn't have been able to go after Warmachine and Vision wouldn't have tried to shoot him down and missed! There are three people on Tony's team that could have taken down Captain America and The Winter Soldier, Black Panther, Vision, and Spider-Man. Vision was taking care of Wanda, and T'Challa and Natasha were squaring off as Steve and Bucky took off, leaving Spider-Man as the only one who could have taken both of them on and won, and he's just sitting on his ass off to the side while his team-mates keep fighting. Peter Parker made a name for himself as Spider-Man by taking a stand and fighting even when it's not his fight. If he thinks he can help, or if anything needs doing, Spider-Man does it.
The only conclusion I can come to is that they didn't want Spider-Man around for the whole fight because they wanted it to go a way other than the logical conclusion of Spider-Man beating up Steve and Bucky and leaving the Zemo plot out to dry. We can see that Peter is strong enough to take Bucky on and not take many hits, which is something Tony and Steve both struggled to do, so I don't even need to things from the comics and previous movies into account, he's established as this powerful in the movie! Hell, Tony has footage of Peter stopping a speeding car from hitting a bus with his hands, so we know Peter is supposed to be as powerful as he is in the comics and the previous movies, so I can only assume this was a writers cop-out.
While Bucky and Steve are flying off and Sam is trying to keep Rhodey off their tail, Vision tries to shoot down Sam and winds up shooting down Rhodey instead. This is entirely Vision's fault as well, and he never apologizes or owns up to that fact. Or offers to fix Rhodey's broken spine and lacerated spinal-cord and countless other injuries with his rather insane level of power. If Vision had aimed his shot better, or flown to try and catch Rhodey (Which Sam did, by the way) or told Wanda to catch him with her powers or literally anything that could have saved Rhodey from the fall!
After Steve's remaining team gets captured, Tony finds out that Bucky wasn't the one who blew up the conference in Vienna, since law-enforcement in Germany found the body of the doctor and stuff that Zemo would need to make himself look like Bucky, so Tony decides to go off and help Bucky and Steve take down Zemo, but T'Challa follows him.
Now, here's how I thought the movie was going to go from here. Tony teams up with Steve and Bucky to take out Zemo and the other Winter Soldiers, but T'Challa attacks all three of them before they're ambushed by the Soviet team, and forced to team up together to fight them, T'Challa finds out that Zemo killed his father, and they all wind up teaming up and deciding to work towards clearing Bucky's name and repealing the Sokovia Accords. That doesn't happen.
Instead, it's revealed that the guy Bucky stole the Supersoldier serum from to make the other Winter Soldiers was Tony's father, and for some reason HYDRA had footage of Bucky killing Tony's parents back in 1991, in the middle of nowhere, where nobody would have put a security camera even now. If they'd shown body-cam footage, that would have made some kind of sense, but why would a covert criminal organization want to have evidence of their criminal activities lying around in case they get caught?
This causes Tony to start fighting with Bucky and Steve, despite knowing Bucky wasn't in control! Despite the fact that he should know that Zemo is showing him this to make him fight with Bucky and Steve! He asks Steve if he knew this, and at first he gives the logical answer (no) but eventually he says he did and he kept it from Tony because it would upset him!
I'm sorry, Steve Rogers is supposed to have enhanced brain-power and intelligence, he should know that's a stupid decision! Unfortunately, that's not even the worst of it! Bucky barely remembers most of his actions as The Winter Soldier even immediately after he's dropped out of Winter Soldier mode, so why does he remember such specific details such as the fact that he killed Howard and Maria Stark? Why would he even be told who he was supposed to kill? Hell, he probably met Howard a few times back in the forties, but it had been like fifty years between then and the time he killed him, so it's not like he would recognize him! Yeah, Howard Stark was probably one of the few people in the world who could recreate Dr. Erskine's formula, so it's a logical leap to make, but come on! It could have just as easily been Richard and Mary Parker, who also would have died around the same point in time (And they were also killed by Hydra) or any of the other really smart people who have died in Marvel history.
Zemo killed the other Winter Soldiers and left Bucky and Steve to fight Tony, while T'Challa prevents Zemo from killing himself as his motives are revealed. Zemo's family was killed in Age of Ultron and he decided to begin a chain of events that would lead The Avengers to conflict and possibly killing each other. Not like anyone's died really. Rhodey and Scott came close, but there's nobody actually dead at the end. The guy who was supposed to kill Captain America died in the first ten minutes of the film.
Get this too, rather than going back inside the base and telling the three stooges that Zemo kicked all of this off to make you guys kill each other, T'Challa just stays where he is and does nothing. Tony rips off Bucky's arm, and Steve disables Tony's suit. At the end Tony chides Steve for carrying the shield that Howard Stark made as he and Bucky are leaving, and like a complete moron, Steve drops his shield right there. Never mind that it'll be impossible to find a shield that good anywhere else. Never mind that Steve has had that shield with him for most of his life. Never mind that it was a gift from Howard Stark, who was one of Steve's friends. Never freaking mind that the love of Steve's life, Peggy Carter has just died.
Afterwards, Tony lets Steve get away with rescuing the rest of The Avengers from prison, T'Challa's people set about repairing Bucky's damaged arm and Peter (Who I'm becoming more and more convinced must be some kind of degenerated clone of the real thing, take your pick whether that's Toby or Andrew's Spider-Man) gets the Spider-Beacon from his webshooters for some reason.
All in all, this movie sucks. It's a shame too, because it's such a good movie aside from a few major points that break the whole thing down!
God only knows why this movie is getting better scores than Batman v. Superman, it's edited almost exactly the same way. I mean seriously, if not for the fact that they came out months apart, I'd almost say that Marvel was trying to rip it off. They introduce a pair of new superheroes without movies of their own (at least with the current actors) who get involved with the final battle and wind up being fairly important. Except that it doesn't have as good of a resolution as BvS, or as good of a climax, or as good of an ending. It just seems like they kinda stopped in the middle of the storyline they were going for and then forgot how to write the characters.
And now, a list of things missing from Captain America: Civil War.
#1: The Iron-Spider
#2: Spider-Man joining Captain America's side
#3: A decent ending
#4: Common sense
#5: A decent sense of character continuity with previous Captain America or Avengers movies.
#6: Spider-Man. Because I refuse to accept this watered-down shadow of my favorite superhero as the MCU version of Spider-Man
I'll say this, at least most of the characters are still mostly in-character throughout the film, but not Spider-Man. This is the most disrespectful adaptation of one of my favorite superheroes since the Supergirl series premiered last year. I actually liked X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but I'll acknowledge how little respect the producers had for Deadpool. That's what kind of Spider-Man we got. The only thing that would make it worse would be if he wasn't even dressed in a costume that even remotely resembles any suit he's worn in the past. In fact, if his mouth was sewn shut it would be even less disrespectful to the character than the bad delivery. Spider-Man never botches a joke, even with a bad writer! They might not make you laugh all-out, but you'll at least get a decent snort out of it. A small chuckle.
Come Spider-Man: Homecoming I expect Tom Holland to be gone. I want him out of the MCU. You can replace him with Andrew Garfield, or Toby Maguire, or Thomas Brody Sangster if you want, any of the three would be good. I don't care. Just make Tom Holland go away. I'd say he should be the George Lazenby of Spider-Men, but say what you will, George Lazenby wasn't insufferable.
Towards the end of the fight when Tony is telling Peter to stay down is the point in time when you realize what's going on, that's when the suit looks its cheapest, when Holland looks his youngest. Tom Holland is a kid dressed up as Spider-Man who just so happens to have gotten a gig with Marvel. His suit looks like a Halloween costume, except it looks worse than the costume I dressed up in when Spider-Man 2 was new!
Honestly though, cutting out Tom Holland as Spider-Man wouldn't have saved the ending, since the ending basically makes the whole, otherwise great movie into an idiot-plot.
Tony starts a fight with Steve and Bucky because he's an idiot. Steve didn't tell Tony that Bucky killed his parents because he's an idiot. T'Challa doesn't tell them why Zemo kicked all this off, because he's an idiot. Natasha doesn't leave with Steve and Bucky at the end of the fight because she's an idiot. Tony doesn't ask T'Challa to fix Rhodey's spine because he's an idiot. Peter doesn't step in to take down Steve and Bucky when they're trying to escape because he's an idiot. Steve leaves his shield behind with Tony because he's an idiot.
At one point in the prison that they stuck Steve's team in Tony looks around and sees Jessica Jones just sitting in a cell. Way to reference the actually good parts of the MCU there, Marvel.
I can try and give this movie some credit for what makes it good, but honestly the ending and the Spider-Man scenes are basically enough to ruin the film from a critical perspective. Coming off Batman v. Superman I was optimistic for Civil War, but after all the good stuff it just crumbled at the end. I'm still holding out hope for Doctor Strange, Luke Cage, The Punisher and Jessica Jones later this year, but so far Marvel has lost a lot of credibility in my eyes after this film. I am not looking forward to Spider-Man: Homecoming next year as long as Tom Holland is still playing Spider-Man, and I am hesitant to see if Marvel can salvage the mess this film has caused.
In the end, I give Captain America: Civil War a 4.1* rating. I'll see you guys next week, I'll either be reviewing Ant-Man or Majora's Mask 3D. I'm off to re-watch the good movies with Spider-Man in them. I might even re-watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2 just to see if I can find it in my heart to hate it more than I do Civil War. It might have devolved into an idiot-plot too, but it at least understood and respected the characters.

Image from Impawards.com

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies Review



The Hyperdimension Neptunia series is a strange beast. Ever since the series debut on the PS3 back in late 2010 it has been met with mixed responses across the board. However that hasn’t stopped Compile Heart and Idea Factory from making new games and it seems that despite a rocky start the Neptunia games since Re;Birth 1 on the vita have been some pretty dang solid RPGs.

Although lets be honest, if you’re playing these games you’re usually playing them because you know about how the game is basically one giant mish mash of retro gaming references mixed in with copious amounts of fan service to make one truly interesting little series.

However as with many gaming series there is going to be some spin off titles and neptunia is no exception.
Most of these titles have found their home on the vita with Hyperdimension Neptunia Producing Perfection starting the spin off train off then with Hyperdevotion Noire and Hyperdimension Neptunia U following shortly after (although Noire and U have been released on steam as well)

The latest addition to this group of spinoffs is Megatagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies, a hack and slash spinoff from Tamsoft, creators of the Senran Kagura series.
I got a lot to say about this game so without future a due lets dive right in.


Story:

The Neptunia games have never been known for having intricate stories instead preferring to play the story for laughs most of the time (although there are a few exceptions. Looking at you MK2 and Victory II). Megatagmension is no exception to this rule. The games plot is very tongue and cheek and it knows it with many of the visual novel scenes in between gameplay segments being the prime example of this.

What little plot there is though revolves around the titular Blanc and her friends working together to film a movie to save their school of Gameacademi. Problem is the whole school is overrun with zombies. Instead of giving up however Blanc instead opts to use the zombies as props in the movie and film her friends fighting them off to use as footage for the movie.

This is just one example of the games goofy sense of humor. When Megatagmension isn’t talking about zombies though it is either making references to retro video games, breaking the fourth wall into many tiny pieces or just simply goofing around.
This is Megatagmensions real strength when it comes to the story. While the plot itself is pretty simple and really not that interesting the writing is excellent packed with many moments that can and will make you laugh out loud especially if you are a retro gamer like myself. The retro gaming references are spot on and pretty much always got a laugh out of me.

As for the characters I can best sum them up as being a trail mix team of Anime stereotypes. You have the goofball, the tsundere, the quiet girl, the one who has a giant rack and so on.
If you were looking for a game with a deep story you certainly won’t find that in Megatagmension but either way the excellent writing is bound to get a laugh out of you.


Gameplay:

So before I start I’m going to be splitting this section up into 2 parts. One talking about the single player and the other about the multiplayer (yes this game does have multiplayer but I’ll come to that). I’ll start with the single player.

The single player campaign is mission based. You pick a scene (level) and then pick a cut (quest) and off you go. There are a total of 12 scenes in the game with around about 5 or 6 quests each.
Quests usually consist of having to kill a number of enemies. Megatagmension is a hack and slash game similar to the likes of Senran Kagura and it is no surprise considering that Tamsoft, the developers of Senran Kagura also developed this game.
If you’ve ever played a Senran Kagura game then you should be right at home here. Each character has a light and heavy attack (light mapped to the Square button and Heavy to the Triangle button) as well as a dodge, jump and access to special moves. You can chain together attacks to pull off combos as you would expect. You also have the ability to hit enemies into the air and “juggle” them in mid air, a feature also seen in the Senran Kagura series. You can also lock on to enemies using the L button and guard using the R button.

In the way of special attacks you have 2 kinds. You have normal skills and then you have SP skills.
Normal skills are activated by holding the R button and pressing one of the face buttons. As expected these will deal a large chunk of damage to enemies. The interesting thing about normal skills is that they don’t use any of your EXE gauge (More on that in a moment) and instead just have a cooldown time.
SP skills are activated by holding both L and R then pushing either Square or Triangle. SP skills make use of your EXE gauge, basically your SP meter which fills up overtime as you deal and take damage. To pull off an SP skill your EXE gauge needs to be above 30% though so you can’t just fill it up a little bit and spam SP skills.

You can also Press X while holding L and R to activate your CPU mode, a mode where your character transforms and deals more damage as well as just receiving buffs all around. This slowly drains your EXE gauge though so you can’t just go wild with it.
Finally holding L and R and pressing Circle allows you to switch characters. This doesn’t actually require anything from your EXE gauge however because each character has their own separate EXE gauge swapping characters will change how much you have available.
Whatever character is swapped out will also slowly recover HP which is useful if one of your characters is running a little low.
There are also support characters which can be activated when charged by pressing square and triangle or square and X at the same time. Finally the select button opens up your item menu and lets you use items.
The combat system itself I found quite enjoyable. There’s just something satisfying about mowing down a bunch of enemies by chaining together combos and pulling off the odd special attack. Dashing is also incredibly useful as well and is basically required if you want to avoid getting hurt by a large enemy who is charging up an attack. It probably also helps that Tamsoft are no stranger to hack and slash games meaning that they have this gameplay style down to an art at this point which leaves us with a fun and polished combat system.
It also helps that the game has a pretty large character roster with each character playing differently to others (with a few exceptions however). This certainly helps add more variety to the gameplay as each character has their own distinct fighting style. For example Neptune uses swords which are excellent for close combat and are pretty balanced all around while Uni instead opts for using guns making her extremely useful for taking out larger enemies from a distance although she can’t move while shooting or reloading.




The fact that each character has a different fighting style is something I quite like as it makes me want to go back and play around with each of the characters so I can experiment with different styles. However, this leads me onto the first problem I have with the single player campaign. You see, all characters start at level 1, even new characters that pop up halfway through the game, so if you want to level up a character so they don’t get killed in the later levels you have to go all the way back to the early quests and grind on them to get the character up to speed.

Now this wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for a few things. For one, quests are short, like, REALLY short. At the time of this review I have played halfway through the single player campaign and around 90% of the missions I have been able to finish in less than 2 minutes.
The other part of the problem is the number of quests... There isn’t many and they are all relatively short with a few exceptions.
Now you’re probably thinking “Why don’t you just go and play the 10% of the quests that are actually of a decent length to level your characters?”. Well the problem here is that these quests only start popping up in around scene 3 or 4 and taking a level 1 character into a quest designed for a level 10 character is usually not going to end well. This means that to get any new characters I want to use up to speed I have to grind the same single player early missions over and over and over again and it gets extremely repetitive.

I mean, playing the same mission over and over is one thing, playing the same mission that takes you less than 2 minutes to clear over and over again is another thing entirely. It just gets drawn out and boring and it’s a real shame because it really puts me off actually wanting to experiment with the other characters because I know I’ll have to grind them for a little bit in early missions to get them up to speed.

Granted you could always put said character in the second slot and play the higher level missions with a higher level character but it’s still annoying that I have to do stuff like that in the first place. It isn’t a deal breaker but I do find it annoying.


The other issue with the single player is the complete lack of sidequests. In Neptunia U not only did you have sidequests that popped up here and there but you had post game content as well. Megatagmension has none of that and it honestly feels like step backwards in terms of the single player. It’s still fun but there just isn’t enough there.

As for mechanics outside of the game you have a shop where you can go and buy new weapons, accessories and other bits and pieces. You can also fuse patches in the shop which are special little items which you can equip to your weapon to add buffs, change its type and all that.
Thing is, I have never found a use for fusing patches because patches drop all the time from normal enemies in gameplay. I already have more patches than I know what to do with so I don’t really feel the need to fuse more. It just feels a little tacked on.

Weapons wise each character has 4 weapons each one being more powerful than the last. Weapons are character specific so each character will have a maximum of 4 weapons, no more and no less.
Really once you have the 4th weapon for a character there is no reason to use anything else. Sure you have less room to apply patches but it doesn’t really matter much anyway.

Then we have accessories. These are purely cosmetic and can be applied to characters to change how they look during play. Each character can have a maximum of 5 accessories equipped and there is quite a lot of them to choose from. Probably the coolest thing with accessories is the amount of control you have over where you can place them. You have preset positions but you can also manually change the position, rotation and size of an accessory to your liking which is pretty darn neat. The level of customization in the game is quite impressive and when playing online you’re bound to see customized Neps made by other players.

Finally we have the treasure menu. During the game you’ll be able to pick up pieces of special game consoles and once you have all 5 pieces you can go to the treasure room and construct the console to get a new costume for characters. Again this is pretty cool and while the costumes are usually nothing too special there is just something satisfying about getting a new one.

Overall, the single player, while fun, is a little bit lacking to really be something worth coming back to and it’s a real shame. What is there is fun but the main problem is there isn’t enough of it. Let’s just cross our fingers and hope some new stuff gets patched in later on.
Really I’d consider Megatagmensions single player akin to icing on a cake. It tastes nice but it isn’t really that substantial and leaves you wanting more.

Multiplayer:

However if the single player is Megatagmensions icing on the cake then the multiplayer is most definetly the cake itself.
Megatagmension is the first Neptunia game to feature multiplayer and really the multiplayer is where Megatagmension really shines.
Multiplayer plays pretty much the same as single player although there are a few differences which I will go over now.

Firstly in multiplayer you can only take one character with you instead of having a second one on standby. Considering you’re playing with other people though this makes sense.
Multiplayer also removes the ability to go into HDD mode. Weirdly enough a characters HDD mode and their normal mode are considered as separate characters on the character select so you can pick either normal or HDD instead of having the ability to swap between them. Personally I find this a little weird but it isn’t like it breaks anything.
Lastly you can’t use assist characters, again a weird removal but I never really used them in single player anyway so it doesn’t matter much.

Multiplayer comes in 2 flavours, ad-hoc and Online. I only tested online mode as I had no one to Ad-Hoc with. There is also rankings which will rank you on leaderboards depending on how good your online performance is.

Up to 4 players are able to play at once during online play and when you do have 4 people playing it makes for some hectic and insane fun. 

Creating a lobby is a simple affair, once in a lobby you can change your character, change their equipment, access the shop and treasure area and access the settings. Now while Megatagmension does not support voice chat it does have around 100 preset phrases which you can use to communicate with other players both in the lobby and during the game and ALL of these phrases are fully voiced no matter if you are playing in English or Japanese. The preset phrases are very useful and they have phrases for basically any situation including one for telling people you have a bad connection (which I had to use a lot).

Quest wise the multiplayer does something interesting and has a completely different set of quests to the single player. Not only that but these quests are of decent length and most actually take at least 5 minutes to complete. To add to that the game has 3 daily quests. 1 easy, 1 medium and 1 hard and these change every day. Quest wise the multiplayer gives you A LOT more to do than the single player does especially with the daily quests.

Gameplay in multiplayer itself is basically unchanged from how it was in single player however characters who run out of HP will be hit with a 30 second respawn time. However these characters can also be revived by other players provided they have enough in their EXE gauge. Items can also be used like in single player to recover HP or boost stats for a short period of time.


Now the most important part of any online game is how well it performs and well... Megatagmension performs excellent online. In fact in online play it was one of the most smooth and lag free experiences I had ever played on my PS Vita when it comes to online and that is saying a lot. I experienced very few issues and minimal lag when playing online although when playing with 4 players the game did noticeably slow down a little bit but it wasn’t enough to effect the experience. The lack of voice chat wasn’t much of a problem either and the preset phrases proved more than ample during play.
Really upon playing the multiplayer I could see that it was really what they were wanting to push with this title. The multiplayer is leaps and bounds ahead of the single player in terms of the level of content and the amount of work that seems to have gone into the multiplayer in general. To add to that all characters are unlocked from the start in multiplayer mode allowing for players to jump right in without even touching the single player campaign. Personally I’m glad they made it like that because having to trawl through the single player just to get all the characters in the multiplayer would suck so it’s nice to have them all available right off the bat in multiplayer.
Overall I will have to say that the multiplayer component is certainly the more enjoyable part of the game and is what you will be spending most of your time on. It is kind of annoying that they just sort of tacked on a single player campaign but the amount of fun you can have in multiplayer does make up for most of that.

Graphics and Sound:

Graphically the game looks pretty darn good. Character models are well made and are animated smoothly and all equippable items and accessories will make cosmetic changes to the characters. It’s nice to see games go the extra mile to make it so that changing items and weapons actually changes how your character looks.


The visual novel sections are graphically pleasing and feature the same live2D style that was present in Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth onwards. Characters will blink, breathe and all of that in these visual novel sections and it really does make them look that little bit more lifelike rather than just static drawings on a screen.
Performance wise the game performs at a rock solid 30 fps which makes for quite a nice experience while playing.


Sound wise the game is also pretty good although the soundtrack is not completely original. Some tracks from previous Neptunia games get reused in Megatagmension although the tracks that are original are pretty good.
I’d also like to mention the voice acting, Megatagmension has 2 voice tracks you can choose from, English and Japanese. Both of these voice tracks are pretty good but the English one is downright excellent. The Neptunia games have always had a reputation for high quality English dubs and Megatagmension is no exception with outstanding performances across the board. Plus the game is fully voice acted, every single visual novel scene has full voice acting in both vocal tracks which is a very nice addition.

Verdict:

Megatagmension is an interesting one. On one hand the single player is very lacking and feels tacked on but on the other hand the multiplayer is extremely fun and makes up for most of the shortcomings of the single player.
The amount of mileage you are going to get out of this game is really going to depend on how much you like the Neptunia series. If you’re like me and enjoy the series then most likely you will really enjoy Megatagmension but if you’re completely new to the series and are wanting to get into it then this really isn’t the best game to start on.
If you are still on the fence about this game then I’d recommend to wait for a price drop. For how good the multiplayer is the rather lacking single player is a little bit of a stretch for a full price game. Neptunia fans will probably pick this up on the day of release and really this is a Neptunia game for Neptunia fans. However if you are looking for a hack and slash with solid multiplayer then give Megatagmension a look, just wait for a price drop first.

For fans of the series Megatagmension gets a Highly Recommended

For people not familiar with the series Megatagmension gets a Wait for a sale.

2016 is looking like it is going to be a really good year for the Vita in terms of games so if you liked this review then keep your eyes on the blog for any future Vita reviews from myself!

BDVR Guest Author Nathan Green signing off

MegaTagmension Blanc + Neptune VS Zombies releases on May 10th in North America and May 13th in Europe


PEGI: 12

ESRB: T

CERO: D

OFLC: M (Unrestricted, Estimated Rating)

Special thanks to a friend who owned a copy of Neptunia U for providing me with some information on the differences between the two games.

Review copy provided by Idea Factory International. Screenshots from Idea Factory International ideafintl.com


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Avengers: Age of Ultron

I really don't want to review Age of Ultron, for a number of reasons. One being that I'd really rather talk about Ant-Man, another being that I don't want to admit that it's not nearly as good as The Avengers, and finally, because I don't like to think about Joss Whedon losing his touch finally.
Age of Ultron is by no means a bad film. Compared to Fox's offerings in 2015, it's head and shoulders above Fant4stic. No, that's not saying much (The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is good in comparison) but it's still a decent enough movie. Is it a good film on its own? Yes. Is it as good as any of the previous MCU installments? Absolutely not. It's not better than The Winter Soldier, The First Avenger, Iron Man 1, 2, or 3, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, the first season of Daredevil, or the first season of Agents of SHIELD. It's also not better than any subsequent MCU installment, Jessica Jones, the second season of Daredevil, Ant-Man... We'll have to see how it holds up in relation to Civil War, The Punisher, Luke Cage, the second season of Jessica Jones, and Doctor Strange.
Yadda yadda, spoilers inbound, you know the drill.
From a story perspective it's a great idea, sure. The problems stem from Joss Whedon's direction. Not his writing, his direction. His writing is as good as it's always been, but the timing on most of the jokes is off just enough that it makes them less funny than they should be. Compare this to Whedon's previous work, such as Firefly, Serenity, The Avengers, the first season of Agents of SHIELD Buffy The Vampire Slayer, almost anything, the timing on all of the lines is spot-on perfect, every single one of them hits a comedy bulls-eye you didn't even know existed. These days though, his direction seems like he's going through the motions of what made him great. There's a reason I didn't include the second season of Agents of SHIELD in the list of things better than Age of Ultron, because despite overall having less bad moments than the first season did (We don't get young Ward who doesn't look a damn thing like the adult actor) there are less good moments and more mediocre and bland ones. There's nothing as awesome as Nick Fury and Phil Coulson teaming up to take down a traitorous SHIELD agent, and despite having a really interesting plot, it's not exactly inspiring to watch, especially considering the massive pains they've got to go to to make sure that they let you know that this organized group of people with odd genetic mutations aren't mutants, but "Inhumans" because Marvel is too cheap to just buy the rights to the X-Men back. Not like that's their most iconic team or anything. Not like they're some of the most beloved characters in the comics or anything, not like Wolverine is one of Marvel's most iconic characters. But sure, bring in all these original characters and D-listers nobody knows or cares about, bring in all these Inhumans. Pretend we should care when any of them die.
Speaking of which, this brings me to the big addition to Age of Ultron, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. They're just sorta injected into the story without a lot of buildup, even if you were watching Agents of Shield up to that point. The twins were introduced in The Winter Soldier, which was more than a bit exciting. Not to say that their introduction in this film was a bad thing, and it's nice to see foreshadowing being paid off, but I was hoping they would get their own movie before they appeared in an Avengers film. In The Winter Soldier they were locked up in cages with their powers going haywire, now they're basically just roaming around the Hydra base that The Avengers are laying siege to without much explanation. They were supposed to be fighting The Avengers, but they just sorta slunk off into the distance to return later in the film.
After the opening action-sequence, the movie basically turns into Friends with superpowers for a while. They literally spend about twenty minutes of the film goofing off in Avengers Tower for a while before Ultron (Played by James freakin' Spader) shows up and starts wrecking the place. He "kills" Jarvis, and begins using Stark's Iron Man drones to take over the world. The Avengers go into hiding at Clint's house, and the twins meet up with Ultron to take their frustations out on Stark before going rogue and meeting up with The Avengers when they find out that Ultron wants to raze the planet of all living things and create a world of robots.
Stark puts Jarvis back together from the internet and they track Ultron down to where he's going to try and make his stand and they stop him, but Quicksilver dies and The Avengers go their separate ways. Tony drives off in a car while Steve begins training a secondary Avengers team to fill the holes in the main-teams lineup.
Overall, it's a fine film, but the specific details are what drag the movie down. Back in The Avengers they spent a lot of time building up the relationship between Natasha and Clint, but it wasn't exactly a romantic relationship. Then they spent literally all of The Winter Soldier building a romantic relationship between Natasha and Steve. Come Age of Ultron, out of nowhere they're acting like Natasha and Bruce have an established romantic relationship despite Bruce already having a girlfriend, and despite all the development between Natasha and Steve in the previous movie the previous freaking year! This is also despite Natasha having seen Bruce's bad side in The Avengers when he tried to kill her. Not only that, their relationship includes her taking him down from Hulk form when their mission is over. Contradicting everything we know about The Hulk from the last two films he's been in. Bruce spent all of The Incredible Hulk learning how to control his powers, and he'd basically mastered the transformation come The Avengers, being able to transform basically at will. Did they just forget or did they purposefully ignore everything from the previous films because they had a new idea for shipping in mind? Were the writers dueling over who they wanted to pair Natasha with? If so, Joss Whedon was dueling with himself since he seemed totally on-board with the Natash/Clint shipping in The Avengers.
Then there's the generally lazy tone of the film in the middle. I know that it probably had to have a softer, slower tone compared to the original so they could have some non-combat team interactions, basically allowing them to be regular human beings and goof off a bit, but it was also a bit irritating to watch. It seems like the kind of thing they should have a TV miniseries for, rather than devoting a portion of the film to it. I don't know, it's difficult to say what could have been done better when almost everything turned out alright in the end.
Personally, I would have cut the relationship between Natasha and Bruce, and brought Betty in so we could actually get more references to Hulk's storylines than we have been. Weren't we supposed to be getting another Hulk movie with The Leader in it? And what ever happened to The Abomination? I loved The Incredible Hulk, why can't we get another solo Hulk film? Because Universal owns the distribution rights? Bullshit. Disney has enough money to buy those rights back and have more than enough dough left to buy the rights to Namor, The Fantastic Four, and The X-Men back with change left over to buy about twenty more franchises! They'd make the money back on them about the time they released the first movie. I know Marvel basically lives and breathes on playing the waiting game, that's how they got the rights to Daredevil, Spider-Man, The Punisher and others back. The problem is that the longer they leave the rights in the hands of others, there's less you can do to foreshadow those characters introductions unless you decide to take a couple of years to introduce the characters, which I know they won't do, because it was only a year since The Amazing Spider-Man 2 came out before they started referencing Spidey in the MCU, and it's only been a year since they got the rights back that they're introducing him!
Then we get to the biggest problem with the film, Whedon's comedic direction is so far off that what I know would be funny jokes just fall flat. It's not just delivery, it's the editing and the pacing that makes the jokes fall flat.
The performances are excellent, especially James Spader's and Robert Downey Jr's. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlet Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, all of them are great. The problem is the story they were forced to tell. I like the twist on the Ultron storyline they used, I like the interactions between Banner, Stark, Rogers, and the others. The problem is the sub-plot of Banner and Romanoff's relationship and the fact that the movie is about thirty minutes too short. Tony brings Jarvis back off-screen, there's not enough development between The Twins and the rest of The Avengers, and worst of all, Quicksilver dies at the end for no reason. If anyone was going to die on the team it shouldn't have been someone who was literally just introduced. This is what wrestling fans call "burying" a character. It seemed like they were setting up Hawkeye's death (which would have sucked as well, since he also hasn't had a solo movie) but pulled a fast one at the end. Apparently the original version of the movie didn't kill off Quicksilver or Hawkeye, which would have been a better ending than killing either of them.
All in all, while I was disappointed, it was still a decent film, and I can't really bring myself to hate it, partially because everything is there that makes a good movie, and it's still a good movie, even if it's not a damn good movie.
In the end, I give it a 6.8* rating, it's basically mediocre bordering on greatness. Next week should either be Ant-Man or The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D, one or the other.

Image from Impawards.com

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Senran Kagura Burst

I really meant to get to this game a long time ago, when the sequel came out, but for one reason or another I never got around to it. Fortunately I now have the time, so I can finally get to it.
The Senran Kagura series is a bit of an odd duck. This game in particular isn't actually the first game in the series, even though it sort of is. You see, Senran Kagura Burst is an enhanced re-release (Basically the Game of the Year Edition) of the original game from 2011, 閃乱カグラ:少女達の真影, or romanized, Senran Kagura: Shoujo-tachi no Shinei. Wikipedia says this means "Skirting Shadows" but considering that not a single word in that subtitle means "skirting" or "shadows", and that they didn't include the obvious "girl" in the translation, I'm going with the Google Translate and Kagura Wiki version, Portrait of Girls.
This version of the game was never released outside of Japan except as part of Burst.
Senran Kagura Burst includes everything the original version of the game had as well as an additional secondary storyline, more playable characters, more stages, more 3D features, different transformation animations, and an additional library of music, glossary terms, and character accessories.
The actual game itself is a cross between a sidescrolling-3D beat-em-up and an incredibly linear visual novel. You know how in most visual novels you've at least got choices as to what to say? Well this game just forces you to sit and wait while you sort through the walls of text between gameplay sections. This is alright if the story presented is compelling, but even then, this is an action-based game. A sidescrolling beat-em-up, no less, not an RPG. I didn't come to this game to have to sit through a novels worth of text in a bunch of long, unplayable cutscenes.
Speaking of which, this isn't the only kind of cutscene in the game. These kinds of cutscenes irritate me, since they're incredibly lazy, as well as a relatively recent development. You didn't see this kind of thing in games back on the SNES or the Nintendo 64, so why are they around on a system that can handle freaking Snake Eater? It's not a technical thing, so it must have been a cost-cutting measure. It is of course, easier to cycle through stock animations than to mess with moving the camera around a dynamic cutscene with hundreds of unique animations that might be used only once ever. The weird thing is that they use pre-rendered backgrounds for almost all of the cutscenes despite having 3D environments for practically every area in the game.
There are a very small amount of dynamically animated cutscenes, and they all basically do the same thing. They're also in the secondary Hebijo storyline, not the primary Hanzo one, so it's not like they're that important.
This brings me to the issue with the two storylines. This game has the same problem that Sonic Adventure had in that the two storylines directly contradict each other at multiple points. The difference is that the two don't mesh easily to form a coherent whole, since both of them seem to be taking place in their own version of the world presented to us at the very start. I'm not entirely certain which of them is supposed to be canon to the rest of the series, but since the Hanzo storyline was the original, I presume that's the one.
Before we start digging into the plot any further, let's tackle the gameplay and controls.
Senran Kagura Burst is a three-dimensional side-scrolling beat-em-up. You can use the joystick or the D-pad to move your character around. You use the B button to jump, the Y button for a weak but fast attack, the X button for a strong but slow attack. The R button causes an explosion that blasts enemies away from you, but takes away part of your life energy, and the L button transforms your character from their base form into their Shinobi form when the Ninja Art meter is full. While in Shinobi form (Which for most characters looks nothing like actual or stereotypical Ninjas) you can use other Ninja Arts by pressing L and another button when the meter is filled. Pressing L and Y while on the ground uses one bar of Ninja Energy and activates your characters special attack. Pressing the same combination in the air activates your characters aerial special, also using one bar of energy. Pressing L and X while on the ground (And not in the air at all) uses two bars of energy, and activates the ultimate attack, which for some characters isn't as useful as their aerial or special attack.
Then there's the A button, which easily has the most use in the game. Under most circumstances you use the A button to dash around. Tapping it causes you to dash into enemies and damage them. Holding it makes you run very quickly. Why the run function couldn't have been mapped to the joystick and not the A button, I don't know. For some reason there's very little (if any) analog control in this game, and you pretty much move at a steady pace when you hold the joystick in any position. I didn't think we needed a run button in this day and age, especially since analog joysticks have been standard on consoles since the nineties.
The A button is also useful in combo attacks, which brings up the biggest issue with the controls. If you hit an enemy or group of enemies with the right combo, they will fly up into the air in something they call an "Aerial Rave," with a green circle surrounding them. You can chase the circle by pressing the A button, launching yourself into the air while your enemies are helpless, allowing you to get in a load of hits at once. The problem is that this can also happen when your enemies are out of health, since they don't actually disappear until they hit the ground. This can be rather irritating when you're trying to run after another enemy on the other side of the screen and you wind up in the air chasing after a dead body. Why the bodies don't just disappear when they hit zero health is beyond me. Especially when they actually do when you're in the last of the main Hebijo stages.
Going back to the R button, under what circumstances do you think a quick explosion that knocks enemies back would be useful in? Well, naturally when you're surrounded by them. The problem is that you can't activate any special abilities, or even do much of anything while you're being hit, which can lead to you getting pinned between two mobs of enemies and losing most of your health before you can try and jump out of their range. You also can't activate a Limit-Break when you're lying on the ground or in the air. Plus, if you've just been hit and haven't pressed B to recover, you can't activate an aerial attack. This rather odd control restriction has led to a number of otherwise avoidable deaths. There's also the issue of not being able to recover from some attacks easily without taking a crapload of damage. The controls are responsive most of the time, but when faced with a huge mob they get a bit inadequate. If they tightened the controls up and removed a few of the stranger conditional restrictions, it'd be a much better game.
Something that I found pretty odd is the fact that you don't use the A button to retry a mission when you've failed to complete it, you use the X button. The B button works to exit the level just fine, but I would prefer to see the A button being the one you use to continue, since most games use A for accept and B for cancel, or whatever. This isn't PlayStation, we don't switch between two buttons for confirmation and four buttons for cancellation.
There's also no support for the Circle Pad Pro, which might have alleviated a few of the control issues, such as the A button issue. With the two additional buttons the controls could be spread out a bit more, and there would be less incredibly irritating overlaps.
For instance, Mirai, one of the Hebijo girls has the irritating tendency to activate her shield when you're trying to finish a combo, which causes her to stop where she is and freeze in place for a few seconds, which leaves her open to attacks from behind. (I'd just like to mention that most enemies can use a shield, but Mirai is the only player character who can to my knowledge) If the shield function was mapped to one of the trigger buttons instead of one of the attack buttons, I wouldn't be so hesitant to play as Mirai when trying to clear out optional missions.
Some of the control issues I've mentioned would be easily fixed by just reconfiguring the controls in the settings menu, swapping some functions around and leaving a couple of them out entirely. But no.
Look at this settings menu. This is it. No control options, no sensitivity settings for the analog stick, nothing. The only options are to adjust the audio. Nothing about removing clothing damage animations, or transformations, or special attack animations.
This might not sound like a huge issue, but it becomes one later on in the game. If you know anything about this game, you know that it's got clothing damage in it. When that happens, the combat just stops and the camera cuts to whoever's clothing is being shredded. This isn't too bad at first, but eventually it starts getting on your nerves and you want to turn it off. It's like the battle animations in Fire Emblem: Awakening, they're pretty cool at first, but after about thirty hours they start to get kind of old. I know that they're part of the point of the game, but once the titillation factor wears off (Which if you're particularly jaded is fairly quick) they're just irritating.
This brings me to an issue with the clothing damage. It literally just stops at a certain point once your characters clothing meter has been depleted by damage, which I presume is because they didn't want the game to get an AO rating. It still brings up the issue of inconsistency, since the characters undergarments don't seem to be destructible, which begs the question, why don't they just make Shinobi gear out of whatever the bathing-suits/other undergarments are made of? Although a better question would be "Why do the elite Ninja students of the two biggest organizations in the world wear sweaters, skirts, maid outfits, and school uniforms in the field?" I'm not a member of an international organization of ninjas and I own better ninja gear than they do.
Mostly because I have some clothing that isn't brightly colored, or the kind of thing that you could easily get your legs caught up in when you're trying to crawl.
Then again, this is the kind of game where the player-characters can summon massive machine guns from beneath their dresses, wield huge buster-swords and shoot energy from parasols, so the baseline for realism is set fairly low. I'm not complaining about the awesome weapons or the cool attacks, or the supernatural awesome stuff that happens, all that's fine. It'd just be nice if the so-called Shinobi actually dressed like Shinobi, or at the very least military stealth-operatives. Then again, without fanservice, the game might not have been as successful.
It's not like the plot is anything special. While it's fairly compelling at the best of times, at the worst it's a bit of a chore to wade through. It's far above, say, Lord of Magna in terms of plot (for both storylines) since the antagonists actually show up and make themselves your problem on a regular basis, and the characters actually have enough personality to go around, and interact enough to actually make you care when everything comes to a head at the end of the game.
In terms of fanservice ensembles, we're not exactly operating at Rosario + Vampire levels of compelling characterization, but I've honestly seen worse. Most of the characters appear to be archetypes, but they're at least fleshed-out enough that they're a bit more than just stock characters hanging around. We also don't have a personality-free main character hanging around taking up space, so that's good. The closest they get is Asuka in the Hanzo storyline, and even she's got stronger characterization than the guy from Lord of Magna.
I suppose this brings us to the plot. There are two ninja schools in Japan. Hanzo, the "good" ones run by a load of elitist douches, and Hebijo, the "evil" one run by cartoonishly evil faceless politicians who are trying to summon up an eldritch abomination akin to Dai Shi's final form from Power Rangers Jungle Fury. Along the way, the two schools clash multiple times, but they ultimately wind up teaming up to take down the monster. They learn that they're more alike than they think, and despite being given opposite ends of the stick, they become friends and the Hebijo team goes rogue to avoid having to clash with Hanzo in the future, and because they'd killed their corporate overlords who were using them to summon the Orochi monster. This appears to be Yamata no Orochi, the eight-headed dragon from Japanese folklore. I suppose in this context Asuka is Susanoo.
Like I said, the plot isn't exactly complex, but I appreciate the simplicity at times. If I was trying to unravel intricate double-crosses and complex plot threads I might not appreciate the massive amounts of text in the visual novel sections.
Now we come to the art. There's two different kinds of art, the 3D models most of the game is presented in, and the still images that most of the visual novel sections are made up of. The 3D animation is fine for the most part, but every now and again the jiggle-animation on the breasts of the Hebijo girls starts going seriously haywire. Sometimes they expand and contract with their breathing, occasionally they flop around, jiggle and bounce when nobody is moving, and sometimes they wind up flying in the air for not much reason. Then we get to the 2D art. It's good for the most part, but every now and again there's something really weird going on. For instance, the above screenshot has a mixture of good art and bad art.
Take a look at Haruka's face on the right, and her breasts, then take a look at her 3D model. Her face isn't nearly that wide, and her breasts are both not that big and not nearly that saggy. In fact, nobody has saggy breasts in this game, so I don't know why they were that floppy in that one shot. There's also the issue of the cloth going down way too far on her stomach. Haruka seems generally off-model in quite a few of the Hebijo-exclusive 2D cutscenes, but the biggest case of this is in the screenshot above.
For that matter, there are quite a few issues with the Hebijo cutscenes. Take a look at the below screenshot.
 At one point in the game all of the girls go to a spa and take a steam-bath naked. Obviously this is all for fanservice purposes as anyone who knows anything about fanservice could tell you, but there are some strange things going on with the art.Take a real close look at Haruka's breasts in this picture. Notice how her left breast doesn't have a nipple. Yes, her breasts are rather round on her model, but human-beings tend to have nipples on their chests. Unless Haruka has some odd condition or her breasts are formed in such a way that her nipples wouldn't be seen from this angle, it seems like the artist forgot to cover that breast with steam from the back.
 Then we pan over to the center of the image, where we see Homura and Yomi. Homura (left) is sitting far enough below the water that her breasts are obscured by distortion and reflection. Yomi, however, is sitting above the water, and her breasts are mostly covered by a cloud of steam from the bath. I say "mostly" because her left breast is shorter than her right breast. Yes, humans are naturally a little bit asymmetrical, but they're not supposed to be that lopsided. You can also see that her left breast ends above the cloud of steam. This shows us that she also doesn't have a nipple on her left breast, which as before, I presume must be an art issue.
Now take a look at this image, where Haruka appears to have a nipple on her left breast, but not on her right, although that could just be the perspective at work. It's just a really weird thing to see them go from no nipples to nipples. It sort of makes me wonder what kind of artist they were working with on the Hebijo storyline, since there was never anything quite this inconsistent in the Hanzo half of the game.
Wrapping up the art issues with the game, we now move into analyzing the game from a technical standpoint.
If you talk to a character inside the Ninja Room from behind, they don't turn around to face you for some reason. Final Fantasy VII managed to get this kinda thing down pat back in the mid-nineties, and one of the first things that I learned to do when I was studying game development. It's not particularly hard to make an NPC face the player when the player talks to them.
This game shares a few issues with another Marvelous developed game I've reviewed, namely the bizarre frame-rate and clipping issues from Story of Seasons. While you're inside the Ninja Room, where you find most of your options in the game, the frame-rate dips to something around fifteen to twenty frames-per-second at best. Then, occasionally during combat missions the framerate jumps up to thirty to forty. Not all the time, not in all the missions, but often enough that it's noticeable.
This is more of a gameplay design issue than a technical one, but there's enough overlap that I feel it fits. Since this is a 3D Beat-Em-Up, enemies can spread out across the screen, and the sidescrolling perspective makes it a bit difficult to tell whether you're in range of them or not. Sometimes you'll be hitting enemies across the room you don't think should hit, and other times (Especially against bosses) you'll be right next to them and none of your attacks will hit. Since this game doesn't have any 3D features during gameplay, you can't even rectify this issue by turning the 3D on. There's also the problem of only being able to attack left and right from the cameras perspective, which is especially irritating when you're trying to destroy a crate with an item in it, or if you're trying to attack an enemy that's right next to you. This is what leads me to say the following: This game would have benefited from a Devil May Cry 3 style control scheme, something which allowed for more freedom of movement and attacks, and this would have cleared up a lot of issues with the combat-system. Dante isn't about to get dogpiled by a group of enemies in any of his games, you know. He's always able to recover as long as you know how to use the controls. I want to know that I died because I either wasn't paying attention, or because I dodged right into my enemies attack, not because the controls are poorly programmed.
Every now and again, be it in the Ninja Room or out on a mission, my character would get stuck on a bit of the scenery, and I would have to jump to get out of it. In the Ninja Room however, most controls are disabled, so the one time that happened, I was able to get out of it by going to the Home Menu and then returning to the game. Sometimes there would just be an invisible wall in the middle of the stage that probably shouldn't have been there, just like the kind of thing that happened in Story of Seasons. There are also invisible walls on top of fences and walls in multi-layered stages, which mean that despite being about to jump about twelve feet in the air, your characters are still forced to use the stairs, which increases the amount of time between your combos, which ultimately reduces the amount of experience you get when you finish the level.
I also noticed a few times when enemies would float in the air and stay there until you killed them. There were other things that I unfortunately wasn't able to screencap, such as the time when a group of enemies all died and just stood there for a few seconds until they keeled over, or when I was attacked by an invisible ninja, although that last one could have just been an actual enemy in the game considering the fact that we're dealing with, you know, ninjas in this game.
Now we come to balance issues. The enemy AI seems to switch back and forth between aggressive and cunning to dumb as bricks without much transition or middle-ground. Sometimes enemies will just stand there on the other side of the screen and not attack you unless you come too close, or they'll dart around the screen without attacking you for a while before noticing you're there. Other times they will literally dogpile you to the point of making it nearly impossible to get loose and get a few good hits in on them without taking loads of damage and possibly getting killed within a few seconds. Occasionally there's a middle-ground where the enemies are aggressive as all hell, but not numerous enough to utterly overwhelm you. That's where you've got plenty of challenge to make things worthwhile, while not being overwhelming. If the rest of the game was more like those stages are, then the gameplay would be significantly more engaging, since there would be decent stakes in every combat encounter.
The enemies also don't seem to be able to avoid your special attacks despite the fact that the player can avoid enemy special attacks. Some enemies also don't seem to be able to grasp the fact that they probably shouldn't walk into your special attacks if they're not currently stuck inside them, especially Homura's ultimate attack. This also brings me to an issue with Homura's regular ultimate attack. While she's in her normal mode, she spins her six swords in a flurry of blades. The thing is that unless the enemy is currently lying on the ground the momentum on the hits will fling them out of the range of the attack. She also doesn't do nearly as much damage with her ultimate attack as some of the other girls attacks do. It's still useful, but it's not as good as her aerial attack, especially when attacking a single powerful opponent.
Despite the fact that my characters in Hebijo were significantly under-leveled compared to the Hanzo characters, and despite the game saying that Hebijo was for more experienced players, I found the Hebijo levels, especially the later ones significantly easier than Hanzo ones. This is taking into account the fact that most of the Hebijo characters appear to play a lot slower than their Hanzo counterparts, and the fact that Hebijo seems to throw large groups of huge enemies at you, even in optional missions. Part of the reason it's easier is because the Hebijo girls seem to have significantly more powerful special, aerial, and ultimate attacks, as well as getting certain powerful techniques at lower levels, despite having less experience growth.
It was also easier to beat Hebijo's ultimate Shinobi than Hanzo's, despite it being incredibly difficult to beat her in the Hanzo branch. Every now and again I'd run into an optional mission with a low time limit that I'd wind up skipping, but overall, even after I'd cleared both halves of the game Hebijo was still easier than Hanzo.
This brings me to the final bosses. In Hanzo, you fight the eight-headed snake Orochi, which can wreck you easily if you don't make extensive use of the dash, or otherwise don't know his weakness. In Hebijo, you just fight the other Elite Students with a powered-up Homura, who at this point has got a more useful Ultimate Attack. It's not particularly difficult, especially because at this point in time you've already fought the Hebijo girls at least three times each if you're just going by mandatory missions and not replaying them, plus the AI is as I mentioned before, dumb as bricks for one on one competition. I suppose that's part of the reason why the game usually spawns a mob of enemies to attack you even in what are deemed by the story to be one-one encounters.
Last, but certainly not least on our list of glitches is the time when the screen turned white in the middle of a fight when I tried to take a screenshot with Miiverse. I still completed the level, and the white screen went away at the end of the level after I hit the home button and took a screenshot of it, and it never came up again, but this was the glitch that stuck out the most to me, and for good reason. Visibility is key in a video-game. The good thing is that no matter how many screenshots I took, no matter what I interrupted with the Home button, this never happened again. I don't know what caused it and I don't know how it stopped, at least from a technical standpoint, but the important thing is that whatever it was was a rare occurrence.
There's been a lot of hubbub about accurate translations as of late, and while XSeed typically has a good track-record for decent translation, this game tends to outright make up the English translations for certain words, evidenced by the fact that the Japanese voice-track has been left 100% intact from the Japanese version of the game.
For instance, to the left you can see a character saying something incredibly ludicrous in English, while in Japanese she said "Itadakimasu" which translates to "I humbly receive" or in plain English, thank you, typically said before eating. The translators decided that this rather strange rhyming joke was a good thing to insert into the game, despite it making no sense, and not being something anyone actually says.
Then there's one of the mission names. It's the one in the middle of the screen that's selected. I don't have access to the Japanese mission-list, and the Senran Kagura wiki isn't giving me any help on this front, but something tells me that this isn't anything close to the original title of the mission. Call it speculation, call it the intuition of a guy who picks up on things other people tend to not care about, but I'd bet that it said something significantly different in the original Japanese version.
Now that we're done with talking about everything from the significant issues to the more minor ones, let's take a few minutes to delve into a bit of otherwise pointless nitpicking, shall we?
Why the hell does Asuka wear her swords with her to the beach? There's water and sand galore at the beach, which will get into the scabbards, dull, scratch and rust the blades, screw with the wrapping, and if the hilts are made of wood, warp and or rot them. I know they're her primary weapons, but the other girls are able to summon their gear from the ether, so why does Asuka have to carry hero swords with her to the beach? For that matter, why didn't anyone object to her carrying a pair of deadly weapons with her on the train here, or on the way to the beach?
At one point int he game, Yomi from Hebijo and Ikaruga from Hanzo are taking part in an eating contest, and they are forced to eat endless bowls of live gigantic earthworms, pictured to the left.
Why are they pixelated? Why do they have to eat them live? Doesn't that violate health standards in several countries? Why, if the contest had allocated all the noodles in the area, do they only have earthworms? Why do they have endless earthworms? Why in the hell are they pixelated?! If they're supposed to be earthworms, then there's no reason to pixelate them. Unless of course, the artist didn't know how to draw them.
Why does a clandestine organization involved in illegal dealings have internet forums? Even if they have adequate security, if they're ever caught, then they've got loads of digital evidence for the authorities if they're ever caught! If the forums aren't accessible from the internet, and only from the Hebijo grounds, then what's the point of having a forum? It seems like you could accomplish the same thing with "mingle time" on the grounds, where the students get together and talk about... Whatever Ninjas in training talk about. Maybe they're there for alumni to give tips to students. Who knows.
There's this one thing where meta-references start to get a bit annoying. Especially when they're bolded out specifically so you'll notice them.
I never use the 3D features on the 3DS in regular gameplay, and since this game doesn't actually have 3D features outside of the fanservice bits, I didn't feel particularly bad about leaving it turned off. Maybe if they had 3D features in the rest of the game it'd make it easier to tell where your enemies are in relation to your character.
There's also the fact that the game put me through the tutorial level in the Hebijo branch after I'd already cleared and saved my Hanzo clear data.
Honestly though, all of this takes a back seat to whether the game is fun or not, and it is fun. If you're not bothered by loads of text in between story-missions, and can manage to ignore the rather bizarre frame-rate fluctuations (Fifteen FPS indoors, might I remind you) then there's a rather fun beat-em-up to be had. However! A thirty-dollar price-tag is a bit much for a game as unpolished as this one is. Despite being an enhanced re-release, there are still a host of technical and art issues, the kind of which I would have sent back for a second draft, especially before an international release. Isn't the international version of a game supposed to squash the bugs, balance issues and technical problems present in the domestic version?
All in all, taking everything into account, my fun outweighed my frustration, but even being fun doesn't excuse some of the more egregious issues I encountered. In the end, I give Senran Kagura Burst a 6.2* rating.
I wound up deciding to take a week off and just play the game to completion rather than trying to rush through the story missions, plus I had already spent most of Friday and Saturday doing other things, and there's the fact that my birthday was coming up and I didn't want to stress myself out over it if I didn't have to. Next week I'm either gonna try and get through Deep Crimson or possibly one of the other games I've got in for review. In the event that falls through I'll probably just get around to publishing one of my best/worst lists of 2015. I'll see you then! For now, as of time of writing, I'm off to bed!

Cover from thecoverproject.net, screenshots taken by me.